What a Creative Services Retainer Is and How it Works

This post updated Sept 14, 2018

creative services retainerA creative services retainer is a monthly fee paid up-front.

The details and scope of work to be executed are clearly outlined within a contract or agreement.

This means you pay a monthly fee for a predetermined number of hours or a flat rate for a creative to deliver a set amount of work each month.



How a Creative Services Retainer Works

With an agreement for creative services, you’re basically “pre-ordering” the designer’s time. Since the agreement’s purpose is to “retain” the creative professional, a monthly fee is paid up front before any work is ordered.

He/she anticipates work coming from the client, and blocks out the appropriate amount of time in his/her schedule to accommodate said work.

The client still needs to provide appropriate notice to the graphic designer/creative professional about work coming down the pipeline. Otherwise, additional last-minute rush charges/fees can apply.


Who is a Retainer For?

A retainer may be for any business, company or organization who does not require a full time or even part time creative employee. But they have ongoing creative needs. This can be tweaks to their print marketing materials or perhaps ongoing updates to their website. A retainer agreement offers a viable solution.

Essentially, retainers can assist in managing your print or digital assets and assist with your marketing efforts in support of growing your business.


The Benefits of a Retainer Agreement

Having a retainer in place can free up time so that you may focus on running your business. They can ensure your graphic design or print media materials are being addressed. And website updates or perhaps SEO are not being neglected either.

One of the other benefits to a retainer is – If other large-scale projects* pop up, you already have an open line of communication with a designer. This fact alone can save you time and the headaches of having to search for a new creative.

* Important Note: 
Additional work beyond the scope of an existing Retainer Agreement such as a new project must be negotiated separately. In that case, it will require a separate contract.


What a Retainer Agreement Isn’t

Creative Services Retainer agreement

A Retainer Agreement contains parameters which are based on a collaborative, professional relationship of business equals. One where mutual respect, courtesy and consideration are expected.

Due to what is often the virtual nature of the business relationship, communication is key! More often than not, this communication takes place via a digital space such as email.

Clients need to respond to questions, requests or other inquiries from the creative in a timely and professional manner.

They also need to recognize the creative professional is a business owner who serves other established clients. Thus it requires fair, realistic notice in order to attend to their requests and other client’s projects as well.

“Mutual respect is the foundation of solid relationships. The best way to create mutual respect is to first show respect.”


We are Business Equals…
If you do establish a retainer with a creative professional or studio, understand they are NOT your employee. As business owners themselves, they are EQUALS.
Think: strategic partners, not subordinates.


Retainer Contract Terms, Scope and Fees

Retainer contract terms vary and can depend upon what the graphic designer or studio offers. The details and scope of work will be clearly outlined within a contract/agreement. This will include the tasks that will be performed and the monthly fee.

On average expect a retainer to be about 5-10 hours per month at a minimum. Some designers/studios may utilize a flat rate monthly fee structure over hourly. Fees and terms will vary from the designer’s/studio’s rates to services being performed.

Studios and or designers may differ in the actual length of a retainer agreement. It may be month to month or a minimum of a 3-6 month contract. Regardless, the fee needs to be paid at the beginning of each month.

Use it or lose it:
As the fee is paid in advance, consider it a motivator to utilize what you’ve paid for. Some designers may allow for a bit of “roll over”. This can and does vary – so do not expect it.

Shifting needs…
A client’s needs and requirements can change over time. At that point, the retainer contract agreement will likely need to be renegotiated to accommodate these shifts.


To Reiterate:

A creative services retainer is a monthly fee paid up-front based on a contractual agreement of work to be executed between the creative and client/business.

Retainers can offer a viable solution to your ongoing creative needs without the necessity of a full or part time employee.


eco-conscious graphic designer barbara rogersWritten by Barbara Rogers of Future Primitive Graphics. Graphic Designer and Nature Inspired Art photographer visually enhancing client’s print and digital media. Creatively collaborating with those who genuinely want to make the world a better place.