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Rachel Andrews: The Profitable Side Project

Well, actually I never thought, I would write something like a book review on this blog, but Rachel Andrews “The Profitable Side Project” teaches me better. Most of you probably know Rachel Andrews, since she is one of the heads behind Perch and continuously writes articles about WordPress and other webtech related stuff.

“The Profitable Side Project” is an ebook she recently published, where she sums up here experiences in launching small business projects like “Perch” or even smaller. And – I have to say – I love this book! It is written for all these freelancers out there, who always dream about their own projects, which they will realize one day and somehow, it is written for me.

I don’t remember when I started programming, but I know, there was a time – around 16 years – when I started to wonder, if it wouldn’t be a good idea to become a shareware author as a grown up. Shareware – the 90th. I wrote (probably everyone, who started to program at this time did the same) an address program, which I actually started to sell and I was amazed, some people actually bought it. But, for some years, I’ve dropped the idea, started to study philosophy, history and politics. I came back to programming, when money to continue the studies was needed. And I came back to the idea of shareware authoring, well nowadays its about services, plugins and whatever. “The Profitable Side Project” is written just for these people, who are trying to make a dime. They will find themselves in this book with headings like the beautiful “Dreaming Small is Underrated”. Actually, I think Rachel Andrews has a real point here. Some of my projects, I wanted to lift, just became to heavy. There where too many ideas in my head, too many features I thought needed to be included. You start to program, you think again, start all over from scratch. And all this in a phase, where the project is the most vulnerable; in the phase, where you doubt it yourself. Rachel Andrews made quite the same experience:

However we had such big plans for it [the project] that we could never get to a point where we were happy enough to ship it. Every time we started to work on it, we were dreaming up new features and worrying about various perceived defects – all before anyone outside of our company had seen it. Ultimately we gave up on it. Our interest and energy had been sapped by endless revisions, and the product had lost all focus and momentum.

And this is, what it is all about. Most projects fail, because you loose the momentum. Rachel Andrews shows you, how to keep focused, keep the project small enough to be able to realize it as a sideproject. If your project hit something, you will start to enhance it. But you have to reach the moment to ultimately ship it, because “Small things can grow”. I do this right now with my latest plugin “Profi Search Form“. I am not 100 percent happy with the sales, but since I’ve launched it, I get a lot of feedback which I integrate and I see how this pushes the project sales more and more.

In her book the author gives the advice, not to start with some beta versions, which you ship for free, just to get users. For sure, she is right users are not customers, their feedback will be differently. But, when I’ve read that I thought about another way, I was using. Like always, I’ve putted a lot of energy into a project. It was a SEO service. In order to be an interesting service, it needed a huge database. The service itself was running but building up databases is quite boring work. And I saw my euphoria for the project disappearing. I saw, I will never build a database, if I don’t get some feedback people actually like my product. So I stopped the work and was thinking. I wanted users who pay but the service was not at a stage where I was able to say: Pay the full amount of money. At least I thought so. I decided to create a beta phase. I went into a SEO forum and announced “Well this service is not completely ready, but I want it to be tested. Everybody who comes during the beta phase just pays 50%” and the service lifted off. Actually, I was amazed and that gave me the energy to finish the boring database work. So, you could say, “Well, looks like you passed the moment of shipping without knowing”. Or you can say, without this betaphase I would have never come to this point. The good thing about a beta, it lifts your shoulders. Beta tells your client, well not everything will work 100% but it will be fixed as soon as you report it.

This SEO service was in technical terms an “SAAS”. In chapter two Rachel Andrews gives a brief overview about the different business models you can run for your sideproject. Software as a Service for example, or as “One-off purchases”. There are other models, which are discussed by the author. In the next chapters, you get a lot of tipps, how to increase your productivity (chapter 3) by special tools, techniques and outsourcing. Chapter four discusses ways to find a good price.

Selling products via Internet has its own advantages and disadvantages. For sure, it has its own rules, from hosting to legal questions. Chapter five discusses these matters and guides you through some of the questions.

To sum it up. This book contains a lot of ideas, how to realize small projects like the mentioned before. It helps you staying focused and points you to some easy solutions for problems which might discourage you just starting.

Rachel Andrews:
The Profitable Sideproject
339 pages, 39 US$
as PDF, mobi and epub

Table of Content:

Chapter 1: Why Side Projects?

Profitable Side Projects, Dreaming Small is Underrated, What defines success for your product?, Getting to the Shipping Point,  A Cautionary Tale, Minimum Viable Infrastructures, Small Things Can Grow, Take Action: First Steps to Launch

Chapter 2: Your Product

Software as a Service (SAAS), One-off Purchases, SaaS vs. one off purchases, Plugins, themes and add-ons, Putting Your Main Product on Hold, The Concierge Approach, Validating Ideas, Take Action: Your Product

Chapter 3: Productivity

Spend Time To Save Time, Tools and Techniques, Outsourcing, Take Action: Productivity,

Chapter 4: Pricing

The Pricing Model for Perch, Step by Step Pricing, Customer Acquisition and Lifetime Value, Card up-front or after trial?, Special Offers and Discounts, One Currency or Multiple Currencies, VAT and Local Taxes, Take Action: Pricing Models

Chapter 5: The practicalities of selling products online

Taking Payments, Hosting, Legal Matters, Stats and tracking,  Take Action: Infrastructure

Chapter 6: Identity and Brand

Visual Identity, Identity Through Voice, Writing Marketing Copy, Take Action: Identity and Brand

Chapter 7: Setting up for Support

Support as Marketing, Support as Product Research, Tools for Support, Public Forums vs. Ticketed Support, Social Media Support, Pre-sales and purchase support, Dealing with Difficult Customers, Take Action: Support

Chapter 8: Planning a Launch

Pre-launch Pages, The Slow Launch, Take Action: Next Steps to Launch

Chapter 9: We launched! Now What?

Adding Features, Balancing Client Work with Your Product, Marketing Your Product, Switching Focus, Enjoy the Journey

About the author

Seine erste Webseite hat David Remer 1998 in HTML verfasst. Wenig später war er fasziniert von DHTML und JavaScript. Nach jahrelanger Freelancerei arbeitete er zunächst für Inpsyde und ist heute Entwickler bei Automattic. Außerdem hat er das Buch "WordPress für Entwickler" verfasst.

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