Side Project Marketing That’ll Actually Deliver Results

By Liz Lockard
Title Image - Side Project Marketing That'll Actually Deliver Results

If you’re at all like our own developer team, even though you have a “main gig” you still enjoy the creative outlet of working on side projects.

Side projects like a new plugin, app or even service can be an awesome source of extra income or even just a fun outlet where you get to focus your energies on something that isn’t your full-time thing.

But side projects are still a lot of work and when you launch to crickets or just a trickle of responses, it can be disappointing.

So how can you get more people to sign up for your next great side thing? The answer is simpler than you might think.


We’re going to walk through exactly how you can sell more of your next side project in this post but first things first – let’s look at some of the assumptions we’re working with.

The biggest one being that you have a thing that people will like if only the right people got the chance to sign up.

If you have a clunker of a side project, no amount of marketing is going to help you get more signups for it.

How do you know if people will like and buy what you’re putting out there? Well you don’t. But there are a few ways to help you make an educated guess:

  • people have been asking you to create the thing (without solicitation)
  • you are not the first person to ever address the problem (it’s OK if you’re the first to address the problem with your particular approach/solution but if no one else is working on the problem, it may not be viable)
  • you get a strong response when you write or talk about the problem
  • people are searching for the problem

…to name a few. Do you need to match all of the above criteria? No. Are there projects that make it without matching any of the above criteria? Sure, you can find an exception to anything but let’s play the odds here – your thing is very likely not an exception to the rule so verify people want it first.

So how can you definitely know that people do or do not want your thing?

It’s All About the (Right) Numbers

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen when working with freelancers and small businesses is assuming something isn’t working before the numbers tell you that that’s true.

This can play out in several different ways:

  • “Our sales copy must be off, we haven’t gotten enough sales. Let’s re-work the entire XX section.” << the truth? Only 10 people have seen it.
  • “I think we need to slash prices to drive signups.” If only 10 people have seen your pricing, it’s not the pricing that’s off.
  • “We need to re-do our email launch sequence, we’re not seeing enough visits to the page.” << when only 10 people have opened the email.

Before you decide something isn’t working, you need to make sure your offer has been in front of enough people (whether that’s an email, a sales page, or hand-written invitations to a thing, etc.)

How Many Eyeballs Are Enough?

The best plans work backwards.

First you need to decide what your goal is:

  • Number of users?
  • Number of testimonials?
  • Number of dollars?

If you’re talking about selling your side project, you’re going to look at number of users. But you can apply this approach to whatever your goal is for the project you’re working on.

If it’s the first time you’re launching something, it can be nice to limit signups after a certain number of users if you’re worried about what that’ll do to your untested infrastructure or support systems. But it’s up to you to determine if that’s necessary or not.

So pick a number.

Let’s say you want to launch your side project to 100 users (a potentially lofty goal for a one-person project).

If you want 100 people to sign up, how many people do you need to visit your sign-up page?

The answer to this question is best found in your own numbers if you’re launching to the same audience as you have in the past. If you’ve launched before, do you know what percent converted? Use that as a starting point here.

If you don’t have any previous numbers to go on, you can use these that work pretty well across industries (though your mileage may vary) for your first project:

  • 1% of eyeballs on your sales page can convert to customers
  • 3% of an interest (email) list for your project can convert to customers

There are several factors that impact these numbers: from price point, to the assumption we laid out at the top (how much people actually need/want your thing), to how good your sales copy is, to the quality of the prospects hitting your page, to your pricing strategy, etc.

Looking at the above two numbers, you can see why so many people put an emphasis on email marketing.

Not only does an interest list convert better, it can also help you gauge how many people are interested in your thing. (if no one is signing up to even be notified about what you’re building, chances are they won’t buy)

Back to our example, if we want 100 users, that means we’d need 100/.03 or 3333 people on our interest list before we launch. (The eyeballs on sales page path would require 10k eyeballs)

Let’s say you think it’ll take you 10 months from idea to execution to actually get this side project off the ground and open for business. That means you need 3333/10 or 333 people a month joining your interest list to hit your goal.

Is that possible? Maybe! I don’t know your network or resources (i.e. can you pay for advertising, do you have a massive social following, etc.) so can’t say for sure, but I would guess that for most solo shops shipping a side project 333 a month is out of reach.

But let’s see what we can do to get there.

Building the Interest List

Now that we’ve established how important / how much easier it is to launch to an interest list, let’s take a look at some ways to help you get to that number.

