Imagine you woke up this morning with an idea to rule all ideas. The idea for SaaS that no one else has ever thought of before. You get so excited to start coding and don’t even think about much else. People are going to love this. Fast forward a few sleepless weeks and all the work is done, pretty and shiny and ready to be deployed. The only step left is to get people to see your brilliance. The right people. Fortunately, that is really easy, and you just add this to the head tag:
Now that that’s done, you just press the button and wait for the cash to start rolling in. Best marketing tool ever.
Not entirely. I regret to point out it is much more complicated than that, unfortunately.
As software developers, we have this inherent desire inside of us to come up with a new idea, something that has never been done before, the ever elusive unicorn, and when that idea comes, we would know exactly how to build it, down to the finest grain of complexity. It would take time and blood and sweat and tears, but when it is done it will immortalize us as One of the Great. After all, we have spent our entire careers working to this point.
Ultimately a lot of work is needed to make an idea a reality, not just the lines of code. We tend to get so caught up in getting our work done that we don’t leave much time or space to open our minds to the possibility of how to do more than that. You might think that your big idea will manifest itself one day, and until then it’s best to continue growing your experience and master your skills. When will this be? What if there was another path? Upon realizing this, you, unfortunately, don’t have much else planned out. At this point you either think a) this idea is so amazing, it will instantly be discovered or b) that no one will ever see how amazing it is.
The one thing that is so neglected by many is the almost complete disregard of an industry that seems to have been around for forever. Marketing. You know what it is. And although you didn’t study engineering to become a marketer, it wouldn’t hurt to wrap your mind around this concept that could save you a lot of time and also heartbreak. Before you dive in, a good place to start is this wiki that includes an overview of marketing tools and technologies.
Here follow my 5 principles to cultivate a healthy understanding of marketing. These principles are intended to inspire further reading and research of your own, and above all else, an awareness and altered thinking about your next great idea.
1) Market research
Ideas you can come up with might be great to you, but not needed or wanted by others. Market research will give you the answer to that question and enable you to know you aren’t giving people what they don’t want. Test the water, use social media to ask questions, follow questions and even answer a few of your own. Learn more about which technologies companies are using to market their products and how these technologies relate to each other. There are various ways and platforms to engage with like-minded people, find one that works for you and leverage this to validate your ideas before you start building anything.
2) Engage with an audience
It’s a stereotype to say that all developers are introverts, however, it is mostly true. Luckily for us, we can engage through the internet and that is one less thing for us to get anxious about. You’ve got this. Give your opinion on what you know, share your knowledge and show the world (or a following) who you are.
Nobody will find your next big idea if you stay in your chair and stare at your screen. Engage with someone. Don’t be afraid to build some sort of online community presence. Tweet, post, blog or vlog about anything in line with your experience in order to prepare your audience (or the world for that matter) for whatever you will eventually come up with. The topic of audience building is massive and exhaustively covered by others, so please do further reading on this topic. It is also worth mentioning that many marketing tools (like Narrow for instance) specialize in growing your audience and other tools (like Hootsuite) help you manage many different social media accounts.
3) Get people interested in your own personal brand
Give people a taste of your work. Start a page with signup opportunities so that people can get notified when you have something new and exciting to say (find a great article about landing pages here). Don’t hold back for that one next big thing. Small snowballs turn into gigantic ones when they keep rolling. Be a snowball. Everything you work on is connected to the next (I based this on the idea from this great podcast). You might never get to see your biggest work if you don’t do the smaller ones in between. Who knows if one of those might line up to be your unicorn starter. Perceptions change, views shift, interests continually develop and it is important to take your audience with on this journey.
4) Always communicate your true self
Stay in touch and communicate your true self with your audience. The biggest part of your success is other people and once you have people looking at you, you can get up on your own stage and tell them what they want to hear from you. Being true to yourself and your ideas go a far way and people respond well to someone like this. If you have to fake it to make it you will probably falter at some point, so rather just stick to who you are and present that to the world.
5) Learn how to leverage applicable parts of a marketing stack
A full-fledged marketing stack is a beast and something that you as a lone developer will most likely never invest in. There are however some of the parts that you can leverage and do really well in order to market your service or application. I think one thing that we sometimes miss is considering SEO from the very beginning. Admittedly I’ve always forgotten about this and I found this article really helpful. Something that ties in with SEO directly but is mostly also forgotten is accessibility. This makes sure that you reach as many people as possible. Another very powerful tool that lies at the base of most marketing stacks is, of course, Google Analytics. The resources for learning how to leverage Google Analytics properly are endless (I found this to be a useful initial review). We all know how important usage data is and this will give an endless stream of data to evolve and improve your application to have maximum impact.
Maybe one day, someone will write that plugin/service that I joked about at the beginning of this article, however until that becomes a reality, it will take hard work and altered thinking to align yourself for the possibility of greatness.