A client wants to enter into a monthly support / consult / fixing things agreement. As I never had such a situation I would like to ask for your help and experiences? What are important points to include? Creative solutions you have come up with outside the standard monthly hours / monthly value contracts like on https://www.docracy.com/7kjozeinrv/retainer-agreement ?
Make sure you cover:
Scope - what you will/won't do - make a list - be precise - especially on the things the retainer/sla doesn't cover
Process - describe in as much detail as possible how the client should log issues and how you will then triage and manage them to resolution. Make sure you include timeframes for initial responses and expected/average resolution timeframes. Also make sure the client knows that they are only expected resolution timeframes. Some problems can't be resolved under an SLA. My 5 year old site don't work in IE75! Also explain in the agreement how you will allocate and estimate time for each job/issue they raise.
Agreement terms - you should consult a lawyer on this one - don't rely on the Docracy template. You'll need to cover topics like Agreement period, billing conditions, termination clauses, liability, dispute management.
Reporting - how often will you communicate to the client how much time they have (assuming you operate a retainer with a fixed amount of time per month).
That's all I can think of right now. Retainers/SLA's can be great for steady cash flow and for maintaining client relationships but make sure you manage them properly and get the right structure and process with your client at the start.
Thank you Colm, great points! One more question, how would you handle situations like:
- support telephone calls
- consulting conversations
- or situation which don't produce any immediate result but require your time and thinking / expertise?
To bill them on a hour base does not make sense, if a call is lets say 15min, it seems better to bill per support call?
I make a distinction between support calls and consulting calls.
- Support Calls - you can call me to follow up on an URGENT/IMPORTANT issue after you've first logged it.
- I also allow "How do I" type calls and deduct them from their allocated time. I ensure the client understands this and most are happier with this arrangement rather than being billed per call which can get very messy for you and clients generally don't like it
- Consulting conversations - this is trickier. You will need to judge these ones yourself. Perhaps a 'consulting' call could become new business? With good clients these calls are great and I welcome them because more often than not you'll get more value/new business out of them. A bad client for me is one who thinks they can just ring me at any time of the day to shoot the breeze and pick my brains on all sorts of topics. If there's a risk of that starting to happen I'll generally try to upsell them to a paid consulting gig (i.e. Hey client x, there's a lot more to this topic than meets the eye. For me to really get in-depth with you on this one we'd need to schedule a couple of workshops (either remote or in person) to really explore this in detail. That's something I've done with my other clients in the past and they've gotten a lot of value from it.) Most clients are decent human beings and will either agree or back off :)
This makes a lot of sense and I will keep in mind your advise for consulting conversations, as it is an elegant and honest way to raise a client's awareness.
I covered this (and included a downloadable retainer contract) here:
Tried to walk through some of the reasoning and logic behind the contract. Hope it's helpful for you!
Thank you Peter, I will have a look at it.
In the past I've had agreements like this that have worked out great. Basically I set a max # of hours to work per month and a flat rate for those hours.
I would get paid the same amount if I worked more or less than the max hours. If you find your consistently find yourself working over or under the hours agreed upon then you probably need to renegotiate. In my case I generally worked less then the max hours so I made out well!
Thank you Clinton. As you point out a flat rate has its pros and cons. I had the feeling that the client wasn't inclined towards a flat rate because he has felt he overpaid for other services in the past.
I will try to summarise all the points and report back here :)