Survey for Your Project

Bonus! People are way more into sharing a survey for you if you need to get more eyeballs on it. Just be sure to include a qualifying question so you’re not led down a terrible development path trying to support users who aren’t your target. How does a survey result in subscribers? Include an optional “want to stay in the loop about what I’m working on?” opt-in at the end.

Write About It

Whether you do this on your own blog or another is up to you. If you have next-to-no-one reading your blog, I’d recommend trying to get on other sites to write about your topic and include a link to your interest list in your author bio.

Use Your Existing Assets

Do you have an existing email marketing list? A huge twitter following? Run a sizeable local meetup? Friends with an Instagram influencer? Whatever your existing resources or connections are, the path of least resistance to growing your interest list is to make the most of what you already have on hand.

Put Your Opt-In Everywhere

Social media bios, at the end of every blog post, in your email footer, share it on social along with updates about your build process, etc.

As you get closer to your launch date, you can ramp up these efforts if needed. Pay for ads, run a webinar, pitch yourself to get on podcasts where your target customer is hanging out already, etc.

Each of these approaches are going to have different opt-in rates. Once you’ve launched a few times, you’ll have a better a sense of which of these methods work best for your own style as well as hopefully have some analytics-driven numbers about the opt-in conversion rates for each method. Then you can apply the same backwards-goal-math to how much of each of these you need to do to hit your goal moving forward as well.

Borrow Your Target Audience’s Thoughts

People make whole careers out of sales page copywriting and there are thousands of resources for learning the skill of it as a result; however, one simple thing you can do to improve your own copywriting skills is to borrow thoughts from your target audience.

Use a survey you’ve run or comments they’ve left on your blog or other forums on the topic, social media, etc. and take those exact words and repurpose them for your email subject lines, sales page copy, social posts, etc. Our own words resonate most with us and therefore we’re more likely to trust you understand our problem enough to have the right solution (whether we consciously realize it or not).

Don’t Just Send One Email

Another common mistake I see many one-person shops make is to think a launch failed because they didn’t hit their goal after one email.

Your audience is never going to open every single email from you. And depending on your deliverability reputation, they may have never even gotten the chance to open it.

There’s definitely a balance between making sure your potential customers see your offer and becoming a unsubscribable bother, but the right approach is most certainly to send more than one email.

One thing that really helps with this? Re-sending to people who didn’t even open the first email (pretty easy to do with most modern email marketing services).

Know Your Numbers

That goal that you set? And your plan to get there? It’s nothing if you’re not measuring it.

At the very least you should have a way to measure:

  • Visits to your sales page. Google Analytics helps with this.
  • Sales or signups of your product. Ecommerce tracking with Google Analytics can help, but you can always manually pull this from your payment processor as well.
  • Opens and clicks on your emails to your interest list. Yet another reason you should be using a modern email marketing service provider.

Get your number tracking in order ahead of your launch to make sure you can verify whether or not you hit your goal and what part of the process is broken if not.

When to Adjust Course

We’ve mostly discussed why you shouldn’t worry too much if you haven’t hit your goal, but when is the right time to worry? To adjust your approach or close up shop?

You can calculate statistically significant sample sizes to help with this or you can go with the rule of thumb I use: if 300 unique users have seen something and there’s been no action, something is very very wrong.

The “what” of what is wrong can vary — is your messaging off? Is your pricing off? Did you accidentally craft an email subject line that sent things straight to spam? Is it not a problem people care about? “What went wrong” can be a hard question to answer.

But again, this is where research & surveys can be your friend. With almost every launch, even if it goes well, I like to survey or reach out to people who saw the offer (i.e. opened the email or visited the sales page) and chose not to buy. You’ll never have 100% of people who saw your offer purchase, but you can still get some interesting insights from your considered-it-but-didn’t-purchase prospects.

Do It Again

Launching and hitting sales goals for a side project can be a lot of work, but when you have the right approach to planning how many people need to see your offer for you to hit your goal, you’re in a much better place to actually hit your goal.

And, one of the best parts of building an interest list for launch is that if you build similar things in the future, you’re no longer starting from scratch. You can invite this list to stay in the loop about other projects as well.

Have you ever launched a side project that did exceptionally well? What advice would you have for people looking to sell more of their next project? Have you ever had a side project flop? Do you think the approach outlined here would’ve helped? Think we should do a follow-up piece on any parts of this article? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author

Liz Lockard

Liz is a customer-obsessed marketing geek who loves all things analytics. She has over a decade of experience helping small businesses of all shapes and sizes figure out how to make the biggest marketing impact with their limited time and budgets.