Editorial note: hi folks! Thanks for your patience as I’ve been getting my life settled enough to start creating content again. We’ve done some hiring for a few roles, backfilling me, so I’m actually seeing a light at the end of the tunnel for creating DaedTech content.
Today I’m going to start a blog post series that fits into the broader “business of freelancing” category. But I’m going to give it a secondary tag, called “SEO for Non-Scumbags,” and spend some time in this post explaining why that title isn’t just me being flippant.
People have been asking me to talk more about marketing for freelancers. And I’ve been demurring, saying that you need a niche before you can meaningfully market yourself. But you don’t need a niche yet to learn about SEO and search traffic, so that you’re prepared to capitalize when you do identify your niche.
So let me teach you about that. In this post, I’ll talk about the scumbag way and the non-scumbag way to do SEO, so that you understand there’s a way to do it benignly. In the broader series, I’ll walk you through how to execute the non-scumbag playbook.
So I suppose it’s old enough that I need to start giving it away for free, right? Like the way really old books and classical music are somehow free? I’m pretty sure that’s how it works, but, whatever, I don’t make the rules.
Anyway, I’ll come back to the “have the book for free” part and explain in more detail a little later. In the meantime, I’ll ask you to indulge me in some musing and the announcement of a new community initiative that you’re welcome to join.
Developer Hegemony: The Idea in Brief
If you’re not familiar, or you need a refresher, Developer Hegemony was a book I started writing on Leanpub and eventually published to Amazon. It was, dare I say, my magnum rantus. And I’m flattered and bemused to report that it has sold thousands of copies in the last four years, in spite of my haphazard-at-best marketing efforts post-launch.
I suspect this is because, like the expert beginner, the beggar CEO, or the broken interview, this content taps into a smoldering populist rage. Developer Hegemony is a lengthy answer to the question, “Why are corporate software developers the least influential people in software development?”
Unpacking all of the themes of the book here would be impractical. But the book includes a methodical takedown of traditional corporate institutions, and it encourages a programmer exodus from the ranks of large organizations.
We’d be better served going off on our own. We could sell our services (or SaaS-es) as individual contractors or small bands of partners in firms that I described as “efficiencer” firms.
And after releasing the book, I had grand intentions of helping people do just that.
Editorial note: hello after a long absence, folks! I am genuinely sorry (though not apologetic, per se) that it’s been so long.
We’ve done some staff hiring over at Hit Subscribe, so I’m starting to have the faintest glimpse of the time required to resume creating content here on DaedTech. And that content will continue to focus on themes in the business of freelancing series.
Today I’m getting back on the horse by sharing a post that I’ll publish both here and on the Hit Subscribe blog. I’m doing that because the content is at the intersection of developer hustles and marketing. Generally, we do a data-driven analysis and modeling of the marketing channels that we use.
This post is about the viability of Twitter as a marketing platform, if you intend to market to fellow engineers. So if you’re considering a hustle where you’re marketing to your fellow engineers (or just curious about doing so), this is worth reading.
Onward, To the Content!
Software engineers hang out on Twitter.
I know this anecdotally and by feel because I spent most of my career as a software engineer and I’ve had a Twitter account for more than a decade. But you can confirm this somewhat more objectively as well.
While my initial Twitter presence was largely to interact professionally and promote a hobby blog, about seven years ago I went into business for myself as a consultant. So social media started to become a lead generation channel for services and any products I offered. Twitter was no exception.
I dutifully promoted content and offerings on Twitter and LinkedIn because that’s just “Marketing Your Business 101.” Best practices and all that. I imagine that a lot of startup founders and indies, like me, do this by rote.
Asking the Question: Should Brands Market to Developers on Twitter?
But for reasons I won’t bore you with here, I wound up shifting from writing software to starting a developer marketing business about four years ago. And with this business, we take a kind of Moneyball/Freakonomics-style approach to content campaigns. We don’t take on work unless we can model out, at least in the abstract, ROI on the content we create.
That recently brought me full circle to ask what I should have asked all those years ago: is Twitter a worthwhile marketing channel for reaching engineers?
