Scope Creep is the Killer of Accounting Firms

What is Scope Creep?

Scope Creep is the term we use in bookkeeping and accounting firms when the services we perform start to creep outside of the engagement with the client. Theoretically, we have clear boundaries of services we will perform and what we won’t perform under our engagement, but then all these new tasks start to creep into our workload. This is why scope creep can be the killer of accounting firms. It eats away at your profits, task by task.

Why is Scope Creep so common in accounting practices?

Here’s the problem – So many accountants and bookkeepers are people pleasers and like to avoid the money conversation (like myself). It’s the lack of confidence and being unprepared to address the issue that prevents us from standing our ground. We give an inch with the client, but then the client takes the mile. Then, before we know it, our pricing for the engagement is so far beyond what it should be that we delay the conversation about money even further. We are almost embarrassed that we let it go this far and don’t know how to address a huge price increase with a client. Yes, I am talking from personal experience.

How can you prevent Scope Creep?

It’s time to get your big girl pants on and put a plan in place so that you can practice your practice. I am always telling you guys that we have to protect our firms first or else we won’t be able to help our clients and other businesses. I urge you to take this seriously.

#1 Define your engagements

You need to have some sort of engagement letter or contract with your clients. Find a local attorney and have a template created to protect you from liability. But, you have to go a step further. You actually have to define what all you will be doing in those contracts. I prefer to list out the things that will be accomplished, like, “Code transactions weekly in QuickBooks Online” or “Reconcile bank and credit card accounts monthly”.

You want to make sure you are specific in your explanations of what will be done. Then, you also want to make it clear what is not included in the contract and have a clause in there as to what the additional fee could be. This is where I put in an hourly rate and I usually want it high enough for the client to actually think about it before just saying “go do this”. I’d much rather we have a conversation on how to increase their package price going forward with added tasks.

#2 Have your script ready

To counteract all your insecurities and confidence issues, have a script ready for instances where you might start breaking the boundaries of your engagement. It doesn’t have to be complicated.


Your recent request for XXX is outside of our agreed upon contract (attached to this email). We’d love to assist you with this, but according to our contract it will be an additional fee of XXX. Or, if you’d like to discuss adding this to your monthly package or any other services to help you run your business better, I’d love to discuss that with you further. You can set up a call with me on my calendar (link it here).

The trick here is to rely on the contract that you both agreed to. That contract has your back, so use it for situations like these!

#3 Communicate the scope with staff

Another issue some firms have is when you have staff members working on a client engagement and they just assume that everything the client is asking for is covered under the contract. Remember what they say about “Assume”. Instead of making an ass out of everyone, be very clear with your staff as to what is include and what is not included in your engagements. Also, make sure that the lines of communication are wide open so they can reach out to you if there is ever a question.

What are your experiences with scope creep? Do you have any tips to help firms prevent this profit killer?


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Cathy Iconis

Cathy Iconis, CPA is the creator and facilitator of the weekly tweetchat #QBOchat and the website - a community for QuickBooks Online Users. She is also the founder of Iconis Group, an Intuit Top 20 Firm of the Future, that supports small businesses all over the United States with their bookkeeping needs. She is a five-time recipient of the prestigious CPA Practice Advisor 40 Under 40 Award, given annually to just 40 people nationwide.

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