The software business – like so many others – is extremely unpredictable. If you’re not careful, it can suck up more time and money than you ever thought possible, and never generate enough cash flow to even get off the ground. But it can also be one of the best businesses, with the potential to progress very quickly from cash-guzzling monster to cash-generating machine.
If this is a business model you’re considering, you’ll want to learn from others who have already had success. Someone like Brennan Dunn, who has taken his Software as a Service (SaaS) business from concept to launch in under four months.
Brennan shares his story, as well as valuable insights for other new businesses (software or not). He provides insights on how to come up with an idea worth developing, how to attract potential buyers and generate cash flow even before your product is ready, and how he structured his marketing automation so that once he started paying for traffic, he got a 10 day ROI on his investment.
Listen now and you’ll also hear Brennan and I talk about:
(7:00) An overview of Planscope
(11:00) How to come up with a software idea
(14:00) How he developed his minimum viable product
(17:30) How to build software if you aren’t a developer
(20:30) How to attract leads
(26:00) How to generate cash flow before the product is ready
(30:00) Lead generation that doesn’t scale
(33:00) How he created his newsletter each week
(36:00) How and why he wrote his first book
(40:00) Why he was able to charge for content that he also gives away
(43:30) How he’s using drip email to generate leads
(45:30) How he’s structured his funnel to give a 10 day ROI with LinkedIn paid traffic
(48:30) Why he chose LinkedIn for paid traffic
(57:00) An overview of his concierge service product
(58:00) The biggest benefit of using Infusionsoft vs Mail Chimp
(1:03:00) An overview of an experiment he’s running for SaaS signups
(1: 07:00) An overview of how he manages his time
More About This Episode
The Bright Ideas podcast is the podcast for business owners and marketers who want to discover how to use online marketing and sales automation tactics to massively grow their business.
It’s designed to help marketing agencies and small business owners discover which online marketing strategies are working most effectively today – all from the mouths of expert entrepreneurs who are already making it big.
Trent: Hey there, bright idea hunters. Welcome to the Bright Ideas
podcast. I am your host, Trent Dyrsmid. I am so thrilled to have
you on the show with me today. This is the podcast for marketing
agencies, marketing consultants, and entrepreneurs who want to
discover how to use content marketing, and marketing automation
to massively boost their business. The way that we do that is we
bring proven experts onto the show to share the details of how
they became successful. I don’t have people on here who are
gurus who aren’t doing it. Everyone on the show is living,
eating, and breathing it.On the show with me today is an entrepreneur by the name of
Brennan Dunn. To say that he is doing well online is just an
understatement. He is bringing in multiple six figures from a
variety of sources, all of which we talk about to a certain
degree during this interview. He has authored a couple of e-
books that are being sold. He has consulting training at $1,800
a pop. He’s got a SaaS application called Planscope, and we’re
going to talk in detail about that during this episode.This is also an episode that is absolutely stuffed full of
golden nuggets. Now those of you who haven’t heard my episodes
before, a golden nugget is one of those ideas that makes you
want to pull over and write it down, because you know that the
second you hear that idea you can put it into action and start
to see immediate results in your business. You are really going
to enjoy this episode. There is some really good stuff. At about
the six-minute mark, we are going to talk about how he came up
with the idea for Planscope, his software as a service
application. At the nine-minute mark, we’re going to talk about
how he came up with a minimum viable product, so if that’s not a
term that you are familiar with, you definitely want to hang
around and learn what that is.If you are not a software developer, and you’d love to develop
some software as a service, he’s going to talk to you about how
you can get that done. Just to give you an idea of how good this
business can be, by the way, he is doing just over $10,000 a
month from that one product alone. It takes him about two hours
a week of his time to maintain that particular business. In the
episode, we are going to talk a lot more about what he is doing
to grow it, but as you can see the profit margins are really
crazy. You don’t need millions of customers. You figure $50 a
month, 500 customers-that is a pretty phenomenal business.When we get to the fifteen-minute mark, we’re going to start
talking at length, we spend about half an hour about how he is
attracting leads. There are so many people who have come up with
software, but they don’t sell any, or they don’t sell enough,
and so the business ends up not being successful. So if that’s
you or you think that might be you, and you are struggling with
how to attract more customers for your business, you are going
to love this episode, because we go into a lot of detail on
which social networks he’s using, how he is incenting them. He’s
given specific examples of landing pages, landing pages by the
way with opt in rates of 30% and 40%. One of them he said was
47%, which is phenomenal. We’re going to talk a lot about that.
Then we are going to talk about the specific tools that he uses
to generate leads and how he has structured his sales funnel so
that he can get a ten day ROI on his paid traffic. He’s using
LinkedIn for that paid traffic and we are going to talk about
how he does that as well.Finally, we are going to talk about how he’s using InfusionSoft
to automate a whole bunch of the portions of his business so
that he is not working a gazillion hours a week, and he can
still be a husband and father of two. This is really going to be
a wonderful episode. When you get to the end of it, and enjoyed
it, please head over to iTunes and leave some feedback, because
that really helps the show out.With all that said, please join me in welcoming Brennan to the
show. And one more thing, I am a big believer in masterminding,
because it is a way to surround yourself with other like-minded
entrepreneurs, and Bright Ideas now has a mastermind available.
It is called mastermind elite, and you can learn more about it
at brightideas.co/mastermind.Hey Brennan, welcome to the show.
Brennan: What’s going on, Trent?
Trent: Just sitting here recording a podcast with another successful
entrepreneur who has a very good story to share. Welcome aboard,
and I’m really happy to have you here.
Brennan: Awesome, looking forward to it.
