You finally did it, you overcame the great fear of launching your product. You put so many hours into it. It’s a great product. So, paying customers are just around the corner?
Even if you are [insert-famous-and-known-person-here] (if you are: hello, send me an email), if you don’t tell anyone about your product, no one will know about it. Hence the need for marketing.
The moment I knew I wanted to build a business and not yet another app, I took marketing seriously. But still, that's easier said than done. Marketing feels unnatural if you are a product person because you want to do what's best for the user. Marketing is a dirty word to makers; drumming up hype isn’t Making, and it is far too reminiscent of the suit-and-tie, 9-5 jobs we loathe. Plus, isn’t marketing lowkey tricking people into thinking that your product is the best?
Nope! Wrong too!
Try to see marketing as a tool to help your (prospective) customers. That does make all the difference, right? Change your internal narrative from “How can you get them to buy this?” to “How can you help them?” For instance: create an article they can learn from, create a handy little tool they can use, or tell them about how your product will save them precious, precious time.
That last one is marketing/sales too, but by framing it as “helping them save time (or money!)”, it is easier to slide into. After all, your product does help them save time and money, doesn't it? The list is almost infinite—it all depends on your creativity and will also get easier with time.
“If you want to do an X business out of love for X, strongly consider getting a job doing X instead. Then you get to X all day long!”—Patrick McKenzie, @patio11
But I’d rather work on my product!
Sure, me too! Every bootstrapper, maker, and IndieHacker does. Nothing wrong with that, but don't expect anyone magically come to you and pay for it. That's why I’m telling you this: if you do want to run a business, you have to do 80% marketing and 20% product. If that scares you, you don't really want to run a business, but like the idea of running one. Which again, is totally fine!
Time better spent on marketing
As a product person, you’d like your product to be perfect. But what good does being perfect do if no one uses it? In the past, I've been more than guilty of doing this. Refactoring code to look cleaner or more reusable, make that design pixel-perfect, create custom CSS animations, build an internal tool, and on and on. Also, forget about the details at this very point. For my first blog, I spent some time adding tags per blog post and having an author overview page, but what good is that if you have not many posts yet and only one person writing posts?
These are all things that are not important (just yet), but if you are in the very early stages, there are a thousand things that are better to spend time on. Stop thinking as a developer or designer, and rewire your brain to be a business owner.
Overcome your fear of marketing
But you are willing to get out of your comfort zone and start doing the necessary evil, called marketing. So how to get started? What worked for me (and still does) was to see it as a challenge. See marketing as something I could conquer—the same I did with coding (and design before that). Use the tips from this article and get grinding. See how, over time, you get better at it and it starts to feel more natural to you.
Quick start marketing tips
The things I would do to get the word out for any (new) product and that are easy for you to do:
- create useful articles for business owners, leaders, and managers
- journaling my journey to build a new business (like this post)
- reach out to my network
- cold emails to my ideal customers
- answering questions via the chat widget
- personally keep in touch with current customers
These strategies for starting aren’t rocket science; in fact, you likely do some of these already. This should reinforce the idea that marketing isn’t a scary concept, and it isn’t out of your reach. Do the simple stuff, the things that you personally can do. It doesn’t require a twenty-page marketing dossier, and there are abundant resources across the Web to guide you (including articles right here on IndieHackers).
How to create useful content
To create any useful content, you need to know who you write for (that will be your future customers—see below). The best way is to think of small pains they have and give a solution in the form of a blog post. Make straightforward, precise articles. Don't overcomplicate things. Write in a natural way, imagining you’re talking to them.
How to find your ideal customers
This depends on your product. For Startup Costs, this means indie makers to small-sized (1-20 employees), modern and tech-focused, young and open-minded, and SaaS businesses, ideally. For your own niche, you could be catering to anybody from Makers to ordinary people. Finding your audience should come with the creating your product, hopefully. As has been said many times on this site, creating a product without an audience in mind is startup suicide, so take a moment to think critically about your business’ audience.
How to reach out to your network
These days, your network is more than just your Rolodex (wait, your what?). It consists of your contact list, Twitter followers, Facebook groups, Snapchat followers, and the people in the Slack teams you belong too. Don't ever start with a hard sell, meaning: “here is my product, please buy”. Instead, start a conversation and drop your product at a later stage.
Cold email outreach
The most dreaded of all marketing tasks, surely. However, if done right, cold emails can make an outstanding difference. One day you get praise: “Just what we were looking for.” The next all you get is garbage: “You suck! Stop spamming me.” Yeah, people can be rude when a screen separates them, but c’est la vie. Your mileage varying shouldn’t be enough to kick you off your marketing horse. Having just a few customers come forward and praise your product can undo a knot of ugly responses. (I think the phrase is, “Boo hoo, now you can cry into your pile of money.”)
What you shouldn't do is simply hard-sell your product. (Notice a theme?) Again, make it an opportunity to help them. Make it personal. Show them that you’re not simply mass-mailing a huge list. Make a little effort to look up their business: use their name, congratulate on some recently achieved goal, or show appreciation for some thought-provoking tweet. Make it short, but sweet. Be precise. A few sentences at most. A wall of text will guarantee them to trash your message right away.
Also, your job is not done after you send the first email; quite the opposite, in fact. Oftentimes, busy people have busy inboxes. Your email might be opened, might be forgotten, or it might not yet be the right time. Follow up. And again. And again. If this does feel like spamming, it's not: you send them personal emails, and if done right, you send them something useful. If you do get a firm “no!”, stop, and don't take it personally, then move on to the next prospect.
So... do you really need to spend Monday to Thursday on “marketing” and Fridays on “product”? No, of course not. And you don’t need to keep to the 80/20 rule either, for that matter.
What's important is that you switch your focus to actually sell your product.
Stop putting all your time and effort into a product you haven’t sold, and don’t make selling your product an afterthought just because it’s scary.
Tips and improvements
Got any tips or improvements? Have anything that worked really well for you? Do let me know. I’m happy to chat about it. Alternatively, leave a comment below for your fellow IndieHackers, and get the conversation flowing. Talk about what tactics you use to jumpstart your marketing, and maybe even talk about your product. (That’s marketing, see! Already on your way, with just a single comment.)