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What is a Consulting Retainer?

by Mosaniy Editorial
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Consulting can be a lucrative job for experts in a certain area of operations. Consistent remuneration is a barrier of working as a consultant; therefore, a consulting retainer might assist you ensure a steady income. If you are a consultant or intend to become one, it may be good to understand more about retainer implementation.

What exactly is a retainer?

A client pays a retainer fee to a consultant in order to secure their services. Typically, clients pay these costs before consulting services commence. Although many consultants need full payment prior to beginning work, clients may also pay a nominal retainer fee to secure service. In these instances, consultants frequently earn the remainder of their fee upon project completion.

What is a retainer in consulting?

A consulting retainer is a flat fee charged by consultants for their services over a certain time period. This differs from the hourly or project-based charges charged by the majority of consultants. Typically, clients pay retainer fees in full prior to the start of a project to secure the consultant’s services. You can utilize two basic forms of consulting retainers:


The most prevalent type of consulting retainer, pay-for-work is favored by consultants of all levels of experience. In this approach, clients pay a single fee to their consultant to cover a predetermined number of deliverables over a predetermined length of time. Consultants then work to accomplish their tasks prior to the expiration of the contract.


The other major sort of consulting retainer is pay-for-access, which is most common among seasoned consultants with established reputations. In this arrangement, consumers pay a consultant for on-demand access to their expertise and recommendations. With a pay-for-access retainer, clients do not anticipate consultants to complete a predetermined set of activities before the conclusion of their contract.

Benefits of having a consulting retainer

There are many benefits to using a consulting retainer, including the following:

  • Stability: A consulting retainer model has several benefits, one of which is that it can increase the stability of your consulting firm. It enables you to get paid in full before starting a project and to dependably pay your bills for a set amount of time.
  • Predictability: By using a consulting retainer model, you can more precisely predict your income and gain control over your company. You can eliminate the risk of accepting different projects from clients who may pay different fees for your services by setting up a fixed retainer.
  • Focus: A lot of consultants spend the majority of their time finding new clients and sources of income. You might be able to rely on a retainer fee as a steady source of income and concentrate on finishing the task for your clients.
  • Profitability: Having a retainer allows you to charge a defined rate for your services and receive the entire sum up front. Gaining revenue control and securing your company’s future profitability can be accomplished using this strategy.
  • Less downtime: Consultants may have protracted downtime while looking for clients and negotiating fees. By using a retainer model, you may spend more time making money and less time engaging in negotiations.

Challenges of having a consulting retainer

While there are several advantages to employing a consulting retainer model, new consultants may face particular difficulties. Here are some challenges with employing a retainer model and solutions to them:

  • Client reluctance: If a client is unacquainted with your work, they could occasionally be reluctant to pay a sizable cash up front. Making a portfolio that features your work with past clients and is accessible online can help you avoid this problem.
  • Reduced prices: To allay customer reluctance, some consultants choose to offer their services at a reduced price, which may result in lower revenue. If you choose to give discounts to new customers, think about doing so during the client’s brief initial phase of getting to know you and your business.
  • Reputation: For new consultants using a retainer model, establishing a solid reputation in their field and a clientele of loyal clients is one of the biggest hurdles. By providing outstanding work for your clients, developing a portfolio of your completed work, keeping a visible online presence, engaging in marketing, and fostering referrals, you may overcome this difficulty.

How to utilize a retainer for consulting

If you wish to create a consulting retainer model in your practice, consider the following steps:

Determine the model you intend to employ

The first step in creating a retainer model in your organization is deciding on the sort of retainer to use. Pay-for-work and pay-for-access models are the two primary alternatives. Despite the fact that each system has its advantages and disadvantages, the choice of which to employ typically depends on one’s knowledge and standing in a given field. Consider utilizing a pay-for-work arrangement if you are a fresh consultant with minimal expertise. By committing to a particular set of deliverables, you can attract clients who may not be familiar with your work.

