Turning your side project into a real project

Resources to build your project into something even better. A thorough checklist for building your company out.
By Bradford Toney
Published 2023-02-06
Updated 2023-04-18
9 min read

Make your side project your main project

So you’ve taken the exciting first step to make and build a side project. The path to succeeding without having the right knowledge can be very difficult. I have spent years building in many different industries and I want to share with you the tools that have changed the way I work.

My perspective is coming from an engineering background and this will be focused fairly generally but will have engineering specific sections. Buckle up and prepare yourself for a good time.

Product recommendations listed here are focused on more cost conscious options and will be re-evaluated periodically.

This resource is constantly updated. If you have topics you would like to add feel free to email me at bradford@break-even.xyz 😊

Idea Validation / Value Proposition

In the beginning you will likely start off with an idea. The first thing you will want to do is to find out if your idea can gather traction.

  • Validating Your Startup’s Audience: One of the most fundamental things you can focus on, is validating your idea without building it (or having to build it). Many startups don’t get this quite right and end up failing because they could not acquire users.

Action Items:

  • Is this something that users want?
  • Do the unit economics make sense and work for you?
  • Can you build an audience or is there a clear audience you can market to?

Name and brand

One of the first things that people tend to do is look for a domain name but that may not be the most important thing here.

  • Naming is hard: In this article I break down the different steps to building a brand.

Action Items:

  • Company Name: Use the search function in your state (or Delaware if you choose that) and find out if the name is available. If the name is NOT available then you may have to file a DBA.

    • DBA (doing business as): is a way where you can register that you are doing business under a different name
    • Name validity: In certain cases if you have terms like “Finance” in the title of your DBA or company name you will get flagged by the state. They may view the term as regulated and sending them a letter will likely resolve the issue.
  • Define your brand: The best way to set your self up for success is to define your brand. Then you can use this in your marketing, operations and engineering aspects of your product.

  • Registered agent: once you have finished the process of finding a name that works for you, the process to turn it into a legal entity will start. Typically we use something called a registered agent in the state to register our company. They handle the paperwork, requirements and yearly registration.

    • DoolaHQ ($197 + state fees): YC company that has made it possible to register in 50 states.

    • Stripe Atlas ($500): With atlas you can get credits to things like AWS

      • Focused on LLC or C-Corps in Delaware
      • Access 100,000 USD in exclusive benefits from Atlas partners, including legal and tax experts, and technology platforms.1
    • NY Registered Agent: I use a smaller state based registered agent for simplicity


  • Trademark search: if you plan on scaling the business, which I hope you do then you will want to check to see if this is trademarked or not. This may be premature depending on the stage that you are at.

Banks and Financials

Getting an EIN may take some time, in simple cases the IRS allows for online submission of the EIN (single member LLC). Otherwise this process needs to be done manually by printing out the paperwork and physically mailing it to the IRS.

Once you have obtained an EIN you should apply for a bank account. We want to seperate our personal bank account from the businesses bank account.

  • Mercury: this is my personal favorite SMB bank account. They offer support from very small companies all the way up.
    • Debit card & virtual card: they allow for virtual cards to be created which is a huge help when you want to limit expenses as a small company.
    • Merchant cards: You can now lock a single card to a single merchant. which for the small budget folks is very helpful.
  • A Domain: usually the best place to start for branding, do a search with different TLDs (.com, .xyz etc.)
  • Legal Entity: as discussed above a legal entity will be key to continuing this path
    • EIN: make sure that you get an EIN when you file, its used for all sorts of things including a bank account.
  • Bank Account: helps to have a place to put that money you’re going to make 🙃


It’s only natural that a brand will then want to have a website. More than likely if you are just starting you will create a website and then nothing will happen. This however can be prevented by some work on your part.

Logos come in many shapes and sizes. The simplest of which is a wordmark. A word mark is typically just your company name in a font. Many applications are fine with just a word mark.

  • Fiverr: There are so many options for a simple logo that is a really good start, if you don’t feel like you’re reading for a full blown designer then consider this
  • Paying a brand designer: Brand designers are; absolutely worth it if you have the budget, here is the one we used

Marketing Website

A project needs a marketing website. The website will have a minimum number of things that will make it useful for you.