Trent: For the folks who are listening, who don’t know who you are or
have never heard of Planscope, just very briefly take a minute
or two to introduce yourself, who you are and what you do, and
then we will dive into the meat of what we are going to talk
Brennan: Sure, so my name is Brennan Dunn. Planscope is probably my
primary business, though I have quite a few different things
that I am working on. I’ve written two books, Double your
Freelancing Rate and The Blueprint. I also teach two online
workshops, and I write a weekly newsletter that is targeting
consultants that just passed 7,000 subscribers. I am juggling a
lot of different things, I guess.
Trent: Yeah, no kidding. One of the questions that I wanted to get to
eventually, but I will bring up now, because it seems so
relevant, is VAs. Are you using a lot of VAs in your business?
Brennan: The only real assistant that I have is somebody that helps me
with the coding of Planscope. I still handle all of my front
line support. I still book all of my interviews manually. That
is getting better now that I am doing some automated things to
send out booking requests and everything. When it comes to
person to person communication it is still just me.
Trent: Here is what we’re going to talk about and why I asked Brennan
to come on the show with me. I want to talk about his company
Planscope, because so many people, myself included, want to make
a success of a software as a service business, because the model
is so compelling. For the folks that aren’t familiar with you,
let’s go right to the results. Well first of all, let’s say what
is it and how well it is doing financially right now?
Brennan: Planscope is a project management app for specifically for
freelancers and consultants. There is Base Camp, there are a lot
of different, it’s a very saturated market. It’s a very niche
project, and it’s doing very well actually considering that I
don’t even work on it full time. We just crossed five figures a
month in recurring revenue. One of the benefits, I’ve done SaaS
and I have quite a few different transaction products like books
and workshops. The amazing thing about SaaS, and I think the
thing that attracts most of us to it, is that I’m going to wake
up October 1st, and I’m going to know how much money, at a
minimum, how much money I will be bringing in through Planscope.
Trent: How much is that going to be?
Brennan: There’s no restart. With books, you kind of always need to be
promoting, or doing something to keep sales up. With a SaaS app,
you have a churn rate, meaning a cancellation rate, and a growth
rate, and as long as churn is less than the growth, it is just
going to keep moving up and to the right.
Trent: Which is right where you want to go. How much comes in on
October 1st for you?
Brennan: It’s going to be, it’s hard to predict, but it will be about
$10,500-ish, I would imagine.
Trent: That’s not bad. Now is there much cost in running this
Brennan: My total overhead, if you include my time, or if you don’t
include my time rather. I put up a challenge, kind of like an
apprenticeship challenge, and I have a part-time developer that
is at $1,000 a month. I also have my webserver that is at $80 a
month. Then I have a few different monitoring apps and
everything. My total is probably about $1,200 or $1,300 a month
Trent: How many hours a month of your time does it take to operate
Brennan: The baseline is most likely two, maybe three hours a week.
That’s for maintenance. Right now I’m working on a lot of high-
touch sales with bigger, more enterprise, great clients. That’s
requiring a lot of phone time, but if I were to do nothing and
keep the standard trajectory that we’ve been at for the last
year and a half, I could get away with two hours a week. That’s
really just support, and something that I could eventually
delegate out to a VA, to do at least the front line “how do you
do this,” copy and paste jobs.
Trent: That’s pretty phenomenal. One thing I hope the listeners take
away from this, and we’re going to talk about costs and how he
funded it and the whole thing, but you don’t need this world-
changing idea and you don’t need a gazillion dollar marketing
budget to make a very, very nice-I guess I’ll use the word
lifestyle business for lack of another word, for yourself that
you can run from anywhere in the world, and Planscope is a
really awesome example of that.
Brennan: Thank you, like you said, actually I just started doing paid
advertising. That’s sort of just retargeting, so it doesn’t even
count as much. If you know what you are doing, and know what
problems people have, and can build at least the minimum to
solve it, you can get something off the ground, usually pretty
Trent: Absolutely. That seems to be a big stumbling block for a lot of
people. They say, “I don’t have an idea.” What would you say to
Brennan: I would say look online, and find people that are willing to
pay for problems to be solved, and look for consensus. Look for,
or do a Google search for, “Why Base Camp sucks,” and find what
people are talking about, or what a certain segment of people,
or what I like to call a cash flow of people, that is people who
are all willing to pay money to solve the same problem. Look for
consensus. The way I look at it is my price point is between 24
to 200 a month. My average customer monthly recruiting revenue
is about $50. So it is about $50 a make on average per paying
customer. I don’t need more than 500 of them to do pretty well.
500 people on the whole wide Internet is not a lot of people.
Trent: And that makes for a very nice life. By the way, with respect
to discovering that idea, is that what you did? Did you start
off with “why Base Camp sucks?” Or was there a more specific
process, or did you have experience in this space already?
Brennan: I built Planscope largely for my own consulting business.
Before Planscope, I had an eleven person consultancy. I was just
frustrated with the tools we had. Specifically, I was frustrated
by the fact that I couldn’t find any project management app that
actually cared about money or cared about budgets. I wanted to
build one that took into account, is this project going to get
done for the money that we are hoping to get it done for? That
was sort of the core premise that I built Planscope around.
What was nice about having that pain of knowing that myself and
a lot of other people I talked to and a lot of other consultants
that I have talked to were frustrated by the fact that there was
a disconnect between invoicing and project management. I wanted
to build the minimum viable product, and it’s a cliche term, but
it’s an accurate term, that somebody would pay for to solve a
part of that problem. As I’ve developed Planscope, it’s
continued to solve more parts of that problem. I think the
biggest hang up that people have is that they look at a mature
product and say nobody will buy it unless it rivals this company
with 20 full time developers working on it. They just give up,
because it’s such a big undertaking.
Look at an app like Buffer. It was a simple, plug in a tweet and
we will post it at a certain time. Now it is much more complex,
but at its beginning, and this is true of just about any product
you find on the Internet, at its beginning it was much different
than what it is today. I think people get hung up on the whole,
it needs to be huge, it needs to be perfect, it needs to do
everything that the competitors do.
