How to Make Money as a Developer

December 08, 2021

How to Make Money as a Developer

If you’re an individual who can code, with any level of experience, you are lucky. Your skills are in demand given that we live in a digital world and people and businesses need your skills to help them succeed.

There’s a lot of content out there on the internet telling you that you can make passive income as a developer. This is… up to interpretation.

It is possible to have created products that generate ongoing income for you without requiring large amounts of ongoing input, but the real truth is that none of the possible ways to make money as a developer are work free or truly passive. Some require less ongoing work than others, but they all require your time and energy. If you want to outsource the ongoing work, this is an option, but your profit margins will need to be sufficient to make it financially viable.

In my experience, the holy grail of making money as a developer is to create relatively low ongoing-work products that are sold as subscription products. These have limitless income potential and are not predicated on having to find additional customers to keep the product viable. It is possible to find 100 customers that are fairly static paying a subscription fee every month without you having to do too much. There’s no better feeling than the monthly subscription money hitting your bank account every month.

Many of the below ways to make money are complimentary and will give you the best results if you do connect and cross-promote your content to make the most of them.

The below ways to make money as a developer will assist you in finding the way(s) that suits your desired lifestyle, work-life balance, skillsets and time availability.

Full-time Employment

This is the most secure way to make money as a developer. A full-time job should give you the security of getting paid consistently throughout the year.

If you find a good job, you will be paid quite well and should be able to spend your days working with interesting people. Working in a team and on larger projects/products will also most likely give you a really good education on setting up processes and various management styles to get products built.

The downsides of a full-time job are you have to work the hours the company or your boss expects or is required to get the work done. This can mean unpaid overtime. It’s also possible that the nature of the work can be boring or repetitive. There’s only so many times you can write code to automate sending email notifications before you start losing interest. Ultimately, there is also only so many promotions you can get before you hit a ceiling. This can either mean you need to move into management roles or job hop to try to find the best lead/senior role available.

Freelancing

Freelancing can be lucrative no matter where you live, as well as giving you the flexibility to work from anywhere. That being said, it is a hard grind, particularly to get started.

Finding clients, convincing them you’re the developer for them, completing the work and then getting paid are all ongoing hustles. Once you’ve completed a number of projects and created a good reputation for yourself, the work will start coming to you and you’ll be able to command premium rates.

Most of the freelancers I know hustled hard initially until they found a few clients that had ongoing work requirements that they then contracted to outside of the standard freelancing platforms. From my experience, this is the most common outcome.

The flexibility and variety of work offered via freelancing are very attractive to some people if they can get themselves set up and with a good reputation.

Sites, where you can sign up as a freelancer to offer your skills, include:

Run your own company

This is one option that I personally have implemented. I run Interapptive with a business partner. We started out offering services but found more satisfaction and better balance in building our own apps and SaaS products.

The main reason for me to decide to have my own company is that the earning potential is essentially infinite. It is only limited by my own desire to work and how successful the things I make are.

It is really hard work though.

For me, having a company also allows me to split my personal finances from the company. I don’t have to use my own money to pay for the resources the company requires. All invoices and expenses go through the company. As the owner of the company, I am able to invest personal funds if required.

In order to run your own company, you need to have something to sell. As a developer, this can either be through services or a product. Further in this list, there are ideas for both of these. You also have to be willing to do the advertising, marketing and all administration work that comes with being the owner of a company.

It is also easier as a company to hire freelancers, contractors or employees if and when required.

Build indie apps

Building indie apps is complementary to the above. Most likely, you’ll publish your apps under a company or trading name, but behind the scenes, it is not necessary to actually have a company.

Apps can be incredibly lucrative, either through in-app advertising and purchases or through upfront purchases.

Building an app can be a huge amount of work depending on the complexity of the app. It may also require a good understanding of the full-stack as you may need to build databases, APIs and the front-end of the app.

You’re also likely going to need to perform all support duties for your users, which can become overwhelming if you create a popular app.

Blogging

You’re on my blog right now. Hopefully, it is providing some value to you. I didn’t, and don’t continue to, spend hours writing and formatting content and sourcing images just for fun. It makes some money too.

