Why I don't offer monthly retainers as a web designer Paige Brunton.jpg

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So a solid chunk of designers I know will polish up a client’s project, get their site launched and then offer to stick around for a monthly fee to handle any updates, or maintenance the client might need in the future.

Monthly retainers have their pros and cons.

Pro: (at least from the client’s perspective) your client has the peace of mind that if their website decides to throw a temper tantrum one day and bring their online business crashing down, they’ve got someone on hand who’s job it is to fix it.

Con: designers and developers don’t come cheap, so paying $100 or more a month for a monthly retainer with a designer/developer can become a pricey business expense for your client.

And now let’s look at it from the designer’s perspective…

Pro: who doesn’t love the thought of extra recurring revenue?

Con: you are basically pledging to make yourself available to that client, and you never really know when that client is going to want to cash in, which means if you have multiple retainer clients, the likelihood of all of them contacting you on the exact same day, all needing something important is very high.

Yes, you can set boundaries for how and when they are able to use their hours, but it will still take a great deal more planning if you want to take time off. I personally didn’t relish the thought of clients emailing me in a panic while I’m trying to get my vacay on.

 So back when I was still serving clients 1:1, if a potential client asked ‘are you available to help me down the line after the site is complete?’

My answer was usually ‘heck yes!’

(Just not in the form of retainer!)

Why I don’t suggest offering monthly retainers as a web designer

And what to do instead!

So, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I am a die-hard, hands-down Squarespace lover.

(50 shades of Grey has nothing on this love match, lemme tell you!)

So while it’s true I didn’t want to be disturbed while sippin’ frozen margs on the beach, I actually had another, much more altruistic reason for saying ‘no’ to retainers when asked…

Because my clients would basically be paying me for sitting around doing a whole lotta nothing.

One of the (many) reasons I chose Squarespace back then and still use and love it to this day is that the system is all contained and controlled by Squarespace.

The Squarespace teams in NYC, Portland & Dublin deal with all the back end tech mumbo jumbo, so Squarespace users never need to deal with website melt downs.

I’ll give you a prime example.

As we know, technology moves quickly.

A few years ago, Google decided it wanted the interwebs to switch over to secure websites, from http to https. And seeing as, you know, Google basically controls the world, every website owner jumped to get on the secure website bandwagon.

That’s when many website owners got stuck with a whole bunch of questions.

‘If I change my website from http to https, what happens to all my old links? Do I need to domain map them to new https links? Will changing links affect my SEO? How the heck do I actually change this all over?’

The Squarespace team prepped for the change and ensured that their https roll out was ready to go and working properly. Us Squarespace users then got one email instructing us to click a ‘enable https’ button on our sites, and we were smooth sailing.

Not the case for my poor WordPress friends, some of whom were still wandering around in circles months and even years later trying to figure out how exactly to make the switch.

This is just one small example of how a Squarespace website just works. 

So basically, I opted not to offer monthly retainer packages, because the Squarespace team does for it’s customers what most designers/developers do for their clients on monthly retainer packages.

Except now your clients pay as little as $12/month for their website and this service on Squarespace, whereas a monthly retainer with a designer/developer tends to run in the $100+/month arena, plus the cost of hosting your site.)

The long and short of it is, your clients really don’t need a designer/developer on a monthly retainer if their website is built on Squarespace.

Now, I can already hear you asking…

‘But what about website edits and changing site content?’

Ah yes, good question!

Most of the time, my clients were able to complete edits and update site content themselves.

Did I have a bunch of website-wizard clients, you ask?


In fact, one past client diagnosed herself with a strong case of ‘technophobia.’

(The fear or dislike of advanced technology, that is.)

I completed every single project with a 1.5 hour live Squarespace lesson.

On the final Friday of our 2 week design period, my client and I would hop on a Google Hangout call, and we dive into the back end of their website.

I didn’t want to just send them a pre-recorded lesson, or send them a link to some generic resource library when the examples were shown using someone else’s site altogether. I wanted them to be able to see and learn using their own newly designed site!

While I did have a lesson plan, each lesson was tailored to the client…or more accurately to their level of tech-savviness, and to the type of content that was featured on their site.

I would show them the in’s and out’s of their website, and get as advanced or as basic as they wanted.

Clients were confident by the end of the lesson to find their way around the back end of the site, make edits to text, photos, banners, background colors, and the search engine descriptions. They would also fully be able to create pages, move content blocks around, and edit links and page descriptions on their own.

They’d know best practices for blogging, and how to use a summary block to pull out specific bits of content from their blog onto certain pages.

Pretty much, they’d know their stuff and they’d be ready to independently make site updates and edits on their own schedule.

(Yes, even the ones who started off as self-proclaimed ‘technophobes’.)

The average number of client emails I got with questions after a project is completed? 2 per year for the first year, and exactly 0 after that.

Why was giving this lesson so important to me?

I’m solidly in the camp of teaching a (wo)man how to fish.

Going to someone else for help always takes more time, and makes something as simple as updating the prices on your site become a pain-in-the-buns task.

I never wanted to hold my client’s websites hostage, or have them waiting on me to get back from vacay so I could swap out a simple banner image.

Your client’s site is a vital piece of their business, and I believe they should have full control and knowledge of it.

‘What if my past clients have something a little more complex they need help with?’

Sometimes your client will have a need for something they just don’t have the time or desire to learn. Maybe down the road, they decide to add an online shop or special booking and appointment scheduling feature to their site.

For these types of tasks that were a little bit outside the scope of our 1.5 hour lesson, I invited clients to shoot me an email, and I would price out the task for them and let them know when the next opening I had on my books to work on it.

For full website design projects, I tended to book out well in advance, but for these smaller tasks I could generally get to them within a week or two.

So there you have it, that’s why I decided never to offer monthly retained packages in my web design business.

Instead, I taught my clients how to use their site, and offered assistance at an hourly or project-based rate if they need some help with more complex things down the road after their project finished!

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Why I don’t offer monthly retainers and what I do instead

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