Freelancers can maintain a steady, even income if they have a solid number of clients on a monthly basis. And this is doable especially when there are clients who pay them on a regular basis every month while on retainer.
With monthly retainers, most clients will give you as much as you can deliver in terms of workload.
If you’re really lucky, a client or two might even pay you just to keep your schedule available for them, regardless of whether you are actually needed or not.
Although the chances of this happening are quite rare, it is still a great possibility. The bottom line is, freelancers can get a lot of opportunities while on a monthly retainer setup.
The Advantages of Monthly Retainers
According to WordPress developer Andy Stratton, a retainer agreement is great for both client and freelancer.
Freelancers can allocate and plan their time better between work and other matters. This is because they have a basic idea of how many hours they need to put in for their client each month. For clients, it means a lower rate for a freelancer’s services.
One of the advantages of retainer agreements is having the luxury of setting your schedule. You can be a bit more organized when planning and executing projects. As a retainer, you can work on pre-planned deals and still create vacant times for future unplanned projects. This gives you a sure source of money and a consistent career as a freelancer.
Another advantage of working as a retained freelancer is you are secured that your work will be paid, or have already been paid. It is well-known in the freelancing world that there are people who take advantage of freelancers. Some clients do not fulfill their other side of the bargain and fail to meet the agreed amount.
Being in a retainer setup ensures that you are available for the client, while having the security that your efforts are not wasted.
Typical Workload For A Retainer
The kind of services a freelancer offers on a project on a one-time basis will be different from the services covered by a retainer agreement. As a freelancer, you should ensure that the services you are offering fit well with your clients’ needs.
For example, Stratton found out that most of his clients required over 8 working hours each month on WordPress related jobs.
These jobs involve the following:
- Tweaking WordPress themes to add more functionality
- Adding significant SEO elements
- And creating WordPress plugins.
Because of this, he decided to offer WordPress maintenance as part of his retainer services.
You can tell that there’s a potential for retainer work opportunities if you have a client who comes back to you time and time again, with similar workloads.
Here are some other options you can consider:
- Offer to handle any regular maintenance duties that require your skills and expertise.
- Provide speedy turnaround times (useful for routine or rush jobs like rewriting articles, or revamping existing web designs)
- Serve as a consultant in mapping out a company’s strategy and goals.
- Handle all small, repetitive and routine jobs.
You have to treat your retainer services the same way you treat all your other freelance services.
It is not enough to simply state on your website that you are available to work as a retainer. Develop a comprehensive and detailed list of services that you are willing to do while on retainer, along with your rates for those services.
Also, you need to plan and organize your time if you want to work on a retainer basis. This is to ensure that you will have enough time for clients who have you on retainer. This should be the case even during months when big, one-off projects come your way.
Make sure you know what your skills are and the time you have to fulfill these skills. Some freelance jobs are not the kind that will live up to a deposit deal. It is absolutely necessary that you can fulfill your task to keep the clients going after your services.
Some of the tasks that can be done in a payment deal are scheduled articles or posts that most social media website owners demand. These can be as simple as twice a month of posting, to weekly blog updates for their website.
If they hire you as a website developer or a designer, be prepared. Being a retained web designer can be very demanding and time-consuming. So if ever you agree to this kind of deal, you should be compensated above the average deal.
Here are definite tasks to give you the correct idea on what responsibilities you may need to shoulder:
- Routine check-up of the website and fixing of glitches and compatibility issues
- Availability 24/7 for sudden web site issues
- Optimum and immediate results for emergency hitches
- Organization of the plans for the company and when to execute them
- Supervision of schedule tasks such as posts per week or per month
- Have a transparent agreement with your client on what tasks you are supposed to handle and if you can meet up with their demands.
There are several specific tasks that you can highlight when offering your skills as a freelance web designer on a monthly retainer. Let’s take a close look at one of the most important services you can sell.
Maximizing Your Freelance Business Selling WordPress Maintenance Service
Every WordPress developer has to contend with a boom or bust cycle. Meaning, there are months when business is good and there are those when the workload is not enough to pay the bills.
