I have started at least a dozen side projects in the past five years. As a software developer, it's almost too easy to spend a weekend hacking together something that could be the next big thing, and I would usually do it without even thinking about marketing, sales, or growth. My typical pattern was to build the project with a minimal feature set, buy a domain name, and then post about it on my Facebook and Twitter page. Sometimes I'd try to cold call a customer or publish a blog post, but to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to marketing.
If you've been reading Indie Hackers for a while, you know that this is pretty common. Many of the founders interviewed mention that they spent way too much time building, and not nearly enough time marketing their products. After I started reading their stories, I knew I was doing the same thing.
Rethinking Marketing without Thinking
The two things I gleaned from reading Indie Hackers over the past year were:
- Marketing is at least as important as your product. I had been spending probably 90% of my time on product and 10% on marketing. This was completely out of balance, and I realized that I needed to be closer to 50-50 if I wanted to build a side project that actually made money.
- It takes time. The other thing I observed was that many of these projects were a labor of love that the founder had toyed with for years before they finally took off. I was barely sticking with my projects for 3 months, so of course they never got any traction. This whole side project thing is a marathon, not a sprint.
With these two realizations in mind, I set out to build a marketing formula that I could use for my side projects that wouldn't require a ton of mental energy. It needed to be repeatable and it needed to be something I could stick with for years, not just a few weeks.
Compiling a Marketing Checklist
I started compiling all the marketing strategies I had tried before. I read books (Justin Jackson's Marketing for Developers is a good one), I paid attention in marketing meetings at work, and I read a lot of blog posts.
After toying around with the format for a while, I finally launched the Side Project Marketing Checklist, and within a month it took off. I used the checklist itself as a marketing plan, and after a successful run on Hacker News, I had a project with hundreds of email subscribers and thousands of stars on Github.
Why did the Side Project Marketing Checklist Resonate?
The Side Project Marketing Checklist is a comprehensive, chronologically ordered list of marketing tactics and ideas that you can use to market a side project. The list is free and open source, so it's constantly changing, and I'm now expanding on each item in the list in weekly blog posts.
The reason this checklist took off is that it lowers the mental energy required to market a project.
For me, the hard part of marketing was thinking of new things to try every week because there isn't a single marketing formula that works for every project. I wasn't really tracking what I had done, and I wasn't keeping an organized list of things to do next. The Side Project Marketing Checklist provides exactly that, and it gives anyone who's not an experienced marketer a foundation to start with.
I've written about how I use the checklist, and now that thousands of people have downloaded it, shared it, or contributed to it, I'm looking to get your input! What can I do to make The Side Project Marketing Checklist even better? Submit your ideas on Github or send me an email.
I can't wait to share the rest of our journey to better marketing with less thinking.