In 2016, I started to actively entertain my aspiration of becoming financially independent and living life the way I wanted to. My goal was to build assets that could make money while I sleep. I decided not to master any new skills but rather use my coding skills to develop new sources of income. Of course, like any other developer, I also happened to have a list of product ideas that I had created. After comparing each idea in the list with my requirement checklist, I realized that none of the ideas would work. They all sounded cool, but none of them could make money from day one.
Now, after two years, I have multiple sources of income. In this blog post, I share some of the ideas that I think any developer could pursue to make more money online.
You may ask why I would want to spend my free time doing more work. It’s a fair question. In the long run, I want financial freedom and the freedom to choose what I want to work on. Freedom and work flexibility are my highest values because they will allow me to spend my mental energy on things that are deeply important to me. If I rely only on my weekly paychecks, I may be able to build a financial safety net but not the life I want. Living from paycheck to paycheck is limiting us since we rent our time for money, and time is static. You can’t add more hours to a day.
My second motivation is not financial. I also think a lot about the developer economy and how the way we make money now will change. In the late ʼ80s and early ʼ90s we got paid by producing code and that was the only output we could sell. Then, over time, it changed. We started to sell our skills by renting our time to businesses. We got paid for our time. Are we going to continue renting our time or, with the rise of individualism and personal branding, will we see a different trend? The Internet enables us to create new careers online, and we should utilize its power.
Things you can do
Now that I have shared my rationale, I’d like to address the ideas that I think you can start exploring today. All these ideas require substantial time investment in the beginning, but I think you can do them on the side while keeping your current job.
Become an online instructor
If you know how to code and love teaching, then becoming an online instructor is a great way to enhance your income. The online education market is expanding and is expected to hit to $325B in 2025. The potential is enormous, and many students see online education as a viable alternative to traditional institutions. Luckily for developers, the Internet opens new doors to becoming a teacher.
To become an online instructor, ask yourself what skills you could teach to others. It can be any technology that you know well and can confidently share with the rest of the world. There are many online platforms where you can sign up as an instructor. I know Egghead, Udemy and Skillshare provide the tools you need to host a course and get paid. Most of these educational platforms may charge you for each sale you make on their platform, but that’s fair because of the students they find for you.
Create an online course
If you don’t want to pay a fee to a third-party service or if you want to own your content, then you can create and host your online course. Apart from creating educational video content, you should also be good at marketing. If you already have an audience, then this path might be a great option since you can count on your viewers. Building an audience is hard and requires consistent commitment. However, long term, the rewards are great. When you have an online presence, there are many prospects for monetizing it. You worked hard to build your audience, and I don’t think you should feel apologetic for utilizing it. Your audience support you to support them with your content.
If you don’t host your course on any of the existing platforms, then you need to build a course website where you can upload your content and charge for it. The simplest and probably the best e-commerce software you can use for charging your customers is Gumroad. I’ve never used it, but I know many creators who love it. If you want to focus only on the content and not deal with any other process, then use Teachable. It’s an online service that provides everything you need to create and sell online courses.
Write an e-book
If you prefer writing words to creating a video, then you can write an e-book and sell it online. The good thing is you don’t need a professional publisher. Many creators I know successfully self-published books online. Writing a book requires a considerable time commitment; however, it can quickly turn to a passive income. Most educational books continue selling for a couple of years until they are outdated.
If you think that the book market is crowded, then try to be a big fish in a small pond. Find your niche market where you can have a voice. Look for the intersection of the many skills you have. As an example, if you’re a PHP developer who knows Kubernetes well, you can write a book for PHP developers who want to learn Kubernetes. Now you know your target audience, and it will help you to market it effectively. Gumroad makes it very easy to sell your e-book online.
If you’re not a native English speaker, then why not to write a book in your native language first and discover if you like the writing process. It’s always better to take small steps first. Do not expect that your book will make millions overnight. Set the right expectations, but still believe in yourself.
Build a software as a service (SaaS)
Building software that you can charge for is challenging but might be the most rewarding in the long haul. It requires steady work. If you’re a product-minded person who also enjoys working on business problems, then you will enjoy this. If you don’t know anything about building a business but want to learn, then creating an online business is the most accelerated learning path you can take.
The domain of problems you will work on is immense. To start my journey of financial freedom, I chose this path and started my side-business last year. It has generated around $8000 revenue so far and become a stable source of income.
The best way to find a product idea is to solve a problem you personally have. It can be something you experience at work or in daily life. When you’re your own customer, you know precisely what your next feature should be. I have written many articles about my journey of building an SaaS business, but reading my reflection as a solo-founder article might be the best one there.
Having a good idea and building it is not enough. You need a product that can become a business. You have to find people who will pay for the service you provide. Ask yourself, what’s one product you wish existed and you would pay for? Go ahead and build it. It doesn’t have to be a life-changing idea or even a new idea. Remember, we are not looking to start the new Facebook. I would always start from a niche product and then expand from there.
I have to admit that this one is very dear to my heart. As I love writing and building software, I want to find the intersection of these dimensions where I could make a full-time living. I could probably write a book about building software, but that’s not too exciting yet. However, I can start a paid newsletter where my readers can support my writing.
I know Substack is trying this model, allowing many creators to start paid publications. The quality and curated content discovery is becoming more critical but challenging every day.
You can start a paid newsletter and write about your niche. If you charge $10 and find 200 avid readers, you can make $2000 per month. I think the key here is focusing on the quality and ignoring the quantity. If you don’t have an existing audience, it might be challenging to get this off the ground.
If you’re a developer who maintains an open-source project, then you can monetize it and get financial support for the work you do. I think this is still a new trend in our industry, but it has a huge potential because a large part of our current digital infrastructure is built upon open-source software. The community of developers who make open-source software used by many companies should get paid fairly. Even though introducing payments might change the dynamics of open-source software, I think financial support is the only way to keep it sustainable.
If you have open-source software, then you can start a Patreon account to get paid. You can make predictable recurring revenue on Patreon by introducing membership tiers. Github just recently added Github Sponsors, which makes it easier to support your favorite developers. Since Github is the biggest social network of developers, I hope this trend will become more prevalent.
If you don’t have an open-source project, then you can start one. Building and maintaining an open-source project is a high leverage job and might be one of the best ways to meet like-minded people, expand your professional network, and find your next gig.
What I shared above is not an exhaustive list. I’m sure I’ve missed many ideas. Working on one idea from the list mentioned above should not stop you from trying others. In fact, I plan to experiment with some of the ideas here. Trying many things is the best heuristic for finding the work you love.
As a developer, we’re fortunate to live in these times. There is a vast opportunity in front of us to innovate, try many things, and find the work that makes us happy. The barrier to starting something online is low, and we all should take advantage of it.
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