» Cash flow challenged?
» Do a bunch of work you won't get paid for until you bill next month?
» Burned in the past by clients who disappear & never actually pay the bill?
No, this is actually not the opening to an infomercial, as much as I'd love to show up on my ex's television screen at 3am.
But it is a problem that a lot of creatives have.
And so, a lot of creatives turn to the retainer model at one point or another:
Hey, you pay me X per month, and I'm all yours. (That's a death sentence, by the way.)
It's assumed that, at the very least, they'll be able to predict their cash flow, get paid in advance, and not have to track pesky hours anymore.
There's just one problem:
Most people forget to outline what, exactly, this so-called retainer includes.
» Does it include 24/7 “access?” (You're calling me at 3am because inspiration struck? No problemmmmmm. *clenches teeth*)
» Does all the work get thrown at you at once, or last minute, causing you to constantly scramble to rearrange your schedule?
» Does consulting come with the package? Or just the actual deliverables? In other words, what are you agreeing to do? Is your entire brain up for grabs? Or just your particular skill set?
If you don't define these types of things, guess what? Your client will. And hopefully your client is not Fran Drescher.
Next thing you know, that cute little retainer fee you quoted (awwwww), based on the approximate number of hours you had logged for them in the past (awwwwww), or how much they “estimated,” (awwwwww), is now LOSING you money. Big money. Because once people feel like they have all the access, they'll take advantage of all the access.
Just ask boys.
An alternative worth considering?
Try letting your clients know you'll bill them hourly—but—that you require, say, $X amount of a retainer fee up front that you'll put in an escrow account. Then, each hour you work gets deducted from that, which means you get cash flow up front, an insurance policy against non-payers, AND the benefits of having a retainer—without having to become an accidental slave.
Sort of like pre-paying a credit card.
Because there really are some things money can't buy, and that's your fucking SANITY.