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Should You Charge More For A Rush Job?

Recently, Margaret wrote me asking —
“Brennan, what do you think about charging more for a rush job??”

Have you ever seen the bill for an emergency room visit in the ol’ US of A?

A few months ago, I made the mistake of shaking off a rug outback at 3am (don’t ask.) Former asthmatic me couldn’t take it, and I ended up checking myself in to the ER to get the steroids I needed to breath right again.

They did the usual tests and diagnostics on me, and eventually a physician hooked me up to a breathing machine, wrote me a prescription, and sent me on my way. Well, a few weeks later I saw the bill — it was close to $5,000 (thank GOD for insurance.) …I could have got the same treatment and the exact same prescription at a primary care doctor for substantially less.

Being able to breathe in the middle of the night is pretty important, but the amount of people who abuse the ER and check themselves in for the slightest problem is staggering. As a culture, we don’t like to wait.

And the same can be said about clients.

A mentor of mine once told me, “There’s important, and then there’s urgent. Most people think their important projects are urgent.”

Clients generally want to kick off projects ASAP. They’re excited. They’re eager. And that’s typically not a problem — unless, of course, you’re already booked. But sometimes, there’s a legitimate, time-sensitive reason behind an urgent request.

So what are your options?

  • Work longer hours (at the cost of your health and happiness)
  • Kindly ask your current client to delay (at the cost of their happiness and your relationship with them)

There is nothing wrong with doubling or even tripling your rate when a client insists on immediate gratification. Simply explain that they’re inconveniencing you and the clients who have been patiently waiting to work with you.

There needs to be some financial pain associated with urgency. If you’re willing to take on rush work, don’t be afraid to put your foot down and charge more. And if you don’t want to work nights and weekends and don’t want to bump back your current clients, sometimes the best option is to just say, “I’m sorry. I’m unable to work with this project timeline.”

Have you ever charged more for a rush job? What was your experience like? Sound off in the comments below!

Could you do me a favor? This little weekly mailing now goes out to over 3,000 freelancers each week… My (ambitious?) goal is to hit 10,000 by the end of the year. I just launched a spiffy new website last night, and I’d love to get the word out:

  • brandonsavage

    When I would do a bit of consulting I would often have someone ask me to do something small. I’d feel bad asking them to pay me something that would make the project worth my time until I realized that their “something small” would reap big rewards for them. And so I started charging for small jobs based on value.

    When someone pays $500 for a half hour of time but makes $20,000, that’s pretty worthwhile.

    The same thing goes for rush jobs. If they stand to profit substantially from getting the work done NOW, then they should pay for that value. If the cost exceeds the value, they will postpone or take a step back.

  • I recently bid a big job (25k+) that I would have had to do (mostly myself) over the last holiday season. My wife was on board because it was a huge chunk out of a downpayment (sacrifice to an end). The client decided they wanted to “negotiate”, which we don’t do. The bid is the bid and the price changes with scope. We did not have a rush fee on it, but if it comes up again, I will. If nothing else, to use it as a negotiating point. Since we started at a number, they wanted the number to shrink to feel that they “won” (I loathe this kind of client wankery). Instead we held firm and didn’t do the job. 

    So in the future, yes. Anything that causes me to shift my schedule and existing work to tackle will incur a rush fee of 2x. Anything outlandish (e.g. work through a holiday) will be 3x. Then, if I really want it, I can come down on that multiplier. But I probably won’t. 

  • Some clients think an “urgent” project means skipping or watering down the proposal, discovery, and planning phase. Beware if the client is someone you trust or an agency between you and the eventual owner in a design/development project. They may think that their confidence in an existing working relationship with you obviates the need for a formal scope and contract. They may even assume that by blowing past these preliminary steps, they should expect not to pay more because they are “saving you both time.” In the end they will probably pay more for all the back-tracking and scope-jiggering that will happen unless you (stupidly) absorb these frustrations and costs.

    Better to prevent those things from happening in the first place. The minimum acceptable compromise might be to agree on an AGILE process where an early milestone is the minimum-acceptable state for the customer to begin using or to launch the application/site/product. Then you keep working from there, possibly at a more relaxed, less “urgent” pace. You should still charge more, but this way you have the project controls necessary to safeguard an “urgent” project.

  • I’m actually too lazy for this to be a problem. 🙂 If they’re in a rush I just truthfully inform them that I cannot take their project. I didn’t branch off on my own in order to be rushed around like a junior employee…

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