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Running a Consulting Practice

Should I require a Retainer? by RichGeoffroy
Posted: 14 Jun 04 (Edited 27 Sep 04)

Rich Geoffroy
Polymer Services Group

It depends on your relationship with your client.  There are situations were requesting a retainer may not fit into the relationship because there is a lot of trust and respect between you and the client.  However, there are other situations where you may have reason to question the motives or sincerity of the prospective client --- having some money up-front can reduce your risk as well as provide some assurance of their commitment to you.

As a matter of policy, I do require a retainer.  Now, thereÆs a lot of different meanings to the word retainer, so be careful.  You should spell it out in your terms of agreement.  I require an up-front fee, usually an estimate of an average monthÆs invoice.  For holding this retainer, I agree not to knowingly work for other clients that might present a conflict of client interest.  So the client gets something in return.  This money is held until completion of the project and all outstanding invoices are paid --- then I return it to them.  At that time, I am free to accept an engagement with anyone else.

The retainer, first of all, inhibits people who arenÆt serious about engaging your services, and are just out for some free consulting.  Secondly, it aligns my interest with that of the clientÆs, and finally, it limits potential losses for nonpayment, in the event that it occurs.

Some freelancers use the retainer as an ôup-front bonusö just for agreeing to work on the clientÆs behalf.  Other consultants consider themselves to be ôon retainerö wherein they agree to be available to the client for so many hours during a prescribed time period, for which the client is billed --- whether the client utilizes the consultantÆs time or not.

ThereÆs a lot of ways to skin this cat.  ItÆs helpful to understand these different scenarios, before any misunderstanding arises between you and your client.  Be sure that you both have the same understanding.

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