Teaching as Marketing

Teaching as Marketing
Photo by Sam Balye / Unsplash

I've been re-reading my copy of The Tiny MBA by Alex Hillman, which is a collection of 100 ideas (that originally started as a Tweet thread!) meant to inspire you to think differently about your business. Today I ran across one that I wanted to expand on just a bit:

"If done well, teaching and marketing can be nearly indistinguishable from each other." (page 92)

Looking back, this has been true throughout most of my career, especially as we were starting Alpha Particle. We launched the company with $5,000 and spent most of that within the first 6 months traveling to WordCamps and giving talks, attending Meetups and publishing content on our blog. One specific incident stands out in my mind as an example of how I was doing "marketing" years earlier that only later came back and ended up being an actual client.

The Slow Burn

Even before the WordPress REST API was part of WordPress Core, I was very interested in what it could do and some of the experiences it would enable when it was more broadly available. It didn't seem like something people in my WordPress circles had picked up on yet, so I decided to put on my very first webinar. I got about 10 signups (mostly close friends and some colleagues), got my apartment all set up to record and turned off Slack, my phone and everything else so I wouldn't be disturbed while I was streaming live.

And that was the problem.

Halfway through my webinar, my video camera switched from the screenshare I was doing where I was showing off the code involved back to a shot of my face, where no one could see any of the code I was talking about.

When I turned my phone back on at the end of the webinar, it was blowing up with people messaging me trying to tell me that the camera was on my face and they couldn't see my code. This also meant over half of my recording, which I was planning on posting on YouTube was also useless.

I considered throwing everything out and chalking it up to experience, but instead re-recorded the portion that got cut off with a proper screenshare, cut everything together and uploaded it to YouTube, not really thinking much more of it.

And then...two and a half years later, this email landed in my inbox:

Hi Keanan,

I wanted to drop a note and first thank you for your content you have on YouTube.  I'm tinkering with a research project and found just the information I needed.  I noticed you are also in Chicago.  I'm a software engineer in town and have historically dismissed Wordpress but am finding it to be a great fit for a specific type of project lately.  I started my career in PHP and focused more on Python and Rails at a certain point.

Would you by chance be open to consulting on some questions on a project I'm running?  It wouldn't require a significant time commitment but I think I'd love to run my ideas and implementation plans by somebody with more experience shipping WP projects.  To be clear, I'm looking to pay for your time :)

Thanks for your consideration.

I responded that I'd be happy to meet, went over to his office and talked through some of his concerns with his current project and we were off to the races. This culminated in more than a few hours of straight up consulting, as well as him eventually referring a project to Alpha Particle that we worked on for 9 months!

All from one YouTube video that didn't work out great the first time I tried and that I did zero real "marketing" for. And when I wasn't even half as knowledgable about WordPress and web development in general as I am now.

If you have a concept that you're learning or you've recently learned, you're in one of the best possible positions to pass that knowledge on.

And who knows, it might just come back and pay off in a more concrete way in a few years.