What are retainers in business?

a dog in an office setting

Most professional dog walkers will have to make the decision at some point in their business whether to charge clients a retainer or not.

The most common situation is a client who is a teacher who does not need their dog walking during school holidays.

And the question for the dog walker is… Should you keep their space for them without payment?

What is a business retainer?

A business retainer is a payment made by a company to a professional or consultant to secure their services in advance.

The retainer is an upfront cost that is paid to the professional, and in exchange, the professional is available to provide services as needed. The retainer may cover a specific period of time, or it may be an ongoing agreement.

The retainer is often used to ensure that the professional is available for work when the business needs it, rather than having to search for a professional every time a project arises.

In other words, when a client pays you a retainer they’re making sure you’re available to do the number of walks, on the days and times they need, every week of the year, even if they don’t book you.


Steve books you to walk his dog every Monday to Friday.

Steve is a teacher so during the holidays he doesn’t need walks as he walks his own dog.

This means there are about 13 weeks in the year when the schools are closed and he doesn’t need you and you won’t get paid.

So instead of finding a replacement dog to fill his Monday to Friday slots, you agreed to hold the slot open for him by charging a percentage of the fee as a retainer.

This means the client keeps his slot, and you maintain some of your income during the holidays.

Which businesses typically use retainers?

Any business can use a retainer system but traditionally they were used to pay for professional services.

Businesses such as consultants, lawyers, accountants, and public relations firms take them in order to be available to people or businesses should they be needed.

When should you use a retainer?

If your books are genuinely full and you could fill the dog’s space within days, maybe you have a wait list, then you should discuss charging a retainer with the dog’s owner.

Explain to them that clearly it’s lost income for you, and you could be filling the spot with a full paying client. Then give the option to your client. Would you like the space held over the holidays, in which case this is the percentage of the full cost you’d accept, or would they prefer to risk not having the space once they’re back at work?

As long as you’re polite and professional when presenting the options then they’re highly likely to pay because it’s the easiest option for them.

If however, you’re considering charging a retainer purely to cover some of the lost income despite not having anyone lined up to take the space, when in reality you could be looking for more business as your books are not full yet, then charging a retainer would be, in my opinion, unethical.

And it’s ok to explain this to your client too.

How much should a retainer cost?

Retainers to hold a space for a dog walking slot typically run from 30 to 50%

This may sound a lot to ask of someone but nursery spaces for pre school children usually ask for 100% of the fee to hold a place open for them.

And don’t forget that you could be filling that space with a full paying dog so it’s really a hefty discount rather than a high charge.

Is there an alternative to retainers?

If you prefer not to charge retainers, that’s okay too. Make a fuss about it though as this will be a feature that stands you apart from other dog walking businesses. Timing your social media posts to highlight your lack of retainers would be well timed a week or so before the school holidays (and the time when they would be receiving their retainer fee invoices).

Many dog walkers find that offering extra services alongside their walks supplements their income throughout the year but it also peaks around holiday times and works towards replacing the lost income from walks.

Cat visits and small animal pop-in visits naturally increase around the holidays, both winter and summer, and these visits can be lucrative enough to replace some if not all of the income lost from reduced walks.

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