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Is a Retainer Right for You?

NOTE: This page is NOT about writing retainers. We are sales writers. We do not write retainers or legal documents.

Retainers can save you money and get you great results. But they're not for everyone.

Most of the work that a copywriter handles is on a project basis. What that means is that a client needs one or two things written and he or she hires a copywriter or marketing consultant to write them or advise them.

Or if consultation is required, the marketing consultant provides limited consulting for a set fee. Perhaps you just need a sales letter or two or a brochure, perhaps a radio commercial or television commercial. After that's done, the relationship ends in most cases. Of course, the client often returns for other work later. But they usually return on a project basis. This sort of transaction works for a majority of clients.

Who should hire a copywriter or marketing consultant on a project basis?

If you fall under one of the following categories, you probably should hire a copywriter or marketing consultant on a one-time project basis.

  • You just need a sales letter or one or two items.
  • You know exactly what you want.
  • You don't need more than two or three items written.
  • You don't need or want a lot of consultation and marketing help or copywriting on a regular basis.

Now if you don't fit into the above categories, you may be a candidate for a retainer relationship. But keep in mind that most professional copywriters, myself included, accept a very limited number of regular (retainer) clients because our time is limited and valuable. We want to do the best job we can for our clients. So you can get turned down. It is my desire to do the best job possible for each client. To do that, the number of clients I accept must be limited. Most professional and popular copywriters have this requirement.

You may be a candidate for a retainer if:

  • You have a lot of work that needs to be done.
  • You have an on-going need for copywriting and/or marketing consultation.
  • You can budget an amount each month required to pay a professional copywriter/consultant (my minimum fee is $3,000 per month, for example.)
  • You want to get the most for your marketing dollars.
  • You understand that it takes time to build a good working relationship and to get your marketing to the level that you want.
  • You're willing to listen to suggestions from the expert copywriter/consultant and take advice. While you are hiring the copywriter/consultant, you understand they are the professionals in marketing and that's why you are hiring them.

Different copywriters write their retainer contracts in different ways. But the bottom line is that you pay a certain amount of money each month for either so many hours provided to you by the copywriter or you pay one set amount over a period of time. But it is common for the copywriter to have an hourly fee. Some copywriters will lower the fee in return for a longer term agreement or other trade-offs. Others won't. And, of course, the fees charged differ from one copywriter to another. The average is about $125 per hour. More experienced senior copywriters charge between $300-$500 per hour and up. Be cautious when paying much less than that. You may be getting an inexperienced copywriter who will end out costing you more in the long run. As I describe below, I charge on the value-based fee system.

What's Included In the Copywriting and Consulting Fee?

A few people don't know what's included in the fee. What do you pay for when you pay a copywriter on retainer? Simply put, everything. Any time the copywriter spends on your behalf, you pay for. In addition, you pay expenses. You don't just pay for the time the copywriter spends writing. That would be ludicrous. In short, any time the copywriter spends on your behalf, whether on the phone, writing an email or anything else is billable time. If a copywriter has to hire outside help, that's extra.

It's hard to believe that anyone would actually think that we only charge for the time spent writing. But a prospective client actually asked me, "Now you only charge for the time you spend copywriting. You don't charge for the time we spend on the phone do you?"

Let the record show --- I charge if I'm just thinking about how to increase your business. I charge when I talk to you on the phone. I charge when I type you an email or read your email or do research. Just like your lawyer. Just like any professional. Anything I do on your behalf that I would not normally do, I charge for. My time is valuable. It's for sale. It's not a gift that I grant to others. I own a business, not a welfare office. Many folks seem to think copywriters should work for a pittance and be grateful for the work. Those folks got stinkin' thinkin'. It's the copywriter who makes the client rich. It's seldom the other way around.

My minimum fee for a monthly retainer is $3,700. A few clients pay $10,000 plus per month.

How Long Do Retainers Last?

I generally prefer to make my retainers month to month. I don't like to take on a client for a long period of time without knowing more about them. I have, however, had retainers for 6-12 months. I accept only those people as retainer clients who will listen to me and accept my advice and who I feel I can help the most.

So there you have a general idea of how a copywriter retainer works. You get the services of a copywriter over a longer period of time for a set amount of money each month or, in some cases, annually. It can prove to be a very valuable relationship to you if you want to get big returns over a long period of time.

If you're interested in a retainer relationship, fill out my Quote Request form and let me know what sort of retainer agreement interests you. I'll see if there is time available and we'll go from there. Remember, professional sales copy is not a discretionary expense --- it's a necessary investment.

©2005 - 2012 Susanna K. Hutcheson.