Why small business needs open-source

Notice: This is an opinion piece. I am not a legal expert, and not certified in open source licensing laws. I am not responsible for the choices you make as a business. Like any business, you should be selective of what you choose to share, and not risk putting yourself in situations that can result in business fraud or legal implications. Take my opinions at your own risk.

I gave a brief mini-rant to someone recently as to why I think individuals who write “free”, yet proprietary (closed) software are cowards. That specific rant is something I’m saving for another day. But there's another point I’d like to share today.

And it has to to do with small businesses, those consisting of 10 or less full-time developers. These businesses don’t have many of the advantages of larger giants such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, e.c.t. Because of this, small businesses need to fight harder and work harder to stay relevant in a saturated market.

Here are 5 reasons why you should open-source your virtual projects, and how it can help you succeed in the long run.

It advertises that you are confident

Small businesses who keep their “free” projects hidden from the world suffer from three things (which all tie into a main issue):

  1. They don’t want “competitors” to see or potentially use their code.
  2. They don’t want anyone to be able to criticize their code.
  3. They are not open to new ideas, and prefer a singular approach.

All of the aforementioned, in my personal and professional opinion, tie into the singular issue of insecurity. Small businesses that under/over value their virtual assets will subscribe to any or all of the above points.

By opening up your code, you are sending a clear message to your customers, partners, as well as competitors, that you are a modern business driven to succeed.

And as I will be elaborating further on in this article, the benefits of opening up your code will overpower all of these insecurities and can help you dominate your market.

Encourages trust from customers and partners

Trust is the key to unlocking your business potential

Building trust is one of the biggest aspects of branding any business, regardless of it’s size. This is where the previously mentioned confidence also comes into play. By being confident and open about what your business offers, you can gain the trust of potential partners and customers.

And in some situations, it can make your competitors panic since their closed source equivalent does not nearly provide nearly as much transparency.

Why? Because if you market yourself correctly, you can potentially make the customers of competitors out-right question the ethics of their competing services. If a customer becomes informed that you are offering an open, secure, and up-to-date solution for their needs: they will likely trust you more than a competitor that does not.

Security is the other end of the same stick…

Somewhat counter-intuitively, open-sourcing provides more security for your code and the services that use it.

And no, this isn’t just me spouting off some sort of pseudo-science, as large organizations such as Netflix, Comcast (who do open-source security audits on a regular basis) and the Journal of Medical Internet Research believe that using open-source is essential for enhancing security. If there is no security to be found in open-source, then surely such large businesses would not waste resources and time investing in them.

The main reason being that open-sourcing your code makes you much more accountable when it comes to fixing the security issues within your application. When security issues arise in your code, instead of making empty promises to patch them, it forces you to take action as to not compromise the security of your projects.

And while it’s much harder to pull off at first, it will be a major selling point for potential partners and customers, since they will be able to put much more of their trust in your products and services.

Its good for your C.S.R. quota

Good job you. You did a good you. What a Job. Great Good!

I’m not gonna sell it short to you, a large portion of the businesses that push open-source technology are mostly doing it to promote Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). If you don’t know what that means, its simply a term that describes how businesses (mostly large ones) contribute back to their communities and the environment.

And it’s true, hosting and maintaining open technology that the public can implement for their own needs counts as C.S.R. You are making a direct contribution back to society, which in turn, can help stimulate relations with consumers, partners, and even drive you to a higher standard than your competitors.

While the shortest section in this article, I cannot stress how important Corporate Social Responsibility is to any business. With C.S.R, the public image you can create as a result can potentially increase sales and customer loyalty (retention) tenfold.

It drives competition (through innovation)

Open business is serious business

As much as it might suck, every business can use competition to it’s advantage. Open-sourcing your software acts as a way to make your name known in the space of software.

And more often than not, if you are offering something unique, or has specific advantages over competitive software: eventually they (the competition) will notice. If you even go as far to market your open-source software, eventually it will force the competition to take action.

And you can use this to your advantage, since real competition will also be interested in outdoing your software or making something better, which is the catalyst for technological innovation [Harvard University].

The other advantage to open-sourcing when it comes to competitiveness is the various levels it subsists on. It’s not simply a matter of X is better than Y, since there are multiple factors that need to be accounted for.

Features, performance, documentation, and testing — are the industry standards for creating and maintaining a superior technological image against your competitors. You won’t just be creating a superior code-base, but outperforming your competitors by creating something truly cutting edge.

It can bring in some of the best talent

You’ve stuck with me to the end, so here is the GIF of the day

The reality of business is that in small development teams, the amount of true innovation from fresh ideas is very, very limited. You could potentially invest hundreds of hours into an implementation, and realize that a competitor has already out done you, or has created a more efficient or reliable alternative.

This is where fresh talent comes into play, and where open-source technology shines the most over proprietary. Publicly displaying your code on a popular code hosting service such as GitHub means that nearly any one can submit a thing called a pull request.

In layman’s terms: a pull request is something that happens when a developer wants to submit potential changes to your project.

If your project is popular enough, this can even lead to random experienced developers wanting to submit changes to your app. Under the right circumstances, many of the developers who contribute can even be hired to help you with your project.

Bonus: The Practical GPL Compliance Guide

In May of 2017, The Linux Foundation put out the following on Twitter:

Being me (a total Linux fanboy) I jumped on the bandwagon and downloaded the eBook. While I can’t say I’ve read the whole thing yet, it is a great guide for businesses that want to adopt a more transparent and competitive business model. A highly recommended read if you get the chance, the authors have put tons of effort into it.

I have a really special promotional event on my website right now. Please feel free to go take a look!

Did you like this article or learn something useful? If so, then maybe it would be a great idea to consider sharing this article with your team and consider switching to an open-source model.

If you are interested in my content, or would like to reach out to me about a website that needs work, feel free to follow me on Twitter and I also invite you to check out my site. From there you can reach me or potentially contract me to help you with your website.