ConvertKit

The Value of Free Plans

February 8, 2016 by

The Value of Free Plans

Facebook, Google, Twitter, Wifi at the coffee shop. These are all things that are free that we’ve come to expect these days. Sure, we know there are ads and paid features and we’re expected to buy a cup of coffee in order to access said Wifi but the base of it all is free.

Ya know the saying “The best things in life are free”? Well, imagine if everyone at the coffee shop stopped buying coffee and just came for the Wifi. Or if no one paid for ads on Facebook or Twitter. How long would those businesses last as is?

We’ve talked before about pay walls and the pros and cons of a paid email list, but what about a product? Does a free plan actually work for SaaS products?

When Hubstaff founders Dave Nevogt and Jared Brown launched a free version of their time tracking software, they saw a huge uptick in conversions. More customers = happy founders, right?

Not exactly. In a blog article last summer, Dave broke down exactly why it didn’t work for them.

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 4.15.56 PM

Liam Gooding had a scarily similar list at Trak.io.

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Not surprisingly in both cases, when it comes down to is value.

Inherent Value of Free

One of the biggest draws to offering a free product (be it a level, often referred to as the “freemium” model, or an entirely free product, like a mobile app) is that free leaves the lowest barrier to entry. If it’s free all you have to do is create an account or download the app and off you go. Congrats, you’re a new customer!

Only problem is, you’re less likely to actually USE the thing.

How many free ebooks do you have saved up on your computer that you’ve never even opened? And how many apps do you download and then never do anything with beyond Day 1?

With a free account, your product has an inherent value to your customers and guess what that value is? You got it: $0.

Delivering Value

Free accounts get a lot of buzz and social shares, but let’s talk about ROI (Return on Investment). If you’re investing $0 your expected minimum ROI is $0. I’m no math whiz but I’m certain that businesses want a greater return than $0 in order to remain in business.

Like Liam Gooding said,

Honestly, how many people would you refer to Google analytics if it cost you $49 a month? Probably zero. It’s not saying much about a B2B product if it can’t add more than $49 of value to your business a month.

Value The Team

Our pal Josh Pigford recently wrote about his experience creating a free plan at Baremetrics. One thing Josh and company didn’t consider was the sizable upgrade his servers would need to manage all of the new free accounts signing up:

 

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And servers aren’t the only thing that potentially take a hit with a big customer spike.

Every customer deserves to feel fully supported in their journey with your product, but it’s been proven time and time again that free customers take up the majority of the customer service time allocated within your business.

More customers = more support tickets. It’s simple SaaS math.

And on a related note…

Value The Entire Customer Base

When free customers join up with a business, the business sees an increase in customers, sure, but there’s also an increase in the number of support requests and account issues (such as forgetting login/password, help getting started, etc.). By increasing the customer base and flooding it with free customers, a business runs the risk of ignoring or pushing back paying customers without meaning to do so.

Without tiered support in place, a top paying customer who has the potential to be a big source of revenue over time runs the risk of being pushed aside by an influx of free customers with plenty more questions and concerns thrown at the support team.

Value Time

Free, it turns out IS an option over time. As Chris Savage at Wistia pointed out last year, you can always take your time developing your free model if your business truly warrants it:

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 4.18.59 PM

What, then, if not free?

At ConvertKit we offer a 30 day money-back guarantee. Grab an account, pay for the first month, give it a try, and if you’re not completely satisfied you can write in to cancel and get a refund in that first 30 days.

Baremetrics and Hubstaff offer a 14 day trial, after which you are asked to pick your plan or let it go.

Trak.io landed on an entry point of $10/month with a refund guarantee (like us).

Ultimately, the real reason consumers seek out free is that we all want safety and security when choosing something new. Yep, business decisions often come down to how we feel.

With zero barrier to entry in a free plan, we feel safe and secure to walk away any time, no harm no foul. But with a little skin in the game via a paid trial or refund guarantee, consumers are more likely to use a product and stick around for the long haul.

