Working with retainers can mean much more than a method of billing clients for longer-term projects. According to conversion optimization specialist Ben Froedge, well designed retainers can maximize your income, promote income stability and strengthen long-term client relationships, too.

In today’s episode, Ben gives an in-depth primer into retainer use cases, the procedures leading up to a retainer, and how to expand a retainer to take full advantage of its capabilities.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • The difference between heatmaps and analytics.
  • The best steps to take when setting up a retainer for a client.
  • Why referring a client to someone else could be best for your business.
  • The importance of delivering more value than you’re being paid for.
  • The simplicity – and importance – of A/B testing.
  • Why you should be a partner, not a commodity.
  • How to structure retainers.
  • The value of once-off free services.

Important Links & Mentions

Ben Froedge’s Website

Ben Froedge on LinkedIn

Ben’s Article on Retainers

Nick Disabato’s Website

Nick Disabato’s Draft Consultancy

Google Optimize

Visual Website Optimizer (VWO)

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Solopreneur Success™ Transcript

SSP046 Retaining Clients with Ben Froedge

Ben Froedge:

You should be a partner. Even if you are hired on as contract, you’re not internal to the company at all, you are there to bring value to their company and, just like if you worked there, just like if they hired you on at a high-level, you should be focused on how you can bring value to them.

Steve Coombes:

You’re listening to designer and conversion optimization specialist Ben Froedge. Ben and I recorded this great conversation on a topic that should be of intense interest for business owners who serve clients on contract: how to use retainers to maximize income, promote income stability, and improve long-term client relationships. And you’re about to hear it now, because Ben is today’s guest on Solopreneur Success.


Welcome to the Solopreneur Success podcast, where successful business owners gather to share true stories and sound advice to help you start and grow your own solopreneur business. Come soar with us and design the life you love. Now, here’s your host, Steve Coombes.


Hello, solopreneurs. Today, I’m joined by Ben Froedge, who is a man of many trades. I found Ben on LinkedIn when I ran across an article he wrote and shared there, that caught my attention, on how to design effective retainers. Now, retainers are a subject near and dear to my heart because, for more than a decade, as an independent copywriter, I operated under a retainer with most of my own clients. The beauty of retainers is they allow you a certain level of income stability, whether for copywriting or other fields. In fact, Ben works in a different area altogether, so I’ll let him describe what he does in a minute, but here’s the thing – if you want to maximize the amount of money you have coming in, while maintaining income stability and growing stronger relationships with your clients, retainers are the way to go. I’m looking forward to diving into this topic today. So, Ben, welcome to the show.


Thank you for the kind words in the intro. I’m glad you appreciate the articles.


It was great, and I appreciate the perspective because, a lot of folks, they get started in business, they think they have to go out there and get one client for one project and that’s it. That’s not it. You can do so much more with retainers, and you really outlined not just how to do the setup of an effective retainer but what you need to measure, and things like that. We’re going to talk about that today. I don’t want to jump ahead of ourselves. Before we get to that level of discussion, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you got to doing what you do today. What is it that you do today?


Okay. Just a quick overview of what I actually do. I work mostly with Shopify online stores doing conversion rate optimization. I’m looking through analytics, I’m looking through user research, heatmaps, things like that, to find ways that they can optimize their design and improve their marketing ROI. That has kind of transitioned away from just working with stores and now, into helping agencies and solo operators design services that actually help their clients and help them grow.


Gotcha. I’m familiar with heatmaps. I’m not sure if everybody is. Maybe you could describe what that is exactly.


Sure. Heatmaps just allow you to see where people are moving on a page, where they’re clicking and scrolling, what they’re interacting with, what they’re not, and whereas analytics can really tell you where a problem or an opportunity exists, heatmaps help you see how you might take advantage of it, what might need changing, and helps you get inside a user’s head just a little bit more.


So, what led you down the path to get to looking at that sort of technology?


You know, actually, I’m going to give the credit to one particular guy named Nick Disabato. He runs a small consultancy called Draft. He is also one of my big inspirations on what recurring services should look like and how to provide value for people. When I first started into freelancing in a solo business world, he was one of my inspirations and, once I had grown my skillset a little bit, the stuff that he talked about was really interesting to me.


Awesome. Let’s talk a little bit about retainers. That’s what we really want to dive into today. You had a terrific article, I’ll put a link to that in the show notes, and I will give a link to that after the interview. Today, you work primarily with retainers with your clients, right?




Let’s say you have somebody that you interact with, it’s a brand-new client or it’s a prospective client that says “Ben, I would like you to help me out with this task, this problem,” how does that conversation begin with you creating an environment where you can set up a retainer?


The first step usually looks something like a road-mapping procedure. I want to dive in and see if what I do is really what they need or if maybe they need to be referred somewhere else. I’ll set up a free call, I’ll talk to them, just do some early qualification, and then I’ll move into a road-mapping procedure where I go through and evaluate their problem. For CRO projects, that usually looks like an initial setup of analytics, first months reading, and just a data collection environment for them and kind of helping them get used to that idea.


For CRO, just for those who may not be familiar with it, I believe you’re referring to conversion rate optimization, right?


Yes. Trying to make websites more profitable for the people who run, and not in a scammy way, not trying to trick people, but making the site as good as it can possibly be for the ideal customers or clients that are going to visit it.


Gotcha. You said something else I really liked, too. You said you may need to refer them to someone else. I think that’s really important because sometimes, especially as new business owners, we get in this mindset of “if they’re going to give me money, I’ll do anything,” and sometimes we want to do that it, “give me the money,” but sometimes it’s not really the best fit, and if it’s not a good fit, you’re better off referring those clients to someone who it is a good fit for. They’re going to respect you that much more for that, and you could also build relationships with other service providers. They may also refer people who are the right fit for you back your direction and that’s a good way to build relationships and networking to have referral partners, and I know a lot of people actually do that.

I think that a great strategy in business, as well as in life, is focus on what you can best deliver value to your customers and allow others to deliver their best value to customers, and together, you have a happy customer base.

Talking about the retainer, a new customer came to you and then you have the initial consultation with the free call, and they said, “this is what we have here,” what’s the next step for you? Do you provide a project outline? Do you have documentation? How do you actually follow up on that call with folks?

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