Freelance iPhone Development and the Retainer –> Never Leave Home Without It!

So you’re thinking about doing some freelance work for a new client you’ve never met before. One of the biggest and most costly mistakes you can make when first starting out in freelancing is not taking a retainer fee up front. A retainer is essentially a “down payment” on the cost of the project and it serves a few primary purposes.

First off, if you’re going to be working on a project for a while, you need to do important things like  .. eat, pay your rent, buy equipment, support your family.  A retainer basically keeps you afloat while you are working on the project. You can then schedule other payments along the way, or get a lump sum on completion of the project.

The second thing a retainer does is tell you if your new client is serious and actually has the financial backing to pay you. I got burned pretty bad when I was first starting out by “trusting” that my new client would keep their word and pay me at the end of the project as promised. Learn from my mistake.

Thirdly, the retainer solidifies your commitment to the client that you are available and are committed to getting their project done.

I typically ask for between 25%-50% of the project cost, depending on the risk I perceive.  I also make it clear that for the most part, this is non-refundable. This tends to eliminate the “problem clients” quite quickly. I’ve never had a problem with a client after I implemented this policy.

Note that a retainer is not an extra fee, but as I indicated and advance payment on the total cost of the project. So at the end of the project, the client needs to pay the remainder of what they owe on the project.

I also don’t actually start the project until I’ve got the retainer check in my hand. If the client knows that work doesn’t start until you’ve got a cheque, its quite amazing how quickly it can magically appear.

So the next time your putting a new project together, don’t get burned, get a retainer…never leave home without it!


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