How to Best Pitch a Retainer Agreement

As your writing business grows, it often makes sense to offer retainer agreements to some of your clients.

A retainer agreement is simply an agreement whereby a client pays you a fixed sum of money every month to retain your services.

Retainer agreements are common in professions that are hourly-rate driven, such as law, business consulting and public relations.

While you don’t want to fall into the trap of hourly pricing, these agreements can work well for freelance writers in some circumstances.

For example, if a client has a consistent amount of business for you each month — and especially if that business comes in small bits and pieces — a retainer agreement might be the solution to pricing those projects.

So instead of defaulting to a “pay me by the hour” arrangement, you shift the focus to deliverables.

But how should you pitch retainer agreements to your clients so that they’re more likely to say yes?

Here’s my advice:

1. Pitch only to existing clients or clients you know well

Never pitch a retainer agreement to someone you’ve never worked with before. An element of trust is needed in order for these agreements to work.

You don’t want to offer these arrangements to clients who are “clock watchers” or “hour counters.” They have to trust you to be the gatekeeper of what (or how much) gets done every month.

Can this arrangement work with a new client? Possibly. But it’s risky.

With new clients, you haven’t gotten to know each other yet. It’s like proposing marriage on the first date. It can be perceived as pushy and aggressive and make the client suspicious of your motives.

And even if you can talk them into signing a retainer agreement, there’s a good chance the arrangement won’t go well.

2. Present the retainer as a way to get “front of the line” status

The biggest selling feature of these agreements is that they give clients “front of the line” access to you and your services.

Once you sign the agreement, you give their projects priority and you guarantee your availability as described in the agreement.

In some cases, this may mean faster turnaround of deliverables and fewer start-of-project delays.

In other words, they get to “reserve you” for a certain amount of work every month.

This “velvet rope” selling point is absolutely key — and it’s much stronger than the “volume discount” argument (more on this in a minute).

Clients appreciate this front-of-the-line access because your guaranteed availability decreases the client’s risk of projects being delayed or not completed on time.

3. Highlight the benefit of predictable budgeting

Predictable budgeting is another good selling feature.

Under the retainer agreement, the client pays you a fixed amount each month. This makes planning and budgeting easier.

It can also help to facilitate internal approvals for the client.

4. Include a small discount (maybe)

When you put together your retainer agreement, you might want to include a small discount to the client because of the guaranteed volume of work.

You don’t have to disclose the exact amount of the specifics of the discount. Just letting them know that you’re discounting the work is enough.

Usually, you’ll be able to more than make up for this discount by completing these tasks faster as you get more comfortable with them. This helps keep your internal hourly rate high.

Even so, you don’t want to use this discount as your key selling feature. Keep the emphasis on exclusivity and availability.

Otherwise, you’ll accidentally shift the conversation back to “How long will it take you to do this? And this?” — which is something you don’t want.

Retainers Are Great For You Too!

While retainers are good for your clients, they’re also good for you. Done well, they’re truly a win-win situation.

For example, retainer agreements can bring the following advantages:

  • Income predictability. You know how much you’ll be paid each month for the work.
  • Loyalty. In a sense, these agreements “lock” you in with clients. They won’t want to let you go (even when the agreement expires or needs to be re-negotiated). You’ll be too valuable to them!
  • Higher internal hourly income. When the work is repetitive in nature, you’ll get faster and faster at completing it, boosting your internal hourly income.
  • Deeper expertise. These agreements lead to longer-term working relationships. This gives you the opportunity to develop deeper knowledge and experience in specific industries and technologies within your target market.

So if you’ve never pitched a retainer agreement to a client before, give it a try.

Under the right circumstances, they can lead to a profitable, useful and long-term arrangement for both parties.

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I’m putting together a new implementation group this month. If you’d like to work with me to grow your income quickly with better clients (and become one of my new success stories). Just email me at [email protected] and put “Case Study” in the subject line.

4.  Get a 1:1 strategy call with me.

Are you a 6-figure writer who’s trying to earn more in less time with less stress? Let’s jump on a quick call and brainstorm some ideas for getting you there. Just email me at [email protected] and put “Brainstorm” in the subject line.