The Dilemma

“Linda” liked the article that made the point of demanding more money for rush jobs, but didn’t understand what exactly made a request a “rush”?

“What constitutes a rush job?” she tweeted to me. “2 days? How do I measure ‘rush’ if the client doesn’t seem rushed? Thanks!”

I was confused as to why someone wouldn’t understand the concept of some client or prospective client contacting a designer at the last minute to churn out a design overnight, over the weekend, or to turn what would be a two week project into a three-day project.

“I have there logo and the information ready. I was hoping to get it done by tomorrow at 12:00 noon pst. I can send everything you need within 20 minutes. Pays 125.00 If your interested.” [sic]”

My only complaint about the article was that it was edited with a butcher knife, cutting out most of the examples. I guess that’s why there was confusion on Lisa’s part – and probably others who didn’t speak up about the needed explanations via examples.

A Few Examples

The article, Why You Can and Should Charge Extra for Rush Jobs!, started with an example of one of the worst rush job offers I ever received:

11:45 pm. I receive the following message through Facebook, of all places:

“I was reoffered to you by (name withheld). I have a small project for an auto dealer in Orange CA. I have known these guy for a long time. They have been in business for 30 years. They need a flier made that can also be used as an opt-in e-mail if needed.” [sic]

“I have there logo and the information ready. I was hoping to get it done by tomorrow at 12:00 noon pst. I can send everything you need within 20 minutes. Pays 125.00 If your interested.” [sic]

Despite the red flags about the approach, sloppy grammar, and I was bone tired, having weaned myself off vampire hours a month before, there was no way I was going to work all night for $125. I knew there wasn’t a chance of getting a 50% deposit before noon the next day, and trying to get paid in full on delivery would probably be met with news that the client decided against doing it, and the entire job and night would be wasted… as would I, of course.

And then there would be the contract. Could that be accepted, and digitally signed before work started at 1:00 am? Not a chance!

I could only muster the strength to respond, “no thanks.”

I awoke the next morning to the reply from the client, “THANKS ANYWAY!”

Certainly that screams “outrageous rush request.”

Another descriptive example, cut out to save word count made it clear the power a designer has when it comes to rush requests:

It wasn’t until a friend of mine had to cancel weekend plans with me when his phone rang with a rush job. He explained, in an exasperated tone, that this was a client he tried to get regular work from, but was only called when there was a rush weekend job.

“Who would he call if you turned him down?” I asked.

“I ended up fixing some other guy’s work last time and then only got half the time and half the pay.”

“So he used someone else, and then came to you for the cleaning? Is he a client worth keeping,” I asked. “Seems he needs you very badly as you’re his go-to guy for rush jobs he wants done quickly, and cleanly. What if you charged him a rush fee?”

“He’ll probably use someone else,” he said with a shrug.

“He tried that, and it didn’t work!” I slyly winked.

A couple of weeks later, my friend called to tell me that he was so sick of the guy that he told him there would be a rush fee, essentially doubling the fee offered, and the guy accepted. As time went on, the rush jobs still came in, but the client was resigned to the fact that it was going to cost him.

Sure, most designers have faced this and I only had 140 characters on Twitter to explain it to “Linda.”

Rush job: Overnight, weekend work, holidays, or when a one week project has to be done in two days. Any unreasonable deadline.

“Linda” replied:

“Thanks. I have one client who always contacts me on Thursday and needs it Monday. 5 days, but my whole weekend gone.”

That’s a Rush Job!

Yes! An unreasonable deadline that goes outside the norm of business hours. Any professional will charge extra when asked to work on weekends or holidays. A water pipe burst in your home on Sunday night? You can bet a plumber will charge double to show up and work half the night to fix it.

Unfortunately, another victim of copy slashing was the passage that explained why most rush jobs happen:

Having worked on the inside of large corporations, I was witness to countless commidiots (the people who quantify their presence in a meeting by throwing out some inane suggestion or change) slowing down projects to a crawl until someone says, “you know, this is due in three days.”

That’s when someone else is relied upon to fill in the weekend gap. If you’re lucky, it’s you!

Firstly, no one at the corporation, or other large collection of barely functioning morons, wants to spend their Friday night, checking portfolios and contacting freelancers, reading the age-old, “do this as a favor and we’ll remember you later” speech. It’s been in circulation since 1215 CE, so few people still believe it.

By the time you are called, the client will pretty much agree to anything so they can get back to the pile of cocaine on their coffee table at home. Make it easy for them!

A Few Pieces of Advice

“Sometimes rush jobs are overnight, same day, or need to be done on-site within the next few hours. 95% of them aren’t as rushed as they seem. Most rush projects suddenly find extra time when a client changes their mind or after sixteen weeks of deliberation, marketing decides the project really isn’t needed. That’s when your night or weekend is still gone but the “extra time” no longer makes it a rush job to the client.”

I’ve occasionally encountered some typical bureaucratic maneuvering—these are the red flags to watch out for. Don’t even listen to promises about the future, like “We’ll make it up on the next project.” You can’t guarantee there will be a next project, so treat a rush job as it’s own isolated task.

Protect yourself by readying a contract (some call it a “work order,” or “engagement form”). Copy and paste into an email that can be sent to the client (you can find free contracts at Docracy.com), and all the client has to do is reply in agreement so you have it in writing. Including the contract at the end of your notes (some call it a “creative brief”) will set up a paper trail for any legal problems that might arise.

As some freelancers may know, some clients still find ways to ignore contracts, so if you are going to take on a rush job, I’d also recommend securing a 50 percent deposit. Again, uncommon requests warrant uncommon compensation. If a client says they’ll pay you 30 days after delivery, you might want to walk away.

If your client won’t offer a deposit but seems reputable—there are a few of them out there—try asking if they’ll send a check within three days of you completing the project. Even the largest corporations can have a check issued within 48 hours. Point is, in addition to an extra fee, there are ways for you to make sure that rush job isn’t followed by slow payment.

Sometimes rush jobs are overnight, same day, or need to be done on-site within the next few hours. 95% of them aren’t as rushed as they seem. Most rush projects suddenly find extra time when a client changes their mind or after sixteen weeks of deliberation, marketing decides the project really isn’t needed. That’s when your night or weekend is still gone but the “extra time” no longer makes it a rush job to the client.

There is also the question of what to do about a regular client that comes to you with a last minute rush job. Surely they don’t want to pay an additional charge because they give you so much work? Well, when it comes to a rush job, as with any delicate client-freelancers interaction, you need to decide how far you are willing to go. As a friend once said to me, “it’s okay to cut a deal, as long as you don’t cut your own throat!”

Differing Opinions

Oddly, there were some dissenting opinions posted elsewhere. One designer angrily called charging for rush jobs as “ripping off” the client. Another claimed that being a designer was part of a “relationship business” and charging extra was “unfriendly” towards the client.

My opinion differs slightly. I believe we are professionals who provide a professional service. Like any business, we function during normal business hours and days. We have families and have personal needs like any other business or employee. Naturally, like every other freelancer, I sit at my computer way too late, seven days a week, 365 days a year, even when I’m on vacation.

I do it because it’s the only way to finish all of my work, which I do truly love. The difference is – when a client demands I stay up all night, then they need to understand it’ll cost them extra. Is that really an outrageous fantasy?

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Stock Photos Courtesy of Creative Market