Trent: So the minimum valuable product. Let’s go back in history. When
did you decide okay, “Hey, I’m going to build something?” Then
how long did it take to get your MVP, your minimum valuable
product, out the door and how much did it cost?
Brennan: Okay, so I have two things going for me. The first is that I’m
a developer and designer in one body. The second is that I ran a
team of ten other people at my consulting firm who effectively
paid my bills for a few months. I bootstrapped it. I’ve never
taken any outside funding, and I really don’t plan to. I decided
to break ground on it in late October 2011, and I had my first
customer February 1st. We’re looking at about four months or so.
Trent: So four months of development or was it sort of two months of
digging around, making sure that the idea was really accurate,
talking to a lot of people. What did that phase look like?
Brennan: It was really all at once. Development really has never ended.
What I would do, first off was to put together a one-page
landing page. The benefit of when you’re not focused more on the
idea, but on the problem that you are solving, you don’t need to
put up screenshots, you don’t need to put anything up really
about the product. You just need to say, this is the problem
that you have that I empathize with and here’s the solution that
I’m proposing. If you’re interested, put in your email and I
will keep in touch.
I had that kind of opt-in page, and I develop each week, and
then sometime during the week I would email that list as it grew
and let people know what I would be working on next and solicit
feedback with real life examples of how a new feature that I
might be working on to build the app, and if it was a worthwhile
thing that they had a problem with. I kept a conversation going
at scale, and I learned specifically about what I could do
either make a company money or make it lose less money, because
those are the two big things that if you nail one or two of
those, people will pay you if you can make them more money or
you can help them lose less money than they’re paying. That was
the big focus for me.
Trent: That’s not unlike the focus of my old business where we helped
them to lose less money and we built a couple million a year
revenue as a result of that. I will say, though, that having
been in two businesses, one where I help you to lose less and
one where I help you to make money, it’s a whole lot easier to
sell something that people believe will help them make money
Brennan: That’s right.
Trent: Now, I’m not going to turn this into a call about the technical
of how it was developed and so forth, you already said you were
a developer and designer, and obviously if someone isn’t a
developer, do you think that that should stand in their way?
What advice would you give them?
Brennan: I was in the business of building SaaS products for non-
developers. That was my consulting firm. That’s what we did. I
saw a lot of them that never took off. The reason that they
never took off wasn’t really a product or technical issue. If
you pay a competent developer and point them in the right
direction and let them know what you need, you can get what you
need built built.
A lot of my clients had an issue with shipping. As a non-
developer they had a very binary perspective of products, I
think. They either saw a product as not done or done. The issue
that I would see time and time again was that we would build
something and they would keep tweaking little bits and just
never getting it out and never launching anything.
One of the most depressing parts of my consulting career is how
many clients I had that we put months into their project and
they never shipped it, never put it live. I think just
understanding the, it’s kind of a black box for a lot of people,
software. If you don’t know how to write your own software it
can be intimidating I think. I think the best thing that you
could do is go to Treehouse or one of these online coding
platforms. Don’t even necessarily, the goal isn’t for you to
write your own app necessarily, but the goal is for you to know
how to program out a problem that then you can at least have a
little more context when working with a developer that you hire.
That’s what I would do.
In terms of design, you can go to Theme Forest and find a really
good looking landing page for nine bucks. Most buyers don’t know
necessarily that it is a template, and as long as the copy and
the messaging and everything else is good, it probably shouldn’t
matter. Copy writing is one of those skills that I think, it’s
somewhat a technical skill, but for the most part-learning
Photoshop requires a lot of time, learning how to code requires
a lot of time-good copywriting just requires knowing the English
language and knowing enough about sales, persuasion, and things
like that I think.
Trent: Yeah, there’s definitely a format to follow when producing
sales copy. Just as a side note for folks, I used to be really
intimidated by building software. Start small. I went to
freelancer.com and I put up this description of this WordPress
plugin I wanted to get built, and miraculously it got built, and
I’ve sold almost $20,000 of it so far. I really encourage you
not to let limiting beliefs, by the way, I only paid $1,000 to
develop that thing, so commercially it’s been quite successful,
and it taught me a lot. If you’ve never done software before and
if you are listening to this thinking you could never do that,
banish that thought from your mind, because you can do anything,
and if you have enough vision, and you can get your MVP
developed on the cheap, you will also be able to find investors,
because it is a compelling model. Building it is great, but if
you don’t have any customers, then who cares, right?
Brennan: That’s the reason, I think, 90% of startups fail is that you
focus too much on the product and that idea that you completely
miss first of all, how do I find people? And secondly, am I
actually solving a viable problem for them. For me, the way I
found customers and the way I find them still to this day is to
engage with them more on the product as it relates to their
company. What I mean by that is, when starting out, I would just
loiter around Internet forums where consultants hang out.
There’s a sub-Reddit for freelancing. There’s a lot of these
different community sites.
Trent: Can you list a few of them off? I want to put them in the show
Brennan: Yes, there’s freelanceswitch.com. They have a somewhat active
message board. There is Hacker News. It’s not exactly a
consultant community, but there are enough consultants on it
that it was viable. Then there is Reddit slash freelance I
think, which is a sub-Reddit dedicated to freelancing I think.
Trent: So that first one was freelanceswitch.com?
Brennan: Yes. So I would just kind of hang out here, and I would look to
see what kind of problem, the thing about Internet communities
is that the same topics keep coming up again and again. What’s
the common stuff that people keep talking about? Considering I
had a lot of experience when it came to consulting, having built
an eleven-person business, I decided to start writing about
those topics. I put together a blog, for Planscope, and just
started writing general purpose consulting and freelancing
Usually what I would do is instead of replying in the community,
I would reply, and I would put in a few sentences of copy and
then I would say that this relates to something that I wrote in
my blog and I would include a link to my blog or to the article
in question that relates to that topic. It definitely was not
scalable, but starting out it helped me build up an announcement
list of about 300 people, and when I launched within four months
I had people ready to go.
