Rush Jobs Are Rarely Necessary

I have had my fair share of interesting moments with clients over the years. One that particularly stands out was when I was heading on a trip to Spain with some pals one Summer, my fight left at 9pm and I was still in my office in Leigh-on-Sea at 5pm with a client who had barged (barged being the best descriptive word actually after I failed to intercom him into the building) into the office and sat down demanding changes to his website before I left. He’d sent me an email and already got my auto-responder back, panicked that he hadn’t told me he needed something before a 9 day holiday, and came up the office.

What then occurred was what can only be described as pixel pushing hell. On the fly updates, rushed and terrible work, all because he thought he would need something while I was away. What I was doing was based on the back of a print run of leaflets he would be doing in my 9 days holiday, and guess what? I came back 9 days later and the print run hadn’t happened. The graphic design for the print run was not even started by the company tasked to complete it.

A similar thing happened before I went on honeymoon. I was away for three weeks this time. Determined not to let anything spoil the week leading up to our wedding, I took the week off work. The week prior to that, despite warning clients I would be away months in advance, was hell. Again, another website, determined they needed to launch while I would be away, thickly laying on deadlines and emails practically every hour in the week before I went away. I leave for honeymoon safe in the knowledge that yes, I managed to do a good job of covering up the bags under my eyes on my wedding day, but my work was safely completed. Back from honeymoon (September), no website. Merry Christmas all. No website. Happy New Year! Again, no website. It didn’t launch until February of 2011, my honeymoon was in September 2010.

Something along the same lines has cropped up recently as well, and it’s made me decide that the only way to determine whether a rush job is truly necessary is to charge a premium. I would say 80% of projects that have come to me saying they need something urgently, have rarely been truly urgent. They might have been a priority in one department of the business you are dealing with, but inevitably, when the work is complete, it’s reliant on other departments or individuals to do something with it. That rarely tallies up with you wrapping up and them becoming available. So your “rush” work sits in a folder, gathering virtual dust until the relevant person decides to pick up on it, sometimes, many months later.

It does beg a question though, what would you consider a rush job? Something that needs completion in under a month or less? Or even something small that causes you to drop whatever you are doing that day, and pick up on something else? I think it’s about time we became like photography labs, ok – we might not have 1 hour processing, but charging a premium for express services should come far more naturally to our industry than they seem to currently.

  • I’ve had a lot of similar experiences, particularly in the last few months. Urgent jobs are handed to me, and I stop and ask the client exactly what is so urgent about it. More often than not, they realize they’ve overestimated the urgency, and things become a lot more calm.

    For those that don’t have that realization, I tend to continue working at my own pace – and still end up waiting for material from the client for the job they so desperately needed doing as soon as possible.

  • Tim

    If it’s a large last minute job (e.g. build a web site yesterday), I don’t take it on. It’s doing both yourself and the client a massive disservice by taking on the job, as you won’t be able to carry out all of the work to the best of your potential in such a short timeframe. It’s also a sign that you have a client who is disorganised and this is how they run their own business (and therefore most likely pay their invoices last minute too). It’s not hassle I really want.

    If it’s a short last minute job e.g. from an existing client, there are two options: put a (high) price on the problem, or politely point out that as it’s such a small job a slight delay to ensure it’s done right first time won’t hurt and in the long run saves your client money. Either the client will agree with your reasoning or find that the ‘problem’ suddenly disappears as the price is too high for them. Of course, if they take the price, then at least you’re being compensated for the possible out of hours / urgent nature of the work.

    I appreciate some people do specialise in taking on this type of last minute / urgent work and can get results, but it requires a different discipline altogether than the typical planned project process.

  • in a similar vein are ‘little’ jobs and i don’t mean the ones that are little to the client but will involve a day or 2 to do. i mean the 10-15 minute jobs. i used to get quite a few of them and because they were so small, clients would get annoyed if i didn’t drop everything and do them there and then…..and i would often forget to include them when billing! the way i stopped them was introducing a minimum charge of half a day. suddenly these jobs stopped and were then lumped together in regular monthly updates. it was a hard learning curve though but well worth the pain

    • I’ve started putting a minimum charge for small maintenance items too. I has minimized the number of tiny client requests.

      Thebest way to determine if a job is really a rush job is to mention that your pricing or hourly rate has a 50% or 80% premium. That always tells me whether or not they really need it. If time really is a constraint, they will agree to pay the extra charges as it means they have no other options and really need the work by a certain date.

  • I think everything that has to be done before you have time in your schedule/planning is a “rush job”.

