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Side project marketing: when your ads don’t work and SEO takes too long

When blogging & SEO take forever

TL;DR: Side project marketing is used to generate a high number of leads by just creating tools

Blogging, SEO, building a network, … most people use these to generate new business leads. Thing is: all of these probably won’t be an overnight success. The most successful bloggers will agree that monetizing writing & storytelling is not a short-term strategy. I’m not saying these long-term tactics shouldn’t be part of your marketing strategy but what if I told you I have a better way to generate leads overnight & for the long-term? Sounds interesting? That’s where we bring in side project marketing.

Side project marketing, also known as engineered marketing. It’s where you scratch a specific itch of your target audience by developing a tool for it and handing it out for them for free. Well, not exactly for free: you ask for an email address. It doesn’t end there. Solving a direct problem of your target audience is your shortcut to building a long-lasting relationship of trust. If your side projects delivers on its promise, customers will be more willing to trust you to solve more of their problems. The beauty of doing it with a tool is that you can keep on helping customers over and over again without having to lift another finger.

Side project marketing is certainly not new. It has been around for quite some years now. Basically, it means ‘building small tools in order to help your target audience’. Giving out value on a silver platter brings people closer to your brand and value: simple as that.

By giving stuff away for free, you make sure people get a first taste of your core business. Most common goals of side projects are:

  1. Driving traffic to your website.
  2. Capturing email addresses.
  3. Providing value to your (new) target audiences.

“Give something valuable away in order to sell something related”
– Brian Clark, Copyblogger

At The Growth Revolution, we strongly believe in creating things that offer value to our audience, as long as these things are related to our core business. People who like what we create ‘on the side’ often end up acting on that trust to check out what we do on a day-to-day basis. Many of them become clients.

Let me illustrate this with an example. About a year ago we created our very own growth hacking canvas. It has captured over 800 leads, 100% organic. +20 of those are clients of The Growth Revolution today. A number that might still increase in the next months.

But enough about us though. How do you launch your own side project and get to the point where you’re getting hit in the face with leads? Get into the heads of your audience and handpick one problem that keeps on reappearing. Then solve it.

Need more inspiration? Scroll down to learn from the best of the class.

The most popular types of side projects


Calculators are basically meant to help people finding out more about the costs of something.

Example 1: Hubspot, the kings of SPM created the ads ROI calculator. This tool quickly gives marketing executives (Hubspot’s main audience) a brief idea on whether their ad spending is going to drive ROI or not.

Example 2: For one of our own clients (Cartamundi), we launched how much to make a board game, a tool that solves two of the company’s problems:

  1. It generates a new inflow of leads from new audiences like crowdfunding for example.
  2. It became way more efficient to give prospects an initial idea of the manufacturing cost of their board game.

Example 3: One of my favorite startups, Buffer, came up with this brilliant salary calculator which provides full transparence on how much you would earn depending on your role, location etc. at the company. Of course, they linked this tool to their open positions, making it a recruiting goldmine. Feel free to check out Buffer’s transparent salary policy, it’s awesome.


Graders are another great way to generate leads. At Hubspot (again these guys), they came up with the number one example on that, the Hubspot website grader. This tool analyzes your website and gives it a score plus some recommendations. A marketing team member at the company once said that the whole lead gen machine is pretty much build on this tool. So far they ‘graded’ over 3 million websites.

Note: graders are usually a bit harder to create, so this might be way more time-consuming.


Generators can variate from funny to helpful. A company who really masters the art of creating these is Shopify. They understand that side projects are all about providing value to your audience. Their Shopify tool directory, including an invoice generator & business name generator gets close to heaven for those that are starting a webshop.

Example 1: Persist IQ, an outbound sales company created a cold email generator … a true addon for their service to help their audience use their software, just awesome.


Quizzes are the easiest way to go if you want (social) shares. According to Buzzsumo quizzes are content marketing’s absolute secret weapon, they state that an average quiz gets shared about 1.900 times. Crazy isn’t it? Best example on a company that knows how to use quizzes to drive traffic is without any doubt, Buzzfeed. Make sure to check out their trending quizzes section … you might find out which Hollywood celeb you are.


Courses: I once ended up being a cratejoy (I refer to them as the WordPress for subscription services) customer after following one of their subscription box courses.

Funny sidenote: There’s an online course to learn how to launch an online course. Nope, I’m not making this up.

The things is, as I said earlier. You should keep the creation of side projects as easy as possible. Some tools to help you: Typeform, Qzzr, Bubble, Invision, … 

So that’s side project marketing in a wrap. Need more convincing? Here are 3 reasons to launch your own SP today:

  1. With SP’s your lead acquisition cost is (should) be nearly zero.
  2. While other tactics like blogging take ages, SP’s can have a very high impact right away.
  3. You offer value (for free) to your audience. Which is way better than buying their attention by interrupting people with ads. 

Some other cool side projects

Hubspot’s make my persona

Applaunchpad’s mockup generator

Crew’s unsplash

Board of Innovation’s tool section

Buffer’s pablo

Spotify’s wrapped

InVision’s do

Deceuninck’s energy calculator

Or check out our side projects, tools, tips & tricks in our tool corner.