I often see discussions among creative freelancers and agencies about the pros and cons of doing rush jobs. Some people enjoy them, some people take them on a case-by-case basis, and a few people try to stay away from them.
But the general conclusion is that rush jobs come with the territory — not just of being a freelancer, but any creative vendor, communications department, or any other profession where projects have many dependencies. This is especially true for situations where external variables heavily influence a project’s release date.
From retail to real estate, SaaS to CRE, across every industry if you provide marketing and creative services, you’ll sometimes find yourself on a quick-turnaround project for reasons that couldn’t necessarily be foreseen. So rather than complain about them, learn how to manage them for your benefit.
Here are some important things to work out with the client before accepting the next rush job that’s offered.
1. Will the pay be as rushed as the work was?
This should be the first major consideration when considering a rush job, particularly from a new client. Ask for payment upfront, if possible, or immediately upon completion of the project… and before delivery of assets. Platforms like ClearVoice will support you in ensuring your timely payment.
If this client has a corporate policy in place with a contract that says you’ll be paid, for example, 14 days from when you file, it’s worth considering whatever deal they can offer — especially if you’ve worked with them before and were paid in a timely fashion. But if all they have is excuses, i.e. “We are an agency; we only pay by check,” or “We usually have a 30-day net,” remind them that this is a special circumstance by their own request, and needs to be paid as such.
(Note: Everyone has that one anchor client that’s allowed to occasionally make super-unreasonable requests like a 24-hour turnaround on a project that won’t be paid for 60 days. For this client, maybe skip this question and go directly to #2.)
2. How much of a rush fee is being offered in order for you to complete this work on a tight timeline?
Many vendors set a rush fee proportionate to how rushed the job is. A project with a 72-hour turnaround may get a rush fee of 50 percent, whereas something with a one-week turnaround may get 25 percent. The deciding factor is usually how much other work will need to be pushed back, or how many extra hours in the next few days will you need in order to service your regular clients and also accommodate the rush job?
3. How well do you know the subject matter?
The answer to this question is one of few that really should be a dealbreaker. If you know the subject matter of the rush project well, you are justified to be reasonably confident you can nail it even on a tight turnaround. If you aren’t sure, then review any available information to see whether you’ll be able to deliver when there’s no room for error or delays. If you don’t know the subject matter, then pass. This isn’t the right situation for anyone to be on a steep learning curve.
4. What’s the “next step” after the rush job?
Try to have a short conversation about who’s next in line to receive the work you’re doing, and whether they’re on standby for it, and what the scheduled launch date for the project is. This question, if there’s room to ask it, can make you look like a team player who’s concerned about the bigger picture while also subtly cluing you in about how rushed the project actually is.
Anyone who’s ever worked in publishing, production or marketing is all too familiar with the “hurry up and wait” paradox where a higher-up asks for a piece like the fate of the company hangs in the balance, until they receive it and check it off on some mysterious private receivables list, whereupon it goes into limbo for another two months.
Another thing that’s common is for clients to request an entire batch of work on a rush when they only have urgent need for one piece of it. If it becomes evident through your next-step query that the entire project is not actually hurtling toward a go-live date in three days, you can sometimes do the rush job on deadline, get paid the rush fee, and then offer to “look at it with fresh eyes” before it actually moves through the queue, thus giving yourself a chance to polish the work at a more leisurely pace.
5. Who is the intended audience for this rush job?
Another big concern of people who don’t like rush jobs is that a mistake might slip through the cracks because there’s not as much time to check work, and that the person who did the rush job will get the blame. One way to alleviate this stress can be to find out who will ultimately be consuming the content. Is it for an internal presentation? A one-time speech at a conference? An organic social media campaign? Based on the answer, you can sometimes figure out where to focus your efforts and what to deprioritize.
For example, if you’re a designer being asked to rush together a Photoshop presentation and it turns out to be for an internal pitch, rather than holding out for high-quality images to accompany every copy line, you might be OK to use low-quality images, knowing that the deck won’t be shown on a big screen.
6. How many other places or people need to provide relevant materials in order for you to finish?
Sometimes a rush job can turn into a sweaty last-minute sprint because the CEO or other key source wasn’t available till the second half of the drop-dead deadline day. After finally getting them on a call, you speed through an interview, note-taking furiously, and then crank out the resulting material on a countdown clock.
This is an intensity level that you should ONLY go through if your VIP stakeholder/collaborator truly has not an iota of wiggle room in their schedule. For all other needs, encourage your client to support you in traffic-managing needed assets or wrangling folks to chat with you before the 11th hour.
7. Is this a legitimate rush job or someone who simply assumes your schedule is flexible?
Sometimes people who have no clue about how jam-packed a non-corporate schedule can be will assume that a 3- or 5-day turnaround is fine because… you’re eternally flex! They’ll assume you’re available for same-day meetings and late-night texts because… you’re your own boss. There are a lot of ways to gently train clients out of monopolizing your schedule this way. Give them a calendar window for a kickoff call in one week. Tell them you’re booked through X date. Tell them you would be happy to have the assignment turned around the following week, end-of-week.
If they come back saying “I really need it by day after tomorrow,” then it’s time to give them your rush fee. A lot of times, though, they’ll dial back the urgency once they realize you have other things going than just working for them.
One rush job done well often leads to more freelance work.
A fear that many freelancers and agencies have is, if you jump to do rush jobs, then you will invariably only get more rush jobs from that client. This may or may not be true. But what also is just as true is that the client might not operate on a rushed timeline normally. If this is otherwise a good client who pays well, do you really want to cut yourself out of opportunities?
A major advantage that small firms and freelancers have over large agencies is the ability to be ‘nimble.’ See this as a strength, not as a vulnerability, and use the qualifying questions and other tactics listed in this article to make sure you’re respected and compensated for your quick thinking.