How Do Marketing Retainers Work for Small Businesses?


When you own a small business, you tend to wear several hats. If you have limited resources, you have limited man-power—and if your team is relatively small, you’ll find that you’re responsible for more than your job title suggests.

The owner is also the CFO, the office manager doubles down as HR, and the head of sales is responsible for developing a marketing strategy. Sound familiar?

A startling 22% of small business owners say their greatest challenge is a lack of time and resources. If your team is juggling roles and responsibilities, you may benefit from outsourcing a few. 

Small businesses can significantly limit their growth with a “let me do it” attitude. If you’re spreading your team too thin, they won’t be able to exercise their strengths. You’ll coast through your industry without ever taking advantage of new (or existing) opportunities to grow. 

If you’re ready to move from surviving to thriving, you should look into forming a retainer relationship with a marketing agency.

What Exactly Is a Marketing Retainer?

A marketing retainer is a formal, clearly defined business relationship between a business and a marketing agency. Both parties establish an ongoing partnership in which activities, initiatives, and responsibilities are clearly spelled out in a detailed proposal or “statement of work.”

Marketing retainers are very clearly defined and provide full transparency with pre-established parameters. You’ll establish exactly what the relationship looks like from the start: how long the retainer will last, what costs will be involved, and what goals you’d like to achieve as a business. Typically, marketing retainers are paid on a monthly basis for a specific timeframe.

For example, you may establish a marketing retainer with an agency in which you’ll pay $12,750 per month for 6 months. You’ll explain your specific business goals at the start of your retainer and the agency will develop an evolving, ongoing strategy designed to achieve them.

What’s the Difference Between In-House and Outsourced Marketing?

If you don’t have an existing in-house marketing team—or you’re relying on a single employee to lead up your marketing efforts—you may want to consider outsourcing.

Small businesses don’t typically have the capacity to hire an entire in-house marketing team. Even if you have a Director of Marketing or Marketing Manager, you can partner with an outsourced marketing agency to give them the benefit of a full expert marketing team at a fraction of the cost. 

Why Would I Want a Marketing Retainer?

As a small business owner, it can be scary to take the plunge by outsourcing your marketing efforts. Marketing retainers are a considerable investment, but ultimately one that will pay off if you work with the right agency.

There are countless scenarios where a marketing retainer would benefit your business, but here are a few we run into time and time again:

The Niche Business

If you have a specific B2B service that serves a small consumer audience, it’s worth investing in a marketing retainer to ensure you’re targeting them correctly. You may feel like your business is unmarketable but trust us…that’s never the case. Work with a team of experts that understand exactly how to position your business to appeal to a very specific demographic.

The Established Business

If you’ve been in the industry for years, you may find your business is maintaining consistent, sustainable success—but now’s your opportunity to take it to the next level. You may have an established business that’s been around for decades, but that also means you’re likely working with an established marketing strategy that hasn’t been updated. Take advantage of new ways to position your business to show you have been—and still are—at the forefront of your industry.

The New Business

If you’re working on launching a new business, first of all, congratulations! Starting a business is no small feat, and you’ve spent incredible time and effort focusing on developing and refining your service offerings. That being said, many new business owners don’t think about marketing or strategic web design until after they’ve opened their doors. Launch your new business the right way with a marketing retainer.

The Growing Business

If your business has been growing successfully to a point where you find yourself needing to focus more on managing the business than marketing it, you would benefit from a marketing retainer. When you bring in more customers, you need to focus more on business operations—and if you’re allocating resources toward operations, you don’t have time to think about marketing your business to sustain that growth.

Whether or not you fall in one of these categories, your business will likely benefit from a marketing retainer. Successful small business owners have clearly defined goals. By partnering with a marketing agency, you can ensure that you’re doing everything in your power to achieve them.

When Should I Look Into Getting a Marketing Retainer?

When should you make the first move toward a marketing retainer? Here are a few telltale signs that it’s time:

  • Your team is overworked—or underworked.
  • You don’t have any professional content creators on your team.
  • Your website or logo (or both) are severely outdated.
  • You’re relying on an intern or random employee to manage your social media platforms.
  • You have no time to develop long-term strategies.
  • You have no way to measure ROI on your current marketing efforts.
  • You’re disappointed with your current growth rate.

Still have a few questions about marketing retainers? Check out our answers to these common questions about retainer-based agreements.

If you’re interested in learning more about what a marketing retainer would look like for your business, let’s talk. Share your goals with us to see how a marketing retainer can help.


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