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Freelance Writers and the Retainer

retainerI recently accepted a retainer for my freelance writing. It happened this way.

I began writing for, I’ll call him Jim, after a face-to-face interview. We liked each other, I understood much of what he was trying to do with this business. We clicked and I started work on a project.

The first project stalled and he gave me another.

It wasn’t long before we both recognized his business would mean many writing projects, not all of which would be completed. It also happens that there are other details he needs help with that are easy for me to do.

Two prices and a time limit

I had already set my writing fee with him. For the office stuff we used that highly technical term and I agreed to a price for office stuff as well.

What makes this work for me is I made it clear that I wanted to commit no more than 25 hours a week. That anything beyond that would be billed at the quoted rate.

We agreed on a weekly rate – the retainer amount.

You see, part of what he wants is my attention. He has no problems with me having other clients, he just wants to be first in line. And he’s willing to pay for that privilege.

Tracking my time

In this case it’s up to me to let him know when we’ve hit the 25 hours for the week. He can decide to give me more work or not. It’s up to me to track my time so it’s fair to both of us.

I’m using Toggl. They’ve updated the software which drove me crazy at first. I’m never sure we need as many upgrades as we get. But I’m now warming to the improvements.

Yes, the retainer agreement is in writing

We talked the retainer out over coffee – it didn’t take long. I sent him an email outlining my understanding. He replied with ‘agreed’ and we’re off and running.

I like a retainer because it makes my income much more predictable. The fact that it has an amount of time the retainer pays for spelled out as a weekly payment means I won’t be working for free if I go over the 25 hours any week. Under these circumstances I’m more than happy to put him at the head of the line.

Have you ever worked on retainer? How did it work for you? Let us know in comments.

Write well and often,




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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • I love working on retainer, for all the reasons you mentioned. I also find that having 1-3 retainer clients creates a sort of ‘framework’ for me to schedule other work around and it actually makes/allows me to use my time more productively.
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