If you are an experienced consultant with a solid reputation in your sector, it may be conceivable for you to develop a pay-for-access system. Potential customers may be prepared to pay for your services if they have observed you successfully assisting other companies in their industry. The industry you operate in is an additional consideration when selecting a retainer model. A pay-for-work arrangement may be favored in certain sectors that rely largely on project completion. Companies in other industries may rely more on professional counsel and prefer a fee-for-access retainer arrangement.

Assess your expertise

When developing a retainer model for your services, it is crucial to evaluate your field-specific expertise. It can assist you in determining how to market your business, which pricing model to employ, and how much to charge for your services. Consider your years of experience in the sector and the work samples you can provide to demonstrate your talents when evaluating your level of expertise. You may also assess whether you have former clientele who can attest to your past successes.

These procedures might help you evaluate your sales abilities and decide your pricing structure. For instance, if you have great knowledge but a small portfolio and few clients, it may be necessary to offer lower prices initially. You may be allowed to charge extra, though, if you have documentation of your past work and client testimonials.

Construct a thorough business model and Terms of Engagement

After evaluating your competence and deciding on a retainer model, you can develop a more comprehensive model for your consulting practice. Consider the services you can agree to supply and establish a timetable for completion and payment. You may want to charge on a weekly or monthly basis, or even for longer durations.

After deciding the parameters of your engagement, it is essential to create a consulting retainer agreement. This document contains your conditions and serves as a contract between you and your customers. You can use a standard form for all of your clients, but it is generally advantageous to utilize customized contracts that meet the particular conditions of each work. The following things can be included in your consulting retainer agreement:

  • Specific project objectives, as agreed upon by you and the client
  • An overview of the work
  • A description of the nature of the agreement, either pay-for-work or pay-for-access
  • An explanation of how you will meet the client’s or service description’s requirements; the responsibilities of each party in the agreement
  • The terms that determine the precise scope of the agreement
  • The rate at which the client will pay for your services
  • Your and the client’s signatures

Determine your fee

Once you have determined how you wish to establish your firm, you can set a retainer fee for your services. When determining your charge, it is essential to consider your competence and reputation, as well as the amount that clients may be ready to pay. You can also inquire with other specialists in your sector about the rates they charge for their services.

If you’ve used an hourly rate in the past, you can utilize it to determine your current costs. Estimate the number of hours you will spend on a client’s project for the duration of your contract, then multiply that number by your hourly rate. For instance, if your normal hourly rate is $75 and you have signed a month-long contract for 40 hours per week, you can calculate your retainer cost using the following formula:

75 x 40 x 4 = $12,000

Consider reductions

If you offer high fees as a new consultant with insufficient experience, it may be difficult to obtain clients. Due to their unfamiliarity with your work, they may be reluctant to pay a substantial fee. Offering discounts on your services, especially to new customers, is one strategy for overcoming this obstacle. Despite the fact that this can be advantageous, it is essential to produce enough money to sustain your organization.

Consider giving a discounted rate for your first project or for a short time. This may allow customers to discover more about you and your services prior to paying the full fee. As you gain experience and grow your portfolio, you can remove your former discounts and even consider increasing your charges.

Exhibit your item

If you decide to adopt a retainer model in your organization, you must convince your clients that the cost is justified. This can reduce their reluctance and expedite the acquisition of new customers. Creating an online portfolio of your past work is one of the most effective means of showcasing your competence. You can also mention your former customers and ask if they would be ready to offer you with testimonials.

While a portfolio is beneficial, it is frequently required to have a marketing strategy so that organizations are more inclined to read your work. One successful method of promoting your business is to develop social media outlets on several platforms and consistently publish to them. Consider purchasing paid advertisements for your business and posting on forums and directories that cater to professionals in your sector.

Establish a good name

After deciding on a retainer and reorganizing your business strategy, it is vital to establish a reputation that prospective clients can rely on. There are numerous approaches to achieve this goal, but the most crucial is to accomplish your assignments on time and according to client specifications. Make every effort to deliver superior service to each client, and avoid taking on too many projects, so that your performance remains high.

These measures can ensure that your clients return for future projects and may lead to referrals in the long run. Ensure that you maintain a record of your projects so that you may add them to your portfolio and develop a more complete résumé. In addition, it may be useful to keep track of your work hours so that your clients know you are providing the service for which they paid.

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