Leadership: How to Start a Software Company

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how to start a software company - an interview with Laura Roeder

 

Today I interview Laura Roeder, who founded LKR Studios in 2009. Laura has built quite a name for herself teaching people how to create internet fame and how to use social media to further their business objectives. Out of that business she got an idea for a software product that helps people to use social media. The name of the software is Edgar.

Today we talk about the challenges of transitioning from an information products only business to the software business. Laura details the different skills and approach that are required to run a successful software business.

If you are thinking of starting a software business this is going to be a great interview for you to listen to.

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How a Small Business Software PayByGroup.com is Planning to Become the Paypal of Vacation Rentals

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Camilo Acosta RS

Camilo-Acosta-Interview_0Building a software service isn’t all about the bells and whistles.

Imagine coming up with a killer small business software application. You spend countless hours testing and writing to get all the aspects of the software working flawlessly. After you nail down what you know to be a functional application, you pitch it to people hoping to rake in the clients. The problem is, nobody needs this software.

Part of the software development process should be finding a market to support it. Camilo discovered a need and went about trying to find ways to satisfy it. This is a great episode for any entrepreneurs looking to get into the software business; in fact, it’s a great episode for any new business hoping to better understand and cater to their audience.

Listen now and you’ll hear Camilo and I talk about:

  • (2:30) Introductions
  • (4:30) How did you come up with the idea for your startup?
  • (7:30) How did you develop the first prototypes?
  • (10:30) How did you know your prototype was getting traction?
  • (12:30) What step did you take after you got early validation?
  • (17:40) What happened after you moved to Mountain View?
  • (19:40) What turned out radically different from the original vision?
  • (21:30) What are you doing now to cause growth?
  • (24:50) What was the first step you took to land homeaway.com?
  • (28:30) How much revenue were you doing at this point?
  • (30:30) How much have you needed to raise so far?
  • (31:30) What are some of the big lessons you’ve learned from fund raising?
  • (33:10) How did you begin the fund raising process?
  • (34:50) How did you cover the legal bills for fund raising?

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

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About Camilo Acosta

CamiloAcostaBefore starting PayByGroup, Camilo worked with Frank on Root Orange, a VC-backed domain name startup that split domains by city. Previously, he worked for his family’s government communications firm, and in best practices consulting at the Corporate Executive Board, both in his home town of Washington, D.C. 

Camilo is actively involved in organizing alumni gatherings for his school (Sidwell Friends School) and his college alma mater. He also hosts fundraisers for education reform organizations such as KIPP, and political candidates that support the cause. He enjoys driving on sunny days with the windows down and music up, and doting on his chocolate lab, Kipper. 

Camilo holds a B.A. in Politics from Princeton University.

Additional Resources

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How Circleci.com Attracted 1,000 Customers in Its First 2 Years

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PAUL BIGGAR 4INX 6IN X 300DPI X FC

paul-biggar_0

You probably wouldn’t know just to look at him but Paul – at least according to his friends – is an intimidating card shark.

What’s also not obvious at first glance is how this savvy entrepreneur created and funded his company, attracting an impressive 1,000 customers in the first two years. Paul shares with us the details on cirlceci‘s beginning and  rapid growth, including key pricing, marketing, and investor strategies.

He shares what they did that endeared them to their customers (and what he thinks all software companies need do in order to maintain customers).

If you’re interested in software startups, I suggest you take a listen to this podcast. (And check out all our software posts and interviews.)

Listen now and you’ll hear Paul and I talk about:

  • (02:55) Introductions
  • (03:55) What did you do before this?
  • (06:00) How did you get started?
  • (09:50) How did you create a competitive advantage?
  • (12:10) How did you achieve product/market fit?
  • (16:20) How does pricing play a role in product validation?
  • (19:50) Tell us about how your assumptions have gone wrong
  • (25:50) How did you start to generate sales?
  • (27:00) How did Twitter play a role in marketing?
  • (27:20) How did you fund it in the beginning?
  • (28:50) How did you endear your early customers?
  • (29:50) How did you go out and raise money from investors?
  • (32:20) What did you learn from pitching investors?
  • (33:45) What is the most fun part of your job?

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

Enjoyed this Interview? Here’s How To Leave us a Positive Review on iTunes!

If you enjoyed this episode, click here for more information on How to Leave Us a Positive Review on iTunes! Your review will help to spread the word and get more entrepreneurs like you interested in our podcast. Thanks in advance - we appreciate you!

 

About Paul Biggar

Paul BiggarPaul Biggar is the co-founder of circleci, a state of the art automated testing and continuous integration and deployment tool. An expert in his field, Paul has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and has been featured on multiple HuffPost Live panels. His presentation at Google on compilers and programming languages was published as part of Google’s lauded Google Tech Talk Series, where it has been seen by over 20,000 people.
Prior to designing and developing circleci, Paul wrote phc, an open source PHP compiler, while doing his PhD on compilers and static analysis in Dublin. After moving to the Bay Area, Paul worked on the Firefox Javascript engine. He’s graduated from YCombinator, and now spends his time focused on developer productivity. He is an active speaker at tech conferences worldwide and spends his free time advising slightly younger companies on how to get started.

Additional Resources

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Digital Marketing Strategy: How Paul Clifford and I Launched Our Software Company

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Paul Clifford_0

Paul Clifford_0

Meet the man who helped me launch my new software, KontentFlow. Paul and I have been working on KontentFlow for a while, and I can happily say it’s now going beta. Paul and I are thrilled.

Unlike myself, Paul has developed multiple successful software applications including many enterprise-level systems. He’s also a savvy business person. So when I had the idea for KontentFlow, I knew he would make an excellent partner.

Listen to this podcast as we peel back the curtain and give insight into the process of software development. We discuss how we got started, how we outsourced our project (effectively or not), when we began marketing (well before the software was completed), and much more. I am excited to see things coming together and I’m sure the experience Paul and I had will provide you with some excellent food for thought.

Listen now and you’ll hear Paul and I talk about:

  • (03:45) Introductions
  • (04:45) What is disruptware?
  • (08:05) How should an entrepreneur get started in software?
  • (11:25) How should you interview a target market to find problems to solve?
  • (16:45) Why do some startups succeed and so many fail?
  • (19:45) After the interviews are complete, what is the next step to take?
  • (24:45) How can you raise some early money?
  • (26:45) How did we find our developers for our app?
  • (28:45) What did we outsource first?
  • (30:00) How should you manage ownership of code during the project?
  • (32:00) How should you manage the relationships with your developer?
  • (34:45) How should you handle QA (testing and bugs)?
  • (39:45) What should you do when you are ready to show customers?
  • (41:45) When should you start the marketing?
  • (49:45) Where can people go to learn more about the software business?
  • (51:45) What is an easier way to get started that involves less risk?
  • (55:45) How does open source play a role in this business?

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

 


Enjoyed this Interview? Here’s How To Leave us a Positive Review on iTunes!

If you enjoyed this episode, click here for more information on How to Leave Us a Positive Review on iTunes! Your review will help to spread the word and get more entrepreneurs like you interested in our podcast. Thanks in advance - we appreciate you!

About Paul Clifford

paulcliffordPaul Clifford is the founder of Disruptware and has 25 years experience as a Chief Technology Officer and a Chief Customer Officer (responsible for customer success) for many large software startups – all of which have been sold successfully.

Paul’s first software tool was a desktop software app (Colleague) in the recruitment industry.  He scaled this and sold it with the founder to a large public company in the UK.  Its since be re-purchased and is still highly successful and a market leader after 20 years.

Paul then built several SaaS applications in contract management, HR and recruitment selling to enterprise customers across 45 countries.  Each business was successfully sold for between $1.6 and $38million.  While doing this Paul was managing large teams of engineers across multiple countries.

Related Posts

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Introducing KontentFlow: A Content Marketing Software for Marketing Agencies

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kontentflow-header-image

content marketing software

Creating high quality content and then distributing it to your client’s websites and social media platforms is a time consuming process that involves a lot of moving parts.

It can also be a very profitable source of recurring revenue, if done efficiently.

KontentFlow is a brand new application that we’ve been developing for the last 6 months that makes it faster and easier for marketing agencies to create and distribute content to their clients’ blogs and social media accounts.

In this post, I’m going to give you a sneak peak at the software, as well as give you the opportunity to apply to be a part of our beta program.

See KontentFlow in Action

To help you understand the problems that KontentFlow has been designed to help you solve, we’ve created the three explanation videos below.

Overview of KontentFlow

In this first video, my partner Paul is going to give us an overview of the software.

Creating Content

In this video, Paul shares how KontentFlow helps you to significantly speed up the process of content creation.

Marketing Agency Owner’s View

Here Paul shows us KontentFlow from the perspective of the agency owner.

What Problem is This App Solving?

Approximately a year ago, I met an agency principal at an industry event and during our conversation, I asked him if he was creating blog content for his clients on an ongoing basis, for a retainer fee.

He smiled and said that his firm had 120 clients on retainer for exactly this.

Then I asked him how he managed it all.

His smile disappeared when he told me that it was all done with spreadsheets and email and it was a complete nightmare.

Content Marketing for Clients Has a Lot of Moving Parts

content marketing softwareAs I explained in a prior post, delivering ‘content marketing as a service’ to your clients is a wonderful way to increase your retainer income and position your firm as an indispensable partner to your clients.

It is also a way to dramatically increase the value of your agency. I know this because my last firm had $80,000 in monthly recurring revenue, and without this predictable stream of revenue, there is no way that the buyers of that firm would have paid me anywhere near the $1.2 million they did.

Obvious financial benefits aside, there is a snag you must consider- the logistics of managing it all.

If you have even 6 clients on retainer, you have the following ‘moving parts’ to efficiently manage:

  • six editorial calendars
  • at least 2 writers (depending on volume of content to be delivered)
  • at least one account manager working for the agency
  • at least one person per client who needs to approve content before it’s published
  • at least six client websites
  • 15 to 18  social media accounts

If you think about the workflow for a single piece of content, it goes something like this:

  1. Determine topic
  2. Assign to writer
  3. Perform keyword research
  4. Perform general research on topic
  5. Write article
  6. Send to account manager for review
  7. Send to client for review
  8. Publish to client’s site
  9. Promote on social channels
  10. Measure content’s impact on traffic and sharing

That’s ten steps for just one blog post for just one client.

Remember the guy with 120 clients? Each of them want at least one post per week. Can you see why managing this with spreadsheets and email just doesn’t cut it?

Due to the logistical issues involved, if you don’t have a well-defined process in place, supported by software, the management burden of this service offering can get pretty intense as the number of clients you serve increases – possibly resulting in a very negative impact on profitability.

Fortunately, we have a solution for you.

KontentFlow: Content Marketing Software for Marketing Agencies

Before we get into what the software does and how it works, I want to briefly address what it doesn’t do.

KontentFlow does not write content for you. It doesn’t scrape content, or do any other kind of spammy content creation you can think of.

Instead, what it does do is dramatically speed up the process of content creation, distribution, and promotion – while giving you an organized system to ensure that you can deliver your service efficiently and profitably.

If you run an agency and are creating blog and social content for multiple clients on an ongoing basis, KontentFlow is for you.

What Do You Think?

If you have questions about KontentFlow, please ask them in the comments below. I will personally read and reply to every comment.

If you’d like to use our software in your business, please apply to our beta program.

Apply to the Beta Program

We are now ready to launch our beta program and are accepting applications.

Initially, enrollment will be extremely limited to allow us to work very closely with our beta users. For this first round of beta, we are looking to work with agencies that already have at least 3 content marketing clients.

To apply, simply click the image below to be taken to the enrollment page.

agency-saas-footer

 

[xyz-ihs snippet=”CommentContest”]

Vitaly Golomb on How to Raise Funding for Your Startup

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VITALY 4IN X 6IN X 300DPI X FC

vitaly-golomb_0

Someone people say said is print is dead…

Apparently, Vitaly Golomb didn’t hear them.

Vitaly has been a part of one of the greatest moves towards this industry’s revival in the past decade. Find out how he lead the charge to create an InterTech Technology Award-Winning start-up (with other winners including Photoshop in 1991) and change the face of the print business. His thoughts on entrepreneurship and product creation are worth a listen.

Listen now and you’ll hear Vitaly and I talk about:

  • (02:30) Introductions
  • (03:30) How to choose a fundable idea?
  • (05:00) Can you go from a landing page and pre-orders to funding?
  • (13:00) Can you be a founder and be a developer?
  • (15:30) Can you give an example of success?
  • (17:40) What are the 4 paradigms of design?
  • (20:30) What is capital efficiency?
  • (21:30) What are the biggest mistakes you see founders making today?
  • (24:30) How does a lifestyle business differ from a venture-backed business?
  • (27:00) Is the venture-backed path better that a lifestyle business?

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.

Click to Tweet: Vitaly Golomb on How to Raise Funding for Your Startup

Listen Now

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If you enjoyed this episode, click here for more information on How to Leave Us a Positive Review on iTunes! Your review will help to spread the word and get more entrepreneurs like you interested in our podcast. Thanks in advance - we appreciate you!

 

About Vitaly Golomb

VitalyGolomb3Vitaly is the Founder and CEO of Keen Systems, a leading ecommerce platform in the $640B printing industry and the Executive Producer of Europe Venture Summit, a major conference for the CEE startup ecosystem.
Vitaly is an award-winning designer and startup veteran since the age of 13. He is an Advisor and Mentor at 500 Startups, Board Member at Happy Farm Incubator (Ukraine), and Mentor at Innovation Nest (Poland) and TechPeaks (Italy). Additionally, Vitaly is a frequent conference speaker, business school guest lecturer, and tweeter (@vitalyg) on design and startups.

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How I Made $19,000 While Learning to Create My First Software Product – And What I Plan to Do Next

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Software

First, let me say this: I cannot write code – AT ALL.

Luckily, to be successful in software, I don’t need to know how.

My first attempt at creating software was a WordPress plugin that helps agencies connect with clients that don’t have mobile-friendly websites. I hired a developer to create the MobiLead Magnet for me.

To ensure that the developer built exactly what I wanted, I created a mockup that showed what every screen was supposed to look like and then created labels that described what each button would do when it was clicked. This didn’t require me to have any special technology skills, so no matter what your background is, you could easily create a mockup, too.

The plugin cost me about $1,200 to build and so far, I’ve sold about $20,000 worth of it. Given that this was my very first project, I’m pretty happy with the $19,000 profit earned so far.

The success of my landing page plugin has definitely increased my desire to improve the product and turn it into a fully featured Software as a Service (SaaS) app – and I’m very happy to say that is exactly what is going to happen—only this time, unlike every other venture I’ve been involved in so far, I’m not starting from scratch.

My Next Move in Software

A few weeks ago, I reached an agreement with the founder of ConvertKit.com to buy half of the company and in today’s post I’d like to share with you the thinking that went into this decision. I’d also like to invite you to come along for the ride as we attempt to grow this business from where it is today to our first goal of $30,000 a month.

Before we get into too many details, let me give you some background into why I think this particular business has so much potential. My hope is that when you see what my partner and I are doing, some of you will see ways that you might also get into the software business – even if you can’t write code to save your life.

