A Guide To Solspace Retainer Agreements

All of the work Solspace does is under either a retainer, ad hoc or project contract. A large percentage of the maintenance and support work we do for our clients is with a retainer agreement in place.

Our clients all have the common problem of maintaining ongoing website reliability. This means that a digital marketing lead on the client side owns responsibility for a revenue-generating website, and they must ensure it works properly every day without fail. Except of course, it doesn’t. To remedy this problem, Solspace provides ongoing care, support and maintenance for our clients and their websites. We serve as trustworthy partners for client success, helping to identify and reduce the various points of friction on websites over time. Even though each retainer agreement is custom tailored for each individual client, there are some common patterns we see over and over, and those are worth knowing about.

All Solspace retainer contracts require the client to agree to buy a certain fixed number of hours per month, and in exchange for that financial commitment to us, they maintain a priority position in our work queue. This ensures that all retainer clients get predictable and consistent response times and availability of preferred development resources.

Over time, we have come to see that our retainer clients tend to fall into one of four service tiers:

  • First tier/baseline - on-call support
  • Second tier support - ongoing tasks and feature development
  • Third tier support - ongoing project sprints and releases
  • Fourth tier support - full dev team support, ongoing project sprints and releases

Baseline On-Call Support

Solspace’s minimum retainer is 10 hours per month, which ensures we’re consistently available to provide a very basic level of expert support. This can work well for organizations with essentially healthy websites and small budgets, or new clients who want to try out a retainer relationship. The baseline retainer provides a safety net for your website. It means we’re available for emergencies, ensuring that a client can call on us and expect a response within 3 hours, and a resolution to their problem in short order, depending on the SLA we have drafted with them.

Because the client must pay the agreed-on monthly total whether all hours are used or not in a given month (they may not be rolled over or banked), we typically suggest setting the monthly cap at the low end of the estimated scope of work. This removes a great deal of risk for our clients. Solspace never penalizes clients for exceeding the monthly cap; any overage hours worked are simply charged at the same hourly rate and added to the invoice for that month.

That said, the majority of our first-tier clients find that 20 hours per month works best to ensure reliability. At this level we’re doing ongoing small fixes and updates, and we work with the client to maintain a prioritized list of tasks to ensure that the retainer budget is used effectively each month. We upgrade software, update plugins and core systems, resolve server issues, reboot databases, resolve speed and caching problems, and can also sometimes address larger issues by breaking them into smaller pieces that can be executed over time.

A 20 hour per month retainer works out to roughly one hour per day of web development support. Certainly not enough to substantially change a website, but enough to stay in front of reliability emergencies.

Second Tier Support + Monthly Feature Development

Our second tier clients generally come from mid-sized or large organizations, and tend to sign up for about 50 hours per month of web development support. There is a lot more activity going on in and around the websites of these clients. The website owner is very involved in site metrics, producing content, and achieving organizational goals, usually as part of a larger team. They typically have an in-house lead developer or web manager who is engaging with the website daily, and have the budget to work on several significant website updates or other projects per month.

At this level one developer is assigned from the Solspace team to be their consistent point of contact and partner, with a second developer available as needed to support on-time delivery. Our second tier retainer clients have weekly status calls with their assigned developer, to ensure full transparency, and empower them to work as a team to stay ahead of emerging issues, upcoming campaigns, tactical redesign requests, and so on.

Third Tier Support + Managed Sprints

The next level of service is for our clients at larger organizations, who contract for about 100 hours per month. This tier of support means the assigned lead developer is actively engaged on a daily basis with the site. Weekly status and planning calls with the client team are taking place, and a prioritized list of tasks is maintained and executed ongoing.

This level of retainer service relies on high-touch project management by the lead developer, who runs 1 or 2 week sprint cycles managed in our Jira system, or the client’s preferred project management tool. We partner closely with the client team using agile development methodology and systems to ensure a steady cadence of website improvements and marketing and sales campaign support.

At this level, the assigned lead developer partners consistently with a second developer. Additional Solspace developers will be brought in as needed to help with larger projects.

Fourth Tier Support + Sprints with a Development Team

At the fourth tier clients are contracting for a minimum of 150 hours per month. In these cases a project lead owns the larger website plan in partnership with the client, taking part in planning and strategy sessions. The Solspace lead manages a development team, delegating work and providing production oversight, ensuring that the team is working efficiently and effectively, optimizing the ability to work tasks in parallel and maintaining a regular schedule of frequent feature releases. This way of working provides the client with steady progress towards their goals, with high value deliverables that benefit website end users such as section redesigns, UX optimizations, speed enhancements, and search upgrades.

A retainer relationship with Solspace provides great value for clients who need predictable monthly spend and the peace of mind of a website that is doing its job and generating revenue. All retainer tiers include on-call support from an expert team that can respond to an emergency, or get in front of problems by offering meaningful insights and strategies.

The retainer relationship positions our team to increase their knowledge over time, understanding our clients and their complex websites inside and out so we can provide well-informed advice on maintenance, upgrades, risks, and opportunities.

Setting up a right-sized retainer agreement with Solspace means a client has signed up for Web Reliability and peace of mind. We can serve as an outsourced web support team, or partner with an in-house team to deliver great results. Because every retainer is tailored to best suit the client’s specific needs, value is built into the agreement.

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