November 13, 2020
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Let’s talk about rush work and unrealistic deadlines, and what you can do about it in your graphic design business. You’re listening to the Design and Prosper podcast, Episode 19.
Hey, I’m Kris.
And I’m Donna. In each week, we’ll be having unscripted, honest conversations about running a graphic design business.
We’ve been graphic designers and educators for the past two decades and have both run multiple six figure graphic design businesses. We have experienced it all the highs and the lows of success.
We want to share with you, the good, the bad, and the messy. All the tips and secrets, the bits that worked. If it didn’t help you create a thriving and profitable Graphic Design Studio.
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Hey guys, I’m flying solo today. Beautiful Kris will be back with us next week. I miss you Kris!.
Okay, so some rush jobs, those unrealistic deadlines, the clients needing things yesterday. Sound familiar? Yep, we’ve all been there. It’s five o’clock on a Friday afternoon and a client has just dropped a tight deadline bomb on you. It’s just like, Oh my gosh, they need it now. I want it now—quick, quick quick! And everybody goes into a big spin, a bit of a panic. But often we go straight to ‘I don’t want to say no, or I don’t know how to say no, I don’t want to let them down. I feel bad for them’. So ‘Oh, okay, I’ll rescue you’.
But it’s not your job to rescue your client, especially if it’s poor time management on their part. So often our responses due to not knowing how to set clear boundaries, or you might be afraid the client may not want to work with you anymore if you say no. But the opposite is true. You are saying quite clearly, I love and respect myself, I have boundaries and my process is worth protecting. You will be respected.
So it really goes without saying, if you have the courage to set clear boundaries from the get go, clients will really appreciate and understand that that is your process, that is what you require. And they will be less inclined to put you on the spot in the future.
So what is the rush job? What would we feel is the type of time period that you would place on a rush job. So honestly, it’s anything that feels rushed to you. Or if it feels unreasonable, you get to decide what rush work means in your business. It depends on your capacity and how full your plate is. So you set your own rules, basically.
So some examples of rush would be 24 hours or less. That’s definitely a rush. If it requires you to push other scheduled projects and commitments out, if it requires weekend work, let’s just like ‘oh, yep, that’s a rush’. Late night work in order to meet a tight deadline. So anything that requires you to go into your spare time into your family time, your downtime, that would constitute a rush job.
So some strategies, let’s talk about that. How to set some boundaries, from the get go, have a rush job policy. Because unfortunately, little quick jobs ‘quick, can we get this done? We just need to rush this little thing through’. They are inevitable, they will happen. The best plan is to be prepared and make sure that you have a policy outlined in your welcome packet, so there are no surprises. And you get to really lean on that, so when you’re flustered and being asked something really unreasonable, you’ve got something that’s been pre-prepared. You’re really clear on it, there’s no emotion involved—you can call on that.
Another strategy would be to include timeframes and timelines in your quote or contract. So you would include timeframes for each milestone at a minimum, and if possible, a full scope of work timeline. So a full scope of work timeline, would be setting milestones for your client so that they can put those into their diary. So this is where I’ll be accountable. But this is where you need to be accountable. I need you to get back to me by then approvals by here and there and it’s stepped out every step of the way. And usually, if the client pushes a timeline like that out by one or two variations, that’s when you can kick in additional fees as well because that constitutes changes. So it’s a really beautiful document, a really beautiful way of making sure the client knows from the beginning, that they are going to be accountable for how this job flows in the process of this job as well.
I mean, it’s always really interesting to look at other industries and compare. For example, if you needed go to the vet and take your beautiful fur baby through the night, it would be extra dollars, wouldn’t it? If you needed to, desperately, urgently get in for a hair appointment, they just wouldn’t be able to do it, their schedule would be full. And that would be it. You’d have to just accept that you can’t get in and you’d have to go elsewhere.
Whoops, bumped my mic. Guys, it’s so funny, when I’m speaking on a podcast even alone, I’m speaking with my hands here. Normally, when I’m speaking with Kris on the podcast, speaking with such animation sort of makes sense. But speaking alone, this is my first solo podcast. So it is quite funny. Anyway, beside the point.
Okay, so yeah, have a think about it. You wouldn’t ask any other person, any other professional in another industry to do work for free. So really think about it.
