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38 Comments

But I really hate marketing...

Incredibly bright and motivated technical founder, has developed a really cool product with a great PMF, right now has 150+ free users and no paid ones.

We spoke about marketing and growth and after offering some free consultation to help find tactics they could use around their existing work habits, they said

“I know marketing is important but I also know myself and I’m just not going to do it. I need someone who’s going to do it for me.”

I wondered if anyone here feels the same way.

Early-stage founders who are bootstrapping / don't yet have budget for a marketing hire: What is the main thing stopping you from engaging in marketing / growth activity?

  1. 9

    I absolutely fall into this trap as well. I enjoy focusing on the activities where I can really see and visualize the things I'm creating - like designing my site, writing copy and writing code.

    At this point in my indie hacking career, I'm not afraid of negative feedback and in fact welcome it. So that's not what's keeping me from putting my project out there.

    I have a tiny ad budget and I actually like those because I can set it and only have to come back to it a few times a week to make sure it's working.

    I think the marketing activities like outreach and cold messaging scare me the most. I know I should do these types of things, but I still don't.

    Maybe it's that I've never seen myself as a people person and have always felt a little social anxiety and that makes outreach something I'd rather avoid. Doing marketing is like going to a party I really don't want to go to. I'd rather hang out in the comfort of my own home with people I already know :-P

    So yeah, the activation energy for me is high for those types of marketing/growth activities.

    Therapy session over haha

    1. 2

      Thank you for sharing this, and please know you're not alone here. Almost every founder I speak to has this issue in some shape or form.

      Cold messaging is one option but it's not the only one and there are a lot of ways to build your marketing without it, so some of this journey is testing and analysing different options that will work for you right now. And as you grow, you can delegate, but most of us aren't in that sweet position just yet. You can do it! Just got to find the tactics 😊

      1. 1

        Some business models do not work with PPC, content marketing or drip emails.

  2. 2

    I have the same feeling, what I do is try to not think too much about it, and just do what I have to do.

    It is like when you need to wake up really early to go to the gym, if you start thinking about it your brain starts making excuses, but if you just get up of bed and go without thinking, once you are already there you just starting doing what you are supposed to.

    It will sound super Nike, just do it.

  3. 2

    I often feel the same as you. I think technical people like us like to see things that produce results, just like the programs we create. We put in X, it gives us Y. Clear as day and night.

    Marketing on the other hand, is not black and white. There is often no clear answer and requires a lot of trial and error. So often times it feels very unproductive for me when I do marketing activities because: a) you don't see immediate result, b) you're not sure if what you are doing works or not.

    This feeling of unproductivity is something I struggle with. I have to convince myself that what I'm doing for marketing is equally important as coding.

    Recently, I've been doing manual outreach to collect reviews from our users. I was actually having fun doing it. I think maybe it was because it was a very clearcut activity... Either you got the review, or you didn't. Every time I got a new review, I feel motivated to get the next. It's like a dopamine hit you know?

    Perhaps that's one way to overcome our fear of marketing... by keeping score and turning it into a game!

    1. 1

      Thank you so much for this, I absolutely agree! If you're not finding ways to track it incrementally and experiment, it can feel like nothing is happening. My blog series actually lays out the steps to build your first tactics :)

  4. 1

    Some SaaS businesses can follow the general rule. Such as content marketing, PPC and email marketing. However these are business models centered on productivity for technical customers. Not every customer or business model markets to technical user.

    So marketing is difficult when your customer is less than a technical user.

    1. 1

      This is super interesting, thank you for sharing!
      I'd love to know a bit more about what you mean by 'technical user' and how that plays into your own customer base?

      1. 1

        Customers that use the internet more than 50% of each day while working.
        There are many SaaS business models for customers in SMB whereas they use the internet 3 hours a week at most.

  5. 1

    I always felt that product is not ready. Experience shows that it will never be perfect so ship. I guess I made the transition once I looked at marketing from a lens of 'telling people my story about the product' and not 'buy this from me'. Framing marketing this way has made it enjoyable for me. I don't mind the rejections, I just keep going because I really like the product and want to tell people about it.

