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Finding a Workflow Balance & How Retainer clients can help

Finding a balance…seems to be the ultimate challenge in life, right? Balance to me has never been about finding “the answer” to the problem, but rather learning how to juggle this and that in a manner that seems somewhat successful. Haha. I’ve also realize that what feels balanced right now can easily feel out of whack a week later. That constant adjusting is actually a really smart thing to do and it’s also important to know that you’re never going to figure “it” out fully. Knowing that is actually really reassuring. We’re all juggling.

I’m a huge planner and someone who likes to have a say in how things are going to take shape. I know that’s silly because I can’t control the universe, but I sure do try. The beauty and the beast of freelance/consultant work is that you have to live in a world with very little to no certainty or set path. That uncertainty will constantly be swirling around the timeline of your next paycheck, who going to hire you, and how your going to evolve your brand over time. That uncertainty is also the guide to many unexpected awesomeness.

 

Uncertainty is just going to be part of it and I’ve found “retainer clients” to be the biggest help when creating a little bit more certainty in my daily routine as well as in my finances. If you’re unaware of what a “retainer client” is, they are clients who ask you to reserve a certain amount of time each week/month/year to dedicate towards their projects, no matter what. In most cases, there’s a pre set amount of hours you agree upon before each month starts and you usually a good idea of what tasks they’re going to need help with. From my experience, retainer clients develop out of brands I have a long standing relationship with and they just need someone on their “team” to help them maintain the beautiful things you’ve helped them design/create. They’ve worked with you and now they trust you to keep that brand moving. It’s kind of a win-win solution, for all parties involved. Knowing who and what kind of work you’re going to be doing for some of your time is really helpful in settling all that nervous energy. It also helps you be able to budget a little better because you’ve already agreed up what they’ll be paying you for that month.

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A few tips I’ve discovered along the way

1. If you can acquire 2 retainer clients who need your help for about 15-30 hours a week, you’ll be set. This allows you to have that consistency while still allowing time to take on new projects and work with people you haven’t previously worked with. I like to envision my schedule being quartered. Half of my work week dedicated to retainer clients. One quarter being dedicated to a non-retainer client, and the last quarter being dedicated to maintaining the business side of things/blogging.
2. Choose your retainer clients very carefully. You’re going to be spending a lot of time working with them back and forth. If you’ve worked with them in the past, you should know if they are good at communication, pay their invoices in a timely manner and respect your time as a designer. If the answer is yes AND you like the work, go for it! If you’ve seen red flags in the past, it might not be worth that frustration in the long run.
3. Don’t only have retainer clients. I’ve found this to be a good rule of thumb. Although a fully jam packed schedule with regular paying clients sounds amazing, you give away any opportunity to work with a new brand and grow. It’s important to leave room to explore, even if that means living a little uncertainty in the equation.

I could go on and on about this topic, but I’ll stop before I start a draft on my first novel. If you’ve had experience with retainer clients (good or bad experiences), I’d love to hear about them. I’m no pro by any means, so share away! Anything to watch out for? Any tips?

I’ve been getting asked quite a bit about the topic of balance and gaining clients, so I hope this helps a few of you. Any other freelance specific topics you’ll like to chat about here on Veda House?

15 comments on “Finding a Workflow Balance & How Retainer clients can help

  1. You may have covered this in another post (that I tried to find, but didn’t!), but how do you go about setting your daily schedule? Does it flex, or do you always check emails in the morning, blog at night, etc. I’m new to freelancing and recently also got a part-time job to help with income, but now I find it hard to stick to a schedule on the days I have off from my pt job. I need to find ways to get in the zone, and stay there!

    Kate

    1. Hi Kate!

      Thanks so much for stopping by! I’m going to gather any questions from today’s post and put together a separate post with answers. Stay tuned! I’ll include my schedule in the post 🙂

  2. I love my retainer clients! I only have 2 but they are so necessary in my otherwise all-over-the-place career and life. It adds some much needed structure. Do you keep or set a minimum? So even if you happen to not work for them for the month, they still pay you for reserving your time? Wondering how that works, I haven’t run into it yet!

    Great post lady! I’m a new reader and LOVE your blog!

    1. Hi There Sabrina!

      Currently my two retainer clients has a set amount of hours I dedicate to them. Sometimes, we don’t use the full set aside amount of hours and if we plan ahead…I might roll them over to the next month. Some month’s we need more hours than we planned for. It all seems to even out in the end.

  3. I have one special retainer client that I’ve worked with all year. There have been a few other people who have asked for more work, but she’s a regular monthly client. I think something to look out for is just how much you enjoy working with the client. We had a blast working together; it was the perfect pairing of creative freedom yet having a clear direction. We have done so many other projects together, and at this point I look at her as a friend, not just a client! 🙂

    Also – I don’t know if you’ve talked about this (I can’t remember!), but people might be interested in hearing about your actual process from leaving your job and starting freelancing. I know there are loads of people out there who want to do that, so I’m sure it’d be well received!

    1. Hi Kory! So good to hear retainer clients are working out for you. They’ve been a huge blessing for me as well.

      I’ve posted about my journey into freelance a while back, but I could also do a little recap. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. The business side of freelancing is definitely my favorite type of blog to read. 🙂 I’m graduating in less than a month with a design degree, so it’s the only part I haven’t really studied yet. I would love to hear more about the numbers and actually making it work budget-wise. Figuring out how much to charge, especially. And I know that it’s a struggle for everyone to figure that out, but I would definitely appreciate more transparency in the industry. Maybe there’s a secret freelance design group out that there talks about all of this? I know we can’t give away all of our secrets openly to the world wide web. 😉

    1. Hi Jennifer!
      Thanks for stopping by. I’ll do my best to write a post about pricing. you’re right, it’s so individualistic so it can be touch. Stay tuned!

  5. Retainer clients are the best. I totally agree that they help ease some stress when it comes to budgeting each month. It’s wonderful to build such a strong bond with clients that it continues the work flow.

    Would love to hear more about your personal marketing techniques and how you go about gaining new clients. Thanks!! 🙂

  6. Awe, such an awesome post, Cassie! I’ve heard of retainer clients before but never really knew what it was all about. I’m hoping within the next year or so to start freelancing full time so this sounds like a solid way to go – especially when business can be slow (which can be scary!).

    1. Hi Holly! Just a thought. If you are wanting to switch to full time freelance, it might be nice to find a retainer client now that only needs you minimally each month. That relationship could grow once you go full time and if not…at least you start full time freelancing with one guaranteed client. You’re in a good place 🙂

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