How the Right Foot in The Door Offer Helps Land Bigger Retainers

By Jason Swenk on October 24, 2021

Would you like to land big retainers of $50,000 to $100,000? Spencer Brooks is the founder and principal of Brooks Digital, an agency that empowers health nonprofits to build engaging digital platforms that improve the lives of patients. He has worked to create an agency that brings a new perspective to the nonprofit sector, which is very one-time project-focused, and tries to bring a more agile approach to help them adapt to changes in online health information. With this in mind, Spencer has created a system where the agency looks for opportunities for a longer-term relationship with the clients in 12-month retainers. In his conversation with Jason, he talked about choosing a niche, how he goes about offering retainers, and the point at which the working relationship can lead to bigger retainers.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Choosing a niche. As it tends to happen, this agency stumbled upon its niche after hearing many times that he should choose one. At first, it was just about realizing that 60-70% of their clients were nonprofits and making the move to start focusing on those clients. It was fairly easy because as a niche it was still quite large. Another look at their client roster revealed that most of those nonprofits worked with health issues. The decision to focus on those clients was much harder because it was scary to move into a much smaller niche with about 20,000 nonprofits. However, it was the right move for them and they’ve made it work by bringing a more agile approach to the sector and working with the perspective that their digital presence is a product, not a project.
  2. Landing big retainers. Of course, there are agencies that can get six-figure retainers from day one, but in Spencer’s experience, the agency’s biggest retainers have come from a working relationship with a client that matures to that point. It usually starts with a client that has a very specific project or something that they want to do. Spencer will then evaluate whether there’s an opportunity for a retainer with this client. What are their challenges? What are the organization’s goals? It usually goes beyond just building a website. He informs the client that there’s an opportunity for a longer-term retainer with their project and makes sure to have a roadmap for the post-launch of the website.
  3. Timeline to get a retainer. When working on the initial foot in the door project, Spencer and his team are usually looking for ways to craft a winning strategy. After that, he says, it’s usually either simple and takes just a few weeks or it’ll take months and months and never come to anything. It’s the ones in the middle, the ones that take up to six months that are more complicated because, in his experience, they are always tied to trying to sell the retainer upfront. The idea is that the client can make that decision in a few weeks or on the spot. Because the foot in the door offering is an opportunity to build trust, as well as for the agency to evaluate that client and decide if it’s worth it to commit to them for the long term.

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Choosing a Niche and Creating a System to Land Bigger Retainers

Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, agency owners? I’m excited for another amazing episode. We’re going to talk about how to land bigger retainer. My guest on the masterclass today is going to talk about how he sold 30,000 to 100,000 dollars plus retainers, which all of us want to do. But a lot of times we’re doing it the wrong way.

And, uh, so let’s go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, Spencer. Welcome to the show.

Spencer: [00:00:32] Hey. What’s up, Jason? Glad to be here.

Jason: [00:00:34] Yeah, I’m excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Spencer: [00:00:39] Sure. So, like you said, my name is Spencer Brooks. I run Brooks Digital. We’re a digital agency. We do a lot of strategy, like user experience, as well as design and development for nonprofits. Specifically, those nonprofits that focused on a health condition like cancer, diabetes, something like that.

We take the perspective that their digital presence is a product, not a project. Because there’s certainly a lot of one-time project-based thinking in the nonprofit sector. So we try to bring a more agile approach to help them adapt to changes in online health information and things like that.

Jason: [00:01:15] Awesome. And so how did you get into doing this and how did you wind up picking this niche?

Spencer: [00:01:21] Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I, I stumbled into it to be honest, I think as many people do, or at least other agency owners I talk with. I started as a, as a freelance web developer. And so over the years, I started hearing about, oh, you need to niche down and you need to choose a good position and things like that.

I began by just honestly examining the clients that I was working with already. I looked at them and I went well that 60 or 70% happened to be nonprofits. And so for a while, I focused just on the nonprofit niche. And I made a decision, hey, this, this is still quite large. There’s like a million, you know, there’s a million nonprofits that are seven figures plus in revenue, that’s still quite large.