The biggest mistake that you can do, and I see this all the
time, is that you collect an email address and then you sit on
it until you are ready. So six months later you vaguely
remember, but don’t really know who they are and why you should
care. Then all they do is talk about themselves and say, “We are
ready, us, us, us,” but you just delete the email. I really
build up the conversation each week, while building Planscope,
and by the time I was ready to go, people were eager to get in.
Trent: That’s very good advice. I’m writing like mad on post it notes
for stuff I need to do for my own SaaS application, which we are
coding like mad right now, and I have not yet put up a squeeze
page, shame on me.
Brennan: You’re violating the number one law of selling anything online?
Trent: I’ve done a different thing. I obviously here with the Bright
Ideas podcast have a fairly sizable audience of marketing
agencies, and I have done demos, because we developed a mock up
for $500 to get a mock up done and Twitter bootstrap, and I have
been showing that mockup one on one with people for some time to
validate, “Hey, are we actually solving a real problem? Would
you pay for a solution to this?” You can sort of get a feel from
the tone of peoples’ voices when they see stuff. For one portion
of the application, we actually have a desktop version that is
fully coded and we’ve sold quite a bit of it. People say that
it’s awesome and you know that it is resonating.
Brennan: You know what I would put on top of that, I would say, “Okay,
would write me a check for it now.” The thing that I’ve
discovered, and I know from talking with a lot of people about
this is that people don’t want to be critical, necessarily. When
you can actually put them on the spot and say, “Will you pay for
this? Great, pay me now.” You can learn a lot about really what
people think and if it something that they would actually pay to
implement in their business.
Trent: I can hear the collective limiting beliefs of a few of the
people in the audience, and I’ll throw, myself under this camp
as well. They say they don’t have anything for sale yet, how can
I ask someone for a check, so what do you do?
Brennan: I didn’t presell Planscope, because I didn’t know enough about
preselling back then, but I have presold both of my books and
all of my workshops. Workshops are kind of a no brainer. You
typically collect payment and then you have a workshop some
point in the future. With a book, though, the way that I was
able to establish that early cash flow, with both my books.
I’ll talk first about my first book, because at that point I
didn’t have an audience. The second book was a little easier,
because once you’ve already written a book and successfully
delivered it, people trust that you are going to be able to do
it again. But with the first book, the same rules applied. I
talked about pain, I presented a solution, I countered
objections through just knowing about why people would buy this
and talking with a lot of different people about how to set your
rate. I knew kind of what common things people kept throwing
back at me when I pitched the book over Skype.
I had this long-form sales page. At the bottom, I had a
prepurchase link. With my first book I did a discount, so I did
20% off. On my second book, instead of doing a discount, I kept
the price what it would be on launch but I included an exclusive
one-hour webinar. If you preorder the book, you get the book
first before I go public with it, and a seat in this webinar
that you and all the other preorder people would get. Both sold
very well. The benefit was, for me at least, when there’s money
sitting in your account, and it’s really a liability, because
you need to actually deliver something, otherwise you are going
to get charge backs. It really lights a fire for you to get it
out there; wrap it up, get a production ready and ship it. I
really focused on that and having preorders was a really smart
move on my part.
Trent: I’ll echo that, because maybe a year ago, I think I did a
mastermind group for some people and I had about $12,000 in
preorders, and I hadn’t developed any of the content, but then I
knew that I was going to really knock their socks off with the
content that I promised. It was only twelve people, but they
paid $1,000, so I wanted to make sure it was really good. When
you already have the money, it makes it so much easier to put
the time in, because you’re like, “I’ve been paid for this now.
I have to make sure that I come through for everybody.
Brennan: Right, it’s a good solid move and the best proof you can get of
your product. It’s much better than an email address.
Trent: Yes. Okay let’s go back to… Here’s the thing in case
listeners want to know why they should keep listening. I want to
cover a little more on generating leads and converting those
leads to customers. Then we will talk a little more about
outsourcing. Brennan, do you use InfusionSoft?
Brennan: I do.
Trent: We will probably spend some time on how you are taking
advantage of all of the horsepower that InfusionSoft offers. If
time permits I also want to talk about some of the paid traffic
that you’re using, if you’re using any, to sort of ramp things
up. That’s where we’re headed.
With respect to lead generation, you did this thing, you said it
didn’t scale, but it did work very well. Every startup, I wish I
could give credit to the guy who I’m about to quote. He was a
very well-known VC in the valley and he said, “In the
beginning,” I think it was Dan Morris that sent me this article,
“you need to focus on stuff that doesn’t scale.”
Brennan: That was Paul Graham’s article on doing stuff that doesn’t
Trent: Thank you. Exactly. That’s what you did by hanging out on
Freelanceswitch and Hacker News and Reddit in the beginning.
What did you do after that?
Brennan: It lasted through Summer 2012. It was in the Summer of 2012
that I started writing my book. The thing you’ll discover about
SaaS, if you eventually get one, it’s very slow to ramp up.
Twenty percent growth rate month to month when your income is
$100 is a very slow growth. But given the law of time, give that
three years and it becomes a very large investment.
What I realized is that I wanted to do a lot of things. I wanted
to go to a conference in Europe and I just didn’t have the
money, so I decided to write a book. Actually doing this was
probably the best marketing decision for Planscope I ever made.
The thing that I’ve learned about building a B2B heavy duty SaaS
that people need to convince themselves to use, and, in my case,
then switch their team and clients to it, is that isn’t an
impulse thing. You’re asking for a lot. If you’re sending
traffic to your marketing site, you probably don’t have any
rapport built up with that person yet.
