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A checklist of marketing ideas for side projects (sideprojectchecklist.com)
632 points by karlhughes on Aug 6, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments

"Cold call ~20 people who might be good customers."

IMHO this is probably the first! thing you should do. To my own surprise people will give you money for your service even if you don't have a websites (and name, logo, slogan or anything else), and you send your 'product' via email.

And 3 out of 4 ideas don't survive these 20 calls - so you'll save a lot of time if you sell first and build later.

Emotionally that's not easy - of course - but it's what you will be doing all day anyway if it goes well, so why not start early?

Maybe this is a US thing. Here in the UK, cold calling is illegal (for consumers at least, not 100% sure about businesses), and for a good reason - it's extremely irritating! Anyone cold calling me would go straight on my shit-list.

I totally agree - we all know of the extremely irritating cold calls. However, in my own experience, if you research the person you are calling well, and follow a few rules of thumb (be genuine, aim for learning) the feedback from people is surprisingly positive! (I'd say maybe 1 out of 10 is a slightly irritated response)

Here (in Germany) it's legal to call businesses.

And also: It doesn't have to be calls - it could also be email or linkedin - and yes! also here it works if genuine.

Personally, I don't care how well you've researched me before calling me; if I want a solution, I will go looking for it, and cold callers get short shrift.

K, cool nbd.. we'll just move on and call the next person on the list

in Germany it is permitted to cold call B2B (§ 7 (2) Nr.2 UWG) but not cold-email (§ 7 (3) UWG).

Cold calling is not illegal in the UK, for either consumer or B2B. There are, however, restrictions. Here's a good summary.


And here are the actual rules:


More abstractly;

I'd be interested to know whether any of the respondents in this thread hold, or have held, genuine management responsibility in a reasonably sized company.

Sales tactics like cold calling work because in business, companies look for advantage or efficiency, and it's entirely reasonable that another company might sell you something that helps; many people are willing to listen to the occasional pitch if it has a chance of making their job easier.

This is very good advice for B2B founders. Groupon is one example of a company that did this as a path to growth. From talking with one of their early salespeople[1], two tactics that worked best for them include:

-build your own lists, don't buy them, and

-get to "no" as quickly as you can -- it will save you time in the long run.

[1] https://www.jenieceprimus.com/5-startup-sales-hacks-from-gro...

That's extremely surprising to me; I'd have assumed that 19 out of 20 cold calls would be rejected regardless of how good the product is.

I would think the same if I didn't experience the opposite. To be honest, I would start with an email / linkedin mostly, but even cold cold calls work. I remember doing exclusively cold cold calls for one side project (airbucks.io) - and I got an awkward early ending to the call maybe 1 out of 5 times. Which doesn't faze you much when you've just had a blast for 30 minutes with a potential customer.

I guess if it's something that's genuinely interesting, it's the same kind of flattering as if a crew/group of students with a camera accosts you on the street to ask your opinion on something. I'm happy to provide feedback if it comes with no requirement to pay.

Totally agree! People's willingness to tell you about their thoughts is the N.1 way to get a call started.

Now imagine that group of students opened the conversation with: "I saw you raise your hand in C101 this morning, and thought your question was very interesting. What made you think of that?"

Yes this would put me off immediately.

Do you have some examples for this type of service? I understand if someone needs, say, a gardener or cleaner or (if per email) translator, this would work.

Any type of software development services and business where the end result is some form of data (and you can send it as a spreadsheet) - i think this covers almost anything. On short thought - the only big exception I could find are 2-sided marketplaces.

I do a lot of this stuff professionally so I was interested to take a look at an "outsiders" approach to this. Honestly, you've done an incredibly good job on this. Great suggestions!

Thanks so much! To be fair, while my primary job has been as software developer for the past several years, I've worked in startups small enough to know what the marketing team was doing. You pick up a lot of general business knowledge working for a small company.

This is a great start! I noticed that 90% deals with MARCOM strategy with a bit of SWOT thrown-in too.

As someone who is responsible for bringing products to market on a daily basis, there is a considerable amount of strat being omitted which will better prepare you.

