Software developers usually make pretty decent salaries, but did you know that companies that hire software developers usually make much more money off of a single software developer than they pay that software developer?
I guess, if you think about it, it is common sense. Why hire programmers if those programmers don’t make more money for your company than the salary you are paying them?
But sometimes this disparity between what a software developer actually makes and the value that software developer brings to the table is large—sometimes it’s really large.
In fact, if you are being paid an hourly rate as a contractor, you are probably making about half of what the client is being billed for, if even that.
Being a commodity
One of the big problems many software developers face is that they can be easily treated as a commodity.
This problem is becoming more and more prevalent as basic programming skills become easier to come by and more and more people are becoming programmers all over the world.
If you go onto oDesk or ELance today, you can find software developers willing to write code for less than $10 an hour; you can find really good software developers writing code for $25 an hour.
If you are letting yourself be treated like a commodity and the price of that commodity is dropping, you are in big trouble.
Forget about job security at a single job. You’ve got to worry about your entire career and all the investment you put into your skills.
If you want a long and prosperous future doing what you love to do, you’ve got to be able to justify why someone should hire you and keep paying you at your current rate instead of hiring someone at $10 an hour to do the same work.
What makes something a commodity?
In order to solve this problem, you’ve got to examine what exactly it is that makes something a commodity.
But, before we go any further, let’s take a moment to make sure we are on the same page about what a commodity is.
I like this definition from the Wikipedia entry on Commodity:
“The exact definition of the term commodity is specifically applied to goods . It is used to describe a class of goods for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market.”
The key thing here is “without qualitative differentiation across a market.”
This means that if the service or product you provide isn’t much different than what everyone else is selling, it can be considered a commodity. And, as such, the price will be determined by the market, not by the actual value you provide.
So, even though you may be providing your employer with $500,000 worth of value per year by writing code, your employer can turn around and pay you whatever the market says a software developer with your years of experience and skill level is worth.
That is unless…
You find a way to be something more than a commodity
That is the key to being paid what you are actually worth instead of what the commodity market for software developers says you are worth.
But, it isn’t easy to stand out. It isn’t easy to be perceived as something more than a commodity if you don’t know how to do it.
I want to show you an example of how some people break out of commodity markets and differentiate themselves to make more money.
Have you ever heard of a voice-over?
A voice over is when you have someone who has good oratory skills or a particular accent, or sounds create a recording for something like an advertisement or a cartoon character’s voice in a cartoon.
There is quite a big market for people who do voice overs. Just about every radio ad, podcast advertisement, and animated film or show needs voice over talent to create voice overs.
But, did you know it is a commodity market?
That’s right; I can actually go onto Fiverr.com and pick from a multitude of skilled voice over actors to do a voice over for me for $5. Not only can I do it—I have done it. I’ve hired two different voice over actors to do voice overs for my podcast for just $5.
But, believe it or not, some voice over actors get paid millions of dollars each year to do basically the same work.
So, what separates the voice over actors who get paid millions from the ones who get paid five bucks?
I’ll give you a hint—and it’s not talent—it’s marketing.
Those voice over actors that are making the big bucks have figured out how to market themselves to land the right gigs, which increases the value of their name and gets them more and higher paying gigs.
If you don’t believe me, go on Fiverr.com yourself and check out the talent level of some of the top people on there that are doing voice overs for just five dollars—you will be impressed.
No one tells software developers how to market themselves
In the entertainment industry self-promotion and marketing is the name of the game.
There are whole companies that do nothing but market talent. I mean, actors have agents, so do musicians, and yes, even people who do voice overs have agents… at least the successful ones do.
But, when it comes to software development, you are not very likely to find the same kind of resources of knowledge about self-promotion and advertising that envelope the entertainment world.
Have you ever heard of a software developer having an agent?
Well, even though it sounds silly, you’ve got to be your own agent if you want to rise above the crowd and stand out. If you want a chance at making the big bucks and setting your own price, you’ve got to figure out how to market yourself.
There are plenty of software developers that are already doing it. You’ve heard them on popular podcasts and read articles written by them in trade magazines or heard them speak at conferences.
But, no one ever talks about how they achieve their success… at least not until now.
Over the past few years, I’ve been talking to developers who have broken away from the herd. I’ve studied their careers and asked them about how they’ve achieved their success. I’ve been able to duplicate their results to a large degree myself, and since no one else is doing it, I want to share that information with you now.
Check out this package I am putting together called “How To Market Yourself As A Software Developer.” I’m going to be launching this this package, on March 27th.
Well, I hope this article has been helpful to you and helped you realized that you’ve got to make a fundamental shift in your thinking if you want to be able to really advance your career and not be treated like a commodity.
This is the third in a series of three blog posts that are going to detail the events of the 24 hour, $100 challenge that two members of my mastermind group and I embarked on, from each of our perspectives.
- In the first post, Josh Earl, Derick Bailey and myself talked about what we thought about prior to the contest, how we felt and prepared mentally, and what we planned to do.
- In the second post, we each talked about what actually happened when the clock ticked midnight on Dec 17th, 2013. And how we survived the 24 hour ordeal.
- Finally, in this last post, you’ll hear the final outcome of the competition as we each discuss our results, break down what exactly we think we did right and what we did wrong, and how we would have done things differently.
Well, you may have guessed it already, but I ended up doing pretty good in the $100 challenge. I ended the day with a total of $525 that came from 7 sales of the package. Gumroad charges about 5% per transaction and I spent about $30 on the Leadpages subscription for my landing page, so I ended up netting about $470 total for the day–not bad for a day’s worth of work.
I was definitely happy with the results, but part of me was a little disappointed that I didn’t break that $1000 mark. I felt like if I had figured out a way to up my conversion rate just a little bit and to get a little more traffic that I could have easily passed $1k.
The best part though, was that I now had a product that had already passed market validation–All I had to do was create the rest of the product and ship it. I actually even received another 6 preorders the very next day without any additional advertising.
What I did right
I think the biggest thing I did right was to sell a high enough priced item and to sell it as a package deal. If I would have sold a simple eBook for $10, I would have had to sell quite a few more copies and it wouldn’t have made it any easier to get traffic. By selling a high priced item and preselling it, I was able to leverage time–both in the limited time I had in a single day to market the product and in my future time to actually produce something worth $75 or more.
As I mentioned before, I also had quite a bit of market validation before I put a large amount of work into a product. By preselling the product, I didn’t end up doing any real work on it, until I had orders. If I didn’t end up getting enough orders to show that there would be real interest for the product, I could have just refunded the orders I had already received and aborted the project early without wasting anymore time on it. It is a real tragedy when someone spends months or even years of their life creating a product only to find there is not a market for it. Within the first two hours of putting the product up for sale, I had market validation that told me I was going in the right direction.
Finally, I’d say that using the power of leverage to market the product was one of the biggest factors in my success. Instead of doing lots of little marketing tactics that might get a few visitors to the site, I created a blog post that was already giving people value and was likely to be shared and spread. If I had just tried to get people to come to my sales page or just marketed the sales page directly, I would have probably had dismal results and wouldn’t have had any leverage. But, by creating some free content that I could get a wide distribution on, I was able to achieve enough traffic to generate sales.
What I did wrong
I didn’t really have enough marketing ideas. Most of my results hinged on the success of the first blog post I had written which had gained some traction early on in the day. Without that post being successful, I would have much fewer sales–if any.
I really needed to be able to be busy all day marketing the product to maximize my results. If I had known ahead of time what forums to reach and would have spent a little more time planning the marketing side of the launch, I probably could have come up with more ideas. I also wasted quite a bit of time fiddling with trying to get a list of email addresses, which probably would have had a very low conversion rate anyway.
The other major mistake I made was writing the book during the contest. If I wanted to fully leverage my time, I should have spent the entire 24 hours doing nothing but putting the sales page up and marketing it. Sure, it was nice to have that book done by the end of the day–or at least the first draft of it–but, I had bought myself 24 extra hours to do it, so any time I spent writing the book was time that I could have spent marketing the product.
What I would have done differently
I have to say that I learned quite a bit from this whole experience. I found some serious weaknesses in my ability to market a product and found some significant areas that I could improve on. This whole process was like a compacting a full product life-cycle into a span of 24 hours.
If I had to do this all over again, I’d make sure I had adequate knowledge about how to use pay-per-click advertising. With a product that had this high of a price, I probably could have found a way to make money by buying ads. I don’t know enough about how to effectively use that advertising medium, so I rely on organic traffic and other marketing techniques, but I do feel that by not knowing about this marketing tactic I am leaving money on the table.
I also didn’t attempt to set up some kind of affiliate program. I could have probably extended my leverage even further and been a bit more bold in asking for help to promote my product if I had a carrot to dangle. This is another area that I am weak in. I don’t know much about how to create an affiliate program and how to get people to enroll in it. I’m not sure if it is something that could be done in a day, but if I did this kind of a competition again, I’d make sure I knew enough about affiliate marketing to have it as an option.