What I ended up doing was I started really promoting this book I
was working on, and the thing about a book is that it is an
impulse buy. You spend $50 on an e-book, and you get the value
within a few hours. You read it, you get that value out of it,
and it’s done, and there’s very little risk, right? There’s very
little risk for will you extract value out of it. So I did a
Trent: Brennan, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but the dog barking in the
background, is there a door or anything you can close?
Brennan: It’s downstairs. Let me get the nanny and tell her to put the
dog outside. Can you hold on for one second?
Trent: And we’re back, no more dog.
Brennan: What was I just talking about?
Trent: So the question that I’d asked you which got us going down this
path was how long did you focus on things that didn’t scale?
Then you talked about the book.
Brennan: So I started really writing this book and building excitement
around the book. I did the same thing I do with Planscope, I
started writing the book. In this case, the book prepurchase
list grew weekly, and I felt like I had to then. If they already
paid me money, I don’t want to take their money and disappear
and come back in the future at some point with a book. I just
started writing them about what I was writing about in the book.
I would just kind of extract chapters and sum it up in a
newsletter format. And after launching the book, I just kept
doing it. I realized I could stop, the book was out, and my duty
was done, but I converted it into a newsletter.
Trent: Paid or free?
Brennan: Free newsletter. By buying the book, you get on the newsletter.
Eventually, people outside of the book wanted to get on the
newsletter, so I started putting opt-ins on the Planscope blog.
The thing about a newsletter is that if someone just reads a
high-quality article of yours and you say that you deliver
things like that to an exclusive list, I mean my opt in rate for
my newsletter squeeze page is something like 40 or 45%, which is
something I’m very happy with and frankly could be higher.
Trent: What is the URL for that?
Brennan: That is freelancersweekly.com. I would send a lot of traffic
there and have opt-ins on my blog posts. I just started building
a list and started writing to them weekly. These weekly emails
weren’t kind of your typical graphic heavy newsletters. They
were more or less plain text-ish from me to them. I just kind of
built up a relationship with people over time.
What ended up happening was, I would drop very soft and subtle
relationships to Planscope like, “Here’s my thoughts on
estimating, and I actually built into my product Planscope,
things that actually correlate or complement this philosophy
towards estimating.” Actually, these days, more than 60% of my
new Planscope customers come from my mailing list first. They
are usually on it for months. They will sit on my list for
months. They might buy my book a month into it, then my second
book a few months later. Then they sign up for Planscope and
then six months down the road they buy my $1,800 workshop.
The thing is, what I’m doing, I’m able to really, everyone on my
list and all of my products focus on consulting. They focus on
freelancers and consultants. They’re all just different facets
of it. The Planscope, my SaaS, focuses on helping consultant be
more transparent with clients, and be basically better at
managing their projects. My first book, Double your Freelancing
Rate, helps consultants price higher. My second book helps them
deal with inbound marketing better.
All of my products are complementing a different part of
somebody’s business. For a lot of them it’s sort of natural
like, okay I paid Brennan $50 and he helped me raise my rate,
and I’m making $10,000 more a year this year. I’m very open to
spending more money on him and his SaaS business or SaaS
product, and expecting that same sort of investment to output
Trent: So your book, without going into a ton of detail, I’ve never
heard of anybody say I needed money to go to a conference so I
wrote a book. Most people say I went out and got a new client or
something like that.
Brennan: I could have done that, and I’ve thought about that for a
while. What I realized is when you’re working with a client
project, I compare it all the time to crack cocaine. It’s
immediate gratification. You work an hour and you get paid for
that hour. With a book or any sort of product, the delay is
longer, if that payoff even ever comes. Secondly, you’re
building equity in something long term. By focusing on the book,
and making that money through presales, that I could have made
through consulting, I built up more long term equity that to
this day I still sell a few copies a week. I’m really not doing
much to make that happen. Secondly, it’s building up my personal
empire of consulting products, which further strengthens things
Trent: But a book. Isn’t that a big deal? How many pages are we
Brennan: So it is about 110 pages. I did it in about a month. I focused
on writing daily and making it a habit.
Trent: Like an hour a day, or six hours a day?
Brennan: I want to say I spent about 100 hours total, so we’re talking
about an hour per page. I mean I’ve been so comfortable with
blogging a lot that writing this stuff wasn’t really, I wasn’t
needing to pull teeth. It was things that I’ve been talking
about to a lot of people over email and phone calls and things
like that. The material was all up in my head. I just needed to
commit it to paper. I did it, and I’ve got great reception. I’ve
sold something like 3,000 copies. I don’t know specifically what
it is off the top of my head. So 3,000 times 40 to 50 a piece
depending on whether they had a coupon code of it was during
presales. I mean that is still, for 100 hours, and that’s just
as it is right now, and I’m still bringing in at least 1,000 to
2,000 in revenue from it.
Trent: That’s very nice passive income. How big was your list when
you started to do presales for the book?
Brennan: I had the Planscope list, but they thought they were on a list
for a project management app, so I didn’t really have a list.
The book started my list. I heavily cross promoted to my
Planscope list, which at that point had about 2000 people on it
at that point. Through Twitter, and really through a lot of
content. I would just extract the best parts of my book as I
wrote them, convert them to a blog post, and promote them. And
people would go on the different aggregator sites and… I’m not
afraid to put my best content forward for free as a way to
Trent: That’s a very good point, and I am so pleased that you brought
that up, because I know that when I first got online, and I know
a number of listeners can relate to this, I really struggled
because I had a membership site, “Well, what do I put on the
blog for free versus what I put in the membership site that is
not free?” Can you talk about with a book, or anything that’s
behind a paid wall of any kind, why do people pay for stuff that
they can get for free? And is it unethical to charge for stuff
that you make freely available in some other format, somewhere
Brennan: I don’t think so, and here’s why. I think when you are selling
something to somebody wearing the hat of a business owner or
wearing the hat of a general business, there is no such thing as
free Internet research anymore. The best example I’ve ever heard
of this is my friend Patrick once said he put together a video
course on life cycle emails, and he got a lot of rebuttal from
people from Hacker News and other websites saying all this stuff
is available for free online. He said sure if you want to go
around and Google and get hit or miss articles for two weeks, go
for it. Or you can spend $500 and get a very curated, to the
point, start to finish overview of life cycle emails.
