What is a Freelance Retainer Agreement?


One of the biggest obstacles you’ll ever encounter as a freelancer is an inconsistent monthly income. When your bills remain almost the same year-round, but your income fluctuates every month depending on how many projects you are able to take on, freelancing can quickly begin to feel like an unsustainable, stressful career to have.

That being said, there are still ways freelancers can make their monthly workload more reliable. The key way to secure your freelance career is by finding recurring work in something like a freelance retainer agreement.

In this article, we’re going to cover what this type of work looks like, when it’s worth using a retainer agreement, and why you should be focusing on this type of freelance work long-term.

What is a Freelance Retainer Agreement?

A freelance retainer agreement is a contractual relationship between you and a company, guaranteeing a certain amount of work (either agreed via a predetermined amount of hours, or a project with agreed tasks to be completed) at a specific rate for an agreed amount of time.

This agreement tends to be recurring, either on a weekly or monthly basis, and the purpose of it is to allow you to schedule your work ahead of time.

Freelance retainer agreements are also a great way of ensuring you have a consistent flow of income without having to pitch for new projects every single month.

Portfolio Dragos Muntean

When Would You Use a Retainer Agreement?

Freelance retainer agreements are recommended for work that you do for your clients on a regular basis. This could include work such as:

  • Social media marketing
  • Blog writing
  • Website maintenance and design
  • Branding & marketing
  • Content creation
  • Email marketing
  • Long-term, complex projects that require a certain number of hours from you each week

Benefits of Freelance Retainer Agreements

Securing just one freelance retainer agreement with a client can be career-changing, and many more experienced freelancers move towards having several long-term freelance retainer agreements rather than constantly pitching for new work.

The key benefits of working this way as a freelancer include:

A Stable Income

Typically, freelance retainer agreements will be paid in advance, or have a specified rate agreed in a contract between you and the client. 

This means that each month, you have a guaranteed amount of income (or can estimate if you are invoicing on a per-hour basis). For freelancers who are used to wildly-fluctuating incomes each month depending on how much work your regular clients have or how much new work you can pitch for, this kind of agreement can help ease your mind that, at the very least, you can guarantee your bills will be paid.

Another great tip to ensure a more stable income is to diversify your freelance income.

A Clearer Work Schedule

When you have agreed a set amount of work or a set number of hours with a client, you can schedule your workload each week far more easily. You will know how much time you need to set aside for this recurring work, and can scale up or down your irregular workload to whatever suits you.

As most retainer agreements require notice if the client no longer has enough work, you should always be able to have a good idea of what your work schedule looks like in the upcoming months.

A Stronger, More Reliable Working Relationship

Having an agreement with a client on how much work you will do in a certain amount of time is far less stressful than having to endlessly pitch for clients, negotiate on rates, and chase for payment.

Likewise, it is far easier for a client to know that the tasks they need completing are in-hand every month for a fixed fee, and that they are always working with a reliable and trustworthy freelancer that they know. These kinds of agreements aren’t just beneficial for freelancers – they’re really a win-win for everyone.  It’s a great way to build a strong relationship with your client.

Drawbacks to Retainer Agreements

With all that being said, there can be some drawbacks to a freelance retainer agreement. Here are a few obstacles you may encounter and how to deal with them:

Over or under-delivering on projects

Many freelancers feel as though they need to charge a lower fee with the understanding that the work they receive will be a long-term agreement. While there is nothing wrong with slightly discounting your rates because there are huge benefits to recurring work, you need to be careful that you are not over-delivering on projects and spending too much of your time for not enough money.

Likewise, it can be easy to get a little lax with your work once you have a guaranteed income from a client each month, but it’s important to ensure that you are giving them their money’s worth. If you are working on an hourly agreement, be sure to track your hours and ensure that you are keeping to your workload as promised.

Being on-call

Another drawback that you might encounter is your clients treating you as if you are ‘on call’. For some clients, it can be easy to confuse having a freelancer on retainer as having a full-time employee.

As such, you may be asked to do tasks at the last minute, and it can be difficult to say no to this as a freelancer when you have a good deal going. If you find yourself constantly inundated with requests for additional work outside of your agreed terms, it may be time to re-negotiate your contract terms with your client to ensure you are fairly compensated for the work you do. 

Overall, a freelance retainer agreement can be the cornerstone to building a secure and sustainable freelance career. If you can identify existing clients for whom you think a retainer could be mutually beneficial, pitch them with your suggestion and rates. Providing both parties act fairly, this is an agreement with the potential to be a great deal for both clients and freelancers.

Do you use freelancer retainers already? Share your experience with us!

Yasmin Purnell

Yasmin Purnell is a content creator at freelancermap.com. She has a great deal of experience working as a freelance copywriter and has enjoyed the Digital Nomad lifestyle. She is in charge of bringing you amazing freelancing tips and experiences that will help you boost your freelance business.

By Yasmin Purnell

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