Monday, October 22, 2007

When Charging Rush Rates Backfires

I got a request last week for a rather large project with a due date in just a few weeks--a fraction of the time I usually take to do this type of work. I didn't really want the project--I'm already booked up for the next few weeks. Instead of simply saying "no" and pointing the client toward a colleague, I quoted a fee well above what I'd normally charge for the project, believing the high price would scare them away. It didn't.

Now I'm looking at a truckload of work in the next few weeks, several other client deadlines looming, and the distinct possibility that I'll be a very sleep-deprived writer by the end of this project. I'm also looking at a mountain of cash. So it certainly isn't all bad.

What did I learn from this? That rush jobs can be tricky, even if they're lucrative. Here are a few questions to ask yourself--questions I'll definitely ask next time--when you're considering whether or not to take a rush job.

Will this job affect your other clients? Taking a rush job often means pushing other clients to the side while you rush to make a tight deadline. Sometimes you can afford to do this--your other clients may be flexible, or you may not need much time to finish their work. But if you're down to the wire with your existing work, you may want to consider passing on that rush job.

No matter how well-paying this new client is, there were people in front of him in line. You can inconvenience yourself as much as you want--you're the boss, after all--but it's only fair to avoid inconveniencing other clients, no matter how small their projects are. Be sure you're treating everyone who's depending on you fairly.

Are there enough hours in the day? Don't make the same mistake I made, quoting a high price and believing it will scare them off. Before you take that step, think about whether this deadline is possible for you. Know how fast you work. How many hours of writing will you have to do per day to meet this deadline? Will you have to do interviews, interact with designers, or depend on others in any way? Make sure you're not setting an impossible goal for yourself.

Is the client more trouble than he's worth? Rush jobs often come with stressed-out clients. As a freelancer, it's crucial to keep the client's problems from becoming your own. When a job is rushed, you're much more likely to be stuck dealing with a demanding client who wants unlimited access.

Because these clients are under a lot of pressure within their own companies, they can also be prone to "forgetting" to give you crucial information and materials until the last minute, delaying on draft comments, and then blaming you when you miss a deadline. It's important to take these risks into account, as they can slow you down. It's also crucial to communicate that you need certain things--an up-front payment, comments on a draft, a signed contract, et cetera--to move forward with the project. Instead of setting a specific start date, for example, make it contingent on receiving a payment from the client. If the client knows the deadline will be pushed back for every day he delays on your deposit, he may be in more of a hurry to pay you.

Can you outsource? Sometimes you can stand to earn more by outsourcing your pre-existing work to someone else to free your schedule for a more lucrative job. A rush job isn't the best time to get into outsourcing for the first time or to work with a brand-new outsourcee. If you don't have a dependable partner whose skills match the work, you may want to reconsider outsourcing this time around. If you do outsource, it's best to make sure your clients know about it and approve.

Rush jobs can be more trouble than they're worth. But they can also pay very well. Even though the client's rushing you, take some time to think about your capabilities before you take these projects on.

No comments: