How to Convert More Proposals Without Doing a Ton of More Work

By Jason Swenk on September 22, 2021

Drew Hendricks was a philosophy major who started in the agency world after building his first website in the 90’s and never looked back. Today, he owns Nimbletoad, a full-service digital marketing agency that specializes in website design, SEO, and PPC. Recently, Drew expanded by founding Barrels Ahead, an agency where he adapts his love for wine and developed an organic growth marketing framework to address the unique needs of the wine and craft industry. Drew’s conversation with Jason is filled with useful tips from all his years as an agency owner. He shares his secret to convert more proposals as well as why you should be quick to respond when potential clients reach out to you.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Agency Owner vs Entrepreneur. The mastermind has really helped Drew understand the difference between being an agency owner and being an entrepreneur. Most agencies come to be as the result of a problem and he has seen that many agency owners focus on being an authority on that problem, instead of being an authority on your agency. Too many people are stuck in actually doing the work rather than kind of treating the agency as the project, he says. If you want to be a business owner then that needs to be your top priority. You can’t do both.
  2. The secret sauce for proposals. Over the years of writing proposals, Drew has learned something that worked really well to help position the proposal, defray the pricing, and justify it through very objective terms. In the pre-talk process, you will usually ask the client who their competitors are. Then use tech tools to assess competitors’ spending on SEO or PPC. When you show this data to your clients you can say, this is how much you need to spend to compete with them. And if they don’t want to spend that amount? Then you let them know that maybe they should be playing in a smaller pond.
  3. Show enthusiasm. In a world where showing genuine excitement over something is supposed to make you uncool, dare to be different. If a potential client contacts you, call them as soon as you can. Don’t be afraid to look too anxious. They’ll appreciate the quick response. And that goes for other aspects of the business too. Our guest says he has interviewed many people and forgot the last time someone mentioned they were excited to work with the company.

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today’s episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency’s financial needs and how he can help you.

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Become an Authority on Your Agency and Use This Secret Sauce for Proposals

Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, agency owners? Uh, excited to have you listening to the show today. I have one of our long-term mastermind members who has grown several agencies over the years, and really has taken… Today, we’re going to talk about the amazing things that he’s learned over the years and applied them to his current agency that he’s doing right now.

I think you’re really going to love this episode, so let’s get into it.

Hey, Drew. Welcome to the show.

Drew: [00:00:35] Thank you, Jason. Thank you for having me on.

Jason: [00:00:37] So you’re the first guest to, uh, actually be in the intro on the mountain, waving back to the drone. So I was just watching that. I was like, oh, there’s Drew. So well I digress. Yeah. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Drew: [00:00:58] Yeah. I’m Drew Hendricks. Right now I’m running two agencies. One’s Nimbletoad, which is a generalist agency. And the other one is a brand new venture called Barrels Ahead, which is sort of the culmination of everything I’ve learned over the last 30 years of running agencies.

Jason: [00:01:12] Yeah, that’s awesome. Uh, and you actually started an agency before me. So tell us kinda how did you get into it? And, uh, it tells us kind of the origin story.

Drew: [00:01:24] Yeah, it’s, uh, it’s, it’s kind of an interesting story. So in college, I majored in philosophy and ancient Greek with the goal of becoming a professor of philosophy. And upon graduating, I ended up, um, finding myself in San Francisco and, um, kind of biding my time until I could go get a PhD. And ended up getting a job as a stock boy at a winery and realized I had a really good palate for wine.

And from then on, I just sort of started reading everything I could about wine and learning everything I could and figured out that, um, it’s super interesting, and there was just so much knowledge that could be done there. So I ended up sticking around for 10 years in that wine store, revamped it to, um, change the name, rebranded it.

Wrote one of the first, um, websites back in ’90, ’95 or so. Wrote a wine auction site. And from there in ’98 started the first, um, agency, which was, um, Intellect; which helped independent wine stores compete with, um, better-leveraged chain stores. Like right then BevMo had just started launching, Trader Joe’s was coming up in the ranks, and then Total Wine.

So we helped wine stores with their marketing.

Jason: [00:02:33] Wow. That’s incredible. And especially going back to ’95. Hell, man, I remember back in 95, we were all getting the AOL CDs for the free internet.

Drew: [00:02:44] No, it was, it was, that was definitely the time.

Jason: [00:02:47] What was it? Progidy?

Drew: [00:02:52] Oh, wow. Pardon?

Jason: [00:02:23] Or, or it was Prodigy, right? Like if…

Drew: [00:02:56] Oh my God. Before that, no, in college it was Prodigy. I had a Prodigy account that was, you know, there was… In college, I remember the first day that I, that we actually got connected to the internet and I found it so interesting. I went to the school library and I was able to connect.

I went to Gonzaga… went to Gonzaga and I was able to connect to the UCSD library down in California. And from there I could get out to a library in Europe and it blew my mind that I was able to go from Gonzaga, to UCSD to Europe. And from then on, I kind of caught the bug and right then HTML, it just started coming into it.

And we actually wrote one of the first, um, one of my first philosophy, um, presentations actually at hyperlinks in it back in ’92.

Jason: [00:03:38] So Front Page or Dreamweaver? Or just plain text editor

Drew: [00:03:45] Dreamweaver. It was Dre… but it was, this was precursor to Dreamweaver.

Jason: [00:03:47] That’s true. Yeah. I guess it was like Netscape Composer.

Drew: [00:03:51] Yep. Yeah, it was making… My mind doesn’t go back that far as far as the tools, but yeah, it was a lot of, um, Pearl scripts and CGI scripts.

Jason: [00:04:01] Yeah. Well awesome. Well, let’s, let’s talk about kind of the journey or what are, what are some of the lessons, since you’ve had several agencies over the years. What are some lessons that, um, you’d like to share with the audience listening in?

Drew: [00:04:17] I think one of the biggest ones that, and this is one that I only recently have come to the realization of… And it’s actually been through this mastermind group, your mastermind group that really helped me realize the difference between an entrepreneur and an agency owner. And the importance of what an entrepreneur is. Because we usually start… most of the agencies that I’ve founded were the result of a problem.

Like, I’d see a client would come in, they’d have an issue and I’d figure out how to solve it. We’d build them a site. We build them like a web platform. And then I figure, man, well, I can sell more of that. And then I become an authority in their problem, but not really even an authority on the actual agency.

So what happens is we end up building, we have 10, 12, 15 clients, all, all very different problems, authority in all these different problems, but not an actual authority on running the ads. And I think this last iteration, we took the best of what we knew about and what our skillset is at Nimbletoad.

And we’re finding experts now to actually perform the processes that we do. Whereas I can now sit back as an entrepreneur and solve the problem of what actually can make that agency grow. And I think too many people are stuck in actually doing the work rather than kind of treating in the agency as the project.

Jason: [00:05:36] Yeah. I mean, isn’t that so true with, you know, I look at running an agency and kind of like six stages of climbing a mountain, right? So from the staging part, before you embark on, you know, making the climb to base camp; to the climbing, the crux, you know, the crest all the way to the summit.

And right in the middle, right? Like it’s kind of right in the middle is where you actually start working on the business. Like, that’s how you can kind of get to the next level rather than in. And, uh, like I was saying in the mastermind, it’s like in the very beginning you’re constantly, always thinking about the what and how, and I’m like, no, no, no, you should be focused on who, who can do it?

Who do I need to hire? … everyone else but you.

Drew: [00:06:24] Yeah. That was a huge learning curve for us and, and for our agency. Figuring out actually that I, I, although I can do it, I’m not the best person to be doing. It was, it was a huge, huge step.

Jason: [00:06:36] So how did you get over that? Because there’s a lot of people listening right now that they struggle with that.

Like, they’re literally like, well, no one could do it as good as me.

Drew: [00:06:48] You know, it was learning. It was learning to say no. And learning about where do you want to go? Cause really, like you said, would that plateau, if you’re trying to be the authority in everything, you’re an authority in nothing. So you really have to pick your battle. And if you want to be the best web developer out there, or the best SEO person, go get an in-house job at another agency and you can be the top dog for SEO.

But if you want to run a company, that needs to be your top priority and you can’t do both.

Jason: [00:07:17] Exactly. Yeah. I, I tell people too that like 80% is better than you doing your full thing on it. Because cause you’re doing a thousand different things, even if they’re not at your a hundred percent, they’re still ahead of you because you’re doing so much, so many other things.

So I’m like just, if you can find someone to do 80% that you know, to get there. Or I was interviewing someone not too long ago, um, who was also the mastermind Canopy guys. And, uh, he was struggling with, you know, delegating, um, and everything had to flow through him. He was like the toll booth of everything that had to go through on operations.

And finally, uh, Brian, his partner went to him. It was, his name is Brian as well. So I was like, how did you guys start an agency, Brian and Brian? And he goes, look, I just need you to document 50%. And then that’s a good foundation the team can take and build. And it’s changed everything for them. And now they’re, you know, their, their agency is well, you know, into the summit and beyond.

Drew: [00:08:23] Yeah. Those guys are rocking it.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:08:24] Yeah. Um, one thing I want to ask you and you, you talked about this, uh, I was just thinking about it. I know, I didn’t tell you to pre preplan for it, but you did a incredible what’s working now. Um, you know, at the digital agency experience, not too long ago, about proposals, um, of what you’ve learned.

So tell, tell the listeners a little bit about that. Because I thought that was brilliant.

Drew: [00:08:49] You know that I’m glad you brought that up. So we, over the years of writing proposals, we, I have figured out, now I don’t want to say it’s a secret sauce. But it’s something that’s worked real well to help, um, position the, um, the proposal and defray the pricing and justify it through, um, very, um, objective terms. So what happens in the, um, pre-talk and this is the secret sauce guy. So, you know…

Jason: [00:09:17] Listen in.

Drew: [00:09:20] So what happens in the pre-talk is you always ask who are your biggest competitors? So if it’s an SEO person you’re going to ask, um, who do you want to outrank?

Or if it’s a, um, pay-per-click or if it’s even a local business, you need to get a list of the top three or four people that they want to actually outrank and compete against. So then in the, in the proposal stage, you take those three competitors and you run them through your tools, whether it’s SpyFu or any of those business intelligence programs; which will give you a good idea of what those competitors are spending on SEO or spending on pay-per-click.

This allows you to come up with a proposal and a pricing of that proposal with instant justification. So then when I walked in person through the proposal, a list of the competitors is the first thing. I’m like ok, we went back to our desk, put pencil to paper, you guys want to compete against these people. They’re spending X on SEO. This guy’s spending X on SEO. And this other third competitor is not spending anything on SEO, but he’s spending a ton of paper. So, if we want to compete against these three people, this is where you need to be. And instantly, suddenly the… if the retainer is 10 grand a month, that may be what it is.

And if they go, whoa, that’s way too much. The instant objectification is, well, you may need to play in a smaller pond cause these aren’t your competitors.

Jason: [00:10:46] As an agency owner, it’s hard to know when you have to make those big decisions. And I remember needing advice for thinking like hiring or firing or re-investing and, you know, when can I take distributions without hurting the agency? You know, we’re excellent marketers, but when it comes to agency finances like bookkeeping, forecasting, or really organizing our financial data, most of us are really kind of a little lost.

And that’s why my friend Nate created Agency Dad specifically to solve these exact problems. You know, at Agency Dad they help agency owners handle the financial part of their agency so they can focus on what they’re really good at. Nate has spent years learning the ins and outs of agency business.

He understands everything from how to structure your books, to improving the billing process and really managing your financial efficiencies. Agency Dad will show you how to use your financial data to make the key decisions, you know, from making your agency more successful and most importantly, more profitable. If you want to know how your agency finances stack up to the rest of the industry, Agency Dad can tell you that you know how to do that.

A lot of my listeners have already gotten their free audit from Agency Dad. If you haven’t yet, go to agencydad.money/freeaudit before August 30th and get your free financial metrics. Also, just for smart agency listeners, find out how to get your first month of bookkeeping or dashboarding and consulting for free. It’s time to clean up your agency finances and listen to dad.

Go to agencydad.money/freeaudit that’s agencydad.money/freeaudit.

I think it’s so brilliant. It’s such punching him in the mouth. Uh, you know, I feel like, well, you know, it’s kinda like shit or get off the pot. Um, you know, it’s like, do you really want to compete against them? Because, and it’s, and it’s really compelling. Like I never thought about when you, when you shared that, like, that’s really interesting.

Like, I wish I did that on their proposals. Like if you really want to compete against them, because at the end, like I used to, like, I don’t care who your competitors were because, you know, we were in the design business, right? Like, I didn’t want to be sidetracked with designing something that looked like someone else.

But like with the SEO or the pay-per-click, like you’re talking about, like in comparing them… And then hitting them in the mouth going you know what? Maybe, maybe you need to go play in a smaller pond. Like that’s fine.

+Drew: [00:13:30] No one wants to hear that either. So it’s, it’s the best objection saying well, that’s our pricing. Or it’s the best refusal or rebuttal?

Jason: [00:13:38] Oh, yeah, no, I, I love it. I mean, uh, we can end the interview now. I think everybody would be happy.

Um, what’s, what’s another strategy, um, that, that you’ve learned over the years, uh, that you want to share with the audience?

Drew: [00:13:54] You know, I would say be quick to respond. So many people worry about, oh, if I’m too quick to respond they’re gonna think I’m too anxious. Or let’s set up another date, I want them to know that I’m busy, but that’s never worked out for me. I think you gotta be genuine. And if you really want it, show your enthusiasm.

