January 5, 2017

Okay, where were we...? Ah yes, retainers!

True retainers can be extremely profitable for both the consultant and the client. They have been the backbone of my consulting business for many years.

That said, I know the inner workings of retainers are a mystery to most people. Today I thought I’d start to walk you through the details of selling a recent $7k/mo engagement and call out some of the interesting points.

Timeline Highlights

May 28, 2015 - I receive a lead through my contact form on jonathanstark.com. Over email, the buyer and I schedule a phone call.

Jun 5, 2015 - The buyer and I have a 60 minute phone call. I promise to have proposal to him by EOD on Fri, Jun 12.

Jun 12, 2015 - I miss the proposal delivery deadline and send the following apology with updated ETA:


It looks like I owe you an apology. I had promised to get a proposal to you by today but the clock on the wall tells me that I missed the deadline :(

You are at the top of my list and can expect to have it in your inbox by Monday morning (June 15), if not sooner.

Thanks for your patience!


Jun 15, 2015 - I submit the proposal.

… The buyer and I exchange 59 emails (!) over the next 350 days …

May 29, 2016 - $7k payment is made for first month and project kicks off

… Project goes on for 8 months at $7k/mo (more on this tomorrow) …

Jan 31, 2017 - Planned launch

Interesting Points

Few things to point out:

Broken Promise — When I failed to deliver my proposal on time, I called it out for what it was: a broken promise. I apologized and re-set expectations. Trust is everything in consulting so I took the opportunity to demonstrate that I was willing to take responsibility for my screw ups. This also implicitly set the tone for the relationship (i.e., that I expect the same behavior from them).

Relentless Follow-Ups After I submitted the proposal, the client responded that they were just finishing up another project and would be able to start with me as soon as the other was completed. Then they went dark. I followed up like clockwork for almost a year before our engagement kicked off. NOTE: I made sure to avoid the appearance of desperation by timing and wording my check-ins in a very specific way.

Offer Alternatives When the deal came back to life in May 2016, the client inadvertently tried to “throw in” some things that were not part of the (now 11 month old) agreement. In spite of my desire to see this deal finally close, I politely stood my ground. I offered a few alternatives, but each involved them paying more money, either to me or a third party. They ultimately agreed that the original agreement was in everyone’s best interest so we moved forward with things as originally planned.

Next Up

This email is mostly about the sales process for the retainer. Tomorrow I’ll delve into the engagement itself to give you a feel for the week-to-week.