I’d love to hear what you think. Why do you choose free or freemium products over paid products and how do those free products impact your business?

 

Comments

  • http://www.pideals.com Carlton Bryant

    I think you mean the phrase “The best things in life are* free”

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      You’re right! I updated it 🙂

  • http://edferrigan.com/ Ed Ferrigan

    I think you have some great points. But you are also in an extremely competitive market with quite possibly millions of possible users that doesn’t have a clue how great your software is. Just this weekend I was in a VERY large FaceBook ActiveCampaign group and we were discussing ConvertKit. Most people could not speak intelligently about your program. What they liked or what was missing in your feature set. I think if only for the purpose of seeing what people are wanting out there, a free trial may give you a lot of great research you might not otherwise get. (see below for even a better idea)

    For me, I needed your program to allow me to set a start date in the middle of a sequence– not just an opt in trigger date. Without that I lose an important piece of functionality I currently have with ActiveCampaign. I had to pay to find that out. No big deal to pay and then refunded – just the hassle of going through all the extra steps. It was worth it to me though because I really need a platform that I can finally stick with for the long haul. Im still weighing out how important other features I get out of AC are. Right now Im very disappointed I cannot place a graphic image in the middle of my email with the new AC editor. This seems like a “no-brainer” feature but I cannot currently do it. Not sure its a show stopper but Im weighing out pro’s and cons.

    Even better than a free trial subscription would be a lower entry point from ConvertKit. For example, instead of $29 make it $14.99 for first 500 people then $29.99 up to 1500 or 2000 and so on. Most people are less expensive in the first 5000 than ConvertKit. Getting people in on the low end is key in my opinion. By the time people get to 5000+ contacts they have adjusted and are probably making money. Beginners like me don’t have that luxury. I say build a long term relationship with beginners and they will stay with you in the long haul if you have a great product. Keep up the good work and I hope you add the feature of triggering a start date…

    • http://goffcreative.com Sara @ GoffCreative.com

      I agree. So far I’ve loved ConvertKit.

      For a newer product, it carries a lot of features I wouldn’t expect. However the tiered pricing model is very steep.

      On a positive note, I’ve found myself more driven to implement stronger (and more) automated sales funnels to make up the difference. Which, in turn, the higher cost is motivating me to seek out higher sales.

      But, I agree with you.

      I’ve had some health issues recently that made me hesitate on switching from MailChimp until I ran into massive email delivery issue. But, again, I’m just going to do what I can to prepare for my upcoming downtime. And hope that, later on once ConvertKit is more established with a higher volume of customers, that they’ll lower their tiers to a more affordable pricing model.

      But, again, it’s been VERY worth it for me. Although I did forgo LeadPages partnered with AWeber to get ConvertKit, it’s been a good fit with a minor learning curve and a lot of flexibility and support.

      P.S. I use Squarespace to create my own landing pages. It’s worked very well with ConvertKit opt-in boxes and modal pop-ups. I’ve doubled my email opt-in rate in 4 weeks. Again, I’m VERY satisfied.

      • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

        CONGRATS on doubling your opt in rate, Sara! That’s incredible. Oh, and you’ll be thrilled to know that we got word from LeadPages that they are building a direct integration with ConvertKit – happy dance!

        • William Sisk

          I have been hassling LP for a while now about that… Good to see it’s coming.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Hey Ed! First of all, thank you for your well-thought out feedback here. It’s so helpful to us to hear from our customers as we grow. Secondly, I actually can’t imagine having a sudden influx of millions of customers. We’re a lean team and we love growing our team size right alongside our customer base. We sure would have to do some crazy hiring streaks to keep up with those numbers! That said, I get your point and have noted the pricing structure feedback for the team as we do grow. Thanks again for hanging out, reading, and commenting!

      • William Sisk

        Yeah, Val, ConvertKit’s customer service is incredible. (feel free to pass that on, BTW)

        While I’m excited to see you grow I agree that adding in a ton of freebie clients might end up being a service nightmare that would either cause all of the paying users to subsidize either in the form of higher rates or less good service.