5 Million Reasons to Love Software

Not so long ago I learned that Lead Pages had raised financing of $5M in a Series A round. I had heard the company was doing well prior to the round, however, I really didn’t think that a company making landing page software for Internet marketers would ever close a $5M round of VC funding.

I guess that shows what I (don’t) know!

Hearing this news made me think: if VC’s are backing a company with a SaaS app that makes creating landing pages easier to do, that must mean that some pretty smart folks see this as a market with HUGE upside, otherwise they wouldn’t have made the investment.

In case you aren’t familiar with the VC model, they are only interested in funding companies that can grow really big, really fast. Doing so involves huge risk (most fail); however, when the winners come in, they come in BIG TIME.

My First SaaS Business: a Software App for Marketing Agencies

BloggingImprovesInboundROI

(Source: Hubspot 2013 State of Inbound Marketing Report)

Longtime readers will know that I am the co-founder of a SaaS company currently in development. The software is designed for marketing consultants and agencies that want to profitably scale a “blogging for clients” service and helps them to significantly increase their productivity in this regard. It doesn’t even have a name yet, though we are getting very close to releasing the software to a select group of beta testers.

The thing that I love about the product that we are creating is that it is very much in sync with the massive increase in popularity of content marketing. For consultants and agencies, this represents a substantial opportunity to increase their retainer income by creating blog content on an ongoing basis for their clients.

The thing that is yet unknown about this is whether or not consultants and agencies will actually pay for the software that we are creating. We do have plans to take pre-orders, but we aren’t there just yet and I will feel a LOT more confident about the prospects for this business as soon as I have some pre-orders booked.

Normally, when I get into a new business, there is a lot of existing competition, so I have a very high degree of confidence that I’ll be successful. After all, if there isn’t any demand for a product, there wouldn’t be any competition, right?

“The existence of plenty of competition is a very clear indicator that customers are quite willing to pay for a solution and I believe there is always room for one more competitor”

With the SaaS app I mentioned above, we don’t really have much in the way of direct competition, and that worries me a bit. In the landing page space, however, there is a truckload of competition. This competition indicates a massive opportunity…plus a guarantee that people will actually pay for software that makes it easier to create landing pages.

My Second SaaS Business: Say Hello to ConvertKit

NathanBarryShortly after moving to Boise, I was introduced to a guy by the name of Nathan Barry. After meeting him for the first time, I came away from our meeting very impressed with how much Nathan had accomplished in his first year as an entrepreneur. To say that he’d made a success of himself is an understatement.

Nathan is an extremely talented designer, has written 3 books, has built a large following for his blog, and has extensive experience designing software. He is also the founder of ConvertKit.com, a SaaS business that makes it very easy for marketers to build a profitable audience. In fact, I highly recommend you follow along with our Audience Building Challenge.

As of this writing, ConvertKit has close to 100 customers and provides them with an auto-responder and responsive form creator. Did the world need another auto-responder with a form creator?

No, it didn’t need another one, it needed a better one, and that is exactly what Nathan has built.

The Product

There is definitely no lack of competition in the email marketing software space. The list of competitors includes names like Aweber, GetResponse, MailChimp, and many more. However, as I described before, wherever there is a lot of competition, there is also a lot of opportunity. To be successful, all one needs to do is create a product that is better than the incumbents for a well selected target market.

Notice that I said ‘well selected target market’. That is key. To attempt to go head-to-head with industry giants is generally a foolish move because there is simply no way to out-spend them.

However, when you are a scrappy start up that can make decisions and iterate quickly, there is also a substantial opportunity to pursue a niche market by creating a product, that for one reason or another, is better that what is currently available.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that even if your product is only “just as good”, but your marketing message is better (for that niche), then you the odds that you will succeed are stacked in your favor.

Our Target Market

In our case, the niche that we are going to initially pursue is marketing agencies and consultants. The reason for this is pretty simple. Both Nathan and I have a fairly large following of these folks and we feel that we will be able to use this following to help us achieve our initial goal of $30,000/month in revenue.

Based upon the success of my MobiLead Magnet, I also know that consultants need a lot of help creating landing pages that will help them to attract more clients. To help them do this, one of the things we plan to add to ConvertKit is an updated version of the landing pages the MobiLead Magnet was designed to create.

While $30,000 a month might sound like a lot, in the grand scheme of things, a company that earns $360,000 a year is a very small company and we both believe that growing ConvertKit to this size is something we can achieve.

To help us get there, we intend to add features to ConvertKit that will make it a very compelling tool for our target customer and then use our marketing chops to attract enough customers to reach this first goal. Once we get to $30,000/month, we’ll have a very nice “lifestyle business” on our hands and will then need to make more decisions about our goals for the future, one of which will likely include our exit strategy.

Our Exit Strategy Options

exit-signOur goal with ConvertKit is to build a real business that generates a meaningful stream of predictable revenue (low 7 figures) and we anticipate that this will take us a number of years to achieve. The journey towards this goal will be filled with ups and downs, plenty of mistakes, wonderful lessons, and personal satisfaction.

In other words, it’s going to be a lot of work – and a lot of FUN.

When we achieve $1 million in annual revenue, the lifestyles that we will be able to enjoy will be fantastic and we’ll have done it by creating real value for our customers. At this point, I think that we’ll have much to be proud of.

We’ll also have some options for an exit that would not otherwise be available to us – and I’m sure that one of these options will be to sell the company for a healthy multiple of it’s revenue. If we were building a service business, as opposed to a SaaS business, the company would not likely be nearly as valuable because it would have lower profit margins and would not be capable of growing as fast as a SaaS company can – all else being equal.

I point this out, only because if you are building a company today, it’s very important that you begin to think carefully about how the business model (product or service) of company you are building now will affect your options to “exit” that business down the road.

The Team

As much as I like the product that Nathan has already built, the real reason that I bought into ConvertKit was because I wanted to build a landing page company and I want Nathan to be my partner.

ConvertKit is ideally suited to becoming a landing page company that also includes an auto-responder. Nathan has laid the foundation for that with what he built before I ever showed up.

I did consider some other options for developing a landing page company, but none of them included getting to work with a guy as talented as Nathan is – and, for me, that made buying into ConverKit the obvious choice.

The Opportunity That We See

It’s rumored that Lead Pages is currently doing about $250,000 a month in revenue. Having used their product, I can see why. They’ve made a terrific product that is very easy to use – and they’ve got a lot of traction with the Internet Marketing community as a result.

From a technical perspective, what they have created is actually quite simple and creating similar features in ConvertKit will not take us very long to do.

What Lead Pages hasn’t yet done is gotten traction with marketing agencies, consultants, and mainstream businesses (or if they have, they don’t promote that fact at all). They also haven’t build an auto-responder into their software so anyone that uses it must connect to yet another SaaS application. If you have been around online marketing for a while, this is no big deal. But if you are just getting started, it’s another point of friction in the user experience.

Think a bit of friction in the user experience is no big deal? Just tell that to Apple. Seems to me that there are quite a few people who are willing to pay extra for things that are incredibly easy to use.

SaaS30KTweet

Get ‘Em Young and Train ‘Em

When it comes to creating landing pages for mainstream small businesses, I think that the market potential is absolutely huge and for now, there is more than enough room for a number of competitors.

At the high end of the market, you have Unbounce. This is a very powerful tool, but it’s quite expensive and rather complicated to use. In my opinion the chances of a small business owner using it are quite slim.

There are plenty of existing plugins to create landing pages. I’ve tried many of them and they all seem to suffer from one limitation or another; and worst of all, they don’t really come with much in the way of pre-made templates. Without pre-made templates, there is more friction in the user experience.

I think that this is one of the reasons why Lead Pages has done so well with the Internet Marketing crowd. When I first signed into Lead Pages, the very first thing I noticed was how much effort they’d put into creating a fully stocked library of templates. Thanks to all the templates, I was able to create my first landing page in about 5 minutes.

By creating a product that serves the needs of customers who are just beginning to adopt online marketing, we believe that those customers will stay with us as they grow, so long as we keep developing more advanced features. That is one of the reasons that I quite like ConvertKit: thanks to Nathan’s design skills, it is very easy to use and is therefore ideal for people who are just starting out and don’t have to have to “read the manual” to get going.

Our Vision

With ConvertKit, our goal is to create an application that comes equipped with a wide variety of pre-made, yet completely customizable templates, all designed with the mainstream business owner in mind.

By giving these mainstream entrepreneurs a powerful tool to create high converting landing pages, as well as giving them a well designed auto-responder (so they don’t have to sign up for two different services and then figure out how to connect them), we feel that we’ll be able to get a lot of traction with them, and/or the agencies and consultants that serve them.

So What’s Next?

Building a successful business is not easy. The road to success with ConvertKit is going to be filled with highs, lows, and plenty of mistakes. To succeed, we are going to have to be smart and work our butts off.

If you’d like to come along for the ride, you’re going to get an insider’s view into everything we do – and we are going to share it all for free. It’s totally free and you don’t need to be a ConvertKit customer. To get each post emailed to you as soon as it’s published, sign up for the $30,000 mailing list below.

[xyz-ihs snippet=”SaaSChallenge”]

Josh Ledgard on How Kickofflabs.com Got 24,000 Customers in Just 2 Years

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JOSH LEDGARD 4IN X 6IN X 300DPI X FC

Kickofflabs

By any measure, Josh Ledgard’s software company has become a huge success. In just two years, Kickofflabs.com has attracted 24,000 customers. Josh lets us behind the scenes to show us how Kickofflabs achieved these impressive results.

He shares the groundwork they put in place, including how they came up with the Kickofflabs name, how they defined their target market, and how they used Twitter for research.

Josh also tells how they actually generated all those customers – getting the word out through Quora, directories & lists; reaching out to other people’s audiences; and buying traffic.

For details on exactly how they did all this, as well as what they did for lead conversion and nurturing, you’ll definitely want to give this podcast a listen.

(If you want to learn from other software founders as well, check out all our posts on software development.)

Listen now and you’ll hear Josh and I talk about:

  • (05:10) Introduction
  • (05:10) Overview of a launch and results they’ve achieved
  • (07:10) Overview of how they came up with the company name
  • (10:30) Why didn’t they let competition deter them from moving forward
  • (15:10) How they used Twitter to do research
  • (18:10) How they defined their target market and defined their MVP
  • (25:40) Overview of the developments leading to the very first sale
  • (28:40) Overview of marketing mistakes they made and lessons learned
  • (31:10) How to leverage other people’s audiences
  • (33:40) How posting on Quora has impacted their traffic and sales
  • (35:40) Some refinements they made for lead generation
  • (37:40) How being in directories and lists impacted their revenue
  • (39:25) Overview of how they are nurturing their leads to become customers
  • (45:00) Explanation of how they are using subject lines in their free 30 day landing page course
  • (48:10) How they follow up with costumers that leave and what they learn as a result
  • (51:40) How outsourcing has played a role in their organization
  • (55:40) Overview of how they are buying traffic

Resources Mentioned

Crunchbase
TaskRabbit
Perfect Audience for Facebook
kickofflabs.com

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

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Transcript

Trent: Hey there, bright idea hunters, welcome back to yet another
episode of the Bright Ideas podcast. I’m your host, Trent
Dyrsmid, and 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 without massively boosting the
amount of time that they have to work every single week. And the
way that we do that is we bring proven experts onto the show to
share what’s been working for them, and this episode is no
different.I am very, very happy to welcome to the show a fellow by the
name of Josh Ledgard. Josh is the cofounder of a software
company called KickoffLabs, and you get to it at
kickofflabs.com. It’s a software services company, kind of as
everyone’s software company is these days, that specializes in
creating effortless landing pages plus smart email marketing and
social referrals, all with one goal: to get you more leads. They
are serving so far over 24,000 customers, and have generated
over two million leads. And the company is just two years old at
this point in time, and very nicely profitable as Josh is going
to share with us very early in the episode.So in this episode, first of all there is one of almost my
record of golden nuggets. I recorded six golden nuggets in this
episode, so you’re going to be learning how to use Twitter to
talk to the customers of your competitors so early on in the
lifespan of your company that you can find out exactly the
problems you need to focus on solving. How to keep in touch with
your early adopters using surveys, and Josh explains how he did
that and how it made a very, very big impact on their company
when it was very young and just getting going. And then how he
also makes personal connections with those same early adopters.
He talked about where he guest blogged, and in particular, he
describes how he chooses where to guest blog so that the
probability of the traffic of the people that are going to read
those posts becoming customers is the highest. So you’ll
definitely want to tune in and hear how he does that.And then he says he works in the library a lot, and there’s
something unique about sitting across from the magazine rack
that has really helped him with his copywriting skills. So there
is a whole bunch more that we talk about throughout this
episode, and I’m really excited to get it going, and in just a
moment we’re going to welcome Josh to the show.Before I do that, I want to tell you about two quick things that
Bright Ideas has going. Number one is that I am writing a book,
and it is on content marketing and marketing automation, and it
will be all the lessons that I have learned, as well as the many
lessons that I have extracted here from the guests on the show.
And you can become an early bird for that book at
brightideas.co/book. And if you run a marketing agency or you
are a marketing consultant, and you are looking for a mastermind
group to join, so that you can hang out with likeminded people
who are in the same business as you, who are looking to become
more successful than they are today, head over to
brightideas.co/mastermind and you’ll be able to get all the info
there.So with that said, thanks very much for tuning in, and please
join me in welcoming Josh to the show. Hey Josh, welcome to the
show.Josh: Hey Trent, great to be here.Trent: Thank you so much for making the time to come onto the Bright
Ideas podcast and share the story of how you have launched and
made KickoffLabs a success. Before we get into all of those
details, I’m sure there are plenty of people in my audience who
aren’t yet familiar with you, or your company, so please take a
moment and just introduce yourself.Josh: Yeah, so I’m one of the two founders of KickoffLabs, and we do
landing pages and email marketing. So our goal is setting up a
campaign that involves a landing page that somebody might get to
via an advertisement or some other promotion, and then the email
capture and promotion delivery via that service are relatively
easy. So our customers range from people starting new
businesses, like a cupcake stand in a mall that opened last week
using our product, all the way to a company like [Kalem]
Airlines, running a contest to get people to register for their
newsletter, register for their deals flying [Kalem] Airlines.Trent: Wow, from cupcakes to airlines, that is a broad spectrum of
target customers to say the least.Josh: Absolutely.Trent: So we’ll get into that, I do want to talk about how you go to
market and how you pick your niche and so forth. How long have
you been in business, and let’s talk about recent revenue, just
so we can give the listeners a bit of an idea of what it is that
you’ve accomplished, so that will make the rest of the story
more compelling for them.Josh: We’re kind of a typical good growth curve. We launched in the middle
of 2011, and we made what I describe as next to nothing that
year, if you look at tax returns. And then 2012 saw us grow into
a business that was paying its two founders, myself and Scott
Watermasysk, decent salaries, and this year has seen us so far
grow to hire a support engineer, a designer, a marketing person,
and also pay ourselves much better salaries that are much more
similar to what we were making in past jobs. So we’re making it
very worthwhile for us.Trent: So that sounds like it’s probably between 500,000 and a million
year run rate at this point?Josh: We’re heading towards that, yeah.Trent: Terrific. And this is a business that you created with or
without any outside funding?Josh: Yes, absolutely.Trent: Without.Josh: Without, sorry, yes.Trent: So that’s why I found this story so interesting, because that’s
what I thought that it was. And there are so many people out
there, I’ve had many of them on my show in the past, Sam Ovens
and Brandon Dunn, two other fellows who have created very
successful software as a service businesses. Neither of them,
like yourself, took outside funding, so I think that there is a
really good story here, so let’s kind of dive into it. The first
thing that I’m really curious about is the name, KickoffLabs. I
think I read on your blog that you had ten product ideas when
you were first starting off. Is that it?Josh: You definitely did your research. When Scott and I got together, we
knew that we wanted to work together to build something, and to
build a business, we had close to 25 one-sentence or one-
paragraph ideas that we were throwing out there as things we
could do. We kind of vetted all those against what we had
personal experience in, and what we did not. What could we
contribute the greatest to? Some ideas even had us selling
physical products, but neither of us had experience with
manufacturing or doing a physical product, so we kind of ruled
that out.We narrowed it down to five or six that we wrote what I would
call mini business plans for, anywhere between five and ten
pages, talking about competitors, talking about the opportunity.
And I loved all those ideas that we had, and we started
discussing them after writing that up. We realized that any
further discussion was just circling around imaginary numbers.
We could have made any of those ideas look good on paper, and
probably they were all good on paper, and had potential in
reality. But what mattered to us was could we get people to pay
with their attention for the idea.So we were like, we should put up some pages and see if we can
get some people to subscribe to email. And then we kind of joked
and said, why don’t we just build a product that does that, and
then in the worst case we’ll have a product that puts up landing
pages. And so that wasn’t actually one of the five ideas at
first, and so that kind of stuck. And there are probably a lot
of people in our position. So the product was built with
ourselves in mind at first, to solve this problem-that would
eventually be called the Lean Startup Movement-had, which was
trying to build an audience for something.I think my answer in terms of why KickoffLabs would be, we’re
terrible at naming. We’d like to have a really catchy name like
Yahoo or Google or something, but I don’t necessarily think it
matters. To me, I think it came from thinking about all of this
as an experiment. It was an experiment for ourselves, and all
businesses are inherently experiments until proven otherwise.And even as we’ve expanded our market, our campaign is
experimenting. You as a marketer might run a contest or a
promotion, and you are betting that you’re going to get more
customers than you’re putting into it, but it’s an experiment.
And the idea that we could make those experiments and those
campaigns quicker and easier to set up and either quicker to
fail or quicker to succeed, there was going to be a market for
that kind of thing, for helping people to experiment more
quickly.Trent: You know, that’s such a profound and important concept that I
think a lot of especially new entrepreneurs don’t have a strong
understanding of. I see people, they put all this time into
putting up a full website, and they write all the copy, and they
do all this stuff before they’ve done any validation whatsoever.
So tip of the hat to you, and I think the KickoffLabs name is a
great name to be honest with you, because it is very
representative of what you guys are doing.So when you first started, there’s things that get in peoples
way from taking action and moving forward, and one of those
things is competition. I see people, they find an idea, and they
go, “Oh, somebody’s already done that. I can’t do it.” And you
came into a space that there’s an 800-pound gorilla, called
Unbounce, which they have a super well-developed product. They
have tons and tons of customers. There are a number of other
ones that are around. Were they there when you guys started, and
were you aware of them? And if that was the case, why didn’t you
let that deter you?

