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.
Interns. What Are They Good For?
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.
How Should You Come up With a Software Idea?
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.
Interview Your Applicants Via Skype
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.
Special (Free) Offer – I’ll Find a Programmer For You
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!
Hey John – you’ve sure got the gift – didn’t take long to go through that internship. Next please!!
Lovely write up here. I used to have some brains for lot of softwares, but i just have to give up as I do not really know how to go about it. The thing is i know all those stuffs you wrote here, i just don’t have the money.
Excellent post John!
I’m sure that your service has the potential to be very successful. There are many entrepreneurs out there struggling to find the right developer for the job.
I believe there is also a big market for people who can translate business requirements into a technical design that a programmer understands.
For example when you want to build a house, you don’t want to work solely with brick masons, you want to work with an architect who can develop a decent plan and who is able to find the best brick masons for you.
Same counts for software development. Developers that can manage everything from collecting requirements to delivering a quality product are very hard to find and will definitely not come cheap.
Good luck with your new business, John!
Thanks Wouter, you bring up some EXCELLENT points here.
Sometimes when people hire a developer, they just assume that this individual is capable of writing code, and thus, capable of creating a completed project.
Like you said, that’s not always the case. And, a designer, programmer, UI mix in a developer is somewhat rare.
I think you’ve actually described an entire other market here. One which I may be able to serve in the future. Thank you for your thoughts!
Really Awesome post, John! Do you ever hire programmers on a flat rate rather than an hourly rate through oDesk? Personally, I prefer Elance and using a flat rate – that way I know (or at least I think I know) EXACTLY what I’m going to get at EXACTLY what price. Some really great tips in here!
I’m not against flat rates, but it’s not my preference for two reasons:
1. I’ve been on the serving end of flat-rate contracts, and have more than once been bitten in the rear by demanding clients.
2. For this reason, some of the best programmers AVOID flat-rate work. So, hourly projects help to attract talent.
I like flat-rate in that it demands more efficiency from your workers. They want to make top dollar per hour, so they work well and don’t waste time. But, I’m pretty on top of my people, and with Odesk’s time logging feature, I can keep pretty good tabs on things.
A lot of this is personal preference though.
Thanks for the compliments and for the comment!
I kind-of agree. Some programmers/designers are great at what they do, but aren’t great at estimating projects or the “business” aspect of what they do. I don’t want them to not do a great job because they feel like they’re not getting the best value.
I suppose with an hourly rate you run the risk of them running up the project, but if you pick the right person they’re not likely to do this anyway.
Very good points – really didn’t think about it from the developer’s view like that. Would be kind of tough working on a flat base, especially if the details of what’s being developed aren’t 100% precise. I’m a bit afraid of having to “baby sit” a developer when they’re doing it hourly, but as Justin said below, as long as you find a good and honest developer in the first place you won’t have to worry about it.
Hey John i like the idea of your niche…same as head hunting for app development…unless you know that area well enough its hard to get someone to recruit for the position well enough (we try to avoid those type position and may be able to send some potential clients your way), VA’s, SEO graphic design and web design are generally not so hard to find if you have a good HR manager. Id love to see a proper sales page on your site once you put a price tag on your gig, I think it could be effective like a video, some testimonials and make that page a static home page…. then your in business. If this all works out would be a great deal of help for you to get a HR with experience in hiring programmers so you can scale better. Get them to do all the initial grunt work of finding applicants. All the best with it mate
Hey thanks Matt!
The response has been a little too good! Having to really sort through people now.
If this does well, I can see scaling being a challenge, but I think you’ve got the right idea there.
Video is probably a really good idea for this. Hmm, I wonder if I might be able to use some of my conversations from the trials and whatnot in order to put something together. We’ll see.
Thanks for the reply amigo. Talk to you later! 🙂
Great work John! We will have to make you do more “guest posts” in the future!
Hey, you know where to find me buddy. 😉
I’m consulting with a client who wants to outsource software development. One thing I’d encourage everyone to do is to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper, or onto the screen. Wireframes, mockups, and screenshots are gold when you’re discussing something that hasn’t been built yet.
