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September 06, 2007


Eric Karjaluoto

Hi Lisa,

What you are talking about has been experienced by many. I wouldn't get overly stressed about it; I believe that a few changes can make a big difference.

The reality is that some resources are finite. If you have three designers on staff, working standard 8 hours days, you can only allocate 24 hours a day to the projects in the queue. If you have 50 hours of work to do in that day, something has to give.

It's reasonable to anticipate a bit of overload happening from time to time. If it happens repeatedly though, you may have to rework your system a little. I'll share with you what we've done at smashLAB. Perhaps it will be useful to you as well.

First of all, I believe it's important to manage client-load carefully. We turn down projects if we foresee a potential bottleneck down the road. It's better to satisfy existing clients than take on too many new projects. That being said, if you’re finding yourself stretched thin, it may be a good time to consider adding another staff member or finding a freelance partner to work with in pressing situations.

We also try to anticipate the habits of certain groups. For example, I know that one particular client will call us in a frantic rush at least once every two weeks. As they account for a significant amount of our annual billable, I'll make almost any situation work for them. (This just makes business sense.)

Alternately, we've had a couple of clients who felt we could simply re-order space and time to meet their needs. With these groups I’d receive call at 4:30 p.m., needing a job completed for 9:00 the next morning. In a true emergency, a little understanding and flexibility on our part is warranted. When it happens repeatedly, however, I think it’s fair to say that perhaps it isn’t quite the "life or death" situation one might be led to believe.

Most clients are reasonable people. They likely just don't understand why their requests sometimes prove challenging. A good, honest talk can really help with this. You can explain to them that these rushes are hard to anticipate, and that it costs more to pay staff overtime to meet these urgent needs.

There may be a solution you can work on together. Could they give you a “heads-up” when they think a rush might be coming up? Just knowing that something's coming-up can help you allocate resources to accommodate your clients' needs.

Another thing that I've found useful is to remain positive. As a designer, it's easy to feel frustrated and start speaking in "no's". Instead of saying, "No, I can't get this done tonight", I've started to try phrases like, "Sure, I can have someone get to this first thing Monday morning." It's the same message, but framed a little differently. (It seems to work nicely.)

Challenges like the one you've noted feel overwhelming, but can be overcome. I highly suggest reading Cameron Foote's book "The Creative Business Guide to Running a Graphic Design Business". It's a useful resource, and he has plenty of suggestions on how to address such situations. His digital newsletter is also well work the subscription cost. I think you'll find some good ideas there. :-)

I hope this helps, and have a great weekend!

Eric Karjaluoto


Sounds like an interesting challenge - I'm in a quite different business, but when similar sorts of things happen in my situation, I'm cool with just saying "No, I'm very sorry, but we really can't..." Followed up with "but maybe Joe can help you" or "but I can get it by Monday" or some other option...

Ultimately, I think it all depends on the relationship you've got with the customer - by the time they ask to cut in line (again?), it's really kind of late late. I suspect it's a symptom, not a cause, and the real origin of the situation is to be found way before the request pops up.

Andy G.

"work requested on a rush basis will result in a 50-75% increase"

I'm curious-- how do you define "rush basis"?


Hi Andy,
It really depends on the project in question. Different timelines correspond to different "sized" projects. Timelines and deadlines are agreed to prior to work commencing. Generally "rush" work is when the client and I have agreed on a deadline and then the client calls at 6:32pm on a Thursday night saying "I know this was scheduled for next week but can we have it for tomorrow?" OR if a client comes to me and says "I just found out I need this brochure at the end of the week." It can even be due to the fact that despite the timeline agreed to, the client has not delivered materials to me for production and waits until the 11th hour to do so.

All my clients, and potential clients, receive from Dragonfly Blu a proposal, estimate, working description (including timelines and deadlines) and terms. Within the terms, the following is stated:

"Expedited or rush work is billed at an hourly rate with a 50-75% increase. Expedited or rush work is considered so if the designer is required to do work on a much abbreviated schedule. You will be notified of this in advance to the work commencing."

In this way, we have spelled out the timelines and terms of the project and when a client requests something with an accelerated schedule, they are notified of the change in our agreement.

Hope that answers your question. L.

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