Josh: Unbounce was around when we started, and so were about 20 other
companies doing not just general, because there are categories
of website development. There’s actual website development,
something like [Wicks], something like WordPress. We didn’t put
ourselves in the category of competing with that, we’re more
complimentary. So something specifically around landing pages,
we’ve captured probably 20 to 30 different larger to smaller
players in the space, so it wasn’t just them although like you
said, they certainly had the most professional looking offering
at the time.

But two things, one, it felt like our niche, going after the
basic, just email collection and idea validation market at
first, was being underserved by their product. We knew that from
talking to people that were using their product on Twitter, on
forums, online, so we knew that there were people that felt like
they were being underserved and weren’t necessarily the target
of what Unbounce is going after. The other piece of the puzzle
is when you look at something like keyword trends on Google, and
you start looking at what is your business targeting as landing
pages, and just seeing the number of searches that people were
doing for marketing automation, landing pages, those kind of
search trends have more than doubled every year for the last
five years.

And so that tells me that there’s a market that’s not only
large, but growing, and although a company may look like a 900-
pound gorilla, I’m sure that Unbounce feels that they’ve only
captured one percent of their potential market. So there’s a
huge potential market out there, and I think this is true with
any idea, until you get to Facebook size and you can say, “Wow,
half of the U.S. is on Facebook,” most businesses that will
start out, if you’re looking at competition, there’s not
somebody who truly has 90 or 99 percent of the market share.

Now, if you said your business was going to be a search engine,
I might tell you that there is an 800-pound gorilla in the room,
but if you said your business was going to be a search engine
that specialized in finding gluten-free menu options and scanned
the menus of every gluten free location and went ahead of Yelp
in that sense of doing far more than they did, and you took that
niche and that was going to be your product, I’d have a lot more
faith that you stood a chance of making some money in that
niche. I’d still have some questions if your longer term goal
was to become Google. But in the space that we’re in and the
size of competitors, I never viewed anyone as an 800-pound
gorilla, and I think that the market is healthy, and there is
room for competition.

Trent: Absolutely.

Josh: And personally, I’ll add one more thing. I’ve met the guys from
Unbounce, they’re in Vancouver, and actually I really like them.
We’ve sent customers their way, and vice versa. I have no
problem if someone is met better by some of their product
offerings, then I have no problem telling people that they’ll
have a good experience, because I know that they share some of
our same values around customer support and experience.

Trent: And I’ve used both products, and when I say used, I’ve used
theirs for a landing page, and yours, you were kind enough to
give me a trial so I could get in and play around with it, and
they’re different. Yours is definitely easier to use. Unbounce I
think does more, but it’s more complicated, and as you
accurately put it beforehand, there was a portion of the market
that they weren’t doing a good job of serving. And I think
that’s another very valuable lesson for people too.

You mentioned that you did research on Twitter, so I’m curious
about that. Did you go and find people? Did you set up a Twitter
search, for example? Just talk about how you used Twitter to do
that research and connect with those people?

Josh: Literally, we took a few of the competitors, Unbounce, Lander App, in
the startup space there’s a company called Launch Rock that
opened shortly after we started doing what we were doing, and
had a lot of fame. And we just started looking for mentions of
those services. And I just wouldn’t look for mentions, I would
look for the really positive or the really negative mentions. So
the really positive mentions, like “Oh, I love the product,” I’d
just follow up with them and say what do you love about
Unbounce, what do you like about it? I wouldn’t say, “Come use
our product,” that’s obviously in my bio and some people
probably clicked over, but my goal wasn’t to get people to use
our product, my goal was to learn where there was room to
improve or not to improve.

And once I’d asked what they loved about it, I’d say what do you
hate about it, what do you wish was better? And then obviously
the inverse questions for people who said I’m frustrated by
this, or I can’t figure out how to accomplish this with that
product. So you just sort of have conversations with people
online, and at one point, I was probably sending out 35 to 40
tweet replies to people that were using a potentially
competitive service to ours, to grill them on what we could do
and what paths would be best for us.

Trent: I think that’s an absolutely brilliant idea, using Twitter to
talk to the customers of a competitor. You know, the guy that I
interviewed earlier this morning, we were talking about books,
and he has a particularly good idea that’s been shared with me
now a couple of times, and I just want to pass it along. When
writing a book, or researching any kind of product, he goes to
Amazon, looks at the competitive products, and looks at the one-
star reviews. Because those are the people who aren’t happy, who
are saying it’s missing this, it’s missing that, and it’s
missing the other thing. And I thought that was an equally
brilliant way of getting insights into ways that you could add
value that didn’t currently exist.

Josh: And it helps, because you sort of see where you’re going. You just
have to be careful, because the trap I see some people fall into
is, like if somebody came to us and say, “I don’t like Unbounce
because I can’t do these 50 others features.” And I’m thinking
to myself, Unbounce is pretty fully featured. You want these 50
other things, is not to then add to my work item list, do those
50 things, because then person is not our customer as well,
given that we’re trying to go after the quicker, easier market.

Trent: Absolutely. The next two things I want to talk about are one,
how you defined that market, how you really figured out who your
customer was, and then how you developed an MVP, a minimal
viable product for them? So can you walk us through that?

Josh: So there was some of that research at first, there was looking at the
cross section of what’s the same about all these services and
the competition, that we would say to compete in the space we
absolutely have to have. And we took that list, and we said this
could be our MVP, and then we didn’t do some things that we
probably should have done at that point. We did put up our own
landing page, and eventually moved it over to our platform when
it was ready.

There are some things we didn’t do, like we could have taken
advantage of the people that we signing up to our list, and
sending them surveys and questions along the way. And that’s
what some of our better customers do today that have success,
they’re actually using our tools and emailing people every week
and saying, “Hey, check this screen shot of our product out,
what do you think about this versus that?” And so it was a lot
of what do we need to launch that we could be using as a
customer to get the very first thing out the door? Since we were
that customer.

Once we got the very first thing out the door, and when I say
out the door, we did a really limited beta. We invited maybe 10
people, most of which were friends that we could trust would
give us honest, good feedback, and then we launched it and put
up a “Pay for this” button. We didn’t have an interest in doing
a free beta for very long, because to be honest people who don’t
pay any money give terrible feedback. Once someone is paying
money, they tend to tell you what they really need.

So then we had a free plan signup and a paid plan signup, and
literally everybody that signed up, because when we launched we
weren’t doing tons of business in the first couple of months, I
just connected with them personally. Because what else was I
going to do? I could just spend time writing a feature I didn’t
know if anybody wanted, I could spend time trying to market,
which I did with the rest of my time, or I could start having
conversations with the people we were grabbing and say, what do
you need next?

For example, the first thing that we launched had an email
capture, but there was no automatic reply or follow-up. We
didn’t have that as a feature, and when about the fifth person
who paid us money just for doing the email capture said, “Boy,
you know this great, but what I hate is that now I’ve got to go
get these emails and put them in Mail Chimp or put them in
AWeber, and then I’ve got to go set up an auto responder. Could
you just make email as simple as setting up your landing page?”
And that fit right in with this value that we try to have of
keep things easy and simple. And so we said, obviously, it’s a
one stop shop, why should you have to go to a Mail Chimp to do
email? If you’re doing a quick campaign, why shouldn’t it just
be automatically set up for you that there’s an autoreply?

It seems like a fairly obvious feature, I’ll grant you, and we
waited until a few people who paid us money repeated it, and
said, “If you had that, I’d pay you twice as much.” And we said
fine, pay us twice as much and we’ll do that, and they did. And
so we raised prices, and those people were okay with paying
more, and we added the foundations of some email marketing to
our solution.
That was a good example, because we talked to the customers
personally. I emailed everyone who created an account with us
personally. I looked at their landing pages, I’d give them tips
for their page, and say your copy might be better if you do this
instead of that, and build the trust a little bit, and then get
their feedback personally.

When we got the feedback, we’d separate it into feedback from
people who were paying us, and feedback from people who weren’t
paying us, and it became pretty obvious what things people who
were paying us valued. And we evolved the product along those
lines and values since that time, keeping our core value
proposition in mind, but as people have suggestions along those
lines, if it comes up consistently from people who are paying us
something, then we’ve evolved the product in that direction.

Trent: Very smart. If you can come up with enough of an idea to get
early adoption and paying customers, and then listen to your
tribe, they’ll take you in the direction you need to go.

Josh: Exactly. And it was just looking at how people were using it. We
didn’t used to have a section of themes and templates and
features for people who were running contests, but then we
quickly discovered that people were using our platform to run
contests. It was kind of shocking to me, I hadn’t noticed, and
then one day I looked at the sites that were getting the most
subscribers. At first you have to deal a lot with informal data,
conversational data, but when you start getting more usage, and
you start running some queries, and you say what were the top
viewed pages across our landing system for the last month?

And then those top viewed, what are getting the most
subscriptions, and then of those, what pages are those? And a
third of the subscriptions were coming to contest pages, and
we’d never even marketed for people doing contests before. So I
reached out to a couple of those customers, and they said, “Oh
yeah, I just love it. We just set up simple contests all the
time, and we run them with your system. We love your system,
it’s great.” And I was like, we’ve got to get a case study out
there and actually market and do some features for you guys, and
evolve the product that way too.

Because it’s the same thing, it’s a campaign, it’s something
that people want to be able to set up and close really quickly.
We had some features like the referral feature we do, we have a
built in refer a friend feature that works really well for
contests. It made sense after we saw that data, but it was not
something we thought of before.

Trent: Talk about being able to extract the most valuable insights
having access to all that data, that’s absolutely just a gold
mine of brilliant, or I guess I should say bright, ideas.

Josh: It’s definitely a gold mine of ideas. You have to have a question
that you’re asking first. The question that I was trying to
answer was, what are people using our product for today? What
are the usages for it? That’s why I had to start digging the
data, and dumping it all into a spreadsheet, and categorizing
things, and really scrubbing it to figure out how we could
leverage that?

Trent: So I know there are people who are listening to this now who
would probably love to create their own software as a service
business. And maybe there are some limiting beliefs standing in
their way, and I’d like to see if we can knock a few of those
down. So first of all, are you and your cofounder, are you guys
coders yourselves?

Josh: We both come from the technical background, so I was the VP of
Engineering at the last company. If I remember, Scott was the VP
of Architecture, so he was much more technical than I was, so he
led the overall design and architecture of the product, whereas
the rest of the engineering staff, the testers, the designers,
the product managers reported through me.

Trent: How much time did it take you from no code to when you were
able to put up that very, very first buy button?

Josh: About four and half to five months of time. We started toward the end
of February and we launched at the end of June in 2011.

Trent: Okay, so that’s actually quite a bit longer than I thought.

Josh: It took us longer. I think we got caught up in some traps that people
get caught up in for building the first version of a product.
And I think both of us, until we started to see some results,
were maybe not necessarily 100-percent committed at the time.

Trent: So during those four and five months, this wasn’t your full-
time venture?

Josh: I was doing a couple of things on the side at the time, and it wasn’t
necessarily full time for me during that period.

Trent: Okay. So what advice would you give to someone who wants to
start their own software as a service business? They want to
tackle one problem, so we’re not talking about building another
InfusionSoft or anything like that. Do you think that if they
don’t know how to write code, they shouldn’t do it?

Josh: It’s really hard for me to answer that question, because I want to
just say no, because especially lately has we’ve hired people
and outsourced some development work of features and parts of
the product, we’ve realized that the coding part is some of the
least valuable pieces of what we can do for the product. But at
the same time, we would have eaten through a lot more of the
savings we had to fund it if we had to pay for that stuff
initially.

