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Event Scope Creep - Event Management Tips

How to handle scope creep when managing events (and clients)

by | Mar 19, 2014 | Business, Business Management, Finances, Sales

Nobody likes to talk about event scope creep even though more than half of all events go over budget. And we don’t like to talk about it because nobody likes to tell the client or the boss that things are going to cost more than anticipated, even if those costs are legitimate and were unanticipated from the outset.

Burying our collective heads in the sand only exacerbates the problem, mainly because the later a client or boss finds out about the scope creep, the less they can do about and the angrier they become.

So how do we avoid these uncomfortable conversations? And if we can’t avoid them, how do we make them more tolerable and less of a shock to clients and supervisors alike? Here are 4 proven tactics used by thousands of event management professionals every day.

1. Educate clients ahead of time on common overages (and how to avoid them)

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So while you are scoping out the budget for an event, talk openly and honestly with your client or direct report to let them know where you may hit snags in the budget or where events commonly go out of scope.

In addition, talk to them about what steps you will take if you foresee any potential overages on the horizon. This is where you need to have a communications strategy in place as well as a change order process and forms.

2. Spell out everything in your contract or scope of work

Yes, I said the word “contract.” To many event planners and professionals, event contracts are a necessary evil. But in the case of out-of-scope charges, an event contract is another teaching opportunity where you can educate your client about what happens when things go out of scope. But it puts it all in writing so there’s no “he said, she said” misunderstandings down the road.

First, you need to clearly outline what the client will be receiving from the overall cost you have agreed upon. Some event planners go as far as to quote how many hours they will spend on certain tasks, and any additional hours worked will be charged at a predetermined hourly rate. But you should detail what the client gets, what those items cost, and what additional, out-of-scope items or labor might cost.

Then you need to outline how the client will be notified of potential out-of-scope charges (so they can either avoid them or incur them) as well as how the change order process works with you. Change orders can include costs for rush builds/shipments, overtime for installation/strike/operator/build crews, hiring additional personnel to handle extra work, permits/licenses, rush fees, etc.

If your event is for an internal client, instead of a contract you would have a scope-of-work document with related expenses, in which you again would spell out how out-of-scope situations would be handled.

Bottom line … clear, open communications in writing not only covers your ass, but it keeps your clients fully in the loop.

Oh, and your client or direct report needs to apply their signature to the agreement before you lift a finger.

3. Being diligent in spotting potential overages ahead of time

If you are a seasoned event pro, you already know where certain types of events typically go out of scope, so you know what to look for. But this is only half the battle.

In addition, you need to reach out to your client or direct report as soon as you are aware of any potential overages so you give them ample time to make a decision on whether they want to pay more or cut back. When someone isn’t given proper time to reflect, they feel as if you haven’t given them any real options and will resent you and the additional amount you will be billing them.

4. Being direct with your client when they ask for changes

Beating around the bush when discussing out-of-scope charges helps nobody. It’s best to be direct in these situations. When asked by a client or supervisor to start making changes that will affect the total cost, you can reply in three different ways:

  • “Yes, but…” – What they are asking for is possible and may be a good idea, but there are ramifications and trade-offs; be prepared to list them off.
  • “No, unless…” – What they are asking for isn’t possible (and may not be advisable) unless other criteria are met or other measures are taken.
  • “No … period” – Sometimes what a client is asking for may not be a good idea or may work against the original purpose of the event. If that’s the case, it’s your responsibility to tell the client that, in your professional opinion and experience, this isn’t advisable.

They put you on the job because they wanted and needed your experience as a seasoned event planner. They may overrule you, and you can take them to task for this, but you should stick by your guns if you think the new idea will somehow diminish the main purpose of the event. And if you find out that the purpose of the event was simply to massage their massive ego, then they can make all the changes they want, as long as you are compensated for them.

Have any other tips for avoiding event scope creep … please provide them below.


One way to manage scope creep is to create accurate event budgets and event proposals and estimates. You can quickly create these with Planning Pod’s online budgeting and finances tools … learn more about them and our FREE trial here.