According to a 2016 report published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are close to 295,000 computer programmers presently employed in the United States. The report further claims that between 2016 and 2026, the number of jobs in this category will fall by seven percent.
In comparison, over 28,000 computer science degrees were awarded in 2015, and this number has been growing by 22.4% annually.
Clearly, there are not enough computer science jobs to accommodate all these new programmers. Such programmers may thus want to seek alternate income opportunities.
Even among programmers with a steady job, the aspiration to quit and do your own thing is on the rise. A primary factor contributing to this is the freedom that comes with running your own business. Self-employed programmers can set their own hours and work at their own pace, unlike those with a 9-to-5 job.
Freelancing is, without doubt, one of the most popular ways for these programmers to get their feet wet in the world of entrepreneurship. But it is not the only way to do it.
If you’re considering branching out on your own as a programmer, take a look at the various opportunities that exist for computer programmers to offer their skills as a service.
Offering your programming expertise as a freelancer is one of the most popular and profitable ways to make money on your own. From a legal standpoint, freelancing is similar to a contract job and you are paid either by the hour or on a per-project basis.
One reason this route is so popular is because, as the service provider, you choose the hours you work, the number of hours you put in, and the size of the project. More importantly, freelancing positions are mostly remote. This means that you may save money and time on not having a commute and being able to work with clients from anywhere in the world.
Freelancing is not without its share of challenges, though. Unlike a regular contract position at a local business, it is quite likely that you will be competing against freelancers from across the world.
There are hundreds of quality programmers from countries in Asia and Eastern Europe who will do your job for a fraction of the cost. This price differential makes these freelancers attractive to clients. Acquiring new projects and charging a fee that you think you deserve can thus be a challenge, but here are some tips to be successful if you choose this path:
Sell your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
If you are a programmer from one of the low-cost countries, then price is definitely your USP. There are hundreds of clients willing to hire such programmers.
If you are from a country like the US or UK, you definitely cannot compete on price. In such cases, identify the value you bring to the table and sell this as your USP.
For instance, a client in the US may prefer someone from their timezone who they can talk to over the phone. Or, if the project involves knowledge of your domestic ecosystem, then a local programmer is better suited to understanding the context and recommending solutions. Make sure that you highlight details such as your working hours, contact number, and domain expertise in your pitch.
Abiding by Contract
It is a good idea to sign a contract with the client before you start a project. Doing so sets the right expectations for both parties and protects you from contractual violations from your client’s side. But signing a contract is only worth it if both parties are committed to abiding by it.
Most small-time clients do not have the resources to pursue a lawsuit against freelancers for contract violations if they are located outside their borders. As a freelancer who lives in the same country, you are more likely to be committed to the contractual obligations and therefore this may serve as another USP.
This is a slight variation of the freelance ecosystem. In a traditional freelance setup, clients post project requirements on platforms like Upwork or Freelancer. You bid on these projects and after negotiating the prices, you stand a chance to win the bid.
Pay-For-Success projects work a bit differently. Here, the client is open to working with any number of programmers on a single project. However, you are only paid if you succeed in the objectives of the project. Since such projects are open to multiple service providers, it is relatively easy to get hired for these projects.
Here are a few cases where you could enroll yourself in pay-for-success projects.
Almost all the major tech companies in the world have their own bug bounty programs. These are essentially open invitations to geeks interested in testing products for possible bugs and security loopholes. These organizations reward coders who identify bugs in the system.
If you are a programmer who is well-versed with identifying bugs and hacking into systems, you could invest your time participating in such programs to identify bugs and security loopholes in the system. These projects not only pay programmers handsomely for successfully identifying bugs, but are also fantastic opportunities to build your CV and your reputation.
Amazon’s MTurk is a marketplace where users are paid a small amount of money to perform simple tasks, but if you have coding skills, these simple tasks turn into profitable opportunities for programmers.
