In an industry where 'time' is the key item sold it's important to know how many clients you can take per year and per weekend. Servicing people can be difficult when it comes to this as a lot of us reserve weekends way in advance for our paying clients. Because of this we are also turning away business for those same 'reserved' weekends or weeks and the people who have 'hired us' need to make a commitment of their own for us to set aside that time. Most of us take a retainer in order to seal the deal. Or at least, you should be.
Now, what happens if the relationship ends before the service is fully delivered? Was the retainer they paid sacrificed? I say yes. If I go through the process of explaining my service to you, and you ask me questions, and I send a contract that we both sign, and I reserve future time for you on my calendar, and you pay me a retainer to 'book' me - then that retainer is nonrefundable. Period.
Do you protect yourself in this way? When you set aside your valuable time for someone and they pay you a retainer is it made CLEAR that the money they are paying to hire you is nonrefundable? I hope so.
There are many things that can go WRONG in business .... things can go sour ... remember, clients are people are people are not always reasonable ... I'll tell you a story about myself where this is concerned:
I had a client who retained me - I scheduled their time and I started their project - I built the pages as I was directed to do and I optimized their images - then things turned ugly and this client started harassing me via emails. Like BAD stuff - mean stuff - things you shouldn't ever say to another human. So, I fired them as a client. I am not here to take any form of abuse from anyone. Up to this point they had only paid me a retainer, as their 2nd invoice was never submitted. They are now accusing me of stealing from them.
My point is this: retainers are in place to protect business owners. A paid retainer is the client saying: I realize you are committing this weekend or week to me and I value that time. I realize you are turning away other business during that time and are missing out on having other clients hire you during that time. If you are a business owner who doesn't take a retainer then I definitely recommend adding it to your list of things to do.
Now I will add this: obviously I am not talking about people who take a retainer from a client and then never communicate with that client again ... that is DEFINITELY STEALING ... and those types of people clearly don't have running a legitimate business in mind ;)