        I know those quick responses in the chat cost money. 😉

        More isn’t better. Better is better.

        Good on ya for not trying to be biggest- just work on being the best and your paying customers will be right there with you, myself included.

        • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

          Thanks, William! I agree that better is better. It’s what we’re always working toward.

    • alec dorling

      I agree ‘Even better than a free trial subscription would be a lower entry point from ConvertKit. For example, instead of $29 make it $14.99 for first 500 people then $29.99 up to 1500 or 2000 and so on. Most people are less expensive in the first 5000 than ConvertKit. ‘
      I hate trial subscriptions where you can get your money back, but you never remember and then you feel frustrated. 30 days is not long enough for a trial when you are working on something in spare time.
      What i would really go for is 50% discount for first three months. This gives real opportunity for trial and afterwards nobody is going to argue over paying full price when you see things working. Its just that the subscription rate is very high when you are starting to test things out. For instance i want to start a trial with 8000 mailing list, but over 3 month period.

    • The Product Startup

      Agree with Ed’s comment 100%.

      It’s taking me a long time to grow my base. I will have <<1000 subscribers for months, maybe a year. While I don't mind paying for a service, I feel that the $30/mo is steep for the 14 subscribers I have now. Based on that price point (and the sharp climb in tiers), I think CK is best suited for companies already generating revenue and I'm not there yet.

      Since I pay $30 / mo, my expectations are also higher. Some of the bugs (like magnet deliveries vs thank you URLs, or the stock landing pages not being Adwords compliant) harder to accept.

      I do agree that CK support is great. Much of my questions around the service has been do to bugs so I read it as a mutual benefit for both of us.

      This is coming off of using Sendy + AWS + Thriveleads.

      • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

        Thanks for that feedback Ed! Ya know, something we’re working on right now is simply making the existing product better (fixing bugs, UI issues, etc.) before we add anything new on top of it. So I hope that in the next few months as your list grows you also see the impact we’re working toward and the investment starts to make more sense (and cents!) for you.

  • http://reginabaker.com/ Regina Baker

    Great post. To make what could be a very long and boring comment, I simply think in the earlier days of IM, people took the word free and misused it, hence, people now “expect” free. Besides, isn’t there always a catch to “free?” 😉

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Absolutely. It’s amazing how many free things we get nowadays that set the precedent. Thanks for reading, Regina!

  • http://www.camilaartoni.com Camila

    Completely agree with Ed about a lower entry point. Gave this exact feedback to your support team a few days ago, when, sadly, I had to cancel my plan. Perhaps you’re not interested in young businesses / low spenders, but I’d much rather build my list up from its small size on a strong foundation – i.e. stay for life – than start with a cheaper provider and have to migrate when things get going.
    Hey, ConvertKit – I’m willing, if you are!

    • William Sisk

      They have a $29/month plan for under 1000 subscribers. Isn’t that cheap enough?

      • Camila

        You sound a bit shocked, William. Happy to hear that money is not an issue for you. As a fiction writer starting to build a platform, however, that’s something I unfortunately need to consider.
        For that list size, you’d be looking to spend $10-12 with Mad Mimi, $15 with MailChimp (ignoring the free plan available), $15 with Get Response, $19 with Aweber. I prefer ConvertKit to all of those, but I also don’t need the more advanced features right now. I’d just rather stay with the same provider from the beginning. A $15/month plan would be ideal.

        • Camila

          I’m also not in the US. $29 USD translates into far too many AUD these days.

          • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

            I hear ya, Camila. It’s tough to find the ideal fit for everyone for sure. Thanks for your thoughtful feedback – it’s something for us to consider as we move forward.

        • William Sisk

          I wouldn’t say I’m shocked. I think my cost went up a bit when moving from Aweber to ConvertKit, but not more than $20/month which is fine for me.

          I also have used the free level of the Mailchimp service and it works just fine, but I like ConvertKit better.