So the approach I see working now for some people is going about
building a related information product, selling that to get some
funds that you can then use to fund the development. I can’t say
that you don’t have to. I think it’s been really helpful, but at
the same time it’s held us back, because we didn’t know how to
market a product at first. We had no marketing experience. And
so we would have gotten to success a lot more quickly after we
had the product had we understood how to properly market it. And
not necessarily wasted the second half of 2011 making very
little money.

Trent: I want to talk about that, but before I do, I want to give a
link out. So I had a fellow on my show by the name of Sam Evans,
you can get to him at brightideas.co/69, and Sam did pretty much
what Josh just said, although he didn’t use an information
product. He did consulting work, and he used the profits from
that work to fund his software business which is Snap Inspect,
and it has taken off big time, Sam is now doing very well. But
definitely go and check out that interview. So Josh, you’ve
mentioned that you made some marketing mistakes. Can you talk
about the mistakes that you’ve made?

Josh: They’re so numerous.

Trent: Well, this is where the best lessons are, so this is why I want
to get into this.

Josh: When it comes to KickoffLabs, there were lots of mistakes going into
it. We got hung up on typical stuff like logo design, and design
of the marketing site aspects of the product. And none of that
stuff really mattered, and we focused so much on those kind of
designs, and not enough on the copy and writing down compelling
reasons for people to buy or use the product or sell the
product.

And even when we did focus on copy, we did the classic mistake
that an engineering focused team will make. We focused on the
features, and not the benefits. So we would say, we’ve got this
feature, and that feature, and we’ve got referrals, and we’ve
got easy put up pages, and great templates, but not putting up
the why or the benefit that people would get. We weren’t
speaking to customers, and that’s just the stuff we learned
after we launched.

Before we launched, we didn’t do enough to build an audience.
We’d had a few hundred people sign up for our list, but the way
we’d gone about building the audience was trying to leverage
people we knew in our own networks in a poor way. So we would
just say, tell your friends about our idea, or check this out,
like us on Facebook, and sign up at our page if you like it. We
were trying to use our own megaphones, as opposed to finding
other people’s audiences and megaphones.

And I see this mistake with some of our customers as well, we
set up a blog and started blogging. We said, you’ve got to have
a blog, you’ve got to post on your blog, but if no one comes by
to read your blog, what value is that post doing you? Especially
in the short term? Now, in the long term, a blog post can have
some great long tail, SEO effects, but in the short run, where
you’re just trying to get a burst, and get an audience, and do
that initial launch, and make more than 10 dollars in your first
month, I don’t think a blog is very helpful for that. Because
you don’t have an audience to start with.

So what is more helpful is leveraging other people’s audiences.
So stuff we learned along the way includes going to public
communities, like Quora or the Internet Marketing Forum, going
to inbound.org, and participating in those communities, and
building a reputation with just a minor link back to your site,
those are much more valuable, because you’re leveraging other
people’s megaphones . . . or going to other people’s blogs and
writing a guest post. You’re leveraging somebody else’s
megaphone to get attention on what you’re doing. Where can you
play up somebody who has a bigger but related audience to yours,
is a lesson that turned out to be really valuable for us that I
wish I’d known sooner.

And a lot of our customers do this much better than us. They go
out and they just set up the landing page, they don’t even have
their own blog, and they go out and they market the landing page
in these kind of communities and forums, and other people’s
newsletters, and instantly they’re able to get few thousand
people in the course of a few months sign up. And then they have
their own audience, then they can start email marketing, then
they can start promoting their own blog posts. But that initial
building of new audiences by leveraging other people was
something that we didn’t do very well at all.

Trent: Have you ever heard of a fellow by the name of James Clear?

Josh: No.

Trent: It’s very relevant to this; I’m going to bring it up. I spoke
to James; I did not record this interview I had with him this
morning. I was referred to him by another fellow that has been
on my show, and it’s just so timely I want to share it.

So James has a blog at jamesclear.com, that at the beginning of
2012 had 500 subscribers, and I think he had about 11,000
visitors in that month. He now has 20,000 subscribers and he’ll
do over 100,000 visitors this month, and what he did was
literally reposted his content on medium.com, on [Quora]. He
hounded the hell out of the Huffington Post until they published
one of his articles. He hounded the hell out of Life Hacker. And
he said, much to my surprise, that he’s been getting great
results from using Google Plus.

And I asked him, has there been any negative impact on your
traffic from SEO as a result of literally cutting and pasting
the HTML of the entire blog post onto one of these other
platforms. He has his little byline at the bottom. Everything
leads back to one very simple landing page, which causes his
subscribers to grow. And he said, “No, not at all.” No negative
impact on SEO, no penalties for “duplicate content,” and as a
result of warming up that content on, we’ll call them these
outposts, his lead capture page, which is incredibly simple,
converts at over 80 percent. It’s mind blowing.

Josh: It’s lower now in the last few months, but going through 2012, a
third of our revenue came from posts on Quora that we’d made,
and so people that I could track back, their original referral,
where they heard about us from, a third of our revenue was
coming from some questions that we’d answered on Quora about
landing page best practices, launching a new campaign, launching
a business. We answered all sorts of those questions, and that
was leading to a significant amount of our revenue. I’ll go and
post stuff as answers and use that as inspiration for our own
blog. And the ones that get popular, where I can probably write
this up, do a better job of it, and put it on our own blog, and
so I’ll take some of the better answers and repost them to our
site as well, so we get the long-term effect.

Trent: It was a big eye opener for me, and something I have not been
doing a good job of, so you can bet that like you I’ll probably
be making some experiments very soon.

So what should we talk about next? In terms of lead generation,
we’ve talked about a fair amount already. Is there anything that
has worked very well for you Josh that we have not yet
discussed?

Josh: It’s some refinements of things that we’ve talked about, in terms of
lead generation. For example, when people look at guest
blogging, I think it works best not to just look for this person
is an influence or in marketing, but does this person have an
audience that’s willing to pay money? So some of our best guest
blog posts have been with complementary products. We’ve done a
few guest blog posts on the User Voice blog, on the Kissmetrics
blog, for example. Those are complementary products that our
customers are also using, that charge money for something. So
the audience there is already familiar with the concept of
paying money for a service online, and although those blogs have
a smaller audience than some what I would call influencers in
the marketing space, the conversion results are much better from
those locations.

So when you’re looking for places to post content, thinking
about where there are people that spend money, hanging out and
reading, and going for it that way. So we’re participating with
Joanna from Copy Hackers, who is doing a 30-day boot camp course
with videos, and we’re contributing one of the videos, because
we know that when we do a promotion with Joanna, she’s got a
segment of customers that are already willing to pay for copy
and marketing services. So I know that while that video might
not get a million views, the views that it does get are going to
be really valuable for us.

The things I didn’t expect to convert at first, the things I
kind of ran a checklist that I went and did, because we tried a
little bit of everything, we’re about experimenting, being in
directories and lists related-whenever anyone would make a list
of the best landing page tools, trying to email the author and
get into that directory. And even just straight up directories,
like editing our entry in Crunchbase, editing our entry in other
places where there are just tools you can use. There are all
sorts of these directories and list building services, and as
long as you write up a couple of standard answers to questions,
and have a couple of standard screen shots you use, you can even
outsource that and have people submit you to 25, 50 directories.

And there are a couple of these directories that I would have
never guessed would drive us traffic and referrals. But for the
cost of having someone push promote us to a couple of those
directories, we get a good amount of revenue every month, and a
good amount of conversions every month form those locations.

Trent: Which were the top three, the best three locations for you?

Josh: I’d have to look that up. We do get a lot, in terms of directories,
from Crunchbase because in our market, people do look for a
competitor too, and they’ll type in a product. And Crunchbase
has a good tagging of competitors, so we made sure to tag all
the competitors, that we are a competitor to them. Which then
adds them to our listing, but then we get the vice versa listing
as well. And that’s been probably the biggest. To go beyond
that, it’s a lot of onesies and twosies that add up over time.
So I’d have to go back and look at the data to tell you. I don’t
have that in front of me.

Trent: Fair enough. So capturing leads is one thing, but as anyone who
has done that will know, not all leads are created equal. Some
people are ready to buy, some people aren’t, so there is a
process of nurturing those leads to lead them towards a
conversion. Can you talk a little bit about how, I’m assuming
you have an automated funnel that’s doing that for you?

Josh: Yes.

Trent: Can you talk about it?

Josh: Yes. So what we do if somebody comes, and they’re not signed into our
website today, they’ll see a pop-up that comes up that says,
“Sign up for a 30-day email course.” And so the email course is
all about how to design and write landing pages, so it’s called
Landing Pages 107. The point is, we’ll send anywhere from eight
to twelve emails throughout the course, we’re constantly
refining and playing around with it, but basically walking
people through researching for a landing page, designing the
landing page, writing the copy for the landing page. We’ve got
some downloadable worksheets that go with it.

It’s my belief that the best ads are educational in nature. Even
if you think about some of the best Apple ads, for example, that
talk about the iPhone, they’re showing people how to use it.
They’re showing people, here is an app you can download, and
here’s a finger actually using that app, to show you how simple
it is to do it. I think that’s genius, because it’s not just an
emotional play in the ad. They’re great, because they combine
the emotional play as well as this educational play, but what’s
often overlooked about great ads is the educational value of
them. The better we can do through this nurturing process of
helping people with education, and getting a better
understanding, then the more trust they’ll have for us, and the
more they’ll come back and spend money.

We get anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of conversions from people
who only ever signed up for the email course, and then decided
later to come back later and sign up for a free product, and
then maybe upgraded down the line to a paid product. The numbers
are potentially higher, but it’s sometimes hard to measure when
people go back and search. I ask people all the time, I have
kind of a vague how you found us, and they’ll say, “Oh, I took
your course,” and I’ve got no way to see that they did. I’ll go
back and look them up, and I can’t tell that they did, but
they’ll say, “Oh, the course was great. Somebody told me about
it, and so I signed up for the product,” but then they used a
different email address.

So you just have to ask constantly how people heard about your
product, because the best tracking and automation online doesn’t
always capture what’s bringing you leads. But I can tell you it
was 15 percent last month, people signing up for this course. So
we do that, and then after the 30 days are up, we have them on
our continuing education newsletter list, so every other week we
send out a tip or an article to promote something that we’re
doing. And we also sign people up for newsletters on
KickoffLabs, when they sign up for a free account, then they’ll
start getting alternating every other week between that
continuing education email and a new feature or announcement or
promotion with KickoffLabs that goes into it. In terms of
marketing automation, I call it human automation. I also wanted
to keep that concept of having a personal touch with customers
and following up with them.

So we have an email that comes out every day to the support
person, and it shows them new customers, new landing pages
they’ve created, whether they’ve paid or not, and some
information about the landing page, with a link to the page
they’ve created. And we’ve got essentially almost a sales script
developed, where, depending upon the stage that that customer is
at in their lifecycle, we’ll have him follow up, give them some
tips, and ask them some questions.

Now, you could say, why don’t you automate that, because
obviously the product knows roughly what the person has done,
what they’ve accomplished, whether they’ve published the page or
they haven’t? That script could be automated, and over time we
may do it, but there’s a huge value in personally reaching out
and saying, it looks like you’re setting up a contest, because
that’s a determination probably only a human can make on a
landing page, it looks like you’ve got about all the copy in,
but it doesn’t look like you’ve got a video in yet. Or it looks
like you haven’t set up the follow up email yet. Can I help you
with that? Here’s a link to a resource that helps you with that.

And so that is semi-automated, in the sense that there’s a
script and a path that people go through, but we get a lot of
follow-ups from customers that say, “Wow, great, thanks for the
tip. I don’t have anything right now,” but I can tell from the
follow ups that we’re getting that it’s creating a positive
impression and people are more likely to buy, or continue to be
customers from month to month, because they know that not only
are we available via support, but that we’re already helping
them proactively. And so there are those two things, being very
automated on the email side, and then the semi-automated
scripted human side of the follow up are the two big marketing
automation tools that we use.

Trent: So while you were talking about the free sequence, I made a
little not to myself, subject lines. And what I meant by that
is, that everybody gets a ton of email. So there’s always this
huge challenge of writing a subject line that’s going to get the
email opened. And there’s a fine line between too much hype and
not enough. In your educational series that goes over the 30
days, what style do you have with your subject lines, as I have
not opted in and seen your subject lines?

Josh: It’s a mix. I tend to believe that although headlines grab people in,
the headlines should match the style of the content, so the
content is very varied. Because I believe when you are doing one
catch-all for marketing, like this 30 days course that gets
thousands of people to go through it, there’s not necessarily
one email that’s going to drive them all to sign up. You never
know what will drive that particular person, so we try to vary
the style.

So within that course, there’s one that’s learning about the
design of landing pages, so the style is very much a play on see
how Apple designs the best landing pages. So that subject line
works really well, because people associate Apple with design,
and we do have a case study that walks through some Apple
developed landing pages, and why they’re tremendous landing
pages. So people love that follow up, but then we have another
one that’s a list later on, so in the measurement section, the
classic ten things you should be measuring, and that tends to
work really well, but it pairs with the email, because the email
really is ten things you should be measuring.

I go to the library a lot, and I work from there, and sometimes
I’ll sit across from the magazine section. They’ve got a huge
magazine section at the library, and I see all these headlines,
and it’s just great fodder, because you can see the Cosmo
headline, right next to the Economist headline, which is a weird
mix. I don’t know how they order the magazines, but you get on
one end “The 10 Secrets your Boyfriend is going to Love in Bed,”
and on the other side of it, you see “The Cause of the Economic
Collapse and what So and So does to Prevent It.”

This great mix of headlines is an inspiration. I recommend
anyone go to a magazine stand and just borrow from those
headlines, and then create the emails that really map to that
headline. Because there’s nothing I hate worse than a bait email
that then doesn’t match up with the article. Not one style per
se, but we’ve leveraged all these classic headline formulas to
improve the open rate of the course over time.

Trent: And what open rate do you have, overall? And I realize that’s a
really hard question, so it’s more of an opinion.

Josh: Yeah, because it varies. And so the different tools you use give you
different answers, but I’m pretty confident in saying that we go
anywhere from 25 to 35 percent open rates, depending upon the
email that goes out.

Trent: That’s pretty good. Is there anything on nurturing that we have
not yet talked about?

Josh: I think we covered the stuff that I meant to cover on nurturing
leads. I’d say that the piece of it that a lot of people
overlook is the following up. So there are two pieces. One is
following up when people leave the service. It’s not necessarily
nurturing a lead. Well, it is like nurturing a lead. There are
two categories of people who leave a service like ours. There
are people that are done with their specific campaign, and we
can tell that by looking at their page and the note they’ll
leave in the reason box. And so we’ll follow up personally with
everybody that leaves, and it says, “Did you have a great
experience? What can we do to make your next experience or
campaign better?” And just follow up with them to remind them
that we might be able to offer this for you in the future and do
an even better job of that in the future, and we see a lot of
those people come back for campaigns down the line.

The other category are people that leave because they don’t feel
like they’re getting the results that they wanted. So then you
can follow up in terms of why don’t you think you were getting
the results that you wanted? What could we have done better on
the product? And it turns out that we end up turning some of
those people around as well. And if somebody had good results,
we’ll say, “We noticed that you had good results. Do you mind
sharing them with people?”