As I said before, I’d try and leverage my time a bit better by not creating the product during the 24 hour window I have to promote it. I’d instead try and make sure that I have enough advertising activities to fill an entire day.
I should have also setup some A/B testing on the landing page so that I could be tweaking the copy throughout the day to increase the conversion rate. I pretty much put up my page and left it for the rest of the day without having an idea if small changes to the copy could have resulted in big changes to the conversion rate.
Overall though, I am very happy with the experience. It was one of the most scary things I had to do as an entrepreneur, but I feel like the experience caused me to experience some rapid growth. I still have a lot to learn about successfully bringing a product to market, but now at least it is not as scary as it was before this little experiment.
I got a lot done during that 1 day challenge. I survived, in spite of all my stomach churning stress and anguish over the day and the process. Yet in spite of everything I accomplished, I failed the challenge entirely. I earned exactly $0 that day. It wasn’t until shortly after the midnight deadline that I earned any money from that eBook. But I consider the day a success on other fronts. If for no other reason, it taught me a lot about what I am good at and what I am not good at.
Lesson Re-Affirmed: I Can Build Things
I believe this is one of my strengths. I can take on an idea and turn it to some valuable in fairly short order. I went from an idea of a book, to having this book out there and advertised in a few places, quickly. My history of software development, delivering early and often, fixing mistakes as they happen and getting things done spills over in to a lot of what I do. I wrote the chapters, I worked on making them better. I released the book. I continued to improve it. I execute well on the building of things. But not so much on other aspects.
This is probably the single most important thing that I learned, from this day. I’ve known that I’m terrible at marketing for a long time now. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never really needed to do any significant marketing in the past. But I’m no longer that lucky. I now have a direct need to market well because I’m attempting to sell a service, screencasts, books and my consulting services.
When it came time to put together a marketing plan, I was DOA. The only thing I knew was twitter and blogging. I didn’t know how to deliberately build an audience, get myself in front of other people’s eyes or create value in the eyes of others so that they would throw money at me. I floundered for ideas, pulled out the few tricks that I could gleam from conversations with our Mastermind group, and ultimately fell short on every front.
Lesson Learned: Thinking Outside The Box, Requires Knowing How To Think Inside The Box First
My lack of ability to understand marketing turned in to a large pile of fail for me, as I couldn’t “think outside the box” or think on my feet. I have no survival instincts when it comes to marketing, because I don’t know enough about marketing to begin with.
Follow-up conversations with Josh and John revealed some extremely creative ways of building an audience quickly. I was taken aback and surprised, to say the least, at how successful they were at building an audience under such dire circumstances. They really knew how to twist marketing potential in to new ideas and find ways of getting people to their site. They know how think outside the proverbial box. But turns out to be a farce if you don’t actually know how to think *inside* the box, first.
Lesson Learned: Outsource It
Following some basic rules and guidance for the most simple of marketing ideas is an absolute must, when you’re growing and learning. I had no foundation on which to stand, and could only flounder my way through the basics. But like most things in life, I learned how to take my weakness and build something better. Rather than trying to take on the task of learning and becoming an expert in marketing, I’ve taken a better direction. I’m outsourcing that aspect of my work. I’ve since connected with a number of people that are helping me do amazing things. Yes, it still requires work on my part. I have to put in the effort to teach these marketing professionals what I am doing and why. Once I get them to understand, though, they can quickly and efficiently help me make my potential audience understand.
I’m already reaping the benefits of having built a network of people to whom I can outsource these things. My network continues to grow, as well, and I will soon be a force to recon with… not on my own strength, but on the strength of the group that I have aligned.
In The End …
I’m glad I followed through, as much as I did. It taught me a lot about myself, my strengths and how I need to work with the strength of others to really build and do something great. This 1 day was important to me and my career. Being thrown in to the woods with nothing more than a knife will teach you to reach down deep and find what few survival instincts you have. Being able to come out of the woods, reflect on your experience, and plan for the future with this new found experience… that is priceless.
I am both terrified of, and looking forward to, our next Mastermind Challenge.
Heading into the contest, I knew it would be challenging. But I figured I’d buckle down and get it done when the time came.
When the real difficulty emerged, though, it blindsided me. It turned out that my fiercest competitor wasn’t John or Derick—it was myself.
Because I wanted to fail
From the moment I woke up on challenge day, I knew that every step would be uncomfortable. Worse, each little success meant I’d have to do something else even more uncomfortable. There wasn’t a moment in the day when I didn’t want to quit. The only thing that kept me going was wanting to put on a good showing for John and Derick.
I was surprised how hard it was to write the blog post that was the key to my strategy. After all, I’d wanted to write it for months. But the fear of putting myself out there was difficult to overcome.
In my fear, I broke one of my cardinal productivity rules
Focusing too much on an outcome you can’t control is the death knell of productivity. It’s better to keep your head down and think about the things you have direct control over.
My strategy was traffic-dependent, but I didn’t have direct control over that traffic. I fell into the trap of watching my real time Google Analytics stats instead of reaching out to more people to ask for their help in promoting my post. I should have done a better job working my plan, even though …
My plan was flawed
While my strategy for the challenge worked to some extent, I made several costly mistakes:
- I should have decided on the product I was going to sell beforehand. I wanted to research tools first, but I ended up burning an hour and choosing tools I was already familiar with. Complete waste of time.
- The idea of building an email list and converting subscribers to buyers in one day was overly optimistic. For one thing, I hadn’t counted on the fact that many people don’t confirm their email subscription right away, so it took sign ups a while to trickle in. Even if I had gotten enough people to hit the subscribe button, I wouldn’t have been able to reach many of them until the next day.
- I overestimated how much traffic a Hacker News front page hit would get me. I landed on the front page as planned but only got about 2,000 hits from it. I was thinking I’d get more like 10,000.
But my biggest error of the day was being too timid. I should have promoted my Google Hangout product directly on the post, but I let my fear get the best of me. By the time I switched gears and added it, I was already past the peak of my traffic for the day.
Still, the rewards truly surprised me
My late afternoon order turned out to be my only sale for the day, leaving me with a meager $23.97 earned. Such is the price of cowardice.
Even though I didn’t meet my goal of earning $100, my work during the challenge went a long way toward building a valuable asset—I got my new blog on the map.
When the day ended, my blog had received:
- 2,723 page views
- 1,887 unique visitors
- 7 comments
- 17 new email list subscribers
- 1 request for a guest post
- 44 tweets
- 36 points on Hacker News
- 2 upvotes on Reddit
I also got the attention of Pat Flynn, who responded personally to my emails and sent out a tweet for me. I never would have reached out to him were it not for this contest.
Weeks later, that post continues to work for me. It generates a steady stream of traffic, and my blog has received more than 7,600 page views since contest day, even though I haven’t done any additional promotion since then. My mailing list, jumpstarted during the contest, is up to almost 100 subscribers, and I’ve received dozens of grateful tweets, emails and blog comments.
Leanpub was so thrilled with my post that they asked if I could turn it into a guest post for their blog. I did, and that version also went for a ride on Hacker News, spending several hours on the front page.
The day after the contest, I got a tweet from Dean Dwyer, who hosts the Make Shift Happen podcast. He’s interviewed entrepreneurs like Tim Ferriss and Pat Flynn. Would I be willing to come on his show and talk about my experience writing and marketing my book? he wanted to know. It was a great experience, and the interview will be released in the next couple of weeks.
And that’s just the big stuff. I also earned dozens of backlinks to my site that will help my site rank well in Google in the weeks and months to come.
Action is the key to success
Even with my flawed strategy and shaky execution, the rewards from my single day of focused effort continue to roll in more than two months later. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t managed to get myself in motion.
This contest reinforced my belief that success is all but inevitable if you can just get out there and do something, even if it’s not perfect.
Ninety percent of people never make it that far.
Liked this post? We’ve got more coming…
If you’ve liked this series of posts, be sure to sign up here and I’ll make sure to update you with any future posts like these. We are still planning more challenges like this one for our mastermind group. Also, if you decide to take the challenge yourself or embark on it with some friends of yours, let us know how it goes. Post a comment with your results or a link to your write-up below.
This is the second in a series of three blog posts that are going to detail the events of the 24 hour, $100 challenge that two members of my mastermind group and I embarked on, from each of our perspectives.
- In the first post, Josh Earl, Derick Bailey and myself talked about what we thought about prior to the contest, how we felt and prepared mentally, and what we planned to do.
- In this post, we’ll each talk about what actually happened when the clock ticked midnight on Dec 17th, 2013. And how we survived the 24 hour ordeal.
- Finally, in the last post, you’ll hear the final outcome of the competition as we each discuss our results, break down what exactly we think we did right and what we did wrong, and how we would have done things differently.
The night before the contest I went to bed at 7:00 PM sharp. I had decided that I was going to wake up no later than 4:00 AM, but wasn’t going to try and wake up at exactly 12:00 AM. My thinking was that if I tried to wake up at 12:00 AM and was still really tired, I would actually be less productive and get less done. I wanted to try to get as much sleep as possible, but still not waste any time. I really just needed to get my landing page up before other developers got up and went to work–at least here in the US.
I ended up waking up about 2:00 AM, but I immediately felt like I did not want to work on this project for 24 hours. As I walked from my bedroom to my office, I started to have some serious doubts about whether I could actually pull this off–this was going to be a long 24 hours.
I decided the first thing I should do would be to plan out my day in detail. I opened up Trello and created a new board called “$100 in a day.” I started making cards in the “To Do” column. The first card I came up with was “Pick and register a domain.” I’d need some kind of a domain to launch my new site on since I couldn’t use my existing blog. After that, I added a card for “Set up a landing page on the domain.” I figured I could just setup a virtual private server at Digital Ocean and stand up a WordPress install on it. Then, came a card for “Plan what will go into the package.” I needed to decide exactly what I was going to sell. After that, was “Plan a pricing strategy.” Followed by, “Plan a giveaway for preordering” and “Make it possible to buy the package.” Finally came “Come up with the actual advertising plan.”
Setting up the landing page
I started out by looking for an expired domain that had a high Google page rank, since I figured this might help me to give the site a bit of a boost in search engine traffic, but I quickly realized that I would have to bid on domains and that process would probably take several days. Then, I remembered that I already had a domain called “devcareerboost.com” that I was planning on using as a sign-up page for my future course, so I might as well use it for the landing page for the preorder as well.
I quickly threw up a new WordPress install on a virtual private server I already had on Digital Ocean and I was ready to create my landing page. The only problem was, I didn’t actually know how to create a landing page and I couldn’t spend all day figuring it out. What I needed was a proven landing page format that already existed, which I could just fill in the text. I remembered hearing about Leadpages and decided to give it a shot. I signed up for an account and in a few minutes I was looking at the landing page templates Leadpages made available to me. I decided on one that allowed me to have a video at the top of the page and looked pretty good for selling a preorder.
My next problem was that I wasn’t a copy editor. I really had no idea how to write good marketing copy for a landing page. I had written plenty of blog posts in the past, but writing marketing copy is a whole different beast. I decided my best course of action would be to try and modify the existing copy on the landing page template to suit my purpose. I also did a search online for some other long form sales pages that looked somewhat similar to mine. I tried to copy the tone of the examples I had and make mine look at least somewhat similar to theirs. I briefly considered hiring someone to do this part for me, but I realized that not only would I put myself in the hole money-wise if I did that, but I would also probably have to wait at least half of the day before I’d get the actual copy. I tried to not sound like a cheesy salesman, but I am pretty sure it still came out pretty cheesy. Oh well, at least I had something that might work. I could always modify it later.
I was starting to feel like I just might be able to pull this off, but I still had some big reservations about whether someone would actually click the buy button with all the cheesy copy I had just written.
Pricing the product
Next, I had to figure out exactly what was going to go into the package. I had figured that I would try and make the price-point be about $75, so I would only have to get two sales to make my goal. But, what could I produce that would be worth $75–on a presale that wouldn’t ship for 3 months? I decided to take a look at other similar packages to get an idea of what people were including and what price they were charging for the content. I knew I would have to discount my price a bit, because I was doing a preorder and my landing page was not exactly “optimized.” I decided to check out Nathan Barry’s site, since he had launched “The App Design Handbook” as a package and he had a similar audience to mine. I figured if I could provide at least as much content as the package that Nathan was successfully selling, then I could definitely ask a $75 price for it–at least while it was preorder, I could always raise the price later.
It turned out that Nathan had a complete package which included his flagship App Design Handbook, 9 video tutorials, 9 video interviews and 5 additional resources for $249. I decided to try and match that content by having a flagship book, “Why Marketing Yourself Is Important,” and including a couple of complete video courses, some smaller eBooks and a bunch of video interviews as well. I wanted to err on the side of including too much content rather than not enough. (I wasn’t really thinking about how much would it would be later down the road to try and produce all this stuff in 3 months.)
By this time it was probably about 5:00 AM, but I was off to a good start. I filled in the details about the package on the landing page and put in the pricing information. Now, I just needed a way to actually take payments and deliver the product. I had already decided that I would probably use Gumroad for this, since they offer a really easy way to sell a product online. With Gumroad I could basically just put a link on my page that took customers to a checkout page and everything else was handled for me. I did need something to deliver to anyone who made a purchase, so I quickly created a Word document that simply said “This is a placeholder for the eBook you will receive within 24 hours. Thanks for your purchase!” (When you only have 24 hours, you do some pretty crazy things.)
Time to start marketing
I was finally ready to start seriously thinking about marketing. Now that I had a product that could be purchased, I needed to get the word out to as many potential customers as possible. I decided that I needed to work on the highest potential items with the least amount of effort first. My plan was to write up an epic blog post that would detail out a problem that my target audience faced. I decided that a large percentage of developers probably had faced the same kind of problem that I had faced in my career–a glass ceiling, where they couldn’t really rise any higher or make more money. I wrote a blog post titled “Why You Are Stuck In Your Career” and I talked about how you have to be able to break away from the pack in order to advance past the glass ceiling. I talked about how famous chefs and rock-stars were talented, but were no more so than hundreds of others who were relatively unknown. I specifically called out the reasons why top chefs and top musicians were able to make more money than equally skilled, but unknown counterparts–they had built a name for themselves. I then pointed the reader to my solution to this problem–my course on how to market yourself as a software developer. I figured if I could get traction on that blog post, then I could get enough readers to my landing page to make at least a couple of sales. This would be my main marketing strategy–I needed this thing to go viral.
I decided the best approach would be to start by emailing as many influential developers as possible, explaining the contest and my blog posts to them, and asking them to help me spread the word by tweeting the post out to their followers and sharing it on their networks. I was comfortable asking this, because I had created a quality post that offered real value to anyone reading it. I didn’t just ask them to tweet out my landing page, which would have been equivalent to just asking for handouts. It turned out this was quite successful and I immediately received back a few responses from some prominent developers willing to help me out.
Now that I had some eyes on the post, I figured there was a good chance the post would do well on Hacker News, so I submitted it there, opened up my real-time tracking in Google Analytics and waited. It didn’t take long before the simultaneous viewers jumped from 2 to 30–the post was gaining traction. I checked and saw that it had been upvoted a couple of times, so even if it fizzled out, I should at least get some decent traffic. But, traffic is one thing and purchasing my $75 package is another. Would anyone actually click “buy?”
My first sale
My answer came pretty quickly. ** Within a few minutes I had my first sale.** I had to double check to make sure I was correct. But, it was true, someone had actually bought my product. A few minutes later another sale rolled in–I had already hit my target. Wow. I did not expect to succeed this quickly.
It was time to close down Google Analytics and figure out how far I could take this. Could I break $500 in a single day? $1000? I wasn’t sure, but I was determined to find out.
My next idea was to start hitting popular developer forums and posting about the product. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know many developer forums. I tried a few Google searches and didn’t come up with much. I thought perhaps I could submit my post to Code Project and see if that got any traction, but the post got rejected, because it contained advertising for my product. I registered for forums and posted some information about my product and a link to my blog post, but I didn’t really get much traction, since I was basically looking like a spammer. ** You really need to build a reputation in most communities before you can promote something of yours there.** I hadn’t really thought about this when I was planning out my strategy.
I decided that I should check to see if I could get an email list of developers that I could mass mail a message about my package to. I knew that I should be able to buy targeted email lists, but I wasn’t sure exactly where or how to do it. I figured my best bet was to try looking for someone on oDesk who could send an email to 1000 developers. I put up a job request and explained what I wanted done. Then, I moved onto other activities, since it would take awhile for someone to get back to me.
I was at a loss for what else I could do. It was only about 12:00 and I was pretty much out of marketing ideas. Other than directly contacting people one-by-one on Facebook or Twitter, I couldn’t think of another way to spread the message. Everything else I came up with involved reaching out to people individually and that kind of thing would not scale. I knew that I needed about 100 to 200 people to hit my landing page for every sale that I was going to make. By this time, I had gotten a few sales and I started to figure out an estimated conversion rate.
I decided that I would try the thing that had worked the best so far and write another blog post framing a problem and then offering a solution. I wrote up another blog post titled “Why You Aren’t Paid As Much As You Are Worth.” This one talked more about the idea of most software developers being a commodity and how you could differentiate yourself through marketing to become more than a commodity. I pointed out the solution to this problem is knowing how to market yourself and I included a link to my landing page where I offered to sell the solution for just $75. I felt like the post was pretty good, but it sort of fell flat. It didn’t get much traction from Hacker News or Reddit. (Possibly due to the fact that I had just written about that topic earlier that day.)