          In any event, I hope it works out for you- there is a different strategy for every online business out there. It is definitely a smart idea for writers to build an audience- that’s a clever thing to do with all the competition out there.

          I can tell you that changing over our list of 18k subscribers was not at all hard, so you won’t be at a disadvantage if/when you want to switch.

          Cheers!

      • Camila

        I’m also not in the US. $29 USD translates into far to many AUD these days.

  • Anf

    Pricing is always a challenge, and to add to @edferrigan:disqus’s point giving people an opportunity to “try before you buy” test drive option at a lower price point (doesn’t have to be free because of all points you stated in the post, which are all valid) might be worth a shot. I do appreciate the level of customer support that I’ve had thus far and that the CK team listen to user feedback, like the renaming of “courses” to “sequences”.

    I do hope that a mobile app is on its way (I know this is not a priority right now), and the ability to do HTML & graphic rich newsletters (integration with goodbits.io please!).

    Anyways, keep doing what you’re doing CK and keep communicating to your customers. Transparency wins in my eyes 🙂

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Thanks, Anf! We feel the love (and hear your feedback) for sure!

  • http://angelajford.com Angela J. Ford

    Excellent points, of course there will always be the people who clamor for free stuff or free-trials and that’s fine, obviously this is not their email marketing platform. I believe “free” is a mindset and when you’re willing to go the extra mile and invest in value it gets returned. As an author and business owner, I’d be sad if people only wanted me to give away my hard work for free. I like what you’re doing with this and I certainly see the value in paying for ConvertKit – regardless of the free trial. After all, when you buy a fancy meal at a restaurant you can’t try before you buy 🙂

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Angela- thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I’d be sad for you too if everyone only wanted your work for free. Authors deserve to be paid for their work!

  • http://robertredl.com/ redlrobert

    Very good point. It is true that the paid trial motivates the user to really try it out during the first days, and this can make the difference to stay for longer. The feeling of safety then comes from “ok, if everyone has to pay, they have a good going business and the availability and support will be better”. The security of “they (the app/platform/provider) stick around too” from the users view.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Oh I like that addition to the feeling of safety, Robert. Thank you for chiming in on this conversation!

  • delay

    I don’t think you need a free plan but if you could add a few more tiers at the low end I think it would help you better compete. I personally am getting ready to start something new and would love to use your software. If you had a $9.95 tier for 300 subscribers. Then a $14.95 tier for 500 subscribers. It would make the decision a lot easier. Just my opinion… The benefit to you would be you get me using your software now rather than transitioning to it from mailchimp or whatever when my needs change. The negatives of course is possibly more customer support. However personally I never need customer support on SAAS products.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! It’s certainly something to consider as we grow.

  • http://www.monicagalvan.co Monica Galvan

    I actually love that you don’t have any free accounts. It means you have more time to dedicate to your actual customers who are serious about using your service.

    I’ve been using ConvertKit for about a month or two now and I’ve loved it so far. By no means am I anywhere near using my paid limit (actually I’m not even using 20% of it) but still I went forward with it anyway. The way I looked at it, it would help me grow my list and build better relationships with my subscribers and that’s worth it.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Monica! It’s all about the growth and I hope we can help you get to 100% and beyond!

  • Allen Taylor

    Free with perhaps some limit on functionality makes sense if your product is complex and takes some time to understand how to use it fully. This might take more than 30 days, particularly with all the other things a nascent entrepreneur must contend with.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      That’s always a tough one, Allen. When you love every aspect of your product and they all work together, it’s hard to pick what a free user would get and not get. It’s like choosing your favorite kid, it’s just not possible (right, Mom???) 😉

  • http://89days.net Brad

    I think your fees are fine. When you pay for something you value it more, and you will give it more attention. Because I went from free at Mailchimp to Convertkit – I have spent a lot of time learning Convertkit because I paid for it.

    And now I just love it- I think it is worth the $29.00 per month.

