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Exercise: Marketing Plan

Yeah, I Hate it Too

Here's the simple truth: if you're not willing to spend time on marketing, just stop now. I need to be right up front with you on this: you can't make money unless you tell people you can work for that money.

The reason this is so painful is that it just sucks to go to Thought Leader's website and be subjected to a zillion popups with pictures of them everywhere, crossing their arms in the "proud of myself" stance.

But listen: you don't need to do that. You just need to figure out how you're going to tell people about what you do so that your sould doesn't whither away. I mean... if you want to put pictures of yourself on your website crossing your arms... go for it. The people that do that kind of thing do it because it works. They hate stupid pop up menus too! But they get customers...


The first thing we need to do is to identify who your market is. For instance: I wrote a book about Computer Science principles but for people without Computer Science degrees. That's a pretty well-defined niche and a very well-defined market.
I like writing and I like trying to take complex things and see if I can explain them in a straightforward way. If you put those two things together, I have identified my market and also my outreach.

As hard as it might sound, think about what you're good at. When I started out on my own, I knew I was good at three things:

  • Web sites, specifically with ASP Classic. I had run a business for years and knew the web well.
  • Databases. I spent years running a massive database for an environmental company and then scheming them out for my tech clients.
  • Product development. Clients liked to talk with me about whacky ideas, and in fact I was told more than once that my "weird, off the wall nonsense" helped shape my client's products.

That's the what. Now to the who. 90% of the people I worked with previously were Fortune 500 companies: big telecoms, Silicon Valley giants including Google and PayPal. I felt comfortable in that world, so it's natural that I should target those people as my market.


Now comes the hard part: how do you let your who know about your what? Believe it or not, there are some very obvious ways... but before I get there...

Do You Want Out

So many people I know have decided to "make a fresh break" and start again by going out on their own. I did this once and it was a disaster! When Ruby on Rails came out I decided I wanted to be a Ruby person, so told my friends I was looking for a Ruby job - specifically Ruby on Rails.

I finally got a call from an acquantance and long story short: it was a total disaster. I didn't understand the world I was entering (mobile startup) and also what they expected of me. I knew Rails pretty well, but not the point I should have - so let's just say that's the last time I did that.

A month later I returned to what I knew how to do: enterprise development using .NET. I ended up getting a contract with the largest payment gateway in the .NET space, designing and building their .NET SDK. It was very good money and I executed happily, which helped me slowly change my focus over time.

If you want out of what you're doing now, you have to have expertise in where you want to go. Otherwise your increased risk of failure will blow this whole thing up!

Word of Mouth

It's always going to be your best bet. So right now I want you to pop open your Trello board (or Airtable or whatever you decided to use) and write down the names of some people you can call. These are potential leads and you need to create cards to help you:

  1. Remember to call them
  2. Track what was said during the call (or email/text) and then "score" the lead in terms of a getting work
  3. Remember to thank them later on

These people can be friends, old bosses, family (if you're OK with that) and people you might meet at a conference or event of some kind.
I know... random strangers? Really? Well..

Get Over It

Do you do good work? Do you write code that you think people should pay you for? Great! Let people know this. We'll get to marketing in more detail later on, but you're going to need to get over your hesitance to engage with people.

There's a fine line between being inquiring and being obnoxious. The worst thing you can be is neither and let this whole thing fail.
I'll give you some strategies later on, for now I want you to think about who you could reach out to and how. Pop that into your CRM.

Networking and Events

If you don't go to any meetups you need to start now, if only to get yourself out there to see what other people are up to and how they market themselves. You can find these things anywhere, but heading over to meetup.com is your best bet. Find an event that suits you and just drop in to say hello.

Everyone is there to network, and that's what you're trying to do. So write down a few meetups in your marketing plan, and include them in your overall market approach in terms of defining your niche.

For instance: do you find yourself wanting to go to the MongoDB meetups more than anything else? Great! There's a possible market for you.

Still Here? Get Writing!

OK, enough babbling, hopefully you see the thing I'm trying to get you to do: Identify what your services are and who can use them.

Just start writing... make stuff up if you have to. The point is that words, when they flow, tend to stitch themselves together. You just have to start with the first sentence...

I love doing X and it would be a dream if I could do it for Y...