Diversified Income: Building Software And Sites As Non-Programmers
I’m usually not a fan of guest posts. Don’t get me wrong…there are rare instances where the post turns out to be epic, but for the most part they feel overly promotional and there’s a hint that the blog owner’s just being lazy…finding another way to not have to come up with original content.
While I can be a bit lazy :-) this guest post from our Intern, John DeVries, gives a detailed look behind the scenes at our diversification strategy and our thoughts on product development and hiring the right staff. John has started his own blog, WhatTheDev.com where he goes into detail about how to find the right developer/designer/programmer for your projects. Make sure to check out his (limited) free offer to find you a developer for your next project…for free!
Now…over to John!
How I Came to The Philippines
7 months ago I was riding my motorcycle across the United States. At the time, I didn’t know where I was going to be 3 days in the future. I most certainly didn’t expect to end up in the Philippines. But, as often happens in life, an unexpected opportunity arose that I couldn’t turn down.
I specifically remember the job posting the AdSense Flippers made on Tropical Workforce, and why it drew my attention. Specifically, these guys were looking for someone with WordPress development experience, and possibly some design skills. When I read that, I thought to myself, “Hey! That’s me. I should apply, this could be an awesome experience.”
One month, one interview, one phone call, and one very long flight later, I was sitting in a cab with Justin and Joe. And, while I watched Davao City whiz by out the window, I wondered what it was I would actually end up doing out here.
Initially, I was set to learn all about niche sites, (and more specifically) how Justin and Joe go about flipping them. Our original idea for my internship was to outline that process in an ebook, which I did. Following that I was going to go to work doing some testing on the AdSense Flippers’ niche sites, and possibly build out a WordPress Theme.
However, not long after our ebook, ‘Building a Niche Site Empire’ was released, Google shook things up with Penguin. And, even though we’re still over here creating and selling sites like hotcakes, it became very clear that some diversification of our revenue was worth pursuing.
In truth, I was actually quite surprised with the stoicism Joe and Justin approached ‘The Penguin’ with. While the Internet Marketing Community went into full-on freakout mode, Joe and Justin held their hand of cards and waited out the storm.
Shortly after, they sold sites. 17k of them.
Still, the AdSense Flippers brought me out here in part to help them create and sell things (aside from niche sites). I.e., diversification.
Diversifying the AdSense Flippers’ Income With Software
Obviously, if we were going to set about making money via a different medium, we were going to need a product or service.
For us (and for you), software is an obvious diversification choice for a number of reasons:
- It’s relatively cheap to build (no physical production or manufacturing)
- No inventory.
- It can be changed and adjusted on the fly.
- The creation can, more or less, be outsourced.
- You can use it to solve problems WITHIN your current business. So, even if the application or tool is a complete bust in terms of sales, you can still get value out of it in your own business.
- You can sell it as many times as you want, without having to ship anything.
In our particular case, it was pretty easy to decide what to build. The AdSense Flippers own around 1700 niche AdSense Sites. Some of these sites are earning quite well, others are just getting by. However, as you browse through the sites, it’s pretty clear that many of them are leaving money on the table.
Imagine if there was a way to increase the average earnings of a site (even by small margin say 10%). Not only would we be able to bank the extra income while we own the websites, we would also be able to sell them for more money (since they’re earning more).
Enter stage left: IntelliTheme.
Split testing 1500 sites isn’t really realistic. And, even though there would be value in putting sites into groups and testing them for ad placement, design changes, etc… that still involves a great deal of time and energy.
But what if we could create a piece of software that did the testing and optimizing FOR us? It was with this question that our WordPress Theme began to take shape.
So, we had a software idea on our hands.
In truth, I would recommend that you approach the creation of software and applications with the same mindset.
What problems do you currently have in your business that an application could solve? What kinds of process are being done by people that could be done by a computer? If you can build something that is extraordinarily helpful for you, chances are, there are other people in the world who would also benefit from your creation.
And, if by chance you don’t manage to move many copies of your software, you will still see a significant return on your investment (since it solves a problem for you)..
Actually, as a general rule, I wouldn’t even try and build a website or piece of software that you don’t personally want to use.
Defining the Project
At this stage, we sat down to hash out exactly what our WordPress theme was going to look like.
This is extremely important, and can’t be overstated. You definitely need to craft some type of roadmap that you can use to keep everyone on the same page.
There are a few things to note about this process:
- Don’t obsess over how this is done. A piece of paper or Google Document will do. Project management software is nice when you have a complicated project to manage. But if you’re doing this on a relatively small scale (and I assume you are since this is likely your first development project), just keep it simple.
- Make sure EVERYONE is on the same page and is heard. Figure out how many people are going to be involved in the actual direction and decision making process of this software project, and sit them all down. Hopefully it’s just a few people. Regardless, make sure everyone gets multiple opportunities to make suggestions. You want everyone to express their own opinions about what this piece of software is going to do, how it’s going to work, and what features it will have. Building software is a bit like building houses. You can always make changes to the layout and design, but they get more and more costly as the project progresses. If everyone is on the same page from day one, you will save yourself some big headaches later.
- Involve the fewest amount of people possible. Every time you add another person to your project, you add a whole new set of ideas, opinions, needs, wants, etc…
And, every new opinion, need, want, etc… ultimately becomes 100 – 1000 lines of code. Lines of code cost money, take time, and add complexity. You want to make money, deliver a solution to a problem, save cash, and to get your product on the market quickly. All the same principles you used to build your business in the first place – software is no different.
My recommendation is to outline your project in very specific stages, starting with the most simple version of the program or website that you can conceive. That’s an entire article in and of itself, but you can learn more about managing your first development project on my blog.
How to Hire Programmers and Developers
Once you have an outline of your project, it’s time to get a developer.
