The world becomes more complex each year. This presents the budding entrepreneur with both challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, there are new markets opening up all the time. Just 20 years ago, no one knew what a SaaS was. Very few people were comfortable shopping online, either. Yet today, people gladly hand over their credit card details for a free trial of a product that is essentially intangible.
People spend good money on overpriced, sometimes watered-down coffee, too. Entrepreneurs are making money by selling Android and Apple apps it took them only hours to program. It seems, sometimes, that all you need to make money these days is a good idea.
Until the funding doesn’t come through. Or until you realize the infrastructure doesn’t yet exist to execute your brilliant idea.
That’s when passive income streams become essential.
In this Passive Income Strategies guide, we’ll cover eight passive income streams you can use right now to help sustain you through tough times. As a bonus, we include three passive investment methods you can use to ensure that your spare money is working hard for you.
At the end of the day, it’s all about having a lot of irons in the fire. So when you swing and miss on a product idea—which will happen sometimes—you have enough income to cover your losses. There are a few things to know about passive income streams, though:
• They’re not overnight income. Passive income strategies and streams build momentum slowly. Don’t rely on just a few. Use as many as you can.
• They’re not entirely passive. No income stream is purely passive. You’ll have to expend some energy to do just about anything. Even someone using a Robo investor has to check in on it to make sure it’s not making crazy trades. This requires time and energy. Even the best ad smith has to check their campaign for profitability on a regular basis.
• Not everyone can use each method. Some passive income methods require specialized knowledge you may not have.
Even with those disclaimers in mind, passive income streams are an essential kit for the entrepreneur. What’s more, you will quickly see that these methods can work in harmony. Any time you have two or more passive income streams centered around the same topic or niche, you’re doing it right. This creates synergy, and each method can buoy the other. That can send your passive profits into overdrive.
Excited? Let’s get started.
#1 Stock Photography
Stock photography is an old standby, but it’s still valid in 2021. If that is, you’ve got the photographic chops. Competition is stiff, though. But if you can snap a good photo or have access to exclusive subjects, locations, or objects, you may want to have a go at it.
In general, there are two types of stock photography:
• Macrostock. This is a type of stock photography sold by traditional stock photography websites. Macrostock images are often exclusive, being of a person, place, or thing that isn’t easy to access. As such, these images tend to be quite expensive. Macrostock agencies sell single-use licenses directly to the client. Macrostock goes for between $20-$5,000 per image. Getty Images is a good example of a macrostock agency.
• Microstock. A microstock site sells user-submitted photographs on a royalty-free basis. The site sells the same image to multiple customers. As such, these images tend to be quite inexpensive, with a typical microstock license going for around $1. The photographer doesn’t get on-going royalties, and they are paid for all their sales on a monthly basis.
Summary: if you have an exceptionally high-quality image or an exclusive subject, you could sell a single license for a lot of money. This would be macrostock. For everything else, your best bet is a microstock site.
Of course, microstock is the only form of stock photography that qualifies as truly passive income. According to professional photographer Alexandre Rotenberg, you’ll need over 6,000 images to earn a passive $500 per month. Doing some simple math, we find that it would take a photographer five years to accumulate a catalog of 6,000 images.
That’s quite the time investment. So this entry may be a good option for someone who has to take lots of original photos anyway—say, for their blog. In this case, doing some quick adjustments in Adobe Lightroom and then throwing them up for sale may not be a bad option at all.
Further reading: click here for an in-depth guide on stock photography.
#2 Create No Content Books & Sell Them On Amazon
A so-called ‘no content’ or ‘light content’ book can be a great source of passive income. Examples include:
• Coloring books. This is an example of a light content book. You do some work upfront by creating or commissioning line art. Then you profit over and over from sales.
• A journal. This is an example of a true no-content book. You’ll need to add some artistic flourishes to set your journal apart from what’s available, but other than that, it’s content-free.
A good example of this concept taken to new heights is a CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, journal. A CBT journal helps individuals identify thought distortions that may hamper their ability to live life to its fullest. A CBT journal may have a section up front that lists the most common thought distortions. Then the rest of the book is a journal process that helps the person explore thought distortions they may be having from day today.
Summary: a no-content book differs from a regular Amazon KDP book in that you’re providing a resource, not a story. Generally, no content books are sold as paperbacks.
Note that the profit margin on these items is low, and you will almost certainly have to promote them with ads. However, Amazon’s ad platform is a great option for new authors or publishers. It’s a simple system. If you’ve ever used Google Ads, you’ll be right at home. What’s more, because Amazon is a closed ecosystem, you won’t be reliant on ads forever—if you make sales.
