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The ultimate guide for creating a clear Scope of Work (SOW)

Creating clear scopes of work

At a high level, the scope of work is the legal document that typically comes after a client and service provider align on a proposal – or general path forward. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses are skipping this step (or rushing through it), treating the SOW more like a formality rather than the literal foundation for a successful engagement. Let's dive into what it takes to master the art of the SOW and why it matters so dang much. First, let's define it.

What is a scope of work?

A Scope of Work (SOW) is a detailed, legal document that outlines a project or engagement's deliverables, timelines, budget, responsibilities, and expectations. It serves as a contract between the client and service provider to make sure both parties are aligned to the goals and execution plan.

A clear SOW is critical to building and maintaining trust, while keeping projects on the rails.

The risks of not being clear in your scope of work – or, worse, don't work without one.

It's hard to believe this, but there are millions of individuals and businesses performing work without an SOW. And in a recent survey done by Jumpsuit, most freelancers and small agencies who use them, admit to feeling insecure about their ability to confidently and clearly draft them. The truth is, not having a SOW – or one you're confident in – is putting both clients and vendors at risk. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. The project is more likely to go off the rails. In fact, what are the rails to even determine if the project going off track or not? Having an SOW makes sure both parties are aligned to expectations from both sides. Pro-tip: Platforms like Jauntboards not only help you create clear SOWs, but turn those SOWs into projects that perfectly mirror the SOW to help keep clients and teams on the rails.

A clear SOW turned into a project

2. The project is more likely to see scope creep. If either party lacks certainty of what's included in budget, you can be pretty dang certain both clients and teams are going to expect (or execute) more than was promised. In general, it never feels good to revisit the SOW mid flight (it usually means something went wrong). However, teams that use Jauntboards to mirror the SOW exactly often find that incremental opportunities naturally emerge organically as clients decide to increase the scope of work. "You know, we said to skip SEO. But maybe we should do that after all..."

3. Increased anxiety and lack of confidence across clients and teams. Without clearly understanding what's expected from either party, people tend to feel dis-ease and even lack of trust. In business, trust is everything. Making it easy for others to know exactly what was promised and easily see where everything's at goes a really long way.

4. The service provider is at risk of not getting paid, or worse, getting sued. Contracts don't only provide clear expectations, they provide some semblance of coverage during an interpersonal or legal dispute.

So now that we understand the importance of a clear scope of work, how do you craft an excellent one?

How to write a clear Scope of Work (SOW) – the ultimate guide

  1. Make sure you understand the clients needs and that the language in your SOW clearly reflects that. At Jumpsuit, we'll use the first paragraph or so to make sure we're crystal clear on the big picture and overall objective. From there, the rest of the SOW will get into the details of how we're going to pull that off.

  2. Clearly define what success looks like. Sometimes success looks like accomplishing a set of deliverables on time and on budget. Othertimes, success is tied to a measurable outcome, such as "lowering CPCs by X%" or "increasing conversions by X%." Use this opportunity to get clear on the client's expectations and what you, as the service partner, are or are not responsible for.

  3. Get specific about deliverables, timelines, and budgets. Clients don't always know what a specific deliverable entails. Simply using the phrase "Key Messaging Guide" or "Animatic" is often not specific enough. This is your chance to outline exactly what they can expect from each deliverable in order to avoid later confusion or scope creep. For example: Instead of saying: "Agency will deliver a Key Messaging Guide to help client better understand who their audience is and what the main messages they should be communicating are." Say this: All of that, plus something like: The Key Messaging Guide will include the following details:

    1. Vision

    2. Mission

    3. Values

    4. Brand Promise

    5. Audience

    6. Value Proposition

    7. Elevator Pitch

    8. Key Messaging

    9. Key Differentiators

    10. Reasons to Believe

Not only will this level of detail help guide your clients and team, it'll ensure that the client doesn't expect an exercise around "Brand Narrative" or some other outlier. In fact, if they do, that is a great opportunity to increase your budget and scope of work.

4. Include Legal and Payment Terms. Provide details around the payment schedule, terms of payment, and any other legal considerations such as IP, confidentiality agreements, and termination clauses. This would be a good area to advise legal council on as you begin this kind of work or as unique opportunities arise as you do business. This section is designed to protect both you and the client and ensure a smooth financial transaction.

5. Identify key assumptions. The common things to include would be expectations around timeline, budget, and client participation – as well as detailing rounds of revision. As a service provider, success of this engagement is 100% reliant on you. This is a two way street. And it is up to you to set boundaries and clear expectations of how you need the client to cooperate in order to ensure overall success.

Who can help me draft a clear Scope of Work?

The good news is, there are tools out there like Jauntboards that can make drafting an SOW a breeze. It would be in your best interest to use something like this to get you the majority of the way there and then rely your own expertise and/or legal council to make any final adjustments. AI-Generated SOWs: Below is a quick overview of how Jauntboards can help you create a well-defined SOW in seconds. And here's a longer LinkedIN Live for anyone who wants to get in the weeds.

Freelancers or Consultants: There are also tons of freelancers and consultants that exit who come from more traditional agency or consulting backgrounds who can help. The roles you might look for are: Account Manager, Account Executive, Account Supervisor, or Program Manager. Even Sales and Business Development Managers often have their hands in scopes of work.

At Jumpsuit, not only have we written hundreds of SOWs, we created Jauntboards, the tool that makes writing proposals and SOWs super easy. Please enjoy the tool and, at any point, if you'd like a human to help – you can always join our independent network to leverage Jumpsuit's resources for bidding on work, scoping work, and resourcing work.

Join Jumpsuit's independent network

Pre-existing templates: You can also purchase our full operations processes, documents, and templates here:

Agency contracts, processes, and templates

Here's to creating peace of mind across clients and teams by creating clearly defined scopes of work!

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