And actually the other thing is, and this ties into anybody outside of the agency, even applying for a job. We’ve been interviewing for an operations manager right now. And I’ve been through so many interviews, I cannot tell you the last time someone actually ended the interview saying I’m really excited about this position. I feel like I’d be a great fit. I can’t wait to work for you.

And the same thing when you’re seeing a proposal or you’re talking, everybody plays hard to get. If you’re excited about winning the client, be honest and be enthusiastic. Let them know that you are stoked to be doing this. And I don’t see that too often.

Jason: [00:14:47] Yeah. It’s such an easy thing. And like, if I wish we could actually have the permission to use, uh, the cut from Vince Vaughn in Swingers, when, you remember? When, when the one guy gets the girl’s phone number. And he goes through his friends with how long should I wait? And they’re like seven days, eight days, two weeks.

And he’s like calling her like over and over again. Like we’ve all seen that. And, uh, you know, I took, I took the approach you took, Drew. So if someone reached out on our website, I literally would call them while they’re still on the website. And I would always call and I would say, hey, this is Jason from Solar Velocity. I’m so sorry. It took me so long to call you back.

They’re like, I just hit submit. I’m like, well, that’s how pumped we are. Like, we really want to chat with you. And like, thinking back, we won so many deals. Like we are almost a quarter way done the deals when they actually would be like, hey, you know, we’re still getting proposals. Like the first proposals from reaching out to people.

I’m like idiots, you guys watched the movie swingers.

Drew: [00:15:57] Yep. Yep. That is definitely did show enthusiasm and ask, ask for the sale.

Jason: [00:16:03] That’s an important thing too. Ask for the sale, you know, um, I’m doing training for you guys coming up, uh, around sales and like one of the parts that as I was doing this training, I was like, when we’re auditing our salespeople, um, which you should be doing weekly. You know, one of the things you should be looking for is, is your sales person asking for the sale?

Like that’s the most important part. That’s kind of like giving away everything and then going all right, well, chat with you later.

Like ask for the freaking sale. Brilliant, awesome. Drew, this has been amazing, man. I don’t know. What’s taken me so long to get you on the podcast. So I’m so glad. And I’m glad that we actually saw you on the podcast on the mountain waving.

Drew: [00:16:55] Oh, yeah. That’ not….for listeners that don’t know Jason’s got a mountain’s house, Swenk mountain. It’s quite the climb, but beautiful view looking over the, over the lake and that’s awesome.

Jason: [00:17:10] Yeah, it was, it was fun. Especially the first year, you’ve been out there twice. And the first year it was kind of fun. No one really knew what to expect hiking up and at high elevation. And, uh, it was kind of fun watching…

Drew: [00:17:23] Yeah, cause you were at like 10,000 feet or no?

Jason: [00:17:25] Uh, no, the, the, the top of the mountain is, uh, 8200.

Drew: [00:17:31] 82? See, I get the elevations all messed up. I was talking with another member of the mastermind about going over engineer paths on, on, on my podcast.

Jason: [00:17:39] That was 13,000.

Drew: [00:17:42] On the podcast. I talked about how we went over a 10,000-foot peak. I think it’s a little higher.

Jason: [00:17:48] Yeah. So the one we took the ATVs? Uh, yeah, that was 13,000.

Um, so you were way up there above the…

Drew: [00:17:56] That was an incredible experience.

Jason: [00:17:58] Yeah. I’m so glad I can’t wait for you guys to come back out. Um, is there anything I didn’t ask you, Drew, that you think would benefit the audience?

Drew: [00:18:07] I would say just figure out what you don’t know. Figure out what you don’t do and start there.

I think there’s a TV commercial that… maybe Matthew McConaughey was talking about that, but. Don’t say yes to everything and figure out what you don’t want to do, and then find a referral partner to refer that out to. That’s so important because you don’t have to actually lose the business.

You can get the business back with a referral to another agency.

Jason: [00:18:33] Yeah. Awesome. Or I’ll say all right, all right. Um, where, uh, where can people check out the agency?

Drew: [00:18:41] Go to barrelsahead.com and you can find me on Twitter at @DrewHendricks. Um, Facebook @DrewHendricks.

Jason: [00:18:50] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Drew, for coming on the show. You’ve rocked it. You killed it. A lot of really good, uh, information and strategies that people can go execute now. So if you guys liked this and you want to hear more of this and be surrounded by really cool people like Drew and so many others. Uh, I’d love to have you guys all check out the digitalagencyelite.com. Should be scrolling up or for the listeners.

I mean, it’s pretty easy name. That’s why we picked it: digitalagencyelite.com.

Go there, check it out. And it’s an amazing group of people growing and sending the mountain faster together rather than all alone by your lonesome self. So, and until next time have a Swenk day.

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