How to Write An Effective Statement of Work (SOW)
Guest Feature: Erin Muir
Working in live events means you exist on an ever-expanding learning curve - just when you figure out the exact combination of machinery and careful driving to build an stage in the sand, you now need to be able to build that event in the pouring rain - and maybe double the VIP area while you’re at it, just for fun.
But the logistical hurdles of building events might have turned out to be the easy part for me. People attracted to festivals and live events generally excel under high-pressure deadlines and in extreme conditions. Excelling at contracts and paperwork, though? That’s an entirely different skill set, and while it’s a lot less exciting than towing 500 cars out of a muddy field in 48 hours, it can save your time, money and sanity.
When I first began working as an independent contractor in the festival and events industry, I knew that I would be assuming the accounting, legal, and insurance tasks that I used to cheerfully email over to the proper departments. And while I was smart enough to hire qualified professionals to review my contracts, issue my COIs, and calculate my taxes, there was one part of the equation that was still under my purview - writing my Scope of Work.
A Scope of Work, or SOW as it’s more commonly referred to, is simply a written description of the services you will be delivering, and it is part of your contract with your client. If it sounds simple, that's because it is. But writing an SOW that is detailed enough to protect both parties is harder than it sounds. Now that I’ve written more than I can count, I’m happy to share my tips and details with you.
Writing an SOW wasn’t something I wanted to spend my time on. I wanted to get right down to business and start the work. But after a few brushes with the dreaded Scope Creep (finding myself taking tasks that weren’t things I agreed to, or was getting paid to do) or realizing that an event didn’t have the proper equipment or support for me to do my job properly, I was frustrated and upset. If I had taken the time to plan out each job from top to bottom and written a proper SOW that reflected that, then the client and I would have gone into the event with expectations aligned on timeline, payment, and exact deliverables.
Since then I have developed a format for writing my SOW that forces me to sit down and truly plan a project from top to bottom. With that in place, the client and I can have a detailed conversation about the job, and adjust as we both need, for time, budget and resources. My SOW consists of the following:
This lays out the basic information about the event and a brief description of my role.
For some jobs, this might look like a basic job description.
Example: “Artist Relations Manager for a three day music festival, responsible for advancing transportation, credential, hospitality and dressing room needs of 36 acts.”
For others, I lay out the event parameters, like two-day brand activation taking place at these hours and this location focusing on content capture with a photo booth, so that if any of the parameters change, I have some recourse to issue work change orders as needed.
Timeline & Hours
This is probably the most important and most tedious section. First, I lay down all important deadlines, whether that's advancing, ordering, shipping and payment deadlines, I try to include them all. Then, when the SOW is approved I have a handy list I can enter into my calendar to keep myself organized.
Secondly, I calculate all the hours I think will be necessary to make it all happen. This is critical in several ways. It helps me plan out my time so that I don’t get overwhelmed taking on too many projects at once. It makes sure I bill properly for the number of hours I’m going to be working. And it gives me recourse if I exceed the anticipated hours for a project.
While event workers tend to charge in flat rates, I cannot tell you how much I urge people to do the opposite. Give a total, but also give yourself a way to issue that work change order when a 100-hour project somehow becomes a 500-hour project.
When I write out my deliverables, I make sure to add in as much information as possible, even things that seem obvious to me. This goes double when working with new agencies or promoters. What is standard for a creative agency in New York is bizarre to a promoter in Knoxville.
Here’s a deliverable I wrote that gave me some heartburn:
Responsible for emailing daily ticket counts.
This is what I wrote for the same client the next year: Responsible for ticket count emails, which will be issued on weekdays only, until the
final two weeks before the event (federal holidays excluded). Daily ticket counts will
only include new sales, with ticket losses due to refunds, chargebacks etc to be updated
monthly, until month before the event, when they will be updated weekly.
This particular client had a very complex method of modeling ticket data, and doing
daily pivot tables and tabulating over 150 ticket types was definitely not in the initial
plan. So make sure you are as specific as possible.
This is my favorite part, listing out all the resources I need to ensure I can deliver.
This might include equipment that I expect the client to provide, the amount of staff I think is necessary to get it all done, or items like providing a TULIP policy to cover me when working out of the country. Review your list of deliverables and deadlines and make sure you have asked the client to provide everything you will need to hit all of them.
Limits & Exclusions
This section can be omitted, but it can also be a lifesaver. This is where I detail any operations or deliverables I can’t take on. For example, if the client wants me to take a job at a reduced rate, I specifically exclude time consuming tasks that would make that rate unprofitable for me. I also listen to my lawyer and insurance people here and specifically exclude anything that my insurance doesn’t cover!
Check out a sample SOW here – > https://www.bohlive.com/scope-of-work-template-free
I don’t find writing a SOW particularly fun, but it’s a lot more fun that having an argument with a client who doesn’t understand why you’re charging them for the extra 100 hours of advance work you did or who thought that a great way to save money would be to make 5 departments share one 20 foot office without warning any of those departments. I’ve learned the hard way it’s better to have a hard conversation up front. If you take the time to write a thorough SOW, not only will you ensure that you and your client are on the same page, but you’ll also have your project plan halfway built. And with all that time and money you’ve saved yourself, you can go ahead and get a nice new pair of waterproof boots. You’re going to need them.