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programmatic income

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When it comes to the web, programming, automation, and income, this is what I’ve learned.

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You can make money in three ways.

One is by trading; that is, buying something of value, holding onto it while it appreciates, and then selling it later for a profit. This tends to require some strategy, so it’s not complete in itself; you need the appreciable item, and you need a strategy to know when to buy it. You need both elements to make this work, and while finding something to trade is easy, finding a strategy that works is harder.

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Two is by arbitrage; something that *already* has value, but you buy it one place, and then immediately ‘flip’ it for a profit. Of course, there aren’t too many items that are available for this, since the market is already very friendly to selling goods online, and finding goods that qualify – that haven’t had their margins eroded to 0 already – is hard. Because if you can buy it and resell it just like that, then the people who are selling it you may eventually wise up and cut out the middleman. Not always, though. Finding goods you can do arbitrage on is the real work here.

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Three is by production. You create something, and people buy it. Here, your challenge is to find that something to sell, market it (the hardest part – this is the ‘meat’ of the business right here), and then, of course, profit. Since manufacturing isn’t an easy area to break into, the easiest way is to write, and sell your writing. Of course, finding a topic to write and sell about is hard work in itself. So that’s your task, right there.

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Three ways, three approaches. I’ll start from the top.

For trading, there’s stocks and currency. Notice the difference here in leverage, or margin; with stocks you’re usually buying and holding, whereas with currency, it’s basically all leverage, pure speculation. Two big ‘winners’ in the past few years have been gold, and bitcoin. Most of that run-up has already happened, though, so this is all past tense; you’ve got to find the next one, now.

For currency trading and programming, consider M4. M4 is a kind of scripting language that you can use to interact with a trading platform, that is supported by several currency brokers. It’s out there and you can use it; it’s pretty simple to learn.

I had a teeny-tiny account with one such broker, and was successfully able to use it to write a script that played one ‘beep’ with my position went up and and a ‘bloop’ when it went down. It wasn’t much, but it did what it was supposed to do, and I’m sure I could’ve added pieces to it to make more robust. At the time, the place I was living didn’t have a very good Internet connection, and since those scripts seem to run in the browser, a bad Internet connection severely impacts their usefulness. You really need a persistent and reliable Internet connection if you’re going to use that at all.

There’s also the problem of strategy. To trade, as I said above, you need a strategy, and I had none, and no particular willingness to spend weeks drilling down into experiment with one, which could very possibly lead nowhere. So I abandoned ship, and move on. But other people might find value in it, and I’m not looking into currency trading again, with the missing piece this time – using Python to test and implement strategy, progammatically.

I bought an M4 book off Amazon, and it worked for me; I was able to follow it to get my script running. Then I moved on, since I didn’t want to put too much energy into it at the time.

Next up, arbitrage.

You can interact with Amazon and Ebay programmatically. What can you sell there? Whatever you want, though it helps, in the case of Amazon, to have a bar code available for your products. What can you buy, to resell? Anything with a high resale value. Toys, for instance, are supposed to work well for this; clothes, too, if you have a studio where you can photograph them and then resell them. I did books for a while, but that was a dead end; Amazon ate basically all the profit, and the rest was consumed by refunds, items that didn’t match the specifications (since I, by necessity, was always scraping the bottom of the barrel), and shoestring returns.

Most of the arbitrage opportunities on Amazon qua Amazon (ditto for eBay) have been scraped dry. To do this you really need two markets: one where you pick up those things for cheap, and then Amazon/eBay, where you resell them for a profit. Good luck figuring that one out, though;  but if you have a good answer, there’s your income, right there.

Third, production. There’s more and more stories now of people writing informational products to other people online and selling them for a tidy profit. Coming up with something to write about that people want to pay to read about, however, is work. If you can find such a topic, though, there are lots of encouraging stories now of people easing into it and making it their living, so it can be done; it’s just that ‘launching the business’ is hard.

There’s places that will sell online businesses to you, though. Probably the most interesting of those is Flippa. Buy a website with a verified number of visitors each month, then take it and run with it, keeping those visitors (and their ad revenue) while adding your products to the side. Short of trading, it’s the most ‘turn-key’ solution here.

But this is what I’ve learned, and if you can make it work for you, more power to you.

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