Freelancers and agencies fall into the one-time project trap all the time. They work with clients on smaller projects for a few weeks or a month, and then move on to the next client. This puts them in a perpetual sales cycle without a dollar of predictable income.
The outcome leads to a stressed founder and management team, who are all unsure of where their next paycheck will come from.
If this is where your freelance business or agency is right now—there is a solution. It’s called retainer contracts and they’re about to become your new best friend.
What is a Retainer?
A retainer contract is an agreement between client and company that you’ll perform specific services for a set rate each month. For example, your content marketing agency could provide 8 articles per month, distribution, and splintered content for $13,500 a month.
These contracts can either be on a month-to-month basis or go for an agreed-upon amount of time. For example, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, or even more.
With retainer contracts, you’ll know how much revenue you’re making from clients each month and (if you’re smart enough to make multi-month contracts) how much you’re making in the near future. For freelancers and agency owners, the predictability you’re seeking comes from these retainer contracts.
But, how can you secure these retainers so you can shift out of perpetual sales mode?
Securing Retainers 101
Retainers are intimidating. If you’ve never asked clients to sign on to a retainer, it’s easy to think they’re going to say no. Of course, they’d rather have their services a la carte—right? Well, that’s actually not the case at all. Clients are happy to sign on to retainers they feel confident in. It helps them solve the problem they’re currently facing (like a struggle with content marketing).
Here are a few tips for securing retainer contracts so you can go into your next contract discussion with confidence.
Only Offer Your Services in Varying Retainer Packages
To get out of the perpetual sales cycle of one-time projects, you can package your services into retainer contracts. Take out all of your one-time project packages and only allow your current and future clients to work with you in retainers. This can feel scary at first and like you’re going to lose out on business, but a few months into only working with retainer clients and you’ll never look back.
Your retainer packages could look like:
Freelance Facebook Marketer: 6 months of Facebook Ads (included: strategy, ad creative, data and analytics, benchmark goals, consulting).
SEO Marketing Agency: 1 year of SEO services (included: 8x SEO articles per month, 4x SEO pillar posts per month, 50x backlinks per month).
Freelance Email Marketer: 6 months of email marketing (included: 2x weekly newsletters, campaign and offer creation, 2x campaigns per month, data and analytics, benchmark goals, consulting).
It feels like a big ask to get clients to sign up for a 6+ month contract, but the reality is you’re helping them. One month of email strategy isn’t going to get the results they’re hoping for. You need at least 6 months to retrain their list to be interested in their emails and to get the conversions they’re hoping for.
Offering your services in retainer packages gets your clients better results than if you’re just offering one-time services.
Create a 6+ Month Retainer Package
If you’re not ready to just offer retainers, then set up one retainer package to sell to your current and new clients. In this case, they can either choose from your one-time services or sign on to your retainer package that lasts for a minimum of 6 months.
For example, your one-time service could be 4x consulting calls regarding Facebook advertising. Your retainer contract could be 6 months of Facebook Ads. From the example above, you could include: strategy, ad creative, data and analytics, benchmark goals, consulting).
Or your content marketing agency could write 8 articles for clients as a one-time service. The retainer option would be 4x articles per month for 6 months, including distribution, data and analytics, and benchmark goals for traffic and conversions.
Clients who are just looking for writing help, and have the bandwidth to handle the distribution on their own, will happily sign on for those 8 articles. But, clients who aren’t seeing the traffic and conversions from their in-house content marketing strategy will see your retainer contract as the light at the end of the tunnel.
Create at least one 6+ month retainer package as an option for your clients to choose from.
Explain How Your Strategy Works Best Within a Set Time Frame
Time to put your marketing skills to work. Your clients need to know why working with you for a longer period of time, and giving you more money, is worth it. Luckily, you’re a marketer and you know how to present this information to them.
For example, you can let them know that you can write 8 articles for them but if they’re not strategically distributing those articles—it’ll be tough to get the traffic and conversions they’re looking for. Working with your agency will get them more traffic and conversions through your distribution strategy…which leads to more money in their pocket.
Here’s what you’ll need as your selling points:
- Showing them that you understand their #1 goal (get more customers)
- How your retainer contract helps them reach their #1 goal (more customers)
- What to expect from that retainer contract (all the deliverables included)
- Testimonials or case studies (social proof sells!)
The reality is that your clients are better off in retainer contracts than in one-time projects. It’s your job as a marketer to show them this in a way they can understand. Especially if you’re working with companies who don’t have experience outsourcing part, or all, of their marketing strategy.
Explaining how your strategy works within the set time frame of your package will show your clients why the retainer is the best option.
Offer a One-Month Test Period Clause in Your Retainer Agreements
If you find that clients are consistently hesitant to sign retainers, you can offer them a one-month test period. They’ll still sign the retainer agreement, but you’ll have a clause that allows them to end the agreement, at no cost, within 4 weeks of working together if they’re not happy with their results or experience.
This can help clients feel more comfortable outsourcing their marketing to your freelancing business or agency since it gives them a safe out if they don’t get what was promised. Make sure to be clear about what they can expect in that one-month test period in deliverables and results for the lowest churn rate.
For example, a Facebook marketer or agency can let them know that you’ll create 10 ad sets for them, explain the goals of each ad set is, and estimate what conversions to expect. This keeps you accountable to handing in those deliverables (or in this case publishing them to Facebook) and getting preliminary results that can help the client see why continuing to work with you is a good idea.
Remember, this one-month test period is an option. You don’t *have* to put this into your retainer contracts. But, if it makes you feel more confident in offering your initial retainers or you find that clients are easier to convert with this clause, then feel free to use it at your own discretion.
One-month test periods help clients feel at ease about signing a long-term, expensive retainer contract.
Secure Longer Marketing Contracts with Retainers
Retainer contracts will become your best friend. Once you’ve had a few clients sign those beautiful pieces of paper, you’ll realize why all agencies move towards retainer agreements.
Use these tips to secure your first retainer contracts, so you can stop worrying about where your next paycheck is coming from and, for the first time, be able to know how much money your freelancing business or agency is on track to make.
#1: Only offer your services in varying retainer packages
#2: Create a 6+ month retainer package
#3: Explain how your strategy works best within a set time frame
#4: Offer a one-month test period clause in your retainer agreements
Use retainer contracts to take your freelancing business or marketing agency towards six figures and tap into the knowledge bank inside DigitalMarketer Lab to keep growing your business. DigitalMarketer Lab houses Insider Trainings, Workshops, Playbooks, and Certifications used by Uber, Shopify, and Harper Collins.