How to apply rush fees without ticking off your clients

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

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.

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.

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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.

(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

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, so what works best for you might differ from others.

For my business, a rush project is any project:

  1. whose deadline is shorter than my “normal” timeframe.
  2. that requires me to reschedule other scheduled work.
  3. that forces me to work over the weekend.

No matter how busy I am, these are my “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.

The additional cost

(Also not set in stone.)

Some tack on a flat percentage of the project cost. 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 extra, most 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?)

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.

Client considerations

As if figuring out the pricing isn’t sticky enough! Does the price change with the client relationship?

Let’s start with the easy cases:

  • 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 project, 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.

Thoughts? Tips?

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

Share your thoughts in the comments!

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  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. 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!

  3. 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. 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!

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