Retainers Get You Off the Roller Coaster

ilise-new-headshot-bug-1-11Being your own boss can be a roller coaster. Not much is regular, right?

  • You have no automatic deposit into your checking account.
  • You have no regular schedule of work that must be done.
  • Often, you don’t even have regular clients. Instead, lots of “one-offs.”

But stability is key if you’re going to run a successful business, freelance or otherwise. And one key to that stability is retainer arrangements with good clients.Roller coaster

That may not be possible for all businesses, but I have been helping more and more design firms move in that direction lately, and it’s working! So it’s time to share what we’re learning. (If you want to discuss how retainers might work for you, take advantage of my free mentoring session.)

First, I suggest you set a goal to secure 1-2 stable retainer clients to cover your monthly fixed expenses. Balance this “bread-and-butter” against any “gravy” that comes your way, which allows you to be more selective about what you take on.

Here are 2 ways I’ve seen creative professionals successfully secure retainers.

  1. They’ve evolved out of an existing relationship where the work is fairly consistent and the working  relationship is a healthy one. This is most common. So look at your current clients to see which ones are primed to be transformed into a more stable arrangement. Then approach them about it. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation.
  2. They have been pursued strategically. What type of work that you do is characteristically ongoing and regular? Once you’ve identified that type of work, you can go get it. For example, a retainer is not likely to evolve out of a simple web site refresh, unless that web site is part of a larger campaign or rebranding. On the other hand, content marketing is good fodder for retainer work because it has to be done regularly, like a monthly newsletter or annual sustainability report.

What other types of projects are conducive to retainer arrangements? Share what you’ve noticed or learned in the comments.

Plus here are a couple resources to get you started:

  • Podcast with Jim Gorman of Gorman360, whose business is made up of 4 retainer clients.
  • This blog post on how to structure a retainer arrangement.

What are your questions or issues on retainers? Are you using them with clients? If not, why not?