So took another look at our client roster and realized we just happened to be doing work with a lot of organizations that focus on health issues. And so that was much scarier to do because that’s a, it’s, it’s a much smaller. You know, you’re, you’re talking about maybe 50 or 100,000 tops. Uh, you know, more realistically the, the ideal client is somewhere in like that 10,000.

There’s probably 10, 20,000 organizations and in that space, so it was a little bit scarier to make that decision, but, uh, I went ahead and did it. And so that’s, that’s sort of how I ended up in this space today. Really, by just sort of looking back at what clients happened to be working with us, what clients happen to uh, you know, the clients have the highest revenue and making those decisions with a whole lot of courage. And, and, you know, some help along the way to, to get to where I am right now.

Jason: [00:03:09] Awesome. So let’s talk about how are you landing such big retainers?

Spencer: [00:03:14] Yeah, that’s the mega question, right? I, I think I’ll start by saying that the biggest retainers have come, in my experience, from a working relationship with a client that matures to a point of a big retainer.

So it’s not necessarily from day one that I’m getting a retainer that’s six figures. I’m sure that there are agencies out there that have developed a market position and that, that claim to expertise where they could theoretically do that on day one. But I think much more commonly and certainly in my case, that that develops over a period of time.

So I’ll usually start with smaller projects and that’s usually the case with clients is that they come and they have a very specific project or something that they want to do. And I evaluate their organization as a whole and say, okay, this is what you want to do right now. But in my head, I’m sort of thinking, is there an opportunity for a retainer here?

Do they have ongoing needs? And so I’ll, I’ll take that. I might take that small project and do some sort of strategy or examination of, okay, what are your needs? Do a discovery and then pitch them a, a little bit of a larger project. And then telegraph that there’s probably a longer term retainer here. And that’s just how we work.

So it’s a progressive process, but I telegraph that that’s usually how we work and then I build the client relationship into that place.

Jason: [00:04:48] Yeah. I mean, I, I totally agree with that just because I see so many people that they’re pitching marriage right off the bat. And I don’t think it works for either party because it’s a big commitment.

Like for example, I remember many years ago, and this happens all the time as well. I had a client that came to me and said, hey, you know, charge $5,000 a month on a retainer. Um, and, uh, it’s month to month. I’m like, well, why is it month to month? They’re like, well, it’s easier to sell. And I was like, well, why wouldn’t it be 12 months?

And they’re like, well, that’s big decision and a lot of risk. I said, well, do you want to kind of eliminate that? So I like kind of what you, you probably do the same thing, kind of start with a strategy and really figure out like a, like you said, kind of figure out where they’re wanting to go, what their biggest challenges are.

And then, you know, we put a high-level plan together and then that probably leads to a project, I presume, or a smaller project?

Spencer: [00:05:46] Yeah, exactly. So if… let’s say someone, I had a, a lead come in the door and they want to do a website or something like that, right? So I might start to examine, okay, what, like what’s the context in which this project happens?

It’s usually not just a website. That’s like a lot of the work that we do ends up being website-related. But talking to them about what are the organizational goals? What, what is this, what are your challenges? What is this solving for? And then laying out a plan for, okay, maybe a website’s part of that, but have you considered all these other things that you might want to be doing, right?

Have you, you want this website, but have you actually even researched your audience at all? Like the people… You’re thinking about it this way, but you know, we take the perspective that your website is a product. So are you thinking about this like a one-time project and it’s going to be, is it going to be done? And how are you going to then adapt to that over time, right?

And sort of, and take their project and bring our perspective to that. Then that usually… our perspective, of course, being that the website is a product naturally leads into a retainer-based relationship. So then we’ll say, okay, we’ll build out your, your MVP, you know, this, uh, the, the initial version of the website, and we’ll help you do that.

But then here’s our roadmap for post-launch for this website. So we’ll do the build, but then know that after that, here’s what we’re trying to do. So here’s the retainer that’s gonna come along with that. And usually, by the time we get done with the website, I don’t think a website project has ever been finished without a phase two wishlist at the end.

And so it’s just very natural to just say, all right, like we’ll, I’ll scope control the project by bundling all of the stuff that comes up during the middle of it into retainers. It just, it flows really nicely just through the course of the project and helps me say yes to a lot of the stuff like strategy-wise or helps the project manager say yes to that during, um, you know, during the build-out. But then say, yeah, well, yeah, phase two, yeah, but this is the retainer.

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Yeah, I, um, I like that you kind of start selling the retainer while you’re in the first engagement. I find if there are people where they wait until the project’s done, then I think it’s sometimes too late. Because they’re already kind of like checked out, right? Like, do you see that as well?

Spencer: [00:09:33] Yeah, I think it’s super hard if you’re, if you’re acting as if you’re just this super project face company agency. And then all of a sudden at the end, you’re like, hey, by the way, uh, I am… I’m going to recommend that you spend a hundred thousand dollars a year. They’re like, wh…? You know, it’s just like a truck hits them.

Uh, and so I do think that telegraphing, that that’s the way that, that we work, that you work as an agency, helps them prepare over time. And I, and I phrase it in a way that says, you, you, if you want to continue working with us, then this is how we work. If you, if you, for whatever reason you don’t like this, that the product that we put in.

If you don’t like the experience of working with us, then after the project, like you can take it and you can go and you can find someone else to do it. And so that sort of relieves them of this pressure of committing to the, uh, effectively committing to a retainer at the beginning of our project. But also telegraphing to them that this is the conversation that’s going to come after the project’s done.

And then it just leaves us as the agency in the position to just deliver a great experience. So that, that conversation is easy when the project is done.

Jason: [00:10:51] So what is your close rate percentage or have you been tracking that of when people come to you for all this?

Spencer: [00:11:00] Yeah, no, that’s a, it’s a, it’s a good question. Um, I don’t have like a hard number off the top of my head. So I’ll give you my, my ballpark guesstimate. It’s very high. Usually, like, frankly, if someone, if I get a sense that a prospect is just interested in a project and there’s not even an opportunity of a longer-term relationship there, then I’ll probably pass.

So I mean that in itself takes my retainer close rate up a notch because I’m not trying to funnel people through that. It’s kind of part of my qualifying process. Uh, so like that being said, I I’d say it’s at least 50% or 60% uh, that go into a retainer, if not more. And then the folks that don’t go into our retainer, they typically stick around, but they’re still thinking about the project-based kind of work.

So as a fallback with the, with the clients that just say, no, I’m not going to do a retainer. Then I’ll probably do the more standard, you know, account management, follow up every couple months and generate some more projects. But typically those kinds of clients, they know that we work on retainer and if we’re not available, we’re giving priority to our clients that are on retainer.

And so that, it’s kind of a nice way to you prioritize the people who are on retainer and then the clients that don’t end up closing on a retainer, like you can sort of nurture them to fill any gaps that you might have in your pipeline.

So that’s how I think about it.

Jason: [00:12:31] Yeah. I mean, that’s huge. Because I see when people are pitching retainer, run off the bat. They’re less than 25% because it’s a big commitment, right?

And now you said 50%, but I want everybody to hear this is 50% to a retainer. So they’ve already gone through strategy and projects and to the retainer. So the close rate for, you know, what I call the foot in the door or a project is going to be skyrocket much faster. And then also what is typically the timeline for closing, for getting that client to pay you right up, like for the first time? And then also what’s the trend, like how long is the timeline to get to the retainer average?

Spencer: [00:13:12] Yeah, it’s a, it’s a great question. So initially, when you’re doing like the, I think you mentioned like foot in the door, that initial project. That, that my entire goal with that is like, how, how do I craft a, uh, like some sort of quick wins strategy engagement?

And then we’re talking like two weeks, right? It’s usually very easy. It’s either like they’re going to probably pay up within two weeks and sign, or I’m going to chase them for months and never hear back. Um, it’s only that middle, you know, when you get like that three-month close or six-month close, where… Those are in my experience, usually always tied to these huge, mega, you’re trying to sell the retainer upfront.