Blogging can be a good money maker, but it isn’t going to happen quickly. You’ll need to produce a lot of content, and consistently add more. It’ll need to be good content that also conforms to Google’s SEO requirements to make sure you appear in the right search results.

The main ways to make money from your blog are to include advertisements, include affiliate links that give you a percentage of any sales via the links, self-promotion of any other items/products you have to sell, and if you create a reputation for yourself, others may pay you to write guest posts on their blogs.

Things like ads require you to have large amounts of traffic to your blog. For example, Google Adsense will pay somewhere in the range of $3-$6 for every 1,000 views of an advertisement displayed on your blog. so, in order to make $600 per month from your blog, you need at least 100,000 views per month. This is more than achievable but requires a lot of well-targeted content that is SEO’d and well written. In short, you will need hundreds of posts. Some will bring more traffic (and revenue) than others, but unfortunately, there is no certain way of knowing which posts will perform.

For instance, API Versioning with NodeJs and Express is my most heavily viewed post. There is no data from Google search trends, on my tech Twitter feeds or anywhere else I know of that indicated that this would be a topic that people were looking for specifically.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing and blogging tend to be run in parallel, so if you’re wanting to pursue affiliate marketing, you are probably going to need a blog.

Affiliate marketing is quite simple if you can get enough eyeballs on your blog or wherever you are posting your affiliate links.

An affiliate link is a URL link to a product or service with a unique identifier added to the end. The unique identifier allows the provider of the product or service to know that you were the source of the visitor to their site. If the visitor makes a purchase or signs up for the service, you receive a payment for sending the person to the site in the first place.

Some of the bigger affiliate marketing providers have fully-fledged programs you can sign up for to send users to multiple products (such as Amazon). Others only offer a single product or service and so you only need to create an account and get the link for the single item.

These sorts of links for products are particularly useful if you blog about a specific technology or niche that has specific products. Your readers will be interested in the products just by already having found their way to your blog.

Some of the bigger ticket items offer big payouts if you send someone to their site and they make the purchase required. Others run on percentages rather than specified amounts (Amazon pays up to 12% of the product purchase price for example).

If you have other sources for an audience (social media for example) you can promote the affiliate links there. I would preface this with caution though as social media followers can find this to be spammy. Email newsletters can be a great way to promote affiliate products that match the topic of the newsletter to an already engaged audience.

Sponsorships

A sponsorship essentially entails a business approaching you as a blogger to write one or more articles about their product offering. This can be a specific retail product or a service or a piece of software. As part of this agreement, the business will pay you either a set amount per post or an ongoing percentage of any sales that come from your blog posts (essentially the same as affiliate marketing).

Sponsorships will work best if you already have a big audience either through blog traffic or a YouTube channel where the product can really be showcased. You’ll also need to have a good reputation otherwise businesses won’t approach you for their products.

Guest blog posting

Once you’ve built a blog, created lots of good content and have a good audience, people in the blogging community of your niche will start to take notice.

Guest posting is a good way to contribute to the community for the benefit of both yourself and the person you provide a post for. If you’re well known and have your name on somebody else’s blog, they’ll get more traffic (win!) and you’ll get more referral traffic from that post.

If you’re lucky, the blog you get to post on will be bigger and more popular than yours at the time of writing/posting so you’ll gain a lot of exposure.

Conversely, if you’re the bigger name of the two, you can negotiate a fee with your counterpart for the post you write and post on their blog.

Create and Sell Code Templates

As you’re reading the post, I’m assuming you’re a developer or technology-based individual which most likely means you can code at least somewhat proficiently.

Selling your code as templates is a good way to create an ongoing income stream.

The premise is relatively simple - you code up a template product (website, mobile app) and sell it online.

Standing out in a crowded market is going to be your biggest challenge with this income stream. Again, having a pre-existing audience is going to greatly assist you in getting this off the ground and pushed out to other potential customers.

There are a number of platforms where you can list your templates (all of which will take a cut of each sale). Some of these are:

- Gumroad\

Each of these platforms have rules regarding the quality of the templates and other items you must adhere to before they will list your product.

