How to structure retainer packages

Retainer packages are one of those Best Idea Ever/Worst Idea Ever deals.

When they work, they provide predictable, recurring income (Hallelujah!) and a strengthening relationship with someone you adore and respect.

When they don’t work, they fail to deliver on the confidently predicted income (But I was counting on that! Noooooo…) and a deteriorating relationship full of stress and mistrust and hurt feelings.

There are two vital factors that most affect which way it’ll go. One is client selection – a story for another time – and the other is how you structure your retainer packages.

I have Thoughts about this.

1. Make all retainer packages equally attractive.

When you’re creating other offerings with multiple price points, it’s encouraged to have the Most Attractive Option – usually the middle one. Some people go so far as to make the most expensive option entirely vestigial, one that no-one would choose.

You really don’t want to do this with retainer packages. This is a buying decision your clients are going to have to live with for some time, and you want them to feel they made the right choice. If there is a clear “best option” and they don’t go for it, then they’re likely to feel they ended up with a consolation prize. That discomfort will sour their satisfaction with the retainer package they did choose, and make it less likely they’ll stay signed up for a long, happy time.

2. Differentiate the levels by need, not price.

There needs to be a clear reason why I would choose the lower-level retainer package, and it can’t be “because I can’t afford the other ones”. (Again, that is not going to make me feel good.)

For each level, ask yourself: If money wasn’t an issue, why would someone choose this level?

This always comes down to their needs. A client training for an ultra-marathon needs more time than one who is easing back into regular exercise after a torn ligament. This doesn’t make either of them wrong; they just have different needs, and hence would buy different retainer packages.

3. Structure retainer packages by outcome, not time.

We have no innate feeling for the difference between ten hours a month and fifteen hours a month. It’s completely abstract to us, and we don’t buy abstracts.

At each level, match the outcome to the needs. A business during the off-season may only require regular newsletter writing and the occasional tweaking of their website copy. A business in a period of mad growth might need sales pages, brochures, newsletters, speeches and press releases.

For your own sanity – more on that in a smidgen – you need to know how much time these tasks would take so you can price the offering accordingly. But you are not obliged to make this part of the offering. It’s fine to say, “You’ll receive a monthly newsletter sent to your clients, and review and update of two pages of copy each month.” without mentioning time.

In fact, you need to be focused on the outcome even when you are quite explicitly selling your time, like with coaching. You’re not selling a weekly one-hour meeting; you’re selling a weekly one-hour meeting where your client will set goals, be held accountable for them, and work to dismantle the blocks that have stopped then from achieving their goals previously.

4. Don’t offer anything you wouldn’t want to deliver as promised.

It’s quite common, especially with higher-end packages, to offer much more than you expect your clients to actually use. It’s used to increase the perceived value while keeping the amount of work you have to deliver comparatively low.

But this can backfire. Spectacularly. Ask yourself:

If a client bought your retainer package and used it precisely the way it was advertised, would you resent them?

If the answer is yes, then you need to restructure.

It’s okay to expect that the average client won’t use all of an offering, and to price it according to the amount of work you expect to do. But that should never be low enough that you would feel cheated or taken advantage of if they actually DID use it.

Remember, the key to successful retainer packages is that they keep both of you happy over time.

Have you seen retainer packages done well, or badly? What makes a successful one? Tell us in the comments!

photo by: tedeytan

Gratitude: it’s what’s for business.

Everything’s going to be different, I thought.

We’d spent nearly four months apart. We’d both grown and improved. We were ready to live together again, and to do it on a whole new level. We knew ourselves better, and what we wanted.

So what I meant was Everything’s going to be better.

And it wasn’t. Of course.

He still forgets his shirts in the bathroom. He still leaves the room as soon as a conversation gets tense. He still smokes.

All I could see were the failures, the flaws, the fuck-ups. I was miserable, and angry about being miserable, and guilty about being angry.

And then my coach Leela made me do one thing differently. She suggested I say, “Thank you” every time he did something right. Anything right.

“Thank you for doing the dishes. Thank you for noticing I was tired and telling me to have a nap already, you wouldn’t have done that before. (And I wouldn’t have listened.) Thank you for smoking that electronic cigarette instead of the other kind. Thank you for asking for my help, that was awesome. Thank you for cooking dinner. Thank you for telling me that you need a couple of days to think about how we’re going to handle the chores from now on. Thank you for watering the plants. Thank you for remembering to put my headset on the hook, even if you didn’t remember to wind the cord. Thank you for kissing my shoulder.”

Suddenly we were happy. Pleasing each other. Laughing and loving each other as we completed boring just-moved-house chores.

And ironically, everything was better.

This doesn’t just work for arguments about toenails.

It’s so easy to see only the negative in our biz: the overdue invoice, the nit-picky review, the overflowing inbox.

Do it too much and everything becomes negative. You can actually get to the point where you’re pissed that someone paid you money, because they didn’t pay enough to cover this week’s projections. (“Wow. Thanks. A hundred dollars. That’s a big help.”)

I say “Thank you”, out loud, every time someone pays me money. And I realise that it would, maybe, be a really neat idea if I said it to them, too.

It’s not just good for your soul and alla dat, it’s also really good marketing.

How could you improve your biz with gratitude? Try it out, then tell us about it in the comments!

photo by: lilivanili

A Tiny Insignificant Blogging Challenge

When I think about the old days at Be Awesome Online, where I published an article every single day for ten months, my inner manager says, “I couldn’t do that nowadays. Oh hell no.”

Why not?

“Too busy. Too many priorities. Too many demands.”