    If you lower your rates and get a bunch of small accounts – (like a $9.99 rate) -it will create a bigger cost for your support system. (which I use all the time and is excellent).

    To support someone at the $9.99 level would take the same effort to support someone at the $100.00 level…as the questions that each customer would be asking would probably be the same.

    You could support one person for $100.00 or you could support 10 people at the $9.99 level – your cost of doing support would go up with a lower rate.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      That’s true, Brad. Sounds like you’ve done some customer support before!

    • Peter Nguyen

      Yes! Spot on. There was a learning curve coming from MailChimp, but I was focused to figure it out because I paid for it.

      I agree, non-pro accounts will overload Convert Kit staff and take away from power users who pay more/will have the most impact on Convert Kit if they leave.

      Your true customer is clear on your front page: “Email Marketing for PROFESSIONAL blogger”

      • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

        Thanks, Peter! You’re right, we aren’t the right system for everyone and anything new has a learning curve. Appreciate you chiming in here.

  • Holly Sanders

    A free trial wouldn’t kill ya. I don’t think anyone has a problem paying for a good service, but not test driving it at all is a risk, especially when $30/month is not easily affordable. As business owners we will take the hit for great products, but like others have mentioned, I’m eager to try before I buy.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Thanks for the feedback, Holly. I failed to mention that we have offered free trials on occasion through Nathan Barry’s blog/email list so we have tested it and it just doesn’t work out for us.

  • https://foreverfit.today/ Bev

    Sounds like you have an amazing product, however what I have found is the energy to learn to understand is very time consuming, in many cases with technology it is simpler just to walk away. I use the example how difficult it is to turn a TV on today for may people, try and go to various hotels and navigate on a new system

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Hey Bev! I suppose that’s a consideration for any piece of technology. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • http://apeculiarproject.com sibilant

    I understand the model of SaaS, but as someone who is starting a new business, in my spare time, I simply cannot commit to another monthly payment. If I bought new versions of all the SaaS I would like, I’d have to quit this dream and get a second job just to pay for all the technology – the Microsoft Office Suit, Adobe, web hosting, ConvertKit,… the list goes on and on. (not to mention ridiculous internet fees)

    A good example – I self published one book in 2015. To make a print quality PDF, I couldn’t get any free-ware to work. When I was ready to pay for Adobe, I discovered it would be $10 per month. But I don’t even use Adobe once per month. This was a one-time project. I wound up finding a friend with a license to convert my document for me. So Adobe lost a sale, and this isn’t a great situation for me either – what if I need to make changes?

    If it were a one-time fee, even for $200, I would have considered buying Adobe. Because that would have been a known quantity. I know how much money I have and am willing to invest. But a monthly fee, that isn’t based on usage, I just couldn’t justify.

    I’m not asking for free software. But, my experience with paid software is limited. I run Windows Office, but when I have an issue I don’t call Microsoft. I figure out how to work around it myself. So in that case the “service” is just constant updates, I guess. Unfortunately, this makes me reluctant to buy other SaaS because the perceived value just isn’t there for me. In fact, I’m running an older license of the Office suite on my new machine with Windows 8. Kinda sad, but it’s functional.

    My business is picking up steam, and hopefully in the future I’ll be able to justify monthly overhead, but right now I have to be very selective.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Great example, Sibilant. And many SaaS products do have flat fees if you ask. ConvertKit, for example, has an annual pre-pay that a lot of our customers prefer over a monthly bill. Just something to consider. Thanks for reading!

  • The Product Startup

    A quick solution to the free/cheap plans tying up support:

    Don’t give it. Refer people to the knowledge base / forums. Be upfront about it and people will understand.

    I rarely deal with support because I feel that I can research the issue and resolve it in less time. The times I have used CK support have all been around bugs / issues with the UI which CK already knew about.

    I would gladly give up CK support (nothing against the CK support team!) if you created a <500 subs $15/mo tier.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Totally hear that feedback – thanks for sharing it! What I know is that we are actively working on improving the knowledgebase so that it can support our customers even more so you’re no longer relying on waiting for the support team as much. It’s a work in progress, always, and I really appreciate your comments here.

