Project Based Fees or Retainers: Which Is the Right Solution for You?

project based or retainers which is the right solution for you jacoby expo

Choices. We are inundated with making thousands of them every day. From small inconsequential ones to life-altering ones, we are locked in a decision-making continuum. And it can cripple us with hesitation. In the business world, sometimes taking more than a brief pause can mean opportunities pass without a second chance. However, common sense tells us that new opportunities will arise. Our choices deserve careful consideration; otherwise, the possible negative outcome will remind us why we put so much deliberation into decision-making in the first place.

Knowledge is fundamentally why we can make substantial choices without having angst every time. Information gives us the ability to see past the fork in the road and to choose a single path. Without it, we may resort to a Hail Mary approach, which is the opposite of a winning strategy. As a Trade Show Manager, you are accustomed to making tough calls on the job. One of the most challenging is being able to discern what is best for your business. Since every situation is unique it often takes the expertise of a third party to point you in the right direction and help simplify your growing responsibilities. Reaching out to a consulting firm might be just what you need when you’ve exhausted your own resources.

Strategic Support

Before you meet with a trade show consulting company, it’s important to have an idea of what you hope to gain from your new relationship. You may not have all the details worked out in your mind yet, and that’s ok!  A consultant will help you analyze what’s working for your business and what may need an overhaul. But it’s important to express what you expect to get from the service so you can both be on the same page. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to guess someone else’s preconceived ideas.

A frequent question that most Show Managers want to know before they sign up for consulting work is “do you work by the hour or by the project?”  And the answer depends on your level of need and what kind of support is necessary for the success of your business. Do you need ongoing monthly support as a retainer client or do you simply need help with a specific project on a short term basis?  In order to meet your needs, a consultant must understand the scope of the work that needs to be done in order to satisfy your business goals. The following information will help you determine what solution is right for you.

Building a New Relationship

Before entering an agreement, understanding the differences and benefits between project based fees and retainers will undoubtedly aid you in making a wise choice.


  • Shorter time frame with a defined start and end.
  • Event project is well-defined with more pointed tasks.
  • Once the work is done, it’s done without further commitment from either party.
  • No priority given. It’s on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Scope can be altered but must be documented and agreed upon before any changes are made.
  • Gain value with considerations made to budget.


  • Long-term structure.
  • Continuous service support.
  • Strategic marketplace growth plan.
  • Problems can be observed over time and can be corrected before they go deeper.
  • Market research conducted to identify the best locations to host events.
  • Needs given priority over project base.
  • Gain value with considerations made to budget.

Forging a new partnership is all about mutual trust. It’s impossible to build a working relationship if it isn’t built on a foundation of respect and confidence. You may want to build trust before signing a contract as a retainer client. It benefits both the provider and the client if a working relationship can be evaluated. A consultant may not want to work for an impossible to please client and a client might not want to start a long term relationship if prior work didn’t go well.

Shared Vision

The power of relationships was at no loss to Helen Keller who faced tremendous obstacles in her life. She famously made this observation, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”  We all benefit from seeking and receiving support. It takes conscious decision-making to compel change. And it’s how you face those decisions that will define your trade show business.