June 9, 2021
Marketing for developers and makers
I think most solo founders/small startups forget marketing is a core piece of the equation when pursuing a new idea. It has been the toughest thing to get right in my own previous experience building products.
Most of the advice out there says to market first and then build. What's wild is sometimes you hear stories about the opposite. I recently listened to a podcast about the company IPInfo.
The creator of the business, Ben Dowling, who previously worked at Facebook created a free API (now premium) that returned information about a given user's IP address. For over a year he offered the service for free since he was already using it to help aid his own side projects.
Sharing it as a resource on a Stack Overflow in an answer to a question prompted many developers to give the API a shot. Over time this series of posts on Stack Overflow resulted in Ben making a decision to focus on IPInfo full-time. He essentially stumbled into a business and unknowingly marketed his service. Fast-forward to today and the company is making multi-millions in annual recurring revenue.
It's not all sunshine and rainbows
For most of us, simply stumbling from an idea to a product market fit isn't in the cards. In my opinion you need to do the following to get anywhere close to finding a good "fit".
- Provide real value
- Convince people of the value and earn trust
- Convince them to convert (purchase such value)
- Maintain value (keep them from churning)
- Find more people to provide value to.
While these bullet points are generic they represent a tall order of grinding and hustling for most developers/makers looking to sell software as a service.
I've personally fallen victim time and time again of building the idea without marketing it enough first to fish for value props. People need to NEED and WANT what you offer. As Justin Jackson put it (king of metaphors), serve an entre, not a desert or appetizer. The entre is the main thing people need in a meal. Appetizers and deserts are optional. If you can serve the entre need you're on to something in most cases.
Bear in mind there are loads of entres out there. Competition is steep but that doesn't mean you can have a competitive angle that makes your approach more novel.
Marketing today is a whole new world. Previously you could put up a landing page, capture email address, and target that email list as your initial customer list. People have caught on to this approach and while it sometimes works, I have seen it convert less and less.
Content is king
Whether you push something out on your blog or publish a new TikTok video, you need to find your audience wherever they are already at. In my case I target developers for this blog so publishing here, on YouTube, and sites like dev.to seems to work the best. I don't waste time on other platforms besides Twitter since I've seen the most success from these channels.
I'm also kind of into being more private of late so I share less photos of myself and day-to-day thoughts. Privacy is a big concern of mine on the web. I'll write another article on this soon.
Once you find these channels start publishing and keep publishing. The power of compounding, consistency, and time is real. If you can commit to pushing something new out there every week the audience will come. It will be a slow grind and you will want to give up (I did just last week, more on this soon) but if you continue there's bound to be a positive result.
Unless you are building an audience to just build an audience there probably will come a time when the "marketing" and "sales" pitches start to transpire. You might offer more content, courses, software, etc... to get people in the door. Building a targeted list with smaller projects like this helps earn trust and hopefully a market to target towards with your future software goals.
In my own case I took the stair-step approach coined by Rob Walling. I highly recommend this as it gives you the strength and guidance to commit to more over time when trying to start a software business in the long term.
My journey started with this blog. Then I transitioned to free e-books, then paid e-books, then a course, and now I'm getting into SaaS. The ultimate goal is to work on something I'm passionate about and make a salary from it so I can enjoy my craft and my freedom. What's better than that?
Marketing tips from a guy who sort of markets
I'm not pro at marketing but I know a little. Sales is also something I would love to learn more about. With that said, I have picked up a few tactics that have helped conversions over time.
Provide value for free at first
Trying to sell to a cold audience is probably the hardest thing you can do. This is like walking door to door trying to sell vacuums. Before you can sell you need to build trust and loyalship. People need to want to hear what you have to say or take your word as good advice. You can only do this by giving.
Example: Publish tutorials on your blog or YouTube channel for your niche. Do this for a long time and you'll earn trust.
Niche where possible
Trying to target a wide audience doesn't work that well. Find something you can offer that others don't have or haven't discovered yet and bring it to the table. When I first got into building web apps I was completely new to Ruby on Rails. There were some tutorials online but many were out of date and others were targeted towards more advanced developers. I took action and started producting more beginner friendly content and learned in public. Doing this was a big stepping stone in scaling my audience.
All of this said, niche essentially means you're locking in a specific persona of audience. These people come to you for advice on a particular topic. If you can pick something you see yourself marketing future content and products toward in the future this is most ideal. In my own case I don't really only want to have rails developers as my audience so I'm forced to start over in some areas. Slowly but surely my focus is to produce more generalized web development and design-based content over time to appeal to more people. This path is hard but it's one misstep I took that I wish I could change. Live and learn.
Email is king
At the end of the day anything that isn't emails in an email list isn't worth as much. Fake internet points are real on platforms like Twitter, instagram, Facebook, and more. Follower counts, like counts, and shares are useful but don't mean everything. Even if your audience is a couple hundred of people you can still earn a lot if selling the right software.
Show your progress. Show the mistakes. People are human and make mistakes daily. I have found that showing all the stuff most people consider "noise" really helps me connect with others. From your learnings others can learn and put real trust in you even if you've never met in person before.
Don't forget to focus on distribution
I'm sure you've heard the expression "if you build it, they will come". This is very much not the case and is why marketing and sales are a thing. People won't know about what you are up to if you don't talk about it. Write, record, or podcast your status often and slowly people will catch on. Even if it feels salesy, sometimes it's required. I find mixing in marketing with real thoughts and ideas is what works well. People will put up with your sales tactics alongside real value rather than just only sales.
Networking / Partnerships
The power of a network and partnerships is probably my next big step. I'd like to branch out and connect with other developers, YouTubers, and more. I recently got off to a good start by guest posting on the Traversy Media YouTube channel. I'm hoping to ramp up more content like this and possibly kick off a podcast or something in a similar vain to help others follow suit.
Don't give up
I mentioned quickly before almost tossing in the towl a week or so ago. I was suffering from severe burnout and simply couldn't hit record. While there may come times for you where you are in a similar situation my advice is to just hit pause for a bit but don't give up.
Most startups/software products fail because the founders get burnt out and give up. Those that make it push the boundaries and don't take no for an answer. I'm guilty of this for so many projects so far. My hope is to find some success in the apps I create which will start a fire and push me to persevere.
A quick callout to a friend of a friend's new app for podcasters called PodMob. It's a new tool for podcast hosting that puts emphasis on community and analytics. Check out the landing page here and join the wait list if you're interested. Tell them Andy sent ya!