How to Convert Project Work into a Relationship

It’s time to ditch retainer work…

I hear this a lot:

“how do you convert a project into an ongoing retainer?”

The problem with that question is that if forgoes the most critical part of business:


The question should be

“how do I build a strong relationship with my clients and anticipate their needs in order to keep them on as a client for years?”



You can’t have LTV without either of those.

And LTV in the services business is heavily based on the relationship

To unlock the answer, let’s start with definitions:

Project work can look like a
• brand deck & logo creation
• consulting engagement
• website build
• custom app
• paid audit

In other words, a project is:
1 – a paid engagement
2 – with a clear start and end date
3 – with a clear set of deliverables and outputs

So, what is it we really want? A retainer?


You want an ongoing working relationship with your client that is:
1 – paid (usually a fixed amount) engagement
2 – for ongoing work
3- with a clear set of outcomes

The key difference between projects and ongoing relationship work is
• projects have outputs or scoped work
• ongoing relationship work has outcomes

HINT: Outcomes are more valuable. Outputs can be easily outsourced.

So to win the long game and convert your client into a long-term relationship, you have to
• understand their true business and personal need
• align your work with the outcomes they want
• develop a 6 or 12 month game plan to reach their goals consistently over time
• present your proposed path forward as an extension of your project work and, most importantly, as a pathway to deepen your relationship with the client

Because the longer you work with a client, the deeper you
• build internal IP about working with the client & increase your work quality
• develop a richer insight into their line of work, market, products, and problems to be solved
• can connect with them beyond the work you do and increase both of your quality of life (not just quantity of output)

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