    They are indeed rarely necessary and just put extra pressure on you and your work for other clients. If you treat all your clients the same way, there’s no good reason why this “rush client” should mess up your jobs for other clients.

  • Absolutely spot on. Rush jobs rarely ever are truly urgent, and are usually a sign of bad planning on the client’s part.

    When I was freelance, I *always* charged a premium for jobs that the client said were urgent. In fact, for those jobs, I doubled my rates. Only one client actually went ahead on the doubled-rate. Every other client said “Actually, it’s not that urgent, it can wait” because they weren’t prepared to pay more.

    It all comes down to planning. Good clients don’t leave things like this to the last minute, and generally don’t have “urgent” jobs, because they know the value of good planning and that time is precious.

  • I’m a web developer at a small university and our team [two guys] is at the mercy of six departments, all of whom are represented on a committee that meets twice a month, and all who separately have/want department- or event-specific web stuff. I’m only just now getting my freelancer’s feet wet, but I know all about rush.

    What I’ve found most helpful is to be public but about my work schedule. I maintain a staff-only ticketing site where the tickets are viewable to all staff by default. Basically, everyone can see that there are shit ton of different things going on at any time. I also have published “unavailable” times (meetings and stuff).

    Not that I can charge a premium, but I’d define an express job by whether I have to rearrange or re-prioritize that schedule / tickets, so it’s like the client is paying to bump his or her order to the top of the list.

    • Sara


      What ticketing system do you use? Proprietary or in-house? I’m thinking of using I wonder if anyone here uses a better/more elegant solution.

  • There is no such thing as an Internet emergency. Learning to say no is one of the hardest things. Feels great when you do though.

  • thecodezombie

    In essence, a ‘rush job’ is anything that ruffles the feathers of your personal time…the severity of it is what causes real frustration.

    Whether it’s cancelling plans that evening to push a little something out for morning, or a mega f-up that means the line between workday and weekday / holiday become very blurred…they’re all outside of what would constitute ‘office hours’ (however you define them).

    One possible solution is to have a water-tight contract regarding notification of requests and the prompt delivery of assets from the client. The obvious drawback is you have to act like a bit of dick and wield said contract as your weapon; with the possibility of pissing off the client with the very thing they signed in the first place.

    I do like your ‘charge a premium’ approach though; I can see how it would weed out any frivolous “must have now” requests.

  • As others, similar experiences here. Where I’ve been transitioning into the freelance world for the last 3 months or so, I’ve taken on every job I was offered. So far, it seems to have gone well and aided my journey. This past weekend, I took on a job that needed to be started immediately. I charged exactly double for the privilege. They didn’t bat an eyelid, but I guess they knew about the tough hours I’d need to do.
    I’m yet to see if the rush was unnecessary, but I’m not holding much hope for it.

    From now on though, I intend to question why the rush is needed and try to discourage it. As Andy Budd mentioned on Twitter, “we don’t rush jobs as the quality invariably goes down”. Maybe that could help the client realise the thing they’re paying good money for won’t be as good because some manager wants it done yesterday.

  • We’ve been doing rush rates for a few years. They are charged at either 1.5 or 2x standard rate depending on exactly how urgent they are. We use our discretion slightly on what constitutes rushed. Rough rule of thumb is anything that’s going to mean us working evenings or weekends. So small updates for existing clients means less than 2-3 working days. For bigger jobs it might be as much as 2-3 weeks.

    It’s worked really well at delivering both our objectives:

    1) get people to plan better so they aren’t creating “emergency” work in the first place (and then making us suffer for their lack of planning)

    2) compensate us for the inconvenience of involved in fitting in things which are genuinely urgent.

    On (1) in particular, I find people now only have a non-emergency emergency once. Especially more junior people who then have to go explain to their boss why they are having to pay us more just because they didn’t get their side of the job done sooner.

    I thoroughly recommend it as an approach.

  • I’m not a web designer, but a freelance professional translator. Apparently in my line of work, ninety percent of jobs are rush jobs. Most of the clients I’ve dealth with in the 13 years I’ve been doing what I do, have this habit of contacting me in that phase of their workflow where they’re already late for something. As a consequence, they demand unreal / unreasonable deadlines.

    What I find most annoying:

    1. The fact that every client takes for granted that I’m always free and just waiting for him/her to have something assigned. When I politely remark that I’m already involved in other works & projects for other clients, the general attitude in the client’s response is “Okay, but this is MORE IMPORTANT and MORE URGENT”.

