Urgent! How to handle those last-minute design requests

Good designers know how to make realistic deadlines and then stick to them. But there are times for every designer when an urgent job materialises and must be squeezed into the work schedule.

Some designers dread getting the phone call or email requesting work to be carried out at breakneck speed; others thrive on the adrenaline rush. Here are some ideas on how to manage the unexpected workload.

Know the client first

Let’s be clear about this: when a client requests a design job with a tight turnaround, it should be treated (by both the designer and the client) as a favour. Favours are acts of goodwill performed on occasion, after a strong and constructive relationship has already been established. It’s alright to do favours for clients you know, like and trust. Laura Spencer writes at Freelance Folder that “a good client … understands that quality work takes time and plans accordingly” which also means they’re likely to treat any urgent request as a favour from the start. On the other hand, if you agree to a short deadline for a first-time client, they’re likely to view that as your standard turnaround time and will expect it in future.

Get the details right before getting started

Great design involves taking the time to get to know the design brief and the client’s needs inside and out. If you cut corners at this early stage in the race to get the work done, you run the risk of making mistakes or omissions, or producing work which looks like a rush-job.

Communicate your needs to the client clearly

You’ve agreed to produce a brochure design by close of business, but you haven’t received the text (or other materials, like photos) from the client yet, and the clock is ticking. In this situation be aware of what you will need from the client, and make it clear that their help may be necessary in order to achieve their tight deadline.

Be realistic about what you can achieve

Logos can’t be created in two days. Neither can websites. Before you agree to an urgent design request, ask yourself: can I really do this in the set time?

When considering this question, also think about how comfortable you are with the type of work requested. If it’s a brochure design and that’s your core business, no problem. If it’s an e-commerce website and you don’t have much experience with e-commerce, chances are you won’t be able to carry out the work as quickly as you’d like.

Also take a look what other jobs you’re currently working on: it’s no good accepting an urgent brief to please a client, if other projects are put back and suffer as a result.

Be clear about working out of hours

Are you prepared to work through the night or the weekend to get that last-minute design job ready? If so, let the client know that this will be an extraordinary but necessary step in order to get the work done. If you have a good working relationship with them already (see above) then it’s likely they’ll respect your out-of-hours work as a gesture above and beyond your normal work situation.

Pricing urgent design work

Do you charge extra for work to be produced on a tight deadline? Designers certainly have the right to add a percentage above their normal charge when the work is required urgently, especially if out-of-hours work is necessary to meet a deadline. If you decide to raise the price, notify the client ahead of time that an additional charge will be incurred because of the tight deadline.

Is is possible to avoid last minute design requests?

Not entirely – no matter how well organised your work processes and those of your clients, it’s inevitable that something will occasionally pop up which must be addressed straight away. But there are some ways to minimise the amount of unexpected work that you find yourself doing at the eleventh hour:

Take comprehensive design briefs

How often have you completed a design brief, only for the client to request a last-minute addition? In your normal work schedule, it’s important to get the best possible understanding of a design project and the client’s needs right from the very start. This won’t rule out late add-ons, but can minimise them.

Notify clients of times when you will be unavailable

If you’re planning to be away from work for any reason, let your regular clients know a few weeks in advance. This gives them the opportunity to plan around your absence.

Seek out clients who are efficient managers of their work

Clients who run their own business operations efficiently are less likely to call you with design work requiring a tight turnaround. This type of client is much more desirable than someone who has a track record of making contact at the last minute, expecting you to drop everything to address their needs.

Make your own work practices as efficient as possible

This won’t stop clients from phoning in urgent design requests, but working efficiently yourself means you’ll be better placed to handle the unexpected glitches on your schedule.

Have you got any other suggestions? How have you handled work which had to be done yesterday?

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