A Simple Way Out of Your Precarious Freelance Income Problem

A Simple Way Out of Your Precarious Freelance Income Problem

Reader Comments (32)

  1. Clients today do not want retainers, with millennials writing full articles for $30. This is unrealistic…and very slow to get to the point.

      • Hi Pamela,

        I think this is the ONE thing I’ve really “gotten” in freelancing is the need to go for a retainer over short-term goals. At first I did it just because I hate billing. If I can do this, anyone can.

        The comments here are interesting, in terms of strategy, and I’ve love to see something more in depth. Maybe inside the certification course? A new module?

        — Sheryl Coe

    • Smart businesses with real marketing goals very quickly learn how hard it is to rely on content produced at the rock-bottom pricing.

      The right clients are out there. They take more time to find, but they’re out there.

  2. Choosing clients carefully for this work is key; don’t offer it to clients who routinely question your hours or have other ways they’ve nitpicked your invoices.

    Also, I learned a lesson twice about retainer clients: try to ensure you have regular contact and relationships with more than one person at the company. A retainer I had for several years suddenly changed with a new executive who didn’t value clean, crisp, and correct writing and thus wasn’t willing to pay for it!

    • That’s a great point, Leah, and good advice. Sorry you had to learn it the hard way. Thank you for sharing it here so others don’t have to.

    • Oh darn! The client I would REALLY like to move to a retainer arrangement is exactly the nitpicking and hour-questioning kind. I was hoping a retainer would put an end to that. Then again, she probably won’t go for it anyway.

      • Sometimes you have to come up with an exit strategy to move this client out of your life so you can make room for a better one. 🙂

        When it comes to client work, boundaries are the most beautiful thing ever.

  3. I am a full time content writer but never thought of offering my regulars a retainer option. It would be great from my point of view, but not sure they would go for it – certianly worth thinking about, for the future.



    • The first time I dipped my toe into the retainer pool, it was with a client who I’d worked with for years, and who had regular, repetitive projects. They loved the idea: it’s all about presenting it as a win for both of you.

  4. As someone on both sides of the fence – a service provider and someone who hires service providers – I love retainers. They are good for the budget-conscious.

    Luckily, I think there is a lot more openness to retainers than there was back when I got started in 2007. Especially if your target market is online businesses, they are oftentimes expected.

  5. Thanks for such a timely content, Pamela. Loved every aspect you pointed out in the blog post. Retainer often overlooked by freelancers and tend to get paid on per project basis.

    It would be great if freelancers start to make use of monthly retainer approach as they could count on them.

    Thanks again for this awesome post 🙂

  6. Our take has been to sell our inventory. We have sold all of July’s deliveries and have 4 more in August. Then it’s on to September.

    We do also give discounts to “retainer” clients in the form of about 20% off the normal rates when they buy 3+ projects.

  7. I love retainers but I work to limit the amount of hours I put into a retainer offer per month. I try to keep a client at ten hours per month and put them on a six month minimum contracts. Ten hour months allows me to avoid clients trying to creep in extra work and also keeps clients who might have a slow month or two from feeling that they spend to much.

    I’ve had as many as six retainers going (when I charged less than I do now) and hated it. Now I stick with two at the most. It does open me up to lower income months when work is slow but it also lets me grow my client roll which means rebooking at higher rates which averages out to greater income for the year.

    As I become more skilled in copywriting I feel I will move into really specific retainers in the future (x amount of updates on a split test landing page, x amount of emails for an autoresponder, x amount of ads).


    • That’s really smart, Jesse. And limiting the hours also means that you won’t end up depending too heavily on the income of just a few clients, which can really mess things up if one or two drop out at the same time.

  8. I’ve never seen this topic discussed on a copy blog before, so it was cool to recognize my model! I’m a content marketer, and retainers are what I do. It’s predictable income and work (for the most part).

    I still take on one-off projects but they are more nerve wracking: getting used to new personalities, expectations, meetings and administrative details (like you mentioned). I have had success converting some of these clients to retainers; some just don’t have the budget yet to do so.

    Thanks for the article, Pamela!

    • That’s great to hear, Jennifer! Glad the topic resonated with you.