The good news is, you don’t have to suffer like a hamster on a wheel. You can break free from this vicious cycle by offering WordPress maintenance service to your clients.
Doing so provides you with a steady stream of income no matter what phase your business is in. Plus it also gives your clients the peace of mind that they deserve. In other words, it’s a win-win situation for your business and your clients.
WordPress Maintenance Explained
Picture this: A new stable version of WordPress becomes available. Being a freelance developer, you will no doubt learn about the upgrade the second it hits the servers.
But what about your clients? It’s a good bet that your clients will never even bother about a WordPress update. And that’s when problems could arise.
An outdated WordPress site can be susceptible to malicious hacks. Before you know it, your phone or your inbox will be flooded with terrified messages from your clients about their sites being compromised.
But with your WordPress maintenance service, all the headaches can be avoided. Your job is to ensure that your clients’ sites will be routinely updated.
Selling WordPress maintenance service does more than just ensure an updated content management system.
With this service, you can also provide some form of backup arrangement. This arrangement can stipulate that you can bring back your clients’ sites if anything caused them to break or disappear off the face of the Web.
By offering WordPress maintenance, say on a monthly or quarterly package, you ensure that your clients’ sites are updated and running properly. This way, your clients don’t have to worry about the technical stuff.
Benefits of Selling WordPress Maintenance
When you add WordPress maintenance service to your business offerings, you can enjoy many advantages:
Say Goodbye to the Boom and Bust Cycle
As a freelancer, selling WordPress maintenance packages will provide you with a steady flow of cash monthly. You don’t have to be concerned about having too much or too few business clients. The best part is, you can plan your work ahead. You do not have to accept every project that comes your way for fear that you won’t have enough work next week or month.
Grow Your Business
Selling WordPress maintenance service has all the benefits of working on a retainer basis. Hence, it is a good way to build business relationships and expand your business.
Rather than just building sites for clients on a one-shot arrangement, you can offer other services. This is to ensure their WordPress sites are maintained and taken care of down the line.
Retain Clients More Efficiently
As a freelancer, you know how hard it is to find new clients. So why not think about keeping your clients over a long term deal?
By offering maintenance service, your clients are more likely to have repeat business with you. This means that you don’t have to spend a lot of time for marketing your business to find new clients.
WordPress Maintenance: Who Needs It?
Well, the proper question is who doesn’t need it?
Truth be told, your clients do not like to be bothered with the technical stuff concerning their WordPress sites. They would really appreciate the opportunity of having someone take care of the highly technical aspects of their sites. And that’s where you come in. You can offer maintenance service to your existing clients as an extra benefit of doing business with you.
Having repeat clients is the name of the game if you want to make it big as a freelancer. So even if you have done one-shot jobs for previous clients, you can always go back to them and offer WordPress maintenance packages to fit their needs.
Don’t forget to point out to them the problems that could arise if their sites are not well-maintained and how you can help them.
Newly Acquired Clients
You can also offer WordPress maintenance to new clients. In fact, you can use this service to gain their business. As you may know, many small to medium-sized businesses don’t have their own IT departments.
It’s very likely that their websites have been outsourced. It is also possible that they just don’t have the resources and expertise to ensure that their sites are well-maintained. This may be true especially in terms of security and regular backups.
Nonprofit organizations are particularly known for not having their own web developers. True, they often churn out some of the most impressive content found online. But because of their limited budget, many nonprofits lack the techical assistance needed to maintain sites.
Just like any other client, nonprofits need someone to take care of the technical stuff without putting a big hole in their budget. Selling WordPress maintenance service to nonprofits can benefit you both.
Ongoing WordPress Maintenance: How to Sell It
There are many ways to position your WordPress maintenance service package in the market and each one depends on the services covered in the package. Below you will find some approaches you can do to sell your maintenance service.
Aim for Full Service
It’s no secret that website maintenance is a highly technical and tedious job. Tell your would-be clients that you will be the one to do all the worrying for them so that they can run their businesses more effectively.
