Freelance Copywriter in Kansas City: Retainers

The first time a new client offered me a couple hundred bucks upfront, I was surprised. Of course, I accepted the money (My motto: Never say “no” to money a client offers you, unless it’s to carry out a Mob hit.).

Mafia hit-woman

My fee does not cover whack jobs.

But I still wasn’t convinced it was necessary. After all, if you and the client hit it off, a long-term relationship seems probable, and they seem solid enough to pay you for work done, why bother?

Well, here’s why: It’s a gesture of good faith. It’s also a token of their esteem for you. And, like an engagement ring, it’s a symbol of engagement. You’re together, and you expect to stay together—at least until your fees for work done have exhausted the upfront retainer.

Don't work for free under the guise of good exposure.

My business manager won't let me.

So there’s another question: Is the upfront retainer to be taken in addition to hourly fees or not? I favor the idea that it’s a down payment on work to be done, not a signing bonus. My Midwestern work ethic just won’t let me take money for not doing anything. But it also balks at doing anything for no money.

If a client wants to solidify his/her relationship with me, sure, I’ll take a small retainer upfront. If not, that’s okay, too. I’m easy to work with.

One thing I have been doing, though, is asking a new client to sign an “Engagement Agreement” setting out certain understandings about my fees and what types of activities they cover, billing procedures, payment, late payment fees, and so on. It gets everything on the table, so there are no surprises later.

Getting a written agreement from a client is a good idea (and less heavy than the Contract I tried that caused new clients to have instant panic attacks). But my business manager is telling me I still need to:

(a) ask for retainers upfront without blinking;
(b) turn down “spec” jobs, unless they’re for causes I support; and
(b) raise my fees to their pre-recession levels.

But my business manager is me, and I tend to ignore me. So if you’re thinking of hiring a Kansas City freelance writer, better do it now, while my business manager is in sleep mode.

  1. Lori says:

    I love the comparison between the cash and the engagement ring. :)

    For me, I have to separate from the business. The business I run is my child, not me. I protect it like a child. I don’t protect myself (if I did, I’d never have married that first one – yikes!). It’s easier to protect something outside yourself.

  2. liz says:

    Lori, that is an excellent way to think about your business. Separating it from yourself and protecting it. Never thought of it that way. That also helps me not take it personally when a client does something I don’t like. Which doesn’t happen often. Thanks for your comment.

  1. […] Liz Craig discusses retainers and the “down payment” vs. “signing bonus” in her post Freelance Copywriter in Kansas City: Retainers. […]

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