    2. That most rush jobs involve throwing the weekend down the drain. The client contacts me on Friday afternoon requesting I do the job for Monday morning. Then the client leaves the office at 6 PM and spends the weekend resting at home, while I supposedly have to spend the weekend burning my eyes in front of a computer.

    3. That in my line of work, clients have simply too much leverage. Very rarely I’ve found people willing to prepare or sign written agreements. So there’s often this nasty atmosphere where you’ve pressed to do the (rush) job otherwise you risk losing a client.

    4. The fact that a lot of clients don’t seem particularly interested in quality. They prefer to pay the lowest price possible AND want things done quickly. If you can’t “deliver” according to these standards, they move on to another professional or (more probably) to the first amateur who doesn’t do the job for a living and he’s happy to be paid poorly.

    Anyway, for the past four years I’ve always requested a ‘priority fee’ and a ‘rush fee’. And — surprise! — most of the urgency vanishes. How peculiar…

    Apologies for my little rant!


  • Too true! In my freelance contracts I typically include a clause that specifies that any work requested of an immediate nature after normal business hours is subject to a higher hourly rate & rush charge (which I then specify in the clause). I also state that any major project requests outside the scope of the agreement requested with less than a one week turnaround are subject to the same higher rates.

    By charging rush fees, it always makes clients think twice about what they are requesting, and it puts your mind at ease to knowing if they still make crazy requests at least you’ll end up being paid appropriately for it.

    “If it wasn’t for clients, who wouldn’t want to be a freelancer?!”

  • I completely agree. After having a hectic start to 2012, with clients insisting that they needed something complete ‘today’, I started charging a rush fee; 100% markup for 24-hr turnaround and 50% within 7 days. It’s made people start to think twice about asking for it so imminently. It’s helping me to plan my work out much better without so many impending deadlines.

  • I treat rush jobs the same way I treat requests for IE6 compatibility: first I say no, then I say it costs twice as much. Not surprisingly, I have very few rush jobs after that exchange. And I don’t have to deal with IE6 all that much either 🙂

  • As a “client” (I’ve always worked on that side of the table, and have largely relied on third-party agencies and freelancers for web design and development throughout my career in marketing), I can vouch for being rather disappointed – even disgusted – when I see my peers behaving this way. Which is, as you suggest, quite commonly.

    We’d all agree: having deadlines is important to being able to get work done, and even when there’s not a REAL deadline, setting an arbitrary one is still necessary. BUT (you knew the but was coming) pretending that some deadlines are somehow immovable, or not being honest with yourself and those doing work for you that deadlines can move, or worse, making others suffer because of your poor planning, is just crummy.

    It’s a point of pride for me that I treat vendors just like I would an employee of my own company, and that I treat everyone like a human being. Shockingly, this approach (while also doing whatever I can to plan and manage a project well) results in projects getting done. Perhaps not always on THE day we originally planned (it’s web development, after all – estimating time can be hard), but almost always in a timely, realistic fashion.

    Plus, it’s amazing how treating a vendor respectfully can in turn make them more willing to go that extra mile for you when it really matters.

  • Ellie

    I’ve had similar experiences working as a freelance web developer. I think that’s one of the reasons I went back to working a 9-to-5. The company I work for has better judgement than I do regarding project timing. Because of the anxiety and stress that comes with rush jobs, it’s okay to charge a premium to get it done in the client’s unreasonable timeframe. The postal service charges more for expedited delivery, why can’t freelancers? I wish I had thought of it at the time.

    Also, I agree with Steven Grant. There really is no such thing as an internet emergency.

  • Thanks for raising an interesting discussion Sarah.

    For existing clients who suddenly need some work done in a rush, if we can fit it in, we always charge double. It doesn’t matter if we happen to have a ‘research’ afternoon planned which can easily be rescheduled, the point is to persuade them to be more organised. I’d like to say like others above that this has worked, but I’m afraid we had one client who regularly requested work (print design) at the last minute.

    We finally proposed (and it was agreed for us) to do some content strategy work with this particular client, as various aspects of this work can help them have a more organised workflow (and thus save them money in the long run). Among other things, we taught them how to plan using a content calendar and prepared a style guide (in collaboration with them) so that they’re able to get the copywriting on tone, brand and message first time (print work often turned into a rush because the copy they initially delivered wasn’t right). This is all helpful stuff for website design work too, as so often these projects turn into rush jobs because clients suddenly realise (too late) that they don’t have their content ready. It is early days since the completion of this work but we’re already seeing a difference in the quality and timeliness of their output.

    Re: Paul Adam Davis comment on Andy Budd’s tweet, yes it is important to explain to clients that you can’t rush a job as the quality would suffer. That is why we, like Tim, don’t take on work that needs to be done yesterday. But if work needs to be done in less than 48 hours we call that a ‘rush’, even if we have the resources to do the job without rushing the work, for reasons already mentioned above.

    Sarah, it depends on the size and quality of the job you are going to do what counts as a rush – for the websites we design, 1 month is never enough. We’re usually just finishing the research and discovery about then!

  • Like a lot of the others here, I think that a “rush job” is when the client demands/needs the work to be done outside of your own scheduling. If you have to put another paying client on hold to take care of the urgent client, you need to be compensated for either the extra hours or the potentially sticky situation you could get in with the bumped client. I’ve usually thought 50% or 100% extra of the project cost was acceptable. If you double the price often the client will reconsider their dates and you’ll be able to schedule it normally. Like Steven said, there’s no such thing as an Internet emergency 😉 And you’re right, they usually aren’t actually necessary.

  • As someone working in IT Service Management, I can see many parallels. There is always a trade off between responsive customer service and managing client demand/expectations. It is a very individual thing as to where on that spectrum you are – or indeed want to be.

    One of the ways we tackle this in Service Management is to define our ‘Service Catalogue’. A directory of all the services we provide, which includes a Service Level Agreement (SLA). This SLA lays out the terms of service – what we will do, the cost, the time frame in which we will do it, penalty clauses if we fail to provide the appropriate service, etc. However, as the SLA is a two-way agreement (which should form part of your contract with 3rd parties), you also define the notice periods, client response times to queries, penalty clauses etc expected of the client. The penalty clause could be anything from simply not accepting late requests, to charging a premium (or tiered premiums) for the inconvenience – whatever suits your requirements.

    This isn’t going to stop last minute requests and clients claiming ‘Emergency!’, but it does provide upfront clarity for the client to sign up to and offer some security/backup to you as the service provider.

  • I have to agree with you on this one. I have had clients that are similar to the experiences that you have described here.

    I think that if you want something doing straight away, then you are asking me to stop doing something else that is already ahead in the queue. Therefore to complete both tasks I am going to have to work longer, more unsocial hours, which I think needs a premium paying for it.

  • Amen to that!

  • This is something I come across all the time and is definitely a problem when there is any office downtime during holidays. It would be far better to charge a premium for short time jobs its so simple but very easy to not implement!

  • In the eyes of a client, 90% of things are seen as a rush job for them. It’s all life or death and it’s very hard to make them understand otherwise. More often than not, like you said, the rush job spits out stuff that’s so below the standard you’re usually no one’s truly happy.

    To me a rush job is something that urgently requires fixing. Something that’s broken on a website, or that’s incorrect and for legal reasons, it can’t be there. Something that is truly life or death for the client.

    Charging a premium for rush jobs is definitely a good litmus test to identify whether it truly is a rush job. If the client’s willing to pay twice the normal hourly rate, then they must be really in need of it!

  • mxdubois

    You’re a genius! This is exactly what I need. Business people are always rushing things beyond their realistic capacity..

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  • alireza

    hello are you?i love your writes.

  • I never accept rush jobs from new clients. But current clients ask for “rush jobs” probably every couple weeks at least. It tends to keep you on for feet, if you do well under pressure. It also shows that client that you value their business, when you take care of them, they’ll take care of you.

    As far a charging a premium rate, I don’t at the moment, but it is definitely a good idea.

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  • I have to say that even though I work in a 9-5 at the moment, the rush job still exists though for us 7 days is a luxury, in most cases we have only a few hours notice before the deadline drops. In this regard it has been a matter of simply turning around and saying no. The ones that we have no choice on the matter we end up working until all hours, and unlike freelancers, we don’t have the option of charging premium.

  • I consider a “rush job” anything that’ll require me to work overtime to make sure to complete it on time, where I can’t be sure it’ll fit in my regular schedule. I rarely get them, probably I won’t do a rush job for anything less than double pay. I’ve even gotten triple pay, before.

    Part of the reason I charge so much is that overtime is very bad for me. I end up needing an extra chiropractic visit to avoid a migraine (my neck likes locking up); and if I have to buy pre-made food, it will invariably have something in it that I’m allergic or sensitive to, which leaves me feeling unwell for two days.

    (I’m allergic to things like rice, tomatoes, carrots, stevia, egg yolk, mayo, most cooking oils, etc.)

    • Note: I’m a writer, editor, and web coder.

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