WordPress, code, design, business

Bootstrap Marketing: Ask Blogs to Write About You

Several years ago my bank gave me a hard time with my business credit card. Paying my bill online became impossible. You know how it goes. Dial an 800 number, listen to jazz music and advertisements, talk to a couple people then get assurance that tomorrow things will work. Repeat seven more times! Finally, tiring of spending my life on the phone, I sent an online message saying if they don’t get this fixed, I’m leaving.

Your account has been closed. We’re sorry to see you go.

What!? I didn’t say to close my account. Don’t you people understand a thinly veiled threat? Moments later I was done being upset and felt absolutely liberated. My wife and I were in the midst of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at this time. This guy suggests cutting up your credit cards and even running your business on cash. Hey, that’s what “I” just did. Fantastic! Business just became more frugal.

That Cowboy Marketer Hat

Fast-forward to 2013. Now I’m making WordPress themes and just launched churchthemes.com. I’m used to wearing the designer, developer and even accounting hat, but marketing? No, that’s even more tedious and time-consuming than accounting. It’s also risky. Have you ever tried to use Google AdWords? That thing eats your money for breakfast, lunch and dinner! I haven’t made a profit with it in ten years (true story).

We’re bootstrapping so there’s no budget for hiring some marketing genius. I’m setting aside a full day each week to wear this hat myself. I don’t do credit so there’s not going to be risking a bunch of money that’s not mine on advertising. I hardly know a thing about marketing anyway, so any spending is a big gamble. What’s a cowboy marketer to do?

Asking Blogs to Write About Us

Hey, that’s free! I went around and made a big list of blogs relating to WordPress and church communications, then I asked some of them to write about churchthemes.com and our Resurrect theme. Do you know what happened?


I got a couple bites and some promises but it was next to nothing compared to the effort I was expending. This was not working. Very few people would spend their valuable time helping me for free. That’s quite understandable! Then I remembered a comment one of my Behind churchthemes.com readers posted.

…introducing an affiliate program will help you push more sales without investing heavily on marketing budget. The wordpress community is blessed with hardcore marketers…
Muzi Mohale

I had originally decided absolutely no affiliate program because many big theme shops concluded it just wasn’t worth it for them. The thing is, they are already established and we’re just getting started. I plunked down $550 to setup our Affiliate Program on ShareASale and guess what? It has been worth it. Now when I ask a bunch of bloggers to write about us, some do!

Now Blogs Write About Us

I’m not going to say that the results that follow are entirely because of the affiliate program. Some would write about us whether or not they are affiliates (some are not affiliates and still write about us) but it’s clear that the majority of those writing about us are affiliates. They are compensated for their time with 30% of the sales resulting from their efforts.

The Numbers

  • I asked 110 WordPress and church communications blogs to mention us
  • 30 sites featured us with or without affiliate links (including a handful I didn’t ask)
  • 9 of these freely mentioned us as non-affiliates (mostly WordPress news)
  • 9 have said they will mention us but have not done so yet
  • 50% of all sales have been affiliate-referred since launching the program

In summary, I opened an affiliate program and asked about 100 people to talk about us. In just over a month, we’ve been featured about 30 times and there’s hope for almost 40. Our sales have basically doubled.

I’d say being persistent at asking people to mention your product and offering them an incentive through an affiliate program is a pretty good bootstrap marketing strategy! You only pay when a sale is made so there’s no risk of spending more than you make. Since I’m doing all the work myself, the out of pocket cost has been only $550 for ShareASale setup.

The Coverage

Here is some of the coverage we’ve received simply by asking, bootstrap-style.

If you don’t ask, you won’t get. If you do ask, you might get. So ask, ask, ask. It takes a lot of time and effort but I’m finding it to be worthwhile, even if you do feel like a peddler. It’s easier if you believe in your product. If you have something good, chances are there are people out there who will agree and give you some coverage. But remember, in most cases you’ll probably need to offer an incentive.

Now We Have a Marketing Budget

All this exposure is resulting in increased revenue. I’m able to take a portion of this revenue each month and set it aside for further marketing efforts. I have some things in mind. I’ll continue doing what I’ve been doing but also want to experiment with risking some of this cash (not credit) on various forms of advertising and possibly paying bloggers to produce useful content for the upcoming churchthemes.com blog.

Any good books or tips on bootstrap marketing a digital product? I’m still a cowboy marketer at this point.

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  1. *crickets*

    I loved that! Those are some great tips. I am starting a theme shop also (not church related) and I know that when your so busy wearing all of the “hats” that for me the marketing side can be sometimes an after thought. I really like the devoting one whole day a week to marketing – it will help me a lot.

    Congrats on opening your shop. In and of itself that alone is a major accomplishment! Good luck!


    • Hi Laird,

      Thank you for commenting. I find it hard to do more than one type of work in a day. Having specific days for specific “hats” is helpful to me. Every weekday morning I wear the Support Hat for a couple hours. Mondays I wear an Administration Hat. Other days are for my Theme Hat (new themes and updates). It’s helped me focus better than just doing what I want when I want.

      I hope you find great success with your new theme shop!

  2. I’m glad that you’re already seeing the benefits from introducing an affiliate program. Strangely only after reading this post today, that I’m also considering introducing an affiliate program to a new offline business (shuttle services) that I’m planning on unveiling in the new year in my town.

    Another worthwhile marketing effort to consider…initiate an annual contest…in your case:

    1. An awards for church websites
    2. An awards for religion bloggers
    3. An awards for gospel musician websites

    Such contests can generate more targeted traffic annually to your website which will result in sales.

  3. Wow, this was great post. With ChurchPres, I am pretty much in the same position as you were. Bootstrapping a business and wearing multiple hats at one time. Unfortunately, the “marketer” hat is the hardest to keep on. I haven’t seriously looked into starting an affiliate program but after reading your post I think that will be weekend project. Thanks!

    • It really is the hardest to keep on. With most of my projects in the past I’d work for months on something then spend one or two weeks on a marketing blitz and that’d be the extent of it because I got tired or just ran out of marketing ideas. Most of those projects are dead now and I wonder if some of them might have “made it” if I kept on getting the word out.

      “If you build it, they will come.” Not usually!

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