An additional option is to configure your website/blog to allow the purchase/digital download itself. This is the best way to ensure you receive 100% of the purchase price, but you lose the benefits of having a pre-established marketplace.

Create and Sell e-books

Are you an expert on a particular topic? Instead of breaking that down into 100’s of blog posts, you can write it all down into an e-book. It’s a lot easier now to self-publish the book or like above, just sell it on your own website.

An e-book is a lot of work initially as you need to get everything you know about the topic written down in a sensible, structured way to make the total book coherent and it needs to be reasonably substantial in content and length to make it worth the purchase price for the buyer. However, once it is written and published, an e-book is a very good source of ongoing income with a little bit of marketing to get the e-book in front of potential buyers.

Create and Sell e-learning courses

There are great pre-existing platforms for distributing e-learning courses with low barriers to creating an account to upload your courses (assuming they meet the quality requirements of the platform).

Similar to the e-book, e-learning courses are a great way to make ongoing income from a single product if you are a subject matter expert and can create engaging video/learning content.

The existing platforms will take a percentage of each sale, but a platform like Udemy will get you in front of millions of potential students. Udemy even provides courses themselves to help content creators create courses for their platform.

The tech industry/coding space is very competitive for e-learning, but the demand is also huge, so if you can create great content and market it well, this can be a very profitable income source.

Run a Youtube Channel

A YouTube channel is a slow burn income source, similar to blogging. It will take lots of content over a sustained period of time before you start seeing any real income being generated.

Creating your own channel and putting up videos is simple enough, but you need to get 1000’s of subscribers before YouTube allows you to monetise your channel, and even then, the income you can generate is always predicated by the number of views your video (ads) gets.

This is why you need to build a huge audience over a long time and continually feed that audience with new content. The channels with huge subscriber bases make pretty good money so it is worth the time and effort in the long run.

The channels with millions of subscribers are the ones that make a good, living wage directly from their channel.

Host a Podcast

Podcasting is a great way to combine a number of income streams. Just like blogging, podcasting allows you to push affiliate products, run sponsorship deals and sell your own products.

Generating a podcast following is like all of these methods. It will take time and you will need to create good content.

Podcasting is also a cool way to meet a wide variety of people as your interviewees and you’ll get to talk about some really interesting things with them.

Podcast platforms (like Spotify) put you in front of a lot of potential listeners without having to do any targeted marketing, although they are super competitive as there are a lot of podcasts already out there.

Paid Coding Challenges

If you are a superhero developer or have a wealth of experience in a very specific niche, paid coding challenges can be a fun and interesting way to make some extra money.

Usually, there are cash prizes for the bigger coding challenge websites/competitions. Because they are bigger, your competition will be greater and you’ll have to do very well to make it worth your while.

Sometimes, big companies run coding challenges with big cash prizes. For example, Salesforce.com ran a competition back in 2013 with a $1 Million first prize. NVidia offered a total prize pool of $43,000 in their Jetson Developer Challenge, including a $10,000 first prize.

Bug bounty Hunting

Some companies offer bounties for individuals who find and inform the company of any bugs in their software. Generally, this is focused on security-related bugs as this is what exposes companies the most in terms of both reputation and finances. A lot of white-hat hackers make a side-income doing this.

You’ll need to make sure it is a genuine bug that can be clearly explained or reproduced, as well as ensuring the company will pay you a bounty for your efforts. Not all companies do, so do your research before diving into their source code.

Mentoring

Mentoring can be a highly rewarding way to make some extra money. Not only do you get paid, but you are directly helping someone improve themselves (and hopefully making some more money themselves).

Having a mentor is great for beginner developers as well as developers looking to move from technical roles to lead/management roles that involve the management of colleagues.

If you’re someone who either has a wealth of technical knowledge or have made the transition from a technical role into management or C-Level, mentoring is an option that you’d be more than qualified for.

There are platforms (like Codementor.io and CodingCoach.io) that you can sign up for to help create mentor-mentoree connections.

One-to-One Coaching

This is similar to mentoring, but will most likely require a bigger time investment to make it worth your while.

This will involve finding individuals who are wanting to be taught how to implement the same things you already know.

