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How to create and manage a retainer project

Intervals is a flexible project management tool that is agnostic in regards to fixed price, time and material, and retainer projects. This flexibility enables you to designate and track different types of billable projects. This help article will cover our recommended best practices for configuring and managing a retainer project.

Creating the project

Create the project just like you would any other project, but with the following in mind:

  1. Enter the retainer amount in the budget field. This will enable Intervals to track the amount of retainer remaining.
  2. Enter a percentage in the alert field to be notified when the amount of billable work has exceeded the given threshold.
  3. If you are managing other types of projects in addition to this retainer project, you should note that in the project title. For example, the project title might read “Web site redesign [retainer].”
  4. Once the project is created, go to the Payments page and enter the retainer amount you’ve been paid. Intervals will use the payment info to calculate the amount of retainer left (as a positive outstanding balance) on various dashboards and reports.

Refer to this help article for more detailed instructions on creating a retainer project.

Managing the project

The primary difference between a time and materials project and a retainer project is in how the project balance is monitored, not in how the work is managed. Therefore, manage the project using the same best practices you use on other projects.

As the project progresses, keep an eye on the outstanding balance. This number will appear green (positive), meaning the project has a credit, and will start decreasing as billable hours accumulate. When the balance nears zero it’s time to renew the retainer. If you’ve set a budget alert you will be notified in advance, giving you time to invoice the client for the next retainer before the current one runs out.

There are three ways to check the balance of a retainer project:

Renewing the retainer

Your retainer project may be based on a monthly subscription model, or it may be a pay-as-you-go model. Either way, there are two options for renewing a retainer.

Continue working under the same project

The easiest method is to continue working under the same project using the same hourly rate structure. Add the new retainer amount as a project payment, and increase the budget by the same amount. This will make the project balance positive again. Reset the budget alert and continue monitoring the project balance.

The advantage to this approach is that it keeps all of the work under one project. This is ideal for projects that have continuous work from one retainer payment to the next. Plus, reports like the Break It Down report include monthly billable totals for monitoring monthly retainers.

The only potential downside is that you will need to select a date range when running some reports to see how much work was billed under each retainer payment. Once you dial in the filter settings for that report, you can save it and run it any time.

Create a new project

Creating a new project is preferred when you want a clean break from one retainer payment to the next. For example, when the hourly rate changes from one payment to the next. Or, when you have two retainers that overlap and you need to keep them separate.

The benefit to this approach is that it keeps the retainer projects completely siloed from one another. This is also useful when the project team changes, or there is a need to maintain separate histories. It also makes it easier to create automated invoices and bill clients.

This method does mean that filtering task lists and running reports requires selecting multiple projects or the client. But again, the filter and report settings can be saved after the initial setup.

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