Photo of desk with text overlaid on the image saying "Are you thinking of keeping a web designer on retainer?"

Always on Call: The Perks of having a Web Designer on Retainer

Blog Audio: Read/listen time: 8 minutes

If you carry out any part of your business activity online, which you probably do, a web designer is going to be an essential part of your business. A harder decision is deciding whether to keep one on retainer compared to employing directly or using a random freelancer or agency on an ad-hoc basis.

My name is Paul Edwards, I am a Web Consultant and Frontend Developer and I’ve been working in the web industry since 2005. In this ‘to the point’ article, we investigate the process of finding and retaining a web designer.

But first, what is a retainer?

A retainer is an agreement with a person or company where they are paid an agreed amount on an agreed frequency such as monthly, quarterly or yearly, in return for providing specific services. This differs from using a freelancer on an ad-hoc basis in the way that a fixed block of time each month or quarter will be set aside for you by that freelancer.

In exchange for committing to pay your chosen freelance web designer a fixed income, you get a guaranteed block of time made available to you. This means that should that professional become busy, they will still have availability for your specific projects.

If you are a business owner, there may be times when you need help with your website. A web designer can help with tasks such as creating or updating your website, creating or editing landing pages and setting up email campaigns. 

If you have a WordPress website, a web designer can also help you with tasks such as installing and configuring plugins, setting up custom post types and taxonomies, and creating custom themes. As well as routine maintenance other frequent tasks include troubleshooting, disaster recovery, A/B testing and making iterative improvements. The exact mix of tasks will be unique to your business and its needs.

While some may baulk at the concept of paying out in advance for the time that they may or may not use, the benefits are many.

What are the benefits of keeping a web designer on retainer?

For many businesses, whether they are a sole trader, startups or SMEs the company website has long since become the main source of lead generation and income as sales.

Not only do websites provide businesses with most of their income they also have become the primary source of after-sales support and product literature.

As most business owners (and individuals) will tell you, the most significant cost incurred when a business starts to grow are staff costs. Taking on your first staff member is an incredible commitment. For this reason, and to delay or keep costs down, one of the first tasks that a company may find themselves outsourcing is the maintenance of their website.

Let’s look at some benefits:

  • Keeping a web designer on retainer is much cheaper than employing an agency
  • Web professionals can based upon their skill set and experience command a premium salary and a retainer agreement greatly reduces this potential cost.
  • Retaining a web designer gives you a virtual team member that you can call on when you need to.
  • It’s a familiar face who knows your website, your business and its quirks and issues. Why make a new relationship every time you need some work done?
  • You can make long-term plans with a list of issues you would like to work on. This gives ongoing improvement which creates efficiencies and allows ongoing optimisation.
  • They understand your brand and how to convey your message online.
  • Your website will remain secure and updated, minimising the chance of downtime and lost sales, enquiries or damage to your brand
  • They’re familiar with your website’s analytics and can make recommendations based on data analysis.
  • With a web designer on retainer, you can focus on running your business without the near-constant distraction of day-to-day website issues.
  • Short response time for changes and updates

What should you consider before retaining a web designer?

Hiring a web designer can be a daunting task. Here are some things to consider before retaining one.

First, you need to determine what your needs and goals are for your website. Be clear about what you want and need, and be prepared to share this with your designer Some things to consider include experience with WordPress, previous work examples, pricing, and location.

Second, do your research. Find designers that fit your budget and style, and ask for referrals from colleagues, other businesses and local chambers of commerce who have had a good experience working with a web designer.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, meet with the designers in person or via video conferencing to get a feel for their personality and work style. You’ll want to be sure that you’re comfortable working with them and that they are invested in your success. Don’t be scared to ask for written references from previous clients, but if you are, go looking for reviews online. 

Most freelancers and agencies will have a Google Business page with recent reviews that you can use to help narrow down your options. If you see any negative reviews, pay close attention to how they have handled and responded to those comments. 

Mistakes and problems do happen occasionally, we are all only human after all, and isolated bad reviews aren’t anything to be worried about if they have been handled positively and sit among a large number of positive comments. What really matters is how those mistakes are handled because this becomes your worst case scenario.

Once you have chosen a web designer that’s a good fit

Once you have chosen a web designer to keep on retainer, stop. Don’t go any further before you have an in-depth discussion with them about your business and how they will add value. Really dig into the detail and test the relationship.

Using their experience and advice, agree on the scope (and boundaries) for your ongoing work together.

  • What do you expect them to do for you
  • What timeframe will you require a response within?
  • How will work that falls outside of your agreement be billed?
  • What happens if they can’t help you or meet your requirements?
  • Do they have a network of other skilled professionals to ask for support?

The most important is finding someone who understands your business and what you want your website to achieve. 

What else might you want to consider?

As we have already discussed, commencing any new relationship where there will be access to your business and its website is a big deal. You may want to take a few steps to limit any potential issues.

If your chosen freelancer is going to be giving you professional advice as part of their role ensure that they have professional indemnity insurance. If there is a large potential risk attached to their work consider asking them for proof of public liability insurance too.

Lastly, once you know that all the relevant insurances are in place, why not agree to a limited initial contract. For example, you could work together for a 3-month period to see if the relationship works for you both. If at the end of three months you are both happy then you can proceed with a longer commitment if that suits you. 

Some freelancers such as myself also offer 30-day rolling agreements that can be cancelled by either party at any time. Have a chat with your chosen freelancer and see what arrangement works best for both of you.


Overall, there are many reasons why it makes sense to keep a web designer on retainer. Having a professional who is familiar with your website and your branding can help ensure that your online presence is always up to date and looking its best. 

Another consideration which is not entirely insignificant is that you always have someone to talk to that understands what you do. Business, especially growing small businesses, can be lonely. Having a team (even if virtual) can really help things feel more dynamic and enjoyable day to day as well as allowing you to remain more agile.

If you want to talk about this in more depth feel free to get in touch. I’m always happy to discuss ways of helping your business reach its goals. Contact me directly on 01903 527927. Have a great day.