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.).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.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.