Finally, I imagine the biggest debate with my ranking is Creating Your Own Product as the #1 passive income source. If most people have never created their own product, then it’s easy to give it a thumbs down. There won’t be much complaint about Private Equity Investing being in last place because most people are not accredited investors. But given I believe that plenty of people can create their own product if they try, pushback is inevitable because a lot of people simply don’t try!

As I’ve thought more deeply about how to answer this question over the years, I’ve come to a realization that the problem is not the answer, but the question itself. For those who’ve asked it, I don’t think it’s always coming from a place of “quick money.” If we reframe the question, I think there’s room to empower and actually help those who’ve asked it—to give them a foundational understanding of what it really means to generate an income online.

Hey Mike! Love this article. Recently, I paid off my student loans and am crazy focused on creating multiple passive income streams. Currently, all my passive income comes from real estate and because of your great articles on the subject I called to check out refinance options! I had no clue about CD laddering, dividend investing or P2P lending until two weeks ago when I started doing my research on where to put my hard earned money. I had been just saving it but when I looked at the terrible 0.01% return I said forget it! 2 % for me is a great way to start. It is better than what I have been getting outside of my real estate. Also, creating products is a must! I’m working on this type of royalty too. I find it so exciting to learn how to use your money to make money. Thanks and I will be sure to link to you when I start my blog!
In which socio-economic neighborhoods do you want to buy? I know real estate investors that have done very well buying and renting in lower-income neighborhoods. For me, it was a huge mistake. I fell into the trap of thinking, “I can buy a house for about half the cost as what I would pay in a better neighborhood.Even if I get slightly lower rent, say 70% as much, I’m still making a higher return.”Wrong!The money you lose on tenant turnover, unpaid rent and repairs far outweighs any benefit to buying property at a discount. Now, I always recommend to investors to never buy a house somewhere they wouldn’t want to live. If the business does poorly, you may end up living in one of your homes.
I run a real estate team that sells houses. I have eight people on my team and many of them are real estate agents. I also have assistants and contract managers who help with paper work and the ins and outs of the business. I sell houses myself (mostly REO and HUD), but many houses are sold without me doing any work. I get a part of those commission checks, because I set up the team, offer training and help my agents succeed. My business is not truly passive, but if I want to go on vacation for a couple of weeks I still have money coming in without me doing any work. There are thousands of business that can be started, but I think becoming a real estate agent is a great way to become an entrepreneur.
Purchase the rights to royalties. Royalties are payments made for the use or sale of intellectual property, like a song, book, or trademarked product. These royalties are paid from the seller of the property to its creator. You can earn royalty payments either by creating the intellectual property yourself or by buying royalty rights from someone else. In the latter case, you can buy the rights for a lump sum and then receive regular royalty payments that will eventually return you your initial investment.[3]
I actually spent a year and a half working as an affiliate marketer (mostly selling drumming related products – lessons, kits ect). 5 years on and one of my one page sites (which I’ve not touched) still nets me about $150 a month. I won’t be retiring off that but only really now appreciate the reverse pyramid approach to entrepreneurship (working for nothing initially but later being paid without effort!)
I wish I had more time to put into real estate. Given the run up since 2012, I may even be interested in selling my condo that I currently rent out. I need to get it appraised to really see what it’s worth, but I think conservatively it’s gone up ~50%, although rent is probably only up ~10% or so. I am bullish on rents going up in the future… mostly in line with inflation, or perhaps even slightly faster due to constricted credit and personal income growth which should provide a solid supply of renters. At this point, I just don’t want to manage the property. I’ll probably look into a property manager as my time is likely worth turning it into a nearly passive investment.

Unfortunately, I was never great with finances growing up. In fact, I had only recently rid myself of some serious credit card debt that had followed me from college and through a good deal of residency. I had poor spending habits and treated my investments like gambling – trying to hit the home run every time. Unfortunately, I struck out quite a bit.


Once your audience has grown and you have validation that you’re offering them value, there are many ways to create passive income. You could sell digital products like ebooks or courses, take up affiliate marketing in which you promote other company’s products and earn a commission when you sell that item to your audience, build a community and charge people to be a part of it, create software and sell that, among other avenues. Ask your audience directly what would serve them best, or look at what they’re saying on Twitter, Facebook or other websites, to find out what problems they have and how you could help solve them.
Now that you’ve chosen your market, find a way to start sharing your message, whether it’s a blog or podcast or Youtube channel, or whatever platform makes the most sense for your target market. Flynn says this is where you’ll start to build a fan base — and collect subscriber emails. You don’t need to get the whole world to follow you to make this work out financially. Wired cofounder Kevin Kelly wrote an article about 1,000 True Fans, which basically says that if you have 1,000 people paying you $100 a year, that’s a $100,000 a year. “You don’t need to serve everybody,”  says Flynn.
There are a couple of problems with direct investment in real estate though. It’s expensive to buy even a single property, a minimum of tens of thousands of dollars, and there’s no way most investors can build a portfolio of different property types and in different regions to protect from those risks when you have all your money in just one or two investments.