Another strategy. And this is the best strategy by far, is clear communication at every touchpoint—at every touchpoint. So communicating rush work fees and policies in your proposal, contract and welcome packet. In all of those initial documents that outline working with you. So whatever that looks like for your design business, pop this on repeat, repeat, repeat. Make sure it’s everywhere, not just in the one document.
Get approval before you commence the rush work. Always make sure that your client is aware that this is a rush job, this will attract a rush fee. And this is how much and are you happy to proceed. So always make sure you get approval from your client. If it’s a big thing, and it requires a formal signature, make sure you update or redo a little contract for them so that you have your signature. Remember, emails don’t stick, they are not a legal approval process, you do need a signature via dubsado, or one of those platforms that require the client to actually sign off. That’s a legit signature. So make sure you do that. If it’s big, if it’s a big variation, or if it’s a big rush job.
Communicate to clients what you classify as a rush job. Make sure that they understand what you classify as a rush job, not their idea of a rush job, but your idea of a rush job, because you may not be aligned. For example, less than two business days is considered a rush job for your business, or one of the other ones that I outlined earlier. So just have a think about that. And make sure your clients really understand and they know what a rush job is. Make sure you communicate your hours of availability. So if you want to stop work at the end of the school day, or at five or 6pm, every day, make sure they know that these are your hours that you don’t work on weekends, that you don’t work on Mondays. Whatever the case may be clear communication around your hours of availability, will make sure that they know ‘oh actually it’s six o’clock, I know I’m actually going into their after hour zone. So those parameters are really, really important to set out from the beginning.
Communicating to repeat clients, and the repeat offenders (there will always be repeat offenders who are just not getting organized quickly), or they may be affected by influences outside of their control. They may be dealing with a board or a group of people that have to come together to get to them. And so they’re the clients that we sort of have a little bit of empathy for and go ‘oh, it’s not your fault and want to help and support you’. But they’re the repeat offenders. So if you communicate to those clients and preempt their needs—preempt that they’re a little bit problematic, and there’s those problems could pop up. Then at least they can then communicate that to the team that they’re working with. So that they understand ‘guys, every time you take an extra week to get back to me on this. This is costing our business more money because the designer needs the time to do it.’ So make sure that you can you preempt where possible.
Okay, so how much do we charge for rush fee? What extra do we charge? A really good rule of thumb is an additional 25 to 50%. Perhaps you might want to withhold your percentage determinate it project by project. A sliding scale of say 10% for the love jobs, for the people that you have empathy for and you understand it’s not really their fault that they’re pushing you out into your after hours. And 100% for the really difficult clients who are just being disrespectful and just sort of stamping their foot and wanting things in really unreasonable timeframes. So, again, always get approval and don’t spring a surprise rush fee invoice on your clients, because that’s what will break the relationship down more so than the rush fee. So make sure that communication is your biggest strategy around this.
Also, don’t buy into the pressure—the pressure that your client is bringing to the table. So what would happen if you said, No, I can’t do it. Rush fee or no rush fee, you get to decide whether it’s worthwhile to put yourself under that kind of pressure or not. And you may be juggling way too many balls, your dance card is completely full. And this little rush job is just going to throw you over the edge. So be discerning and be really respectful of your own boundaries. And if it’s no, it’s no—you can’t do it.
You may be worried that you’ll lose the client. It is a possibility. Honestly, clients who consistently put pressure on you aren’t worth having. There’s a really, really big consequence to accepting rush work when it doesn’t suit you. This is the big thing that Kris and I would really want you to take from this podcast today, is that there are so many layers, so many consequences to taking on a rush job, when you cannot fit it in.
The consequences are mental health, physical health, the actual design work will be compromised—there’s layers and layers and layers. The follow on effect to your other clients…so just be really, really mindful, you’re going to be doing your best work under these circumstances. Rush work compromises design quality and that’s not who your business is.
When you’re doing work really late at night, or if it’s piled up on top of you and other pre scheduled client projects are getting pushed around, the likelihood of mistakes happening is really, really high. And again, the design is also going to be compromised. Also the likelihood of a condition design responses really high. Designers, we have to call on what you already know, we have to come up with a quick solution. We call this formula based design, your skill and experience taps into tried and trusted formulas that you know will work so you know you’ll have a really strong solution for your client. However, there’s no new knowledge there. There’s there’s no breakthrough creative that is unique to the client’s brand or their brief. Rush equals compromise. Your clients need to know that. So before you do anything, let them know. I want to be clear, beautiful client, it will cost you more. And it will be simplified, probably less conceptual. So are you sure you want me to rush this? Bottom line rush jobs usually mean you’re the one rushing. Rushing to meet unreasonable timeframes, being subjected to that crazy frenetic energy that we tried really, really hard not to invite into our world, you are the one that’s placed in that high anxiety threshold. So be really, really mindful of that.