On a side note, the terms ‘developer’ and ‘programmer‘ are somewhat synonymous in the web and software development industry. I will be using them interchangeably in this post.
There are plenty of places online to search for a developer, but I highly recommend Odesk. Here’s why:
- You can easily review feedback, hours worked, etc…
- There are a plethora of developers
- Automated screenshots track their work
- Odesk takes care of payments for you
Describe Your Project
I’m often amazed at some of the high priced (yet under-sold) development projects posted on Odesk.
This is a job posting. You want qualified, interested and intelligent candidates to apply. And they aren’t going to apply if they don’t unerstand what you’re looking for, or, if they think you will be difficult to communicate with. Writing a descriptive job posting is a way for you to exemplify your ability to communicate. Secondly, you are not hiring for the Pentagon. There is no need for secrecy or vagueness.
Explain EXACTLY what the project will be, what skills will be needed, how much you’re willing to pay, and what sort of individual you are in search of. This will save you time (by attracting quality candidates) and will allow you to recruit more effectively.
If you do not understand your project, the programming languages it will be written in, and roughly what is involved in its creation, you are not ready to hire a programmer. You have research to do.
Google is your friend here. Start researching what kinds of technology might run the application you’re looking to build. It shouldn’t take you more than 2 – 5 hours (and maybe some forum posts) to get a pretty good idea. If this relm is extremely foreign to you, hire a consultant to help get you up to speed. It really is vital that you understand what’s going on if you’re the one hiring and managing the project..
Once your project is posted on Odesk, go out and actively search for applicants.
Just by posting your job publicly, you will gather numerous applications from freelance programmers, don’t get too excited. Many of these individuals will not be qualified, or, will not be an ideal fit.
You want an ideal fit.
So, it’s time to get out there and search. Spend 2 – 4 hours digging through the web developers and programmers on Odesk and invite the best ones to your job.
Filter your search by rating, hours worked, english skills, and coding language tests. Not by price. Price is subjective, in that, an intelligent and speedy programmer who charges $30 / hour might actually be cheaper than the crummy, slow programmer who charges $15 / hour.
I’m surprised how many people don’t do this. You’re looking to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars getting your website or software tool built. Why would you not want to talk to this person first?
If a programmer won’t do a Skype interview with you, do not hire them. If they are late or make excuses – do not hire them. This is a job interview.
Hiring is a skill in and of itself. I’m lucky in that I have two mentors who are quite good at it. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way though, here are my best tips when it comes to interviewing programmers:
- Start the interview by getting the conversation rolling – the usual jargon: ‘Where do you live? What’s it like there?’ Etc… You want to get a feel for this individual. Do they have normal social skills? Do they understand you? Are your communication styles similar enough for a complex project? If you can’t have a conversation about their hometown, it’s going to be tough to hash out design and programming details.
- Ask about any experience they have which specifically relates to your project. Do they see any problems with what you’re trying to accomplish? Do they feel the work is within their skill level?
- Ask about their availability. Do they have too many clients? Are they overbooked right now? Are there any major life events coming up that might impact their ability to get your work done? Are they moving soon? Having a baby? Medical problems? This isn’t usually a problem if the individual has logged a lot of hours on Odesk, but if someone is just starting out, you might want to ensure they have some stability.
- Finally, make sure you bring up any kind of negative feedback they may have on their profile. It doesn’t necessarily matter that they have negative feedback of some kind, what matters is how they handle it. Do they talk poorly of the client? Does it sound like some kind of childish feud? If at some point over the course of your project there is a miscommunication (and there will be) you want to know that this person will handle it intelligently, fairly and respectfully.
Make Your Choice
If you interview 3 to 6 developers, you should have one or two candidates that you feel are personable, friendly and capable. Pick one of them!
Now it’s time to give them their first real test. Start them off on your project by giving them a very simple task to complete. For an advanced developer, this will likely be somewhat frustrating, as they will expect some REAL work from you. But, it’s important to start simple. This helps you figure out what the best way is to communicate with them. It helps them see how you work. And, it keeps the initial expenditures very low, so you can both make a few mistakes without much skin in the game.
Usually this first job is 2 – 6 hours long, and consists of some simple feature or outline of your program or website.
Once that’s done, you should be in a position where you have a competent, capable and friendly programmer to turn your software idea into a reality.
Still Don’t Feel Confident Hiring a Developer?
I know for a lot of people, the task of going out and finding programmers to work for them can seem somewhat daunting. If you’ve had some negative experiences with outsourcers and freelancers in the past, or, if you simply aren’t well versed in Internet based technology, coding languages, etc… It can be a difficult thing to do. Or, maybe you don’t take issue with any of that, you’re just short on time.
The programmers I’ve hired and interviewed for the AdSense Flippers have worked out smashingly. And, it occurred to me a few weeks ago that perhaps other people could benefit from my expertise in this area.
Soon, I will be offering my services as a programming headhunter, finding qualified and professional programmers for other people’s projects. However, I would like to build up a small list of past clients and testimonials first. So, I’m offering this service for free (temporarily). Click here to check it out!
If you have a website, web application or software tool that you’re ready to build (or even an ongoing need for a programmer), but you’re not sure you’ll be able to find the BEST developer for your job, contact me. I might be able to help you out. And, for now, it won’t cost you anything. :-)
John has been here with us in the Philippines for almost five months now and I can honestly say that his work has really helped to drive our business. We’re often told that we “lucked out” with him and we’re excited to see him branching out and offering his own services as well.
This is a no-strings-attached offer, but it is limited. (We still need him helping with our stuff!) Please feel free to contact him to get your next project off the ground.
Did you like this post? What do you think about our diversification into tools and products? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter!