3 benefits of working within retainers

As a designer, I still do some “one-off” work (AKA individual projects) for a few select clients that I really enjoy working with. However, I transitioned my business model last year to working with other long-term clients “on retainer.” I learned how to budget time and work within this kind of style thanks to my agency background. If you’re not sure what a “retainer” is, it’s simply a way for a designer (or any creative professional or service provider) to offer either a set number of hours or completed projects to a client for a one-time/set fee each month in return.

Now, retainers aren’t always a good fit for every client/designer relationship. It is definitely a smart idea for established brands that need regular and consistent work created each month. But, if you own a business that is starting from scratch and has some foundational materials to get you up and running, you might not need 20-40 hours of work completed each month right away. Regardless, I’ve outlined below the 3 biggest benefits (I’ve experienced) for designers and their clients alike, if a retainer partnership is developed.

1. Expectations are more easily met.

Using retainer models gives a client ongoing access to a trusted designer and the consistency in the designer’s schedule allows them to provide better service to the client. By purchasing the designer’s time upfront, the client receives a preferred retainer rate and gets more bang for their buck. This style of working with a designer will help a business owner to plan ahead, have less stress with tracking and paying multiple invoices and they will know exactly what they’re getting each month! Both the client and designer can be on the same page and know what work is coming down the pipeline. As a result, there is better organization and deadlines are clear. This keeps (negative) surprises from happening and there is a more efficient workflow for both parties.

2. For a designer, there is less “chasing work” and wondering where your next client or paycheck is coming from.

This was my biggest reason for transitioning to working within retainers. I don’t have to create a proposal or provide an estimate/quote for each individual project, I don’t have to send multiple invoices and I get paid a lot quicker and at the same time each month. This obviously allows me to have a more solid source of income. Rather than quoting and designing 5 different jobs for a client that might altogether total $900-1,000 at the end of the month, I can count on a guaranteed $1500-2000 a month and maybe even end up doing less work — and getting that $1500-2000 amount in one lump sum, not 5 separate payments or checks. If I have a slower month when I don’t book as many branding jobs, I know that I at least have 2-3 retainers that guarantee me with work. And, that’s certainly reassuring!   

3. More long-term relationships are developed and higher-premium work is produced.     

For a client, the biggest benefit is that they have a trusted partner and aren’t just working with a random contractor they found online, who doesn’t quite know their brand or style. This allows growth for both businesses. The client can scale their business and better plan for the year and the designer can execute better work because they know exactly what the client needs and when. I personally like to review what’s coming up for the month with my clients and outline 3-4 larger projects that they know for sure need to be completed, so that I can make notes and plan my schedule accordingly.

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