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The Dear ID Show: Side Project Marketing

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As a follow up to our interview with James Finder, I wanted to share some insight about side projects as marketing. If you’re thinking that you can’t fit blogging into your life but you want to help build up some business for yourself, consider creating some side projects as a way to market yourself.

In this episode, I take some inspiration from a couple of great posts from the folks at Crew and talk about how you can use the side projects you might create as a part of your personal learning work to turn readers and visitors to your website into customers.

Last episode we had James Finder on, our first ID solopreneur on the show with his business Promethean Learning Experience Design. And having James on the show actually reminded me of this great Medium article about Side Projects as marketing. The whole of launch week here on Dear ID was dedicated to portfolio work and the importance of that. And this idea introduces another dimension that is essential to any of you looking to create a business or even just a side business around instructional design work.

Side Project Marketing

Here’s the pitch: Content marketing is the idea that you give away some relevant, high-quality content on a consistent basis to your target audience such that you position yourself as an authority and build a relationship with readers based on trust, so that, when time comes to push your products and services, people are more willing to buy. Many folks, like Omar Zenhom of the $100 MBA (http://100mba.net/mba467/) , suggest that blogging is still incredibly relevant and it’s a way of positioning yourself in the long game. And of course, as Seth Godin would tell you, it’s a matter of consistently creating and releasing content (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/09/susdat.html). However, some of you may find blogging really difficult or time consuming. You may not be able to find a way to reasonably fit that into your content marketing tool chest right now. As an alternative, Ali Mese from Crew.co, wrote a post on Medium called Side Product Marketing is the New King where he relates several stories about side projects of startups and other business that have done an amazing job of converting people into business, into customers.

And here’s an example from his post:

‘We had no money. We changed our business model and had 3 months worth of cash left to turn things around. If we didn’t we were toast. Done. We needed to find customers. But no one knew who we were. A marketing budget? Please. We were just trying to keep the lights on,’ starts Mikael, founder of Crew, explaining how side projects saved their startup. They decided to give away for free all the extra photos they didn’t use that they had shot for their website redesign. A Tumblr theme and three hours later, they launched Unsplash — a side project which not only saved their startup, but turned into a standalone product that generates a mind-blowing 11 million unique visitors/month.

Ali Mese, Side Project Marketing is the New King

So how does this translate to you as an ID trying to gain some clients? Well, the idea here is that you would be creating a product that provides value to your customers. A second Medium post by Ali provides some great suggestions.

Project Ideas

Guide Clients Through Key Decisions

His first suggestion is to consider key decision points that your clients might have to make and create a tool that guides them through that. So consider someone who might be coming to you to create learning of some kind. What types of choices might they have to make? Perhaps it’s face-to-face vs elearning, or longform elearning vs microlearning or a subscription learning model. So you might consider creating a tool that helps a potential client to compare these options and think about what makes sense for them and their goals. Think about that, right? What a great way to connect with potential client by adding value to them and helping them with a key decision.

Ali’s next suggestion is to think about your competition and help potential clients think through that decision process. For us that might mean thinking through the decision of having someone in-house do the work vs hiring you to do the work and what the pros and cons of each of those scenarios might be. OR it might be comparing the use of templates or templatized courses vs the benefits of getting a customized course for their organization and situation.

Educate Clients on Your Work

Yet another idea is to build a side project to educate. That’s totally in our wheelhouse right? You may have noticed that one of the questions I ask many of our guests is whether or not we should educate others on our design language or if we should use theirs. Many of them have leaned towards using the business or organization language. That makes a lot of sense. But this educational side project idea suggests that there can be a value added in helping other people understand why you approach things the way you do, and more importantly how they can implement that sort of thing themselves.

The side project Ali mentions is a site that curates exemplary sources of good email copy. For an ID entrepreneur, part of the education might be a curated example of the best videos for a given goal or the best-in-class elearning examples for a particular goal. Or perhaps annotated breakdowns of learning examples with comments on what is being done well and what can be improved and how.

Do the Legwork for Clients

The last example I want to point out here was Ali’s idea that you could build a side project to do the legwork. Here’s what he writes:

Let’s stay in our customer’s shoes. Every person and business has limited resources, which is why they appreciate it when you make things easier for them. One of the best ways to do that is to do the legwork for them. Find ways to help them work smarter and break through the constraints they’re currently facing, whether they’re time, financial, physical, or emotional.

Ali Mese, Finding Side Project Ideas


For us as ID’s, we know that often creating a course or even a singular learning object is often at the intersection not only of a bunch of competencies but also of a BUNCH of tools. Color pickers, accessibility checkers, video editing software, etc. etc. So one side project that might add value for your clients is to think about how you can do that for them. Can you provide a curated list of tools and/or other resources that they can use to create learning objects?

Wrap-Up

That’s it for today’s show, but before we part, I want to leave you with this:

The whole point of this, again is to create things that market your expertise while providing real value for clients and potential clients. And I thought, “What a great intersection of making a project, something that helps you to build and demonstrate your skill set and creating something that helps you position yourself for business opportunities.” If you’re thinking, you know I can’t fit making weekly content into my life right now, try this out. Try creating a full project focused on one of these ideas, something that will show that you are someone who not only know what you’re talking about but can help others to understand their choices, their decision making processes and lead them to a better outcome.

Thank you so much for listening! All of these ideas came from a couple of posts by Ali Mese on Medium.

Hey, if you are experimenting with any of these ideas, making any of these projects, I would love to hear about it.

One of the things that I am currently planning is a side project that will organize learning-focused research for instructional designers to keep us armed with back-up for suggesting evidence-based practices. If you have any favorite research that you use to back up your ideas or strategies, be sure to tweet at me on Twitter at @anthkris or you can send me an email at kristin AT dearinstructionaldesigner.com

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