Really? It doesn’t take that much time to write an article, especially if you don’t make assumptions about how long it should be. Remember those times when we’d just publish one paragraph-question? It took fifteen minutes, tops.

“Well, we can’t write those any more. They were part of the old website, not the new one. We have Standards now.”

Yeah, but with these Standards we’re lucky to publish once a week. We still have a never-ending flood of article ideas, but we don’t write them down.

“Most of those ideas aren’t any good! We write the good ones!”

What’s our measure for good?

“Don’t do, “Hey, this happened and then this happened and this is what I think it means.” Tell stories. Don’t write about yourself all the damn time. Write more Jonahs.”

And if we can’t write one of those now?

“Then maybe it’s better to write nothing. Or maybe to write, but not publish.”

So we are the sole arbiter of which articles are good, and which ones aren’t?

This is the point where my inner manager throws a hissy-fit. “This is what we decided! We didn’t want to publish throwaway crap any more! We – YOU – wanted to be all goddamn profound and artistic and shit. I’m just doing what you wanted.”

I think what I wanted is broken. I think that I need to write more often, publish more often. I think I need to stop trying to be original, or definitive, and start trying to be true. To let it be ordinary.

“Like the old days.”

Like the old days.

“We publish every day?”

Except this time we’ll take Sunday off.

Heartfelt sigh. “I still don’t think we have the time or the energy for this.”

Well, we could try it for a month and see what happens. No harm, no foul.

“What about comments? Comments are pretty dead. You killed them.”

Ack, I don’t know. We could try the old “Ask a questions, tell me in the comments” call to action we used back in the days of Be Awesome Online. But you wanted to stop doing that when we started writing here.

“Because I thought it was time we actually promoted our offerings. So sue me.”

No, you were right to be a hard-liner about that. We were still really shy and unconfident about promoting our work back then. But that was… holy crispy crap… two full years ago. We don’t need the practice of saying, “Here is my thing, it is awesome, you should buy it” that much nowadays.

“Granted. Most people don’t convert directly from our articles unless the article and the offering are well-aligned, anyway.”

Right. So if they are, we talk about the offering, and if they aren’t, the call to action is for comments.

“Just for this month.”

Just for this month. It doesn’t hurt to try.

“It might.”

Shaddup. We’re trying it anyway.

So the Tiny Insignificant Blogging Challenge begins.

For one month, I’m going to publish every day but Sundays. I’ll be encouraging (and replying to) comments. And I’ll likely be getting rather meta with some of the articles, like this one.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss one thrilling episode, you can use the RSS button in the sidebar to sign up for updates by RSS or email.

What will I write about? I have no idea. It’ll be interesting to find out.

Is this a masterly plan, or total insanity? Tell me in the comments!

photo by: Ed Yourdon

“I got to”, versus “I get to”.

I’ve spent the last three months spending accumulated experience points, and now I’ve leveled up.

I gained at least two skill points in Self-Perception, with an extra specialisation in Catching Myself Saying Bad Terrible Not-Good Shit.

(Many thanks to Leela, who has dramatically reduced my training times. And many apologies to every non-roleplaying geek who needed to decipher what I just said.)

So yeah, for the first time in my life I am finding myself being self-aware in the moment, and not just four hours after I’ve screwed everything up.

I can hear the self-talk, and correct it, and move on undamaged.


For example…

This morning I was listening to the bazillions of 5:30 birdies in the Awesome New House and thinking about the day ahead, like you do. And I was also listening to myself as I thought it out.

“I’ve got the Pilot Light call, and I’ve got to update my address for my driver’s licence, and I’ve got to update the metrics, and I have to write an article, and I gotta spend some time with the Provocateurs, and I have to plan that new resource for them, and… and waitasecond, why am I saying “I got to” and “I have to” so much? Holy crap, I made all of that – except for the Pilot Light group call – sound like chores. No wonder my enthusiasm has been a bit lacking lately – doing stuff just because I gotta is the buzzkill of all buzzkills!”

I turned over and thought some more.

“I don’t HAVE to do any of that stuff, except for the driver’s licence and calling the insurance company. Those are gottas. The other things, they’re all GET TOs. I get to do this because I am ridiculously fortunate enough to run my own business, just the way I want to. When you get up, you just remember that.”

And when I got to my computer I remembered it. I spent ten minutes on Twitter, responding like I used to do (and was worried I had forgotten how to do). I replied to FB posts and got into a memejoke thread with Dusti and Amanda. I planned my day with lightness instead of grumbletude.

I said, “Write the list of get to’s.”

So here they are.

I get to spend time on social media with delightful, intelligent people.

I get to give Ellie advice via DM while I’m writing this article.

I get to sleep in as little or as much as I want to.

I get to talk about myself, a lot, and have it make people’s lives better. (I still don’t understand how that happens.)

I get to make as much money as I am comfortable making.

I get to expand how much money I am comfortable making, if my present limit does not serve me.

I get to talk to people who make amazingness.

I get to avoid negative people.

I get to reply to the glowing email from a new reader in my inbox.

I get to connect people, into one big Voltron of wonderful.

I get to do the work I am best at.

I get to choose who I do that work with.

I get to work from wherever I wanna. (Although it’ll need at LEAST four bars to do Skype calls.)

I get to put a painted hand grenade on my desk.

I get to wear whatever I want.

I get to reply to the thoughts people share with me in the comments.

I get to process invoices when I get paid.

I get to pay the rent with my brain’s endeavours.

I get to do a side hustle if I want to.

I get to publish this now so I can have breakfast.


Why did no-one tell me?

photo by: StarsApart