You see, Amazon doesn’t care whether you spend money on ads or earn money through sales. Amazon gets paid either way. So if your ads result in your book earning a high sales rank in the Amazon store, Amazon will start promoting your book themselves. This reduces your reliance on ads and turns this into pure passive income.
You may still have to resort to using ads sometimes, though. It just depends on how the Amazon algorithm winds are blowing.
# 3 Create Online Courses
What are you an expert in?
Do you know how to make homemade yogurt safely and cheaply? There’s a market for that.
Do you have experience in homeschooling? There’s a market for that too.
Are you a writer? A painter? A carpenter? Yep, people will pay you to teach them to do those things too. Online course creation is a tried-and-true passive income strategy. There isn’t much to say about it that hasn’t already been said other than – just do it!
You will need to invest in:
• A good microphone
• A nice looking room that you can record yourself in
• A quality camera
• Video editing software
Once these upfront costs are out of the way, though, you’re off to the races. A good place to start is to get some notebook paper and brainstorm all the courses you could create. Then use a proven platform like Udemy as your course host. Udemy takes a cut, of course, but they handle all of the backend site maintenance.
If you know your way around digital advertising, you’re already well ahead of your competitors who don’t. You can advertise your courses on many ad networks, such as Google, Bing, and YouTube.
Speaking of YouTube, one stellar way to sell an online course is to tap into user frustration. Often on YouTube, you can find videos on a topic that are billed as ‘tutorials.’ But these videos are actually marketing funnels to get people to the end of the video, where they’ll be pitched a course.
You can turn this to your advantage by creating a free course on the topic and making a video of your own. Then simply publish your video with the right keywords. In your video, tell people that they can get your course for free, and provide a link to it in the description. Then watch as people flock to your free course. This is called a loss leader. Your free course exposes users to your brand, which can—and often does—result in increased sales down the road. You can combine this tactic with the other items on this list.
#4 Dive Into Affiliate Marketing
Of all the passive income strategies, Affiliate marketing is another old standby that still works. Unlike photography, which requires dedicated equipment, affiliate marketing is a very flexible passive income option. There are several ways to make money with affiliate marketing in 2021:
• With a niche website. We’ll cover niche websites in more detail below. But for now, know that a niche website is a website that caters to a narrow audience. A website dedicated to the eradication of bedbugs is a niche website. As is a site about home gardening or the migration patterns of specific birds. Niche websites can be extremely powerful because, with high-quality content, it can be easy to get them ranked in Google.
• Product reviews. Another way to profit from affiliate marketing is to try products and write detailed reviews on them. To do this, you’ll probably need your own website. Platforms like Medium tend to frown on content that exists solely to promote a product.
• Email marketing. If you’ve built up an email list from a website, podcast, or other venture, you can promote relevant products to that email list.
• Videos. In 2021, one of the most popular affiliate marketing strategies is to build a YouTube channel. Then you can promote products directly to your user base. Note that YouTube has specific guidelines on how and when you can do this, and what you must disclose about the practice to your viewers.
Once you have a heavily trafficked website or a YouTube channel with many active subscribers, affiliate marketing is incredibly powerful. It should absolutely be a core component of your overall passive income strategy. For niche website owners and others not relying on YouTube, Amazon Associates remains a popular option in 2021. The program is proven, and it’s easy to get started.
#5 Create Your Own Niche Website
Want a proven way to build a strong, sustainable income stream? A niche website is a way to go and is one of the best passive income strategies that I have used in the past. Think of a niche website as your small corner of the Internet. It’s ephemeral real estate you own, and you can monetize it any way you see fit. A niche website:
• Has a narrow focus. As mentioned, a site about bed bugs is a niche website. Note that the site is not about crickets or grasshoppers. It’s not about insects in general. It’s about bed bugs. Diluting your niche will cost you money. Stay focused.
• Is easy to rank. Now, a lot goes into this, such as the quality of your content and backlinks, but a site about bed bugs will be easier to rank than a site about insects. When Google crawls your site, it seems that you’re all about bed bugs. If your content is also of high quality and people are linking to it, Google may come to see you as an authority on the subject of bed bugs.
• Has low costs. People who create niche websites tend to create their content themselves. This keeps costs low. So if you go this route, create a site around something you’re passionate about. This will make it easier to produce lots of high-quality content. It’s a good idea to invest in an online course on how to create high-quality content that ranks.