You’re trying to sell the six-figure seven-figure project right off the bat. And those, of course that takes months and months to close because that’s huge. But it’s a much smaller… it, the idea is that they can make that decision in a few weeks or on the spot.

Jason: [00:14:05] Exactly.

Spencer: [00:14:06] Then we’ll typically go through a process that’s about three months. If we’re going to do a project like a website build or a relaunch I’m shooting for about three months. There are three or four months. And then after that, I’m looking to close a 12 month retainer on the back of it. So really it it’s actually fairly accelerated.

And usually, once we get past that initial project, that the foot in the door and then ladder it into a larger project. Then by that point, they’ve gone through two projects with us, essentially. There’s a lot of momentum behind the relationship… they’re, they’re in a position where they’re liking what they see.

And so then when you’re like, yeah, let’s just keep working together. Like we’ve all these things that we’ve been talking about, the strategic roadmaps we just need to now do that work. And so it just makes the, the retainer conversation very, very easy.

Jason: [00:15:02] Yeah. Well, I mean, you build trust, you made it an easier decision.

And then you’re building trust as you show them little wins, you show them the plan. You know, one of the things I always told people is people chose us because we made it easy for them to choose us. We explained exactly how our process worked rather than hiding or stra… or secret strategy soft… You know, like all this super-secret shit.

And then, you know, we did a little commitment on their end. And we also too, we were evaluating them and we let them know we were evaluating them. Just kind of like you, like, if people are wanting to go right to the retainer. Yes, that’s exciting. But it’s also should be a red flag. Do you really want to commit to someone for 12 months and be miserable?

You know, you gotta, you know, we, uh, and, and I can’t tell you how many members in the mastermind I chat with that, uh. You know, in the very beginning when they join… There’s so many clients that they need to get rid of because they’re not profitable or they’re a pain in the ass and it’s an easy… And we walk them through our offering ladder and the foot in the door and all of this.

And it really solves a lot of their pain. It doesn’t solve everything, but it solves a good portion of it. Um, well this has all been amazing, Spencer. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Spencer: [00:16:29] No. I think that maybe the one comment that I would add to kind of, to flesh out your point, Jason. Then, um, then I think that’s, it, is that yeah, the, the… The foot in the door in the larger offering is absolutely, uh, that chance to evaluate a client. And over the years, that’s certainly the thing that I’ve discovered with retainers is that great, okay, you get awesome at closing retainers that… But if you close a client that you don’t really like working with it, then you’re stuck with them for at least 12 months.

And then of course, everyone knows, it’s really hard to say bye-bye to revenue. Even if there’s so much pain associated with that. And so you really got to think about it from that perspective as well is give someone… Just progressively unlock your services to them so that you have that experience, that opportunity and experience with them to just say, no, thanks. I don’t think this is going to work out and save yourself a lot of pain.

Jason: [00:17:29] What’s the website people can go and check out the agency?

Spencer: [00:17:33] So it’s, but the fancy new dot it’s not new anymore, I guess. But…

Jason: [00:17:47] At least you didn’t do like some of my guests going WWW… I’m like, wow. You just aged yourself.

Spencer: [00:17:50] HTTPS colon forward slash forward.

Jason: [00:17:55] Well, I used to do that for many years and then someone made fun of me and then I’m like, ah, maybe I need to switch that. So, but uh, well, amazing. Uh, thanks so much, Spencer, for coming on the show. Make sure you guys check out his agency’s website.

And if you guys want to know more about really crafting your own foot in the door and really how you can start selling bigger, bigger retainers, faster, closing, more, making it easier, getting paid for the proposal. I want you guys to go to This is our exclusive program that I did with my good friend, Ian Garlic aka Sasquatch. He makes a lot of cameo appearances on our videos. Really good friend.

And he’s been doing the foot in the door framework for many, many years, and perfected it. And he’s been really helping out a lot of mastermind members… In the mastermind walk through this and we just launched this program.

So go to and until next time have a Swenk day.

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