Is it appropriate to warn a client that they will no longer have top priority because they have not renewed a retainer in a timely fashion?

3 Answers 3


For my client I work on them based off the deadlines that I set. If I have two sites due the same day I will work on the one that is gonna take the longest and needs more advanced programming incase I run into any problems.

I don't think a client needs to pay to be priority, unless that is something they are willing to do but that should be discussed up front.

  • Thank you for the advice, I appreciate it.For more involved projects, I work with an agreement that retains me for the duration of a design phase (research, design, development, etc.). It allows me to charge upfront and dedicate my attention to their project. If they are slow to sign or pay for the next phase I just don't work on it until they are ready. But I wonder if I should send them a courtesy email that I am going to take other gigs because I cannot reserve that block of time anymore.
    – Ken
    Jun 6, 2013 at 20:15
  • The way I do mine is I do a 30% up front payment for the entire project. In my proposal I break everything down into individual takes that are part of three Phases. Phase 1: Research/Design Phase 2: Development (custom shopping carts, shirt builders etc) aka the heavy lifting Phase 3: Details (getting all the fine details done, privacy policies, payment gateways, shipping, etc). After each phase the customer pays the amount that we agreed upon. I do of course charge more if the client made major changes during any of the phases, but I discuss that when they are making the suggestion. Jun 6, 2013 at 23:06
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    You should always let them know you may have less availability if they don't renew. However, it is also a really good idea if you can to budget your time so you can serve at least two customers at any point. If you can promise two customers 20 hrs/wk you are in much better shape when a project finishes than you are if you have one 40 hr/wk project (if nothing else you can offer some additional hours to the other customer temporarily until you find somethin else). Jun 7, 2013 at 2:49

When working on multiple projects, distributing work and time is a personal choice (you can work on the most complex project first, on the highest paying first, on the oldest client first and so on).

Generally, I try to steer away from retainers, but if I do use such practice, I make sure I pause work immediately when the last payment expires and resume it immediately when the next payment is received.

An alternative and a better approach in my opinion is to request an upfront percentage for the whole project/week/milestone (e.g. 50%) and only work when this upfront payment is received. This way you will be (partially) guaranteed that you will receive some money for your efforts. If the client is late with the upfront payment - too bad for him - his project will be delayed and you can always work for other clients in the meantime. Just try to not get any long-term projects though, because you may be overwhelmed once the first client pays.


In general I think charging for priority for routine work is a mistake. However, there are some exceptions and a few places where I do charge for priority. These are the exceptions and not the rule.

In general I charge extra for urgent support. The reason here is that if it is urgent and I have to jump off something for another customer, I need to let them know, etc. there is extra labor for me, it may cause some minor issues for normal work for the other customer, etc. After hours I charge even more because you are taking my family or sleep time. I waive these if I suggest scheduling in such time in advance, but if the customer demands it, they get to pay extra.

If the customer doesn't renew the retainer, the obvious thing to do is suspend work on the project and let the customer know they need to pay before you do work again (at your normal rate). Pay for priority should be reserved for addressing emergencies and not for run of the mill development.

A second thing to note is that this is a lot easier to do if you can have two gigs where you promie a minimum of 20 hrs than it is if you have one full-time with a minimum of 40. You can offer the other customer some extra hours to speed things up in the mean time (maybe a week at a time) or the like to fill in gaps.

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