An urgent rate is a higher hourly rate for work that requires an urgent turnaround. But why would you need this?
Early in your freelancing journey, you might jump at the chance for any billable client work you can get. Before long though, you’ll face the challenge of competing client expectations and finite capacity.
If a client has an urgent request, you have a choice: prioritise the urgent request and delay the other work you had scheduled or take on the stress of overworking to appease both clients.
Urgent rates aren’t about the money
Having an urgent rate isn’t about trying to get more money from clients — it’s an ASAP deterrent. If your urgent rate is working well, your number of urgent jobs should actually go down — along with your stress levels. Urgent rates are mostly about managing client expectations and making time management simpler.
Do less urgent jobs and make them worth your while
Some designers refuse to deliver urgent turnaround work and make that a condition of working with them. When you’re a client and you’re really stuck, it’s nice to know a service provider can get you out of a bind — even if it’ll cost more for the privilege. You might find clients are in less of a hurry once they know about your urgent rates.
Add it to your terms & conditions
Communicating your urgent rates is as important as having them. It's a good idea to have an urgent rate clause in all your terms and conditions so that there are no surprises.
By having it as a client-agreed term of service, you're managing client expectations way before the urgent request happens. By knowing the client agreed to those terms and conditions from the start of the project, you’ll feel more confident to stand firm and charge the urgent rate for that request.
Value your time, context-switching is expensive
As a creative, your time is valuable. Context switching can bump you right out of your productive flow and into a jagged bits and pieces approach to working.
It's important that your clients understand that your time is valuable, and context switching is expensive. You also need to consider the opportunity cost of taking on an emergency job - what other jobs would you need to bump to make it happen? Are those clients going to be happy to take on delays because someone else jumped the queue?
Is it realistic, even with the better rate?
Every rush job can be different and mean different things to both yourself and the client. Make sure you get a good handle on the scope of what they're after - sometimes it might not actually be THAT urgent.
When working in an agency at a previous job, Jason Tiller from Rocketspark shared that "Urgent jobs would attract a 25% surcharge. But we would also turn down jobs that we knew were unrealistic to achieve in the timeframe given. They could be potentially damaging to both us and the client.”
Accepting a rush job and charging an urgent rate can be tricky. You don't want to damage your relationship with the client, but you also don't want to be taken advantage of. If charging an urgent fee is the best way forward, be open with the client. Let them know the costs upfront and the reason for the increase, and consider offering them an alternative schedule at your standard rate.
How the Creative Launchpad community does urgent rates:
“I do run an urgent rate. It turns out to be a pretty effective marker for actually “how” urgent a job is. I can turn down a job if it is going to affect other jobs & production already in queue or ‘damage’ the job itself. It’s also a case by case kind of situation… sometimes if an urgent item pops up within an existing current project, that’s OK to adjust and communicate that other items will be on hold until that one is done.
Then there was stuff from the last couple of years - short notice ‘legal’ changes that were crucial to some businesses operating in lockdowns etc.
On the flip side - I’d recommend that if anyone is getting out of the blue ‘urgent’ or continually last minute urgent jobs, that client and process need to be looked at to find a workable alternative solution.
“I have a higher rush rate but only really use it when I need/want to.
My personal justification is if I have to sacrifice something in order to do it I will make the offer to do it at a rush rate.
I like to cleverly balance going ‘above and beyond’ for clients so that they love working with me and are continually impressed, but not at the expense of being taken advantage of. So I also do rush work at my regular rate just to be kind a lot of the time! I believe that can go a long way in client relationship building and therefore, referrals etc.
But… I always draw the line at the expense of my well-being 🙌🏻 sometimes the regular rate ain’t worth the stress or losing my weekend but the rush rate is 👌🏼”
Ashley Boyd from Ashley Rose Designs
Urgent rates — how-to cheat sheet:
Decide on a turnaround time where urgent rates apply. 48 hours? Three working days? A week? Whatever works for your workload and availability.
Reserve the right to decline urgent work. Sometimes it just won’t work and it’s best to give the client a heads up in their initial terms of service so there’s no surprises when they’re desperate.
Decide on an urgent rate that makes the work worth your while if the client still proceeds.
Specify the urgent rate dollar amount and when it applies in your initial client contract or terms of service.
When the client asks for urgent requests, they may have forgotten there’s an extra charge for that. Remind them that they have a choice. Pay more and get the tighter turnaround or pay less and wait until you’re available.