Doing this one-on-one is harder work, but the money is better than running an online course or webinars. Individuals pay for the exclusivity and individual attention afforded by having 100% of your time to help them learn.

You will need to be a subject matter expert on whatever specific topics you decide to coach in as you will need to be able to handle any/all questions your student may have.

Run a Patreon Account

For those of you not familiar with Patreon, it is a membership platform for creators. Essentially, you create content and post it to your account. Individuals then subscribe to your profile for access to your content.

Creating a paying audience on Patreon is a really good way to create a strong revenue stream. You will need to continually be producing good content that your subscribers want (and to attract new subscribers).

Patreon was originally built to facilitate artists and other visual content creators. but has expanded for those who write. I would still strongly recommend adding as much visual content as you can into your posts in order to attract the eyes of potential subscribers.

Use Buy Me a Coffee

Buy Me a Coffee is similar to Patreon in that it is a platform to facilitate subscribers to content creators. Where it differs and provides a different income channel for you is that it has widget plugins for websites so that content creators can put the widget in their own websites.

You have most likely seen this widget down the bottom of website pages with a little coffee cup in a coloured circle (including on this very website - it should be down the bottom right corner).

Clicking on the widget opens a modal that facilitates a one-time donation to the content creator of preset (or custom) amounts of money.

Again, you’ll need a big audience for this to create any meaningful income for you. It also relies more on the generosity of your viewers as it is just a donation essentially.

Live Stream Coding on Twitch

Twitch is predominately a gaming streaming platform where you can go to watch others playing various video games.

That being said, there is no reason why you can’t stream other activities, such as you coding up an application. Twitch does generally require more direct social interaction than some of these other methods. You will be expected to communicate with your followers while you are streaming.

There are relatively big movements on social media amongst the ‘code in public’ believers who believe in sharing their endeavours to build profitable software in public. This can involve live-tweeting the construction of quick SaaS applications or similar, but as a developer, you could do the same on Twitch.

There are some Twitch users with 10’s of thousands of subscribers to their Twitch profiles that focus on nothing but coding.

Twitch does have some requirements before you can start to monetise your profile, but the barrier is not so big that you’ll be working forever for free before you reach the requirements.

Create and Distribute a Newsletter

There’s a reason so many blogs and websites have those annoying popups and forms requesting you to give them your email address.

They are so they can send you their newsletters.

Email newsletters are a great way to push affiliate links, your own content and to advertise other platforms where you distribute content.

Generally, if someone does give you their email address via your website, it means they are actively interested in your content. This makes them a great target to offer other items you have as they are most likely going to be interested in them too.

If you’ve spent any time studying email marketing, you will know that email open rates are quite low and clicking on links contained within emails is even lower - generally < 1% of your total audience. This means having a huge number of subscribers is the best way to get a sufficient number of eyes on your products to make good sales and income from your newsletter.

Creating interesting and engaging content with catchy subjects is the key for email newsletters in order to bring your readers in.

Sell Merchandise

Add another development string to your bow. Create a Shopify site, find merchandise suppliers and create yourself a custom brand. Get your brand printed onto this merchandise (t-shirts, mugs, baseball caps, etc) and sell them via the Shopify site.

The great thing about this is a pre-built audience is not a necessity. Obviously, it will help as they will be the consumers aware of your brand, but creating a cool brand doesn’t need to have prior knowledge of your mad coding skills.

The Shopify site can be built with specific SEO content in mind to get your site trending for different types of searches. Your merchandise doesn’t only have to be specific to your brand, it can be your whole industry as a niche.

This method will require a bit of an initial outlay in finances to pre-purchase the merchandise in order to be able to ship it to your customers quickly. You will also need somewhere to store the merchandise.

Create a Dropshipping Shopify Site

Similar to the above, you can create a Shopify site selling anything. If you aren’t someone who has much of a design eye for creating content yourself for a brand or you don’t want to outlay the money as per the above, then dropshipping may be the option for you.

Dropshipping is the process of listing products for sale on your site that when they are ordered, the order is forwarded directly onto the manufacturer. The manufacturer then fulfils the order for you and ships it to your customer.