The client and I were struggling with writing our feature requests. Finally, I said, “You know what? Let’s take screenshots of websites that already do the things we want for our site.”
Each screenshot was a clear example, i.e. “Yes! That’s what I was talking about!” Below each screenshot, we pointed out what we wanted. Doing this made it easier for everyone: for the client, for me, and the development team. They could look at the pictures and see what we meant. Not sure about the copyright issues, though. Ha ha.
Justin had a cool tip in the podcast on hiring virtual assistants. Add a “gotcha!” instruction to the job description to catch people who copy-and-paste their applications. Make it something small like, “Please write ‘codejob’ in the beginning of the subject line of your message.” Then with one glance at your inbox, you can delete all the bad candidates didn’t pay attention.
37signals, the company behind Basecamp and other web applications, have distilled their advice into a free e-book called “Getting Real.” The talk about how to manage programming projects. A lot of their philosophy applies to any kind of product development and bootstrap entrepreneurship. It’s all in plain English, so good to read before you hire programmers.
There’s another book that comes highly recommended called, “Dreaming in Code” by Scott Rosenberg. It’s about how things can go wrong when you have a big new idea but no clear directions. For a more funny take, there’s
“Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager” by Michael Lopp.
I’d also strongly encourage entrepreneurs to plan ahead how they’ll handle tech support. Your customers will always find problems, no matter how extensively you test. Decide if you’ll need a ticketing system, a separate dedicated support e-mail address (do not use your personal e-mail!), forums, etc.
Some of the best support experiences I’ve had were with premium WordPress themes that provided video tutorials and step-by-step documentation with screenshots. Allowed me to self-diagnose problems and not have to contact tech support as much. But even with the best instructional material, you’ll still need to organize how the customer should contact you.
Good luck with WhatTheDev, John.
Wow, some great tips in here Marcus. Thanks for taking the time to post this and add in some excellent information.
Yeah, I’ve read the book by 37 Signals, and I second it as a great resource.
I’ll have to look into some of those other titles you mentioned.
I agree that screen shots of working sites with features you’re trying to build really help to facilitate communication. I use Camtasia quite regularly as well, as it saves me quite a bit of time editing and messing around with images.
One thing I personally like to do is build out a simple UI version of something with jQuery or HTML, take a video of it, and then send that to my developer. Then he can go through and make everything work on the back-end (which is usually more time consuming).
Anyway, thanks for weighing in here! Great to hear from you.
Very well written article, John! Justin & Joe should no longer completely rule out “guest posts”, now that you have broken the ice.
I’m sure the information is relevant to a lot of readers, and should inspire many more into the potential for both software development as well as yet another application of successful outsourcing techniques & practices.
The “inside information” you have shared also gives a great view of how your internship has evolved into a collaboration on these projects, and an interesting insight into a mutually beneficial and productive working relationship.
I am looking forward to hearing more about IntelliTheme, as it becomes available, and I’m sure it will be an exciting product launch for all of you (and even for Damian! LOL). Thankfully… I’m sure you guys will keep us all informed here at Adsense Flippers… so I won’t have to read about it on Reddit. 😉
I am glad I got to meet you guys, and look forward to getting a chance to keep in touch in the future.
You’ve been very gracious in your compliments!
The internship has definitely taken some interesting twists and turns, and it’s been a fantastic experience for me.
We’ll make sure to keep everyone up to date on IntelliTheme. Things are progressing nicely now, so, we should have some more information in the next month or two!
Take it easy!
Guest posts are good 🙂 But your part of the “team” anyway so we should hear more from you.
I found the article usefull and it outlines the major steps and motivations to developing software for adsense flippers and your methodolgy.
Having run a software house Im all to familiar with hireing programmers and their nuances (read funny little ways/demands for high pay, which of course the great ones are worth) so the hiring guide was pretty fair i felt.
I like many other will be intrested to see if you do a beta launch (highly recommended) for the Theme and also the 1st page eval tool (ha sit a name yet).. Im concerned tha the theme will struggle to make “decisions” which are as good as mine when the volumes of hits is low (less than 300 a month) with high traffic sites (3K+) i can see it working better.
