Side Project Marketing For Fun And Profit
Are you sick and tired of funneling money into the Google and Facebook ad machines? Is yelling into the Twitter void yielding minimal results?
Maybe it’s time to take a step back and go against the traditional marketing methods you’ve been told every company needs to do.
Side project marketing is a great way to separate yourself from your competitors while also keeping your team energized and their creative juices flowing. Oh — and it just might save your company.
What is side project marketing?
Side project marketing is essentially exactly what it sounds like. It’s when your company invests time (and maybe a little bit of money) into building a new standalone product on the side with the intention of it driving new potential customers to your main business.
Examples of side project marketing that we love
1. Film a documentary
ProfitWell was recently acquired by Paddle and they knew that properly capturing the intimate moments of this decision - the stress, tears, triumphs - could not be done through a traditional PR blog post.
So they thought… “why not show it”?
Both sides ended up filming a documentary that gave a behind the scenes visual representation of all of this intense process.
While this documentary had significant costs in both time and money, the goal of the documentary is that it will capture the attention of startup enthusiasts interested in the dramatization of a SaaS startup acquisition that sold for $200 million.
Biteable publishes a consistent blog that covers topics all about video distilled down into categories such as Video for HR, Video Marketing, and Facebook, Instagram and YouTube Marketing.
Their hope is that content around these topics brings you into the top of their funnel and ultimately leads you to decide that their software can actually help you with all of these things.
3. Run a message board
Y Combinator is most known for being a startup accelerator that has invested in more than 3,000 companies including Airbnb, DoorDash, Stripe, Coinbase, and many others. However, even they have additional content levers to pull in order to separate themselves from their competitors.
They run the popular Hacker News message board that attracts an estimated 300,000 daily users as well as other projects like Work at a Startup which is a job board that helps you land a role at a YC company before anyone else.
While YC has enough prestige that hopeful founders already know who they are, these additional projects keep their brand front and center and provide ongoing value for the startup ecosystem as a whole.
4. Write a book
Stripe is a nearly $100 billion dollar company that offers payment infrastructure for a significant percentage of companies on the internet. They also have a publication arm called Stripe Press which has published numerous books that they feel highlight ideas that they think can be broadly useful. These books have become popular for both their content and their brilliant design.
In an industry that values creative initiatives, these books help keep Stripe in the minds of people outside of “boring payment infrastructure”.
Mike Slaats publishes a YouTube vlog that covers multiple topics like how to be productive as a startup CEO, building habits for success, and even buying his dream car. Sprinkled in between these seemingly random or general topics are vlogs that cover insights tied directly to his own SaaS company, covering topics such as his monthly metrics including revenue.
His hope is that by consuming content like him buying a Tesla or building out his $5,000 desk setup, you become curious as to how he managed this and check out his SaaS that made it all possible.
Matt Wensing and Peter Suhm produce a weekly podcast called Out of Beta that gives a behind the scenes look at what it takes to build an indie SaaS business.
While they reference specific milestones and challenges happening in their specific businesses, the storytelling and lessons can be taken and used when starting your own startup.
7. Make a cereal
Airbnb may be a household (ha! — pun intended) name now but that wasn’t always the case. in 2008, they actually sold 1,000 boxes of cereal to help fund the new startup.
These cereal boxes, released during the 2008 election and appropriately named “Obama O’s” and “Cap’N McCains” went on to generate $30,000 for the team.
Not only did this fun stunt generate meaningful capital to help the founders get Airbnb off the ground but the virality of the campaign also put their name on the map going forward.
Side note: Loops also did this as a fun opportunity to mix things up a bit!
8. Make a directory
Baremetrics offers hundreds of insights and analytics for your SaaS company based on your recurring payments and billing. Instead of showing their features with typical screenshots and buzzwords they made the bold move to show their product through a live dashboard — with their real company data. Yes, they opened up their actual revenue, churn, total customers, and even a live stream of recent customer cancellations or upgrades.
This struck a chord with the maker community and others soon began to follow their lead.
Open Startups was born as a directory of Baremetrics customers that also began publicly sharing all of their data — the good, bad, and ugly.
The goal of this directory is that your curiosity will lead you to inspect the financials of an “open startup” and end up enjoying the dashboard that’s powering it. Whether you decide to be an open startup yourself or not doesn’t matter to Baremetrics, as long as you use them to power your financial insights.
Crew started as a platform that matched people who had a project that needed high-quality creative work with a pool of handpicked freelance designers and developers. They were redesigning their own website and hired a photographer to take professional photos of them at a coffee shop.
After settling on one of the photos for their new website they were left with a handful of extras. Instead of saving them for a rainy day they did the unthinkable.
They gave them away for free.
They bought a domain and a $19 Tumblr theme. Unsplash was born to share 10 new photos every 10 days — free for the creative world to do with them as they wished. This act of kindness drove tons of traffic to both Unsplash and Crew and ultimately led to Unsplash becoming its own company (even bigger than Crew)!
10. Publish a newsletter
At Loops, we publish a weekly newsletter with a readership of over 10,000 subscribers. The content of this publication is not at all related to email. In fact, it’s actually a newsletter that gives visual tours of remote desk setups from creative individuals.
While the newsletter isn’t directly related to our core business, it has proven to be unique and similar enough that it is a successful lead magnet and captures the attention of customers we would otherwise not get our messaging in front of.
It also has a consistent publishing schedule that guarantees that the Loops brand is circulating on a regular basis.
No matter which path you decide to take, side project marketing can be a creative and more profitable alternative to traditional lead generation methods like Facebook ads.
Are you already working on a side project with the hopes of it generating buzz for your main product? Let us know!