For instance, a client would pay users a few cents to convert each row of unstructured data from a document into an organized table. In another case, a client would pay users a few cents to tag each image from their database that would help them in their search engine optimization or advertising.
As a programmer, it is possible to automate a lot of these mechanical tasks. You may build simple tools that can perform the most common tasks posted on MTurk and thus be able to execute hundreds of tasks with just a click of the button. The payout from such projects can add to several hundreds of dollars over a period of time.
Although freelancing can be a profitable venture and let you choose your hours and rate, the truth is that it is not too different from any other computer programming job.
If you are looking for a different lifestyle altogether, then you may consider packaging your programming skills into a product that you can sell. This is relatively more entrepreneurial than freelancing since your responsibilities go beyond just writing code to other facets of managing a business like marketing, customer support, and accounting.
Free Online tools
Pick an industry you are knowledgeable about and build simple tools that can make the lives of users better.
For instance, there are dozens of free online tools that help entrepreneurs with designing a logo, generating a business name, or editing videos. The idea is to create something of value and monetize the platform through ads or donations.
It is worth noting that marketing is a critical component of product success. So although your expertise may be with programming, you may also be required to master digital marketing techniques to make your product successful.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
If you are feeling ambitious, you may look at investing more time and resources into building a comprehensive enterprise, or in other words, an SaaS product.
A few points to note here: unlike the free tools discussed above, SaaS can take a lot more time and effort to build. Programmers with a day job often suffer from an inability to sustain their motivation and this is a reason why many such projects fail to take off.
In addition to this, it is also worth noting that paying customers expect SaaS businesses to continually support them. Failing to do so could lead to a bad reputation and a high number of chargebacks.
So while SaaS can seem extremely profitable, it is advisable to take on such projects only if you are fine with the time and effort required to build the product and support your customers.
This is perhaps the most traditional way to package your programming expertise as a product. Unlike earlier alternatives, there are platforms such as GitHub, CNet, and SourceForge where you can host your software for download. Given the popularity of these platforms, using them to market your software is relatively easy.
You may choose to offer your software as a free download or a paid one depending on your monetization plan. Free downloads may also be monetized through ads, donation buttons, or by integrating them with scripts that pay you for every install. These scripts offer your users the option to download additional software alongside yours. Although this is a highly popular monetization model, this is not recommended since your users may not always be aware of these add-on installations.
Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC)
There has been a paradigm shift in the way learners access knowledge. Today, millions of users worldwide access courses they are interested in through MOOC.These are courses that are made available to students over the internet, often without any fee. A lot of universities, including the likes of Stanford and Harvard have MOOC courses for anybody to access. .
As a skilled programmer, you could make a living by teaching eager learners how to code. There are several ways to do this.
You can sign up on one of the many online tutor platforms like Preply and Skooli, where you hold one-on-one sessions over the web with your learners, either over Skype or built-in video conferencing tools.
You may also mentor other software developers online with the help of tools like CodeMentor by helping them resolve bugs or optimizing their code. But the most profitable way to teach coding is through selling courses.
Online tools like Udemy or Kajabi let programmers like yourself build online courses that learners can buy. You can use these platforms to create online courses that teach coding to budding programmers. These courses may be organized into discrete chapters that may either be video-based or text based.
The advantage over tutoring is that you only invest your time building your courses once and it may be purchased by many learners. Additionally, as the creator, you set the price of your courses. The average programming course on these platforms sells for anywhere between a few dollars to a hundred dollars or more.
It is worth noting that these platforms let learners engage in discussions directly with the course creator and it is thus important for you to invest a few hours each day engaging with your learners and answering their questions.
Paving a New Path as a Programmer
The various options presented here are by no means comprehensive. They are, however, among the most profitable ways for a programmer to make money by providing their expertise as a service.
Not only that, these strategies can serve as a launchpad for a programmer who does not want to be tied down to a company and wants to dive into the world of entrepreneurship.
Is there an avenue not discussed here? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.