Spotlight on Security
Every day, thousands of websites get hacked. Even those owned by top global corporations are susceptible to attacks. In short, no website is safe online. The only way to avoid getting hacked is by having a dedicated security protection. This will be covered through your ongoing WordPress maintenance service.
Put Peace of Mind at the Center
If your clients want peace of mind, they need to have someone who can keep their sites updated and secured. It’s not an easy task. They will need a professional like you. When centering on peace of mind as your selling point, make sure to demonstrate how you can stop potential problems.
With your help, they can be stopped before they even materialize. This could also show your would-be clients how they can save money by signing up to your maintenance service.
WordPress Maintenance Bundle: What to Include
When building your maintenance package, there’s really no limit as to what kind of services you can include in the bundle. Just make sure to create a package that will work for your clients.
It’s a good idea to start by thinking about what your clients need and how your skills and work schedule matches those client needs. Below are some services you can include in your service package.
Updates: WordPress typically offers major updates two times a year, with several minor updates in between.
On top of the main content management system, updates are also rolled out for themes and plugins as needed. They can also be rolled out in less predictable cycles.
Backups: Each WordPress site requires a backup plan that fits its particular needs. For instance, a site with frequent and huge amounts of updates would be better safeguarded by having its database backed up at least once a day or with a weekly full backup.
In comparison, sites with fewer updates don’t need continual backups. But they still need full backups on a regular basis.
Security: Again, the Web is a dangerous place for websites. So security checks and full system recovery measures are very important. When deciding on what to include in your service package, make sure to offer security and update monitoring in your bundle.
Being proactive when it comes to the security of your clients’ sites is the first step to keeping their sites safe in the first place.
Tracking & Reporting: Accessing and gathering website statistics is probably the easiest part of owning a website.
But most site owners just don’t want to make time for it, much less make sense out of all the numbers. As part of your ongoing maintenance service, you can provide your clients with a summary of the website stats. You can also include the trends that they represent.
Data, such as increases in subscribers or sales, can provide your clients with valuable insights regarding their businesses.
Hosting & Domain Name: This service is particularly useful for new clients. After all, domain registration and hosting services are necessary for a website to even exist online.
You can apply for a reseller account in any of the reputable hosting companies so you can provide full service to your clients.
Other Services: You can add to your service package other technical stuff like SEO enhancement, web design, coding, and even content creation. These services can be used as added perks for using your maintenance services. Some freelancers offer such added services on limited periods.
Let’s Talk About the Cost
After you decide on what to include in your WordPress maintenance service package, the next step is to figure out how much should you charge your clients for your services.
When coming up with your prices, make sure to factor in your expenses which may include some or all of the following:
* Plugins: To make your security monitoring and maintenance work easier, you will need plugins like BackupBuddy and iThemes Security.
You can also avail of the Plugin Suite, featuring unlimited developer license covering all iThemes plugins for $247 annually.
Tools: Managing and monitoring several sites can be difficult. But you can make things easier with tools like iThemes Sync. This will let you manage WordPress updates for multiple sites in a single dashboard. With the Developer Suite you can manage 10 sites for free. Or for $50, you can add more starting at 25 sites.
Storage: An off-site backup is must for any site’s security and recovery. And it’s very easy with BackupBuddy, but you have to have storage. BackupBuddy Stash features 1 GB free with BackupBuddy and you can easily upgrade to 5 GB or more starting at $35 annually. Other storage options include Dropbox or Amazon S3.
Hosting: When it comes to hosting it’s a good idea to have a reseller account. You can just look at your account to determine how much to charge your clients for hosting and domain registration. Hosting companies will either allow you to resell their services at a markup. They also provide you with discounts to serve as your profit margin as a reseller. Site5 is highly recommended as they encourage reseller hosting accounts.
Time: When pricing your services, always remember to consider the time you will spend for each client site. Most of the maintenance tasks are easy to perform. They can also now be accomplished using automated tools. But a freelancer still spends time when monitoring and working on sites.