He put it in the business perspective that you are trying to
sell a CEO on having one of his developers implement a life
cycle email campaign. The CEO does not want to write a payroll
check for $10,000 for two weeks of this person’s time that has
in the memo field, “reading free information online.”
There’s two things. First off, you’re able to put it into your
own voice and into your own way of thinking about a problem.
Secondly, it’s up to you, as a content provider, to organize it,
make sure it’s relevant, make sure it’s cohesive and so on. I
say this all the time. When I’m confronted with a problem, do I
want to Google around for a week finding articles that might be
crappy, or outdated, or whatever, or would I rather pay $50 and
get the concise guide to it that I’ll have all that info pretty
Plus, I back everything of mine with a money-back guarantee. If
you don’t think it’s worth more than the $50 you paid, write me
and I’ll gladly refund you. I think I’ve had 3000 sales and only
five total refunds. It’s a great way to kill an objection people
might have and a worthwhile thing to include I think.
Trent: This is kind of a parallel to the best way to attract the best
clients is to raise your prices. That might sound unrelated to
this, but what I’m trying to say is that by charging for stuff,
you are going to attract people who really and truly understand
the value of their time, and therefore your time, and those are
the ones that are the most enjoyable to deal with. And in your
book about how to raise your prices, I’ll bet that’s probably in
Brennan: It’s almost funny. The people in the highest tiers of
Planscope, the people paying $200 a month, they hardly ever
reach out for me when it comes to support, or anything like
that. A lot of the $24 a month people can be very persnickety.
Trent: Yep, so very true. Are there any other ways that you are
generating leads, because we are still actually on that thread,
for Planscope that we have not talked about yet?
Brennan: Yeah, I have a drip email campaign that I have set up. This
kind of crosses into the paid advertising realm, but I’ve done
two different ways of acquiring eyeballs, I guess. The first is
something I started doing a long time ago, which was drive,
through LinkedIn ads, traffic to my page because I saw it had a
high conversion rate. If that rate was consistent, I could make
a pretty good return, probably, from LinkedIn advertising. I did
that and it paid off pretty well. I got about a five to one
return and still do to this day off my LinkedIn ads. That is
really just driving people to my newsletter. I don’t really have
a lead [magnet] or anything, I just have the opt-in page. I get
a pretty good amount of people who sign up through that and then
I have about one out of every ten people who join . . .
Trent: Let me interrupt you, you’re sending paid LinkedIn traffic to
Brennan: That’s right, yep. I do have an auto-responder sequence set up
that actually asks three questions. The first email that I send
out says this is who I am and this is why I think I am qualified
to talk about consulting and freelancing. The second email is,
what is the number one problem you have right now with your
freelancing business? The third email is, here’s what the number
one problem that people have told me is and that happens to be
about undercharging, so I promote my book there, and I get about
a 10% conversion rate just then off of paid traffic to buy my
book. Considering what I pay to get the click, I pay about $5 a
click, I’m basically breaking even when it comes to acquiring
people through LinkedIn.
Trent: Yeah, but you’re doing that in a week, you’re getting your
money back in a week.
Brennan: Actually ten days. But the benefit of that is that the book is
just a stepping stone, I guess. I have a more expensive book
that gets up to $250. I have Planscope, where my average
lifetime value is between $200 to $1,000. I have my $1,800
workshop. I’ve had people who I’ve spent $5 a conversion on who
I broke even on with the first book, but I’ve had products
waiting in the wing that were contextually relevant to them that
then they bought and everything was pure margin, I guess.
Trent: That’s a very nice sounding funnel. You’ve mentioned earlier
that it was okay to save people research time by packaging up
knowledge and putting it all in one place so long as it was done
high quality. You have a lot of products, so I think some of the
listeners are thinking it might take me forever to create all of
those products. Do you think it’s okay for somebody to say, “I’m
going to produce a report on whatever, and I am going to go and
do all that research, and I am going to curate like mad, and
give credit where credit is due of course, and assemble my
workbook, for lack of a better term, that is the result of all
of my research on whatever topic it is, and I’m going to sell
Brennan: I think that if the deliverable is going to measurably impact
somebody’s business in such a way that it outweighs the cost of
getting that product in their hands, then I don’t see any
problem with that. I would just complement that by-it’s so easy
for a virtually 100% margin product for a book or an e-book to
put a money-back guarantee, that look, if my product doesn’t
help you, I only want you to buy this if can deliver $500 in
value to you. I think that’s a great way to do it, and if
somebody doesn’t take value from it, don’t take their money.
Trent: Its’ really about being clear with setting expectations up
front and backing it with a guarantee.
Brennan: That’s right.
Trent: For people who have not yet bought any paid traffic, why did
you choose LinkedIn over any number of other sources like
Facebook, Google PPC?
Brennan: Okay, so I actually have done Facebook also. I did Facebook and
LinkedIn. LinkedIn was a little better overall. So I phased out
a lot of the Facebook ads. I’m using Facebook, now, for
retargeting, which is amazing actually.
Trent: You should explain to people what is retargeting.
