Conversion Details with Brecht Palombo

I posted an interview with Brecht over at Keepify. He started and runs Distressed Pro, a sales intelligence tool for real estate brokers. The interview is a deep dive into the details of how he acquired early customers and what he does now to make conversions happen.

Also, check out the Bootstrapped with Kids podcast where he and Scott Yewell discuss the progress of their online business pursuits each week.

MicroConf 2013

Jason Cohen led off the conference with a talk about building a “money machine” that brings in $10,000/mo. Jason crushed it. Rob closed the first day and spoke about taking HitTail from $1500/mo to well beyond the “money machine” mark in 20 months. Rob burned it down. Multiple tweets showed people changing pricing strategies, making sweeping copy changes, and saying the conference had already paid for itself within minutes or hours. Welcome to my retro-diary for MicroConf 2013. As usual, I’m going to cover material that most closely resonated with me and where I am.

Immediate Actionable Takeaway

  1. Use CPC = MRR/25 to work backwards from the CPC I can achieve in available channels and arrive at a pricing scheme for Keepify.
  2. Use money back guarantees and incentivized annual pre-pay from day one.
  3. Meet weekly with the family to plan work and leisure time. We have informal understandings, but planning would be an improvement.
  4. Plan out a marketing component that doesn’t scale and execute.

The Money Machine

Jason’s talk was a great look at the math and constraints behind building a business. He explained how you could piece together a cash machine from first principles similar to his recent post on CPC for bootstrapped business. He left it as, “Predictable acquisition of recurring revenue with annual pre-pay in a good market creates a cash machine.”

Giving incentives to customers to purchase annual pre-pay plans allows WPEngine to advertise with a much higher CAC and CPC. You can spend $300 dollars to acquire a customer that is prepaying for 10 months @ $49  per month right now.

Free trials can be eliminated in favor of a 60 money back guarantee. Use multiple plans and raise prices.

You need 150 customers to pay $66 / month on average. You can get 50 by scratching and clawing (see things that don’t scale) and 25 more with guest posts and social media. The final 75 can come from basic marketing all over a period of months.


Rob’s talk emphasized that it took him a period of 5 months building and 6 months learning before he began to scale the business. All that time learning was improving conversion rates, retention, copy, adding features, and increasing customer understanding. He is planning for similar learning period in the future and it is instructive to hear. I’ve experienced similar (but smaller scale) things recently with PPC ads. You have to be willing to spend a little money and stick it out through many revisions to be successful.


Nathan Berry, Brennan Dunn, and Hiten Shah all reinforced the necessity of using educational marketing as part of the customer acquisition process. Somewhere, Chet Holmes is proud.


Joanna Weibe of Copyhackers gave a great talk about copywriting. She said to minimize the visibility of free offering, use email, long-form sales pages, and start testing.

One point she made seemed particularly relevant to the audience. “Stop treating marketing as an experiment” which I understood to mean that you need to view things in the long term. Don’t give up when an initial ‘experiment’ in marketing doesn’t work.

Plugging Holes

Rob touched on his Operation Retention where he improved conversion and retention throughout the funnel for HitTail. He only resumed his marketing activities when those numbers became healthy again. He gave healthy numbers as 8% or less churn and 40-60% Trial to paid conversion.

Things that don’t scale

Rob, Josh Ledgard, Erica Douglass, Hiten Shah, Jason Cohen, and Patrick all stressed the importance of talking to customers. Especially early or after cancellation.

Erica included some case studies of offering one-on-one consulting for early customers and emailing 1000 people in a few months as examples of doing things that don’t scale to learn and market. Those 1000 emails were from Leo  Widrich of Buffer and converted into hundreds of guest blog posts and Buffer buttons on blogs.

Creating Channels

Hiten talked about creating your own channels to reach customers because established channels get crowded quickly. He gave examples of Nathan Berry, Brennan Dunn, Ruben Gamez, and KISSInsights which used a ‘Powered By’ link on the surveys to connect with customers.


I was part of an interesting hallway conversation about how to go from a job and working on your side pursuit into working normally. Many of the attendees spent some many years working 60 hour weeks that they didn’t know how to stop and enjoy freedom they had earned. It’s a an interesting subject that needs more direct treatment.

Sherry Walling gave a good talk that detailed how she and Rob made it through rough times and built relational systems and communication that evens out the ups and downs of entrepreneurship in a relationship. Another subject that became a topic of conversation in the hallways. Kids are common among attendees and everyone is looking to build a better future for their family.

Golden Handcuffs

Reflection on some of the conversation at MicroConf and a talk with my friend Evan forced me to consider the how a growing income and a growing family have changed the equation for what my minimum “money machine” looks like. Sherry’s talk included a quote about how cleaning services were cheaper than therapy and therapy was cheaper than divorce. I agree. I spoke with others about paying others for cleaning services or lawn care, but where do those things trade-off with growing expenses and lifestyle that tighten those golden handcuffs? It’s something for me to ponder.

Thanks to Rob and Mike for another great conference. I barely scratched the surface of the value available from attending MicroConf. There is simply too much for a blog post. You’ll have to join us for the 2.5 days next time.

You can wait for MicroConf 2014 or check out MicroConf Europe in October.

Cold Email that Gets Answered

An excerpt from my cold calling book


All most people will see is the ‘To:’ and ‘Subject:’ lines. Make them good.

Your subject should be terse and free of useless words. Be specific and summarize the email. If the email includes a deadline or a date, then put it in the subject. You can use subjects to interest the reader but not to create the promise of things that are not there. Much of the advice about writing a good headline also applies here.

If you have something to sell, you should use the headline to make a value offer that they find interesting. If you just want to talk to them, you can do the same if you have an offer to make. If there isn’t a value offer or resource you have fewer options. I usually go with honesty in the best light I can.

If I want to talk to dentists about problems in the dental industry I’m going to research enough to write a specific headline that shows I’ve done the homework. I may try a few different specifics in the subjects I send out and figure out which ones strike a chord with people. You won’t get statistically significant data, but you can pick up on how they react. Repeat what works and continue to experiment.

Start a blog: Interview <Business Name> for <Blog Name>

The blog might be a place to feature businesses or a collection of posts about how businesses in the industry handle best practices.

Write a report: 7 Ways to Improve X in <business>

Be honest and specific: Chat about handling <problem> in <business>

Name drop: Jackie Brown said to ask you about <topic>

Don’t start the conversation with a bad subject.

Lazy: talk about problems in your business

Bad blind sales: Dentistry Practice Software

Feels false: Double your business today!

Follow up like Gravity

I had a physics professor in college that started every class by pushing everything on the table in front of the chalkboard off the far edge. He usually did it all in a rush. After the clattering science equipment settled, he would say, “Still works. Gravity is relentless.” Email requires that you are relentless. You should do so at 7-10 days without a response and then every thirty days after that. Use, boomerang, or similar tools to help keep you on schedule. The prospects might get annoyed in the first couple months, but they get over it. You will get some respect for tenacity and you might catch them when they have a free moment. The cold email game is a battle for hitting the inbox at a time when you can get a response. If an email is more than a couple days old, the chances are that it won’t get attention. You can use major mailing list service providers like Aweber or Mailchimp to see your own email statistics, I have included some common rates for a few industries in a table below.

Type of Company Open Rate Click Rate
Business and Finance 15.47% 2.77%
Software and Web App 15.57% 2.49%
Retail 17.80% 2.41%




Data from MailChimp:


If you enjoyed this excerpt, you should check out the cold calling book.