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When you release a new product, plan to spend at least as much time promoting it as you did creating it.
A common mistake people make is that they’ll spend 500 hours creating a product and then 20 hours promoting it. Then they wonder why no one is buying. Usually no one is buying because virtually no one knows the product exists.
Another mistake is to keep promoting to the same people over and over, like your social media followers, and little else. Repeated exposure is fine, but branch out too. Find ways to reach people who’d otherwise never know about your product.
Jack Canfield recommends the Rule of 5, which he and Mark Victor Hansen used to promote their first Chicken Soup for the Soul book. They committed to doing 5 promotional actions every day. They called bookstores to ask them to carry the book, they sent out review copies to book reviewers, they requested interviews with radio shows, etc. They did 5 of these simple tasks daily for 18 months until the book became a bestseller.
I did something similar to promote one of my indie computer games in 1999. For six months after the game was released, I uploaded the demo to game download sites, sent out review copies, sent demos to LCR publishers (low cost retail), bought online ads selectively, and wrote articles for game development publications. I also went to conferences to learn simple and free marketing techniques from other independent software developers. Later I hired a woman to handle most of the online marketing for me. She would do several things a week to help promote multiple games that I was selling, and she’d email me reports periodically. I also hired a guy to help send out press releases whenever I released a new game.
Today I approach marketing a bit more indirectly, but I still tend to it because it’s a critical part of business. Whenever I write a new blog post, it attracts new people to my website, especially from search engines. By uncopyrighting my articles, I’ve also encouraged many more people to share and republish them freely. This strategy works for me, but it may not work very well for someone with little or no web traffic.
To overcome the chicken-egg problem of trying to promote a product online when you have little or no traffic, I recommend using something like Jack’s Rule of 5 approach. Don’t keep hammering your Facebook and Twitter followers and expecting a landslide. Branch out and get the word out in other ways. Plant seeds in other places. Brainstorm some ideas where you could get the word out to more people each day, and start taking those actions repeatedly.
I like planting seeds that have some longevity to them. A timeless article can remain online indefinitely, so it keeps generating referrals year after year, it can still provide value to people decades after I wrote it, and it requires no special maintenance. But if I do a radio interview, it only reaches people one time, and then it’s gone (unless it’s posted online in some permanent archive after the show). I’d rather plant seeds that will stick around for years rather than one-shot events that are so ephemeral. I favor seeds that aren’t so easily uprooted; otherwise it’s like starting over from scratch every year.
Eventually you’ll learn which avenues are the most effective for you. For my games business, uploading demos to hundreds of download sites probably had the best payoff. Some developers even created software to automate the submission process to all of these sites, which made this task easier. For my current business, blogging has worked very well, partly because I started in 2004. I don’t recommend blogging for most people today, however, because it’s so saturated. If I were just starting out today, I’d probably focus on video content. The web is becoming increasingly mobile, and video tends to be more mobile-friendly than plain text.
Once you reach a certain threshold, your marketing may take on a life of its own. After that point you may be able to coast on referrals alone and still see interest grow over time. But in the beginning, you’ll normally have to take a lot of direct action to kickstart your marketing and to build it up to a decent level.
The commitment needed to successfully market your own product may seem high. It is high. This is why it’s important to create a product you love. If you don’t feel good about your product, or if you created it just for the money and not because it will provide substantial value to people, you’ll probably find it a hellish burden to spend hundreds of hours promoting it. Many people let these products wither and die after they release them. But if you’re proud of your creation and you have compelling reasons to share it with the world, you may find it easier to motivate yourself to get the word out.