Photo Credit: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Why don’t you let your freelance clients give you more money?

Freelancing Fundamentals

The major challenge that most freelancers face is securing enough work. (Actually, I believe complexity is the real culprit, but securing enough work is doubtless a challenge.)

That pipeline problem contributes to the feast-or-famine cycles that freelancers lament.

Is there a way out of the incessant hustle for one-off clients and projects? Can you fix the flow of leads and cash?


You can add productized services to your value ladder and various rungs you can sell as retainers, and you can sell more retainers.

Retainers have been a game-changer for my freelance business since I landed my very first one in November 2009:

  1. Retainers regulate cashflow. Because I can depend on the monthly recurring revenue, I don’t have to hustle as hard each month to drum up projects and hit my sales targets.
  2. Retainers give me the opportunity to watch my clients grow. Unfortunately, one-off projects like new websites usually end before the client has achieved significant growth. Unless I am on retainer for marketing, I don’t get to see my work pay dividends for the client.
  3. Retainers reward efficiency. By designing and implementing efficient processes, I can give my clients what they need (and what they’re paying me for) in less time. Each boost in efficiency means less time required to make the same money. My effective hourly rate goes up, and my freelance business becomes more profitable.
  4. Retainers increase the lifetime value of a client. I don’t need as many new relationships to earn my desired income.
  5. Retainers enables you to do less context switching. Fewer clients and fewer projects means fewer overall distractions and heightened focus. Because you’re managing fewer details, you’re less likely to let something fall through the cracks.
  6. Retainers position you to outsource many or all of the projects and tasks. Once you get into a good rhythm, you can slice off bits and pieces of the monthly scope and pay other freelancers to take care of them. In his book Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, talks about his M.B.A. policy — management by absence — and about how your company’s potential for growth is linked to your ability to relinquish control.

Retainers give me steady work that I can pass on to other talented freelancers. I can train and empower them, and in so doing, I gain freedom that I would never have had if I had to satisfy every jot and tittle of every deliverable.

In short, retainers offer two distinct benefits: predictable revenue and greater efficiency.

Those two benefits create a virtuous cycle of momentum in any freelance business.

  • Predictable revenue cuts down on anxiety and stress.
  • Predictable revenue makes budgeting easier.
  • Predictable revenue makes profit easier.
  • Greater efficiency leaves time for other core business activities like business development and sales.
  • Greater efficiency translates into less wasted time and more conserved resources; less frustration and more optimism.

Profit and efficiency free you from the daily grind of freelancing.

Yes, freelancing can wear you down too. Pounding the pavement, week after week, month after month, can take its toll on your health, relationships, passion, and optimism.

I don’t mean to portray retainers as some sort of silver bullet. They’re not. They’re hard work just like other client projects.

But they have the fragrance of sustainability about them, and that fragrance is intoxicating. I have one friend who refuses to work with new clients on one-off projects unless they have a retainer attached to them!

Types of Retainers

Retainers vary based on the client’s needs and your particular skillset:

  • Activities — E.g., social media management, backlinking
  • Deliverables — E.g., two blog posts and 30 social updates per month
  • Hours — E.g.,10 hours of blogging and social posting per month
  • Maintenance & Monitoring — E.g., Being on-call to update WordPress, plug-ins, tweak HTML and CSS, fix security issues
  • Development — E.g., Certain number of allocated dev hours per month for building out new features, squashing bugs, and optimizing performance
  • Consulting — E.g., Certain availability each month to be a sounding board, help clients troubleshoot, and design a plan of attack

Some of your clients need your help on an ongoing basis. By not offering a retainer, you are leaving money on the table.

Web developers, you can sell small up-keep retainers that start as soon as you launch a new website.

Designers, you can offer graphics packages for your clients’ monthly stream of articles, Instagram posts, and emails.

Writers, you can create packages of 2–4 blog posts per month or email newsletters or a certain number of social posts.

Photographers, you can target clients who need a steady supply of images to feed to their socials—for example, salons, spas, schools, churches, non-profits, hotels and resorts, restaurants, and boutiques.

Marketers, you can help your clients set up new funnels, monitor analytics, perform split-tests, and optimize sales using real data, not hunches.

What’s stopping you?

Your freelance clients want to you to make their lives easier. They want to pay you more to make more of their problems go away. Why don’t you let them?

Start mapping out your retainer packages right now, and inform your clients one by one that you’d love to help them more.

Feast-or-famine doesn’t have to be “the way it is.” You can have more feast than famine in your freelancing if you start offering retainers.

Do you need help thinking through your pricing and retainers?

Book a call with me on, and I’ll help you figure out your various options, as well as the right way to sell retainers to your clients.

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