turn your Microsoft surface into a business
The Microsoft Surface line has finally reached the tipping point for me where I went out and bought one with the primary intention of using it as a productivity and business tool. In this post I want to go over several ways in which you can turn your Surface tablet into a business “on wheels” - fun, enjoyable side gigs.
Why I could not do these on an iPad (sadly)
To me the tablet market is incredibly frustrating because we need something that does not exist: a Windows tablet with iPad stylus. The drawing experience on my 2017 iPad Pro is still unmatched to this day, there is just nothing in the Windows market that compares. Apparently Samsung just created a strong contender in that regard with the new 7 series tablets - but those run android which is even less suited for “real work” than iOs.
My main gripes with the iPad are results of their restrictive eco system that prevents me from playing my main productivity tricks and in fact makes writing code a complete non-starter even after extensive testing. If only we got VS Code on iPads a lot of people would be able to use them for coding, it frankly baffles me that it’s not actively worked on with how popular VS Code has become. Mac users get it, so why not iPad users?
The other thing is file handling and automation, it is quite simply inexcusable that apple takes active measures to prevent proper automation of tasks with simulated touches and keypresses. That would make so many things simpler (for example adding text expansions requires you to do that for every single typo correction. This would be so much simpler if we could import a list or at least automate the process.)
But I digress, this is just a friendly pointer towards what I think is wrong with iPadOS and why I ultimately switched back despite my sincere efforts to like it. Let’s continue with the actual topic: https
Website building and maintenance
As you may guess I am in fact writing a good portion of this post on my Surface. In fact there is nothing wrong with using it for the whole website building portion, especially once you factor in a docking station and a larger monitor. I do frequent changes to the design and inner workings on several of my websites using my Surface, even on the small screen. It just so happened that I started this website before my tablet was delivered, especially with a blog system like Jekyll working with it will be an enjoyable experience.
Now what exactly can you build, write about, maintain you may ask? Well, since writing is where tablets of any kind really shine and we have access to VS Code the sky is the limit. I run this website, but also a webcomic (more on that later!) and you can easily build and maintain any kind of affiliate or content site. Run your travel blog, write tech reviews and coding tutorials - you name it.
The best part about today’s times is that we can offload most of the annoying and resource intensive tasks elsewhere - often for free. This site for example is built using Jekyll, hosted on Netlify and other than a dollar a month for the domain name it costs me absolutely nothing. We live in great times for content creators.
Newsletter and curated niche / industry specific news
This one is one of my favorite ways to earn money because it has an incredibly low barrier. You can set up a mailing list (a good way would be through substack because they make monetization a one-click affair) and then deliver content and grow your list whenever you have time.
The real problem here is finding something valuable to deliver to the customer - but it might be easier than you think.
Just think about your industry, your line of work and see if you can’t find something good there. Let’s imagine you work in the oil rig industry, that is a very specialized business that most people do not have access to and that also has a large information gap because of that. Try finding good information or industry contacts through google or YouTube - you’ll have a hard time.
Now imagine someone who is already working in that industry and I can immediately give you three valuable businesses that can be run through a mailing list:
- Current job offers for anyone looking for a way in
- Reviews and news about industry-specific gear and just general news.
- Tutorials and lessons-learned that may not be available to most workers or heavily gated through expensive training courses.
Tech is another great example of this even though so much information is available. Here the real value lies in curation and finding the nuggets of information in a sea of more or less related news. So just think about something like “front end development” which may have a lot of news outlets, but if you wanted to learn about a sub-niche of that you’d have a hard time weeding out all the unrelated content.
The thing you need to tell yourself with these things is one simple fact: If someone pays you five dollar a month and saves just one hour with the advice or information you give then they are already making a profit. Save someone an hour each day and they make a ludicrous return on their investment.
Running a YouTube channel from your tablets
A YouTube channel can be one of the most fun ways to earn money, relax and chill out a couple hours after work - I would know because I once ran an outdoor related channel about magnetfishing with my best buddy that kept us sane through our taxing jobs. It also paid some serious cash for us back then and I honestly hate that the laws changed and magnetfishing is now forbidden where I live. Those were the days - but there are still plenty of other ways to have fun with YouTube.
In my opinion that is really the important aspect here: Create for an audience of one (yourself) and then see where it leads you. That way you ensure that you can be one with yourself and that is really the hidden secret of content creation: having a personality and ideally one that is a slight bit likeable.
Your tablet provides you with everything you need to start recording YouTube videos right now this very second:
- A webcam
- A microphone
- Since it’s windows you can run OBS for recording which is just the best thing since sliced bread and also free.
If you really want to you can add a more professional microphone like the Blue Yeti to the mix, but honestly you wouldn’t have to because the microphones in today’s tablets are mighty fine and more than up to the job of recording videos.
Just in case you are strapped for ideas let me show you some examples (and also shill you my own channel about programming keypressingmonkey)
You have no clue how many reviews I watched before I decided on getting a tablet, how much information I digested to see if it was feasible and how the drawing experience would be - and then eventually I went to a store to check out my narrowed-down selection of possibilities.
