I learned the hard way how to get a retainer. And when I say the hard way I mean:
- I’ve lost retainers the day I closed them
- I’ve closed retainers only to notice that I didn’t close enough to cover costs
- I’ve failed to close retainers because I didn’t articulate the benefits (in a dollar amount) that my service would provide
I know this isn’t a rare problem within the freelance/consulting community. It’s tough to find what matters most to a client and to find that “perfect fit” of service offerings that win retainers.
With four years of practice and lots of consulting books on my bookshelf, I’ve figured out a precise pattern that consistently turns per-project clients into high-ticket retainers.
Even better, the pattern is simple as pie. I combined methods from books by consulting pros with my own experience to hone the pattern.
Here it is.
Secret 1. Sell money, not services
Many consultants and freelancers haven’t figured out how to calculate the monetary value their services bring clients.
This is also something that creatives struggle with, and I think it’s why we often get stuck with shit rates.
Because, it’s difficult for a client, who has no understanding of your creative field, to connect a dollar amount to the work you create.
That’s the job of the seller. To connect dollars to the work—no matter how creative your work.
To do this, you need data.
I write articles, so I need to know how my articles rank. I also need to know how much my client makes per click to their website.
I know that if I get them to the top spot in a Google search, they’ll receive 30–35% of the clicks (depending on industry).
So in initial conversations/negotiations, I find out that:
- They make $10 every time someone clicks the subscribe link on their blogs
- 10% of readers click
- And if my blog increases reads by 5000 — then I know my blog is worth $5000. (5000 views x .01 x $10)
Are you a web designer?
Ask previous clients how much your designs improve web traffic, click-through rates, etc. Sell that value to new prospects.
Example: Your design $ value = increased traffic x percentage of leads x $ average deal amount
Are you an SEO expert?
Figure out the monetary value of the ranks you’ve earned for your clients.
Example: Your SEO $ value = increased traffic x percentage of leads that convert x $ average deal size.
Are you a career coach?
How many raises have your clients received? What’s the average dollar amount of those raises? What’s the percentage increase in income?
Do you make software?
How much money does your software save a business? Or, how much more money does it make a business?
Fucking sell money. It sells like hot cakes.
Secret 2. Price yourself at 10% of the value you provide
Once you understand the dollar value your services provide to clients, charge 10% of that value. This makes signing on for a retainer or per-project work a no-brainer.
If your service will make your client $10,000 per month. Charge $1k per month. If your service will make your client $1MM, charge $100k.
Secret 3. Get in the door with a per-project offering
I know it might make more sense to put this at the top of this article, but I wanted to emphasize the importance of selling money and charging a small percentage of the money you’ll make your clients.
Now that we’ve got that covered:
Per-project work is the best way to get your foot in the door with a large number of prospective retainer clients.
You need to cast a wide net when it comes to your per-project work. The more per-project work you get, the more trust you build with a larger number of businesses, and the more retainers you can upsell.
I have (and I recommend having) a signature per-project offering. I run a writing business, so mine is easy—an article.
Your signature per-project offering needs to be something that
- Is affordable enough to be a no-brainer for clients. Something less than $1k for small business. Something less than $5k for larger businesses.
- Is something clients will buy more than once (i.e., buy articles every week or month).
- Is something that will generate dollars for your client. SELL MONEY. For example, if my article ranks #1 in search engines, that’s perceived monetary value.
Increase the price of your per-project work
This is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’re jeopardizing your potential retainer.
Why gradually increase the price of per-project work?
First, if you gradually increase the price of your per-project offering, you’ll have more profit.
But, more importantly, you’re setting yourself up for a higher retainer.
Increase your per-project pricing incrementally, over the course of 3–6 months. For articles, I increase $100 or so over those months.
After 6 months of quality work with the incremental price increase, you’re ready to upsell the retainer.
It’s CAKE to sell a retainer when the client feels like they’re saving money by bundling your services.
Because you’ve increased your price over the course of a few months, you’ll be able to offer a discounted retainer price, but it’ll be high enough for a tidy profit margin.
For example, I get my foot in with $400 per-article work. Then, I increase in increments to $500 per article.
I bundle 10 articles per month. Instead of discounting the $400, I’m discounting $500. So, I might price my retainer at a discounted rate of $4k.
Because at my higher $500 rate, those 10 articles would cost $5k. This is a bargain for my clients with $1k savings.