Side Hustle Ideas for Software Developers
I was originally going to write the next corporate realpolitik explained post, this time about the software architect. And, while I can and will still do that (tweet at me or something if you’d like to speed it along), I’m just not feeling cynical these days. I have a nice winter of drifting through the US south planned, running a lifestyle business and generally enjoying myself. So why not write about something instructional and uplifting? Like side hustle ideas.
What’s a side hustle?
It’s not so complicated. If your full time work is your full time hustle, then your side hustle is work you do on the side. You could think of it as a hobby that makes you some money. For some, that’s all it is and all it stays. Others might look to it as an eventual job replacement.
If you work 40 or more hours per week, this might seem daunting. And, it can be. Instead of spending your recuperation time reading, watching TV, or appreciating your family, you’re carving off a slice to do even more work stuff. For that reason, you should be sure to find something you like doing. And also for that reason, I’m going to emphasize more manageable and iteratively achievable side hustle ideas.
This post is mainly aimed at salaried software developers that have never made money outside of a salaried context. Anyone is, of course, welcome to read along — it’s not like side hustle ideas are exclusive in any way. But understand who I’m talking to with this advice. I’m talking to folks with full time jobs that don’t want to risk running afoul of employers (say, by moonlighting) and don’t want to spend all of their waking hours on the side hustle.
Don’t Build Software as a Side Hustle
First up, let me recommend a few hustles not to pursue, particularly for those of you that are first timers at this. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these things. They’re just not where you want to start.
First of all, don’t make a mobile app or build a SaaS. Yes, you heard me correctly. You’re a software developer and I’m steering you away from software development.
Why? Here’s the thing. You spend all day, every day writing software for a living already. You know software — you live it and you breathe it. So if you go home and start a side hustle building software, all you’re going to do is build software. You’re going to build it, then build it some more, and finally, after that, when it’s finally time to ship, you won’t ship so that you can spend another year building it.
I’m exaggerating, but not a ton. Bias toward familiarity makes for great procrastination. Why do you think software developers contemplating a blog spend weeks agonizing about what platform to use or whether to hand code it. Because you know software and you don’t know writing. So you dither over unimportant software decisions.
Side hustles are about earning some extra money, sure. But they’re also about teaching yourself business, which I heartily endorse since continuing to improve as a generalist programmer starts to yield diminishing returns after a while. So lay down the IDE and dive fully into the business world.
First of the Side Hustle Ideas: Self-Publish an E-Book
First side hustle idea I’ll offer is that you write and self-publish an E-Book. This is actually surprisingly easy because it has almost no barriers to entry. Go give Leanpub $99 and you’re off to the races.
Leanpub is a self-publishing platform that lets you write a book in markdown and lets you start selling the book even before you’re finished. It also has its own marketing and promotion engine, so people can start finding your book from day 1. If you email your parents with the link when you first sign up, you’ll get that initial rush of receiving your first royalties.
You can also expand beyond Leanpub easily as well. They automatically convert your output into PDF, EPUB and MOBI formats, meaning that you can submit to a variety of bookstores, including Amazon. So the upshot is that you can, relatively easily, publish an E-Book on Amazon.
For this endeavor, I recommend starting with a detailed how-to that you think will help and appeal to people. And I also recommend keeping it relatively short and sweet, maybe something like 25,000 words or around 80-100 pages of text.
How You Benefit
- It’s pretty easy to make at least a little bit of money and to recoup your initial investment.
- You have a low-key opportunity to learn about a product launch and promotion.
- You establish instant credibility and authority when you publish a book (even self-pub).
Start an Affiliate Marketing Blog
If you like the written word, but want something even more iterative, you could start a blog. But I’m not talking about the sort of blog where you talk at your peers and hope that it magically leads to profit. (Put another way, don’t do what I did with DaedTech for a lot of years when I had no particular rhyme or reason for blogging.) I’m talking about a blog where you eye monetization from the beginning.
On the Hit Subscribe blog, I wrote about different strategies for monetizing a blog. The main one I’ll suggest here is affiliate marketing. You pick an audience and you speak to them with interesting content and explanatory posts that help them. As you do that, you mix in affiliate offers. I do this here to a pretty limited degree, mainly with Amazon. Other sites you’re probably familiar with, like John Sonmez’s Simple Programmer do this on a larger scale.
Make no mistakes — earning any substantial money at this is a REALLY long play. But you can start to earn a little bit of money quickly and tune as you go.
How You Benefit
- It costs you literally nothing to get started (there are free blogging engines out there) or a minimal amount, depending on the route you pick.
- You can really put as much or as little time in as you want.
- The sky is the limit with how much you can make eventually.
- As with the book, you’ll establish authority, but much more gradually.
Build Video Courses/Info Products
Here’s another content creation option, and perhaps a better one for folks that aren’t fans of writing quite as much. You can build a video course or similar sort of info product (not including the aforementioned E-Books, obviously).
I did this with Pluralsight, which made me a lot of money over the years and built me a good bit of influence. If you think you’d be a fit for them and have interest, I can’t recommend it enough. But you could also seek out some similar sort of option and go that way as well, maybe making videos for Udemy or Lynda.com.
You’ll notice I’m not talking about making courses that you sell yourself, using something like Gumroad. I’m not recommending that because it’s a lot more to learn than the options in the last paragraph. With those, you can just build the course and let them handle distribution, marketing, sales, etc. It’s good when you’re getting your feet wet and don’t have an audience. Once you’re established, you can take it to the next level.
How You Benefit
- You’ll probably make really good money going this route.
- Working with editors and getting feedback will teach you a lot about how to present and polish this style of product.
- You’re going to build some good relationships.
- And, as with all of these, you establish some authority.
What Do All of these Have in Common
If you’re paying close attention, you’ll notice that all of these side hustle options have a lot in common.
- They’re all fairly small potatoes.
- All assume that you have little to no audience already.
- With each of these, it’s as much about learning while making a name for yourself as it is about serious profit.
- None of these would get any but the most draconian employer worked about a non-compete.
And that’s really no coincidence. In fact, it’s the point.
Build Steadily and Sustainably on Increasingly Large Wins
I’ve actually done all three of these side hustle ideas myself, and can give you direct advice on them. And I can also speak to how each one has helped my career in general and, more specifically, my free agent life and my understanding of business.
Here are just a few of the things that these side hustles will force you to do learn on your own that you might not think of immediately.
- How to market and promote something.
- Where and how to accept money outside of work and keep your books for something.
- Consider whether and how to incorporate a legal entity.
- How to build a website to promote the things you do.
Now, think back to my advice about not building a complex piece of software as a side hustle. Is that a bad option? No, of course not. But it requires you to learn all of the above things at once, plus a bunch more, all while building a piece of software in your spare time. You might pull that off, but you’ll probably burn yourself out.
So what I recommend instead is that you take on a side hustle that you view more as a stepping stone. Start small with a tiny E-book. Then build a blog that makes you more money, and start building info products. You’ll learn a lot about business in general, including how to market, sell, and find money outside of your employer. And once you’ve done all of that, turning a side hustle into a full time hustle won’t be a daunting life choice, but an option that exists whenever you choose to take advantage.