As far as I understood, Retainer Contract is signed only when a client does not need you any more, but he wants to reserve a portion of your monthly time. so he pays for the reservation.

Is there a contract which my existing client and I can sign so that he pays me that I take his new project in work immediately? If yes, what is its name and what are the rules there?

I am asking as it makes no sense (looking from client's perspective) to pay me 80 hours a month via Retainer just so that I can work on his project immediately if he sends it in 4 months.

  • I don't have that contract, but be weary of such an arrangement: how soon is "immediately" in your mind, and your client's mind?
    – Canadian Luke
    Jul 8, 2015 at 22:14
  • If I was paying a freelancer 20 hours a week to do nothing, they had damn well better start immediately if I hand them a project. The point of a retainer is they pay you to set aside time for them, so you are available if needed. If they pay you a 20 hour a week retainer, they expect you to be sitting at your desk 20 hours a week waiting for them to call you with some work.
    – user45623
    Jul 9, 2015 at 23:01
  • @CanadianLuke It will be set in the contract. But in general, immediately should mean "estimation within a day or two" and "start working on a project the first Mon or sooner". Something like this.
    – Peter MV
    Jul 10, 2015 at 7:15
  • @user45623 Yes, I agree. But 20 hours a week may not be enough. What if you need 30 hours a week or 40 because the project is urgent? Obviously retainer cannot cover this as you will work only up to number of work hours you were paid via the Retainer. For all extra, you will have to wait until the schedule is emptied.
    – Peter MV
    Jul 10, 2015 at 7:18
  • @PeterMV Did you read my answer? Normally a retainer allows you to work over the number of hours paid by the retainer and bill the extra time as normal. If they give you a 20 hour retainer and one week send you 30 hours of work, as long as you get it all done you bill them for the extra 10 hours. I'd be shocked if anyone was willing to do a retainer of over 20 hours a week unless they had urgent issues cropping up constantly
    – user45623
    Jul 10, 2015 at 17:54

3 Answers 3


This is what I do. I have a 6-month, renewable contract for a set amount of work (in this case, it's per finished item, but it could easily be hourly, as an hourly rate is also included). In the contract, it stipulates a 10-working day turnaround from notification, because the client could NOT provide even a tentative work schedule.

I left enough "wiggle room" to finish any hot project on my plate and get to this client's (and finish it) within my 10-day window.

If your open-ended coding retainer has the possibility of requiring work that could take more than 10 days to finish, your contract can stipulate that you will start the project no later than XX number of hours after notification (48 72, etc).

This client is also paying a premium on my hourly rate to get moved to the top of the pile. (this is another way to handle it)

  • 1
    This is what I was looking for. I will come back with more questions if I get stuck in the creation of such contract.
    – Peter MV
    Jul 12, 2015 at 7:48

Of course it makes no sense to take an 80 hour a month retainer with no work coming up. If your client doesn't even know when he will have new work for you, you might want to try a 5-hour-a-week retainer. You can increase the retainer if more work comes up, and of course if you work more than 5 hours a week you just bill them for the extra time.


Why not just generate a blanket agreement?

You can create a contract without any specific dates or timeframes. It would simply state both parties agree to adhere to [these] terms whenever work is assigned and completed. Then add an addendum that specific project scope, details, and fees will be written via email and replies in the affirmative will be seen as binding arrangements for that project.

At that point, you have a contract stating "if we say yes in email, we agree to pay and be bound by all other terms."

All you need do then is to be certain you receive project specs via email, and ensure you send costs and get a "yes" via email.

In the US emails can be used to show a "meeting of the minds" and an agreement. If you have a contract on top of that which states emails are to be used, you are just covering yourself further. I can't directly speak for other countries though.

Ultimately, this is a good question for a contract attorney. Which I am not.

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