Some exceptions, yes, there’s always exceptions, those beautiful clients that we love, and we just want to protect them and care for them. Because they’ve been with us at our side from the get go. And, and we know it’s not our job to protect them, but we just love them. They’re the exceptions. And honestly, it depends on the relationship you have with the client and how much you want to bend over backwards for them. You may decide that this special client is worth working after hours for but you need to communicate really, really clearly. Again, that communication strategy kicks in that this is a one off, it’s out of the norm situation.
And also let them know that in this instance, you’ve waived your rush fee, that’s a really good strategy to to use as well. So they are aware of it. ‘I’m happy to let it go this time, but next time there will be a rush fee’. It’d be also a really good opportunity to let them know your standard turnaround times as well. So it’s like okay, I can do this for you. I can fit it in, you would normally be charged a rush fee for this because I would normally need X amount of time to finish this job for you. So it gives you a really good opportunity to again, reaffirm those boundaries.
You could also include the rush fee on your invoice and then discount it out. So the client has a little aha moment. Oh that would normally have cost me you know $300, $400, $500 extra. I’ll be more careful next time, I’m so grateful for this additional time. And I’m really grateful for that discount. And it’s an opportunity to educate the beautiful clients and let them know that you have just gifted them this time so that they understand and appreciate the value of the work that you’ve just handed to them.
And there will be some genuine design emergencies. It might actually be an emergency project for a client, and you really want to help them out. And this is absolutely fine. Again, you get to decide, but you’re still worthy of being paid for the additional pressure that this place has on you and your life. We have had a lot of restaurant clients. And it is very typical to receive information on a menu right at the last minute, because they don’t know the ingredients if it’s seasonal, right until the last minute. And they don’t know the availability or something might happen with availability of produce. And so there has to be an urgent change to a menu. And that’s fair enough. And it’s almost preempted and expected. So you can build that in and you can accept it and understand it. And definitely charge for it where you can. But there are examples of where like, okay, yep, I know this menu is is landing on this date, I’ll allow for a little bit extra time, because I know that there might be some last minute changes. Brand new clients, you won’t have that insight. But as you build a relationship, you’ll get some insight. And like I was saying before, wherever you can preempt where your time is going to be pushed into your after hours zone.
So guys, concluding, let me just wrap up what I’ve said, the key takeaway is rush jobs are either going to cost you or your client, so you get to decide. Rush jobs can take a toll on you your schedule, and your other clients. Rushing your creative process can have a negative impact on the integrity of the work you produce. So be really sure you are okay to take on a rush job, assess it and be discerning with how it will potentially impact on you and your beautiful business. Communicate clearly, as soon as you get the request for a restaurant. It’s best to have some canned responses for these types of requests ready to go. Like I was saying, for when you aren’t affected by the pressure, so there’s no emotion and no panic. This way you can be measured and really calm instead of reactive. You know, the ah yes, you need this yesterday. Well, I can’t do that. But what I can do is X Y Z and it will cost you this much and then get a signature.
Set boundaries from the get go. Have a rush job policy outlined in your welcome packet. So there are no surprises and all of the elements in your welcome packet. Remember, repeat, repeat, repeat. Include those timeframes at a minimum and if possible, have full scope of that timeline in your contract. That is a really great tool— it really keeps clients accountable.
Remember, at the end of the day, you are in control of your business. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Kris and I are all about that. Your physical and mental health comes first. There is so much beautiful power in saying no, I can’t. And you may just discover that rush job suddenly isn’t needed so soon. Clients really respect a boundary. And they’re like, ‘Okay, can you fit it in next week?’. All of a sudden time opens up when they realize you can’t do it for them.
So, send us a message if you’re feeling pressured to do to rush work, either via Instagram at designandprosper.co. Or feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
We are here for you. Keep those boundaries really clear, beautiful designers. Until next time, have a beautiful week. Bye!
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