I had one last idea before I would give up and start writing the book that I needed to ship in under 24 hours–Google+ communities. I figured I might be able to find software developer communities on Google+ that I could join and drop a link to the first blog post I had written that had done well that morning. I joined about 30 communities and put my post out there. It turned out to be a pretty good idea, because I did start seeing traffic from Google+–not as much as Hacker News had generated, but it was something.
Writing the book
I decided the best use of my time at this point would be to write that book, because if I didn’t get a first draft out by the next day, I’d be issuing lots of refunds. I started writing like a madman, but of course it was pretty easy to write about the subject, because I had spent all day thinking about it and had already given several talks about marketing yourself as a software developer. I stopped to eat dinner, but then went right on back to writing.
I took a break in the evening to check up on oDesk. It turned out that I got several responses from freelancers that could get me a list and send the emails out, but it didn’t look like anyone could meet my time line. I was a bit hesitant about this approach anyway. I didn’t feel like this was the same as “cheap discount Viagra,” but it still felt a little spammy. Not an approach that I would have done normally, but I figured for competition sake, if I could pull it off, I might as well try. I ended up talking with the most hopeful prospect, but it turned out to be a bust.
I pretty much spent the rest of the night frantically writing my eBook. I finished the last chapter of the first draft at about 10 minutes till midnight with a total word count of around 12,000 words. Between the book and the two blog posts, I had written about 15,000 words that day. I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep that night. (Mind you, this was only the first draft of the book. I spent much more time adding content and revising this draft over the next few weeks.)
I did not sleep well, the night before the challenge. Sure, I went to bed at 9pm – but what does that matter when you don’t get to sleep until 10:30, and that sleep is more like tossing and turning all night? The fear, the anxiety, the doubts all raced through my mind. I eventually did get to sleep, but my plan of waking up at midnight to get started was already looking like a bad idea.
When the alarm finally did wake me up, it was 4am instead of midnight: first fail of the day. I was four hours late getting started. But I crawled out of bed, got some food and sat down at my desk to get rolling. I had two things to do this morning:
And right here, right now, I have failure #2: I bailed on the website to shamelessly ask for money. I just couldn’t bring my self to do it. My stomach was twisting and turning as I was about to click the buy button on a domain name.The fear of being called out, told I’m a scamming fraud and marketing sleezebag got to me. Combine that with only a few hours of sleep, and I bailed on the first thing that could have made me some money. Of course I justified it to myself. I told myself it was ok to bail because of waking up 4 hours late. It’s easy to justify things like this. There’s always an excuse. What isn’t easy is admitting that you bailed for fear and self-loathing – but that’s exactly what I did. I regret not doing this, not having tried and seen what it may have brought.
Getting Started On The eBook
I pushed that website aside and got cracking on my eBook for podcasting. I’ve been using LeanPub.com for ebooks already, so it was a simple thing for me to get another one started. I created an empty shell of the project, gave the book a name, waited for my dropbox folder to update and started cranking out the book by designing the cover, first. It was important for me to have the cover because Leanpub will show the book cover on your page, after you generate your first preview of the ebook. Having a good cover can make or break the first impression when someone hits your leanpub page. I’ve dealt with bad covers in the past, so I wanted to make sure I had one that would stand up to that first impression this time.
A few weeks prior, I had bought a bunch of credits on depositphotos.com and it was paying off now. A few quick searches later and I had a great image for a book cover, that didn’t need too much added to it. All together, I think I spent an hour getting the cover put together. Combine that with the 30 minutes to get Leanpub set up and another 30 minutes to put together a very rough chapter outline, and I had my first ebook preview generated in a couple of hours. With the preview generated, and the book cover showing on the Leanpub page, I set a suggested price of $10 and got started on the real content.
Cranking Out Content
The next few hours were a mix of cranking out content, combined with combing DepositPhotos for the perfect images to illustrate what I was saying. It was a caffeine fueled joy-ride, and what a caffeine rush it was! At this point, I had been off caffeine for nearly a month. So the one 12oz can of Diet Mountain dew that I had around 7am gave me a massive buzz and really helped me push through the long day. I wrote a total of 4 chapters for the book that morning, added a number of images to the chapters, and previewed the ebook through leanpub multiple times.
About halfway through the morning, though, I had to step back and re-formulate the name and chapter outlines. I realized that my book had gone too far down in to the weeds of recording and editing, but didn’t cover enough of the planning or publishing side of things. It took about an hour for me to redo the leanpub setup and the book cover. This was an hour that I should have spent on content, but it was a necessary chunk of work so that the book would make more sense. In the end, I’m glad I made the change.
By the time 12 noon rolled around, I had 4 chapters and a book that would at least get people to record a first podcast episode. I was read to stop writing and start working on the marketing side of things.
The Marketing Effort
All that fear, all the anxiety… everything that I hated about this challenge came right back up front and center when I hit publish on the book for the first time. Now, suddenly, I don’t have a concrete thing to build – something to distract me from the work that I was dreading. Now I have to face my fears and anxiety, and try to actually sell this thing? What the crap am I supposed to do, here? How am I supposed to sell this? Well, ok. I’ve done this before with my screencasts. I’ve engaged an audience and convinced them that what I have is worth some money, through twitter and blogs. So I’ll start there. I’ll blog about the book. I’ll setup a web page at http://blog.signalleaf.com/how-to-podcast, and I’ll use that as the landing page and marketing copy. The blog post will follow, and will be an announcement / introduction style, while the landing page itself will be the real marketing copy.
It took me nearly an hour to get the landing page built, get the book image added to the sidebar of the blog, add the menu link at the top of the site and build that big green “buy now” button for the page. I think 20 minutes was spent on that button alone. I had such a hard time getting it to look and behave the way I wanted. But in the end, I had the page and I had a blog post to announce the book. Now how do I get it in front of people?
I turned to twitter, my old friend. I’ve done this before so why not do it again? Only this time, I can’t use my @derickbailey account. I can only use my @signalleaf account. For the next few hours, then, I was combing through twitter searches, looking for people that were asking about how to start a podcast. It’s actually quite surprising how many people are asking about this, on a daily basis! I had no shortage of tweets to which I could respond. What I had a shortage of, however, was courage. My stomach was again turning in circles. So I did what any other marketing n00b would do: I went and got lunch instead of doing the marketing. I had to eat, right? Let’s do that instead of doing the hard work.
The Sales Pipeline
When I got back from lunch, I had no more excuses. I had to actually reply to people on twitter and start engaging them. So that’s what I did. I started by tweeting my blog post about the book, of course. But I had so few followers that it wouldn’t matter. So I went back to my twitter searches and started trying to find ways to talk people in to buying the book.
I’ve never believed in “sales”. I’ve always believed that if I’m truly passionate about something, and that I have something valuable, people will see it and want it. It’s natural for me to talk about the things I love, and people will gravitate toward that. I do this all the time in blogging and in software development. But I quickly found out that this wouldn’t make a meaningful dent in my goal of earning $100 in one day. Sure, my engagement of the twitter crowd did produce some great conversations. I found some good podcasts, found a lot of great people who wanted to get started, and answered some questions. I used twitter as a method of engaging the people who would benefit from buying this book. But I never once tried to sell the book, and so I never actually sold any that day. The closest I came to selling a book was when I gave a free copy to a podcaster. I was hoping that she would like the material I was producing, since she was also producing “getting started” material in her podcast. That never panned out, though. Even after conversations on twitter went well, she did not download the book until a few days later – long after the contest had ended.
Closing My Day: $0 Earned.
Throughout the afternoon, I continued to work on the book. I looked for blog posts that I could comment on, to link back to me. I engaged twitter. I did a lot of things that would build long term credibility, basically. And halfway through chapter 5, I also realized that I needed better info on MP3 bit rates, audio quality and file size. This prompted me to record a short podcast, which I extended in to a 32 minute episode and exported at 10 different bit rates. The results of this experiment, showing the effect of bit rates on file size and audio quality, are found in this blog post: http://blog.signalleaf.com/blog/2013/12/18/mp3-bit-rates/ By the time the end of the day rolled around (and I do mean “end of day” – I stayed online until midnight, tweaking the book, engaging more people via twitter, and generally trying to build my audience) – I had sold nothing, but I had at least gained a great asset that would be an introduction to world of podcasting, for others. That in itself was a success. The challenge day: fail. I earned nothing, and therefore failed the challenge. I emailed Josh and John, let them know my results for the day:
- 7K+ words written
- 5 chapters of a brand new book
- 1 book cover design, with a dozen or more image manipulations for the book pages
- 1 web page / book page and
- 2 blog posts
- 10 exports of a single podcast episode, with a complete RSS feed for the special-edition podcast
- 2 comments on relevant blog posts, with 1 link back to my blog
- several conversations engaged on twitter
- give away 1 copy of the book to a person on twitter (who has yet to claim it)
- 1 tweet from a podcast that I’m sponsoring, about my book
- 16 unique visitors to the blog
- 1 new trial account signup (though I think it’s not going to go anywhere, I’m happy to have another trial signup)
- 0 sales, $0 income and 0 email list signups for Signalleaf
I did end up selling 1 copy of the book, by the way. But it wasn’t until after 1am – an hour after the challenge ended. So that $10 did not count toward my goal for the day. Since then, I’ve made the book “free” for signing up on my mailing list, I’ve added a number of checklists to to appendix, and having given away around 20 copies. The book itself is not yet finished, but it’s a great start and something that I will be working on throughout the rest of 2014.
