I’ve had my share of rush jobs. They usually end up as anxiety-filled hours of torture. In certain cases, rush jobs can actually be fulfilling because there’s no time for creative changes—the client has to take your work as is. But usually, the typical micromanaging still exists.
However, despite all the potential anxiety, it’s important to realize that rush jobs give freelancers a rare advantage: negotiating power. Even if you’re working on-site suckling sustenance from the soda and candy machines, you have the ability to charge a premium for any skills you have to ply on short notice.
Here’s a look into how to benefit the most from rush jobs.
Understand your advantage
When a steady client comes to you with a last-minute project, they may not want to pay an additional charge since they already give you consistent work. As with any delicate client-freelancers interaction, you should negotiate respectfully. Your specific compensation depends on the relationship you have with the client, but a good starting benchmark is a 25 percent rush fee.
As a friend once said to me, “It’s okay to cut a deal, as long as you don’t cut your own throat!”
When the call comes in from a prospective client, you should always ask plenty of questions. I also recommend taking notes and keeping track of emails, outlines, and directions so you can double-check all facts and requests. Clients coming to you with rush jobs are usually stressed, so if you make it easy on them, you have a better chance of earning a rush fee.
When it comes time to discuss that fee, never underestimate the power of desperation. I didn’t know just how lucrative these opportunities could be until a friend had to cancel weekend plans when his phone rang with an urgent request for a rush job.
He explained to me, in an exasperated tone, that he tried to get regular work from this client but was only called when there was a last-minute weekend job.
“Who would he call if you turned him down?” I asked.
“He’ll probably use someone else,” he said with a shrug.
A couple of weeks later, my friend called to tell me he was so sick of the guy that he doubled his fee out of frustration. The client accepted without hesitation.
The trick is to stay calm during the negotiation phase. Use the word “happy” a lot. “Happy to help.” “Happy to get them out of a rough spot.” Just remind the client you are a professional and deserve the treatment—and payment—that corresponds to that professionalism.
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.
In the end, regardless how much your time and sanity is worth, never feel obligated to take a rush job just to appease a client. In these extreme situations, the freelancer holds most of the power.
I know some people who don’t accept rush jobs under any circumstances. I know others who do and enjoy it. Personally, I’ve done my best work under high-pressure deadlines, and I charge accordingly.