Brennan: Retargeting is when you go to a website that is using a
retargeting advertising provider, what happens is, when you go
to another website, like Facebook, you will start seeing ads for
the website you were on before. It’s kind of like when I was on
a gardening website, and I saw SendGrid, which is like an email
service provider, ads. I knew that SendGrid is not spending ad
budget on a gardening site by default. But because advertisers
know that if you have been to their website in the past, you’re
more than likely in their demographic, so you have a higher
click through rate for them, which means more money in your
pockets. But for the advertiser, it’s more money in your pocket
I heavily used Facebook retargeting. Now that they have newsfeed
ads, which if you’ve been on Facebook and you see advertisements
in your newsfeed, that also are websites that you’ve been to,
that is why. Those ads, I get 4 to 5% click through rates
sometimes on that. A good click through rate is sub 1% usually,
so I am kind of using both.
Trent: Are you using AdRoll for retargeting, or is Facebook itself got
its own retargeting service?
Brennan: I’m actually using a service called Perfect Audience, which is
a [Y-combinator] startup, and they do display ads, so they do
your general website banner ad retargeting, but they also do
Facebook ads. One thing I like about them, I don’t know if
Adderall does this, is that they allow for email for targeting.
Considering that I have a big email list, I’m able to put in my
email template the pixel ad for Perfect Audience, which will
then start retargeting for my list.
You can also segment that list to say not to show ads to people
who already have an account or already bought this, then you can
make it so that only the right people who, so if you have a free
newsletter, instead of hammering your newsletter with book
stuff, you could have your newsletter have this tracking pixel,
and then in somebody’s Facebook feed, you put a free email
course that directly relates to your book. You put your picture
and your name on it, and they already know you produce awesome
content. They join that email course and the goal of that course
is to sell them on the book, which is one really clever way to
sell your products through a newsletter.
Trent: So everything that you just explained in the last three minutes
or so, you can achieve using Perfect Audience, is that correct?
Brennan: That’s correct, yep.
Trent: So you don’t have to be some coding genius to be able to figure
out to do everything.
Brennan: No, if you are able to put Google analytics code on your
website, you will be able to figure it out.
Trent: Okay, and folks, the show notes for this episode where I will
be putting all of these links is going to be found at
brightideas.co/77. That’s just the number 77. All right unless I
missed something, I think we pretty much talked about how you’re
attracting leads. Is there anything else that you are doing for
lead generation that we have not talked about?
Brennan: It’s pretty much give away great content. Get people into, what
I call, my ecosystem. You know, get them to know who I am. The
amazing thing is when people reach out to me with support
requests for Planscope, they almost always start out with, “Hey
Brennan” comma. People know that I’m behind Planscope. I make
that a very public thing. It’s just a different medium. The
books are one medium, Planscope is a different medium, but they
all achieve that same goal, which is to help make somebody have
a better consulting business.
I have a have a very stepladder approach, where at the bottom is
my newsletter, and from then on up it goes to my impulse buy
with the book, and then bigger purchases, and ultimately
Planscope and my workshop. People sell segment. If somebody
spent $50 on you and got a great return, those people are more
than likely to spend $1,800 on you for an even bigger return.
It’s funny, I can go to my workshop customer database and plop
any of their email addresses into my CRM, and all of them bought
a book of mine a few months ago, or something. I could drive as
much paid traffic in the world as I want into an $1,800
workshop, no one will register. There needs to be a gradual
approach to doing that.
Trent: How much do you spend on advertising in a typical month?
Brennan: I spend about total, I want to say, maybe 400 or 500 a month.
Trent: Okay, and what would you say your annual run rate for your
revenue is right now?
Brennan: So my workshop, I do now just about every other month, and
that’s $1800, and I sell 14 seats, so whatever that would be.
That’s about $20,000 or so. I usually consistently sell them
out. My books bring in total about $3,000 to $3,500 on
autopilot. Planscope just passed five figures. It’s hard to say
for Planscope, because that one keeps growing, which isn’t a bad
Trent: No, definitely not, so somewhere between 25,000 to 30,000 a
Brennan: About that, yeah. That’s pretty consistent.
Trent: For a business with one programmer, and only $500 a month in
advertising. You’re doing pretty good.
Brennan: It’s funny, when I was consulting, I was billing $200 an hour.
If I was full time, I would be bringing in $32,000 a month. I’m
actually making less than I would at consulting still, but it’s
a lot better.
Trent: Because your income is not so directly tied to the amount of
hours you work now.
Brennan: That’s right. If my primary client fired me, I’d be out, but if
one person decides to quit Planscope, it’s whatever.
Trent: Right, no big deal. Do you still have the 11 people in the
service business working for you? Did you shut that down, or
sell it off? What happened?
Brennan: What I did is promote my business development guy to run it in
my absence, and I basically converted everyone to a 1099,
because if I was inactive, I didn’t want to deal with having a
fixed, expensive payroll each month. Some of them still relate
to us, but for the most part, a lot of them are just kind of
independent consultants now, so it’s intentionally gone
downhill, but the goal wasn’t to keep it alive.
Trent: The service businesses can really be wonderful. I interviewed
another guy by the name of Sam Ovens-that’s at brightideas.co/69-
he also has a SaaS business, but he, like you, funded it on the
back of his consulting business. So service businesses can
really be wonderful. I’m doing exactly the same thing. Bright
Ideas makes money from doing services in our agency and we are
taking that money and reinvesting it in assets and recurring
revenue products, because ultimately that’s where I’d like to
have the money come from.
Brennan: Yeah, I actually think that there’s a lot of room for what we
think of as turn-key products like SaaS businesses to have more
concierge services to it. If you look at something like, Rob
[Walling] who has a new project called DripOut, which is a very
simple throw this job description on your page and you will have
an email course option widget on the bottom of your screen. One
of the things he’s doing is have a concierge service where yes,
he has a platform that will help you plug in all of your email
courses, but you can pay him X amount and they will write them
for you. It’s kind of like consulting, but it’s kind of your own
marketplace in a way. You have the product that people are
paying you monthly for, but you have these transactional one-
offs that allow you to charge significantly more to deliver
personal value, I guess.