Once you’ve set up a niche website, created lots of content for it, and are ranking, generating income with it is surprisingly easy. Displaying ads via Google Ads or another highly regarded ad platform is a go-to option. You can, as mentioned, also become an affiliate for Amazon. With traffic comes income.
You can also combine the niche website with the next passive income strategy on our list.
#6 Become a YouTuber
Building a YouTube channel is a lot like building a niche website. This is not surprising, since the two passive income strategies go hand in hand. To succeed on YouTube, you must be:
• Focused. You need a niche. Whether that be drama, fitness, relationship advice, or what have you. The most successful YouTube channels are focused on a single overall topic.
• Quality. With a niche website, you must create high-quality written content. With a YouTube channel, your goal is to create high-quality video content, obviously. If you happen to be capable of both, then combining the two strategies can work wonders for you.
• Engaging. On YouTube, it’s important to engage with your audience. You need to ‘favorite’ and moderate comments and respond to criticism in a professional manner. When ranking channels in search, YouTube looks at the level of engagement on the channel overall. So encouraging comments is a good idea. But you should mute trolls or other obvious bad actors.
• Charismatic. It’s okay to ask for ‘likes’ and subs, but don’t be obnoxious about it. Many users will thumb down a video simply because a YouTuber is asking, or begging, for subs or thumbs up too much. As far as charisma goes, keep in mind that when you’re on screen in a video, you’re functioning as a presenter or host. Take it seriously, but keep your on-screen persona in mind. If you’re a comedy channel, be that. Just don’t be annoying.
Eventually, you’ll want to apply for the YouTube Partner Program. To qualify, you’ll need over 1,000 subscribers. You’ll also need to have accumulated over 4,000 total hours of public watch time across your channel. These milestones are surprisingly easy to hit if you create high-quality, engaging content on a regular basis.
Note that to use this program, you will need a valid AdSense account as of 2021.
The YouTube Partner Program is how most YouTubers used to earn money from their efforts. But increasingly, this option is falling out of favor. Options like Patreon and corporate sponsorships are becoming the norm. This reduces the YouTuber’s reliance on the whims of a single mega-corporation and gives them more control.
One thing to note: A few years ago, YouTube unveiled a premium tier to their service called YouTube Premium. YouTube Premium allows users to watch as many videos as they want ad-free. This means, of course, that those members aren’t seeing your ads. So they can’t click on them. Bummer. But don’t fret. You get paid a few pennies when a YouTube Premium member watches one of your videos. This adds up.
Now imagine this: you already have a niche website, and you’ve oriented your YouTube channel to be focused on the same niche. This means that you have constructed a powerful funnel. Since YouTube is the second largest search engine, you can direct website traffic to your hyper-focused niche website with little effort. This sends hot leads—after all, they’re watching your videos—to your affiliate links or ads. This combination is perhaps the most potent passive income stream in this list.
#7 Create Digital Products, Gate Them & Benefit from Human Psychology
Earlier, we levered your expertise by creating an online course. Now, we’ll show you how to profit from that knowledge all over again. Digital products—like eBooks—are a popular way to covey and absorb information. Devices like smartphones and tablets make them extremely portable and easy to read in all light conditions.
But it doesn’t end there.
Digital products come in many forms. They can be video, audio, or any other format you can think of. For instance, many entrepreneurs profit from their knowledge by creating a podcast. When their podcast hits a certain number of subscribers, they create a website for it. Then they create a digital product, like an eBook, and gate it behind an email sign-up.
This is a stellar way to build an email list that you can then funnel to your niche site, YouTube channel, or any other passive income generator you have. The key is to create a digital product of value, and then lock it up. This requires the user to invest time and energy obtaining it, which causes them to subconsciously associate value with your brand.
After all, they went to some effort to get your loss leader. We don’t associate much value with things we get for free, but we do associate value with something if we have to put some effort into obtaining it.
So now, when your emails start coming in, they’ll be more likely to open them instead of sending them to spam or unsubscribing.
In sum, create a high-quality digital product. That can be an eBook, a short course, or a video. Offer this resource for free on your website but require the user to submit their email address to you and agree to receive emails from you. Most email marketing platforms—like MailChimp—take care of this for you.
When your lead receives their ‘bonus’ or ‘gift,’ they’ll get a bit of feel-good dopamine from opening that email and downloading the resource you provided them. This creates a positive association with your brand.
#8 Create Content for Medium
Medium is a website that allows users to post their own blog posts or articles. Unlike the article directories of yore, though, all content on Medium is displayed on the platform itself. What’s more, Medium is a beautiful website that focuses on UI simplicity and a pleasant typeface. As such, it attracts millions of daily users.