      And I agree 100%: retainers save you from having to go out there and sell your work month after month. For that alone, I think they’re pretty awesome. 🙂

  9. Coaches and almost all solo professionals have the same business models available. I’ve been a solo consultant / coach since 1996. The retainer model works for many clients. They are all local and I don’t have a contract. We just agree that as long as they are getting value, we’ll work together. 30 days notice is the only other stipulation besides sending an invoice which is due the 1st of the month. Keeping clients for years is easy this way. One of us looks at the calendar and ask, what day works for you next month. We meet for 2 hours/mo. plus emails or phone calls if necessary.
    My friends who ask for a 1-year contract almost always lose their retainer clients at the end of 12 months.
    And, I pay my VA on a fixed retainer basis. Better for her, but then, she’s worth it.

    • Interesting how asking for a commitment has the inverse effect your fiends want it to have. Business is about relationships at the core, so I wonder if having the “earn” their continued coaching business end up working better in the long run …

  10. Pamela, I also have a mix of retainers and short projects. Cash (flow) is King when it comes to running a business, and that’s where the retainers come in. But here’s the thing.

    Getting a retainer is one thing, keeping it another.

    I never take the relationship I have with them or their business for granted. In essence, I treat them just like a “new” customer, the only differences being that I have ready access to talking with them and we have a great trusting foundation. In fact, my best 2 retainer customers have been with me for over 8 years and provided more than $350,000 worth of business.

    • One of the best things about long-term retainer relationships, IMO, is that you develop an institutional memory with that client. The business relationship with one of my retainer clients lasted 12 years, and went through a change of primary contact person. The new contact person was thrilled to have an experienced vendor to work with — someone who had more experience with their marketing materials than they did when they first took the job.

      It can go the other way, of course: a new contact person decides to bring in their preferred vendors, and your retainer relationship can be in jeopardy.

      I’m glad to hear it has worked for you, Mark. Thanks for leaving a comment!

  11. Hi Pamela – this is what I have been trying to set up in my business is a retainer model with clients however I have clients that have been burnt so hard to get them on board, it is about building that trust. I also now offer my services for a retainer in a different form to try to entice new clients, gives them a taste and then can build that relationship from there. My biggest struggle is getting clients on a very limited budget (for advertising etc).

  12. Great article Pamela. Lawyers and consultants have been working on a retainer basis for a really long time now, companies pay law firms millions of dollars a year just so they can call on them whenever necessary. I even knew someone who had an astrologer on a retainer basis so it does work as long as everyone is happy with the transaction of goods and value. Just imagine taking on a part-time cleaner for your home; you could hire a different person each time which some cleaning companies let you or you could have the same cleaner each week. By having the same cleaner, they know how you like things done, they know your schedule, you know theirs, they have a reliable source of income from you, it makes life much easier. As a marketer, I have been on a retainer myself and have hired others on retainers and it does save me lots of time trying to find new freelancers I can trust. It never hurts asking your clients whether they are open to a retainer agreement with you after you have established the trust.

  13. First of all, I loved your keynote at BlogPaws!

    Lately, I’ve been building stronger relationships with my freelance writing clients at the start, especially by creating a set number of blog posts for them each month. It’s been easier to connect since I started writing almost exclusively for pet brands.

    But only providing blog writing has not been allowing me to provide the impact my clients need – they also need someone to share the content on social media, create images, infographics and even tweak their web design. Plus, writing is time-consuming and I’m not making enough income by only offering this service, so I’m seriously considering becoming a content strategist.

    • Hi Lindsay! BlogPaws was so much fun. 🙂

      Positioning yourself as a content strategist is smart: you can look at their overall marketing strategy and help ensure that the content they create actually works to reach the customer they want to attract.

      And you should be able to charge more: content strategy adds value to your writing services that goes beyond word count or posts per month.

      Good luck! Sounds like you’re on the right track.

  14. As a client that uses a lot of freelances, I prefer to work with most of them with retainer contracts. I find most of the time we can work out a good price and services this way.
    However, the freelance must offer a higher service or results than just getting a person to work at your office.

  15. Pamela,

    I am so glad I came across your blog. I have always worked as a salaried writer for corporations. But lately have been on the fence about going freelance. But feel I don’t have time to ramp up to the income I have enjoyed now. Which really isn’t much in comparison to what many freelancers are making. It’s an excuse. It’s a risk. But the idea of retainers makes it sound so do-able. That’s the way to do it. Love the idea of selling a 6 month or one year package. Thank-you.

    • I’m so glad to hear this was helpful, Rebecca.

      Going freelance is a big leap, but having a few retainer clients lined up helps alleviate some of the stress, for sure.

      Good luck!

This article's comments are closed.