There are many review channels already, big ones, but that does not mean there isn’t space for more - especially if you can find an underrepresented niche and own it.
A good example of this is Brad Colbow (now Brad Cowboy) whoc makes reviews of drawing tablets and art stuff - he has a strong following of people who don’t even need tablets who still watch him for the great, funny reviews he makes.
In my opinion narration is a vastly underrepresented niche as well, right now there are pretty much just horror stories and history channels that are popular. However those are just two genres that lend themselves to narrated videos - and those are quite frankly the simplest possible videos you can make.
That is not to discredit the work that people put in - I appreciate the effort - but from a technical standpoint all you need is a microphone and a recording program - and your tablet has both even righ after you get it out of the packaging.
My own channel (keypressingmonkey) clearly falls into the tutorial category and it’s honestly great fun to make videos for it.
I would argue that everyone has a skill or two they can teach, just by being a bit further down their journey than anyone following behind them. And that is of course nothing compared to really powerful skills that other people want to learn - programming being a good example.
One of the coolest aspects about tablets is the touch screen and digital drawing experience. In fact for me it was one of two reasons for getting a tablet over a regular laptop, the other one being the insane portability that makes even similar sized 13 inch laptops pale in comparison.
Coding is my main job, but also my passion and a great way to earn side income - as long as you can run something like VS Code on your device. VS Code has taken the programming world by storm and is now used by hobbyists and professionals alike - even Mac users swear by this Microsoft-produced piece of software.
With it you can do pretty much any coding task with the exception of some really specialized use-cases, probably best explained with the fact that I only use the “big brother” Visual Studio professional a handful of times per week now.
Vlogging relies heavily on personality and as such will be extremely subjective to the viewer’s taste. That being said there are some really successful people on YouTube that I can not watch even for a minute who still have large and loyal fan base - so all the power to them.
What this goes to show is that vlogging can work for almost anyone, especially once you factor in that it can often be a sub-part of all these other channel types. And again, all you need is a camera and a rough idea of an interesting topic, ideally a somewhat interesting lifestyle or unique insights on life due to your current position in life.
A favorite of mine and something that most people would never consider: Running a webcomic is actually a pretty decent way to make money.
Let me use myself as an example: I ran a webcomic for a while, a couple years ago that was frankly not good. I still can’t draw well today and I was certainly worse then. I also lost motivation to work on that after like eight or nine strips posted - and then suddenly realized that this comic was earning me 30-50$ a month a couple months later.
Now that is obviously not life changing money, but as I said I did a horrible job of it so just imagine if I had stuck to it. Now I’m actually setting up a new comic again since it’s so much easier to draw and upload on my Surface, I always wanted to start this up again as it’s a great way to relax on the couch and have some fun while still being productive.
There are two ways you can go about this:
- Using a Wordpress site (5$ a month) with the comic easel plugin (free)
- Using Netlify and the comic theme (1$ a month)
The wordpress route has the benefit of a bit smoother image uploading workflow, but honestly since comics are just one image per post Jekyll is just fine where you need to enter the image name manually into your post. So what, takes a minute and that’s it.
Then you put ads on there and create more content.
Webcomics can generally be summed up into two categories:
- Individual strips
- Long-lasting story lines
The former has the clear example of being much more “shareable” online, the long-lasting ones have the benefit that anyone who discovers your comic and likes it will often read through the whole archive.
Ah, writing. Of course I need to include that as its own headline even though website development and curated newsletters already are ninety percent writing. However there are some great other ways to earn money from writing:
For me Medium has been life-changing because it was the first time I ever earned serious money for a single article. It is definitely hit or miss whether you figure out an enjoyable niche for yourself, but I write about programming and it’s honestly great fun to write something useful that others can benefit from.
In addition to that I now have TWO posts that made me over a thousand dollars each - which to me is insane for something I typed up by heart because it’s just something I know and do all day.
Freelance writing and ideally translation
Throughout my school years I did a lot of freelance writing, but quickly realized that it’s a burnout disaster unless you can get into the better paying jobs - which was out of the question for me then. Translation however was a lot more enjoyable because I did not have to think of content I did not want to write - I just had to translate it.
I used a pretty great program back then that allowed me to translate paragraph by paragraph and it was honestly enjoyable to just zone out, have some fun playing with words and not think too much about the actual content.
Guest blog posts
Once you start looking around you will find that a lot of sites have paid guest post systems where you can write and make money, sometimes even get backlinks to your own website to help with your SEO.
Let me refer you to this very good article on Medium about several tech related sites that pay for guest posts just so you get an idea of what is possible.
Similar systems exist in almost any niche you could think of, especially home improvement and travel blogging where successful people will earn many times what they pay you per post and by outsourcing it to you they save hours of their lives.
Summary: There are many ways to make money from your tablet
I hope I could show you some great ways to make money from your tablet, maybe even inspired you to start your own experiments and find an enjoyable side hustle for yourself. In case you liked this post here are some more you might enjoy: