I recently had a meeting with a colleague who brought up a challenge he was facing: out of the blue a client says they needed something done in 24 hours or less. My colleague’s plight is one that we agreed many of our readers have likely encountered — along with the accompanying questions: Do you charge a rush fee to this client? How can you tell if this is appropriate?

To start us off, here’s one concern that might be weighing on you:

“I want to maintain a good relationship with my client — should I really charge a rush fee?”

Well, yes. Or if you choose not to, you might as well whip up a home-cooked meal and lay out a nice doormat to welcome scope creep in for a prolonged stay.

Quick turnarounds are sometimes an unavoidable reality in the fast-paced world of freelancing. But as a solopreneur or a freelancer committed to growing a thriving business, you must remember this: a client who simply expects you to deliver on a rush job without further consideration is essentially saying that their business is more important than your business. My colleague summed this up perfectly in our conversation.

We agreed on a timeline for deliverables of X days. But they need something sooner. I can’t just tell my team to stop what they’re doing for other clients and rush this for me. I could do it myself, but my time is valued in a different way. Time on that service for a client is time I don’t spend on strategy or other servcies or working for my other clients. Or it’s time that I may have scheduled for growing my business. I could ask my assistant to drop everything and do it, but that’s the same thing at another scale — time away from other priorities.

If a client is turning their bind into your bind, charge a rush fee. If a client is making you reorient your schedule, cut your planned free time or pull late hours — or if the client simply gives you a deadline that is shorter than your normal delivery — charge a rush fee!

One rush job isn’t necessarily a non-starter, but a client who comes to expect them of you will hold you and your business back. You don’t charge a rush fee to get rich — you do it to encourage good client behavior and to prevent this from becoming commonplace in your work dynamic with your clients.

What should I charge and how should I negotiate a rush fee?

A rush fee is functionally a deterrent so if you’re worried about your client being put off by it . . . well, that’s kind of the point! Your client needs to feel the squeeze they’re putting on you, or they will not think anything of it in the future when similar situations arise.

Certified copyeditor Adrienne Montgomerie illustrates this sentiment in her recent blog for CopyEditing.com. How much more should you charge for your premium rate? Take a look at this cheeky bullet summary she put together:

  • 25% if I want the work, but I’m wearing my shark costume [you have to make some crazy moves like the half-time show shark to get this work done on time].
  • 50% if the work will wreak havoc with my schedule but I could make it happen with support.
  • 200% if they won’t take no for an answer. This is enough to contract out all the other things I’ll neglect, like cooking, cleaning and childcare.

As you can probably gather from reading over these considerations, there is no uniform rush fee — in the same way that most last-minute projects have their own timeline and bill of unreasonable expectations. Your rush fee is about your considerations — if your client needs this work turned around instantly, regardless of how it affects your life demands, then you have some serious leverage for your invoicing.

But just because we have leverage doesn’t mean that we should forsake our professionalism in handling these arrangements. Montgomerie additionally recommends using solution-oriented language that reinforces the unique value that you bring to the project amidst these challenging circumstances.

“Focus on how you are solving a problem for the client, as you always would,” says Montgomerie. “Use language that shows you are glad to be a part of the solution — words like ‘happy,’ ‘glad,’ and ‘solve.’ State the fee plainly and without embellishment. Don’t apologize for or justify the fee. Rush fees are your business policy.”

Take your time on a good rush proposal

As with many of the messier matters in the gig economy, we come right back to the proposal and scope of work. If you know rush jobs are something you need to deal with on a somewhat consistent basis, then make sure your proposals contain language that speaks to these exceptional circumstances.

At the very least, you will want to get whatever arrangement you reach with this flustered client into writing and make your demands clear so that they take this premium delivery as seriously as you need to.

Web design blogger Speider Schneider recommends clarifying a rush job as soon as possible and having some of your considerations met up front in a recent Design Shack article.

“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,” says Schneider. “Again, uncommon requests warrant uncommon compensation. If a client says they’ll pay you 30 days after delivery, you might want to walk away.”

In short, if you have “rush job” on your hands, there’d better be some “rush pay” in there as well!

When you charge a rush fee, make sure that you give your client a timeline for your compensation that is every bit as regimented as the delivery schedule they’ve stuck you with. This will keep you from descending into resent in the wee hours of the morning.

Gut check: do I really have to take the job?

Obviously not! And regardless of how much pressure a client is putting on you, you are well within your rights to turn down unexpected rush work as long as you reply to your client in a timely manner and respect the urgency of their situation.

If you get the sense that your client doesn’t properly understand the weight of their request or is unwilling to meet you halfway on it, these are all good grounds for walking away. Respect is a key part of what allows the client/contractor relationship to work and if your client is prone to forgetting this in the midst of their stresses, it may be time to re-evaluate whether this client is worth working for.

Your work/life balance is sacred — don’t let any client tell you otherwise!

Ben Shanbrom is a freelance writer, musician, and copy editor who works with artists and clients within his native New Haven scene and well beyond (ask him about tracking drums in the studio where Europe recorded “The Final Countdown”). Ben is a tried and true “coffee rings on his notepad” freelancer, and wouldn’t have it any other way.