Additionally their is a real market for an end to end process tool that could take seed keywords and end with an installed configured wordpress site ready for content. There are so many variable in a wordpress install which for micro niche sites we simply dont need.
At present this is doable with 2-3 pieces of software and a lot of human intervention. With great coding I can see the human only being need to decided upon the keyword selection.
Your internship seems to be going well and hopefully will lead to a long term collaboration.
Glad you liked the post!
We will certainly have a Beta launch. At this point it’s looking like the Theme will be released internally, then to maybe 20 – 30 people we trust. After that there will be a limited beta and then a public version.
You’re right, in that the theme needs a certain amount of data in order to reach accurate settings, but we’re still finding it helpful on sites that get lower traffic numbers. I would like to get into more details, but it’s still a little hush-hush! 🙂
The internship is going great, and I have no doubt Justin, Joe and I will remain in contact for business, friendship or otherwise long into the future. This has been a great experience for me. Thanks for the comment!
Thats good to know. let me know if i can opt in on the beta.
Joe and I have been talking about the “end to end process” you mentioned for quite a while…over a year now I think. We were mentioning it internally as the “All-In-One” service.
We were thinking it would be a system you’d log into and be able to order keyword research, order site setup, order content through API’s and have it delivered, order linkbuilding, etc. Either using packages or potentially having al-la-mode services.
Thinking about it….we weren’t sure the market was large enough. If we charged a monthly fee for the service, we might be charging the hobbyists too much and power users too little. We considered charging on a piece-by-piece basis, but realized we’d be seriously opening ourselves up for someone disruptive to put it out there for much cheaper.
I don’t hate the idea still. Ultimately, if it could “replace” 3-5 of our agents on the project that would be a significant savings. (We wouldn’t replace, most likely…just boost production) Even if we didn’t sell it, we might save enough internally to make the production worth it.
We’ve talked to at least two people over the last couple of months that were building such a system. One of them dropped the project to focus on something else, but the other is still building it out as far as I know.
I’m mixed on the idea, honestly…
Thats not quite my idea! For me the pain lies in the process steps from feeding seedkeywords in ltpro, evaluating, extracting, running through the 1st page eval, feeding the 5/5 into godaddy, feeding the domains into hosting, doing the site steup work.. phew tahts a pain.. ordering the articles and ordering (or doing) backlinking packages is easy after all that.
So what if we could “feed” a system 100 seed keywords and a period of time later (who cares say a few days even) it came back say 50 domains that meet all our criteria.
Then all that would be left is the decision on which to buy. A manual review of the data and a personal eval of 1st page (even after a process theres still that gut feeling thing). pushthebuy button and order the articles.
Thats got to be interesting BUT i figure the cost mght be to high.
If anybody is working on this and is looking for input I’d share.
I need a programmer fairly soon for one of my upcoming projects, so I’ll be sure to pop by and get hooked up! Sounds great
Great Marc. Shoot me a message when you get some time! I’ve gotten a great response so far.
Great article, John. The demand for “web developer brokers” – ie virtual talent agents – is set to explode with the availability of cheap programming labor.
Keep us updated on your progress!
Yeah, it’s definitely a big market, with more and more players entering the game all the time. It’s hard to say exactly what direction all of this will go in, but I’m excited to take the ride.
We’ll do! 🙂
I want to hear more about that boxing ring photo where Justin about to assault John with a chair. Is that Justin’s way of inspiring the intern?
Good to hear everything is going well. Also, good work with the launch John.
Just another motivational beating! 🙂 I like how it’s next to “Interns. What are they good for” lol
Thanks Ian. What can I say, you gotta let the boss release the rage once in a while. 😉
Thanks for the compliments. I’ve had a great response so far. Looking forward to seeing how things develop.
FIRST! This is reddit, right?
All jokes aside, brilliant post.
The very brief look I have been lucky enough to get of Intellitheme looks awesome, and John knows his shiz.
Great first guest post on AF, it is nice to finally have a decent writer on this site (ok I guess not all of the jokes were over).
Thanks man. Much appreciated. I’m excited to hear people’s thoughts!
Damn you, Damian!! 🙂 Seriously…Reddit’s been a huge timesuck for me lately. Really interesting, but not very useful! lol