In the TV show Arrested Development, character George Bluth Sr. repeatedly reassures his son Michael, that no matter what other dire financial mishaps are occurring to the comically mis-managed family business, “there’s always money in the banana stand”. Arrested Development is a comedy of errors, so the message is misunderstood, to predictably (and hilariously) disastrous ends. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it.
That phrase, though, has stuck with me: there’s always money in the banana stand. For many years I’ve had my own banana stand. Having it has substantially changed my relationship with employment.
I’m a software developer by trade. I’ve slung code either as an employee or as an independent consultant for over two decades. But around ten years ago, I started selling e-books about programming. At the time it was a way to recoup the time and energy I had sunk into researching conference talks, as well as a way to expand on the topics of those talks.
E-books expanded to screencasts, and then to courses. I found myself with a diversified product income that sometimes rivalled or even exceeded what I could expect from a developer’s salary.
As a result, gaps between gigs haven’t felt like “unemployment” for a long time. Instead, they are opportunities to work on my education business. Recently, a major gig I’d been looking forward to fell through at the last second. Once I worked through the disappointment, I was like: “welp, there’s always money in the banana stand!”
From time to time I find myself advising others in how to start or expand their own banana stands. There are some bits of advice and explanation that I repeat a lot. I thought maybe I’d start trying to capture some of these concepts in a series of posts here.
Of course, there’s lots of info out there already on so-called “side hustles” (a term I despise). I’m far from authoritative, or an expert. In fact as independent content creators go, I’m lazy, haphazard, un-optimized, often anxiety-ridden, and overwhelmed. But, I think maybe that makes my perspective useful to some people? If I can be this much of a mess and still have a successful banana stand, maybe you can too.
I do want to acknowledge my privilege, though, before I go any further. Most of the hustle-porn hype out there is made by (and implicitly for) white male cisgender abled middle-class people with few or no caregiving responsibilities.
I made a hojillion dollars selling golf swing advice from my couch, and you can too!*
(*so long as you are an energetic, charismatic suburban white guy like myself, with free time I’d otherwise spend on video games, and a partner who picks up all the slack, I love you Barbara you’re the light of my life)— Every Hustle Guru Ever
I fall pretty close to the center of this demographic, modulo some extra caregiving along the way. I try to at least acknowledge the implicit privilege in what I do, but feel free to point out if I ever make assumptions I shouldn’t.
I also have a very particular point of view: I know (a little) about selling “information products” to software developers. I don’t know jack about selling to, say, knitters. Or about selling physical products. Or much of anything outside of my own little niche.
I do know that software developers and other IT nerds have both a leg-up (because our tech-savvy carries over to many of the tools and processes involved in a content business) and a disadvantage (because we often have preconceptions about How To Do Technical Things that are just… not right for running a business). If you’re a nerd like me, I might have some things to tell you.
Anyway, let’s get started with arguably the most important concept of all: Your Mailing List.