To charge the rush fee, or not?


It’s been a busy year for myself as a contracted web developer. For the last three years, the majority of my income has been coming from my sole contractor, but this year I’ve started getting handfuls of projects for myself. Currently, my schedule is 4 to 6 weeks out on new projects or updates.

I was wondering if it is a common practice to charge rush fees when someone wants something done immediately, and what is typical practice for what to charge for a rush fee. Should I use a percentage increase of my rate, or a flat fee?

If you have charged a rush fee before, please share your thoughts. Thanks.

I’ve charged extra when someone truely needed it ‘yesterday’, but this would depend on the situation. If it’s one of my big clients, I wouldn’t charge anything extra, as I appreciate the income they already send me.

If it’s a new prospect looking to jump the queue over my existing clients, I have charged up to 50% extra, but only if doing this rush job wouldn’t have a detrimental effect on my existing work load.

Of course, you need to define rush job - some rush jobs are just too ridiculous to even consider, no matter what the price they re willing to pay - e.g. e-commerce site designed, developed, and populated in 3 days…

In my business (commercial writing), rush fees are pretty standard practice. I don’t use them often, but I have used them before. I usually save them for situations where an inconsiderate client has painted themselves into a corner and now wants me to take up their slack. I see them basically as inconvenience fees.

Good example: a recent client contracted me to write a particular document, signed the contract and paid up the deposit. I gave him my usual 7-10 day timeframe for that sort of document, on the understanding that he’d have all the background info to me when we signed the contract. Well… we signed, check was cut, no background: it’d take another day or two. Cool, fine. A few days passed, no background: it’d take another day or two. In fact, I didn’t receive the background until the day we originally planned to have a complete first draft of the commissioned doc - a week and a half later. Every step of the way, this client hit me with an attitude that said that he spent his days barely tolerating the sheer incompetence of the rest of the human race - everyone flawed but him.

So I tell the guy that I’d have to send him a deadline extension letter to sign. No problem. And then I told him that he’d still be looking at 7-10 business days, and he blew up… no, that’s totally unacceptable, he needs it now now now, etc. I politely and calmly explained that he’d have the doc by now if he’d gotten the background to me on time. His indignant response: “Well, that wasn’t my fault.” Once again, surrounded by incompetents. At this point I was well past annoyed.

So I went back and checked my schedule. At the time I had two heavy web copywriting clients going, and three or four smaller projects in that timeframe; if I was going to be make good on this gig (and remember, he’d already paid a deposit), I could possibly cut it down to five days by shifting things around a bit and working more overtime. So I called him back and told him that I could pull it in five, but I’d be billing a rush fee of 25% on the total project. Fine, he said, send me whatever and I’ll sign it, just get moving. Argh… okay. So he signed the extension, I put it together in five, billed him. (He was a trouble child after delivery, too. With this guy, everything was someone else’s fault.)

On the other hand, another client called me up the other day to do another page of web copy. Good client, great to work with, reliable payer, ongoing project. I wasn’t too slammed for the week, so I gave him a 2-day turnaround without a rush.

In my terms, I reserve the general right to assess rush fees. If it’s a slow week and I can turn a project around in a few days with no trouble - particularly for a client who’s treated me well and honorably in the past - I won’t assess one. But if a client’s been a jerk, and I’ve already given him a time estimate, and he absolutely insists on faster turnaround, then it’s time to find how how badly he really needs it. If a client’s failure to plan and organize turns into a scheduling inconvenience for me, that client is going to pay for the privilege.

Just be sure to warn the client and give them an opportunity to reschedule. Mention this in your written contract, and make sure they’re voluntarily accepting the rush fee - don’t just slap one onto the invoice because you don’t like the guy. The final choice should always be theirs.

I had a new client a short while back. They wanted it done within a very tight schedule that involved me working outside working hours so i gave them the option of a 50% rush fee or they can pay the normal total fee upfront.

They paid upfront which ment i was happy and not waiting for money after the project was done and they were happy because they got a good deal.

I’m considering implementing rush-fees myself, and also after-hours fees. I got this idea after taking my laptop to the repair shop last week. It cost an additional $220 bucks, but I had no other option - I needed the computer back ASAP; just like some clients of mine need work asap.

As I don’t normally work after 6pm, I’m thinking of intruducing an after-hours extra fee thing? Do you guys thing this is a good idea?

It could be but it may be hard to regulate. Obviously if a client calls you at 8pm and needs something done right now, then that would incur the after-hours fee. But what about a client that wants a job done by the end of the week. You’re juggling 4 other projects at the same time and to get the job done you end up needing to work some extra hours after 6. Do you charge them for this? It could get in the iffy situations where you are putting certain clients ahead of others, thus pushing one into the after-hour zone. They may not like that all of a sudden they see an extra fee on their bill.

Now if you were to state this up front that you have many projects going on and to complete the new one you will need to work extra hours, including an extra fee, then it may not be an issue. Personally, I would just have a “rush” fee so it will cover after-hours needs as well as the “end of the week” projects. They’ll know of the fee ahead of time and it will leave it up to them to decide whether or not their project is worth the extra money for such a quick turn-around.

As a bonus, this rush fee maintains the control and power on your end as the client isn’t dictating when you’re going to finish their project … but if they do, they’re going to pay for it. No client likes the rush fee but most likely their projects aren’t that big of a rush anyway, they just all think they need it done yesterday. You’ll notice this once you start the “rush” project and it takes them weeks to get back to you on content/feedback/etc. :rolleyes:

Depends on how standardized your projects are. If every one is completely different, then that sort of rule will bite you in the end.

I learned that one the hard way. My original rush fee rule was 25% for deadlines of under 48 hours, 50% for an over-the-weekend rush. Problem is, a 48 hour deadline on a $200 project isn’t even remotely comparable to one on a $2000 project; reality was forcing me to apply the rule inconsistently, which quickly became a royal pain. I finally just made it “at my discretion” and reserved it for situations where clients were told how long it would take, and then insisted on having it quicker. In my case, it’s a premium service fee for clients who want me to rearrange my schedule - however I define it - to accomodate their needs. That’s the only justification I feel the need to provide.

I don’t allow the clock to determine what is emergency/late work and what isn’t because I set my hours – not my client. If I decide to work on something at 8am or 8pm, that’s my choice. However, if a client calls at 3am and needs me to hold their hand while their server is down or if they call me during a trip and I am preforming any sort of “emergency” work they get billed more. Of course this is something you have to tell the client upfront in your contract or when they call. Most of the time they don’t mind – in my case my clients occasionally call me when something breaks not because I can fix it (that’s generally not what I do) but because they need someone other than their hosting company to help diagnose the problem and endure the panic with them. The same holds true for when a client calls saying they need me to do this “now”. I consider anything that needs to be done now (as in this instant) as being an emergency and if it is appropriate they get billed more. If I’m simply sitting infront of the computer wondering what to do for the next 3 hours, and the client is a good one, then of course they aren’t going to pay more.