Let’s Talk Business: Retainer Clients

Let's Talk Business: Retainer Clients

One of the reasons why I’ve been so busy is that I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to my retainer clients. Even before going full-time, I worked with retainer clients primarily because the projects are smaller and it’s easier to keep track of when you’re working a 9-5 versus working on a project to project basis. Today I want to share some of my thoughts on retainer clients, what they are, and why you should probably consider offering retainer contracts.

What are retainers?

A retainer is a pre-paid amount for services. Retainers are great for maintenance work or small projects that your client may require on a frequent basis. My retainer clients usually require SEO/website maintenance, recurring print design work, and social media management. If I were to charge for these services on a single-line invoice, it could become costly and time-consuming. With a retainer fee in place, I can guarantee my clients a certain amount of time dedicated to them monthly and it’s less expensive than if they requested these projects one by one.

Benefits of Retainer Clients

As a creative entrepreneur, projects aren’t always promised to me. While I do love the process of getting a new project inquiry and starting from scratch, it can be difficult juggling multiple projects. A full-stack project for me starts from identity design to web development and can include anywhere from three to five phases. These projects can take anywhere from 3-6 months and it’s hard to take on multiple projects during that time. With retainer clients, I’m able to manage a bit more while still leaving room for any new projects.

I also like working with clients on multiple occasions. Having great client relationships really makes the work fun. It also allows me more room for creative freedom. I’ve been working with my retainer clients for years so they’re very trusting of my abilities. My ideas are respected and it’s easier to move projects from start to finish. With new clients, there can be a lot of feedback and things can spiral out of control if not managed correctly. I don’t have these worries when I get an e-mail to put together a quick brochure or postcard for a retainer client.

When to Suggest a Retainer

If you’re doing maintenance work or recurring work often for a client, suggesting a retainer is probably best for you. I like to offer retainers on a 3 month, 6 month, and 12 month basis. If you’re just getting started, try to suggest it for one month as a trial and go from there. It’s much easier for the client and it guarantees them your time. How often have you gotten a small maintenance request during the middle of a big project and had to turn it down? In my contracts, I list of the amount time I can dedicate towards certain projects so it’s clear what can be done under the retainer. It’s imperative to have a contract for a retainer proposal as you would with any other project. Be sure to include very clear definitions of what can be done under the retainer so there’s no confusion. Retainers are a great way to make your life easy while protecting your time and your clients. If you’re not taking advantage of them, you should give them a try.

Are you using retainers for your clients?

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Angelica Yarde
My name is Angel Yarde. I am a designer, front-end developer, and speaker. I am the editor and designer of Studio 404 whic was founded in December 2006. In January 2014, I launched Studio 404 Paper, a paper shop which includes type-focused greeting cards, note cards, and prints. I currently reside in Celebration, Florida where I co-own a branding strategy studio, Sevenality, with my husband.
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  1. I can totally relate to this. I have one client that I’ve been working with for a while, and it’s nice to get that for sure work when things can suddenly hault.

    One question – how does your retainer contract differ from the contract you use when starting a new project?

    • Agreed! Having recurring clients is amazing and being able to guarantee them for a certain amount of work during a period time helps take some stress off.

      My retainer contract is more detailed about the services needed and the amount of hours total that will dedicated for the price point. My project contracts are pretty detailed about the step-by-step process of the project. It gives a detailed timeline about how long each step is expected, what client deliverables are needed, and very detailed about what is expected on both ends. They both have very similar terms and conditions unless something isn’t relevant to the client. All of my contracts are very custom in general. No two clients have ever had the same contract because no two projects are alike!

  2. I have a few clients that I do work for consistently… I really should get them on a retainer. Right now I’m just billing them at the end of the month for the work done, but a retainer sounds better.

    • I would definitely encourage you to introduce them to the idea and see if they’re interested. I usually discount prices for my retainer clients just based on the number of hours they’re reserving. It’s beneficial for both ends! Thanks for stopping by Allyssa.

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