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If I am starting out in my field as a freelancer, how can I determine what should be in a scope of work, and how can I decide what is acceptable in the Scope of Work before determining it must be changed?

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The Scope of Work is the second essential contract you need signed before you start working; the first is the contract, of course. Let's go over a few small things first:

  1. You are the expert. Do not forget this. You would not be jumping into freelancing, expecting to make thousands (millions?) of dollars if you didn't know what you were doing. No, this means that taking a "quiz" online makes you a smart realtor; you need experience too. Do not let the customer question your abilities too often, otherwise you will start questioning them yourself, and start looking bad. Again, YOU are the expert.
  2. Get an understanding of what the client wants. Every client is different, and they all have different needs. If possible, have a tape recorder going as you're talking with them in the meeting, and write down as much information as possible about your project. Include drawings (even on napkins), notes, audio clips, video clips, photos, plans, ANYTHING. No matter how small the detail may be to the client, it could be the difference between a 2 hour job, and a 2 day job.
  3. Break out the SoW into smaller sections. If you need to, call them Phase I, Phase II, etc. In each phase, describe what needs to be done before that phase and why, and why this phase needs to be done at this time. You should decide which order it gets done in, but have it written down for reference. Do not build the bathroom before building the frame of the house.
  4. Agree on the scope BEFORE you start working. If the client has questions about what needs to be done, explain to them what they need to know, and nothing else. You need time to get the job done too, but you can't spend 4 days just answering questions before the client says "Yes". When you are meeting with the client, make sure your phone's ringer is off, and you are concentrating on the conversation; you will likely not miss important information this way.
  5. Do not work until the contract and SoW have been signed and agreed upon. If you are charging a fee upfront, get the money before working.

If this is your first scope of work, I'd recommend a simple Microsoft Word document to start. Write out what you feel needs to be there, then do a role-reversal with a friend/family member: you are the client, and you want Project Y done within this time frame. As the client, what would be your questions? What would be your expectations? There is a lot to be said about role reversal, because it works! If you wouldn't like it if you're pretending to be paying for it, why would the real person paying for it appreciate it?

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  • I think this is a great answer. I think it would be useful if you could share some resources on writing a contract or SoW. Do you know of any sites with good samples and instructive guides? – Thomas Aug 15 '13 at 2:00
  • @Thomas To tell you the truth, I just wrote out the general steps I was taking for the SoW, and put it into a Word document. For the contract, there are websites online that have them available; I used a lawyer personally – Canadian Luke Aug 15 '13 at 6:18
  • There are many industries where "premade" contracts are common. Such as housing, where you can often pick up a stack of generic lease agreements at the courthouse. As for something similar for freelancer contracts etc. I know DocStoc has a number of good resources, but it can be painful sorting through the site to find them, and it is a pay site (though many of their resources are free). I think it would be helpful for future readers if we could point them to some good online resources. I don't know of much myself, my freelance work is on such a small scale I don't usually mess with contracts. – Thomas Aug 15 '13 at 10:25
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    Well we should have information on where to go in some answers or comments, but the sites need to pay for a real advertisement – Canadian Luke Aug 15 '13 at 14:00

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