How I Built an Online Business That Any Software Developer Could Build

My Spoke-And-Wheel Business Model Inspired By James Altucher

Back in April 2020 I started getting worried. The world was turning upside down for most people, significant (and apparently not temporary) layoffs were happening across the U.S., and even those of us fortunate enough to be able to work from home were not safe.

On top of this, my year-to-year contract had recently turned month-to-month. Nothing says doom approaches like contracts going monthly. I did the prudent thing: I turned to building my development portfolio.

I had long had an interest in starting a dev blog simply to improve my skillset. I had also heard from friends, podcasts, and everywhere else that when you start an online business, you create the opportunity for serendipity. Perhaps a new job, friend, or passion will find you.

In my case, it was a new passion. I am motivated by view stats, mastering SEO, comments, and the allure of “what could be”. None of my accomplishments in the corporate world compare to the satisfaction I get from creating something from nothing in my online business.

How I Turned My Software Developer Portfolio Into A Business (The Wheel)

After reading about the benefits of syndicating articles on Medium, I began to focus on Medium and experimented with publications. I enjoyed the spike of views an article gets upon curation or publication acceptance, but I cared most about the long term performance of articles. That’s when I realized a fact that became the cornerstone of my business: Medium’s Domain Score in Google.

UberSuggest Keyword Research
Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest

This is a screenshot from Ubersuggest, a freemium keyword research tool. I searched for ‘material-ui grid’ (a grid from a popular React component library). Notice the DS column in the Keyword Overview section. Medium has a DS of 98 which ranks higher than….Stack Overflow?!?

This does not mean my article is shown in Google results above an SO article. As seen above, my article is estimated at #8 in Google results. But take Medium’s high DS, add in some great content, and we have a recipe for getting significant Google traffic.

This content, specifically hosted on Medium and benefitting from the platform’s high Domain Score, is the ‘Wheel’ of my Spoke-And-Wheel business. Many online businesses follow a Spoke-and-Wheel business, but I like how James Altucher defined it: the Wheel is a core idea with many ‘Spokes’ (other lines of business) benefitting from it. The Wheel drives the philosophy (and traffic), the spokes make the money.

This leads to the next question: If publishing content on Medium is the Wheel, what type of content should a developer target? The answer is, find an ‘infinite niche’. An infinite niche is specialized enough that you can develop expertise on the topic and your portfolio has a consistent topical theme. It is infinite if you will never run out of content, i.e. there’s always new tech to research, unlimited examples to create, unending reviews to write.

Here’s my niche: I create examples from popular React libraries. I have written ‘Intro to…’ a number of libraries. I write about difficulties I encountered when trying to customize a component (usually styling related). I occasionally compare two competitors. The best part is, next year there will be a fresh batch of libraries to explore with new articles.

One more item of interest: I experimented with hosting an article on Medium and hosting the same article on my own site. The gap below, around mid-August, is when I set my site as the primary for this article and set Medium as secondary for Google using a canonical link. I found that traffic to the article was about twice as strong when Medium was the primary.

Stats from Medium Article
Override Textfield Border Color stats

Also, notice the upward trend of views? Organic Google search is a gift that keeps on giving.

How To Make Money From A Software Development Portfolio (The Spokes)

My portfolio of dev articles on Medium is a free marketing machine that draws traffic to my business.

These are the Spokes that branch out from Medium:

  • eBooks
  • Affiliate links for those eBooks (a spoke in its own right)
  • YouTube (this could be a Wheel in its own right)

The eBooks I write are dev-specific topics, such as my book “300 JavaScript Interview Questions”. But before I write a book, I will write an article on the topic such as “50 Difficult JavaScript Interview Questions”. The article is the marketing machine that draws organic search traffic. It also shows me what level of interest there is in a topic.

I add a YouTube video for some of the bigger articles I write. The Medium article is essentially a script for the video; since I did the work for the article, I may as well multiply its reach with an hour more of effort creating the video. In YouTube, in the Video Details section, I will add an affiliate link to a relevant eBook. Eventually my channel will be large enough to directly monetize through ads; the traffic from Medium to YouTube is a good start towards that goal.

These are the Spokes I will eventually pursue:

  • Premium content such as video courses
  • Coaching/Consulting opportunities (via a landing page on my website)

Medium, YouTube, and eBooks have long-tail payoffs. Consulting opportunities can be turned on or off as cash flow needs arise. This is an area I look forward to exploring as my content and confidence levels increase.

I mentioned Medium is a free marketing machine. In fact, it’s better than free; I get paid when Medium members read my articles. However, my goal is Google traffic, not member traffic. Because of this, my CPM strictly from Medium articles is relatively low (maybe 0.2 cents per view). Remember, in this particular “Spoke-And-Wheel” model, Medium’s primary function is to drive marketing via organic search traffic.

Making Money From Ads on a Software Development Blog

This is a new section added in November 2021. Previously I thought that Medium was the best Wheel/Hub for building an online business. In the year since this article was originally published, I’ve discovered the following critical fact: I can write content on my own site, rank in Google, and make more money per view from ads than I can writing on Medium. I run through the simple math of a profitable software development blog here.

The primary “spokes” I’ve developed in the past year are:

  • Udemy affiliates
  • YouTube

There is a great Material-UI course on Udemy that I recommend. Despite my expectation that affiliate sales would be a significant portion of my income, I make 10X more from ads than from affiliate commissions.

I recently decided to publish one video per week on YouTube. I will eventually reach the coveted 1000 subscriber mark and be able to monetize with ads. Until then, however, I do not make anything here. What Udemy and YouTube have taught me is that developers like to learn via video (the failure of my ebooks taught me this as well).

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