Have you ever pitched a retainer to a client, one that seemed like a layup, and they shot you down?
It can be so frustrating. You do great work for this client, they seem to love you, and yet they just won’t say ‘yes’ to a retainer.
The weirdest part is the client wants to keep working with you! It’s not like they fired you. They want nothing more than to keep working with you on a regular basis because you deliver great work, on time, and at a good rate.
You seem to do a certain amount of work or hours most months, so you pitched a basic retainer for them to always have you for those hours each month. And they said ‘no’.
Makes no sense, right?
If they love your work and want to keep working with you, why not hire you on a retainer basis? It would be so much easier!
To those who’ve discovered the real reason clients sign retainers, the answer is obvious: they said ‘no’ because the retainer benefits you, not them.
Pitching a retainer based on how much work you do most months benefits you, not your clients. It guarantees you a certain amount of money every month, up front. What does it guarantee the client? Access to you for a certain amount of work.
The most common objection you hear is, “If I’m paying you by the hour/project already, why would I pay for that up front each month? If I don’t use it, I lose it!”
They’re right, too. There’s no reason for your clients to sign up for a retainer if that’s all you’re offering.
Think about it. Imagine you go buy groceries every week, and most weeks your bill is $100. The one week you walk in and the store manager says, “Since you spend $100 here most weeks, we want you to give us $100 in advance every week for your groceries and we’ll guarantee you that you can buy them! If you go over one week, no need to worry, you can pay the difference at the register.”
Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Hell no, I’m not signing up for that!
What if I don’t need as much one week? What if I’m on vacation? Why am I paying you for groceries I may not need?
Question for you – how is your offer any different? You’re pitching your client a retainer that gets them access to you for a certain number of hours or for your typical projects whether or not they use it. That’s how they see it.
If you want to pitch retainers that your client is far more likely to say ‘yes’ to and even be excited about, you have to get two things right.
1) Your offer needs to focus on a result the clients wants.
It can be so hard to talk about what you do in terms of results. As someone who’s worked in sales and marketing for over a decade, I get it. You want to talk about what you do! It’s interesting, it’s exciting, it’s something you put blood, sweat, and tears into.
Except that’s not what your clients hires you to do.
Your client hires you to produce content because it can help them get new leads, keep customers engaged, and get them more sales.
Your client hires you to improve the design of their website so more people convert into leads and buy things.
Your client hires you to help them with strategy and analytics because they spend more time marketing and selling to people who are more likely to buy.
They do not hire you because you write content, redesign websites, or create a strategy with numbers. They hire you for results!
My earliest clients hired me to produce evergreen sales materials for them, but for different reasons. The first one was an artist and designer looking to do more outbound prospecting so he could build relationships with new companies to get more work. Another client hired me to write emails and improve their website copy to increase customer engagement and sign up more new customers.
Neither hired me because I could write words for them, they hired me because I tied what I did to key results they wanted.
You have to be able to articulate what results you are getting for your client, and you have to understand it better than your client does.
2) Your offer needs to be like a subscription, something they need delivered every month.
Here’s the question you need to ask: does my client need this type of work to be done every month to keep getting that result?
This is a mistake I made the first time I did freelance work.
The first few projects I pitched were around evergreen sales materials that helped get customers. Emails, sales scripts, website copy, things like that. This was the perfect set of projects to start with since it gave me a chance to learn how to land clients.
After that I stumbled into one key area I could provide on a monthly basis: leads.
A potential client and I were talking about the evergreen sales materials I could provide when he shifted gears. “Who’s going to send out these emails and follow up on them? What if we hired you to do that for us?”
Another potential client I was talking to wanted me to focus on online lead generation strategy.
This wasn’t obvious to me at first, even though it should have been. I had spent 3+ years working at an agency whose focus was Go-To-Market strategy. Our approach was to define product/market fit, then use direct outreach to find leads. It was a simple model. And most of our clients signed on with us for at least 6 months, either on a long-term campaign basis or a retainer model.
I could provide a version of that to my clients!
They didn’t need evergreen sales materials often, but they needed leads every single month.
I shifted my focus from creating sales materials to helping my clients get leads.
Every time I’ve struggled getting new clients or consistent consulting work it’s because I’ve strayed from this formula.
I wish I could say I figured this out and ran with it. Nope. When I shifted my focus to more established startups I started doing projects again instead of figuring out what results I could provide on a monthly basis.
I’d get hired to help fix a few things, do a little training… nothing long-term. It’s part of the reason I’m working with small businesses and agencies again.
Understanding your customer and their needs is crucial to making this happen.
The simple formula to define a great retainer for both you and your client is:
I provide my client (service) which delivers them (results) that they need every month.
Leave me a comment on how you do that, or could do that, for your clients!