Creating consistent and reliable income streams as a freelancer can feel like a formidable task. Self-employed freelancers face the harsh reality of occasionally slow business, so it’s vital to build in some stability where you can — such as by offering website reporting and maintenance retainers.
While recurring revenue is an obvious goal for all freelancers, ever-growing competition and the race to the bottom make this a challenging endeavor. Introducing retainer agreements into your web business can help ease the pain by ensuring you always have income even when business is slow.
But retainer agreements aren’t just beneficial for freelancers.
They are ideal for clients who need regular monthly service, but don’t necessarily have enough work to justify hiring consultants in-house full-time. Retainers allow your clients to essentially book you in advance for a specific, recurring task — which is simultaneously the most effective way for you, as the designer or developer, to take care of the exact same ongoing work.
Since all clients are unique, we’ll show you how some of your retainer agreements can be packaged by bulk hours, or by a handful of client-selected tasks. Specifically, if you’re a web designer or developer who is new to selling retainers, you’ll learn why website reporting and maintenance is a great place to start.
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The financial stability of retainers
Freelancers are no stranger to the fluctuation in daily income. On your worst days, you’ll bring home $0, which can make recurring bills and expenses seem like a living nightmare. But being a freelancer doesn’t mean financial stability is an impossible task. To generate recurring income, simply sell recurring tasks of any variety on retainer.
Having a base of reliable retainers as part of your business will make those bottom-dollar days much less stressful.
No matter how you operate your business, building a model to maximize recurring revenue, (without overdoing it) is absolutely necessary for success. Some freelancers base a majority of their income on retainers, particularly if the services can be repeated month after month for the same client. Just be careful not to over-book or over-promise hours that aren’t available.
Clients you can get on retainer are more likely to highly value and respect your skills, refer you along to potential future business, and will also save the time otherwise spent searching for new resources. Loyal clients and referrals are just a few ways retainers can contribute to the continuing financial stability of your business.
How to identify retainers
Recurring revenue is the obvious goal for freelancers. But how do you actually sell recurring business to your clients? If you’re already sensing your client’s need for ongoing work of some kind, you have just identified an area of opportunity for a retainer.
Anything you can think of that a client or their project might need on a recurring basis can be a retainer task. To narrow down where a retainer might be a good move with your client, try asking yourself some of these general questions from this nowhere-near-finite list:
- Do any of your clients have someone already employed to perform the regular tasks needed?
- Does the client have anyone on call when there is an issue or when something breaks?
- Have you noticed clients neglecting monthly maintenance or routine updates when you’re checking in for other work?
- Are there additional upsell opportunities with regard to your client’s SEO?
- Within your current client portfolio, are there tasks that you can perform simultaneously for multiple clients to minimize your overall time and effort?
Additional identifiers are clients who don’t like unpredictable expenses for the unforeseen issues down the road, particularly young businesses where your client is usually wearing multiple hats, as well as clients with limited technical knowledge of the recurring tasks you perform.
While there is great benefit to your clients pre-booking your time, how you structure retainer agreements will affect your future workload and availability to take on new, or one-time projects.
The most traditional way to build retainers into your freelancing business is by selling hours in bulk, a monthly or quarterly basis. You’ve agreed to complete a certain scope of work over X number of hours each month, and you communicate to your client along that same timeline all of your updates and completed work.
Beyond bulk hours, productized retainer packages are structured with multiple pricing tiers based on the services included, or completely custom-built by the client selecting only the services they need. Clients know the exact costs of the recurring tasks, and get to choose from which products and services you hand-selected and packaged to complement one another.
However your retainer agreement is structured, the contract created between you and your client will clearly outline the full scope of work, any expectations for either party, as well as a predetermined pay schedule.
Selling website reporting & maintenance retainers
There’s simply no getting around maintenance costs. Selling reporting and maintenance as retainer agreements will be much more efficient and affordable for your clients instead of pricing these types of projects individually throughout the year as it’s needed. Even if your client isn’t a complete novice with their own website, they still might not have the confidence that if something went wrong, they could quickly repair the issue with little, to no, impact to the website.
There are huge gains for clients who stay on top of keeping their websites well-maintained, and equally leveling consequences for those who choose to ignore it.
It’s fair to say most clients don’t understand the value of a service until they see the ramifications of not using it. When you’re selling the importance of maintenance to clients, you’re simply educating them that it shouldn’t be an afterthought.
Maintaining a website properly is absolutely necessary, so it’s a fool-proof angle to begin growing recurring revenue into your business. Additionally, selling routine maintenance services significantly minimizes your client’s risks associated with a poorly maintained website — while keeping them in Google’s good graces. We see no down side.
When calculating how much it costs to build your retainer for your client, consider the tools you would need across the value of your time spent executing the tasks. Maintenance projects will continue to get easier as you develop more efficient systems across multiple clients.
Communication is key
Communication with your clients is a necessary pillar of recurring revenue. By their nature, routine tasks are pretty quiet work — especially back-end maintenance ones. In all likelihood, your client won’t even notice you’re performing any maintenance at all, which is why it’s important to let them know you’re doing it with consistent, detailed reporting for all benchmarks and milestones.
On whatever timeline you scheduled your retainer, have a communication schedule to match.
Traditionally, monthly or quarterly reports are sufficient in detailing any notes or updates for what you’re maintaining for your client. Include all of your supporting data and analytics, and let your client know as each stage is completed in their deliverables. Consistent, open communication is all your client needs for peace of mind as your retainer reloads each month.
Closing thoughts on website reporting & maintenance retainers
The shock of suddenly having no fixed income can be rather brutal when transitioning from working in traditional employment to freelancing full-time. But just because you’re a freelancer now, it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the same stability in your new career style.
For clients, retainers are cost effective, involve less paperwork, and breed familiarity by streamlining specifics between their business and their expert — you.
Find the structure that best suits your client relationship, or create your own, by selling retainer hours in specific time blocks, or by selling retainer-style products from a custom list. Either way, you’ll be mutually growing your businesses as a real partner of the client while still maintaining your hard-earned, humble status as a self-employed, independent freelancer.
Offering recurring services to your clients in retainer agreements can begin building the foundation to your freelancing business as you continue to take on new client projects. By finding a balance of both, you’ll experience far more good months than bad.