When folks think about hiring a service provider, they’re usually looking for help achieving one particular goal.
Whether it’s hiring a lawyer to draft a will, a contractor to remodel your kitchen, or a developer to build your website, the goal is to finish one specific project and set you up for future success on your own.
But what if you know you’ll need ongoing support from your chosen provider? What if you think this project isn’t the only thing you’ll need their expertise on?
That’s when you want a retainer.
What’s a retainer?
A retainer is a fee paid in advance to a service provider to secure their services. People most often associate retainers with lawyers, but all kinds of service providers offer retainer accounts, including developers. While a developer can build your site and send you on your way, retaining a developer’s services on a long-term basis is a fantastic way to make sure your technology is being handled by an expert as your business grows.
How web development retainers help you
Most developers offer a broad variety of services: building and designing websites, building apps, conducting code audits, debugging code, updating your site (particularly relevant if you’re on WordPress and things fall behind), and more. As your business grows, your technological needs will change. Justin talked about this in his most recent post covering code audits:
…Some plugins do well if they’re on a site that has no users logged in. However, if that same site has switched to a subscription model, it won’t have caching layers that allow the plugins to run as smoothly. Your client may not know this difference. All they know is that they made the switch when they needed to shift their business model. They didn’t recognize the impact it would have on their technology.
As your business changes, issues like the one outlined here may crop up–without you understanding what is happening or how to fix it. If your business goes through a sudden growth spurt, your site may not be able to handle the traffic or engagement, which could be financially devastating. And if your site goes down, if you don’t have technical support, you’re on your own, since most developers can’t drop everything they’re doing to work on your site (or if they can, they’ll charge a pretty penny for it).
Having a technical expert in your corner ensures that your technology will grow alongside your business. It means that you can either outright avoid or quickly ameliorate any pain points that arise, which makes your life less stressful, your business run smoothly, and your clients happy.
But retainers are expensive!
Some folks argue that retainers are a waste of time, since you pay for the hours upfront and if there isn’t work to be done, not all of those hours may be used. Although the nature of transactions like these is how they’re outlined in terms of hours, thinking of it this way is too simple. You’re paying for so much more than just the hours.
Priority and access
If you’ve ever desperately needed tech support and tried to find it last minute, you’ve likely discovered how difficult it is to get it done as quickly as you need it. If you have managed to find someone to handle it, they likely charged you a ton of money to handle the immediacy of the request.
Setting up a retainer with your web developer means paying for priority. They’re turning down other work in anticipation of being available to you.
At Zao, in particular, we provide a higher level of access to not only our time, but also, in immediacy of response. That different level of access means reaching us during a broader range of hours (particularly good in an emergency), as well as a quicker turnaround.
A working knowledge of your business
Any developer who is working with your site should make it their priority to know your business. They need to know your technical pain points and goals, of course, but they should also keep your broader business goals in mind as well. When you hire a developer on retainer, it means you’re keeping a consistent tap on someone who filters your professional objectives through a technical lens. It means they can anticipate your technical needs and potential obstacles you may face in the future–and help you plan for it.
It also means you have someone who knows your code inside and out, so fixes are a lot quicker and easier. It means your development is consistent in quality, delivery, and expectation.
No DIY worries
How often do you get your oil changed? Tires rotated? Do you do it yourself, or do you hire a professional to handle it so that you don’t have to worry about getting your hands dirty?
Maintenance doesn’t just apply to cars; it applies to your technology, too.
Of course you can handle the WordPress site updates yourself, but do you really want to add something to your ever-growing to-do list? And do you have the technical capability to handle it if an update shuts down your site?
That aforementioned access and expertise comes into play here, because with a developer on retainer, you can build maintenance into your agreement with them. Not only can they handle the basic tweaks to keep everything running, but they also have the skill and time dedicated to you to fix anything should an update go awry.
Retainers can be spendy, but they’re an investment.
Rather than handing over your arm, leg, and one extra pinky toe to pay for an urgent fix, retainers are an investment in technical partnership that prioritizes your emergencies and needs. They may seem spendier in the long run, but when you consider the cost of emergencies, it is pennies in comparison.
A one time buy is for vendors, but retainers create technical partnership
Paying for a retainer means essentially paying someone to join your team. One of our values is family, and that extends not to just our families, but to creating a kind of family in our professional sphere. We want to welcome our clients in, and do more for them than just build something and kick it out the door. We like offering more than a drive by snack; we want to have a family meal.
When our clients hire us on retainer, they’re paying us to take some of the focus off of our business to focus on theirs. We take their dreams and big ideas and translate them into something that has a tangible impact on their business. That takes time, priority, and strategy that simply isn’t possible for a short-term project.
We guide as they scale. We care about the success of their projects and business as much as they do. Like any family, we love being able to celebrate our clients’ successes as they happen just as much as we want to dig in and help when things fail.