Objectively, the day was a failure. The goal was to generate income and I completely, utterly failed at that. Long term, the day was an outstanding success. I set in motion a ton of things, completed a number of my commitments for the week, and had a ton of fun staying up for 22 hours, hacking away on things! If this were re-branded as a marketing hackathon day, I would be in strong standing with a good chance of taking home first prize. I kicked ass on creating new content, producing material that is tremendously valuable to the podcasting community, and engaging the community through blog posts and podcast episodes. It was a good day.
I didn’t sleep very well. My brain was looping relentlessly, rehashing my plans for the challenge.
When I finally got up, around 4 a.m., I didn’t feel great. No, scratch that, I was miserable. I was a weak-kneed, sour-stomached ball of anxiety.
Still, I got up, took my usual morning shower, and settled down to work around 4:30 a.m.
My battle plan was simple. It all hinged on writing a killer blog post, then ensuring that this post was a hit that attracted thousands of visitors to my site. I’d use this burst of exposure to build a small email list by offering a giveaway related to the topic of my post. Then I’d use my experience with email marketing to my advantage to sell … something … and win the day!
To make this work, I’d need to write a blog post, set up a mailing list opt-in form, promote the post, settle on a product, write a sales page, write the giveaway I was promising all of the people who were joining my list, and send out the email that would bring in the sales. The audience was more important than the product; with enough traffic, I should be able to sell whatever I came up with …
Off to a rousing start
The blog post was the linchpin, the key to the entire day. There was a lot riding on it. My plan called for me to finish it by 7 a.m. so I could publish it on Hacker News before the site got too busy, maximizing my chances for a front page hit.
So naturally the first thing I did when I sat down at my desk was … start researching the product I was going to offer. Particularly, what tools I would use to create it. Typical software developer…
I was considering two different options for the product. I didn’t want to presell something that I’d have to spend weeks creating, so I’d settled on doing some kind of live event. My blog post was going to be about the success I’ve had marketing my Sublime Text book over the last 12 months, so I thought I could try to sell either some 1-on-1 coaching-type sessions with aspiring self-published authors, or else a webinar-format event where I walked participants through what I’ve done to promote my book.
Like many developers and writers, I’m an introvert, and just thinking about doing either of these events made me a little sick. I let this anxiety immediately derail my plan.
After an hour or so of comparing software platforms, I decided that I’d offer seats to a private Google Hangout, and I’d use Eventbrite to sell the tickets. This didn’t help my anxiety much, but at least I knew what I was going to be selling.
With that research out of the way, it was time to get writing. The post really was important, and I needed to get it out stat.
Sounds like a good time for … more research!
I spent the next 30 minutes or so reviewing popular posts on Hacker News, particularly Nathan Barry’s always popular book launch postmortems. He devotes a lot of space to numbers and specifics, I noted, and his posts are heavy on charts and graphs, along with some analysis of what went right and what went wrong. I also dissected the headlines he used—the headline is by far the most important contributor to the success of a post.
Unlike my first research excursion, this was time well spent. I could have been much more efficient, though, because …
By the time I finally cracked open Sublime and started writing it was 6:31 a.m.
I average around 800 words an hour when I’m in a groove and working on a focused topic with a good outline. Unfortunately, I was about as far from those ideal conditions as possible.
To start, the topic was very broad—I was going to try to cover more than a year of sales ups and downs in one post. There was my nervousness about pretending to know something about marketing when there are so many truly skilled marketers out there. What if they laughed at me or left mean comments?
And then there was this truth: I secretly hoped I’d fail. Putting myself out there in this post was bad enough, but success meant I’d have to go through with the live event, which was an even worse prospect.
My writing discipline crumbled. I broke all my rules. I researched as I worked. I didn’t write a thorough outline. I didn’t write a first draft without editing. I scrolled, I tweaked, I revised.
And the results were predictable. It turned out to be a good post, 2,035 words long, with a half dozen graphs and charts to break up the wall of text and prove my results. But it took six hours to produce, and I didn’t push the publish button until 12:34 p.m.
Emotionally drained, I posted the link on Hacker News and Reddit and went to lunch.
My fate was in the gentle hands of Hacker News
Google Analytics is pure productivity Kryptonite. Especially since they added the realtime current visitors counter.
All through lunch, I kept an eye on that counter to see what my fate would be. Would Hacker News take an interest in my post, or would it quickly disappear under a pile of NSA revelations?
For a few minutes, it looked like it was going to catch. My simultaneous visitors count climbed to the upper single digits. I know from past experience that this is the make-or-break point—if you don’t get into double digits within the first few minutes, your post will probably only going to get a couple of hundred visits from Hacker News.
Then the counter started to drop.
A feeling of relief washed over me. Without a traffic surge from Hacker News, there was no way my plan could work.
Oh, well, I’d given it my best shot, and I’d failed. Now I could relax and not worry about the contest.
It’s all over. Right?
When I got back from lunch, I decided I should at least go forward with some of my plans to promote the post—no sense letting my work go completely to waste.
I sat down and started sending emails. I planned to individually contact each of the influential people I mentioned in the post and thank them for helping to make my success possible. I included a link to the post but did not specifically ask them to share it. My list of influencers included Peter Armstrong of Leanpub, Pat Flynn, Nathan Barry, and Jesse Liberty.
As I worked, I noticed my Google Analytics counter start to creep up again. My post seemed like it was showing some signs of life on Hacker News. Uh oh…
Then it shot up like a rocket—now more than 120 people were reading the post at once! I’d hit the front page, and I was getting hundreds of new hits every few minutes.
I was back in the game! I was still sick with anxiety, but this traffic spike gave me the courage to keep going. I sent a few more emails to friends and acquaintances, asking for a tweet or a like.
The responsesstarted arriving. Peter Armstrong responded and said he’d tweeted the article three different times. Moreover, he was wondering whether I’d be interested in allowing him to republish it on the Leanpub blog. That was my first invitation to guest post—I was stoked! It wouldn’t help me with the contest, but it would help me build traffic long term to my blog. Jesse Liberty replied to let me know he tweeted the post.
But my biggest shock came when I emailed Pat Flynn—and got a response two minutes later!
I was convinced I’d triggered a reply from a crafty autoresponder—Pat is a ninja with clever productivity hacks like that. I replied that I’d be happy to offer a testimonial, then asked for a tweet or Facebook post. And he responded again:
Score! Pat’s audience was a perfect fit for the topic of my post and seemed likely to be interested in my self-publishing Hangout.
After a couple of hours of promotion, I was running out of people to contact.
But was it working?
By this point, the blog post had generated a couple of thousand visits. That part of my strategy was working as planned, but was I getting the email signups I needed to be able to sell seats to my Google Hangout?
I logged into MailChimp to find out.
Oh, not good. Traffic was trending down, and I’d only gotten 9 subscribers. Hacker News traffic doesn’t usually convert well to email sign ups—I was prepared for that. But I had hoped that a front page hit would bring in enough volume that I’d still get 5 to 10 times as many subscribers as this.
After considering my options for a few minutes, I decided that I needed to change gears. This indirect approach wasn’t going to get me the numbers I needed—I had to pitch the Hangout directly at the end of the post, where it would be seen by more people.
But first I had to get the event scheduled. I jumped over to Eventbrite and fumbled my way through creating tickets for an online-only event. I settled on a price of $25 per seat, which would allow me to make $23.97 profit per sale. I’d need to sell five seats to hit my goal.
Now that I had a link, I updated the call to action in my post: Instead of encouraging readers to sign up for my email list, I promoted my self-publishing Google Hangout.
Running out of gas
It was 2:58 p.m. when I finally started promoting my event. Was it too late? I needed more traffic, but I was getting low on ideas. My personal network was tapped out, and I’d implemented my best “instant traffic” tactics.
While I waited to see if my updated call to action would net any sales, I started looking for other places to promote my post. I jumped on to Facebook, where I belonged to a self-publishing group run by Pat Flynn, and posted a comment about my post there. This generated several questions and responses, which I responded to.
I googled phrases like “self-publishing” and “marketing an ebook,” looking for highly ranked blog posts that would allow me to add a useful comment and a link back to my post, naturally. This didn’t seem likely to help me out much in the contest, but I knew it would create a small but steady stream of traffic to my blog in the future.
And a sale!