The money here is that you charge the customer more than the merchandiser charges you e.g. you swell a t-shirt for $12 and the manufacturer charges you $4 per shirt. You get to keep the $8.

The downside of this is that shipping can be very slow and having visibility of the order can be difficult. You also have to do all the customer support work with limited visibility.

Some of the bigger drop shippers outsource customer support to virtual assistants. They pay a monthly retainer for the virtual assistant to deal with all incoming queries regarding orders or the products in general. This means it is possible to have a low-effort e-commerce store running, but it will take considerable effort to get it up and running.

There are thousands of posts on how to set up dropshipping sites with Shopify as well as how to find lucrative products to sell.

Create and Sell a Trading Bot

A trading bot is a great way to attempt to make some extra money if you know your way around the financial markets.

A trading bot essentially takes some of your money and invests it in stocks. It then monitors these stocks for price peaks and troughs and automates the continued buying and selling of the stocks to maximise buying when they are cheap and selling when the price is high. You get to keep the profits.

Obviously, there is a necessary initial input of money for the bot to trade with. How much this is will depend on your appetite for risk as it is possible the market will start (or continue) on a downward trend and you’ll need to wait a long time to be able to potentially recoup your initial investment.

Additionally, assuming you can prove that the bot provides an overall return on investment, it becomes an asset you can sell to others. Pricing models for this could be a percentage of all monthly transactions or a percentage of a minimum required monthly investment.

Create and Sell a Chatbot

Similar to the above trading bot, chatbots are in high demand as more and more businesses look to automate as much of their business grunt work as they can.

Chatbots have some pre-built intelligence to them to answer questions in a chat asked by users (or potential users). If they get to a point where they can not answer the question, then they direct the user to you or one of your staff for assistance.

Chatbots can be built for a number of different platforms to assist with whole websites or Facebook business pages and similar other platforms.

Write Technical Documentation

As a developer, you have a good grasp of technical concepts. You are probably also a pretty quick learner of new technology.

Writing technical documentation is a skill set that requires both good technical knowledge as well as being able to communicate in a clear manner to non-technical individuals. All companies that do any sort of technical work have a need for technical documentation. This means the opportunities for this are many and vast.

Generally, writing for another company will require you to either freelance or contract to them. Some companies have full-time positions for technical writers as well.

An alternative for this is to create your own, highly technical, blog. Do your own technical documentation for things you have built or for things other people have built that are widely used in your community. This will help build your reputation amongst the community and help you promote your other channels of potential income.

Create WordPress Plugins and Themes

WordPress powers roughly one-third of all websites on the Internet currently. Yep, one-third. That’s a huge amount of websites out there running WordPress. All of these sites use a theme and any number of plugins to add functionality.

Finding a niche for a plugin that needs to be created can be hard, but with so many websites out there, building a plugin in a high-demand niche can still be lucrative. It just needs to be a really good plugin.

Similarly with themes. There are a lot of themes out there already but if you create a well built, performant and beautiful theme, you can make good money from them.

Create Sponsored Open Source Content

Open-source software is software where the source code is freely available to anyone. You as the creator will also be the maintainer so you will help users with using your software as well as fixing any issues they report.

Most open-source distribution platforms now have the option to turn on sponsorships which allow your users to donate to you to say thank you for creating and maintaining the software that they are using.

If you build popular software, the demands on your time can be significant but if you are lucky, your community of users will be appreciative and show you this via donations.

Create and Sell Graphic Web Assets

A lot of web developers (myself included) are more technical than they are graphic design orientated.

If you are one of the lucky ones to have a strong design side to you, creating assets for other developers can be a great way to supplement your income.

There are lots of platforms offering web assets either for free or for royalties to their creator that the millions of web developers globally use every day.

If you can create top-quality, interesting and useful web assets, you can create a nice side-income stream for yourself selling them.

Sponsored Twitter/Facebook Postings

Similar to the guest blog posts and sponsorships, sponsored social media posts are a great way to make some additional income.

If you’ve got a big audience, other people will pay you good money to post about them or their products. Most, if not all, posts you see from users with big followers talking about a product or service that is not offered by the user themself is most likely a sponsored post. The user is being paid a preset fee to post about the other product or service.

