What Is a Website Retainer Agreement and Why Should You Offer One to Clients?

May 8, 2018

For web agencies, maintaining a steady flow of revenue can be a real challenge.

In a typical web agency environment, the entire agency dedicates itself to the needs of a single client at a time, focusing on one big project after another. If the pause between closing a big project and closing down on a new lead is too long, the agency starts eating away at its own profits just to stay open.

But there is a way to address this problem, however. It hinges on a metric that retailers and service providers in other industries have long given top priority, but that web developers rarely do: Customer Lifetime Value

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Essentially, if you finish a big project, shake hands with your client and then never talk to them again, that particular customer’s lifetime value is limited to one project. But how likely is it that the client will never need web development or design services again?

Most clients need continual support and maintenance services to keep their websites running smoothly and profitably. Signing a website retainer agreement is the best way to do that.

What is a Website Retainer Agreement?

When your agency works on-retainer, you assume responsibility for the maintenance and ongoing optimization of the website in exchange for a small monthly stipend. This service covers maintenance, technical support, and bug fixes. It also includes handling the eventual updates of plug-ins and other tools central to the website’s functionality.

Since working on-retainer generally involves completing low-impact tasks that are simple for knowledgeable experts to complete, clients typically pay a small stipend for the service. It’s not unusual for clients to pay anywhere from $200 to $600 a month, depending on the size and complexity of the site.

While these optimization tasks are easy for developers to complete, they represent a key value for clients that are newcomers to operating their own website. The services it takes a knowledgeable web developer a few hours to complete could cost a newcomer dozens of hours.

How Do You Pitch Retainer Agreements to Clients?

The best time to pitch the retainer agreement is early on. If you wait until the project is nearly complete, you run the risk of underselling its importance and not inspiring your client’s trust.

So long as the client’s long-term plans hinge on monetizing their website, there is room for a retainer agreement to ensure that the site performs according to its users’ expectations. When bringing up the potential to perform updates and offer post-delivery technical support, the key is to focus on the fact that you are adding value to their business.

Many clients will object at first. Frequently, clients will ask if you offer ongoing support without a monthly retainer, and ask what the difference is. The answer is simple – although you can offer ongoing support without a monthly retainer fee, without setting resources aside for the service you cannot guarantee a fast, professional response for every single one of the client’s concerns.

By presenting the web agency retainer fee as a value-added monthly cost that can help boost website profits, you will have a much easier time getting clients on board.

For many web agencies and developers, the main obstacle is determining the right sum to ask for in a retainer agreement. How much is too much? Do you run the risk of asking for too little and working more than you have to?

Pricing On-Retainer Work as a Web Developer

The most common way to price on-retainer web design work is by offering a monthly bucket of hours at a discounted rate. You can, for instance, offer 10 hours of work at a rate of $50 per hour and document the work you do on a monthly basis so the client is aware that work is really getting done.

In time, you can adjust your retainer agreement to more accurately represent the value that your work adds to the business. The key is getting the client on board first, and then leaving room for these adjustments as their online business grows over time.

Once you settle on a price, you have to demonstrate that the client’s payments are generating value. At Unlimited WP, we do the following to demonstrate on-retainer web development value:

  • We put the client’s website on a paid site monitoring tool, looking for fluctuations in uptime and server response speed. We get immediate downtime notifications so we can instantly work out the issue with the host.
  • We send monthly reports to the client showing uptime, Google Analytics, and general recommendations for keeping the website up-to-date.
  • On the 20th of each month, we check the client’s used hours for that month and make further recommendations based on their usage. This is where we can suggest further enhancements or scale down the retainer if necessary.

Retainer Services the Client Gets

In the end, the client enjoys the following benefits:

  • Quick-response technical support on Skype, telephone, and email.
  • Bug fixes and website enhancements.
  • Minor design and content updates on demand.
  • Content management and formatting updates – critical for marketing-oriented web campaigns.
  • Expert mediation and dispute resolution between the client and the host.
  • Uptime monitoring and speed verification.
  • Monthly reporting on website speed, security, and performance.

All of these services provide value to clients. Make the proposal early on and educate your clients to determine which services they will need you to continue performing after the website is live and you have a recipe for a long-lasting, mutually beneficial customer relationship.

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