At 4:53 p.m., my efforts paid off—an email landed in my inbox informing me that I had sold a seat to my Hangout! I was relieved. At least I was in the game. How many more sales would I be able to get before midnight?
I was now officially out of ideas for promoting the post, so I decided to break for dinner and some family time.
The resistance that I battled all day returned with a vengeance when I sat down to tackle my last task for the day—creating the giveaway I’d promised to get readers to sign up for my mailing list. Would this list of tools even be useful to anyone? The whole idea seemed stupid. People were going to be mad at me when they got it.
But I’d committed to putting it together, and I really didn’t want to leave this task hanging over my head, so I forced myself to start working on it.
I’d planned on about 30 minutes for this, so of course it took more like 90. I finished it at 8:32 p.m. and decided that I was done for the night.
Before I put away my laptop, I decided to check Google Analytics one more time. Whoa, my realtime counter said I had 60 people on my site! Pat Flynn’s promised tweet had just hit. Another nice burst of traffic to wrap up the day.
I turned out the light, knowing full well that Derick and John were still cranking away. But after a day of wrestling my inner demons, I didn’t much care. I’d executed my strategy. I’d survived. I’d made some money.
Was it enough?
Grand finale coming up
Want to find out what happens next? In the last post in this series, we’ll each talk about what the final results were and what we learned from the experience. Sign up here to make sure you don’t miss that next post.
You are dropped in the middle of the forest by helicopter with nothing but a hunting knife. What do you do? How do you survive?
That was the basic premise of the challenge a couple of my buddies and I undertook, only instead of our competition taking place in the woods, ours took place completely online.
The idea was pretty simple. You have one day–24 hours–to make at least $100 online. The only catch is you can’t use anything you have already. You can’t use your Twitter account, you can’t use your blog, you can’t sell some product you already created; whatever you do, you have to do it within 24 hours and you have to get cold hard cash–I owe yous don’t count.
This is the first in a series of three blog posts that are going to detail the events of this story from each of our perspectives.
- In this first post, Josh Earl, Derick Bailey and myself will talk about what we thought about prior to the contest, how we felt and prepared mentally, and what we planned to do.
- In the next post, we’ll each talk about what actually happened when the clock ticked midnight on Dec 17th, 2013. And how we survived the 24 hour ordeal.
- Finally, in the last post, you’ll hear the final outcome of the competition as we each discuss our results, break down what exactly we think we did right and what we did wrong, and how we would have done things differently.
If you follow my blog, you probably already know a bit about me, but I’ll introduce myself for everyone else. My name is John Sonmez. I’ve been a software developer for about 15 years–at least that is how long I have been doing it professionally.
I’ve worked for large and small companies, worked as a contractor and an employee and used a wide variety of programming languages and technologies, but my true passion has always been teaching.
A few years ago I started making courses for Pluralsight and during that time I produced 54 courses on everything from Android and iOS to game development. The success from this venture allowed me to quit my job and work full-time on my own company, Simple Programmer. Since then, I’ve been writing blog posts, making YouTube videos, creating podcasts and producing products to help developers in all areas of their life.
I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated by the challenge–even though I was the one who proposed it. It is one thing to talk about making $100 online in 24 hours–it is another thing to try and do it.
I felt pretty confident that I could easily accomplish this goal right up until the point that we actually set a date on the calendar and committed to doing it.
One of the rules we had set out was that we couldn’t actually write down anything or do any prep-work ahead of time–it all had to be in our heads. I figured that I had better come up with some idea of a plan, so I started thinking about some of the possible ways that I could earn $100 in a day.
One obvious way was just to start randomly begging people for money. Explaining the contest itself was not against the rules, so I could basically pitch people by telling them I wanted to win this contest and see if they would contribute. I was pretty sure in 24 hours I could talk to enough people to scrape together the money, even if I had to do it one dollar at a time, but that idea didn’t really seem too appealing to me. I wanted to do something for this contest that would have the potential of benefiting me in the long run. (I did stash this idea as a last resort to use in the case that my main plan failed though.)
The next idea I had was to do some kind of affiliate marketing. At the very least I could try and market some Amazon products and get a 6% commission on whatever I sold. But, I could also find some other high commission product and try to sell it. The problem with this approach would be that I wouldn’t really have any audience to sell into; I’d basically have to be like a door-to-door salesman randomly posting on forums and Facebook groups trying to make a sale. Also, it wouldn’t have any long term benefit to me. This option seemed viable, but I thought there had to be something better I could do.
My next thought was to create a small product that I could sell. I thought perhaps I could put together a small eBook that was somewhere around 5,000 to 10,000 words and put up a small website to sell the eBook. The only problem with this approach would be that I would have to spend a large amount of the day writing the eBook and then I’d have to try and get traffic to my sales page. But, at the end of the day, I’d actually have a product that I could sell and improve in the future. This idea seemed promising, but how was I going to write a book in a single day and still have time to market it, and what should I price something like this at?
I had a couple of weeks until the competition, so I spent some time during my running workouts thinking about my strategy. I was pretty sure I was going to create some product and try to sell it, but I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of product I should create and how I should price that product.
One thing that occurred to me pretty early on was that I if I sold something at a low price, I’d have to make a large number of sales, but if I was able to create a product that I could sell at a high enough price, then I could possibly reach my $100 goal just by making one or two sales. It seemed that it made the most sense to try and sell a high-priced item, since there wouldn’t be enough time to do enough marketing to get the traffic needed to sell a bunch of little items. But how the heck could I make something in less than 24 hours that I could sell for a large amount of money?
It turned out that I had already planned to create a course that was going to teach developers how to market themselves in order to get better jobs and boost their careers. I had come up with this idea, because I had realized how valuable the publicity I had gotten from my blog, podcast, and Pluralsight courses had become to my career, and I felt that I could condense the information I had learned from this experience into something that just about any other developer could recreate. The only problem was that I had planned to create this course the following year and the course was going to take a long time to create–we are talking months, not weeks.
Then, I had a brilliant idea! What about preselling the course? I could create a first draft of one of the eBooks for the course and give it away within 24 hours for anyone who bought the presale of the entire course. If I told the customers who prebought the course that they’d get the eBook within 24 hours of their purchase, it would actually even buy my an additional 24 hours to create the book. (None of this was against any of the rules for the contest, since I would be getting the money during the 24 hour period, even if I delivered the goods later.) It was a bit risky–I mean, I would still have to write an entire first draft of a book in about 24 hours–but I thought this was the best chance of selling a high priced item. As an added bonus, all the work for the competition would force me to actually create the product I had been planning to create the next year and would actually give me a head-start on doing it.
Next up was trying to figure out exactly what I was going to do tactically to get this product up for sale and to make the best use of my 24 hours. I had to do quite a bit of running and rehearsing in my mind, but I came up with what I thought was a solid plan.
I decided that I should probably go to sleep really early the night before the competition and try to wake up right around midnight in order to maximize the amount of time I had to actually create and sell my product–this was pretty obvious and I expected my competitors to do the same.
Then, I started thinking about what order I would probably want to do things. It seemed to me that I wanted to have as much time as possible to market the product and have the product for sale, so the first priority would be to stand up some kind of a landing page and make the product available for sale as soon as possible.
But, the real big problem was how to market this thing. What do you do when you only have 24 hours and you can’t use your existing social platforms? If I could send an email out to my email list or make a post on my blog, this would be easy, but starting from scratch and only having 24 hours makes this rather hard. I thought about some of the things I could do to spread the word.
One obvious thing would be to email other developers that I knew, whom had big audiences, and see if I could get them to mention my product on their social networks. I thought I could probably come up with a pretty large list of developers that might be willing to help me out and I could send out one email to all of them, which would leverage my time effectively.
Another idea I had was to write up some kind of epic blog post that I could get on Hacker News or Reddit. I would have to create a brand new blog to do this, since I couldn’t use my existing blog, but if I was successful, it could generate quite a bit of traffic to my landing page and with enough traffic, I should be able to get the few sales that I would need.
I also considered that I could post in various developer forums and communities. I could either answer posts or create my own post that would have some relevant information, but eventually lead someone to my landing page. It would be another way to extend my reach by borrowing another audience.
Finally, I thought as a last resort I could purchase a list of developer email addresses and send out a one-time email blast to try and sell the product. It might be perceived as spam, but if I could send out an email to a large enough list of developers, I would at least be able to make a few sales.
I had to keep thinking about this list of marketing ideas in my head so that I wouldn’t forget them before the contest, since I wasn’t allowed to write them down.
So, that is it. That was my plan. I was going to create a landing page for my How To Market Yourself as a Software Developer course as quickly as possible and try to market it mostly by leveraging existing audiences since I couldn’t use my own. I felt like it was an OK plan, but I still had some serious doubts and reservations about my ability to pull it off.