    1. 1

      That's a great way to frame it! Well done!

  6. 1

    Heh, this is so common it's pretty much a meme in the IH community.

    100% described me in the early days. I absolutely CRINGED at the idea of having a "sales call" with customers.

    But every now and again, a customer would put a meeting in my calendly, and it'd be a pleasant chat. They'd buy from me, because I was knowledgeable and non-pushy. Over time, my confidence grew to the point I'm more than happy to jump on a call whenever the moment arises.

    But it's still a WIP - I resist activities like cold calling, email outreach etc when I could be safely coding behind a screen.

    So, the #1 thing that was stopping me is this little lie:

    "The product isn't finished yet, I'll sell it when it's finished".

    It'll never be finished. Go sell!

    PS - If you have 150 free users and no paid, you may have a product/onboarding problem - should be shooting for ~10% upgrade rate!

    1. 1

      Thank you for sharing! Can I ask what made you cringe about sales calls? Was it the concept of selling? Just having a conversation with a stranger?

        1. 1

          Ah yes, the major enemy of us all! Well done for managing to find some tactics you could try and get more comfortable with over time! It's interesting that so many of us are hesitant to do 'cold' outreach. Loads of really interesting discussions coming up from this, thank you so much for sharing yours!

  7. 1

    Ooooh maaan! That's me all the way!

    My problem is I can't really do marketing and coding at the same time. I tried doing marketing 1 week then coding 1 week, but fell back to just coding.

    I always feel like I need to implement more features before doing marketing. And I keep saying - I'll do these features first, then marketing. So yeah, I'm back to "I need to do these first" (some text effects) then marketing. So hopefully I'll end up doing marketing end of next month.

    Oh, and did I mention I suck at marketing? And that I once hired someone that did such a poor job that I had to fire him?

    1. 2

      Thank you so much for sharing John!
      Based on your comment I'd say don't try to spend a whole week on marketing. That's way too much time. If you're interested, I've got a little blog series on how to experiment with marketing and find the tactics that work for you. If you need to spend the majority of your time on product dev, focus on smaller, every day habits you can build that are 20-30 mins instead of putting your main focus down for a whole week, it'll seem less intimidating and less like you're missing out on the thing you enjoy most!

      1. 1

        You're right 😁Thanks, I think I can do that😁
        About your blog series - I took a look, I want to read this. I saw this is was part 1, I didn't see part 2,3,etc :)

        1. 2

          Thanks for reading John! You can find all the instalments here

  8. 1

    I am a student, I want to bootstrap my product through freelancing, there are many people(I was one of them too!) who think like that, But then I find out that If I have these skills I can avoid certain pitfalls, I learned many things along my marketing journey that I couldn't have learned, and I thought I can monetize my sales/marketing skills too!

    1. 2

      This is great to hear thank you for sharing! Hope you do manage to turn your new skills into a little revenue stream as well!

  9. 1

    I've been working in (and out) of marketing for a long time now. This reminds me of all the amazing sales people I've heard say, "But I really hate technology..." despite the fact that it pays their bills day in and day out.

    1. 1

      Absolutely - non tech people are always complaining about tech even though they use it for everything and it's crucial.
      Same goes!

  10. 1

    Some kind of low-key revenue sharing agreement that is flexible is in order here so that people who can market your thing for a piece of the action can work with those who would rather die than deal with it. If someone can 10x your early lame attempts to sell and get a SaaS to spit out half a paycheck or two and you were going to put the thing on ice anyway why wouldn't you do some kind of 80/20 - 50/50 deal with a strong marketer especially if they were cool with paying the marketing costs in the early stages to get some recurring revenue. I think before any dev decides to throw in the towel on what might be something viable or viable-after-some-tweaks they should look to partner up.

    1. 1

      This is basically an affiliate program.

  11. 1

    I can not to create a design for my web site but i have some knowlege in social marketing and technical seo, but not in design 8) marketing takes up all your time.

