Build Your Developer Brand post-mortem


I did a post-mortem for Build Your Developer Brand (which I gave last Friday). I wanted to share this review openly in case anyone is interested in my thoughts.

Table of Contents

Why I created this workshop

I realised that people were panicking because of Coronavirus. Some people were fired. Some are afraid of getting fired. And others were worried about their stream of clients and customers.

But I wasn’t affected much.

I wanted to do something for these people, for my fellow developers who I love and care about. I want to help them put themselves in a better position. I hope they can maintain their standard of living and be relatively unaffected the next time a recession (or pandemic) hits.

This was my original intention for creating the Build Your Developer Brand workshop. (If you took the workshop, you would now understand who are the people I wanted to serve).


Initial Research

Before I can help developers with their marketing problems, I need to know what they understand about marketing.

I did my initial research by sending out a survey to my email list. I got 200+ responses from this survey. One of the questions I asked was: What would you do if you got fired today? The answers broke my heart. It strengthened my desire to do something.

Potential marketability

Coincidentally, I was learning more SEO around this time. So I plugged “Marketing” and “Developer” into a keyword research tool.

I realised that developers weren’t searching for marketing. This confirms my hypothesis (from the survey) that developers don’t buy marketing materials.

But developers ARE interested in marketing themselves. Otherwise, I won’t have gotten 200+ responses in the first place.

I hesitated because of the mixed results.

Should I continue to create this workshop?

I don’t think I’ll earn any money from it. But I did it anyway because I wasn’t looking to earn money. (I gave the workshop for free). I was looking to help people who were suffering. Especially beginners.


I didn’t want to spend too much energy to create something I wasn’t sure would work. So I gave myself a crazy short timeline:

  • I decided to go ahead with the workshop on Friday.
  • I would pitch the workshop on Monday.
  • And I would deliver the workshop the following Friday.

It was… tough.

The creation process

I wrote a pitch (using information from my research) to get signups for this workshop. I then asked further questions to determine the kind of workshop I need to create.

The pitch went out on Monday. I went through the responses on Tuesday. I started writing a script for the workshop on Wednesday. I finally finished the script on Thursday, in the afternoon. This script (in point form) was 9000 words.

From my previous speaking record, I would generally speak at about 100 words per minute. 9000 words meant I had 1.5 hour worth of content. Since I set the workshop for 2 hours (inclusive of QNA), I thought I had a good amount of content.

I was wrong.

I had too much content. We ended the workshop at the 3-hour mark. And I had to rush through the second half of what I wanted to deliver.

Anyway, I started creating a slide deck right after I’m done with the script. It worked into the night for on this. Around midnight, my body gave way. I got stomach cramps and I had to put myself to bed early to release the pain.

Lesson learned: Give yourself more time, Zell!

I finished the slide deck early Friday morning. There wasn’t enough time to rehearse since I need to deal with links and other issues. Again, time was tight (and I sent out wrong links again 😭. This wrong link thing is becoming my trademark).

Core contents

In Build Your Developer Brand, I wanted to help people learn to market themselves effectively and strategically. I wasn’t interested in dishing out common comments like: Blog, tweet, go to meetups. People already knew these avenues.

So I covered three fundamental questions for effective marketing. I learned these from Seth Godin’s Marketing Seminar. The three questions are:

  • Who are you trying to change?
  • What change are you trying to make?
  • What promise are you making?

These three questions seem deceptively simple. But they’re deep. If you answer them with enough detail and specifics, you can use your answers to help you stand out from everyone else.

Your answers can also help you overcome the insecurities you face toward putting yourself out in this world (because they change your posture and attitude). I explained how and why in the workshop.

Since I wanted people to take action, I also shared why I blog and use emails as my main marketing activities. I even shared a static site generator + blog template + process I used to create this blog as an add-on freebie.

Do the contents sound interesting? You can watch a recording of Build Your Developer Brand by filling your name + email this form.


I delivered this workshop via a Zoom webinar because of two reasons:

  1. It was more presentation style (giving away information) than actively working on things. I had a few exercises, but I didn’t allocate too much time for them.
  2. I was only familiar with Zoom (and not other software).

500 people registered for the Workshop. I thought more than 100 people would show up, so I bought the second-tier Zoom Webinar add-on (at $140). Less than 100 people showed up so I spent $100 for nothing 😭.

Lesson learned: Expect less than 20% turn up rate for a free workshop.

My delivery wasn’t up to my expectations. I stuttered and forgot most of the content I wrote about. I should have expected this because I didn’t have the chance to rehearse.