So this is the second part of it, personally asking for
recommendations. And a lot of people don’t do it, so when people
do email support, and somebody says, “Wow, thank you, that
totally solved our problem,” a lot of times they’ll get a reply
back from us that says, “Don’t thank us, go on Twitter or
Facebook or your blog, and tell 5 to 500 of your closest friends
about us, and that will be thanks.” And people do, and it works
a lot better than just having like us on Facebook as a button.
When you have that as part of the process and the workflow, when
you’ve caught people at a time when they’re feeling great about
your service via a successfully resolved support case or a
question that you’ve answered for them, to actually say right
then and right there, “Don’t thank me. Go on Twitter, and
promote our service.” I’m not saying it that directly, but if
you see a lot of positive stuff about our service out there,
that’s where it started from.

And I’ll tell people, “Hey, did you know you can get your next
month free if you write a blog post about us? So if I see
somebody who’s got a blog, and someone who’s had a successful
support story, I’ll tell them, “Write a blog post about us, your
next month is free.” I’m not beyond bribery, it works. And we
get a blog post written about us. And even if the person doesn’t
have a big audience, you get enough of those over time, and the
onesies and twosies build up over time.

Trent: That’s a very good investment in marketing. I’m jotting that
one down too. I don’t know if you know this, but I always talk
about these golden nuggets in the episodes that I record, and
you have up to six golden nuggets so far.

Josh: Sweet. Don’t tell me what the record is, because I’ll try to beat it.

Trent: Actually I don’t know what the record is. I’ve not done a good
enough job of keeping track, but you’re close. You’re in the top
20 percent at this point, because I only have five lines on my
sheet, and so I’ve had to make extra space for yours. So folks,
if you want to be able to get to all of the show notes and so
forth for this episode, that’s going to be at brightideas.co/82.
All right, so continuing on then, and we’re going to wrap up
pretty quickly, I want to know if outsourcing has or does play a
role in your organization, and what your thoughts on using
overseas outsourcers are.

Josh: I haven’t had much success with overseas outsourcing. We’ve tried a
couple of small projects, we’ve tried a range. We’ve tried from
content creation through to some development projects, and have
not had much luck with those two categories of things. We’ve
ended up doing a much better job with onshore offshoring, if
that’s a term. Because I’m in Seattle, my cofounder is in New
Jersey, the marketing person is in New York, the support person
is somewhere else. Since we’ve done a great job hiring around,
it has been easy for us then to take on and give some projects
to people that live in the middle of nowhere, so they then have
a cheaper requirement for their rate than if I was to go hire
somebody in Seattle, to be honest because it’s not cheap to live
here.

We’ve had more success in coding and content creation projects
looking for other people within the states. The area we’ve had
some success with outsourcing, and it ended up being overseas
outsourcing, has been in smaller design projects. So, if we need
to have a banner ad created, we did a banner for our WordPress
plugin, and I wanted it to look much nicer than anything I was
doing, and I didn’t want to take our designer and do it. I just
put up a mockup on freelancer.com and said “Do this as a
contest.”

For banners, we’ve generally run contests or gone back to one or
two people, and gotten designs that have worked out well for us
in the past, and that seems to work well for an extremely
scoped, non-mission critical design thing. And there’s a lot of
those that you end up needing over time to have done. So that’s
where the offshore outsourcing works. For everything else, core
development, core design, core content and marketing, we haven’t
figured out how to make that work with the offshore labor yet.

Trent: Okay. Things that I’ve had a lot of success with offshore labor
are tasks that are checklist oriented, where you can really
detail step one, do this, do that, do that, do that, repeat.
Things like research, if I’m going to write a post, and I want
to be able to cite other examples, I can say, “Go Google these
terms, catalog these results,” that kind of thing. I think
that’s an area where it works really well.

And folks, there is a fellow who is going to be on my show
sometime in the near future, Chris Ducker, and if you go to
chrisducker.com/101, Chris is the founder of a company called
Virtual Staff Finders. They’ve had a lot of success and built a
great reputation for themselves, and in that post, you will see
an example of 101 things that Chris feels are very suitable to
be outsourced.

Josh: You did remind me, I guess I did do that once. When I talked about
the research that I did on people using our service, to
categorize all the landing pages we had, I did like the first 10
or 15 or so, and then I realized it was going to take me
forever, so I used Task Rabbit, and wound up with somebody
offshore from Task Rabbit to go and categorize the rest of the
stuff on the spreadsheet.

Trent: I haven’t heard of Task Rabbit before, is that like an oDesk or
Freelancer kind of thing?

Josh: Yes, and it’s built more so around you have one single task to do.
Their UI is much more like, I’ve got this one job to do, not I’m
going to keep rehiring this person hourly to be like a virtual
assistant. But if you’ve got one specific job that you know is
going to take you a day, that somebody else could be doing
instead of you.

Trent: Cool, there’s another little golden nugget for us. Thank you
very much. That’ll be in the show notes as well. All right, so
let’s wrap up with this. Are you doing any paid media to drive
traffic to help boost the growth rate?

Josh: Yes. We do campaigns. We’ve done retargeting through Perfect
Audience. We’ve done standard Google AdWords, and we’ll run
Facebook campaigns as well. And we’ve run Twitter campaigns.
Facebook and Twitter straight up campaigns that are not
retargeting campaigns have not worked out as well as the AdWords
and retargeting campaigns have done for us.

Retargeting, I like it, it makes a lot of sense. You did the
work to get them to a page, and no matter how good your initial
conversion rate is, the vast majority of people are going to
leave your page once they got there, so reminding them that you
exist for the case a month down the road where they’ve got an
actual need for you, and it’s more dire at that point, seems to
work really well for retargeting. And then for straight up ads
to draw in a new audience, using AdWords it took us a long time
and a lot of wasted money, but we’ve got a few campaigns that
seem to work really well now, in terms of refining it. Maybe it
was just not knowing enough about AdWords at first.

I wound up contracting a couple AdWords experts to teach us how
to do AdWords better, and through the lessons that they taught
us, some of the stuff they set up on our campaigns, they’re now
profitable campaigns on AdWords as opposed to audience building
campaigns, which is my nice word for unprofitable AdWords
campaigns. At least they’re helping to get the name out there,
even if they’re not profitable. But it’s better if you can say I
make money on this ad, rather than I’m just getting my name out
there.

Trent: So you used the term retargeting, and I think there’s a lot of
people who don’t know what that is, so just quickly explain it
if you would.

Josh: Retargeting in a lot of services, and Google offers it now, is just
the concept that you have somebody that may have heard about
your product or your service or what you do. They visit your
website, and they visit it once, and they may click around a
little bit, but they don’t do anything to give you their email
address or sign up or give you any information. Retargeting
systems in advertisements let you essentially stalk that person,
for lack of a better word, across the Internet, wherever there
are banner ads or other places. Wherever there are retargeting
spots that I end up seeing, I’ll go to a news website and it has
banner ads, all of a sudden I’m seeing these banner ads for
other [SaaS] products I’ve seen recently fill up my screen.

And it actually is good, because it reminds me that I did mean
to go try out this new service, I did mean to go try out this
new support tool that I visited and checked out. And also
through Facebook. Perfect Audience is a product that allows you,
when somebody visits your website, then serve up Facebook ads to
that person from within Facebook. And that seems to work pretty
well as well, getting into their social feed. I wouldn’t have
thought that it worked well, because at least in my case I’m
interjecting business into what I would think would be a
personal thing, but it tends to get people to sign up for our
course and it gets people to sign up for the product. They come
back to your site when they’re ready to take action, and then
they sign up.

Trent: Does Perfect Audience work only with Facebook, or is it like Ad
Roll, where you can retarget anywhere?

Josh: It’s primarily Facebook. We used AdRoll as well, and had a little bit
less success. I honestly didn’t like the fact that I had to come
up with as many fancy banners that I had to for AdRoll. It was a
little heavier weight than I was looking for, whereas Perfect
Audience is a little lighter weight, and easier to get started
with.

Trent: Okay, that’s one for me. I’ll have to check that one out too.
All right, well with that said, I think I’m going to wrap this
up here. If anyone wants to get ahold of you Josh, or they want
to try out your stuff, what is the best way for them to do that?

Josh: They can try out our stuff at kickofflabs.com. Our email course that
we talked about a couple of times is at landingpages107.com, and
then if you want to email me directly, it’s
josh@kickofflabs.com. And I’m Josh A. Ledgard on Twitter.
Someday I’ll hold the person who has Josh Ledgard at Twitter for
ransom, but so far they have not given me my name.

Trent: Why landingpages107? Everyone does 101, you did 107. What’s the
significance?

Josh: Because everybody does 101. Because we want to look different. It was
a tip I learned from a [Mixergy] interview about using odd
numbers to promote things. We found out that on our homepage,
instead of saying we’ve served 20,000 customers, to actually say
over 21,582 customers, that tends to convert better on our
homepage. And I’ve been applying that to other things. I did a
presentation I’ve done a few times on getting your first 989
customers, as opposed to saying your first 1,000, because
everybody does your first 1,000 customers, this is just your
first 989. And it leaves people wondering, how do I get the next
11 customers to get to 1,000? And when people ask the question,
they’re a little bit more engaged. So that was just the reason
we did landingpages107, because ours is better and it’s a higher
number, and it’s different.

Trent: Absolutely. Well thank you so much Josh for making the time to
be on the show, it has been a pleasure to have you on board.

Josh: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Thank you.

Trent: Okay, so that wraps up this episode. To get to the show notes,
go to brightideas.co/82. After we stopped recording, Josh was
kind enough to extend to me an explanation of a contest he wants
to run, and here’s what we’re going to do. He’s going to give
away three promo codes, so in other words three free licenses
for his landing page software, to the best comments that are
left on the post, and you’ll get to that at brightideas.co/82.

Now this post will be going live on November 12th, and this
contest will run for a full 30 days after November 12th. So make
sure you go and leave your comment, because number one you’re
going to get an answer to the question that you ask, but number
two you stand a decent chance of getting a free license to
Josh’s software.

Now the other thing that I’d like you to do if you would is to
please head over to brightideas.co/love. When you are there,
you’ll see a prepopulated tweet to help spread the word about
the episode, and as well there is a link and a video to show you
how to go to iTunes and leave a rating, hopefully a five star
rating if you’ve enjoyed this episode for the show. And it
really means a lot to me when you do that, because it helps to
get more exposure in the iTunes store, and whenever that
happens, more entrepreneurs discover all the bright ideas that
are shared with them by the guests here on the show, and it just
helps a whole bunch of people, self included obviously.

So thank you very much in advance for doing that. So that’s it
for this episode, I am your host, Trent Dyrsmid. I look forward
to having you tune in on the next episode, which will be number
83. We’ll see you soon. Take care, bye-bye.

About Josh Ledgard

JoshLedgardJosh Ledgard is the co-founder of KickoffLabs – subscription software for landing pages, online forms, and email marketing – and the author of My Toddler Perfects Your Sales Pitch and Landing Pages 107.

Follow Josh on Twitter @joshaledgard.

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Welcome to the Bright Ideas Community of Entrenpreneurs

Digital Marketing Strategy: Brennan Dunn on How He Launched His SaaS Business in Under 4 Months

, ,
BRENNAN DUNN 4IN X 6IN X 300DPI X FC

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

Themeforest
FreelanceSwitch.com
HackerNews
Reddit/freelance
freelancersweekly.com
PerfectAudience.com
GetDrip.com

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

Enjoyed this Interview? Here’s How To Leave us a Positive Review on iTunes!

If you enjoyed this episode, click here for more information on How to Leave Us a Positive Review on iTunes! Your review will help to spread the word and get more entrepreneurs like you interested in our podcast. Thanks in advance - we appreciate you!

Transcript

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
business?

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
quickly.

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
them?

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
notes.

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
articles.

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
scale.

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
book.

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
ratio.

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
else?

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
immediately?

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
freelancersweekly.com?

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
that?”

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
ultimately.

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
thing.

Trent: No, definitely not, so somewhere between 25,000 to 30,000 a
month.

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
estimate.

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’ll replicate it over to
InfusionSoft.

Trent: Okay, so if someone says, “Hey, what’s my password,” you would
be able to tell them, because it is going to be stored-obviously
you can get it out of Planscope-but it’s in InfusionSoft, yes?

Brennan: I don’t put password info in InfusionSoft. I actually encrypt
all the passwords so you’d need to reset your password if you
were locked out. All I send to InfusionSoft is their email
address. Once they activate I get the account name and the first
and last name, so I’ll update the record then, but for most
people I just get the email.

Trent: Okay, I’m going to ask you one more question. How on Earth do
you manage your time? I know for me it is a massive struggle.
There are so many projects on the go, so many things you could
be doing, from tweaking the sales funnel, to testing sources of
paid traffic, to split testing landing pages, to creating a
podcast, to getting a guest, to writing a post, and on and on
and on. You seem like you get a lot done.

Brennan: I work fast. I like to say I live in organized chaos. I think
the best thing that I do is I usually get up at around 5:00 or
6:00am. I’ll start before the world is awake, I guess, and I’ll
just bang stuff out. I’m trying now to really focus on bucketing
where I’ll have a certain day be Planscope day and another day
be newsletter day, and another day be new product day. That in a
perfect world would be ideal, but the biggest issue for me right
now is how much my day is spent in my inbox. That’s actually the
biggest problem that I have because one of the things that I ask
people with a lot of my newsletters are, “Reply and tell me what
you think about this.” And I label it all in Gmail, and it’s
great for-one great marketing lesson is throw people’s words
back at them. So if you know how people describe in their own
words a problem, and you reflect that on your marketing site,
it’s better overall for sales.

Now that I’ve got quite a few thousand people, I send out an
email and say, “Tell me what you think about this,” I might get
200 or 300 replies. And I tell people, “I’ll reply to everything
I get.” That is starting to get pretty hard.

Trent: I want to offer up a resource for that. Chris Ducker did an
interview with Amy Porterfield. Her last interview on
AmyPorterfield.com, and Chris is actually going to be on my show
coming up soon too, and he’s the guy behind Virtual Staff
Finder. He actually describes at length in the interview how he
outsourced his inbox, and he has a VA do the first round of
filtering because he’s much like you. He says, “I want to get
people back answers,” but many time as I’m sure you’re aware,
the answers are the same or more or less the same over and over
again. So you can absolutely train a VA, or even have something
like [YesWare] installed on your browser, so your stuff is
already prewritten and someone else can go through that first
round for you, so when you log into your inbox, it’s only the
stuff that nobody else could actually answer for you.

Brennan: It’s a great idea. I think there’s a benefit in that it’s the
author’s own voice replying to you. Frankly, there’s a lot of,
especially if somebody’s emailing me about spending $1,800 in my
workshop, I’m going to talk to them as myself. I’m not going to
hire a VA to do that.

But I think you’re right. For at least delegating to me what’s
important or what needs my focus is a great idea. I’ve never
been good with delegation admittedly. It’s one of those things,
I’d love to be much better at it than I am now, but it’s more of
a mental hurdle I think for me.