    A few days after I create something I no longer like it (probably this is perfectionism he-he?)
    I also spent a lot of time and came to the conclusion that sometimes it is easier to hire a specialist?

    P.S. check topicmojo.com for ideas and indepth topic research

  12. 1

    One day I just asked myself: do you want to be a developer or a businessman? If the first one, go ahead, write your code and don't do any marketing but don't worry about no-money because it's not a goal for you anymore.
    If the second, stop thinking and circling about the problem sit down, make a marketing plan, and follow it.
    It helped, there is no other way to make it.

  13. 1

    I think this is a great thing for early-stage / bootstrap founders to talk & think about - so thank you for opening up the conversation.

    For myself, I completely understand and respect the value of marketing - and I truly do want to do it, and will even carve out time for it - BUT I frequently find that I just don't always know what marketing activity to do or where to start.

    Are there any resources you can share that you think are a good checklist of early stage marketing activities to go through?

    I frequent https://marketingexamples.com/ for inspiration occasionally when seeking new growth / marketing ideas.

    1. 1

      Thank you so much! Always here to facilitate conversation / thinking ☺️

      I actually have a small series of blog posts dedicated to starting off from the very beginning if you're interested! If there are any other topics you'd specifically like to know about please let me know. Thank you for sharing!

  14. 1

    I think the typical indie hacker is a technical founder that has been coding for many years and marketing for zero years. Therefore, they're awesome at coding and terrible at marketing.

    If you talk to someone who's been marketing for many years and coding for zero years, they will probably be frustrated when the start learning to code.

    We just don't like things we're not good at.

    Only two solutions for this:

    1. Invest the time to get good at it
    2. Let someone else do it

    That said, one key difference between coding and marketing is the feedback loop is much faster and concrete for coding – you write code and you can see it run (or fail) immediately, whereas with marketing, it often takes days or weeks to see if a campaign is working, and you may not know exactly why something works or fails. But with experience, marketers develop the intution of what works and why.

    1. 1

      This is a great point. Good products won't find users if no one knows about them, and bad products won't find users no matter how many people know about them. Marketers need good stuff to sell, developers need the right users to find their product.

    2. 1

      Great point Steven, thank you! And I agree I think often it's the unknown which we don't like (especially right now given the almost 2 years of global uncertainty!)

      How do you get over this hurdle?

      1. 3

        First, I think letting someone else do it is a perfectly fine option e.g. partnering up with a co-founder who know marketing, or hiring a marketer (if you can afford payroll). Outsourcing can be hit or miss in my experience.

        But if you want to do it yourself, I think the easiest way to get started is to just to mimic other companies or people that are good at it. Over time, you'll learn and improve the requisite skills.

        I learned to market the same way as I learned to code – just Googling a lot, seeing what experts did, learning from blog posts/articles/youtube videos, trial and error. Honestly, it probably took me about 1-2 years before I felt comfortable with marketing – probably the same amount of time it would take someone to start being a moderately effective coder. I still do a lot of Googling to figure out how to do stuff (for both code and marketing).

        It's ok for your first efforts to be terrible – we all hate criticism and putting forward not-great-work, but in reality no one really cares. My first marketing site I made years ago makes me cringe today, but it did the job and I don't think customers even noticed. The site was able to communicate value to customers and that was enough.

  15. 1

    I once read something about sales that might apply here. The marketer asked the salesmen: Why aren't you selling to these people? [who were in the store] - He said he didn't want to push themselves on them. So the marketer said: "What if I told you that they want to be sold to? They came here for this purpose. By not selling you are not giving them what they came for."

    Something along those lines..

    So the takeaway is: Some techies should re-assess their views of sales and marketing in general and maybe this will motivate them.

    1. 1

      Thank you for this amazing response! I agree that marketing can be a 'dirty' word to a lot of people (we all know sales is right?) I'm just really interested in that barrier. It's stopping so many incredibly talented people from achieving their success right?

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