Here’s the dream scenario. You have a hobby about which you are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. You suspect there’s an audience of like minded hobbyists interested in what you have to say on the subject.
You start a blog. Hosting is inexpensive, social media promotion offers enormous reach. You write and publish a couple of dozen articles. To your surprise, the blog is a huge success, with traffic levels exceeding your wildest expectations. To monetize the blog, you add a few Google Ad units and some affiliate links. You write reviews of niche-relevant products so you can embed more affiliate links.
In no time at all, your blog is bringing in so much money that you can quit your job — and even better, because you wrote “evergreen” content, it keeps generating money even as you head off to travel the world, only publishing once a week or so.
This is the promise of passive income. Passive income is essentially income that is unearned, or at least, you do the work upfront and it continues to pay off into the future. If you Google the term you’ll find dozens of sites that claim to teach you the secrets of passive income.
Cards on the table: I’m skeptical that it’s possible to generate sustainable passive income from digital content publishing. In a recent article on WPMU Dev, Brenda Baron voiced concerns similar to mine. Is the income really passive?
“You see, you’re putting in all of this effort upfront for which you’re not being paid. You’ll then earn your paycheck for this effort you put in on spec later while you’re not directly working anymore. So, when you get down to it, that’s really just delayed income, not passive income!”
Baron goes on to outline the ways in which it is possible to make money from blogging and content creation, with a specific focus on WordPress. It has some great tips and you should definitely take a look, but it worries me that the tone is likely to discourage creative professionals in the future — if there isn’t a living to be made from blogging and content creation, then why bother?
Passive income may be mythical, but examples abound of successful solo creatives making a good living with blogging and other content creation efforts. Their subjects, styles, and mediums differ, but they have a few things in common: they’re smart, they’re disciplined, and they work incredibly hard.
Take a look at these examples:
- Brain Pickings by Maria Popova
- MacStories by Federico Viticci
- Sean Blanc
- Stuck In Customs by Trey Ratcliff
- Webalys by Vincent Le Moign
These are writers, designers, and photographers who have created successful businesses with not much more than enthusiasm, skill, discipline, and a website.
Although the dream of passive income is not realistic for most, there is another, better dream. With hard work, dedication, and passion, it’s possible to find an audience that loves what you do and build a creative business that pays the bills.