As you build your service bundle and come up with your prices, make it a point not to sell yourself short. Remember, you are doing some valuable service for your clients. Sure, many of your longtime clients who provide you with a steady flow of cash may be entitled to some discounts. But make sure that both you and your clients both come out happy in every deal.
Tip: Design and Build a Workflow
You invest time and effort in every site. It is only proper that you list down the steps you need to perform and create a workflow. Always find ways to increase your work efficiency.
Players in the Freelance Maintenance Market
To help you get a better grasp of the maintenance services niche, here are some service providers that you can check out.
- The WP Butler
- WP Maintainer
- WP Site Care
- The WP Valet
- WP Curve
- Codeable (this one is better known as a market for small coding jobs)
Marketing Your WordPress Maintenance Plan to the World
Now that you have built your maintenance package and come up with a price for your services, you can start selling it. Here are some tips.
Previous Clients: It’s always a good time to check in with previous clients. Ask if they need improvements or updates in their sites. Don’t forget to mention that you offer maintenance services.
Existing Clients: Invite your present clients to try your maintenance services. You can offer them one or two months’ worth of services for free.
Security Audit: Offer your security audit service for free. Once you’re done, provide clients with a summary of their sites’ vulnerabilities. Just be careful not to come across as coercing your clients to pay for your maintenance services.
Replacement Cost Calculator: What better way to show your clients the importance of protecting their sites from malicious attacks than showing them the replacement cost of a website.
Calculating such cost can demonstrate to your clients that security and monitoring are of utmost importance.
Create Content: Talk about why site security and monitoring are important. Provide free ebooks, blog posts, or email messages. The content should outline the reasons why WordPress maintenance service will ensure that a site is secured.
WordPress Updates: When new WordPress updates roll out, make it a point to ask new and existing clients if they have updated their sites. Tell them that you can help them keep their sites stay current.
Get to Work
Here’s a list to help you jumpstart your freelance WordPress maintenance package:
1. Gather all the fundamental tools. Remember to check out reseller hosting to help your business.
2. Assemble together your service packages. Come up with the ideal pricing for your services. You can offer multiple service bundles.
3. Sell your maintenance services on your own site. You can choose not to go public right away. But selling through your site is a start.
3. Begin beta testing. Touch base with some of your clients and offer free or reduced price for your beta test.
Selling WordPress maintenance can provide freelancers with steady flow of income. It can help you break free from the boom or bust cycle in web development and it may even save your business during tough times.
So now that you have an idea on what to offer your clients as a freelancer on a monthly retainer, how do you go about finding work opportunities? The next section of this post will discuss this further.
How To Find Work Opportunities on a Retainer Basis
The likelihood that you will find a potential client who needs freelancers on a retainer basis varies depending on your chosen industries.
Some niches and fields have more opportunities for retainer work compared to others. There are companies that require a lot of routine tasks done with a quick turnaround time, while others don’t.
If you think working as a retainer is a good fit, inform your clients that you are open to retainer opportunities. But you have to do this in a nice and subtle way.
First, take a look at the current workload you are receiving from your clients. Based on their operations and the type of jobs they perform, a company might or might not need someone to do work for them on a regular basis. That is up to you to decide.
It’s common sense that companies might hesitate or even outright reject a retainer relationship if this is your first time working with them on a one-off basis.
Just focus on executing your tasks efficiently so your client would be more than happy to work with you again in the future. After working on a few projects for them, that’s the time when you can bring up the topic of retainer work.
According to Stratton, all he did was to point out to his clients that they were already requiring him to put in a certain number of work hours each month. You can also follow up on previous clients.
For example, once you’ve successfully built your client his website, you can follow it up by offering maintenance services for the website as well. You can even include retainer services as part of a package.
If you want to work on a retainer basis for your client, you need to find a way to slip it into the conversation gracefully.
Most retainer relationships are on a monthly or yearly basis. Freelancers prefer monthly retainer work because it’s easier to bill than yearly work. Monthly retainer terms mean that it’s easier to set a payment date.
