3 Simple Steps to Winning More (and Bigger) Retainer Clients

Jason Swenk
Jason Swenk




As agency owners, our goal is long-term and sustained client relationships where we serve clients by solving their challenges and easing their pain points.


In fact, the answer is "no." If that’s your claim, I call BS.

I’m sure you love your work, and you love (most of) your clients. But the truth is that as agency owners, our real goal is positive and predictable cash flow, nice healthy margins, and growth in revenue. The means to that end is happy clients who pay big retainers.

So how do you get more and bigger retainers while also speeding up the sales cycle? Here are three steps I give my coaching clients:

How to Convince Your Clients to Invest in Bigger Retainers

1) Make them an offer they can’t refuse.

Take a slice off your core offering, and turn it into something that every prospective client would find useful and valuable. This is your foot-in-the-door offer, which is an irresistible project that turns a prospect into a client. For example, if you’re a digital agency, you could offer a site audit to showcase opportunities and warn of conversion or SEO problems on the site. Other great foot-in-the-door offers include discoveries, road maps, or templates -- these are all jumping off points into your core offering.

foot-in-the-door offer must:

  • Have a low barrier for entry. Don’t look at this as a moneymaker. You’ll see a higher ROI when this prospect becomes a long-term client. Make it so affordable that it’s a no-brainer.
  • Be easy to understand. If it’s too confusing, has too many layers, or takes a lot of explanation, your prospect won’t be interested.
  • Lead seamlessly to your core offering. The objective of the foot-in-the-door offer is for the client to sample your work with very little investment or commitment. It needs to easily dovetail into your core offering.
  • Be useful but require action. You are providing a blueprint for where the client wants to go, but you aren’t actually driving them there -- not yet.
  • Have a high perceived value. Even though it’s not necessarily a moneymaker, your foot-in-the-door offer needs to be something the prospect views as significant and valuable.
  • Lead to a positive first transaction. You need to be efficient, effective, and awesome at the foot-in-the-door offer. You want this to be so beneficial that the prospect wants to continue to work with you again.

When a prospect buys your foot-in-the-door offer, they are 20 times more likely to buy from you again, according to Digital Marketer. No joke! And, this actually speeds up the sales process, too. It’s much simpler for them to agree to a small investment than a large scale project or high-priced retainer.

2) Take the relationship to the next level.  

The foot-in-the-door offer is a fairly small commitment, but it begins to establish trust. It can be something the client could execute themselves, but they won’t necessarily want to. This is your opportunity to turn that low cost, small project into one that will extend the relationship and benefit your cash flow.

When you deliver the findings from your foot-in-the-door offer, it’s got to be done face-to-face -- in person, on the phone, or via Skype. Do. Not. I repeat. Do not send it via email. You’ll hear nothing but crickets. When you present the results of your initial project, you need to also discuss another or the next project that addresses the opportunities or solves the problems uncovered during the project. You shouldn't present results without a future plan. 

Once you present the results and how your agency can help the client take the next step, ask two questions:

  1. Does this sound like a good plan?
  2. Would you like our help with this?

The answers will be "yes" and "yes."

Once you’re engaged in another three-month project, continue to enhance and build trust in the relationship. And always have a plan for the next step in growing the account.

3) Transition into something more permanent.

While you’re knocking their socks off in the proposal phase, be looking for more opportunities to grow their business. Position yourself as an asset they don’t want to lose by bringing additional business-building solutions to the table. Say things like, “We have ideas outside the scope of this project,” or “We’ve got more solutions for getting your business where you want it to go.” These phrases are what will set you up for a discussion on a retainer.

If you want to land a retainer, remember this advice:

  • Consider changing your phrasing. People get funny about the word “retainer” because it has a negative connotation, as in someone you can call if there’s a problem. It’s too reactionary. Call it something more proactive such as “continuous improvement fee,” or find your own term.
  • Don’t wait until the end of the project to propose a long-term commitment. You’ve proven your authority during the initial project, so keep the momentum going by initiating talks of a retainer during the project phase, not after.
  • Provide resources the client doesn’t have and can’t access without you. Be fresh with your thinking and innovative with your solutions. This will give you your staying power.

As you work your pipeline remember these three simple steps. I promise you will reap the rewards of a healthier cash flow, higher margins, and more, bigger retainers. There's no BS about it. 


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