It might not sound like much, but this challenge was daunting to me. Sure, I’ve earned hundreds and even thousands of dollars in a single day with screencast releases, book sales and other things. But having to do this in a single day, using no existing assets or networks… I’m getting that tight chested, stomach churning fear just remembering it.
Derick Bailey’s Story
Deciding What To Do
We talked about this a number of times before we set the date, and in those discussions I decided that I was going to focus on my SignalLeaf service for this day. Yes, SignalLeaf was something that I had already started, but it had next to nothing in terms of traffic and network. There were only a few followers for the @SignalLeaf Twitter account, there was next to no traffic on the blog (a blog that barely had a post or two on it) and the site was not getting any significant use. John and Josh both graciously agreed to let me focus on SignalLeaf since anything else would potentially mean starting up a new business model or finding a one-time thing to do. I wasn’t really interested in finding a new business model, though the one-time-only idea had me interested.
Creating A Plan
After getting SignalLeaf approved by the other guys, I made a plan in my head for what I was going to do. I would focus my day on creating and selling an eBook on how to get started in podcasting. I wanted to help people get past their fear of starting, their fear of failure and their constant delay tactics. I wanted to show people how easy it is to get started in podcasting, and give people a clear path to getting their first episode online. An eBook seemed like a great way to do this, and I’ve had a lot of success with my Building Backbone Plugins eBook. So that was set. The eBook would be my majority focus for the challenge day.
But after I settled on the eBook, I thought of something else… something a bit devious and underhanded. In addition to the eBook, I decided I was going to build a website that quite literally asked people to give me money just so I could win this challenge. I would buy a domain name on the day of the challenge, stand up a very simple page with a PayPal donate button and find a way to get people to it. Since we couldn’t use our own existing blogs or social networks, though, my plan was to borrow someone else’s. I was going to email a few very well known developers and friends, and beg them to tweet a link to my new site. It was sneaky, dirty fighting and totally sounded like something worth doing just to win.
So the rough outline for my day, with both an eBook and website to build, would be:
- 12am (Midnight): wake up and get breakfast
- 1am: buy a domain name for the “give me money” site
- 2am: publish the site
- 3am: start writing the eBook on podcasting
- 12noon: publish whatever I had on Leanpub.com, and build the marketing page
- 1pm: begin marketing the book through any means I could think of
- 12am (midnight – 24 hours later): get one final report of any income I had earned that day
Awesome. Plan set. Wife and kids informed, and vacation day from work scheduled. Now, I wait for the day to come.
The Mounting Fear
As that day got closer, I became more and more fearful – fear of failure, fear of being laughed at, fear of having someone call me out and tell me I’m a fraud or some kind of marketing shill just begging for money. It was terrifying, and I let that fear get to me. I continued to make my plans in my head. I thought about what the eBook would say. I considered ideas for building the “give me money” page. I wondered about how I would email people about it. But all the time, while I was thinking about these things, I felt my stomach turning in circles and tying in knots. The closer the day got, the worse I felt.
Honestly, I wanted to give up even before I started. I thought about the book I was going to write and whether or not I could even market and sell the thing. I wondered about the viability of selling a book on podcasting when there are so many resources for getting started in podcasting already. I even sent an email to Josh and John expressing my concerns about being able to sell this. The fear was killing me, and I wanted to give up. But I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t – not because I was successful, but because of the things I learned from that day and the effort I put in to it.
So It Begins
The experience of throwing yourself in to the woods with nothing more than a knife is terrifying – even more so when you know it’s coming. So I went to bed early and tried to sleep, with my brain running wild with ideas, keeping me awake longer than I should have been. Then my alarm clock went off and the day was here. I pulled myself out of bed and got to work.
Josh Earl’s Story
Josh Earl is a software developer, writer and entrepreneur from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the author of two self-published books, Sublime Productivity and Writing Sublime Plugins, both about Sublime Text, which is also the topic of his SublimeTextTips.com blog. He also runs DeskHacks.com, a site for standing desk enthusiasts, and blogs about writing and business at joshuaearl.com. His Twitter handle is @josh_earl.
When John first proposed this challenge, it sounded like a blast. Take a vacation day, spend some time hacking on a business idea, taunt friends via email, make some money. What fun.
And even better, I thought I had a decent shot at winning.
I have a little experience doing business online. I’ve published and marketed an ebook about Sublime Text that’s earned nearly $20,000, created several blogs that receive thousands of hits a month, and started a niche site that earns hundreds of dollars a month in Amazon affiliate income. I’ve built a collective Twitter following of nearly 13,000 and a mailing list subscriber base of more than 5,000.
I’ve also enjoyed some success with generating “instant traffic” for my sites. I’ve had four posts featured on LifeHacker and another half dozen or so that spent a few hours on the front page of Hacker News.
Once the battle lines were drawn, my plan coalesced quickly.
I’ve proven to myself that I can get traffic quickly, so I decided to play to that strength. If I could get enough traffic, I knew I could figure out a way to convert that into money.
What could I create that would generate thousands of visits?
The answer was obvious.
There’s a blog post I’d wanted to write for ages, It was going to be a behind the scenes look at how I’d grown my audience and my income in the year since I published my book. I’d be as transparent as possible and share what I’d done well and where I’d fallen short. Then I’d wrap it up with a summary of some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past year.
I had a good story and inspiring results, and I knew if I wrote the post it would be popular.
I decided to bet the farm on this blog post. I’d invest whatever time was necessary into writing and promoting it, then spend the rest of the day figuring out how to earn a few bucks from the torrent of traffic.
I had several ideas that I hoped would increase my chances of hitting a home run. First, Hacker News. A post that lands on the front page will receive dozens or even hundreds of page views a minute. I thought I could engineer a front page hit if I posted early enough in the day (7 a.m. Eastern in the U.S. is primetime). To maximize the appeal of my post, I planned to study several examples of income report-type posts that had done well on HN and use their headlines and structure for inspiration.
Second, I’d be as open and honest as possible about my successes and struggles. This post would be genuine and informative.
Third, I planned to mention well-known people who contributed to my success, giving me an excuse to reach out to them directly via email or on Twitter and ask them to share the post with their larger audiences.
To summarize my traffic generation strategy, I planned to write a killer post in a genre that I knew was popular with a specific audience, then try to borrow other people’s audiences to help me get the word out.
But how could I generate income from this traffic?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year, it’s that email is the best tool for selling products online. From my experience marketing my Sublime book, I’ve learned how to use a free giveaway as an incentive to get people to sign up for my mailing list, and I’ve also learned how to get people to open and read the emails I send.
I planned to use the same tactics that I’ve used effectively to market my book—only this time I’d do it at warp speed. At the end of my post, I’d entice readers to join my newly created mailing list by offering a useful giveaway. This “lead magnet” would be something related to the post—maybe a list of tools that I’ve relied on to create and market my book.
That meant I’d need to create the giveaway and write an email welcoming people to my list and linking them to the list of tools. I knew from experience that this email would get a very high open rate. I also knew that adding a P.S. to an email is a great way to draw attention to a message—after the subject line, it’s the one thing most readers will see. So I’d use a P.S. in the welcome email to promote whatever product I decided to offer.
Oh, yeah, that.
What in the world could I sell?
In addition to the contest rules, I had a self-imposed constraint that limited what I could offer: I didn’t want this product to require much of an ongoing commitment after the contest ended. That meant that preselling a book was out—at the time, I was hip-deep in editing my next Sublime Text book, Writing Sublime Plugins. The last thing I needed was another massive writing project to feel guilty about.
Two ideas seemed to fit: I could offer to let people book some time with me for one-on-one marketing help, or I could sell seats to a Google+ Hangout where I delved deeper into how I’ve promoted my book. I wasn’t sure which option I’d go for–it partly depended on which was easier to set up. I’d need to do some research into scheduling and event software, and I couldn’t do that in advance.
It seemed like a sound strategy. I looked at it as a math problem. If I could get several thousand page views on my blog post, I could probably get 100 people to sign up for the mailing list. From that, it seemed reasonable that I could sell four to six seats or coaching sessions for $20 to $30.
The entire day was going to be an exercise in creative prioritization and creating and shipping things just in time. Here’s how I envisioned the day unfolding:
- 5:00 – 7 a.m. — Research blog post format. Outline and write post. Set up mailing list subscription form.
- 7:00 a.m. — Publish post. Post link on Hacker News.
- 7:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. — Promote post via email, Twitter.
- 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. — Decide on product format. Write sales page.
- 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. — Create list signup giveaway. Write and send welcome email, including giveaway and event promotion. Schedule welcome email to go out automatically to new subscribers.
- 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. — Find additional ways to promote blog post. Try to sell event or coaching slots directly to friends and acquaintances.
My confidence started to ebb as December 17 got closer
Instead of looking forward to the contest, I started to dread it.
There were two main sources to this stress. One was the reason why I hadn’t already written this blog post, and the other was a fundamental fear that most humans suffer from.
