I started the Side Project Marketing Checklist over six months ago, and ever since the beginning, I’ve used that checklist to market the project itself. The whole idea of the checklist is that it gives you lots of ideas, but you have to try things out and by process of elimination, come up with a formula for marketing your project that works.
After several months of refining this process, second guessing myself, and eliminating lots of things that didn’t work, here’s what I’ve come up with for this particular project:
My weekly marketing tasks
Finding great content
The biggest time commitment in my marketing efforts right now is around finding and subscribing to great content that would be relevant to my audience. There is no shortage of email newsletters directed at startups or marketing, but the truth is that a lot of them are pretty bad. I’ve spent several months curating a list of sources and subscribing to email newsletters that I find the most relevant and highest quality.
I’ve also spent a lot of time finding tools that side project owners can use to build or market their ideas. I share most of these on Twitter and in my weekly emails, but am also compiling a list in Airtable to eventually release as a database of tools.
Sharing content that’s relevant on Twitter
I use Riteforge to craft Tweets and queue up posts to be shared. I used to use Buffer, but Riteforge automatically tags the author of the article and adds relevant hashtags to the post, which makes your tweets much more likely to be shared or found. That saves me time and adds enough value that it’s been worth replacing Buffer with Riteforge.
Sending an email newsletter
Twitter attracts some new visitors and helps maintain visibility, but it’s a far smaller channel than email marketing. I use an RSS feed of the tweets sent by Riteforge to generate a weekly email using an open source script I wrote. I drop that email into Mailchimp and hit send every week. It takes just a few minutes to spot check articles and write a little intro.
Another thing that’s helped increase my subscriber base was using an exit intent popup. 30% of people who subscribe use that method to join my mailing list, so while I know it annoys some visitors, it does seem to do the job.
Finding new readers with f5bot and niche communities
Finally I started out sharing this project on places like Hacker News and Reddit, and those continue to be some of my best sources of traffic. I use f5bot to track new discussions relevant to side projects and startup marketing, and then join when/where it’s appropriate. I also keep up with new questions on Quora and Indie Hackers that I can answer to bring in new readers.
Things I do more sporadically
Writing blog posts
I have realized that consistently posting something every week is not nearly as valuable as waiting longer between posts and making sure each one is really, really valuable. Great evergreen content can be shared repeatedly for years, so I look at each blog post as an investment and don’t write one unless I have something interesting to say.
Check Google Analytics
I started off checking Analytics every week and marking down my findings. It was exhausting and I don’t know that I learned anything interesting. Now I check it about once per month and just see if traffic is generally trending up or down and which traffic sources are giving me the biggest boost.
Scheduling evergreen content
Every month or so I revisit my recurring content scheduled with Recurpost. This ensures that blog posts created here on SideProjectChecklist.com are coming up in news feeds frequently.
What hasn’t worked?
I’ve learned as much from what hasn’t worked as I have from what has. There are probably dozens of things that either did not work or did not work well, but here are a few that stand out:
Worrying about competitors
I spent a little time researching similar projects, but there were so many that it quickly got out of hand. I realized that the time it took to create a list of competing blogs and tools would be better spent making my project stand out than it would trying to learn everything about my competition.
The truth is that the ROI isn’t great for this method of promotion. Right now I only monetize the Side Project Checklist with a few ads and affiliate links, so paying for traffic is pretty much a no-go. Someday I’d like to develop a product that I can make a higher return on, in which case I may revisit paid advertising.
Maybe I just give up too easily, but after sending a few dozen cold emails to bloggers I thought would be interested in the project, I got zero responses. I have a feeling that they’re inundated with junk requests for coverage because I get tons of spam emails asking me to cover topics that are completely irrelevant on this blog.
There are still some marketing avenues I haven’t tried for this site that I’d like to attempt. For example, I think compiling a detailed ebook for using the checklist might be worthwhile (it’s worked really well for my other side project, Shiphp), and things like A/B testing pages would be interesting, but very time consuming. I haven’t branched out very far in social media, opting to focus solely on Twitter and niche community sites, but it might be worth joining some Facebook or Linkedin groups and participating there as well.
Have your own suggestions for marketing side projects? Email me to suggest an update to this or any of our other blog posts.