Freelancers, for one, want to receive their payment in lump sum prior to starting with the workload as there is less risk of the client disappearing halfway through.
So how do you set up payment contracts with your clients?
Let us go through the nuts and bolts on how to set up payment contracts with your clients for a smooth sailing freelancing career. Keep all these notes in mind for a better way to steadily compensate your job without clients ripping you off.
Most freelancers work under the mercy of the Internet and it is through this that these kinds of agreements are done. In order to avoid future problems related to your compensation and services, these kinds of contracts should be in writing. This will serve as evidence and foundation of your relationship as client and service provider.
These things should be correctly noted in your agreement:
- Monthly payment you are going to receive for your services
- Additional payment for other services they are willing to acquire
- The exact date and time you are going to be paid whether weekly or monthly
- The payment option you agree on (PayPal, Skrill, etc)
- How abundant the work load is and what kind work you will be doing
- The date and time your clients will send the requests and work requirements
- When updates should be done whether dailiy, weekly, or monthly
- The end of contract policy and how it should be addressed to the other party
- The exact time and date when the work has to be delivered
These are just some of the technical reminders you must remember when creating a retainer contract. But keep in mind that it still requires care and the best delivery of work to maintain a harmonious relationship with your clients.
Working on a Monthly Retainer–Reminders
You need to set work quotas in advance, so you know what you need to accomplish before the end of every month or year.
However, most clients prefer to pay in full once a year’s worth of workload has been finished. While both sides have a point, it might be easier to agree on dividing the payment into small monthly increments.
In terms of workload, both sides have to agree on how much work needs to be completed on a monthly or yearly basis. You may compile a list of jobs and tasks along with the number of hours required for each task.
For example, if you’re providing maintenance services, this may include all related tasks that you offer as part of the package. Add to this your client’s expectations that all tasks related to maintenance will get done after a set amount of time. Again, setting goals and expectations is easier and more manageable on a monthly basis.
It’s not mandatory for the length of your retainer relationship to match the payment frequency.
For example, payment frequency and work scheduling can be done at a monthly basis although your contract is for an entire year. Just decide on what works best for your client and yourself.
Do Not Be a “Yes” Person
One of the disadvantages of being a freelancer on a retainer is abuse. Some clients think that they own all of your time. And thinking that they have paid for your hours, they can be very demanding. Sometimes, they would even demand for you to do tasks not mentioned in your agreement.
Let it be clear that you are doing a particular task for a particular amount. And that you will only do the task stipulated in your agreement. If exceeds the time agreed upon, or if the tasks are not within the agreement, you have to be compensated differently. You are running your own business not a charity.
Always Keep Track of Time
Note the time you have spent doing your job for the client. You will then figure out if you are making a reasonable amount in the span of time you are working on your project. The amount you are getting should be at par with the quality of work you deliver.
Through these tools, you can check if the time you allot meets the amount of work you are doing.
These applications track your hourly compensation. If you can clearly see that you are not paid well per hour, then you can politely finish the contract and move on to better opportunities.
Introducing The Concept to Clients
As a freelancer, your income comes from your clients so the proposal you should pitch in should look and sound appealing to clients.
They should be able to see the advantage of hiring you and not reconsider the contract.
As a freelancer, you can move forward in your career by going into retainer agreements. After all, performing a heavy loads of tasks for a small group of people can be very dangerous and limiting.
You want to work for your more valuable clients and they are the ones you should target when it comes to creating solid contracts.
Is there any reason behind it?
Clients who know your value and appreciate you capabilities are golden. This is the group of people who can really fund your freelancing business. These are the people you would want to keep for a long time without you worrying abou being ditched anytime soon.
When you are hired by this kind of clients, you no longer want to extend your services to clients whose work ethics are not aligned with you. You have the choice to continue working with people you can actually deal with and compensate you well for it.
You can start asking for a decent hourly rate because they also know from their side that you can work well with their projects. You no longer have to scour your way all over the Internet to look for clients and waste your hours doing so.
