Top 3 Types of Retainer Gigs (and How Copywriters Can Get Them)

Freelance writer inks a retainer gig contractAs a marketer who hires and trains dozens of freelance writers every year, I’m a big fan of working with writers on retainer.

To me, they’re the true win-win.

As a writer, you get peace of mind knowing you have steady work (and a steady paycheck) month-after-month. And as a marketer, I save a ton of time on every project and typically get better results.

So, what are the best types of retainer gigs? In my experience, these three deals are the ones most often overlooked by writers. (Which means great opportunity for you!)

1. Social Media

Social media is a top pick for two reasons.

For starters, most businesses have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to social media. They know they need to have a presence. But they don’t understand why.

But more important, it gives you an inside edge on other writing assignments that are necessary for an effective social media marketing strategy. Which means you’ll be able to develop a list of other assignments you can pitch your clients — from landing pages and email campaigns to online content and Pay-Per-Click ads.

The writer’s role includes:

  • Managing their social media communities
  • Writing updates
  • Writing ads to grow followers and increase engagement
  • Leading discussions

Fees:

  • Upwards of $2,000 a month
  • New content is often priced separately

How to land:

  • Get involved in their social networks.
  • Identify how they’re using them (customer service, sales, etc.).
  • Research and join similar groups to see what their competition is doing.
  • Present the client with solutions for achieving their goals and taking advantage of missed opportunities.

2. E-newsletters

E-newsletters provide an inexpensive way to develop a relationship with prospects, and they allow a company (or service provider) to position itself as an expert in the industry.

But here’s the catch: Once a business starts sending out an e-newsletter, their prospects and customers expect it to show up on a regular basis.

Which is great for you. Because it means they’re going to need good e-newsletter content written on a consistent, ongoing schedule.

The writer’s role includes:

  • Researching the industry
  • Developing an editorial calendar
  • Writing the e-newsletter content
  • Developing a single voice for the company
  • Managing the list and disseminating the e-newsletter

Fees:

  • $900 to $2,000 per issue (length is typically 1,200 to 1,500 words)
  • Plus thousands to set-up an e-newsletter from scratch

How to land:

  • Focus on a particular niche.
  • Review newsletters in the industry.
  • Put together a few sample issues.
  • Prepare two Project Proposal templates:
    • taking over an existing e-newsletter,
    • and starting a new e-newsletter.

3. Online Content

Companies spent more than $118.4 billion on content marketing in 2013 — yet many writers don’t think of online content as a retainer deal. They approach the projects piece-by-piece.

But companies need content on an ongoing basis!

Google now insists that a website have quality content (and an ongoing stream of it) or its search engine rankings will suffer.

Content marketing is essentially “selling without selling.” Instead, businesses educate their readers with stories, metaphors, and simple advice in the form of new articles, blog posts, emails, and so on. Then, when the reader is ready to make a purchase, they are open to the company’s product and ready to take action.

The writer’s role includes:

  • Researching the industry
  • Writing blog posts in the voice of company executives or experts
  • Conducting interviews for case studies, press releases, or articles
  • Developing different pieces that will move the prospect through the sales funnel (emails, video scripts, slide shows, etc.)

Fees:

  • $100 to $500 per piece, depending on length and complexity of topic

How to land:

  • Read content on websites of interest.
  • Determine who their audience is and what they’re trying to ultimately sell.
  • Create a list of relevant topics.

Remember, retainer deals can be put in place whenever there is an ongoing need for a particular type of content or copy.

Ready to get started? Here are some best practices to follow.

Talk about retainers with every client

If there’s an ongoing need for copy or content, pitch a retainer.

The key is to understand their need/volume before pitching. Take the time to learn how much copy or content they need and determine where retainers could fit in.

No retainer deal is too small

It may seem silly to set up a retainer with a company who only needs one article a month. But hey, it’s still one more project you can count on month-after-month!

Plus, it could very well be a way to get your foot in the door. You can always increase the retainer at a later date, and it will set you up for other projects that arise in the company.

Evaluate retainer deals regularly

Any time you set up a deal, you’re basing it on what you both “think” the scope of the project will be. Then plan to evaluate your retainer deals at 60 days, 6 months, and then annually.

When evaluating, look for ways you can provide additional value. Then, propose a new deal that shows how much more value the client will receive.

Sell benefits other than cost savings

Clients expect to save a little money on retainer deals. So you shouldn’t focus your pitch on the savings.

Focus on the bigger benefits:

  • You’ll know their products and services deeply.
  • You’ll understand their target audience inside and out.
  • You know how they operate, and therefore can turn things around faster and on schedule.
  • You’ll be able to offer up other ideas that will make their business more successful.

Be mindful about what you charge

Pricing is often a challenge for writers. When pitching a retainer deal, make sure you’re thinking of the big picture.

  • Your time — both spent and saved.
  • What the regular rate would be if each item were contracted individually.
  • The value to the client (the return on investment).
  • How much the client saves in exchange for guaranteeing you work every month.

At the end of the day, retainer deals are usually good for both the writer and the client. As long as you’re happy with the fee for the work you’ll put in every month, and the client gets the return from the monthly expense, it’s a win-win.

Got questions about getting retainer gigs? Ask in the comments below.

Rebecca Matter is a copywriter and president of American Writers & Artists Inc. (AWAI), the world’s leading trainer of direct-response copywriters and web writers. She speaks and writes on topics ranging from getting and working with clients to successful marketing strategies.

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