Freelance SEO Retainer Ideas

Rebekah May 3 min read

Being a freelance SEO is great, but one issue that can keep rearing its ugly head is steady-reliable income.  This is an issue all freelancers face, but SEO, in particular, can be difficult as much of the work tends to be transactional.  A client comes with a problem, you solve it (generally audit + recommendations) they go away.   

The problem with the above is that your revenue is inconsistent.  With retainer agreements, you can have a predictable monthly income and billable hours so you can both plan your finances, and vacation time effectively.

Important things to keep in mind with retainer agreements:

Keep track of hours put in to avoid scope-creep.  You want to ensure you’re providing a good mix of value, at a lower investment of your time.  If they want more of your time, this will equal more money. You have to be strict about this.

It’s easier to schedule and prioritize retainer-work:

By implementing a retainer policy with a minimum 30-day out clause, you will have a clear idea of the next month’s work ahead of time.  This allows you to easy time-block, schedule, and batch specific projects ahead of time for better productivity.

Tips on creating retainer-based contracts:

First: make sure you have a contract in place.  I don’t care if it’s your best friend since kindergarten, you’re getting this in writing. STAT. 

Second:  Always have an advanced cancellation policy.  The minimum I would recommend is 30 days, this allows you to ensure hours are booked into your calendar in advance and you aren’t losing potential income if they cancel with a weeks notice.

Third:  Either include a very-clear project term (for example “I will provide X services, monthly”) and clearly detail what is involved in those services  OR have a set number of hours per month. I do not recommend allowing clients the opportunity to roll over their hours. Sorry, use them or lose them – their lack of need doesn’t mean you should be overbooked the following month.

Fourth:  A retainer doesn’t mean you’re available for emergencies.  Make sure the client knows they can’t expect a 24-48 hour turn-around on a request.  Detail the average time they will expect a response and note the response will include information on when they can expect a solution.

What are some retainer and recurring revenue ideas for SEO Freelancers?

1:  Regular news on SEO updates:  Unless your client is in the SEO space, chances are they are not paying much attention to SEO updates and news.  With this typ of retainer they can rely on you to monitor these trends, and notify them when and how it affects them with specific advice on what steps they should take (if any);

2. Monthly review calls:  Depending on how you scope your services, you may give an audit, a phone call going over things and then leave them to their own devices.  A recurring call each month will hold them accountable for implementing your recommendations and allow them to ask for help and clarification.

3. Quarterly strategy updates:  Needs change in business, sometimes rapidly.  Having a quarterly strategy call ensures that the company is always-on-top of their organic strategy.

4. Monthly content trends and ideas: Look at how QDF may impact them and offer regular content ideas.  Offer them a content calendar with ideas. Offer to review their blog content for SEO opportunities.  

5. Subscription plans with subscriber-only benefits:  This may vary based on the industries you service, but there is likely something you can create and turn into a subscription-based service.   Perhaps this is outreach to publications for PR / Link building purposes, or finding guest-posting or podcast guest opportunities. There are a lot of opportunities here for the creative SEO.

Rebekah May

Instructor and course creator for UC Davis SEO Certification program. Industry speaker, author and mentor to SEOs. SEO veteran of over 10 years with experience freelance, in-house and directing a team at a marketing agency where I worked with fortune 500 clients around the world.

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    Rebekah is the creator and instructor of UC Davis' SEO certification program. Read More

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