If you think about it, having 5 clients who will hire you as a retained Web Designer will most likely bring you more earnings. You get to interact with fewer people, and maintain a less stressful schedule.
Compare this to having 20 different one-off clients who ask you to do different projects over a short period of time. It can be very taxing and stressful, no?
In order to work things out for your advantage, show your best to your “best 5 clients”. Present the idea to them and just build on the notion that you are already somehow a part of their payroll.
So how do you get them to hire you as a retainer?
Cited below are some of the pro-tips to hook your clients into your favor:
- Make them realize that you one of the most reliable parts so their system can work out. Always over-deliver and make them notice you in a good light.
- Be consistent as a freelancer and your clients will definitely know that you are dependable when given the kind of work they need. Show your clients how serious you are and that you put your heart out into your work.
- If given a certain amount to work on, ask them if they can slightly make it bigger in order for you to deliver more work as well. For example, if they compensate you $500 weekly for 20 hours, you may request for $750-$850 for a 40 hour availability.
- Make them understand that the deal is working for the advantage of both sides. Half a year retainers still make other clients uneasy so don’t go into it yet and start on a monthly contract.
- Remember that the retainer agreement can be customized according to everyone’s preference.
- Regularly send them reports of your task and how it was able to benefit their business.
- If your work consists of getting more website traffic, or improving a website, present the numbers to your clients. Show them your results. This way, you can make them feel more at ease with the work you are doing for them.
The Legal Side of Monthly Retainers
If you plan to work as a retainer, you have to make sure that all details are written down in the form of a letter of agreement or contract.
While one-off project may not pose a lot of financial risk to you, retainer relationships do.
Retainer work is a long term relationship. This means, if you encounter a few disagreements along the way, your financial situation can change in an instant.
It’s better to ask your client to put into writing all expectations and terms that come along with your retainer relationship. This is applicable even if it’s a client you have worked with for a long time and trust completely.
You may even use it as a reference so you won’t forget specific details after a year or so.
Create a contract that has an easy getting-out option. Not that either side will take advantage of the other but at least a better option to choose whenever the deal is not going smoothly anymore. This can work well for both sides because this creates less hassle and lets you go off into greener pastures.
Since this is a significant step, ensure that the following points are included in the written agreement:
- Your expected salary every month
- The payment dates
- Invoice requirements and regulations that must be followed
- The type and amount of workload you are expected to finish per month
- Dates when your client will give you your workload for each month
- Requirements for notifying retainer termination. This means that both parties can’t simply terminate the agreement whenever they want to.
- Any other details that will contribute to speedy and efficient workload turnaround
Retainer Relationship Modification or Termination
You or your client might want a specific expiration date for your contract.
This does not necessarily mean the end of the retainer relationship. This only means a chance to negotiate the terms and maybe even raise your rates. Yes, you have the option of raising your rates while under contract. However, it’s best to give your client ample notice regarding the price hike.
Eventually, your freelancing career might take you on a different direction than your set expectations. Since it’s hard to part with a retainer’s steady, guaranteed income, you may feel like continuing with this path for a while.
However, your work hours per day are limited, and you might want to focus on your current line of work. This might mean that you and your client need to have a serious talk, which is awkward for both sides.
Although uncomfortable, it is best to have a discussion with your client. Talk about potential modifications, or about the termination of your retainer relationship.
If you are intent on leaving, you may provide your client a list of freelancers you recommend. This is to ensure that you’re not leaving your client in a difficult situation.
If the job requires your specific skill set and expertise, part of your termination agreement can include staff training. You can offer to come in, train someone at their company and teach them the ropes.
You may also check if your client is willing to work with a subcontractor. If your negotiations result in a whole new set of terms, conditions and work expectations, be sure to edit the contract as well.
Even if you are leaving, you would still want your clients to look at you in a positive light.
Although you are no longer working for that client, you would still want to be looked at as a business associate in good terms.
Long-term clients are always better sources for recommendations and references for future work opportunities.