As I mentioned earlier, this blog post idea had sat in on my to-do list for months. I’d resisted acting on it even though I knew it would be a hit. Why the reluctance to do something I knew would be good for my business?
The very thought of publishing this post made me feel like fraud. While I’ve had some modest successes with my marketing efforts, there are a lot of people out there who know a lot more about the topic than I do. I’ve learned most of what I know from sources like Amy Hoy’s 30×500 class and blog posts from guys like Nathan Barry and Pat Flynn. I was afraid of what these marketing vets would think. Would they just laugh at me and leave sarcastic comments?
Then there was another terrifying possibility: If my post did well and I sold a few seats, I’d have to gulp speak to a group of people—and purport to know what I was talking about. And for me (as with most breathing humans), public speaking ranks up there with swan diving into a pit of rattlesnakes.
The fear intensified with each passing day. I knew I had a shot at winning this contest, but by the time I went to bed on December 16, I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
In the next post in this series, you’ll hear from each of us how each of our days actually went. So, stay tuned. Subscribe here if you don’t want to miss the updates.
This week I am doing something a bit different. I asked the winner of the XNA contest that I held to promote my Pluralsight course on game programming with XNA to write up a guest post about his experience making the game.
So congratulations again and thanks you Joshua.
Here is Joshua’s post:
After winning the XNA contest John asked me to write a guest post about my experiences with the course and developing the game. So here it goes.
My name is Joshua Burchat and I’m from Oakville Ontario. I work as a developer designing and supporting business applications to support reporting within warehouse operations. My language of choice is C# but I enjoy trying other languages and technologies.
What appears to be a daunting task
When I saw John’s post I was instantly excited about the course. The only experience I have making games was doing a small Cocoa2d chess game app. I had yet to do anything with animations and moving sprites. Writing code for a game seemed like a daunting task. I decided that I needed a new project to work on, and this would be a challenging and worthwhile task.
After starting the course, building a game seemed so much more simplistic from a coding perspective than I originally thought. John has a great layout to the course. Upon completion, you end up with a fully functioning basic space shooter game.
Doing something a little different
When doing any sort of tutorial I tend to want to write a different application than the example being presented. I do this to enjoy writing the application because it’s one of my choosing, and to run into different scenarios which need to be solved. I use a similar practice when learning a new language; except I usually pick a program I have already written and port it.
Wanting to do something different, I decided to go with a side scrolling platformer. The plan was to make it like Mario but with punches, a health bar and an energy bar. The course got me started with how to display graphics and create boundaries for game entities in a very simple and reusable way. The course also teaches you how to implement sounds and game states (pause, next level etc.). There were quite a few things that you need to tweak to make a more advanced game. However the structure you are given from the course is very extensible.
One of the things that I needed to add to the game that was not in the course is the concept of gravity. The player, as well as some of the enemies needed to be able to jump and fall. Entities needed to be able to transition to different animations as well as be prevented from doing certain actions while the animation has yet to finish. I ended up using a similar method that John used for the game states; I made sprite states. When a sprite had a specific state it would determine what the sprite is currently doing and what it could do next.
The current state would have an update method that the sprite would call from its update method in the game loop. The state was responsible for setting the animation for the sprite and whether or not the state should change. For example, when the up arrow was pressed the standing and walking action would lead to the jumping action for the player sprite. Enemy sprites had actions that they used to make them attack and move around.
Here is an example of the player sprites states:
Once implementing the ability for sprites to change state, I needed to make use of them. I had five types of sprites in the game:
Player: Controlled by user input. The player sprite has an energy level that is used to preform jumps and punches. The energy recharges over time. This sprite also has health, the player has to restart the level when the health hits zero or if it falls off a ledge.
Enemy: Controlled by its surrounding. If they hit the edge of a platform, turn around. If it hits the player, change the player state to ‘stunned’ and takes some of the players health away.
Terrain: Represents the bounds for that prevent the player and enemies to go past.
Background: Elements that do not have any effect on the other sprite types, and are simply for visual effects. Some background effects move, such as clouds or snow.
Item: Created from an enemy sprite when it is killed. Adjusts the players stats such as health or energy.
Here is a video of the game play:
After completing the course you will definitely be able to make a basic game and in time and with a good amount of effort you should be able to make an excellent game. There are a few things besides coding that go along with game design that I find to be the hardest aspect of the craft. These are things that I will need to improve in my game.
Physics/Feel: The way entities interact, timing, controls. The physics of the game help to allow the user to feel the game. If the characters move too slow or don’t jump in a logical way then the user feels it and the game becomes unappealing.
Story: Games should have a story, it can be simple or complicated but it needs to exist. While making this game I did not really start off with a story, I just wanted to learn the programming aspect. Now that I have learned enough to make a more robust game, the next one will definitely have a story.
Graphics: I have no skill at creating graphics myself; I needed a bit of help from my girlfriend to make some decent sprites. Graphics are hard; the game needs to have a good style that helps keep the user’s attention and make the experience more enjoyable. When I say good graphics I don’t necessarily mean high end rendered images, I simply mean they need to be appealing and click with your game. A good example of this is Minecraft, it looks silly but it is very fun to play and has a large following. It is also important to keep in mind what John states in the course, don’t worry about the graphics when learning to make a game. At the beginning of this game’s development I used boxes for sprites, it looked silly but it got me through the tunnel.
Since working on this project, I have recommended this course to a few of my fellow developers at work. Not because they enjoy video games but because I believe making a game helps strengthen your OO skills. I was surprised at how bad I was at doing something that consists purely of writing objects; it really put my skills to the test.
I ended up rewriting some the application a few times before I had my base designed in a manageable way. I am a strong believer in writing a program more than once, learning from the mistakes of the first pass through and coming out with something more refined. I would recommend this course; it is definitely worth your two hundred free minutes of PluralSight if you have not signed up yet.
Where to next
Now that I have made a platformer game I would like to try something different. I am going to try to make an adventure RPG, attempting a classic Zelda feel perhaps. Another thing I am going to attempt is to port the game over to ISO and Andriod either manually or using mono.
Making games is something that I could see taking whole bunch of effort and failures to get right. I want to try various types of games so that one day I can make one that I consider distributable to the public. I am not releasing this game on any application market, it is still a half cooked and there are quite a few improvements I would need to make.
I am glad that I had entered this contest, and I believe that it was a building block for a great hobby and maybe one day a career. Thanks John for this fun project, many a nights were spent with key clatters. I hope everyone else had a great time making their games as well.
Around the end of Sept when I released my XNA course with Pluralsight I announced a contest for a chance to win an iPad, Kindle Fire HD or a Nexus 7.
Thanks for everyone that entered the contest!
It was difficult to pick the winners, but without further ado, here they are!
Hermies Adventure by Joshua Burchat
I really liked the depth that was put into this game.
In my course, I had covered creating a shooter game, but Joshua went beyond that and figured out how to create a platform game.
The game features scrolling clouds in the background, falling snow and lots of different enemies that behave in different ways.
The game even included potions that randomly dropped when killing enemies.
Congratulations Joshua, great job on this game!
Genesis by Patrick Kalkman
This game was also very well done. It was a very tough choice between this one and Hermies Adventure.
Patrick did an excellent job of really creating a nice shooting game with smooth animations, power ups and even bosses.
He also included a level editor.
I really liked how Patrick created the enemy movements. It really felt like a classing arcade game.
Bee-pops by Ilias Shaikh
Another excellent game. I really liked how Ilias utilized realistic physics to make the balls bounce around the screen. The little transparency effects on the balls made a neat game experience as well.
It is a pretty simple concept, but it was done very well.
Thanks everyone who entered the contest
Was really great to see all the games that were created.
To celebrate my 25th course on Pluralsight, and because game programming is so much fun, I decided to give away some prizes for Pluralsight subscribers who watch my new course Introduction to 2D Game Programming with XNA.
What you will win
Your choice of either a brand new 16gb 3rd generation WiFi iPad
1 year Monthly Plus subscription to Pluralsight
Your choice of either a brand new Kindle Fire HD 8GB WiFi
6 months Monthly Plus subscription to Pluralsight
Your choice of either a brand new Google Nexus 7 8GB
3 months Monthly Plus subscription to Pluralsight
Pluralsight will also be throwing in an awesome box of SWAG for the winner!
And there may even be more in store for you, your game will definitely be promoted on this blog.
How to win
Step 3: Create a game based on what you learned from the course.
Send me a zipped up version of your completed game and the top 3 games will win prizes!
DO NOT SEND AN EXE!
MAKE SURE YOU SEND THE SOURCE CODE!
You can send your submissions to me at john dot sonmez at gmail dot com.
Please make sure you do everything to qualify for the competition. I want to be as fair as possible. So, if you make an awesome game, but you didn’t follow the directions, I can’t award you the prize, I’ll have to give it to the next awesome game.
Contest dates and deadlines
All submissions must be completed no later than Nov 30th 2012 EST.
Winners will be announced by Dec 15th 2012.