How to Apply (& Charge for) a Rush Fee without Ticking Off Your Client

If you’ve freelanced worked for any amount of time, you know that almost everyone wants their project done asap.

As so far, that’s impossible, most will settle for “in the near future.”

Some are even willing to pay more to complete their projects faster. (Yay!)

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But if you’re not careful about how you approach the subject, you risk creating grumpy clients or pushing them away completely.

No matter if you’re in graphic design, web design, marketing, or writing, you can try these tips to keep your clients from haggling over price increases or “surprise” charges.

Most importantly…

Be as up front about rush fees as possible.

  • If you can, set them before the project starts.
  • If you can’t, make sure the rush fee is understood and agreed upon before any rush work is begun.

Because while it may seem obvious to you that the deadline is absurd, your client may have no idea what they’re asking of you.

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(Or they may, but that’s a topic for a different post.)

But what guidelines should we follow for applying rush fees?

Read on…

What constitutes a rush fee

So how do you classify a rush job as, well, a rush job?

Is it any same-day project? Does it only apply if you’re really too busy to do it? And does it depend on how good the client is?

Note: There are a ton of theories and practices for applying rush fees for freelancers, so what works best for you might differ from others.

For my freelancing business, a rush job is any project:

  1. whose deadline is shorter than my “normal” timeframe (they need it asap).
  2. that requires me to reschedule other scheduled work.
  3. that forces me to work over the weekend, last minute.

No matter how busy I am, these are my rush job “rules,” which are as much to keep me honest with my business as it is to prevent my clients of taking advantage of a lull in my work schedule.

After all, you set a dangerous precedent if you do rush work for regular fees when you’re not as busy. Once you are busy, your clients will likely complain about an all-of-a-sudden higher cost. That’s a can of worms I’d rather not open.

Making sure you set the rules from the get-go ensures that there’s no surprises for your client.

The additional cost of your rush fees

How you might structure your rush fees may vary. (Also not set in stone.)

Some tack on a flat percentage of the project cost as an extra fee. Others use a sliding percentage scale, charging slightly less the costlier a project gets. Still others eschew calling it a “rush fee” at all and instead just charge more for the project as a whole.

Regardless of how you charge for the extra fee, most freelancers agree that a rush project ought to cost in the neighborhood of an additional 50%. This is because:

  • Charge too little and you’ll work your butt off for peanuts
  • Charge too much and you’ll scare your clients off to someone cheaper

(Not much different than “normal” pricing, is it? Join the struggle bus.)

However, for high-dollar projects, you might consider bringing your rush percentage fee down a bit to keep the price more manageable for your client.

Sometimes it’s relative to the project at hand, therefore the 50% doesn’t always stick true to every scenario.

Find what works for your business, create your own set of rules, and stick to it. If you’re going to change your rules, at least do it with new clients only, and ease your current clients into it over time.

Client considerations

As if figuring out your pricing isn’t sticky enough! Does the price change with the client relationship? What if it’s a first-time client? Or a good, long-term client? Or just a difficult client you don’t care for?

Let’s start with the easy cases you might charge extra:

  • Difficult clients always pay the maximum, whatever your maximum is.
  • New clients get a standard rate (unless you’ve got some sort of discount for first-time clients), otherwise you risk having to undercharge for the rest of your relationship.
  • “Middle-of-the-road” clients also fall in the standard rate category.

It’s the good clients that make things more difficult:

  • Have they earned a better deal?
  • Do you charge a rush fee at all, especially for small things?

Unless it’s a rare, small request, I’d argue you’ve got to charge at least some extra for a rush job, even for good clients. (There’s that dangerous precedence again that can actually work against you long-term.)

However, for your best clients that have the occasional rush project, you might discount the rush fee in light of your good relationship.

In the end, if they’re truly a great client, they should expect to pay additional fees for their request. If they don’t, well then maybe they aren’t as good of a client? Something to consider.

Thoughts? Tips?

How do you handle rush projects and fees? What works best for you and why?

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Millo Articles by April Greer

April is a freelance designer with a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy.
Read more from April.

  1. nice post!

    recently i wrote website copy for a client. when i gave him price estimate for his project he wanted me to reduce it by subtracting about 50 percent of the total price from it.

    so instead of giving a blunt ‘no’ or ‘obeying’ his command, i proposed a new estimate in which i reduced the word count to fit his budget.

    he was ok with that and happily paid the price.

  2. Johnny @ FulltimeNomad.com says:

    I’ve never considered charging a rush fee while freelancing and I’ve worked many weekends trying to get things done for a pushy client. Definitely something ill consider going forward. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Hey Johnny,
      You’re welcome! Definitely, if you’re “forced” to work when you’d rather be playing, it should cost extra.
      Good luck going forward!
      April

  3. Sharon Pettis McElwee says:

    I usually quote the project and make the rush fee a separate line item. It is amazing how many clients will all of a sudden not have such an urgent need anymore 🙂

    1. True that, Sharon! 🙂

      I find the same.

  4. Justin Vajko says:

    Dang! And I just submitted a proposal for a rush fee of 25% of the job… Lesson learned.

  5. Andrea Finch says:

    April – I’m interested to know what your “normal” timeframe is.

    1. Hey Andrea,
      Me too! 😀
      In all seriousness, it’s a sliding scale, and sometimes it’s on a case-by-case basis, but there are a couple of general rules I follow:
      1) I’ve never met your “average” informational website that doesn’t take at least a month to complete, so I usually start with 4-6 weeks and then take into account any special parameters of that particular project.
      2) I like time to create, sleep on it, and then review/modify/create some more, so for something that I think might take me 4-6 hours of actual design time, I’d like at least a week for that initial design process before my reveal to the client. For larger projects, might be 2-3-4, depending on the particulars.
      Does that help?
      Thanks for asking!
      April

      1. Andrea Finch says:

        Great. Thanks heaps. I agree that it’s a process that can’t be rushed.

        1. Glad I could help! 🙂

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