I’m Brett and I’m the creator of Niche Laboratory and a whole load of other websites.
In this article I’ll explore ways that web developers and other software developers can make passive income from their ability to build software and other applications.
My Passive Income Journey
I got started making money online back in 1998. I’ve had many different sidelines over the years:
1998 – 2002 The “Write for Us” Years
I guess I must have picked up this tip from the very first Make Money Online blog, because I found that if you typed “write for us” + your required niche into Hotbot or AltaVista or one of the other search engines around at the time then you could find a few websites that would pay you good money to write articles for them. And it was pretty good money at the time. I remember making $50 an article for writing content about using Microsoft FrontPage.
2002 – 2008 The Shareware Age
Back in 2002 I worked on a lot of websites that had hundreds of ASP pages and often a big meaty SQL Server database behind them. So I came up with a tool that would automatically sift through all the source code and tell you which pages used which functions etc. etc. I sold this software to corporations, with prices ranging from $49.95 to $249.95 for a site license.
I did some good numbers with this business, although with hindsight if I had charged higher prices and spent a bit of the profits on marketing then the amount I could have earnt from the business would probably have another zero on it.
Sadly this niche is no longer as lucrative as it once was. These days Agile development has been adopted very widely, and one of the cornerstones of Agile is that you’re not meant to write any documentation! Code should be self documenting!!!
What I hope you can take from this example though is if you do want to write some software, then you should take a look at writing B2B software, rather than try and sell to the consumer. It was my experience that businesses didn’t care how much the software cost, and they hardly ever asked for refunds.
There are still HUGE opportunities in software, especially business software. A friend of mine is a doctor (and former software developer), and he tells me that there are tonnes of opportunities for building applications in the healthcare industry. I spent a few months working in the insurance industry, and again, there were plenty of opportunities there. And insurance companies will pay 10x as much for their software as doctors will!
2010 – 2012
In these three years I kind got bored with coding, and went down the avenue of writing articles for the web. In those days it was pretty easy to get pages ranked highly in Google and other search engines just by using one of the many keyword research tools to find keywords to write about. The best keyword tools showed you keywords with high monthly search volume and little competition.
I made dozens of micro niche sites. A couple I had built using a rudimentary CMS I had knocked up in ASP.NET. But for the most part I just used WordPress.
I will at this point mention that if you’re a website developer and want to start a site, then don’t spent months reinventing WordPress, or phpBB or anything else. If you want a basic blog just use Blogger or WordPress, and use your expertise to enhance your users’ experience by adding custom pages. For example if you’ve got a site about mortgages then add a loan calculator. A few of my sites have done really well off the back of my writing stupid little interactive features. These are really good in that they get a lot of organic backlinks, and make my site stand out from the 99% of blogs that just have text and maybe images.
In 2011 it looked as if the days of the micro-niche site were numbered, so I started to think about using the traffic from my micro-niche sites to launch an actual membership site.
What did I build?
I guess the difference is that up to now I’d largely been writing articles and reviews about other people’s sites. But now I actually had my own site.
The site has been reasonably successful, but it’s also been a load of hassle (this is a tricky niche). It’s been a wonderful learning experience, but sadly I can’t mention it in job interviews as the site is slightly NSFW (it didn’t start out that way, but it’s the way the users took the site!).
The good thing about being a website developer is that I’ve been able to enhance my site very cheaply – I can essentially work for free. A couple of years after the launch I re-skinned it with a responsive design and that lead to a big increase in visitors. Most of my competitors are stuck with their original circa 2005 designs, because it would be prohibitively expensive to update them.
2013 – Present
I’ll not beat about the bush – it’s a lot harder to make money online these days as most niches have plenty of competition.
However, I have noticed that many of my niche sites are still getting plenty of traffic AND they continue to make money.
The sites I own that are still doing well tend to have these features in common:
- They’re in lifestyle niches where public opinion still matters, and where there aren’t huge numbers of global corporations operating.
- High quality content HAS WON THE DAY! In one case I actually took off half the content back in 2013, added 6-7 quality posts and the site has come roaring back.
- Sites with extra features web developers can build have done especially well.
Niche Laboratory gets quite a few visitors although before you start writing your own keyword research tool I’ll just add that it’s been a really poor niche in terms of monetization. The best use of Niche Laboratory has been to showcase my skills in job interviews for coding jobs.
Coding Jobs… What To Do… What To Not Waste Time With
OK a brief mention that if you code, then find a high paying job and save every cent that you can! I did just that and I’ve been lucky enough to quit my jobs and spend a year in China and Thailand, and 6 months in Spain.
Try and find interesting employers to work for, and jobs that you can talk about in future interviews. I once worked for the company that makes Britain’s favourite tea bags – it’s a great gig to talk about.
It’s also a good idea to build a site or app that can showcase your skills.
What I wouldn’t do is waste time on freelancer sites. I once got a horrible gig on one where the woman wanted to pay me for 3 minutes work if she thought it would take 3 minutes.
Make Money… Build A Nest Egg!
I would encourage everybody to invest a portion of their income, especially if it’s a second income from a side hustle.
Over the years I’ve invested pretty much every dollar I’ve ever earnt online.
The monthly dividends from my stock and bond holdings are now more than I currently make in passive income from my websites. So even if my website visitors were to all disappear tomorrow, I would still have a valuable passive income stream.
Cut To the Chase – What Apps or Websites Would I Build Today?
If I was starting out today I would definitely find something missing from WordPress and write a plugin to fill that void. There are millions of WordPress blogs out there, so the potential customer base is vast.
If You’re More Ambitious…
I live in London and I’ve had a lot of job interviews at software companies. I’ve interviewed at World Class companies like Disney, CompareTheMarket, Preqin and Expedia. One class of companies I like are those who have valuable content that they make available to subscribers. Often there’s not much sophistication to how this data is gathered – usually it’s just a bunch of “researchers” who gather the information from phoning around or just surfing the web. Over time, this information becomes extremely valuable, especially if it can be used to save time, money or to make even more money.
Phew, brain dump over. If you’re a web developer and you have some questions about making money from your skills, then post your thoughts below!