Below is categorized by complexity.

The Basic

  • Wix: is probably the simplest way to create a page. It has its limitations however due to its simplicity.
  • Ghost: is a simple platform for content creation
  • Wordpress: this is a very strong platform for indie builders, there is a huge ecosystem of plugins and themes available.

The Intermediates

  • Framer: is on the more advanced side for a website. I would compare this with figma.
  • Webflow: is similar to framer but probably a bit more simple.

The Complex

  • Build it yourself: for people with more resources and time it may make sense to build it yourself.
    • Tailwind Templates: these are a great place to start if you plan on building the website yourself from “scratch”.

Marketing call-to-action

You should finish your marketing website before your product but this will leave you with a bit of a pickle, you are bringing users to your website but they do not have anything to purchase or act upon.

You should have an initial call to action that allows for the collection of email addresses at a minimum.

  • ConvertKit: tends to be a bit more practical from a creator perspective for collection and managing email lists. Has support for the most common things you’ll want to use but may not have as strong of a UI as Mailchimp.
  • MailChimp: is a very powerful tool for managing email lists. The major downside to this product is the pricing, it does not scale super nicely if you are collecting hundreds of thousands of emails.

It is also possible to create your own email lists but I would not recommend this for someone just starting out. Emails have a surprising level of complexity and its better to focus your efforts on delivering your product.

Marketing email automation

Drip: as users sign up to your site you will want to remarket them, drip emails are emails that are sent in a sequence following a specific event.

  • Logo: is the face of your brand and you will want to consider this carefully
  • Website: having a website is very useful for your marketing efforts. Getting this up sooner rather than later will help your progress.
  • CTA: some way to get contact info from the people that want to give you their information

Marketing stack

Ok, we’ve come a long way 🌈 . Marketing is one of the most important and high leverage things that you can be doing as a founder / indie hacker or however you define yourself. If no one knows that you exist then it will be difficult to get any users!

Search Engine Optimization and Marketing (SEO/SEM) - Work in progress

One way that people will find you is through search. The basics here are going to be getting Google, Bing etc to find specific pieces of information and highlight that on the SERP (search engine results page).

OpenGraph tags: OpenGraph tags are a snippet of HTML that gets added to the <head> section of the HTML page.

<!-- twitter does tags their own way because of course they do,
this first tag describes what kind of card is shown to the user
<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary_large_image" />
<meta name="twitter:site" content="@bradfordtoney" />
<meta name="twitter:creator" content="@bradfordtoney" />

  The og:image allows for an image to be shown in applications like facebook, twitter,
  iMessage etc.
<meta property="og:image:width" content="1200" />
<meta property="og:image:height" content="630" />
Every image should have an alternate which describes it
<meta property="og:image:alt" content="bradfordtoney.com" />
<meta property="og:locale" content="en_US" />
<meta property="og:site_name" content="bradfordtoney.com" />
  • Submission to google: The final step (for now until i write more) is to submit your site to the google search console for indexing.
  • Submission to bing: Bing actually imports from Google Search Console so this should be easy!

Long(er) tail SEO

  • JSON LD: is a slightly more niche concept from SEO land that allows for your pages to have structured information about them.

A backlink, also known as an “inbound link” or “incoming link,” is a hyperlink from one website to another. In the context of search engine optimization (SEO), backlinks are important because they can signal the popularity, credibility, and relevance of a website to search engines like Google. When one website links to another, it is essentially “vouching” for that site’s content, and search engines use this information to help determine the ranking of web pages in search results.

This strategy takes some time to work, usually it will take weeks to months for your SEO strategy to start working.

There are a ton of people that are out there that will help you start this process but here are a few resources that I’ve used with good success.

Many people recommend using sites like HARO (Help a reporter out), where reporters would reach out to you and you would answer questions for them. I personally found this to be time consuming and very noisy but it may make sense for your strategy depending on the kind of product you are building or selling.

  1. Stripe has a number of benefits that may change over time, see: https://stripe.com/docs/atlas/how-atlas-works

© 2023 Bradford Toney. All rights reserved.