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Marketing a Product with $0 Budget

By David Miranda

I have a few weeks to bootstrap a new product.

Here’s everything I plan to do to make sure this product succeeds without spending a dollar!

Let’s start at the end

Let’s talk about you

The ideal journey

  1. You release your product
  2. It goes viral
  3. Newsletters, blogs, podcasts, and influencers all talk about it
  4. People sign up in droves
  5. You convert a high percentage of them to paid customers
  6. They genuinely enjoy using the product and find it essential, leading to low drop-off

This is what people see from the outside.

But, I’ve learned with the raw pain of experience that launching a good product is simply not enough. It’s the equivalent of walking into a bar and expecting to be approached by the most attractive suitors there because you’re a very good person on the inside.

The real journey

What the realideal journey looks like behind the scenes:

  1. Build up an audience over many years
  2. Form connections with bloggers, podcasters, and newsletter writers
  3. Prime the market with private demos, testimonials, and glowing reviews
  4. Let happy customers write the copy of your homepage
  5. Diligently watch clients onboard and improve this process until they can get to the “wow” moment of your product on their own without explanation
  6. Announce your launch ahead of time
  7. Launch to your personal audience as well as your connections all around the same time
  8. Hope that the combination of a good product + a good message + a bunch of excited people talking about it = a launch that goes viral

The most important ingredients

A successful Product Hunt or Hacker News launch doesn’t matter much if you don’t get many actual customers from it. So, you need to understand your audience first.

The biggest obstable: establishing customer demand

One or all of these things can get in the way of a successful product that — at first — looks like it’s solving an important problem:

Solving the biggest obstacle

The above problems all boil down to:

Finding where potential customers hang out. And marketing to them in a way that doesn’t feel spammy.

Consistently talking to customers = you win.

The standard strategies for talking to customers

Don’t just throw money at these strategies and hope everything works out.

Instead, take it step by step, and only start doing the difficult, hard-to-scale activities after you’ve organically start getting traction.

This will make everything easier.

Use the strategies in the right order

Here’s how to grow your product organically:

  1. Build up an audience on social media and on an email list
  2. Come up with an product idea
  3. Figure out why you care about that idea (dig deep)
  4. Talk about why you care about it and see if other people do to
  5. Get some of them (including friends) on the phone
  6. Ask them to prepay for early access to the product
  7. If you can’t get them to pay, change the message or the idea or the audience
  8. Find something that people are begging you to pay for
  9. Start building an early prototype
  10. Talk about every step of the process to your email and social media friends
    1. Share doubts
    2. Share insights
    3. Share problems
    4. Share solutions
    5. Share successes
  11. Release the early prototype to a few early friends
  12. Improve it until it’s really good and they can’t stop saying good things about it
  13. Ideally, make it solve 1 thing really well instead of 10 things semi-well
  14. Once they love it, ask them to describe it — put what they say on the homepage
  15. Tease people with early testimonials and run a giveaway for early access
  16. Tease the launch
  17. Launch on the general product launch sites
  18. Talk to early customers to find out what they need from your product, what it’s solving for them, what they used before to solve the same problem, what they hope it will solve in the future, what their days are like, where they hang out online, what they care about
  19. Launch where they hang out — newsletters, podcasts, websites, blogs
  20. Improve your product until people are consistently saying good things about it
  21. Then run ads — when you can guarantee conversions
  22. And run cold emails — when you know they’ll genuinely help your target audience
  23. But if you feel bad about running ads and doing cold emails (like I do), there are better ways to spend your time and money
    1. For example, you could give away 80% of the value of your product by explaining how to achieve the same results in other ways and for free — in a series of blog posts, guides, ebooks, tutorial videos, and free apps that you give away
    2. But save the last 20% — the hard part — as the way to do it right now, instantly, with no effort for a small fee
    3. Launch these blog posts, tutorial videos, and side apps for free (not behind an email form) on all the websites you launched before
    4. Link to your main product from them
  24. When you achieve enough revenue, start to brag
    1. Talk about your journey on podcasts
    2. Talk about your successful metrics on social media
    3. Talk about how you got to where you are
    4. Share your secrets

If you follow the above steps, you’ll build a truly useful product and describe it to your new customers in the words that make the most sense to them (i.e. the words of your existing customers).

This will lead to the best thing a product can do — meet & then exceed expectations.

Which, in turn, will lead to the best result for your business — a virtuous cycle that builds up momentum, where people talk about your product organically and recommend it to their friends, as it slowly becomes the well-established go-to solution for everyone!

This all sounds great, but how do I keep finding customers to talk to?

Building in public is the secret to all of this and it’s also the hardest to get right.

Building in public is simply this:

It sounds simple, but it requires a lot of work — writing, editing, refining, and publishing a story & learnings that other people will benefit from.

It’s like producing an entirely separate media product on top of your main product development.

But it helps establish you as a human being who’s trying to solve a problem, something everyone can relate to.

If you can become that person in other people’s minds, they’ll cheer you on and tell their friends about this interesting person who’s solving a specific problem.

Cutting through the noise

When you publish in public, your content needs to be high-quality and helpful. If you’re not providing an immense amount of value with a tweet or email, don’t send it.

The reason for this is simple: noise. There is so much noise out there. So many people are grabbing attention, begging to be heard, trying to find people to buy their course or watch their latest video.

If you put out bad or mediocre content, you’ll not only be associated with the noise, but you’ll get discouraged — your tweets won’t get likes, your emails won’t be read, and when you finally launch, it won’t go as well as it could have gone.

This is the hardest part for me. I spent a ridiculous amount of time online — coding, gaming, consuming content, creating content. The idea that I need to slow down and only put things out there that are truly meaningful and helpful is absurd to me. I want to create & publish — instantly, in real-time.

Creating a story that’s bigger than yourself

In order to create a story that’s bigger and bolder and more beautiful than yourself — you need to have some separation from it. You need to go for walks, have a healthy life outside of work, and be willing to take a break from that blog post that’s 80% done, but doesn’t feel quite right yet.

That way, your self-worth isn’t tied to the results of your work. You can hit “publish” without feeling a sinking feeling in your stomach. You can edit a blog post with neutrality and the perspective of “would I want to read this?” and be honest with yourself about it.

When you come home from a run and you’re happy just to be alive, that’s the time to publish. When you can remain unaffected by the world’sworlds reaction to something you put your heart into.

Only then can you stay focused on the big picture — the overall journey — and continue on even if everything doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Something that can help a lot with this is to have a group of people (or at least one person) who you can show your writing to ahead of publishing it. This will slow you down and give you much needed perspective — a small, slow space to be vulnerable before you expose your inner world to the wider world.