Common sense and anecdotal experience say yes. But nagging doubts have been creeping in as I study successful influencers’ use of the platform.
It’s not that I doubt that they reach people and build relationships. There’s no doubt about that. It’s more that I think their love of the Twitter game causes them to lose sight of how much labor (and thus cost) they sink into the platform to get those results.
And that’s fine for influencers in the space. But it can translate to an attractive nuisance for brands. And these days, I’m in the business of helping brands’ marketing departments avoid wasting money on attractive nuisances.
So let’s take a data-driven look at Twitter, using the data that I have available to me: my tweets and my followers. All of this content and people skew heavily programmer.
In a relatively recent post, I teased writing about the “attractive nuisance” of freelancers and aspiring business owners branding their work as “high quality.” And now I’m going to do just that. I think this is important.
But I’ve got to say, sometimes it feels like I’m just swimming in contrarian hot takes and click-baiting my way to, well… to I don’t know what exactly. I mean, it’s not like I have any real mission on this site other than talking about whatever pops into my head.
Still, though. I swear I’m not just an aspiring middle aged edgelord. There is a method to the madness.
High Quality Work Itself is, Of Course, Desirable
To prove it, I’ll make clear that I have no actual problem with the ideas of doing things well, mastering skills or taking pride in one’s work. I wouldn’t advise you to do things poorly.
After all, just recently, I re-caulked my shower and never once thought, “meh, I’ll just spray this stuff at the seams until it’s everywhere and call it a day.” Instead, I got out the rubbing alcohol, putty knife, painter’s tape, and worried at it until I had a smooth, symmetrical bead.
Off the cuff, I’d say situations where doing shoddy work is any kind of advantage, in a vacuum, are really quite rare. Maybe rapid prototyping or something…? With most work personal and professional, there’s no need to overthink whether excellence trumps mediocrity. It does.
The trouble is that positioning your work as “high quality” is a much different beast from doing work that is high quality (which, I might argue is just table stakes for conducing business and not a differentiator).
I finally created a blog post title so tongue-in-cheek that it came back around the other side of the screen, like in PacMan, and is actually kind of true. Hear me out.
What I want to do here is offer one simple tactic — seriously, just one, and it is simple — to help you as a moonlighter, freelancer, or prospective business owner.
(Brief editorial aside. Thanks for your patience with the lack of content here. My wife and I had our first baby a month ago, and he came several weeks early, so it’s been a bit of an adventure. But everybody is happy, healthy, tired, and working our way toward whatever normal life looks like from here forward.)
Info Product Marketing is A Desolate Space Wasteland
I don’t know if I’ve said this explicitly on the blog yet or not, but I have a hypothesis that info products aren’t really a viable standalone business.
They seem tantalizingly viable to side hustlers, but sustained success remains eternally out of reach. You’ve just got to grind until, well… forever. In that sense, they’re ironically identical to the very job they claim to replace with “money while you sleep.”
Because of this, info products and their beast masters have a marketing lifecycle that resembles a star:
They wink powerfully into existence with a fusion explosion of creativity and enthusiasm.
During a stable period of hope, they burn their own fuel sustainably for a time.
They burn through their reserves and bloat out into red giants, in an impressive display that actually represents their death throes.
They leave behind a sad, dark husk that drifts unnoticed through the universe.
Due the sheer expanded volume of (3), this is the stage during which you’re most likely to encounter them. This is the stage for the grinder’s grinder, going on an absolute blitz of guest blog posts, podcast appearances, and short-lived presences on community sites like DZone, dev.to, etc.
What you’ll encounter in this situation is someone on a veritable bender of “don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn the 12 secrets to earning a promotion from C++ Software Engineer III to C++ Software Engineer IV!”
If you give it a little thought, you’ll realize something.
They’re not actually solving any kind of problem that you have, or that anyone has, for that matter. Instead, they’re just balling up whatever they’ve happened to do in the last few years, and desperately hawking it for $899 the steep, can-you-believe-it discount price of $199, ZOMG!!!!!