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.

Quite impressive!

Listen now and you’ll also hear Brennan and I talk about:

(5:00) Introductions

(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

Resources Mentioned


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.

Listen Now


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

about today.

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

in expenses.

Trent: How many hours a month of your time does it take to operate

this business?

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

oddly enough.

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

like Planscope.

Trent: But a book. Isn’t that a big deal? How many pages are we

talking here?

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

generate leads.

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

there somewhere.

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

this page.

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’

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