How to Turn Your Open Source Project into a Stable Income Stream | by Shalitha Suranga | Aug, 2021

You may maintain several open source projects. Ever thought of making money from it?

Coins growing in cup
Photo by Visual Stories || Micheile on Unsplash

Programmers often spend their free time on personal software development projects. Many programmers turn their experiments and innovative ideas into open source projects that everyone can use for free. The majority of the open source projects on GitHub were made for developers by developers. In other words, programmers can integrate most open source projects with their software projects by saving additional development time. Moreover, there are many open source developer tools to make developer’s life easier.

Programmers often work with open source projects as a hobby, like me. However, we work with our open source projects while working with a software engineering job that helps to pay our bills. Therefore, undoubtedly, we can spend more time on our open source projects if those projects help us to pay our bills.

I make a considerable amount of money with my open source projects. In this story, I will guide you on how you can turn your open source project into an income stream without losing the existing community.

Behind every successful open source project, there is an engineering problem that everybody needs to solve. For example, The project got more than 18k GitHub stargazers within three months. It introduced a way to write Bash-like shell scripts with JavaScript. The Bash scripting language is indeed slow and not developer-friendly. Every programmer often struggles with shell scripts when the script’s logic becomes complex because Bash is not a general-purpose language. The zx project solved a problem that the majority of developers face.

You need to ensure that your project is successful before you think about the monetization process. Your open source project’s success depends on the size of your developer audience. If you get frequent feature requests, feedback, and questions in your open source project’s communication channels, congrats, you can continue to the next step. Otherwise, make sure that your open source project solves a problem that the majority of developers face. Also, make sure to maintain a clean and up-to-date website and documentation.

Programmers search for open source frameworks and libraries to include them in various sorts of projects. Not all programmers integrate your open source projects with hobby projects, and they may often try to integrate your project with enterprise software systems. Therefore, you need to make your open source project production-ready to support enterprise integrations. Production-ready refers to well-designed, well-documented, maintainable, scalable, stable, less-error prone, and full-featured software modules.

Make sure that your open source project has the above requirements. Otherwise, test your project thoroughly, refactor your codebase, and add more features to satisfy enterprise-level requirements. Check the following story to verify your coding skills because the quality of your open source project depends on them.

Now, I will guide you to make an income stream from your open source project. Make sure to verify the above two points before continuing because the income stream’s success depends on those crucial facts. There are many monetization methods (also known as open source business models) for open source projects: paid developer support, freemium (paid premium services), subscriptions via SaaS (Software as a Service), crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, and donation-based models. These models have different characteristics, and each one comes with different pros and cons.

I researched many open source monetization models. Finally, I found that the donation-based model works perfectly with our personal open source projects. It doesn’t affect your existing community. On the other hand, other monetization methods affect your community directly because those models make the payment action compulsory even though your project is open source. The donation-based model accepts payments keeping the exact freedom you gave to the community.

Your project needs to make some considerable impact on the developer community to get donations. Your project might not get more donations at the first phase. Therefore, we need a backup income stream aligned with the main donation-based model to keep you motivated. It’s great if you can combine a purely passive income stream like advertising with your donation-based model. These are theoretical approaches. I will explain how I practically made an income stream to my open source project.

Now we know how to build a theoretical income stream with advertising and donations. Let’s build a practical one. First, you need to choose from where you are going to accept donations. I chose Patreon because of its simplicity and transparency. Add your donation platform’s link to your project’s website and repositories. Initially, make sure to add a bit of low monthly donation tiers, such as $2, $5, and $10. The reason is that anyone may tend to donate such amounts for your effort. Always thank your donors in every release you make to motivate them to continue the donation subscription.

The second step is to integrate an advertising platform into your open source project’s website. We always build our open source projects’ documentations and websites with static website generators. Choose a static website generator where you can place some ad blocks easily. I chose Docusaurus because of its simplicity and flexibility.

Choose an open source-friendly advertising platform. Google AdSense doesn’t fit well with the open source project’s websites. Platforms like EthicalAds and Carbon Ads were made especially for open source projects. I chose EthicalAds because it offers a higher revenue share compared to the Carbon platform.

I selected the donation-based model to make the income stream because I wanted to ensure the existing developer community’s freedom. The world’s largest open source organization, which is known as Apache Software Foundation (ASF), also uses the donation-based model to cover its expenses. The people who gather around your open source project make it successful every day with various contributions. Some people may decide to make financial contributions to your open source project by making donations.

If you need to make an income stream with your open source project — make sure that you solve a problem, make it production-ready, accept donations, integrate an open source-friendly advertising platform, and keep improving your project every day. It takes time to get this income stream working. My open source income stream generates a monthly amount closer to $100. I hope it will make more revenue someday.

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