Your product’s missing ingredient

Imagine you’re preparing for a dinner party.

You spend hours going through cookbooks and magazines, finding unique dishes to prepare.

You meticulously write out the list of ingredients, and then spend a full day driving around town. You go to farmers markets, delis, and specialty shops purchasing everything you need.

The following day, you wake up early and start cooking. You cut, chop, dice, simmer, fry, mix, knead, and bake. A delicious aroma begins to circulate throughout your home.

When the food is nearly ready, you begin work on the dining room. You lay a beautiful cloth on the table, and place hand-crafted centrepieces on top. Taking out your best dinnerware, you adjust each plate, napkin and piece of silverware.

Everything is ready. Everything is perfect.

You pour each place setting a glass of wine, sit down, and wait.

But nobody comes.

You were so absorbed in creating the dinner party that you forgot the most important ingredient: guests!

Sound familiar?

A lot of people build products the same way: they’re “head down”, and so focused on building their thing that they haven’t considered who they’re building it for.

And just like the cook who forgets to invite guests for his dinner party, when these products get launched, there’s no one there waiting to buy.

Even worse: a lot of these startup teams waste valuable resources building features that no-one wants. (This is like cooking roast beef for a vegan)

A better way

Start by choosing a group you can help. Next, research their needs. Once you understand their pain, provide help in small ways (like blog posts and answering questions on forums). And all along, build your mailing list.

Using this approach, you’ll eventually find a big “hair on fire” type of problem that you can solve. You’ll have the knowledge you need to build something people want. And, you’ll have a list of people you can launch to when your product is ready.

That's me!Cheers,
Justin Jackson

PS: I published this post back in July, but I’m putting my Amplification ebook on sale today (for Cyber Monday). It will teach you how to grow your audience by amplifying the content you’re already writing. Get it here 50% off (until the end of today – December 1st).

Listen to this post:

It’s different now

It’s been about 1 year.

Before that, I was just like you: working a full-time job, blogging a little on the side, listening to podcasts, and dreaming of creating my own products.

For 5 years, not much had changed. I kept doing the same things: fits of inspiration where I’d try to build something, only to fizzle out. I never seemed to be able to launch.

The hardest part about blogging was no one seemed to notice me. I’d get 10-12 views every time I posted. I tried building an email list, and only got to 20 subscribers. The same was true for products: whenever I created something, it just didn’t seem to go anywhere.

And then it all changed.

One year ago, I got serious about building my audience. I figured out what I’d been missing: I hadn’t chosen a specific audience to focus on. Go back and look at the first posts on this blog; I was flailing, talking about everything and trying to reach everyone.

First, I forced myself to choose a specific audience. I chose “product people” (which later became the name of my podcast). That was a really hard step. I agonized over it. But once I started focusing, first on business people, and finally on product entrepreneurs, it became easier and easier to attract a following.

Then, I went through these steps:

  • I researched my audience’s pains, trends, and interests.
  • I learned to recognize patterns.
  • I created content in response to those patterns.
  • I created products in response to those patterns.
  • And all along I built my mailing list.

Because of the wonderful people that follow my work, read my blog (that’s you), subscribe to my newsletters, and listen to my podcast, my life has changed dramatically. In the past year:

  • I’ve been asked to speak at conferences and on panels
  • I’ve judged two Startup Weekends, a Rails Jam, and the Static App Challenge.
  • I’ve been offered 5 jobs, one of which I just accepted (more details on that soon)
  • I’ve earned nearly $40,000 in revenue from my side-projects in the last 12 months (while still working full-time, and raising 4 kids)

What an awesome ride! And all because I got serious about building my audience.

I believe that most people (and companies) can benefit from building their own audience.

Build it and they will come? Nope. Here’s why…

Most people try to build a product first, and then find people to sell it to. My inbox is full of folks who’ve followed this approach, only to be disappointed because no one showed up to their launch.

Successful product people follow a different approach: they launch their products to an established audience, and target a problem that audience shares. Why does this work? Because having your own audience is like having your own personal fan base. An audience will wait anxiously for you to release your new thing; instead of hearing crickets, you’ll have sales on day 1.

“You need to build an audience before you build your product.” – Hiten Shah

On Tuesday, July 29th, I’m launching a new online course called Build Your Own Audience. I’m sharing everything I know about growing your audience online (it’s based on my two sold-out workshops). It will help you choose and understand your audience so you can:

  • blog better and get more traffic
  • increase mailing list signups
  • build products people want to buy

Have any questions about the course? Let me know:

That's me!Cheers,
Justin Jackson

PS: My newsletter list members will get 20% off any of the three course options on launch day. You can sign-up and get the discount in your inbox on Tuesday, July 29th!

PPS: Here’s a sneak peek at what’s inside the course:

Your second biggest problem

Trying to launch a product? Your first priority is to build something that matters. You need to create something that people want.

But your second biggest problem will be getting attention.


Building something great isn’t enough. You need to be able to reach people that care. And that’s hard.

We know that the best products don’t always win. The classic example is BetaMax vs VHS (do any of you kids know what I’m talking about?), but there are others too:

Despite being the quintessential American rock band, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were initially ignored by the US market. For years they couldn’t get airplay on American radio stations. What changed? They started getting traction in the UK. Once US radio stations heard that the cool Brit-kids were listening, they started spinning their LP. It’s all about distribution.

In some ways distribution is getting more accessible, and in other ways it’s as hard as ever.

Message distribution used to be highly centralized: there just weren’t that many channels. If you grew up in the 80’s, it’s likely you remember the same commercials as me. (Here’s me singing 3 jingles off the top of my head) That’s because we were all watching the same shows, on the same channels: a kid growing up in Edmonton, Alberta would hear the same ads as a kid in San Francisco. There weren’t that many options, and paying to get your message out was expensive.

Now, because of the Internet, it’s easier to create a message (it also doesn’t cost as much). But getting your message to resonate is harder, because there’s way more messages.

What can you do?

How can you get people to care about your thing?

Normally we think about marketing like this:


But, if you want to win at distribution you can’t play by those rules anymore. You need to think like this:


This means the first step isn’t blasting out a message, but rather listening.

Your goal should be to bring people closer to the solution they need.

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10 things you can do

People are seeing thousands of messages a day – you need to break through the noise.

Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Build something people really want. Having something people are desperately seeking will make your marketing efforts 1000x easier. I’ll adjust Derek Sivers’ famous formula:
    Product people really want x smart marketing = your best results.
  2. Choose 1 person to market to. Think about someone (by name) that matches the profile of the person you’re trying to reach. Cater all of your marketing efforts towards that person.
  3. You need to reach bigger audiences: the people that can help you are the entrepreneurs, podcasters and bloggers who have been building audiences for years. Think about how you could offer these people value, and connect with their audiences.
  4. Get on high trafficked networks that relate to your audience (news sites, sub-reddits, forums, Medium collections, etc…). Just like convincing people with big audiences, you need to offer communities value. Find out how you can help.
  5. Don’t create “marketing” create “help”. Write a blog post, create a small tool, publish a short e-book, host a webinar: build something that actually helps the people in your audience.
  6. Don’t underestimate the value of creating something surprising, unusual, and weird. A lot of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis‘ commercial success came from creating strange, off-the-wall videos. It was a breath of fresh air for hip hop fans – what could you do for people in your target community?
  7. Don’t use a marketing tactic just because it worked for Basecamp, Intercom, Buffer, etc… Think about how you can uniquely help your audience.
  8. Invite early fans and users to help you spread the word. Only have 1 user? Find out why they’re passionate about your product, and invite them to share that passion with others.
  9. Build lots of landing pages. A landing page is one of the best ways to experiment: you could try a new landing page each month. Focus the landing page on a specific pain you’ve seen in your community.
  10. The sooner you start your email list, the better. Early on, your marketing efforts should focus on getting email sign-ups. Why? Because, email is a great way to have real conversations with real people. You’ll be able to adjust your product (and your marketing) based on their feedback.

I hope this is helpful!

That's me!Cheers,
Justin Jackson

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Your blog could be a party

This past week, I had Josh, Carl, Tom and James ask a variation of the same question:

“How do I get more people to visit my website?”

Marketing is like inviting people to a party. If you’re inviting people to a party, there are three things you need to get right:

  1. The wording on the invitation
  2. The distribution of the invitation
  3. The reminder

The invitation

The invitation might look something like this:

Come to Justin’s Heavy Metal Mayhem Party
Featuring Striker, Crimson Shadows, and Terrifier
July 10th, 2014, 1pm-midnight at Paddlewheel Hall
Cost is $20 per person. RSVP by emailing Justin.

The wording is important, because it helps answer whether you (as a recipient):

  • Want to come (Do you like metal? Do you like those bands?)
  • Can come (Are you free that day? Do you have enough money?)

The wording also establishes a clear call to action: if you’re willing and able to come, how do you respond? The same structure applies when you’re writing a landing page or a blog post. Here are the questions you need to answer:

  • Who is this for?
  • What do they want?
  • Why do they want it?
  • How can they get it?

“People don’t go to a website to admire it, they go there to get things done” – Jakob Nielsen

Getting the message out

After you’ve got your message, distribution is the next important step you have to tackle.

There’s this fallacy that good content always get’s discovered; but the truth is that good content needs distribution in order to be seen. (Source)

So you’ve gone to the printers, and you’ve produced 1,000 flyers for your Heavy Metal Mayhem party. Where are you going to promote it? The jazz club? The library? The seniors living complex?

Nope; you’re going to go to places heavy metal fans hang out: the local metal club, the record store (if you still have one in your town), and whatever liquor stores sell Pilsner.

The same is true for you when you’re trying to get traffic to your website or blog. You need to go to the places where your target audience hangs out, and invite them to come to your party. Here are some examples:

For your Heavy Metal party, you might also put up flyers in high traffic areas (telephone poles, coffee shop bulletin boards). In the same way, there’s options for you to promote your website content. A few examples:

  • Blog comments: sometimes it’s appropriate (and helpful) to leave a comment on an already popular post, with a link to your website. This comment, for example, resulted in 3,497 visitors to my blog.
  • Answering a forum thread: Nathan Kontny is the master of this. Look at his answer to this thread on Reddit. He provides a lot of value, but also links back to his blog.
  • Posting on Medium: generally I advocate using your own platform, but if you’re getting started, Medium can be a good place to get some initial traction, and build up an audience.

Finally, and most important: a good Heavy Metal promoter will find influential people who already have a platform, and get them to help spread the message. Likewise, you can go and find the influential people for your niche. This could be bloggers, podcasters, or thought leaders that have already built a following. If you’re offering something that would provide value for their audience, there’s a chance they’ll share it. Patrick McKenzie (Patio11) recently shared this script for getting the attention of influencers:

  • Make a list, and think about what they care about: “Make a list of a hundred people who talk about your topic all the time. If you can’t find anybody on the list who would care about that thing that you’re writing, then don’t write that thing. Write something else.”
  • Talk about them (not yourself): “Patrick, this blog post cites you favorably with regards to this thing you said here.”
  • Highlight a way you’ve helped them: “You had a suggestion to try this in a particular blog post. And so I tried that, here is my write-up.”

The reminder

The aspiring Heavy Metal promoter has the wording for the invitations down, and has figured out how to get the word out. What do you do next? You remind people about the event! Go back to all the places you were hanging out: remind them the party’s coming up! The same is true for promoting your content. It’s not enough to just tweet about it once, and hope people hear about it.

This will surprise you, but you’re going to need to remind people. Some people think it takes 7 times for someone to hear about something before they pay attention. The folks over at CoSchedule have a great schedule for how many times you should promote a given piece of content on different platforms.

I’ve published blog posts on a Tuesday and no one cared, only to promote it again two years later and have it blow up (that’s what happened with this post). It’s OK to promote something a few times, to see if it picks up any momentum.

And most importantly

Remember: at the end of the day, something that is remarkable will market itself.

“If your product and company are remarkable on its own getting noticed is a lot easier.” – Giacomo “Peldi” Guilizzoni, founder of Balsamiq Studios (Source)

I hope this has been helpful for you!

Justin Jackson

PS: This post explained some basic principles about getting more traffic to your site. My upcoming book explains how you can apply these principles to build and market better products.

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