How to Offer Retainers: Unlocking the Holy Grail of Freelancing

Most freelancers find themselves constantly searching for new clients, like King Arthur losing knights in the Monty Python version. Building a thriving consulting business requires a steady stream of new projects, which means writing proposals and hustling to find leads. While optimizing lead generation and refining your pitching practices are important, it can be exhausting and time-consuming. But there’s a different way to consistently earn freelance work without constantly chasing new clients: offering retainers.

Why Choose Retainers? A Short Story

Ten months ago, I restarted my design consulting business. Like many freelancers, I grew tired of the never-ending search for new leads. However, as I worked with a few phenomenal clients, I discovered that they had ongoing challenges that couldn’t be solved with one-off projects. They needed someone who could provide long-term solutions and support. That’s when I had the idea to pitch retainers.

By offering retainers, I not only solved my clients’ long-term frustrations, but I also ensured a consistent monthly income. Retainers freed up time that I would have spent looking for new leads, allowing me to work on my own projects and even take on additional large projects. Plus, my consulting income became more consistent and higher than before.

The Conundrum of Retainers

Retainers often get a bad reputation in the consulting industry, with clients expecting a fixed number of hours that they’ve pre-purchased at a discounted rate. Some consultants even hope that their clients won’t fully utilize those hours, essentially getting paid for nothing. This unethical approach undermines trust and can harm the consultant’s reputation.

To overcome this negative perception, I developed a completely different type of retainer. Here’s how I did it:

Offer Retainers to Existing Clients Only

I never pitch a retainer to a new client for three important reasons:

  1. It’s difficult to know what kind of work to offer on a retainer without actually working together.
  2. I don’t want to get stuck working with a client who doesn’t follow my advice or whom I don’t enjoy working with.
  3. A new client won’t trust me enough to commit to recurring work without seeing the results of a real project first.

By working with a client on a one-off project first, I can evaluate their needs, assess our compatibility, and build trust. After the initial project ends, I pitch the idea of a retainer based on the insights gained during our collaboration.

Pricing: Value Over Discounts and Hours

When it comes to pricing, negotiating rates can be challenging. It’s important not to undervalue your skills and experience. Instead of getting caught up in hourly rates and discount requests, shift the conversation to focus on the value and results your monthly work can deliver.

During the pitch process, discuss the potential profits for the client’s business instead of fixating on rates. Show them how your services can help them achieve their goals and position the retainer as an investment in their success.

To avoid the “use it or lose it” mentality, which is often associated with retainers, set a flat monthly fee that covers your services. This fee should include a small monthly project and additional deliverables based on value, not hours. Clearly communicate that you’ll advise the client on how to make the most of each month’s project, and provide estimates for any extra work required.

Providing Ongoing Value, Not Just Deliverables

With retainers, it’s essential to focus on the value you provide to clients rather than just delivering a product or service. Understand their day-to-day challenges and frustrations, and position yourself as their problem solver. Tailor your services to address their specific needs and guide them towards achieving their business goals.

Listen to your clients and propose how you can alleviate their pain points, increase their profitability, and improve their overall business. By demonstrating your ability to provide ongoing value, you become indispensable to their success.

Tailoring Retainer Services to Each Client

Each client is unique, so tailor your retainer pitch and services to their specific audience, product, and voice. Adapt your skills and services to meet their needs and become their go-to consultant who can handle every aspect of their project.

Being adaptable and diversifying your skillset allows you to solve a wider range of problems and work with a variety of clients. Even if you’re a specialist in one area, consider how you can tailor your work each month to meet the client’s evolving needs.

Building a Solid Retainer Relationship

To ensure a successful retainer relationship, establish clear contractual requirements with your clients. Some key considerations include:

  • Advance notice for booking monthly projects: Make it clear that you’re not on call and need reasonable notice for scheduling projects.
  • Cancellation notice: Set a 30-day notice period for canceling the retainer from either party to protect both your and the client’s interests.
  • Planned billing: Define the invoicing and payment processes to ensure smooth transactions and avoid payment delays.
  • No rollover work or hours: Avoid accumulating unused work or hours from one month to the next. Encourage consistent work and demonstrate the value of your services each month.
  • Trial month: Offer a trial month during which either party can cancel without notice. However, both parties are still required to fulfill their obligations for that month.

Escape the Lead-Finding Treadmill

By offering retainers, you can escape the constant search for new clients and focus on providing ongoing value to your favorite clients. Retainers offer stability, consistent income, and the opportunity to make a substantial impact on your clients’ businesses. Embrace the challenge of working through long-term projects and witness your clients’ success grow. With retainers, you’ll find a more fulfilling and rewarding path as a freelancer.

Remember, if you’re ready to take your freelancing to the next level, visit Zenith City News for more valuable insights and resources.

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