Client Relationship Structure & Fees

We deliver the most value when we have the chance to go deep on a client’s business and get to know their audience, then use that knowledge over a long period of time on a wide range of connected projects. Therefore we shy away from single project engagements but instead focus on long-term client relationships. We focus on being a true strategic partner for the client, helping fulfill their mission through our work.

Therefore, after a successful Diagnostic, we set up an ongoing agreement with clients and work on a six or twelve-month plan where we can have a significant effect on their business.


The billing structure we like to use is to have a fixed monthly “Core Retainer” fee, and to charge on hourly for projects outside of that retainer, such as new websites or fixes and features within existing websites.

The Core Retainer covers all the work we do to evaluate the client’s needs and plan solutions for them. The client can ask us for insight on new features, or to think through a business problem they would like to address, without incurring any billable hours outside of the fixed retainer fee. Once we get a grasp of what will be necessary, we will propose ways to proceed with an hourly project.

Most of the time the Core Retainer SOW will also include a project called “Planned Maintenance” or similar, which covers general odds-and-ends hourly work that is not worth putting into a specific project.

We reserve time in our schedule to handle the anticipated needs of our Core Retainer clients. We also provide a 25% discount on our a-la-carte hourly rates.

The Core Retainer also includes “Emergency Response” – the client’s security blanket. This means that they know that if there are any problems with the site, we are on call to fix them. They never have to wait for fixes based on our schedule. We include automated monitoring of the sites so most of the time we should know of a problem before they do, but they can always call us and we’re committed to responding promptly.

Core Retainer

Fixed monthly agreement

  • Strategy and pre-project planning work
  • 25% Discount vs. our a-la-carte rates
  • On-call availability for emergency response
  • Accountability to keep the client’s site(s) up and running
  • Automated monitoring of client’s site(s) so we know of any issues as soon as possible
  • The client Strategist’s availability to attend a company/leadership meeting with your team once a quarter to make plans for the websites
  • Reserved time in our schedule for anything you engage us for

What about non-website clients?

Planned Maintenance

(Billed Hourly)

  • Small tweaks and bug fixes
  • Small new features
  • Regular reporting on work in progress
  • Codebase version upgrades
  • Server maintenance
  • Helping with third-party tag implementation and maintenance
  • Related Project Management

Special Projects

(Billed hourly, generally more than 10 hours)

  • New pages and features
  • Full new websites
  • Large features within existing websites

We offer the same relationship model for clients for whom we are not working on a website – we will vary the terms that we use in those cases, and potentially the cost since emergency maintenance may not be required.

Fees & Invoicing

Core Retainer fees are based on the anticipated relationship size and can range from $1k/mo to $5k/mo typically.

Our hourly rate is $300/hr. Core Retainer clients receive a 25% discount down to $225/hr. This applies to Planned Maintenance and any special projects.

Friends and Family clients receive an additional 25% discount on both their Core Retainer and hourly services (down to $168.75/hr). For such clients, compute the fees as normal and then deduct the discount. Show the discount on the invoice for clarity.

We invoice monthly and always in arrears for services from the prior month.

Our fees are updated frequently in response to market conditions. Often clients will be grandfathered in under the terms of a prior agreement with an older fee structure, and that is fine. We generally don’t change fees outside of contract renewals.

For examples of Cantilever fees for different services, please see


Pro-Bono Clients

Starting in 2023, our pro-bono clients will have a Core Retainer like all other clients, and will have normal friends-and-family fees in their contract. However, they will receive credit from Cantilever donated to them on a yearly basis that should cover their Core Retainer, plus some amount of hourly work. With this, they can keep their site working well without paying a penny, and can request that we scope and estimate new work that they may want to fundraise for.

What Goes Where?


Clients and staff often ask whether a given type of work should fall into the client‘s Core Website Retainer or Planned Maintenance. Here is a quick guide:

The work likely falls under the Core Retainer if...

  • If it is unclear who should be doing what and we are doing research/conversations to figure that out.
  • We are doing weekly reporting or backlog grooming
  • We are fixing an urgent defect or problem with a site

The work is likely Planned Maintenance if...

  • The work has already been planned and clarified and we are now getting it done. This includes project management to facilitate getting that work done.
  • If the work has a specific separate SOW that was written as a result of Core Retainer work

Harvest Setup

Setting up our

in Harvest is a little tricky, but with a few key conventions is very straightforward. There should be two Harvest projects per Ongoing Agreement. These projects are not specific to any given time period, and last as long as our relationship with the client lasts.


Core Retainer

  • Should be a fixed-cost project
  • The total cost should be equivalent to the client’s Core Retainer fee multiplied by the anticipated length of the contract.
    • Ex. If the client has a fee of $2k/mo, and their contract runs from January through June, the Core Retainer “Total Fees” should be $12k.
    • As we create invoices against the Core Retainer each month, Harvest will deduct that amount from the outstanding fees displayed on the project. Once we have completed the contract, the outstanding fees will be $0.
    • If the contract term is amended, update the associated fees accordingly
  • There are two standard tasks within the core retainer project:
    • Strategic Account Management (Or similar)
    • Emergency Response (if applicable)
  • You may want to add other tasks within the project based on the nature of the client and what we do for them within Core Retainer, as specified in the SOW
  • The tasks should have estimates per task. The estimate should be the “cap” from the SOW on each type of service within Core Retainer.

Planned Maintenance

(Sometimes called Planned Creative Services or similar)

  • Should be an hourly project
  • The hourly cost should be whatever is specified in the SOW
  • The budget should reflect the stated anticipated budget from the SOW and should recur monthly