A Much Better Alternative to Hourly-based Retainers

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Almost everyone I talk to these days wants retainer clients.

You know, the type of arrangement where your client pays you $X,XXX every month, like clockwork.

There's nothing better for your cash flow, that's for sure. 

However, there are problems with retainers. And one of them is that they're usually based on time. For that $X,XXX, you agree to give the client XXX hours of your time. 

But as I have preached for years to creative professionals, you should not be selling your time and you should not be pricing by the hour! Because the better you get, the faster you work and the less you will make.

Instead, you're selling your brain, your creativity, your talent -- all of which has value. And that's what your price should be based on -- the value of your work to the client.

So when it comes to retainers, it can be a little tricky to make that argument, especially if you aren't prepared with an alternative.

Well, here is the alternative to hourly based retainers.

There is a much better way of framing a retainer -- better for everyone -- and it came up in a conversation with a client this week. 

And because this strategy worked, she has allowed me to share the actual language she used to get double the amount the client was offering! 

Here's what she wrote:

I do think the retainer is a good idea—it allows you to reserve my time for potential projects. I have had very few clients with whom I feel comfortable doing retainers, but I would absolutely be willing to do this with you.

To my mind, this is less about you pre-paying for a task or job, and more about me making your work a top priority. If I know I’m going to hold time for your work, I will turn down or delay other work. 

I looked at the work we’ve done to date. We began at the end of August (which is when the first invoice was paid). In the past five months, you’ve paid $XX,XXX or roughly $X,000 per month.

I’d like to propose a retainer of $X,000/month and for that you get 20 emails, or 10 emails plus some other project equivalent. This way I can still manage the scope of projects, and you can be sure you’re a priority.

The client agreed without negotiating the number and said yes to the rationale. 

This works best when you have some history with the client and you know what they need, how long it takes you, even though, again, you're not being paid for your time.  

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