Obviously, the bigger your audience, the more money you can command for each post.

The best way to go about this is to create an audience around a specific topic or area of expertise. Others in the topic will approach you to gain further visibility.

You don’t need to have millions of followers to be able to start doing this (obviously that’d make you more money), but you can start with a few thousand followers.

It is also sensible to review the product or service and the person asking you to post for quality and authenticity. It can be very damaging to you personally if you publicise a bad product or your followers get ripped off in any way.

Create Niche Websites to Sell

The concept of this is relatively simple. You build a website focusing on a specific topic or niche. You market it and get a good amount of monthly traffic consistently coming to the site. Then you put it up for sale and you get an amount of money based upon the monthly traffic you’ve managed to generate.

An alternative to this to potentially make more money is to do the above, but with a Shopify site selling actual products. You then use the average monthly sales as the basis for your asking price.

The value for the buyer is that the website is young and by growing the traffic they can make more money from it (or do the same as you - sell it again with a higher traffic base for a higher price).

This can take a bit of grunt work, but if you can streamline your website building process to minimise the time and effort required to get it up and running, it may well be a lucrative method to make some income.

Flip Web Domains

The concept of this is that you buy domain names that are in demand. When someone approaches you to buy it, you sell it at a higher price than what you paid for it. No work, no website, only money.

The trick here is identifying in-demand domains that are available at an affordable price, finding a buyer and convincing them to buy it from you at your asking price.

You can trawl through any domain name registrar website for available domain names in conjunction with Google Search Trends to find popular topics. Buy domains you think will become more in-demand and then sell them. Simples.

Flip Websites

Flipping websites is similar to creating a niche website and selling it, except that you don’t have to find the niche and create the website. You buy an existing website, improve it, increase the monthly traffic and sell it for more than you paid for it. Or, if it happens to be particularly lucrative in monthly recurring revenue, keep it and run the website as a business.

There are a number of existing marketplaces for website flipping (the most popular being Flippa) that list websites for sale. You can search by type of website and the current monthly profit or asking price is shown. Expect to pay somewhere in the order of 3x the annual recurring revenue for the website.

SEO Consulting

As a successful web developer, you will be intimately familiar with SEO - making websites that have content that will be found when a user Googles the right words.

SEO is a complicated concept for non-technical people and small business owners who have outsourced their web development needs in their entirety.

You can offer your services to review their existing website content in order to ensure they are following best SEO practices, develop a content strategy for them to ensure they have fresh, relevant content being discovered by Google and that their Search Console and Analytics are configured properly so they can see what is working, what people are looking for and what they should add or remove.

Build a SaaS Product

SaaS products unlock the holy grail of recurring revenue - users who pay you every month for your software. They don’t necessarily have to install anything to use your software and all documentation, tutorials and community are online to assist them using your product. You will need to provide some standard support for users who have issues with the software and you will be fixing bugs along the way, but having 500 users paying $10/month for your SaaS product provides good regular money.

The best thing about SaaS is that it can be built for all industries. This means you can build a SaaS product for things you have a deep knowledge of, things you are personally interested in or things you know nothing about. Obviously, the more you know about something before you start the better/easier it will be for building the software, but this is not a prerequisite.

There are a number of tools already built to assist with configuring everything you need (like Stripe for payments, Supabase for authentication and database management) and no-code tools to streamline building a SaaS product.

SaaS Flipping

This is obviously very similar to the website flipping topic mentioned earlier, with the caveat of focusing particularly on SaaS web apps. This is an important distinction because of the nature of SaaS web apps. Generally speaking, they can be treated as a business unto themselves. They have a product and generally require multiple facets of management - development, marketing, advertising, support etc. This means SaaS flipping essentially fits into the category of business flipping.

Your initial outlay will be more significant, but if you can even increase the revenue of the SaaS product by 2x, the amount you can sell it again for is substantially more.

If you buy a SaaS product for $40,000 (roughly a $1000/month revenue product) and double that to $2000/month revenue, you can then sell it for >$90,000 to the right buyer.