The platform has monetized by offering a premium user tier. For $5 a month, members gain access to exclusive content from users. You can provide this content.
When you post something to Medium and designate it for premium members only, you’ve created gated content. When a premium member reads your article or blog post, you get a bit of that $5. So, naturally, the more popular you become on the site, the more money you can make.
Medium doesn’t like duplicate content, but you can spruce up old content you own the copyright to and post it to the site. This way, you’re putting in minimum effort for a potential paycheck down the road. Of course, as with any venture, your content needs to be of high quality.
For best results, submit your work to relevant Medium publications. If you get a few pieces accepted, this can really boost your profile and can net your followers.
There are a number of passive investments you should have going at all times. These are small passive income streams, but their return is predictable, they don’t require any work, and they’re relatively safe. In this section, we outline the best of these.
#1 Crowdfund Real Estate Investments
These days, sites exist that enable investors to crowdfund real estate. It’s a new concept that’s catching on in a big way. This type of investment is quite specialized in that you can only co-invest in certain types of real estate. One such investment vehicle is the eREIT. An eREIT allows you to invest as little as $500 in a property. As the property matures, you receive a passive return on your investment. Typical eREIT returns range from between 8 and 12 percent.
eREIT properties tend to be commercial. Examples include apartment complexes and office buildings. Another type of crowdfunded real estate vehicle is the eFund. An eFund allows you to invest in single, and often residential, properties. eFunds require a minimum investment of $1,000.
These funds often seek to develop raw land. But they’re also known for acquiring and repairing existing properties. These types of real estate transactions typically yield big returns. Of course, historically, they’ve been outside the reach of smaller investors. No longer. Naturally, your return is proportional to your investment.
#2 Invest in Bond Funds
Bond funds are stellar investment vehicles for income generation. They’re much like stock mutual funds in that you pool your capital with other investors. They’re also a restively safe way to invest because they offer the protection of diversification.
Intermediate bonds, in particular, are great for this because they tend to pay high rates compared to U.S. Treasury securities—and, of course, banks. Naturally, this higher return comes with higher risk. But if you’re diversifying your passive income strategy—which you should be—you can make room for this higher risk.
Besides, while they aren’t risk-free, they do tend to be quite stable. Much more stable, in fact, than long-term bonds can ever be. You see, with a maturity of ten years or less, intermediate bonds are less sensitive to interest rate fluctuations than other bonds. In other words, when interest rates rise, other bonds lose value.
Intermediate bonds tend to be safer than:
• Dividend stocks
• Long term bonds
Yet they offer a respectable return and protection via diversification. That’s hard to beat.
For instance, the Schwab U.S. Aggregate Bond currently offers a return of 2.5 percent. The five-year average is much higher, at 4.3 percent. This fund features bonds with an average maturity of eight years. Over 80 percent of those bonds is rated AAA. A fund like this is an incredible opportunity if your overall goal is to provide yourself with passive income while remaining diversified.
#3 Peer-to-Peer Loans
You know we’re living in a strange and glorious time when peer-to-peer loans are a reality. P2P lending has taken off in a big way—big enough to make large banks sit up and take notice. This type of investment enables you to play banker by making loans directly to consumers. P2P loans are typically personal loans, but they’re sometimes sought by entrepreneurs looking to start or fund a business.
Most platforms that allow investors to offer P2P loans collect payments from loan seekers on a monthly basis. This provides you with a small, regular cash infusion. When it comes to this type of passive investment, it’s a good idea to set it and forget it, so to speak. The income will be so small that you can’t use it for much right away. Check back later and reinvest when the time comes.
Note that in P2P lending, you don’t provide 100 percent of the capital yourself. You’re in a pool of other investors who together fund the loan. This means, of course, that your return on investment is proportional to your total contribution. How this works: a loan is ‘sliced’ up, and you buy the number of slices you want. A single slice is referred to as a ‘note.’
On many P2P lending platforms, you can purchase a single note for as little as $25. So you could, in theory, diversify your total P2P investment capital quite a bit. If you decide to set aside $10,000 for P2P loans, you could invest in 400 total notes across a number of loans. Naturally, this protects you from default.
Prosper, the largest P2P loan platform, typically reports a return of just over 5 percent. This is quite a bit higher than what you’ll get from a savings account. Or, for that matter, U.S. Treasury instruments.
Though these methods are more investments than passive income streams, don’t neglect them. They’re a potent way to keep your money working for you.
There you have it: eight stellar passive income strategies that you can get started with today. Now go forth and make 2021 your best year yet!
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