Trent: I think it is for a lot of people. You eventually get to the
point where you decide I can have either massive growth or
massive control, but I can’t have both.

Brennan: That’s a good point. That’s a really good point.

Trent: You just can’t do it all. There are not enough hours in the
day. Brennan, thank you so much for doing this interview with
me. I learned a whole bunch and got lots of notes going into the
show notes here. There is going to be a transcript. Again folks,
you going to be able to get to that-I’d like to say, “If you’re
just tuning in . . .” But that doesn’t happen with a podcast,
you’re either here from the beginning or you’re not here-at
brightideas.co/77. All the stuff we talked about will be right
there.

Brennan, if people want to get a hold of you what is the one
easiest way for them to do that?

Brennan: Easiest would be my personal website, that’s brennandunn.com or
I’m the same thing on Twitter, @brennandunn.

Trent: Okay, terrific. Thanks so much for being on the show. I look
forward to crossing paths with you again soon.

Brennan: Awesome, thank you, Trent.

Trent: So that’s it for this episode. To get the show notes and all
the links that Brennan and I talked about head to
brightideas.co/77. And please do me one other small favor, head
over to brightideas.co/love, there you’ll find a tweet you can
send out, as well you’ll find a link to go ahead and leave
feedback in the iTunes store. So if you thought this was a
valuable episode and you found some golden nuggets, I would
really love it if you would take the 60 seconds or so that it
takes to fire up iTunes and go leave a five-star feedback for
the show. When you do, more ears get to hear the show in the
future because iTunes ranks it higher and the more entrepreneurs
that we can help to boost their business with all the bright
ideas that are shared here by guests like Brennan.

So that’s it for this episode. I am your host, Trent Dyrsmid. Thank
you so much for tuning in. I really cannot wait to produce
another one of these fabulous interviews for you in the future.
If this is your first exposure to the show, you want to make
sure you never miss another one, head over to brightideas.co, go
ahead and opt in, and you’ll make sure you get notification of
every episode we ever produce. Thanks so much. Have a wonderful
day.

About Brennan Dunn

brennan-dunnBrennan Dunn provides great software and products to freelancers and consultants.

He is founder of Planscope, a project management software for contracts and freelancers; author of “Double Your Freelancing Rate“; and owner of We Are Titans, a consulting company that focuses on improving their clients’ profits.

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Welcome to the Bright Ideas Community of Entrenpreneurs

How to Start a Marketing Consulting Business and Go From Zero to $35,000 a Month in Only 12 Months – with Sam Ovens

,
SAM OVENS X 6 in x 4 in x 300 dpi x FC

Do you think you need a fancy website, and business card, and plenty of startup capital to start a business? If you do, you’re dead wrong.

Sam Ovens started his marketing consulting business with no clue of what he was going to sell, no idea who would buy it, no idea how he’d actually deliver the work, and with no savings to speak of.

In this interview, you’ll hear Sam and I talk about:

  • (4:37) His number of customers and revenue
  • (8:00) His background, and how he got started
  • (10:30) His start as a marketing consultant
  • (13:00) How he used email to get his first clients
  • (16:00) How success led to more success
  • (19:00) How he made $10,000 sales, and closed $20,000 deals with $3k/mo in retainer fees
  • (23:00) How he used lumpy mail to find his leads
  • (25:30) How he delivered services using elance
  • (30:30) How he transitioned to a trusted advisor
  • (34:30) The difference between a service business and a product business
  • (38:30) The cons of a product business
  • (40:00) The cost of version 1
  • (42:00) His Big Business mindset
  • (48:00) How he used Idea Extraction to get his rich niche to tell him their pain
  • (51:00) How he researched Property Management
  • (58:00) Mistakes he made along the way

Links

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

Enjoyed this Interview? Here’s How To Leave us a Positive Review on iTunes!

If you enjoyed this episode, click here for more information on How to Leave Us a Positive Review on iTunes! Your review will help to spread the word and get more entrepreneurs like you interested in our podcast. Thanks in advance - we appreciate you!

Transcript

Trent: Hey there, bright idea hunters. Welcome to the Bright Ideas podcast.
I’m your host, Trent Dyrsmid, and this is the podcast for marketing
consultants, marketing agencies, and entrepreneurs who want to discover how
to use content marketing and marketing automation to massively boost their
business.On the show with me today is an entrepreneur by the name of Sam Ovens. Sam
is the founder of a very rapidly-growing company by the name of
SnapInspect. Just over a year ago, Sam barely even knew what an
entrepreneur was. He literally had to actually Google the term when he
first discovered it and that was a little bit longer ago. With that said,
this interview, if you are a new entrepreneur looking for a business to
start or you are already a marketing consultant looking to grow your
business, this interview is going to be absolutely a mind-blower for you.I don’t want to sound too hype-y, but I took so many notes for myself when
I was doing this interview with Sam that I absolutely promise that if you
invest the time to listen to it, you are going to come away from this
interview with some of the most valuable insights possible that will
literally be for you, as they were for Sam, massive game-changers.His app, his company, SnapInspect — so a year ago, nothing, didn’t exist.
He had to figure out how to find the idea, how to get it built, how to pay
for it, and then how to turn it into a very healthy six-figure business and
he did all of that in just over a year. And keep in mind, beforehand, this
guy barely even knew what an entrepreneur was. So get some pen and paper,
sit down. You are absolutely going to love this interview.Before I get to it, I want to really quickly tell you about something if
you’re listening, if you’re not yet a Bright Ideas subscriber, I’ve got a
new four-part video series called the Conversion Tactics Toolbox. It
teaches you — shows you, actually; it’s free–exactly how I get bright
ideas to add so many subscribers every day to my newsletter list and
therefore my marketing funnel and, of course, that causes products to sell.
Go sign up at brightideas.co.So, with that said, get ready, here we go. This is going to be a really
good one. Please join me in welcoming Sam to the show. Hey, Sam, welcome to
the show. Thanks for making the time.Sam Ovens: Glad to be here.Trent: So for the folks who don’t yet have a clear understanding of who you
are, take a minute and just please briefly introduce yourself. Tell us who
you are and what you do.Sam: Okay, so I started a software as a service company called SnapInspect,
which is basically a property inspection app for property management
companies. They use it to inspect rental properties and create reports.
Yeah, so that’s basically what I did.Trent: Is this your first entrepreneurial venture?

Sam: First successful one, yes, but including the failed ones, it’s
probably my third or fourth.

Trent: Okay.

Sam: Yeah.

Trent: All right, so you’re at a point now where you’re having quite a bit
of success. So let’s talk a little bit about where you are today and then I
want to back this up to the process that you went through and how you
started off as a marketing consultant and used that money to fund this and
where there’s a whole lot of really good stuff I want to get into. But so
that people know where you’re at, because you’ve accomplished quite a bit
here in the last year since you launched the product, I really kind of want
them to know the conclusion first, so maybe we can talk about number of
customers and revenue, how’s that sound?

Sam: Sure.

Trent: All right, so how many customers and how much revenue?

Sam: So, last time I checked, we’re around 1,400 paid customers and revenue
is around about $400,000 annually.

Trent: Very nice. And on a software business, how much of that is making it
to the bottom-line? Quite a bit, I would think.

Sam: I mean, our expenses run roughly right now about $16,000 a month, so
you could do the maths on that.

Trent: The point of it is — and this is what I wanted people to get —
because here you are, this guy who fell on his face a couple of times
beforehand and then finally, when you got it figured out, within a year
you’ve made a massive transformation to your life as a result of this
business. Would that be an overstatement, do you think, or do you think
that that’s pretty accurate?

Sam: No, I think it’s pretty accurate. I’ve tried to be an entrepreneur for
probably, I think, three years now, maybe not quite three but close to. Two
of those years, I was practically just spinning my tires and then when
things sort of clicked for me, which was about a year ago, it just all
moved so rapidly. SnapInspect is one year old in August. SnapInspect is
only one year old and all of my business stuff has really snowballed in the
last 12 months and it’s been a pretty crazy 12 months.

Trent: And a lot of fun, too, I’ll bet.

Sam: Oh, yeah. It’s fun finally making money.

Trent: Yeah.

Sam: Instead of just finding ways to get more to spend.

Trent: Yeah, funny how that is. Being an entrepreneur is so much more fun
when you’re making a profit. All right, so let’s talk a little bit about
your background and then how you got into this and how you were a marketing
consultant, because a lot of my audience — and I really think this is
going to be a great interview for them — they’re either a new entrepreneur
like you were before this success came your way or they are a marketing
consultant looking to grow their business to the point where it’s providing
a very nice level of income for them and maybe some of them are at a point
where they’re already there and they’re thinking, “Well, how do I take my
business to the next level?” The pieces of your story, I think, will speak
to all of those people, so let’s kind of dive into that.

What did you take in college? What did you do before this? Were you born in
this entrepreneur whiz-bang family with a big silver spoon or is it
something other than that?

Sam: Sure. No one in my family is an entrepreneur or even in business. My
mum’s a teacher and my dad’s a builder and none of my friends are even
entrepreneurial. I think back home in New Zealand, I don’t even think I
know another entrepreneur and I never really was entrepreneurial. I mean, I
was obsessive with things, like if it was a hobby or a sport or whatever it
was, I’d always have something I was quite obsessed with and spend all day
and all night thinking about it and something like that.

Those are the only early traces I could think of what’s led to today
because I remember my parents and teachers always said to me, “If only you
could just get obsessed with school or college or doing something
productive instead of,” because my obsessions used to be race cars or go-
karting or something like that and that was me spending money and taking
time away from studying, so my grades were always below average and
everything.

Then I don’t know when the click was. I think it was, I went to a friend’s,
her dad was a very successful businessman and I went away to their island —
the guy owned an island — and I was sitting there and I was like, “Oh my
God, this is so awesome,” and then when I got back, I was like, “I want to
do that.” I think the first thing, my first move was Googling, “What is
entrepreneurship?”

Trent: No kidding, wow.

Sam: Not even kidding, just trying to get a definition on it because I’d
asked this girl, “What does your dad do?” And she’s like, “Oh, he’s an
entrepreneur,” and I was like, “I want to be one of those.” So I went back
and I Googled it and I bought a bunch of books and I guess that’s where the
journey began and that was roughly three years ago.

Trent: Wow, that’s cool. All right, so you fell on your face a few times
and we’re going to skip past those just because there’s so much good stuff
that I want to talk about what’s worked for you.

Sam: Sure.

Trent: Then you, at some point, started working for yourself as a marketing
consultant, is that correct?

Sam: Correct.

Trent: Okay, so when was that?

Sam: I joined The Foundation in October of 2011 and I learned a lot there
about how to start a software company from scratch. I got the idea for
SnapInspect and we started developing it, but I quickly realized I’m going
to run out of money. Development builds were coming in because we had
milestones with the original developers and I never even knew how I was
going to pay the next milestone, so I was constantly trying to figure out
ways, see which banks were offering student credit cards, trying to just
come up with money any way just to pay the development bills.

Then I was looking, I was talking to my developer like, “What do you think
server costs are going to be?” He gave me some numbers and I was adding up
the numbers and I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve got an awesome idea for a
company. This company’s going to work, but I don’t know if I’m going to be
able to keep it alive long enough for it to actually gain traction.”

So I quickly realized that I’m going to need a source of income to support
starting SnapInspect. At that point, I knew a bit about marketing and I
figured, “Well, these skills are probably helpful to other business,” so I
decided that I’d help consult other businesses on marketing and basically
sell my own services and use that cash to help get SnapInspect started and
survive through the early stages.

Trent: So let’s talk about how you did that. You’ve got no customers,
you’ve got some marketing skills which you’ve acquired as the product of,
presumably, your failures along the way. You’re out there trying to figure
out how to do stuff, it’s all on the line and you can’t help but learn
things. Then you made a decision, “Well, I’m going to go get some clients
because I need some cash flow or my business is not going to succeed,” so I
want to know what did you do — and I’m sure my audience would like to
know, especially the new entrepreneurs who are thinking, “Man, this guy’s
story sounds like mine,” — what did you do to get those clients?

Sam: Sure. My first attempt, like any of my first attempts, was pretty
weak. I just reached out to people I knew because I didn’t even know what I
was selling. I was like, “I know all of this stuff,” but I couldn’t put
into a sentence what I was selling. So it sort of started out with getting
a few cheap $2,000 or $3,000 website deals where I’d essentially just be an
order taker and help a business rejig their website and that’s how it
started.

Trent: These were all people initially that you knew? But you didn’t have
any credibility with them as a marketing or a website developer, did you?

Sam: No, not at all. I just reached out via e-mail. They knew I was in this
whole online space, which most people don’t understand that most business
owners, outside of the tech and San Francisco space, they actually don’t
know anything about websites and so you don’t need to know much to be an
expert. In fact, most of the people that probably had the ability to find
your content and listen to it probably know more than enough to actually be
valuable to 95% of the businesses in the world. You don’t actually need to
be that much of an engineer to help other people out. Now I’ve side-tracked
myself, what was the question?

Trent: It’s okay, it’s okay. I couldn’t agree more. I think that is
something people overestimate or maybe underestimate, I don’t know what the
right word is, but they think they need to be this guru before they could
ever go to a small business owner that runs any kind of small business
that’s in your town and say to them, “I can help you with your marketing.”
So limiting belief number one that hope Sam has just smashed for you guys
is that you already know enough. If you found my site and you’re listening
to this interview and you know what WordPress is and you know what hosting
is, you already know enough.

Okay, so you sent some e-mails, you got some clients, $2,000 gigs, $3,000
gigs here and there. Is that about right?

Sam: Yup.

Trent: What happened next?

Sam: So that was enough money. From what I was making, that was a big
change. I mean, $2,000, $3,000 compared to zero? Pretty sweet, so I was
pretty happy with myself and I did quite a few of those and then I guess
the more I thought about it and the more of these little deals that I won,
the more confidence I got and I sort of found my foothold and my market in
exactly what it was that I did. So instead of being a consultant that
literally would do anything for money, I now had a very specific thing that
I did for a specific market.

Trent: Which was what?

Sam: So I would help B2B companies, so B2B companies that had high-ticket
priced items generate more leads with their websites.

Trent: Okay, so did you do that by helping them to do better conversions or
more traffic?

Sam: The beauty of this was that it was so much easier than doing even the
$2,000 deals because essentially what I would do is I’d put just such basic
stuff, like their websites would have headlines and basic copy which,
instead of saying, “We are the best. We, we, we,” it would talk a little
bit about the other person, the customer and what pains they’re
experiencing. So I’d rejig the copy, put a headline in and I’d create some
sort of lead capture system, which would just be usually a like a MailChimp
opt-in form for a free consultation or a pricing booklet or some sort of
information thing that they had. Most of the time, they had these in their
business; they just weren’t putting them to work.

Trent: So this is really basic stuff for us but, again, for these small
business owners, they had no idea how to do this stuff. So how much were
you able to charge to do this?

Sam: Well, so, my average–to do something simple as that, I would charge
$10,000.

Trent: $10,000?

Sam: Yup.