Trent: And what website should people go to for that?
Brennan: That is getdrip.com
Trent: Okay, I’ll put that in the show notes as well, so if you’re
driving, don’t try and write that down. All right, I’m such a
big InfusionSoft fan, I can’t help but ask you some questions.
We’re going to finish up the interview with how InfusionSoft
fits into all this, so if you don’t care, you’ll probably have
gotten all out of this that you wanted to, but InfusionSoft is
some of the most amazing marketing software on the planet, so
we’re going to talk about it. What do you think is this biggest
benefit to your business of using InfusionSoft versus AWeber,
GetResponse, iContact, all the cheapies?
Brennan: So for the longest time, and still to this day, I haven’t fully
transitioned everything yet. Before I was doing everything
through MailChimp. Kind of the pain for that was, there wasn’t
really, I have one massive list, while you can’t segment or
group something out, it’s very hard to say something like, “Hey
I’m putting together a workshop on recurring revenue next month,
if you’re interested, click this link.” The only way to really
do that with MailChimp would be to drive people to a landing
page where they would then need to type in their name and email
address again, submit the form and opt in for a new list.
Right now, I’m using InfusionSoft for all of the life cycle
emails for Planscope. It’s kind of nice, because you can do
things like, well the first email they get from me is, what’s
the number one thing you want me to help you with? The three
options are, I want you to help me estimate, I want you to help
me better manage my clients, or I want you to help me better
manage my team. I ask them to click one. It’s the standard where
I have a goal that is to click on a link. Depending on what they
choose, it creates a task in my InfusionSoft account, where then
I will follow up with them manually and ask how I can help them
Again, if I had a thousand new accounts a day, there is no way I
could keep doing this, but what I’m doing is actually using this
to build out an eventual email sequence for each of these three,
so eventually clicking the I need help estimating will spin off
a sequence that’s all about estimating that’s going to be based
off of the conversations that I’m having now. That’s one cool
thing that I’m able to do.
When somebody activates or pays, I tag them, and then I have
certain sequences kick off from that; likewise, when somebody
churns. The biggest thing for me is having a centralized CRM,
where I can know this person that just bought Planscope bought a
book three months ago. Before that was a very manual operation.
I had to cross reference things to figure that out. I can better
do things like when somebody joins my newsletter, if they happen
to stumble upon the Planscope website, using the web analytics
InfusionSoft capabilities, I can then start getting in touch
with them selling them Planscope.
It’s a very nice, from that point of view, where everything is
in one place, and I don’t need to have multiple lists and juggle
things around it. Instead of having a Planscope list, a book
buying list, a general newsletter list, and a workshop list, I
just have one list, but I’m better able to kind of know who on
that list has done what.
Trent: And what enables this is called tagging. Tagging is I think it
is the greatest thing ever with respect to InfusionSoft, because
it allows you to categorize the people that are in your
database, it allows you to trigger automation based on their
activity. I could probably do an entire podcast just talking
about examples of how I’m using tagging, and it’s pretty awesome
stuff. It’s so much different than, like you said with
MailChimp, where you have a list for this and a list for that
and it’s really painful to get one person from one list to
another and there is a lot of friction, whereas, with
InfusionSoft, it’s effortless.
Brennan: That’s right. Considering that the value of a team account,
where a bigger enterprise account is so much more valuable to me
than a freelancer account. When somebody says, “I need help
managing my team,” I prioritize that task. That’s permanent. Now
I know that this person is probably running a team. Then they
are the ones that I promote my higher value, more team focused
products to versus the college student who is moonlighting some
additional revenue on the side.
Trent: Absolutely. That’s right. All right, I think we are at about an
hour here, and I could ask you so many more things, but in the
interest of keeping my episode to just an hour, I think we are
going to stop here. Before we finish up, is there anything that
I have not asked you about, which you particularly stoked or
want to talk about? Number one.
Brennan: I could talk about an experiment that I’m running now if
anything is interested. It’s a sort of SaaS logistics. So before
I was doing a credit card up front sign up process, where you
would need to sign up, put in your credit card, and you would
have a two-week trial. If you didn’t cancel in two weeks you
would get billed. I did this for a while and it worked well. I
was having a 40% conversion rate from trial to paid.
What I’m doing now, I kind of have a squeeze page for
Planscope’s website. Instead of having a full blown marketing
site, it’s really just type in your email address and a password
and jump directly into Planscope. What I do is I have a very big
on-boarding process that has like an interactive video. At the
end I ask somebody to create their first project for a client,
because when somebody is using Planscope on a client project,
they are deriving business value out of it. It’s no longer about
seeing if the interface is friendly for them or whatever else,
and what I do then is capture their card then and bill them
immediately, but I put a 60-day money back guarantee.
I launched this on Friday. I don’t have enough data yet, but my
earlier site would get maybe a 1% conversion rate to trial and
now I am getting about a 10 to 11% trial rate, which means more
email addresses that I can build up relationships over time
with. So fewer drive-bys right? A lot of people, they stumble
across Planscope and they don’t know who I am, they’re not going
to give me their card, any of that stuff. Now it is much quicker
to get in, but I charge you immediately, so if you’re going to
be using this for a client project, I’m going to charge you
right now, but you have a full two months to ask for your money
back. I’m excited to see how this will work.
Trent: Are you doing this right from the homepage of planscope.io
right now or is there a different landing page?
Brennan: No, so you go to the homepage, planscope.io, there’s really no
navigation except for signing in, type in your email and
password and get started. I’m getting an 11% conversion rate on
Trent: Is that connected to InfusionSoft?
Brennan: Yes, it is.
Trent: Is that just an InfusionSoft form behind the interface or is
there an API?
Brennan: I’m using an API to do it. The form actually submits to
Planscope, and creates an account and inserts a bunch of stuff
into my database, and then I’