Should you charge clients a rush-rate?

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By Chris Gillespie, founder of Find A Way Media

To charge or not to charge?

Part of my business is that I save people. Not save-save people, but certainly workplace-rescue them. 

I take on customer requests no matter how late the hour. I whip together articles and e-books and make clients look good when everything else has gone wrong.

This is something people invariably want to coach me on. They tell me that I’m missing a huge opportunity to charge more. "Make them pay!” they say. The economist in me agrees. I really should dissuade people from asking last-minute favors. And yet, when it comes down to it, I think it’s more profitable not to.

I’ve been in each of those clients’ shoes. If someone had ever told me their rush-rate was double, I’d have smiled politely, paid, and replaced them. I’m on a journey with my customers and they with me. They’re all adults who try to give advance notice. But when things fail, I’ll be there, and they know it. They always seem to find more work for me and take me with them when they switch companies. 

So, to hell if it scales, really. It earns me loyalty.

Yet in my eagerness to help, I recently made an error. It’s a mistake I’ve made before, I’ll make again, and which I would love to stop making. But by not charging a rush-rate, I might have saved myself from losing a client. 

I really thought I had it

As humans, our brains are hard-wired to jump to conclusions. We prefer speed over precision, and this evolutionary quirk is so powerful that being aware of it doesn’t help to improve our decisions. We feel that we know the answer before we really do. The effect is especially pronounced when decisions are rushed.

I felt like I had harvested the heart and soul of the story. I left glowing.

A client recently asked me to cover an event at the last minute. They were pressed for time and, as always, I said I could handle it. The event was four hours long and I typed like a madman, capturing 13,000 words of conversation. By the time the panelists had wrapped up, I had highlighted what I thought were the most important quotes and was on my way out. I felt like I had harvested the heart and soul of the story. I left glowing.

By the time the client sent me the transcripts three days later, I replied to their email with a finished draft.

Two days passed before I received this email:


Hi Chris! Thanks for your work on this! 
After we reading, we decided we would like to take more time and go through the content and transcripts. Let’s meet on Thursday to discuss.


In so many words, I had spent all of the time I had budgeted for the project only to totally miss the point. I stewed, fretted, and thought up ways to redistribute the blame, all the way to their offices.

Care for some wine?

The meeting disarmed me. My clients were pleasant but straightforward in their critique: The white paper hadn’t taught them anything new. It read as if written by an industry outsider and lacked the sufficient density of thought-provoking points. For this, they apologized.

They offered to go through the transcript to highlight the most salient sections, and we agreed upon a new deadline. They shared their amusement at how quickly the first draft had been done and reaffirmed their belief that I could figure it out. But then they asked for something else: for me to cover all of their events for the following year. As we parted, they gave me a bottle of wine.


The saving goes both ways

Back at the office, I perused the full transcript, which I hadn’t yet read. It was over 38,000 words. I hadn’t captured even half of what was said that day, and I was stunned to find it peppered with lines I had never heard. Each of the points my clients highlighted ex post facto was something I hadn’t caught initially and that strengthened the piece considerably.

It was over 38,000 words. I hadn’t captured even half of what was said.

In my zeal to be the consummate professional, I had finished the project, but I had filled in the blanks all wrong. I had forgotten that the client would obviously know more – nobody could know more about what they would want than them. They had been willing to tell me, had I only thought to slow down and ask. 

Despite all my blunders, I walked away with more business. I have to believe that by not trying to gouge the customer with a last-minute upcharge, I showed that I was there to save them. And when I was the one who needed help, there was a trusting relationship, and they were the ones who saved me.

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