Initially, I tried to keep track of three things at the same time:

  1. Delivering the content
  2. The conversations that were happening
  3. My notes

I failed miserably. I could not keep track of all three things simultaneously.

After a while, I gave up on the chat and the notes, and I focused on the delivery. And the workshop became much smoother. Thankfully, Michiko (my assistant) was there to help keep track of the conversations. (Thanks Michiko!).

Two lessons learned here:

  1. Do one thing only. Seek others’ help for other things.
  2. Don’t put so many cues into my presentation slides. Let content flow because once I know my stuff, I can talk from experience.

Post-delivery thoughts

Was the target market too wide?

Short answer: Yes.

There were four general groups of people:

  1. Job seekers
  2. Employees
  3. Freelancers
  4. Entrepreneurs

They can be further broken down into 8 smaller groups:

  1. Job seekers
    1. First-time job seekers in this field
    2. Those who want a better job
  2. Employees
    1. People who love their job
    2. People who consider switching jobs
  3. Freelancers
    1. First-time freelancers
    2. Freelancers who already have some clients
  4. Entrepreneurs
    1. People who want to make products
    2. People who already have products

Each of these 8 segments had different questions and need different answers. So this the audience was obviously too wide. You can dive into each segment to give even super actionable advice.

For example, Shawn Wang shares how he went from no-coding-knowledge to a senior developer in 3 years in Cracking the Coding Career. This book is perfect for both beginners and intermediate job seekers.

But I took on all 8 segments anyway since I talked about the overall strategy (and not the specifics). The strategy applied to everyone.

In hindsight: I shouldn’t have taken on all 8 segments. Most people felt the workshop was useful. But some didn’t because I couldn’t dive into the specifics.

Was the delivery successful?

Yes and No.

I wanted to show people that it’s possible to rethink their marketing efforts. This intent was delivered.

But in the midst of creation, I actually mixed a second intent into the workshop: I wanted people to begin blogging and start sharing stuff (which will eventually help them become more visible).

This second intent wasn’t delivered successfully simply because there wasn’t enough time. I was too ambitious during the creation phase.

I would change things up if I were to deliver the workshop again.

What I would change if I delivered the workshop again

Two things.

First. I would reduce the amount of content to the three questions.

  1. Who are you trying to change
  2. What change are you trying to make
  3. What promise are you making

This will allow me to cover them in more depth.

Second, will also use Zoom Breakout Rooms.

Right now, the webinar format was ok. Students get to think about their answers, but they’re lacking feedback. Feedback from other students would have been helpful to clarify and crystallise their thoughts and strategy.

Zoom breakout rooms let me break students into small groups to discuss so their answers and get powerful feedback.

If other platforms have breakout rooms like Zoom, I would consider them over Zoom because of security and privacy concerns.

Third, I would charge for this workshop.

These three questions require deep thought. When a workshop is free, some participants who show up may not be committed to finding an answer. The chances of getting committed participants are higher when they pay for the workshop.

This would also increase the quality of feedback for each participant and hence create an upward ratchet.

Will I give this workshop again?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I don’t think I’ll ever give the workshop to people seeking employment or people seeking freelancing opportunities. I don’t have the “qualifications” in those areas since I never managed to become successful.

I might teach the workshop for people who create courses/products… But I don’t want to do this either (at the moment) because I find it sleazy to teach people how to create courses for a living. I haven’t gotten past my own insecurities on this front. Not yet.

Maybe I will give the workshop again in future… But the chances are low.

New workshop ideas

The major learning for me this time was to reduce scope. When I journaled about the post-mortem, a few workshop ideas popped up. Examples are:

  1. How to write a good coding article (so others will help it helpful and hopefully share it with others).
  2. How to generate content for your blog (and how to tell if these ideas are good or bad).
  3. How I market myself and sell my products (which essentially introduces you to the system I use to run my business).

I’m not sure if I’d run any of them. If you are interested, click on the links and tell me more. I’ll create a workshop if there’s enough interest.

One last thing

When I created the workshop, I wanted to give a way for students to work more on the content. So I added a paid program.

Unforutnately, I overextended myself in terms of commitment, which meant I created something that’s too pricey for most people (especially in these times).

This is one of the things I regret doing.

Final words

I’m glad I delivered this workshop. There were huge learnings from my part. They will inform how I create courses and workshops going forward into the future.

But more importantly, I’m glad I did something for the people I care about. I’m glad I gave them something to think about. Hopefully, this workshop will help them place themselves in a better position going forward.

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