Pricing. Determine where you want to position your product in the market. Identify the competitors that compete on price vs the one's that compete on quality. Determine where you want to position your products and which competitors to go after. This should help you determine which customers you want to market towards as well. It also helps you determine the effort you can apply to each channel. [Spend more time on the difficult customer to obtain]. Michael Jordan didn't become Michael Jordan by practicing his dunk. He purposely worked on the weakest part of his game to make him the greatest.

Great ideas! I was wondering, what book/tutorial/website would you suggest to someone interested in digital marketing?

They might not be back. Here are some options that have made a splash here on HN over the years:


Justin Jackson as mentioned there is about to release an update to his "Marketing for Developers", so he's pitching a 24hr "deal" (meaning make sure the bundle is worth $100 to you; I don't necessarily recommend it) right now: https://justinjackson.withcoach.com/marketing-for-developers...

You can see the stuff he gives away for free on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/justinjackson

Thanks! I'll definitely check them out.

There are so many things to do here- on top of actually building the side project itself. It's probably worth reading and understanding the benefits of each activity and then prioritising the ones that work for your business.

Just be careful not to deprioritize items because they're outside your comfort zone.

Don't forget to create the product as well.

It would seem odd if the marketing checklist had "Create product", wouldn't it? :)



Great list! Might there be a market / an interest in a dashboard + chatbot for taking care of these things? Keeping track of milestones, doing the trivial signups an presenting how the different initiatives are performing and can be tuned?

I, as a very organised perfectionist, am so keen to have one. However, having said that, while it would be a great tool, I'm just not quite sure how many are willing to pay for it.

In my opinion, a tool providing insights (e.g. basic data science) besides tracking can provide at least a better value than a pure tracking tool. (Disclaimer: I'm working on one myself :])

Interesting enough, there's a similar checklist/dashboard idea for funding round in the UK (https://seedlegals.com), handling all the legal hiccups in a much cleaner and organised way. But their market is quite different and there's much higher incentive for customers to pay for it.

That's a great idea. I do some of the tasks myself, and others I've been working with a freelancer on. If some can be automated, I'd consider paying a service instead.

It would be easy to test that idea manually until you had some traction too. Feel free to use the list if it helps and if you build it I'll definitely add it to the checklist!

I like the way you have gone about this - very systematic and seems somewhat comprehensive (though of course more points may be added over time). Thanks for making it.

Thanks! I hope that along with help from others we'll make it very comprehensive over time.

This is really, really helpful. I will try to do all of these things for the project I'm currently working on. But man, cold calling 20 people is going to be so much harder than actually building the thing.

I don't think you _have_ to do every item on the list for every project; that's where you sort of need to know yourself and your audience.

That said, direct contact with your customers/users is extremely helpful. It might not have to be cold calls if you happen to have a good network already. I've never been good at cold outreach either, but I have no problem talking to people I know might be interested.

Great resource. The one name in there I didn't recognize was '7search'; I clicked through, but it seems to have shut down within the last week, so you can probably remove that.

Good to know, thanks!

Do you have time to explain your choices and/or process as you used a static website generator + theme for this project's web site when it appears to be optimized for blogging?

Right now I'm looking at Hugo + Kube but there are so many not-normal things to use (Hugo + Github Pages all in source control but publishing different branches / folders, Kube using not-normal-Hugo stuff since it's got non-blog stuff, etc.) Is there a one-stop zero-to-hero guide anywhere for this kind of thing?

Good question. I used GitHub pages and Jekyll for the site because it's something I've used before so I knew it would be easy to set up.

Initially this project is just a checklist and some supporting pages, but as I learn more, make updates, and use the checklist for my own side projects I'd like to write blog posts there as well. Having a blog in the same domain as your main project is also good for SEO from what I hear.

I don't have a good tutorial handy for the setup, but maybe that's something I could write about? It probably took two hours to customize the theme and get the landing page up, so pretty quick, but there were a couple gotchas the first time through.

Sharing the gotchas would help me a lot!

This is brilliant, but it's in markdown. I've converted it to emacs orgmode so I can use org checklists and integrate into my todo list.


Awesome! I've been considering adding alternative formats. Is there any way we can automate the conversion?

