Having a retainer sounds awesome doesn’t it? Guaranteed work, who doesn’t love that? Because guaranteed work is guaranteed income.
But you have to dedicate that time back to them. So for X hours a month, you better be available.
Here’s where the problem lies…you book a few projects and time shrinks. You underestimate time to do something or your retainer has an emergency so you need to spend 10 hours on that ASAP, and before you know it you are quickly behind.
It usually doesn’t take much. I see the ticket now… “can we add this to the website? Like Today?”
Managing a Retainer
The most important things you can do to guarantee success of your retainer work is to set expectations for turnaround, ensure the client understands how to submit requests, and to make sure everyone understands when payment is due.
Setting Expectations and Handling Requests
Setting expectations work best in particularly for a timeframe for requests, perhaps a 48 hour response for non-priority items. Whatever works that is mutually beneficial and agreeable really.
Note I said response and not completed task. Huge difference here. Most tasks require some extending planning and thought so short turn arounds can hinder quality or cause miscommunications. Educate your client why fast turn arounds are not always a great thing. If they’re worth keeping, they will understand.
I use Sifterapp for requests. It’s kind of like a to-do and support ticket setup all in one. Clients can attach documents that you can reference and it’s easy to re-open old tasks that need revisited.
Contracts and Payments
This allows both the client and yourself to know and understand the expectations you set and payment schedule, among any other typical contract language you might have in your contract.
ProTip: Retained work is pre-paid work. I’m putting a guarantee on my hours so the client needs to guarantee payment by pre-paying for the month. If you use something like Harvest for invoicing, you can set it up to bill recurring. I send mine out in the middle of the month with Net15 due date.
Don’t overdo it
Last year I had 2 retainers and a company buying large blocks of hours at a time. In addition to normal work flow, things got messy on more than one occasion and I had to grind to get everything done.
I didn’t really do the superb quality of work I like to in some occasions because my time was stretched so thin.
This year I made a point to cut down to 1 retainer client. In the process I also raised their rates in order to offset culling the pack some.
Make sure it’s for you
If you do have the opportunity for a retainer I would urge you to at least explore it. Personally retained work in addition to being prepared if and when things get slow allow me to cherry pick incoming projects.
It’s worth at least trying once, assuming you’re not super swamped and piling it on top of that. Definitely don’t do that.
But why not a 2-3 month trial run to see if it fits? When I took on my first retainer we agreed to do a small project together, then a few weeks later we kicked off our first month of retained work. It was a good match so we just never stopped.
Plus finding a great client to work with in an on-going capacity is great for future work too. Don’t think that company or person won’t want to let others know about you when they have the chance!