How To Write an Effective SOW for Your Next Freelancing Project
May 4, 2022
Freelancing requires a double expertise. You need to develop an in-demand skill that attracts clients. At the same time, you have to master the art of management and organization. A Statement of Work, or SOW, provides a fundamental document in this process.
As a freelancer, independent consultant, or owner of a service business, you need to communicate with clients and manage your time wisely. A SOW makes this possible. It lets you detail what work you will be doing, when it will be done, and how much it will cost.
By learning how to write an effective Statement of Work, you'll get the most out of your freelancing venture. You'll keep clients happy, while making sure your time and effort get fairly compensated. Here, we'll let you know why you need well-crafted SOWs and detail how you can help perfect your ability to create them.
By learning how to write an effective Statement of Work, you'll get the most out of your freelancing venture. You'll keep clients happy, while making sure your time and effort get fairly compensated.
What is a Statement of Work?
You get a freelance assignment. As you launch your new endeavor, both sides need to understand the parameters of the project. This keeps everyone on the same page and builds the foundation of a successful partnership.
A Statement of Work represents the document that fulfills this necessary role. A SOW lays out the details of a project, describing the tasks required and the deadlines involved.
A SOW will answer questions like:
- What deliverables does the project require?
- What are the deadlines?
- What defines a successful final product?
- What is the budget?
Why do consultants, freelancers, and small business owners need to know how to write a SOW?
Any time you enter a new freelance assignment or land a fresh client, you'll need to determine what that project requires. A Statement of Work represents a formal process for determining that information. It creates a single document that summarizes the information you'll need to discover in order to complete your tasks.
Having an official record of these details does more than create an outline for you to help your client achieve their goals. It also provides peace of mind and a common reference for any future discussions.
Here are a few of the key values you gain from a well-constructed SOW:
Don't let confusion complicate your relationship with clients. Unclear assignment details will only lead to tensions later on. A SOW lets you draft clear expectations from the start.
Freelancing and consultant gigs require strict time management so you can optimize your earning power. As such, you need to know what work you need to produce, when deadlines are approaching, and how much you are earning for each assignment. A SOW can act as a guide for this.
You never know when disputes will arise. If any differences of opinion appear during the project, the SOW acts as a point of reference. At the same time, it gives you a firm foundation if any squabbles escalate into a legal clash.
What is included in a SOW?
The core of your SOW will come in what's known as the Scope of Work. This acts as a summary for the project. It will offer a description of the endeavor and lay out the assignment's goals and expectations. At the same time, it will provide an outline of the undertaking, so that both sides have an idea of what the final result should look like.
Here are a few aspects that should be included in your Scope of Work and within the SOW as a whole:
Craft a timeline for completing your project. Include a final date when all deliverables will be completed. Also, set times for the completion of particular parts of the process along the way. By creating these deadlines, both sides can track how the project is proceeding and see when adjustments might be needed along the way.
Enumerate the financial requirements of the project. Create a budget, with estimates for what various tasks will cost and how any expenses will be handled.
Within this section, itemize your payment terms. Describe the amount you should receive, the timeline for receiving payment, and any invoicing details.
This section will list what you will eventually deliver to the company. It will also set down the expectation for that final product, framing how the output will be judged. Try to answer questions like:
- What will your project produce? (PDF document, spreadsheet, app, etc.)
- What are the details of the final product? (For example, if the deliverable comes as a PDF document, you should detail the number of words it should have.)
- Will you only produce a final product or are you responsible for intermediate documentation updating your progress along the way?
How a SOW helps you avoid stumbling blocks
Beyond the basics, your SOW should also lay out some of the ancillary factors that will go into completing your assignment. You have to think of your project holistically so that you can anticipate potential stumbling blocks and work them out as early in the process as possible.
Think of your project holistically so that you can anticipate potential stumbling blocks and work them out as early in the process as possible.
With that in mind, here are other items keep in mind as you build your SOW:
Know what materials and support you'll need to complete your project. If a freelance assignment requires something outside your control, work with your client to understand how you'll gain access to the resource (things like specialized software, building materials, or access to particular people).
Lines of Communication
Spell out how communication will work as part of the project. Let them know the best way to contact you and specify an expected timeframe for any reply (such as "any communication will be answered within 48 hours.")
At the same time, have the company designate who you should communicate with on their end. Understand who you are supposed to collaborate with and what support you should expect along the way. Have them name a point person to answer questions and to direct you to others within the organization, as necessary.
Your SOW should be part of a larger contract. As such, it represents a portion of a legally binding document. Keep this in mind when crafting it (or, ideally, when having a lawyer craft it). You'll need to include definitions and boilerplate details, like specifics related to low-probability events like contract terminations.
Tips for writing an effective SOW
Now that you know the basics for producing a SOW, you need to take steps to create the most effective document you can. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Understand what defines a successful project. When you turn in your last deliverable, you should have absolute certainty that your client will love the final product.
- Manage expectations. Don't overpromise. Stay realistic in what you can accomplish and remain sensible as you set timelines and budgets. Otherwise, you invite disappointment later.
- Get as granular as possible. Leaving a SOW vague only leads to problems down the line. Add as many specifics as possible to make it a comprehensive guide.
- Create a new SOW if details change. Your client may change their expectations over time. Incorporate these updates into a fresh SOW and make it clear what document represents the guiding force behind the project as you move forward.
- Avoid scope creep. Even after setting specific parameters in the SOW, your client might try to push you for additional output. They may add tasks or try to accelerate timelines. Without getting confrontational, make sure you don’t take on additional tasks without appropriate compensation.
SOWing the seeds of success
The gig economy involves more than Uber drivers and Instacart shoppers. Millions of professionals — from writers to software engineers to accountants to doctors — now make their living outside the confines of a single employer. Instead, they build a career one project at a time, taking on freelance and contract assignments
If you're in that situation, you need to set yourself up for success. That process starts by learning how to draft an effective SOW. Before you kick off any new project, define the details for both you and your employer. This will make it easier to create stellar end-products and will protect you from potential problems down the road.