Pandoc (https://pandoc.org/) can do it: pandoc -f markdown -t org -o marketing-checklist.org marketing-checklist.md

Actually, that's what I used, but in this case the conversion didn't work very well. I had to do a lot of editing to get it formated so checklsts worked and get all of the links converted. Org is a bit more finicky than markdown...

I wish the pandoc conversion worked better because it would be nice not to have to update changes by hand.

It's all little things like making sure that there is only one space in every "- [ ]" between the dash and open bracket.

The original placed the entire document under a level 2 header, so I placed all top headings under their own level one header. I also changed the bottom level of headings into boldface link items so that org could see all of the checklist items. If you open both versions side by side you'll see how I did it.

Again, thank you for the list, it really is fantastic. I'm considering creating a different version for NGOs and Non-Profits here in Cambodia. Marketing is a large part of what NGOs do to raise funds and there is a lot of overlap between commerical websites and non-profits. But there are a lot of resourses available for non-profits which could be added as well.

Wow, love it! Has anyone put this on PH yet?

Another one to add would be a LinkedIn bot for auto profile viewing. It's a pretty efficient way for people to see you viewed their profile, they view yours back, and check out your site/project.

Nice idea thanks! One suggestion maybe add some sort of priority marking/ time spent for each one, as I would say some are definitely higher priority than others

The way I do it is by having a planning time for the project before I start working on the checklist. During the planning time I'll remove or prioritize things that I think will be most impactful based on the customers.

Very well done. I really like checklists, I use them as my todo list, project organizer and general stuff. So I created Sorter to help me: is a webapp to organize ideas, tasks and information using bullet points and hashtags. It´s open source if you want to check https://github.com/vitogit/sorter

People hitting F5 on HN/Show/New is a great place to find people interested in promoting their side projects. Well played :-) (and thanks)

Haha, know your audience is the first rule of marketing right?

Seriously though, it's open source and free, so while I know I'm tooting my own horn I hope it helps people anyway.

> Free Promotional Channels / Write and distribute a Press Release.

For smaller projects this does not work at all. All it does is it attracts spam from various Indian "wire services" and that's it.

> Paid Promotional Channels / StumbleUpon

Only if you want to see how a 100% bounce rate with sub-second page stays looks like. Absolutely useless otherwise, although it is very attractively priced.

Press releases are very effective. I've done them professionally and had them lead to articles in all but one of Sweden's large newspapers. Marketers with the skill of finding interesting angles shouldn't have a problem to get exposure this way, if they target the right magazines / news outlet.

As a news-stand magazine editor I used to love getting properly targeted press releases for relevant products from small organisations. "Properly targeted" is the key: if you write one release and send the same thing to a thousand publications, of course it won't work.

In this case how would a press release be different from a targeted pitch email? Or would you skip the latter because it wasn't in a PR format?

I'll admit, I haven't personally tried every one of these tactics. I'm not sure how to include opinions on what works and doesn't, plus I like the idea of the list being more comprehensive rather than opinionated.

Here's a shared workflowy of the checklist for anyone who wants to use it: https://workflowy.com/s/FSjJ.Z6V7qfO5CD

Thanks, I added it to my Workflowy account. By the way, is it added as a copy? I.e. if you change it in your account, will my copy also update or will it stay fixed?

Don't know, sorry - duplicate it to be safe :)

Very comprehensive in detailing practical options for each step. Thank you!

You should probably describe what Triberr is next to its mention, because their site is absolutely useless (at least on mobile).

Thank you!! Launched a few weeks ago but still very useful.

I did not see under which license you released the downloadable content. Mind sharing it here?

If you havent licensed it, one from creative commons might fit.

It's in the Github repo, but MIT license.

I'll put a link to that in the site when I get a chance.

Thank you :)

That's neat, thanks.

You're very welcome.

very timely

Wow ! I appreciate these marketing ideas! I've just discovered a great marketing tool - https://voiptimecloud.com/online-contact-management-software... . maybe someone will find it useful too!

I can't tell if yours is a spam account or not...

I understand I'm swinging through late but do you have time to expand on any affiliation you have with the company, but more helpfully share any details on why this particular $21/month tool helps you better than say, Skype?

Yeap, be sure to contact me by Skype - tanshark87

An online marketing veteran here! This list is really good. I can actually help people here execute these to-dos for their side projects.

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