December 12, 2017

More reader questions about my advisory retainers

List member Alexander Feil wrote in a few questions. Here’s one that I get often about my retainer engagements:

Hi Jonathan - You mentioned that you have customers to pay you for picking your brain, when they need to. How does this work? Do you allocate some hours for these clients every week/month? Isn’t that something similar like hourly billing?

The word retainer is used differently by different people. Here’s the specific definition I use in my coaching program:

A specific type of productized service where you offer your clients access to your expertise on a subscription basis - typically monthly but sometimes quarterly or even annually. A client asks you a question over an agreed upon channel (e.g., phone, email, Basecamp, Slack, etc) and you answer within an agreed upon time frame (e.g., “within 90 minutes for requests made during business hours, next business day for after hours requests”). Think of it as a hotline to your brain.

Here’s what my retainer is NOT:

Here are some other common questions about my retainer:

Q: Do you answer the phone / email / comms outside of normal hours and weekends?

Yes, but it’s extremely rare to get a request outside of business hours. My retainer is only of value to folks who are fairly high up in successful organizations. They typically don’t have time to ping me at night or on weekends.

Q: Do you do dev work for that time or just consultancy?

I explicitly DO NOT author shipping code in a retainer engagement. I might do a proof of concept to determine feasibility, but that’s pretty rare. If deliverables are ever requested, they’re usually things like a mobile usability report, a system architecture diagram, an interface teardown, an so on. In short: stuff that doesn’t need to be debugged.

Q: What do you do if a retainer client is contacting you too much?

I have never once felt overwhelmed in the slightest by a retainer client. I can do two or three of them concurrently. Busy people are busy - they don’t have time to bug me for no good reason. When they have a question, they want an answer pretty quickly. When they don’t, I don’t hear from them. I’ve had five-figures per month retainer clients go for months at a time without contacting me.