  • https://digitalconversionlabs.com Kyle Musser

    Spot on points. I think that greater than worrying about FREE vs. PAID {in any form} from the customer standpoint…

    You are INVESTING IN YOUR BUSINESS w/ Convert Kit {or any other SaaS} product so you should set the intention in your business to generate an ROI off the investment & use the tool to the fullest to build your community, impact people & share your {product, service, message, etc.}

    People need to stop expecting FREE & think about the VALUE that the other business is giving to the world & accept the fact that capitalism/free enterprise are two way streets. 😉

    Cheers

    Kyle, Founder & CEO {Chief Experiment Officer}
    http://www.digitalconversionlabs.com

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Hey Kyle! Yep – Value is the missing piece here for sure. I love the “setting the intention” you mentioned. It’s like investing in a personal trainer – you’re going to make sure you show up at the gym and get results, right?!

  • http://blog.trak.io/ Liam Gooding

    Thanks for the Trak.io mentions!

    I think the main takeaway we learned from multiple product/pricing iterations is to always start with a paid plan and then experiment with your own case form there. Copying someone else’s premium pricing will at worst, cause a low conversion rate and you’ll end up with a small number of very invested customers.

    Copying someone else’s free plan will at worst, totally kill your company.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Man, that’s a life lesson, Liam. Copying someone’s anything will kill it in the end. Thanks for reading!

  • mathfour

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I occasionally fall into the “Gosh, maybe I should give it away so people will jump in and see how good it is” mode. Usually my friends, partners or advisors talk me out of it. But it’s nice to see others struggle with the same thoughts.

    Stay paid. As much as I’d like free, it makes more sense to offer something of value and get compensated. That way you can continue to offer awesome value!

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Awesome! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts on the model!

  • http://www.ConfessionsOfARecoveringChocoholic.com/ Laura Jane

    I think a lower plan for $14.99 or $9.99 a month would be ideal. A lot of newbies who will eventually grow to have large lists can’t pay $25 every single month before they’re actually making money. Once they get started in Mailchimp (free or cheaper), it’s a pain to switch.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Hey Laura! Thanks for the comment. I hear ya – and switching actually isn’t as hard as it might sound. Can’t wait to have you join us at ConvertKit!

  • Peter Nguyen

    I side with Convertkit on this one, for several reasons.

    A potential user who’s worried about a $30 trial is probably not a user you’d want in the long term.

    There are plenty of mailing list services that have free plans they can go to, like Mail Chimp, which is perfectly fine for the non-power user up to 2,000 subs. If you have a well curated list, that’s more than enough to monetize from.

    Big names in the marketing space – such as Pat Flynn, Andrew Warner and a large group of my friends who rely on email marketing making the switch was enough to convince me that there was something with Convert Kit. To switch from an industry standard like Aweber and infusionsoft means something.

    This reduced my need for a trial. Though when I made the switch, I kept my MailChimp just in case.

    If a potential user is worried and/or can’t scratch up $30 for their business for 30 days ($1 a day), they have bigger problems – in which I’d recommend choosing a free service like Mail Chimp and looking for side income.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      Great idea keeping the alternative in place until you were satisfied. Mitigating risk is a huge part of running a business.

  • http://johnmeese.me/ John Meese

    At first I was hesitant to switch to ConvertKit for the same reason most people are: the cost. But immediately after I joined, that monthly payment motivated me to take my email list seriously for the first time in years.

    Through new affiliate commissions, I paid for my ConvertKit account for the year within the first month, and went from growing my list 10-20 subscribers a month to 100+ subscribers a month.

    I doubt I would have had half that measure of success with the exact same software at my disposal if I wasn’t paying for it. Value counts.

    • http://www.convertkit.com Val Geisler {ConvertKit}

      *mic drop* Thanks for being awesome, John.

      • http://johnmeese.me/ John Meese

        Happy to oblige, Val!