How to charge agency Rush Fees

Written by: Karl Sakas

I’ve gotten a lot of questions recently from clients about how to handle rush fees at agencies. For example:

  • “What’s a normal rush fee for agencies?”
  • “How do I decide when to charge a rush fee?”
  • “Do I have to charge a rush fee every time my agency provides fast turnaround?”
  • “How do I tell clients they need to pay a rush fee for priority turnaround?”
  • “When do I tell clients about rush fees?”
  • “Do I need to tell clients they’re paying a rush fee?”
  • “What do I do if a client refuses to pay a rush fee?”
  • “What can I do if an existing client is used to fast turnaround without paying extra for it?”

It’s answer time—let’s take a closer look at each of those eight questions!

Q: What’s a normal rush fee for agencies?

I typically see a rush fee of 20-100% on top of the usual charge.

I like charging a +50% rush surcharge—it’s enough to compensate for the inconvenience of rearranging your production schedule, but not so much that it feels egregious (to most clients).

Q: How do I decide when to charge a rush fee?

Rush fees are to compensate for rearranging your schedule to get things done, and (sometimes) needing to hire additional resources to get the work done on the client’s turnaround.

In general, you should consider charging a rush fee when a client wants faster turnaround than you could normally provide without rearranging things for them.

At a minimum, be sure the rush fee is covering your additional hard costs!

Q: Do I have to charge a rush fee every time my agency provides fast turnaround?

No, you don’t need to charge a rush fee every time—waiving it is a nice way to reward your best clients—but if you waive it, be sure to tell clients you’re choosing to waive it. For example:

“This normally takes a week. We had an opening today and were able to get it done immediately. Because of that, we aren’t charging the 50% rush fee.”

That way, they don’t expect free expedited turnaround every time. I call that making it “strategically free” (good) rather than “secretly free” (bad).

Q: How do I tell clients they need to pay a rush fee for priority turnaround?

Explain that you need extra time but may be able to do it faster if they’re willing to pay a rush surcharge. This lets them choose whether to do rush turnaround—and effectively pre-approves their paying extra if they tell you to proceed.

In a future article, I’ll share a step-by-step workflow you can use to handle rush requests from clients!

The exact workflow will vary depending on how you handle things internally, but the point is that the client needs to pre-confirm they’d pay the rush charge, and the PM needs to make the final call about whether the agency can get it done.

This adds an extra layer of communication, but it ensures the agency won’t do un-compensated work, and it ensures the agency doesn’t over-promise something it can’t deliver.

Never say “yes” to a client unless you’re absolutely sure about the answer—better to say, “let me check on that, and I’ll follow up by X date.”

Q: When do I tell clients about rush fees?

Certainly you need to tell them before you charge it—but I recommend sharing about rush fees during your client onboarding process.

By making it part of onboarding, clients are less surprised that rush turnaround costs extra. Remember, you train clients to be your clients—so don’t surprise them. Practice both Warmth & Competence.

Q: Do I need to tell clients they’re paying a rush fee?

You don’t have to, but I recommend telling them—otherwise, you’re delivering value without pricing it appropriately. This will make it harder to shift to value-based pricing in the future.

Remember, strategically free” is fine—but not “secretly free.”

An agency account manager showed me her email folder for her most-demanding client. Every email had an exclamation mark next to it—the client had marked every email as urgent.

Her agency was indeed charging the client extra for the rush turnaround, but they hadn’t told the client they were paying for extra-fast services—unfortunately, they were choosing “secretly free.”

Q: What do I do if a client refuses to pay a rush fee?

They don’t have to pay the rush fee—but if they don’t, they won’t get rush turnaround.

When a client refuses to pay for something, this is bigger than the specific topic—this is really a battle of wills, over whether the client or agency prevails.

Rush work can be painful to agencies. Rush fees make it painful to clients, too. If they don’t want to pay, that’s fine, but they don’t get the faster turnaround.

You can use my Reason-Options-Choose (R-O-C) frameworkto persuade clients to pay a rush fee.

Q: What can I do if an existing client is used to fast turnaround without paying extra for it?

Any time you make your policies stricter, it’s harder with existing clients—they’re used to getting what they’ve been getting.

You’ll probably want to roll out the change for new clients, and apply it to existing clients last. But in the meantime, let existing clients know that you’re applying the rush fee to new clients.

Some clients will never agree to pay for expedited work, but it’s always harder if you spring it on them. You can even give clients a distant deadline—3-4 months away, for instance—for when rush fees will start applying to their account, too.

By managing their expectations, existing clients will be less surprised when you tell them they need to start paying a rush fee, too. It’ll be a win for Warmth & Competence, and for profitability.

Question: How do you handle rush fees at your agency?

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