I'm a one man software start up and need to consider a software maintenance retainer contract for a client.

What is this, in simple terms? How could it benefit me or my client?

  • I'm not a contract expert, but in case of any maintenance projects you have to set your SLA (service level agreement) correctly. It defines the time you guarantee that the problem will be solved and delivered
    – Zsolt
    Feb 17, 2012 at 9:04

3 Answers 3


A software maintenance retainer contract is an agreement between two parties to maintain a piece of software after its initial release.

As it's a retainer (and not a subscription), the client agrees to pay a certain amount up front for the purposes of handling any expenses that might occur in maintaining the software.

This benefits the client by having their bases covered—should bug fixes or security updates need to happen after release—without having to negotiate pricing or secure approval every time a change needs to be made to the software.

This benefits the developer in that they get the money up front and can specify the exact conditions under which a change counts as part of the agreement ahead of time.

A similar concept (but not exactly the same) is the Service Level Agreement (SLA) that Zsolt mentioned: SLAs are used for services that require a certain amount of up-time or availability (hence the name). As part of the negotiated price for the service, the developer/host/etc. guarantees a certain level of support, reliability, and availability.

When negotiating the retainer fee (or what type of SLA you can offer), you need to decide a few things:

  • What level of service you're willing to offer after the project is completed
  • How much time you think you'll need to spend on maintenance and support

From experience, it's also important to keep in mind that maintenance and support is not second-rate work: do not lower your rates just because it happens after the initial project is done. The main reason why maintenance would cost less to the client is that it takes up less time.


This is a contract that you draw up between you and your client that lays out details such as:

  • Service Level Agreement - what level of service will you give to the customer in the event the software goes wrong, when can they get hold of you, how quickly you guarantee to acknowledge their problem (not fix yet), time frames for fixes.
  • Classifications of severity (spelling error in UI through to 'business is down')
  • Whether you'll provide point releases (or even major updates)
  • How much you'll charge them for this, and how often

What is this, in simple terms?

A maintenance retainer contract is a contract wherby the client pays the vendor an amount to cover support the software they bought. ie fixing any bugs that come up. It sometimes but not always includes training.

How could it benefit me or my client?

Client : They get a guarantee of software quality. If the software they bought is buggy or experiences major problems then its the vendor the fronts the cost of fixing them. The vendor thus has a vested interest in producing quality software. Its very like buying an insurance against any future bugs, they would pay more if nothing were to happen but if anything significant happens they wont be out of pocket. Its also very easy to budget for, all support will be covered by this one off cost rather than paying by hour.

Vendor (you) : you get a fixed regular wage. If your software is built well you will be getting a fairly large sum for a few trivial bug fixes. Its also generally very hard to make money from support, the clients feel cheated paying extra for the problems you created if your paying by hour. If the cost of bug fixes is covered by the retainer contract then the client is less likely to feel cheated.

  • 2
    This sounds much more like a Maintenance and Enhancement Contract than a retainer. Generally a retainer is a pre-paid agreement that the vendor will provide additional services as requested by the client for a fixed term at a fixed rate, up to the value-limit agreed. Feb 19, 2012 at 2:11

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