Trent: To tweak a headline, fix sales copy, put a lead capture form on,
presumably write some kind of autoresponder sequence on behind-the-scenes,
and get them to take some content they already had and turn it into a free
report/lead magnet, $10,000 for that?

Sam: Yup.

Trent: I hope, my beloved audience, this is sinking in for you guys.

Sam: Well, you’ve go tot understand that they didn’t know that they needed
that. If they knew that they needed that, they could do it themselves or
they could hire someone on Elance to whack it together for a couple hundred
dollars, but . . .

Trent: But they don’t know that.

Sam: It’s the advantage of not being an order taker but an advisor or an
expert and knowing exactly what you’d do because the beauty of B2B high-
ticket item companies is one sale to them is usually worth $50,000 to
$100,000.

Trent: Yup.

Sam: They’re already making plenty of sales and they’re making them through
their website with people going to the “Contact Us” form and filling out,
like, 15 fields, which was hard to find and I was thinking, “My God, if we
could remove some of this friction, rejig the copy, even if I just got them
one more in a whole year, it’s still worth it for them to pay me $10,000.”

Trent: Absolutely.

Sam: And I did. They got way more than one a year so as far as they were
concerned, they were away laughing. They only had to pay me $10,000 but
that’s the thing about pricing on value instead of cost.

Trent: Mm-hmm.

Sam: The whole time, I anchor my deals on what’s a new client worth to you.
They know it’s $50,000, $100,000 and if we can get at least one or two more
of those a month, they’re sorted. That’s the advantage, that’s why I picked
that as my niche and as my specialty because once I had one of those under
my belt and I could get a testimonial, I just started reaching out to more
of them that were in the same situation and it was easy. I’d put retainers,
I started to build retainers in and I started to charge more.

I did contracts where I’d implement a CRM system too. For example, a
company, it would need the website rejigged, it would need testimonials —
which I’d have to find — it might include lead capture, basic
autoresponder, and then it would have to feed into a CRM system, which you
wouldn’t even believe that a $10 million a year company didn’t even have a
CRM.

Trent: They probably didn’t even know what it was.

Sam: I put a CRM in place, showed the team how to use it, we talked about
all of this new stuff. It was fun. I learned a ton doing it. The owner
loved it, the company profited wildly from it and that was a $25,000 deal
with a $3,000 a month retainer and still not even touching on any of the
stuff that the guys in your audience know, like split-testing and what
button colors convert. Forget that! This is simple stuff, right?

Trent: I’m loving that you’re sharing this because this is a perfect
example in this video that I mentioned to you before that’s on YouTube that
I get all these views on and we talked about before — I talk about my
green dot theory and it’s more or less the best way to succeed in business
is to be in business. Because once you start — and this is what I hope
that my new entrepreneurs who are listening to this will understand — you
don’t need a great idea to start, you just need to start. Then along the
way, like what happened to you, Sam, is the byproduct of the journey is
that you start discovering these rich niches that I talk about, the
importance of selling to businesses that have a high customer value, and
you discovered all the stuff. You didn’t think this up on a whiteboard and
say, “That’s what I’m going to do,” right?

Sam: Oh, so far from it, it’s ridiculous.

Trent: Yeah, fantastic stuff. Okay, and how, by the way — because I know
some people are probably thinking this — how did you find these companies
to go and you contacted them via e-mail always to begin with, was that
correct?

Sam: I tried lots of things and over time, again, I adapted my process. In
the end, my secret weapon was lump e-mail.

Trent: I love so much you just mentioned that because that’s one thing that
we’re starting to do, as well.

Sam: Yeah, that was my secret weapon in the end. I could send out pieces
and I knew that I was going to get a new client. I knew what my conversions
were off that and it worked, it really worked and I never paid for any . .
. I never used AdWords, never had Facebook, never had a blog. I mean, I
didn’t have anything. I didn’t even have a business card.

Trent: Did you have a website? You had a website?

Sam: Well, I mean, if you looked at samovens.com, it’s one static page that
just says “Direct Marketing Consultant.” The website took me five minutes
to build.

Trent: Mm-hmm.

Sam: It pays to note I don’t even know how to use WordPress. I built my
website using Unbounce.

Trent: I love it.

Sam: I still don’t know how to set up a WordPress website.

Trent: I love it. So how when you were actually working with these clients
and you wanted to fix a headline and improve copy and put the webform on,
did you just give them the code for the webform and have their team make
the tweaks on their own sites?

Sam: That’s a really good question. That’s the other part of it: I never
did any of the actual work. So I would win the deal — that part is
important — I put a lot of my effort into winning the deal and that was
where I spent the bulk of my time. Then I would sit down with the business
owner and I’d ask him questions to learn about how we’re going to rejig the
site and how we’re going to generate leads.

Generally, he would give me all the information I needed and then I would
set aside a day or two to write the copy and I’d design all of the pages,
I’d just write them up in either Keynote or later on I used Unbound, but I
started out using Keynote, and I had a guy that I hired from Elance who
would do all of my implementation.

So I’d essentially win the deal, create a list of what needed to be done,
jump on Skype with my guy from Elance, brief him. He’d go and do it all —
like build the website, put the code on, do the style, all of that stuff
that I didn’t know how to do — and we had an awesome arrangement where he
charged a flat fee regardless of how long it took: $200 to do the
implementation.

Trent: $200. So you’re selling a deal for $10,000 and it’s costing you $200
to deliver it, right?

Sam: Yup, yup.

Trent: I hope there are people listening to this podcast right now with
their jaw hanging open and then kicking themselves in the butt because
they’re doing too much analysis and too much paralysis before they get
going.

Sam: It sounds illegal, right? But what people aren’t understanding is that
I’m not selling the doing. If these people knew what they wanted, they
could go directly to the Elance guy.

Trent: But they don’t.

Sam: I’m the one that’s telling them what they need, like I’m creating the
real value. The real value isn’t in doing. The real value isn’t in typing
the code or putting the MailChimp form on the page. There’s no value in
that. That’s a commodity. You can hire people all over the world on Elance
that’ll do that for next-to-nothing. The real value is in knowing how to
get the client more customers.

Trent: Mm-hmm, and knowing what the client needs when they don’t know
themselves.

Sam: Yeah, and the best part about it is you get treated with so much more
respect when you’re not an order taker.

Trent: Mm-hmm.

Sam: Back in the day when I did $2k and $3k website deals, I mean, I’d show
them the site and they’d send me back a list of, like, 50 things to change,
like “move the logo a little bit to the left, a little bit to the right,
color of the font doesn’t look right,” just stuff like that and it killed
me because you’re essentially an order taker — you’re not an adviser or an
expert — and they don’t listen to anything you say because you’re
essentially just that Elance guy except a more glorified version that gets
paid $2,000 instead of $200.

That’s essentially what I was but when you’re the adviser and the expert,
they don’t fight you on anything. You never hear about a logo placement or
a color because what they’re hiring you for is the added revenue they’re
going to get, the customers. They don’t care about anything else and that’s
the way it should be. So, honestly, it really changed how I did the whole
marketing consulting thing because I went from busting my ass doing $2,000,
$3,000 deals to doing $10,000 to $20,000 deals where I was treated like
someone that was valuable and also not having a fight with the customer
over the color of a logo.

Trent: Just so that I make sure myself and the audience is crystal-clear on
the difference, the differences between starving consultant Sam and getting-
rich consultant Sam — and we haven’t even talked about your SaaS yet,
which we’re still going to get to — is you decided, number one, to focus
on a different niche, the rich niche, these high-ticket B2B companies. Then
you used your lump e-mail to get in touch with them and you positioned
yourself deliberately through the questions, I’m assuming, that you asked
them as a trusted adviser. Is that pretty much the difference between
“starving” and “getting-rich”?

Sam: Yeah, so, first of all, I mean, I would target companies that had
money to spend and I’d target companies where I honestly believed that if I
was to do what I wanted to do to their website, that they would value from
it more than what they would pay me. Because a lot of the deals I did early
on when I was what you’re calling a “poor consultant,” I honestly thought —
and there was no real added value to the company. I mean, sure their
website looked nicer, but I didn’t feel, I felt like this is a waste of
their $2,000, $3,000; it just looks prettier.

But with these other companies, I was happy to charge $10,000 or more
because they got the value from it. It sounds criminal and I used to feel a
little bit shady doing it but then when I really thought about it, because
a lot of the time after I had these big customers with $10,000, $15,000,
$20,000, $25,000, I felt guilty. I was like, “Oh my God, they’re going to e-
mail me two months later and they’re going to be like, ‘We want our money
back.'” But it was the exact opposite.

They told other people about me and I started getting referrals and they
loved it. They were like, “There’s a big difference,” and the people I did
$2,000 or $3,000 websites for, they still call me today because they say
something like their website isn’t loading fast enough. I mean, the
difference is I can’t even define.

Trent: Well, you’re doing a pretty good job of it so far and I hope that
the incredibly valuable message that you are sharing right now is sinking
in with the people that are listening to this. Folks, if you have
questions, there’s going to be a comment form on the blog post where this
interview is published. Make sure you use it and either Sam or myself will
answer them.

All right, so I kind of want to transition the interview now to the
SnapInspect story. So, obviously what you’ve shared with us so far has
communicated how you got some cash flow so that you could build this other
business, which has a bunch of pros and cons. Before we get too much into
SnapInspect — and this is something that when I was a new entrepreneur, I
didn’t know anything about — there are some pros and cons to a consulting
business and there are some pros and cons to a software business. I don’t
think many people, especially in the beginning, even have the belief system
that they could ever possibly even create a software business.

So, very quickly, just tell us the pros and cons of the consulting model
and the pros and cons, mostly what you just told me before the interview,
the pros and cons of the software model.

Sam: Consulting is one specific example but it’s really the pros and cons
of any service business and the pros and cons of any product-based
business.

Trent: Sure.

Sam: But in my specific example, I’m going to use consulting and SaaS. The
pros and cons of a consulting business or a service business is, the pros:
you can get into business immediately. All you really need is a laptop and
a cell phone, plus the barriers to entry, there’s none. You don’t need to
build a product, you don’t need to invest in development and it doesn’t
cost anything or really anything. You can get into business straight away.

The other pros of the consulting business is you start to make decent money
pretty quickly so I started to make $3,000 where I had to pay my developer
$200. That was still $2,800 and while that’s not much money, that was a lot
to me back then, more than what my product business could do at the time,
so it can generate cash pretty quickly. Within a year, the consulting
business got pretty big. I grew it up to $35,000 a month.

Trent: Within a year.

Sam: Yep.

Trent: Fantastic.

Sam: It’s still at that today and, yeah, that was quick. It grew to $10,000
a month so much faster than SnapInspect did and the profitability of it was
much higher. It was very profitable. It was pretty much a cash business.

Now, the cons of a service business or a consulting business: firstly,
there’s no asset value. If you’ve got a consulting business, someone’s not
going to come along and acquire it because you are the business. It doesn’t
have an asset value, it doesn’t have a multiplier. You can’t say, “Well, I
earned $100,000 this year and using a ten times multiplier, the market cap
for my consulting practice is a $1,000,000.” That doesn’t work.

Trent: I do want to interject, though, from my own experience, I did have a
service business but it wasn’t just me — I had a dozen employees and we
had a lot of recurring revenue, MRR, monthly recurring revenue — and I
sold it for $1.2 million because the asset value was the recurring revenue
with the people behind it to do it all, so I just want to make sure that
the audience understands that service businesses can have an asset value if
you build them correctly. Not as good, necessarily, as software, but–

Sam: You want to make sure you are not the business.

Trent: Correct.

Sam: But I was the business, so if you can make your consulting or service
business run without you and it’s got some sort of reliable income that’s
predictable . . .

Trent: That doesn’t depend upon you.

Sam: Yes, then, absolutely, that’s a real business, that’s an asset. But
most consulting, it’s essentially the person, it’s just them and people buy
because it’s them and you can’t leave. So, yeah, you’re right, thanks for
correcting me, but my one was I definitely had no multiplier.

Trent: Mm-hmm.

Sam: And so–where was I, that was my con . . .

Trent: Yeah, now you’re going to talk about, I believe . . .

Sam: And also scaling.

Trent: Okay.

Sam: To scale a consulting business, there really is only two ways: one is
to charge more; the other is to work more hours; or the other one, which is
actually hiring more people, and there’s a limit on how high you can scale.

Now, on a product business, the cons: there’s barriers to entry. You have
to have a product. To do that, you need to develop it, you need to work
with developers, you need to pay money to build the product, test it, all
that stuff. That takes time, so speed-to-market, cost-to-enter is high, and
then also when you launch, you’re not making much money.

I mean, I had about 10 customers when I launched, paying around $150 a
month, that $1,500 a month. That’s still pretty good but my costs were
higher than that, so I was losing money and I was losing money for quite a
long time. Eventually it starts to pick up and scale but by the time it
gets out of that trough, it’s sucked up a fair bit of time and money.

Trent: How much do you think you burned through before you achieved
breakeven?

Sam: I don’t want to scare people — to get the product to market, version
one to market with 10 paying customers, cost me about $10,000.

Trent: Okay.

Sam: To build it up to where it is today, it’s not that same $10,000
product. There’s been a developer full-time on it for over a year now,
developing every single day. We’ve really built it out and invested in it.
I mean, it’s more than six figures — I don’t mean more than six figures,
but in the six figures range.

Trent: Mm-hmm.

Sam: So it’s under $300k but above $100k.

Trent: Yeah, it cost me probably close to $300,000 and several years before
my service business — which was not just me, it had a staff, so it had an
asset play achieved to break even. It’s expensive.

Sam: Yeah. Now, and also I don’t want to scare people off of the product
business costing that much. To get in there and to start selling, $10,000,
but I grew it without investing much money to a pretty decent income where
it was profitable pretty quickly, within six months. But I had this
realization that I just didn’t want a six-figure product business. I really
wanted a big business, like multi-millions, and so I figured, all right,
it’s time to turn the company into a loss and start making a loss with a
plan to scale.

Trent: But you had your consulting revenue to cover the loss for you.

Sam: Precisely, so I’ve always been a massive fan of big business. A lot of
people like lifestyle and all that sort of stuff but me, I’ve always been a
massive fan of just big business and so I’ve always followed people like
Warren Buffett and J.P. Morgan and Rockefeller and all of those guys and
been fascinated with how they think. I was reading the letters of Warren
Buffett–have you ever read those?

Trent: No, I have not.

Sam: Letters he writes to his Berkshire Hathaway . . .

Trent: Oh, yeah, the shareholders’ letters. I have.

Sam: Yeah, yeah, the shareholders’ letters and I was reading them, I still
read them. In it Buffett and Munger, Charlie Munger, were talking about
this concept of cash float, which is they use insurance companies such as
GEICO and I think they’re the largest insurance company holder in the
world, and they use insurance companies to generate cash float. So GEICO
and other companies, they charge the premium up-front, so you pay the 12-
month premium up-front and generally there’s 12 years before a client will
make a claim. So let’s say someone pays $1,000 a year over 12 years,
Buffett and Munger essentially have $12,000 of cash which they can invest,
and so they call that cash float. The reason they love insurance so much is
it produces huge amounts of cash that Buffett and Munger can take away and
invest in companies that need start-up money and money to get to scale and
get into profitability.

