The Bootstrapped Entrepreneur’s (or Developer) Guide to Actually Selling What You’ve Built
If you’re a maker (creative, developer etc.) with either limited time (solopreneur) or cash then you might find this guide useful.
At some point in every developer’s career, they get tired of consulting or having a full-time job. Usually, they start to envision a world where their side project becomes a SAAS company with a few thousand subscribers.
A $10 per month product with 5k subscribers is pretty damn alluring to a developer (that knows he/she can fully build and maintain the code).
So we labor for months building a great product, publish it to the world, share a bit on social media and sit back waiting for the subs to come flooding in.
Except they never do…
Makers are a proud bunch. We value hardcore contribution above all else and attach most of our self-worth as professionals to building real stuff that works.
We scoff at the average knowledge worker with a bunch of ‘soft skills’ that anyone could learn and deliver.
Yet barely anyone seems to care about the shit we make…
Who This Guide is For
This guide will apply to anyone trying to sell their product/services online, and it will be written in the context of my experience (selling B2B big-ticket software/services). It’s designed with the overworked/overcommitted entrepreneur in mind, with a focus on what are the minimum processes needed to get you the maximum amount of sales.
I also have experience in a lot of other models such as B2C subscriptions and info products, and I will try to throw in anecdotes that also cover these.
These are not always the ABSOLUTE BEST methods, but they are the best for people who have bootstrapped a small company without a huge team or capital investment.
In fact, all of the things I say in this guide can be picked out and done better. The problem is that if you’re running the whole show yourself (building the product, getting leads, doing sales calls, writing content etc.) then its less about doing everything the best possible way and more about finding methods that work for your time/capital requirements.
Consider this a comprehensive list of everything you should learn and implement in your sales strategy. It does NOT break down and teach the fundamentals of every aspect (but I do give you comprehensive lists of resources for learning each piece).
I do NOT cover other social platforms aside from LinkedIn. Instagram/Facebook/Pinterest can all be killer, but this guide has gotten long enough. More on those in future works.
Let’s get into it and start selling!
Your Customer Avatar
This is the first stop on our sales and marketing journey. It’s also where almost everyone goes wrong and sabotages their entire sales potential.
Before you can write landing pages, emails that close, or start messaging prospects, you must understand who you’re selling to.
Who are they?
Picture your ideal customer and then start answering these questions:
What is their role in the company?
If they’re a customer, what is their job, status in life, etc.?
What’s their current status as a potential customer?
Are they aware of the problems your product can solve?
Do they need to be educated on your solution?
What do they need?
What are their actual needs for your product/service and why? This should be the core reason you built your product/service in the first place. It’s your cold hard assessment of the market.
What do they want?
This is where things get creative. You need to understand your prospect at a deeper level. You need to boil it down what they say they want into a more primitive emotional desire.
An old sales adage that directly addresses this is:
“There’s the reason a man buys something, and then there’s the reason he tells his friends and wife”
While a bit outdated, it is essential that you understand it. For example, why buy the new 2021 Corvette? It’s got the best track time, most power to weight in its class, and the luxury trim package is on par with a Maserati interior.
Are these the reasons a guy might cite for buying one of those sweet machines? Maybe not.
The real reasons might include that he gets a ton of attention from women when he goes out driving, which makes him feel like a boss.
Get it? The first list of specs are reasons you’d buy, but the second list of emotional reasons are the real reason our prospect buys.
It’s essential in your sales copy that you understand both. You need to provide a prospect with the features, the specs. But to close sales you need to speak to them on a deeper level beyond the features. You must speak to the core (and often emotional) side of the buyers.
What pleasure (or other emotion) do they get from your product?
This is closely tied with the above. What are the benefits of your service? How will their lives be improved? How will it help their business? Dig deeper than the obvious benefits.
What is their fear?
Fear is what drives most objections you’ll face from new prospects. You need to understand what their concerns will be, and do your best to address them while they’re reading your copy.
Copywriting – Landing Pages and Beyond
There are a TON of amazing copywriters out there that can be studied to master copywriting. For the bootstrapper, I do recommend reading a few of them (like Ian Stanley, John Carlton, Dan Kennedy, Frank Kern, Ramit Sethi), but we can go over a few of the biggest principles here.
Write Benefit Driven Copy
Most people’s instinct is to simply list how great their product is and what it does. The better method is to tailor your writing towards the benefits your customer gets.
Use Bullets to Illustrate More Detail
Bullet points are simple and powerful for getting your point across in a concise way. Learn to master them (and you’ll see the results).
Don’t Hide Your Flaws
Every product/service has flaws, including yours. Get in front of them and call them out in a productive way. This will help build trust with your prospect, while not ruining your landingp page.
As you get out there and start selling to customers, you’ll start to hear objections and excuses to avoid buying your product. These are gold for writing copy. List out the objections and handle them proactively. Your copy (and landing pages) should read like a natural conversation between you and the prospect.
Use as Many Testimonials as Possible
Testimonials are pure social proof for your product or service. Get as many authentic ones as possible and display them prominently on your site/landing pages (near the top!).
Videos are the best (even if it’s a quick selfie-style video from a client), but written ones are great too.
A Basic Sales Page
There are a million guides/courses and products around developing a good sales page. My favorite resources are from Ramit Sethi, Ian Stanley, and John Carlton. I’ll summarize the main components here.
A benefit-driven and catchy headline (that makes them want to keep reading)
Lead In Story (with good visual language) that hooks the reader and hits on their deepest desires or primary problems.
Social Proof + Testimonials
Develop their problems further and demonstrate your knowledge/competence
Introduce the answer to their prayers!
Now mention your weaknesses, and start handling some objections
Handle objections and go into details on your product
Now you can build value (depending on the type of sales page) and introduce your pricing
Make your guarantee here (take all the risk-off buying from the prospect so it’s easy to buy without worry)
Add scarcity and urgency to your offer. They should buy now!
Again I recommend becoming a student of sales and landing pages, but the above points will help you structure a compelling argument on your own.
If you want to learn more copywriting tricks then I suggest you look to the masters such as John Carlton, Ian Stanley, Joe Coleman, Lawrence Blume, and more.
Social Media Strategy
This is where a caricature of Gary Vaynerchuck jumps out of the screen and kicks you in the face while screaming one of his many trademark phrases.
The man does have a point a lot of the time though, and he does know how to build an audience. Fortunately for you, it’s not necessary to watch his hour-long montages of him speaking every day because he says the same few things over and over again.
Here they are:
Find the social media platforms where your prospects hang out.
Create GOOD organic content, and give it away for free on those platforms (without asking for anything in return).
Do this every single day.
That’s pretty much the essence of good social media selling and audience building these days.
Using LinkedIn Strategically
For us, all of the action is on LinkedIn so I’m going to walk you through my approach. But first, a few thoughts.
Stop Sending Templated Drip Campaigns.
Seriously, they don’t work enough to justify your effort and/or hiring a VA to crank them out. These are the generic ‘spam’ style messages that are currently clogging up your inbox. They smell of automation and templates, and 99.5% of people won’t even reply.
I suppose if you have a mass-market type of product they might yield some traffic/signups, but if you’re selling anything B2B and more high end I think it’s a giant waste of your time.
Optimize Your Profile
Your profile is your personal sales page. Your photo, headline, description, and subsequent job descriptions need to read like great sales copy. What result are you offering people who buy your product? Make sure the result (not just the product itself) is very clear in your headline and description.
Bad Example: “Ethan Drower, Software Developer”
Better Example: “Ethan Drower, I help early stage startups massively scale their revenues through strategic code updates”
Get a lead magnet
We talk about this in the Email Funnel Section. You’ll want to post your Lead Magnet as a ‘featured project’ on your LinkedIn Profile.
Post Useful Content (Or Pay Someone To)
Now that you have a nice profile that clearly explains the benefits you’re offering, it’s time to get people to read it. The cheapest way to do this is to become a great Linkedin user. Post useful content, industry news, custom articles, quotes, etc. Do it every day.
This is tough to maintain, which is why I recommend finding and hiring someone with your industry knowledge to do it for you. You can find writers/people with your industry experience easily on sites like Upwork who will manage your profile.
Whether you pay a Virtual Assistant or not, just make sure you’re posting great content and are staying in front of your network daily.
Adding a Ton of Connections
A surprisingly effective way to drive traffic to your profile is to simply start adding a ton of connections in your industry. Some will decline/ignore, some will accept, but just about everyone will at least take a peek at your profile to see what you’re about.
If you wrote a solid description that creates some intrigue, it may be enough to get yourself a real lead.
You can use a tool like Jarvee to automate this for you, but the safest bet is to have a virtual assistant login to Sales Navigator and do it for you.
Cold messaging people on LinkedIn is an art, and I can’t cover it all in just one measly section (nor do I know it all). But here are some guiding principles to get you started.
Do NOT just pitch your service/product in the first message
DO send people good wishes, and valuable content/information
Do NOT lead by ‘introducing yourself and your company’
DO show interest in the person you are messaging, ask about them, their company, their challenges, etc.
Do NOT give up if they don’t reply to your first message
DO send nice follow-up messages
DO share relevant articles (ideal ones you’ve written) over messages
The hardest part with messaging is staying consistent and keeping track of your leads. This is where sales navigators come in handy. You should be using a CRM, at the very least Airtable.
If you have a big-ticket product like mine, life is easier because you can maintain a smaller list of people to obsess over and follow up with. If you have a lower-priced product or SAAS, you may need to consider outsourcing this work to a VA as well. It takes a LOT of time to message properly.
Dana Lindhal and Amar Verma have great books on LinkedIn marketing to check out.
Your Email Funnel
This is a fundamental concept that a surprising amount of online business owners are missing. I’ll break it down into the basics.
Get a Lead Magnet
A lead magnet is just a thing that you give people in exchange for their email addresses. It’s your “Free Guide on X”, or “Seven Money Tips You Must Read!”. It must be compelling enough for your audience to be willing to type in their email to get. Period.
Get Active Campaign and a Signup Form
Active Campaign is a great functional email campaign manager for the cost. It’s worth it, trust me. Plenty of others (Mailchimp Contact, will do the trick too)
Once you sign up for AC, you’ll want to create an email list and a signup form. Put that form on your website (so people sign up to download the lead magnet you’ve created). Check out this tutorial.
Embedding your form on WordPress is easy.
Creating an Autoresponder (Automation)
Next, you’ll create an Active Campaign Automation. This automation represents a series of emails that automatically get sent out to people that sign up for your email list. You program it to send the first email, wait a day (or more), send a second email etc.
You can learn how to do this in 20 minutes on AC’s website
Writing Emails for Your Autoresponder
Now for the hard part. You will need to write a series of at least 5 (ideally 10-15) emails that will be sent out over a few weeks to each person that subscribes. Again, there are entire courses on this (Check out Ramit Sethi and Ian Stanley for how to write amazing emails) but here are the basics of what you want to accomplish.
Get them reading
The goal of the first line in an email is to entice the reader to read the second, and then the next, and the next. You want your emails to hook them in and compel them. This is not done by droning on and on about how great your product is. It’s done by appealing to the readers’ wants/needs/desires/fears.
Build Trust and Authority
You need to communicate to them immediately that you know what you’re talking about, and are not just trying to score a quick buck off them. This is accomplished through empathy and by understanding exactly where your reader is at in their lives.
To build authority you’ll want to talk about your accomplishments (some bragging is allowed), showcase testimonials and case studies, and tell your own story.
Offer and Close
You want to at some point make your offer. First, this is done by subtly communicating what you do and what you sell. Then, near the end of the funnel, you’ll want to make an actual hard offer of your services/sales. If you don’t ask, you will never receive.
Pay Per Click Advertising
I’m not a PPC expert, but I have used them in a profitable (and low touch/time) way to bring in some money for our business. If you want to go down the PPC rabbit hole, I suggest buying one of the thousands of good courses that walk you through all the usage, advanced techniques, etc.
But this is a guide for bootstrappers. People who are running the show by themselves and don’t have 20 hours a week to tweak retargeting ads and build 8 different audiences. The following steps should get you started in a way that isn’t going to blow all your cash or time. You will need basic knowledge of Adwords and keyword matching (Adwords’ free tutorials are more than sufficient).
Run a fairly general campaign for a month
This is like dipping your toes in the water. I have summarized some basic steps below.
Set a cheaper budget (so you’re getting at least 10 clicks per day, more ideally),
Write 5-10 ads (remember our copywriting section above!),
Pick as many keywords as you’d like (think SEO keywords, and get creative with what YOU would search for)
Drive traffic to one of your landing pages (not your homepage)
Let it run for a few weeks -> month
Writing Ads and Picking Keywords
These are where your campaigns are going to vary the most. Good ads, along with the right keywords, are essential to a successful campaign. Again, there are a million resources out there for these so I’m not going to belabor their importance. Do some quick weekend learning and make sure you’re giving your campaign a fighting chance.
Reviewing Your Results
After your trial period is up, it’s time to dig into the results and make adjustments. Go through all of the searches that your ads were clicked on (this is the best feature of Adwords/Bing).
You should see a bunch of searches that have nothing to do with your product. Make sure to take note of these (and add them as negative keywords to be excluded).
Hopefully, you also see some searches that are right on the money (right customer, right intention, etc.). If you’re selling Management Consulting services in New York, a golden search would be “Management Consultants NYC”.
A ‘golden’ search is just one where you can tell that it’s a potential buyer searching, not just someone doing research or browsing.
In the above example, a ‘meh’ or even bad search would be “how to become a management consultant NYC”. See the difference? It’s the same keywords, but the intention is completely different. The first guy is a BUYER, the second one is just looking for some information.
Create a Second Campaign
This is where we start to get targeted. Take all of your searches from the exercise above that are buyer searches and turn them into more specific keywords/phrases in the new campaign.
Then take all of the keywords from the first campaign that yielded bad searches/non-buyer ones and add them as negative keywords here. What you’re doing is creating a campaign that ONLY targets buyer’s searches.
Note that you can still run both campaigns if you’ve got the budget. Just know that the second one is your hot prospect campaign (and thus should get more budget!).
Run the second (or both campaigns) and optimize/change your ads/keywords as often as you have time. We do it once a month for 2 hours now.
Can You Afford PPC?
This is where it gets tricky. If you’re in a more common/popular niche, then clicks can become expensive in a hurry. You might notice your second campaign (the hot prospect campaign) has an insanely high cost per click.
You need to make the call whether or not it’s worth running. You can do this by running for 2 months and doing the math (cost per lead, the amount earned per lead, etc.) or you can play the game of finding ‘cheaper’ keywords that still get the job done. This costs more time than it’s worth in my opinion, but it’s an option.
Google offers some great free tutorials. Also be sure to check out the below resources for PPC.
Referral (and Affiliate) Advertising
I’ve got a friend who built a SAAS company to over 200k/year in revenue just by implementing a referral. His offer was simple.
For every customer, you refer (paying), you get a free month of service.
Welcome to the beauty of SAAS! Since our code can scale infinitely for (almost) no cost, you can offer amazing incentives to encourage a network effect of subscriber growth.
If you’re subscription-based then I’d say this should be at the absolute top of your list.
If you’re service-based (like we are) then it’s still valuable to do, just slightly trickier in B2B. We have a templated ‘contract’ that reads more like a sales PDF about our referral program. It offers 10% of revenues paid over 1 year for each new client referred.
And since our average client value is well over $40k/year, this is a pretty juicy offer for people…
Starting your own SaaS isn’t without challenges, and it’s not for the faint of heart. However, if you dedicate time to planning, research, and execution, you will be on the road to success in no time. Be sure to read back over this guide if you are unsure about anything, and remember to be patient as you progress in your journey. Good luck!