Week 51: Some ideas to make money

Running a little late this week

It’s twelve days since I sent out the first of these weekly updates. Which means I’m more than a little late. I can see I’m going to have to be a little bit more organised here.

Part of the problem, I think is that there’s not actually very much to report. I took a couple of days off over my birthday to do tourist things in London and then, the following weekend, I decided I needed to recharge my mental batteries before starting again, so I spent a couple of nights down on the Dorset coast. And, in both cases, I rejigged my working week so that I allocated most of the time I had left to my part-time freelancing job. All of which means I haven’t, yet, dedicated much time to this project.

But there is some progress. On the journey back from Dorset I talked through one of my projects with my business partner and came up with several ideas. Before I get into those, let’s take a higher-level look at the project.

A Brief Introduction to More Than Code

More Than Code is the book I was working on when the pandemic struck in March 2020. It’s loosely based on a workshop I ran at the European Perl Conference in Glasgow in 2018. The workshop was called “The Professional Programmer” and the idea was to talk to programmers about the bits of their job that weren’t actually designing and writing code.

Over three or four hours we traced a route from very technical things like source code control, editors and databases past useful techniques like SCRUM and design patterns and ending on “fluffy” topics like building a career and personal branding. The attendees all seemed to enjoy it and find it useful and, over the rest of the conference, a couple of people approached me and suggested that I should think about doing more presentations along the same lines.

So that’s why it became my March 2020 project. I figured that if my small slice of the programming community found it useful, then maybe a book on the subject would be interesting to a far larger community (and, perhaps, people who were thinking about programming as a career).

The plan was to write 3,000 words a day. That would have got me most of the way to a book that I planned to sell through Amazon and other ebook services. I also thought that I could run seminars on the subject.

Of course, Covid stopped me from delivering on that plan. But I did get 18,000 words written before I ground to a halt. And, reviewing them over the last week, I see that most of them are pretty good words.

Moving Forward

I still think that More Than Code is a good idea, so it’s one of the projects that I’m going to be pressing on with over this year. Of course, at a basic level, the plan remains the same - write another 60,000 words or so on the subject. But I think there’s a bit more to it than that. And that’s what I was discussing with my friend on the way back from Dorset.

The big difference that contractors (like me) have to deal with when moving to a more entrepreneurial mindset is that it’s no longer about trading your time for money. Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve done pretty well at selling my time to many different companies. I turn up at their office for a day and sprinkle a little modern Perl magic over their codebase and they pay me some money. But that doesn’t scale. There are only a certain number of days in a year and there’s a limit to how much I can make by writing Perl for a day.

We need to think about moving to a model where we’re selling a product that doesn’t use up my time. Something that can be making money even when I’m asleep. The book is a good start in that direction. But only a massive optimist would suggest that a technical book could bring in as much income as a contractor does in a year.

My next thought was seminars. I can run public courses on the subject, or sell my services to a company and go in-house for a day, talking to their employees about their careers. But we’re back at trading time for money. I mean, yes, hopefully, my time would be more valuable in that scenario and I’d be able to charge quite a lot more for each day’s work. But I wouldn’t be working every day and, let’s face it, a seminar on technical careers isn’t going to sell out the Albert Hall.

So I think that’s a possibility. But it’s only really a stepping-stone to the next couple of ideas - selling videos and e-learning on the same subject.

Videos are the obvious next step. You can start by just recording a talk. But the problem with a video is the same as you get with a book - it’s very static. The first time you read a technical book, you might read it straight through. If it’s a useful book, you might later refer to particular sections when you have certain problems to solve. It’s not a very interactive way to learn.

But e-learning is better. With e-learning, you can change the route through the course depending on how the user is doing. They can choose their own way through the course. It’s far more interactive and, therefore, you find that more of the knowledge is retained by the student.

I also think that companies will pay more for e-learning. Whereas a company might buy two or three copies of a book for their technical library, you can sell them e-learning on a per-seat basis - and then they can make it available to everyone through their in-house learning portal.

Ultimately, I think I’ll end up with a hybrid strategy:

* Books sold through standard channels

* Seminars (both public and in-house)

* Videos of seminars

* E-learning

What do you think? Is this a service that you think you (or your company) might be interested in? What format would you want it in? Have I missed a useful format?

Of course, this all relies on me having the material ready. And that’s why the first order of business is to finish writing the book - which isn’t a trivial task!

More next week,