I was reading this and all of this clicked that my consulting business was
generating quite a bit of cash and I sort of thought of that as my GEICO,
my cash float business. So I started shifting the revenues from my
consulting business into SnapInspect to help it scale more rapidly. I could
get very detailed here, even into the tax things — but if you have a group
structure, you can shift revenue from one company to another company and
expense it in another company and it’s expensed against the revenue in the
other and it’s amazing how powerful it is.

You can essentially take money out of your service business, invest it in
your product business, and get a 10 times ROI on it. So let’s say you make
$10,000 in your service business. Shift it into your product business,
invest it wisely, get a 10 times ROI: that’s $100,000. That’s essentially
what Warren Buffett and Munger did and that’s why they’re so successful. I
use that same strategy today to scale SnapInspect, so shifting revenues
from my marketing consulting business into SnapInspect to help it scale.

Trent: Thank you for sharing that because I think that that type of
thinking is not commonly talked about, especially in the “Internet
marketing communities”. People there are all talking about getting rich
quick and a fast buck and all that stuff that is more or less a load of
crap.

Sam: Well, I found the perfect mix is to mix Internet marketing, like all
of this IM stuff, in with the big thinking that the big guys have and sort
of see ways that you could do what they’ve done in the traditional old days
and into today’s thing because Internet marketing, it’s very tactical. It
really lacks any form of where are we going with this. You know what I
mean? Like what’s the 10-year strategy? That doesn’t exist in the IM world;
it’s about making a buck today.

Trent: I couldn’t agree more. I have a course called the “Best Buyer
Formula” and right at the very top of the sales page, it says, “What would
you rather build: a business that’s going to make you a couple of quick
bucks or something that’s going to be around for years that you can one day
sell to somebody else for a big pile of cash?”

Sam: Yeah, well, I mean, yeah. I was broke for a long time and I lived at
home with my parents up until 12 months ago and my office was in my garage
and all I’d dreamed about was making that quick buck, because it would be
very nice to go to a restaurant and actually have a car that maybe had
leather seats, after being poor for so long. I mean, I can definitely see —
but as soon as you make that quick buck, like as soon as I was able to buy
a nice car and stuff, it gets old so fast that you immediately realize that
this is a long-term thing and you’re looking to build something. The quick
buck isn’t attractive any more.

Trent: That’s so true. I used a subject line once — and this got one of
the highest open rates that I’ve ever had — is “How to Build a Business
You Can Be Proud Of.” That’s the problem, I think, with a lot of the quick-
buck businesses, is that it’s not something you necessarily would want to
hang your reputation on and tell your family all about even though it’s
putting some money in the short-term in your bank account.

Sam: Yeah, I honestly think if you can’t tell your friends and family about
your business without cringing, then you’re never going to do well in it
ever.

Trent: I agree. All right, so let’s talk a little bit then about — I want
to talk about how you found — because I think this is a huge hang-up for
people, as well, and this applies to both people who are listening to this
who are thinking about starting any type of service business, as well as it
does to people who would be interested in potentially starting any kind of
product business and that’s how do you get the idea?

I want to give a shout-out to Dane Maxwell because I’m pretty sure that you
learned from him, he calls it “idea extraction.” Do you want to talk about
that?

Sam: Yeah, this is big. This is actually how I took Dane’s thinking and
applied it to, basically, consulting to even find the market and what to
sell. This is a really powerful thing which Dane, I’d never heard anybody
else mention it before Dane. It’s called “idea extraction” and it’s
essentially picking a market, a decent market — so, I mean, most
entrepreneurs go out and they just target everyone. That’s failure number
one. You have to pick something specific and you have to make sure those
people have money to spend and it’s a decent market where money can be
made.

So step one is pick a market, step two is talk to the market and find out
what their most painful problems are. Instead of coming up with an idea of
what you believe might help them or what you believe might be “cool,” I
mean, you don’t assume anything; you talk to them and you talk to them
about what the most painful part of working in that particular market is
and once you’ve found an extremely painful problem, you essentially build,
you come up with an idea to solve that problem.

I picked the market property managers and I started e-mailing and calling
property managers and asking them what the most painful part about their
job was and they said “property inspections.”

Trent: Sorry to interrupt you, but why did you pick property managers?

Sam: A lot of people ask me that and I wish I had a cool answer but it
literally was just in my mind. I mean, I had been at a dinner two nights
before, a family dinner, where there was a guy that owned a property
management business there and I was asking him questions about it and it
was doing really well. I mean, he had an Aston Martin so I figured this
dude was the man.

When I thought about, “What’s a profitable business to target?”, well, I
thought, ‘”This guy has an Aston Martin, he’s in property management, it’s
going good. This must be a good market.”

Trent: Okay.

Sam: I wish I could give you some sort of science to it but that was how I
came up with it.

Trent: But the thing I want people to understand is you didn’t get lucky
because some dude showed up in an Aston Martin. Because property
management, if you don’t go and do what you’re about to explain in a
second, you still didn’t or would not have come up with the idea for
SnapInspect, so what happened next after you saw an Aston Martin and
thought, “Okay, property management must be at least profitable?”

Sam: Sure. I did some other things to figure out whether it was a good
market to target because my old mindset was very doubtful, like I didn’t
just start looking into property — I mean, this thought was lingering for
two weeks and so I was looking at job websites and seeing what industries
were posting the most jobs available because I figured if people are
hiring, then industry must be good and I was Googling things like “what
industries are going well” and all sorts of things.

But property management still seemed to be good, I hadn’t ruled it out, so
I decided, “Oh, I’m going to look into this. This is my market to start
with,” and I basically jumped into Google and started searching for
property management businesses and started building a list of them in
Microsoft Excel, just going to their “About Us” page, copy-pasting the
company name, copy-pasting a couple of contacts from the business into
Excel and I built a list of 100 people and then I sent out one e-mail,
blasted it to all 100, subject line was “Strange Question” and I go, “Hi,
my name’s Sam Ovens. I’m currently doing some research on the property
management industry and the most painful problems in it.” Then my question
was, “On a day-to-day basis, what is the most painful task-related problem
you face as a property manager? I’d love to hear your answer, even if it’s
just one sentence. Thanks, Sam.”

I blasted that out to 100 people, got maybe 20 responses with people giving
me a couple of different answers. Then I e-mailed back those 20 people and
I said, “You sound like you know your stuff in this industry. Would you
mind jumping on the phone with me for just 5, 10 minutes so I can ask you a
couple more questions?” I think about 10 people said yes, and so I called
them up and we had deeper conversations. I think it was my third phone call
where someone told me property inspections were their most painful problem
and that’s where it all started.

Trent: I hope that the audience is understanding the gravity of what you’re
explaining and I’m going to repeat it because I think it’s so incredibly
important. You sent 100 e-mails to people who did not know you from Adam —
anybody can do that. You didn’t try to sell them anything in the e-mail;
you just asked them a question. Then you got 10 conversations out of that
and then you got an idea out of that.

Sam: Yep.

Trent: So that is the big golden nugget, folks. I mean, there’s been many
golden nuggets in this interview, but that has got to be one of the top two
or three.

Sam: Oh, if there’s a way to start, I mean, I might have got a bit too
advanced with the whole “cash float” concept and stuff, but this was the
major breakthrough, I think, for me, in the beginning, was you didn’t have
to come up with ideas in the shower or be a creative genius. You could just
find problems and build solutions to them. I think even Mark Cuban said
recently, “Innovation is dead. You just solve problems.” I’m pretty sure he
said something exactly along the lines of that, like you don’t need to be a
creative genius; if there’s a painful problem that someone has, you have a
solution to it, they’re going to buy it.

In business, people don’t buy things that are “cool,” people buy things
that solve problems and the more pain associated to a problem, the easier
it is to sell a solution to it and that’s true. I applied that same
thinking of idea extraction into my consulting business, so step one, which
is a pick a market, pick a profitable market, I picked a profitable market,
which was high-ticket B2B companies.

Then the next step was, “Well, find out what their most painful problem
is.” I started talking to a lot of these people and they just wanted more
customers, more leads. They wanted more in the pipeline and I figured,
“Well, instead of building a software product to solve that, I could just
provide this service.” So it’s not just for SaaS, and it’s most certainly
not just for SaaS and it’s most certain not just for products. That line of
thinking can be used to sell anything in the world.

Trent: By the way, folks, if you don’t know what SaaS is, it’s “software as
a service,” software that’s hosted on the web that people pay a monthly fee
to use.

Sam: Mm-hmm.

Trent: Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off. I just wanted to make sure that
people didn’t get confused by that terminology.

Sam: Yeah, no, that’s no problem. So, I mean, yeah, I used that same line
of thinking to come up with my service business and I still use that same
line of thinking today. I’ve got some other businesses and investments that
I’ve got going on on the side now, too, because of that cash float. Once I
understood that concept, I wanted to put it in more places and I’ve still
used that same line of thinking to pick good markets, find painful
problems, and provide solutions to them.

Trent: Let’s talk about mistakes, because I want people to understand that
you’re not like this thousand-IQ rocket scientist and, “Hey, I can’t do
what Sam did. He’s way smarter than me, blah, blah, blah,” because that’s
just a limiting belief that inexperienced entrepreneurs let get in the way
or some of them do, let get in their way. I’m willing to bet that, just
like me, you made a truckload of mistakes along your way.

Sam: Oh, man, there’s a lot. See, that’s the danger of people listening to
me now. They might think, “I can’t do that. I can’t do this. He sounds like
he knows so much.” Well, geez, you should have heard me a year ago.
Honestly, a year ago, I didn’t even know what a lead was. I didn’t know
what SaaS meant. I actually Googled SaaS. I didn’t know about headlines, I
didn’t know about copy writing. I honestly knew nothing. I didn’t know
anything about software, I still know nothing about software. I mean, I
didn’t know anything, literally.

My other businesses were like a daily deal website that failed and a job
board website that failed. I mean, they were just the sort of businesses
that people start because they see a couple of other ones that are doing
well. There was no good thinking or logic behind starting those businesses.

Trent: No idea extraction.

Sam: Yeah, and so all of this, big mistakes I made, biggest mistake in the
world I made was starting a business before talking to the customers. For
example, I started my first business, which was a job board website, I
started it, I didn’t talk to a single person because I thought they’d steal
my idea. Even when I talked to people about it, like talked to my developer
at the time, I’d close the windows. I thought I was sitting on some sort of
Facebook version two thing, and that was bad because it never got any
oxygen and I never talked to a customer about it. I mean, it took me a year
to build. I spent $10,000 of my own money on it, which I had to sell my car
to get that, plus all of my income at the time and then we launched it and
there was just crickets. No one joined, so I thought, “Oh, hell, I’m going
to have to do the unthinkable and talk to some customers.”

So I started talking to some customers and they’re like, “What is this? I
don’t need this,’ and I thought there was something wrong with them but,
no, everyone just said that. So the business just died because no one
needed it. It didn’t solve any problem, it was just some cool thing and
cool things don’t sell. Well, that’s not true. I mean, I guess you could
say an iPhone’s cool but I guess an iPhone solves a lot of painful problems
that people used to have. But if something’s just got some little “cool”
factor to it and you’ve invented it just out of your own head without
solving any problem or talking to a customer, it’s going to fail.

Trent: Unless it’s a game or something like that.

Sam: Yeah, I mean, there’s always exceptions to the rule but talking about
the bulk, I mean, yeah.

Trent: Mm-hmm.

Sam: What’s another big mistake? I guess building something without first
trying to sell it. So, my second business solved a problem and people
thought it was good. I talked to the market, they said this was a problem,
they thought this was a good solution. They said they’d use it but I never
tested whether they’d actually pay for it and you’d be amazed at how many
people, even the customers in a market, will tell you that they’ll use
something and that something’s awesome and, yeah, they’ll pay money for it,
they’ll even say they’ll pay money for it, but when you actually get them
to pay money for it, it’s a very different story.

It’s like playing poker with no real money. I mean, I’m sure everyone’s
done that and watch the dynamics of the game; no one is sensible. They’re
all-in every hand and they don’t care sometimes. Pretty much, the game
never finishes because everyone just leaves because it’s so boring. But put
real money in, even just $10 a person, and everyone is dead serious and no
one is going to do any moves that aren’t sensible.

It’s the same in business. As soon as you bring money up and try to sell
it, people start squirming in their seats and you get the real
conversation. So talking about money and trying to sell something before
building it is huge because what I always thought is think about what’s
going to happen once I’ve built this product. So with SnapInspect, I
thought, “Once I build the product, I’m going to have to sell it to people
and then when I talk about money, they might not want to buy it,” so I
figured, “Why don’t I have that conversation now before building the
product?”

That was huge. I got to see the real responses and the real squirms and
objections and things of the market before building it and that would be my
second major thing, I’d say.

Trent: And those are two pretty common mistakes, absolutely.

Sam: Yup, for sure.

Trent: All right, we are coming up on an hour here and I generally like to
keep my episodes to about that length of time. So unless there’s something
else that you think that we should talk about, I think we produced a really
fantastic interview here, Sam. I want to thank you for that. So before we
sign off, again, is there anything else that you wanted to talk about?

Sam: No, I think I’ve covered pretty much my whole story from when I got
started in business.

Trent: Okay, so if anyone wants to get in touch with you, I’m assuming they
can just go to samovens.com because I can see your e-mail address right on
it, so I will link to that website from the podcast or rather the post on
brightideas.co and at the end of the interview — I don’t know what the
shortcode is — but I’ll give the exact path to get to this interview.

Sam: Yeah, samovens.com is my website and sam@samovens.com is my e-mail and
if the e-mails are short and they actually have a specific question in
them, I typically reply to them.

Trent: Okay, terrific. Well, Sam, it has been absolutely wonderful to speak
with you, to have you on the show. I just want to give you a huge round of
applause for going out and Googling “entrepreneurship” and then becoming a
very successful one. I think that your family is undoubtedly exceedingly
proud and you should be, too, and I think it’s just fantastic what you’ve
accomplished and thanks for sharing your story.

Sam: No problem.

Trent: All right, and you can come back on the show any time you like. As a
matter of fact, I may reach out to you as I may want to do another
interview more devoted to your SaaS app because I’m sure there’s another
whole other hour or so of conversation that we could have around that, but
for now I think we’ve got it covered.

All right, to get to the show notes from today’s episode including the
transcript, head over to brightideas.co/69. Now, if you’ve really enjoyed
this episode, I need to ask you for the smallest favor ever: just head over
to brightideas.co/love where you will find a link to leave us a rating in
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you that we can help to massively boost your business.

So thank you very much. That’s it for this episode. I’m your host, Trent
Dyrsmid, and I look forward to producing the next one for you. Take care
and have a wonderful day.

Announcer: Thanks very much for listening to the Bright Ideas podcast.
Check us out on the web at brightideas.co.

About Sam Ovens

sam-ovens-interviewSam Ovens is an Entrepreneur, Marketing Consultant and the founder of SnapInspect – a property inspection app for property management companies.

Sam started as a marketing consultant and used the money from his consulting business as “Cash Float” to start and scale his main business SnapInspect.

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