You’re a designer who’s ready to uplevel the website creation part of your business.
You’re sold on the benefits of working with your developer on retainer: time and money savings, flexibility, and peace of mind sound great! You’ve also studied up on the “gotchas” of retainer agreements, like commitment length and terms of changes.
There are only two lingering questions in your mind: what can I outsource to my developer on retainer, and how much retainer time do I really need?
Not quite sure what your developer can tackle on a retainer basis?
Unless you take on a massive number of retainer hours (not recommended—more on that later) or don’t mind your project stretching over a few months’ time, full website builds aren’t the best candidates for retainer work.
Instead, try outsourcing the stickiest bits of your web projects to your retainer developer, like:
- the things you would pay her to do hourly
- The parts of building your clients’ sites that you dislike the most
Even though it isn’t as freeing as getting a whole project off your plate, you’ll be surprised at how much lighter you feel by getting the most dreaded parts of your website building process out of your hair.
Here’s an example of what one of my clients, Sarah Shuttle, outsourced to me on retainer in 2017
You might be familiar with Sarah or her work; she’s the designer behind Orla by Sarah Shuttle (formerly Verity Road). She’s also a retainer client of mine! In 2017, she outsourced 28 hours of development work to me on retainer (and we worked together in other ways, too, like hourly and per-project).
Here’s what she had me do with those 28 hours:
- Work on the Verity Road SquareSpace website (lots of my clients use their retainer time to spruce up their own sites, by the way). I…
- Added a custom header to her SquareSpace template, complete with a Retina-friendly and responsive logo and an extensively re-styled custom navigation menu.
- Added a custom footer to her SquareSpace template, including a uniquely styled ConvertKit opt-in form.
- Styled the “naked” ConvertKit opt-in form site-wide so that all she has to do is drop in the one-line embed code on any page for beautiful opt-in forms.
- Created a reusable custom landing page template.
- Added custom portfolio hover effects.
- Added a custom blog heading, styled the blog sidebar elements, and made style changes to blog post text.
- Added a custom sales page template to allow full-width background images on a template that isn’t full-width capable by default.
- Tweaked font families and text sizes site-wide.
- Created a custom responsive image slider based on SquareSpace’s gallery block for the homepage.
- Changed some images with text on the image itself to text blocks with image backgrounds for better accessibility and SEO.
- Added a custom, responsive Pinterest hover button.
- Work on the Hayley Elizabeth Cake Design website. I…
- Fixed some problems with directing the new domain to SquareSpace.
- Added custom fonts to the site.
- Added custom styles to the site navigation.
- Applied custom styling to the buttons site-wide.
- Added custom styled image links and script words to the bottom of the homepage.
- Improved responsiveness of some elements of the menu page.
- Added custom controls for font styling (to the SquareSpace Design tab) on the menu page, the more info page, and the meet hayley page.
- Made galleries on the menu page full-width.
- Styled footer testimonials site-wide.
- Added and positioned custom-styled images to the more info page and the meet hayley page.
- Tweaked the appearance of the site footer.
- Added Google Analytics.
- Created page-specific redirects on the old site to preserve search engine rankings.
- Got on a Skype call with Sarah to go over how to make changes to some of the site’s custom elements.
- Work on the Eternal Blooms SquareSpace website. I…
- Added a custom-styled MailChimp opt-in form to the shop area header. All MailChimp embedded forms site-wide should now take on that styling.
1 hour 45 minutes of those 28 hours still remained after all that work. Those rolled over into January.
Here’s what Sarah had to say about working with me on retainer in 2017:
I love designing detailed, bespoke websites, but I’m not a developer, and I have no desire to learn code at all. Nonetheless I was fed up of being limited by the capabilities of website builders. There were so many ideas I couldn’t bring to life on my own and I knew I needed a coding wizard to do that.
What’s more, the truly bespoke nature of my designs means I needed a reliable, truly expert coder, and I just knew intuitively from the beginning that you were one of the best.
Whenever I work with you Megan, I never doubt you can do what I’m designing. I know I can be as creative as possible. That’s worth its weight in gold right there.
I can give my clients so much more now and really convey their individuality in the design because I’m no longer restricted by website builders.
I always sing your praises when someone is looking for a developer – Although I better not shout them too loudly or other designers might steal all of your time, haha!
So, how in the world do I figure out how many retainer hours I should secure per month?
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all number to answer this question. Every designer’s business is unique and their needs vary accordingly.
To help you figure out how many hours would be appropriate for you, I’ve created a free worksheet that you can download below.
One helpful tip I have for your first retainer agreement?
Err on the lower side of your time estimates.
Most of my retainer clients have started out with a greater number of hours than they actually needed, meaning they either had leftover time that didn’t get used or they had to pause their retainer temporarily. It’s better to use up all your hours each month than to let them go to waste!