Retainer agreements are pretty straightforward, on paper. Someone agrees to pay you a fee each month and in exchange, you commit to making yourself available if they need your services. Retainers are incredibly common when you contract out services, but not so much among freelancers.
That’s a bummer because if there’s one group of people that can benefit the most from retainer agreements, it’s freelance writers. If you know you’re going to get X amount of money each month, it takes a lot of pressure off finding new clients all the time. That means you can deliver better work because you’re not as stressed all the time.
In this article, we’re going to talk about how freelance retainers work. We’ll go over how to ask a client if they’re interested in a retainer agreement and how that would look in a contract. Let’s get to it!
When to Ask for a Freelance Retainer Agreement
If someone hires you to work on a single article for their blog, they’re probably not going to be interested in paying an ongoing retainer.
However, if that same person keeps coming back for you for more content, then they’re a prime candidate for discussing a retainer. It’s a pretty simple distinction.
Personally, I won’t bring up the idea of a retainer agreement unless I’ve been working with someone for a while and we have a good relationship. I know a lot of clients will balk at the idea, whereas others might crunch the numbers and decide it’s in their best interest to discuss it further.
Another factor you need to consider is your workload. Once a client starts paying you a retainer, they will expect you to be available to work for them. If you can’t fit their work into your schedule at a moment’s notice, it can turn the relationship sour.
To avoid problems such as that one, let’s go over the specifics of how your freelance retainer agreement should work.
How a Freelance Retainer Agreement Works
You already know the basics of how a retainer works, but how do we adjust that to the realities of being a freelance writer?
Here are some ways I’ve approached freelance retainers in the past:
- Offering discounted rates for clients that pay a retainer.
- Discounting the retainer from any work the client orders during that specific month.
- Offering a discount for X pieces of content each month.
- Promising to prioritize their work and discussing specific turn-around times.
The idea here is that clients need to walk away knowing they’re getting something out of their money, besides a promise of work. Retainers are great for us because they provide us with stability. For clients, they’re not such a good deal unless they’re certain they’re going to need your services consistently, but they don’t have a set schedule.
Personally, I’ve had the most success with offering a combination of discounted rates and letting clients know their retainer will go towards any work they order that same month.
With that approach, clients understand they’re not giving me free money. Plus, it becomes an incentive for them to rely on you for any written content needs they have, and in some cases, it can lead to a long work relationship.
Here’s the main problem I’ve run into with this approach, though – a lot of people think retainers mean you work for them exclusively. That’s not how it works in any industry, and if you’re a freelancer, then you’re probably juggling multiple clients already.
That becomes an issue with clients that expect unreasonable turnaround times because they’re paying you a retainer. The best way to nip this in the bud is to be as clear as possible during negotiations and to make sure you get the agreement on a contract.
How a Freelance Retainer Agreement Should Look Like
If you’re not using contracts as a freelance writer, you’re doing it all wrong. Contracts are fantastic. They enable you to weed out bad clients, make you look more professional, and can protect you if the relationship goes sour.
The best part is, you don’t need to be a lawyer to set up a very basic freelance work contract. There are a lot of templates you can find online that act as a starting point. Unless you need something very specific, they should do the trick.
One thing a lot of those freelance contract templates don’t cover, though, are retainer agreements. After all, they’re a rarity in our line of work, so you have to come up with your own.
Here’s a quick example of what that retainer clause might look like (and keep in mind I’m not a lawyer!):
The client agrees to pay the freelancer the sum of $500 – which we will refer to as the retainer – during the first five working days of each month. The freelancer is responsible for submitting an invoice during that period for the agreed-upon amount.
The freelancer agrees to work on any projects the client submits during the calendar month in exchange for the retainer. That means the freelancer commits to:
- Replying to any communications from the client within a 24-hour window during workdays.
- Agree to work on any project the client sends their way.
- Deliver that project within a reasonable deadline (which will be discussed on a project-by-project basis).
By entering into this contract, the client agrees the retainer does not constitute full payment for any services rendered by the freelancer during that month. Each individual project will be billed on a per-word basis applying a rate of X per word.
The freelancer agrees the retainer will go towards covering the fees for any individual project until the total for that month goes over the amount of the retainer. Beyond that point, the regular fee of X applies.
If the retainer covers the entire amount of work ordered by the client during the month, the client agrees the difference will not roll over into the next calendar month.
With that, you’re basically covering all your bases. Keep in mind, though – that’s a variation on retainer clauses I’ve worked with before. If you convince a client to keep you on retainer, you can use that as a starting point, but you’ll need to adapt the agreement to whatever you both agree on.
After that, all that’s left is to wait until that retainer check clears and the next project rolls in.
Freelancer retainers are an oddity. A lot of clients will only hire you for a specific project or two, so it doesn’t make sense for them to pay you an ongoing fee.
Long-term clients, on the other hand, may be open to the idea, as long as you negotiate a reasonable rate. Plus, there are ways to sweeten the pot, so to speak, such as by offering discounted rates if they pay a retainer.
Do you have any questions about freelance retainer agreements? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!
Image credit: Pixabay.