Depending on how many rental income properties you have and your experience with home improvement, you may be able to do a lot of the maintenance yourself. You likely won’t be able to fix everything but it will be worth it to learn a few common repairs to do yourself. Typically, plumbing and electrical maintenance will cost the most since work is generally restricted to licensed members of the trade unions.
What I’m doing: I use this site to write out goals like 1) Generating $200,000 a year working 4 hours a day or less, 2) Trying to make winning investments, and 3) Keeping track of my passive income streams with free financial tools. My site and the community helps keep me accountable for progress. It’s important I do what I say, otherwise, what the hell is the point? You should consider starting a site or at least a private journal. Write out your specific goals, tell several close friends and stick to the plan.
The reason I consider dividends artificial and believe they don’t matter is because you can just as easily reinvest your dividends. If a stock is worth $100/share, I don’t care if it issues a $1/share dividend or if the share price instead increases to $101/share – either way, I have the same amount of money, because there’s no difference to my net worth whether I take the dividend or sell part of a stock.
where “value” is defined as some benefit that people are willing to pay to receive. Seems really basic, right? But most people don’t seem to get this basic step. Any time anyone makes money in any way, value has been created and exchanged. In a way, we are all value-creating assets. It’s how we make money. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is how most of us create value.

Flynn has created many different products. While his LEED exam is what got him started, he has both earned a commission from selling other people’s products and offered a commission to others who would sell his wares, and also recently created his first software, SmartPodcastPlayer.com, after realizing that most online podcast players offered only the basic stop/start/volume features. He hired a development team to create a superior one, which was a success from day 1. “We sold out 250 beta licenses in less than 24 hours, because I was addressing a need but also, I had built up an audience and trust with them … When you build that amount of trust with your audience, whatever you come out with, they will love.”

Writing an e-book is very popular among bloggers, as many have noted that “it's just a bunch of blog posts put together!” You will not only have to make an investment of time and energy to create the e-book, but market it correctly. However, if marketed correctly (through blogging affiliates in your niche, for example), you could have residual sales that last a very long time.
We usually think of Craigslist as a place to buy and trade random stuff, but Craigslist can actually be a great opportunity to sell your services online to an active and engaged audience. Simply check the “jobs” section and “gigs” section for specific cities and see if anything matches your skills. The great thing about Craigslist is that it is one of the highest converting traffic sources on the internet (think active buyers) which can mean more opportunities at higher pay.
Passive income is defined as income-generating activity that is independent or loosely dependent on time commitment. Just so we’re on the same page, here, there’s no such thing as making money without creating value (I wish), and creating value takes time and effort. So, you are technically transacting time for money, in a way. But passive income is where we separate or at least alienate the proportional relationship between time spent and money made. It’s where there is no longer a fixed ratio, and if there is, it’s not a 1:1 ratio, but more like a 10 or 20:1 ratio of man-hours-worth-of-time to actual time. As another side note, knowing how much your time is worth both to you and on the open market is a valuable piece of information for guaging how effective your passive income activities need to be.

Crowdfunded real estate companies like Fundrise are similar to today’s peer-to-peer lending companies. Like Lending Club and Prosper, they offer a platform that matches real estate investors with investment choices. They help people looking to invest money in real estate in a passive manner. Also, investors can avoid bargaining with sellers. No need to get involved in the transfer of ownership and management of those properties either.

Non-fiction e-books that educate your potential audience on specific topics like finance, online marketing, and business are going to make you more money than fiction books. Of course, there are always exceptions and you could write the next Harry Potter book, but if you want to create some residual income opportunities quickly, I would suggest you go for what sells first!


So how do you get started with the EP Model? First, you need to be an expert in the eyes of those you’re looking to serve. And again, you don’t need all those qualifications and credentials. A lot of people gain expertise and credibility just by sharing their experience learning something, which is something I’ve done on SPI.com. If you think about it, many people in the personal finance or fitness space establish their authority by sharing their journey and their process. They do it by sharing their experiences—and you can do the same thing, too.
"The majority of people I see who are interested in passive income and pursuing it, haven't learned how to create value in the first place. They're just trying to do gimmicks and tricks and formulas. They're trying to do the automation part, but they've missed the point that the automation only spits off cash if it's based first on automating something that actually creates value. If you automate something that is worthless---or worse than worthless, a scam -- it's not going to work in the long run."
Who cares? I don’t care one bit about building a “successful company” with most of my passive projects. That’s for my active projects — and I’ve done that when I converted them into active projects. For passive income, I can build products and automated services that are useful enough that people want to buy and use them. My Magento modules and Udemy course had 5 star ratings despite being passive. I knew back then that I could probably sell 2x as many copies of each if I made it my full time job — but I chose note to. I realized that if I could have more fun, get more fulfillment, and make more money out of other passive activities, and that’s why I don’t care that my passive businesses are small and nichey. Again, though, converting one of them into an active business has made it much more successful — so I would just remind you that they aren’t mutually exclusive, and if anything, having a Passive Income side business or 2 let’s you try out a few different waters before you dive in to any one.
​If you pay your bills with a credit card make sure it offers cash back rewards. You can let your rewards accrue for a while and possibly put the easy money you earned toward another passive income venture! (Be sure that the card you select doesn’t have an annual fee or you might be cancelling out your rewards). Check out this list of the best Cashback Rewards Cards.
However, investing in passive income streams isn't as easy as it looks. Most online passive income strategies, such as e-commerce, are effective and profitable only after you have built up a substantial following. And they take a lot of time, and sometimes, money, to make them work, unlike passive investing in low-cost index and other funds in the stock market.
I’ve built several businesses since 2008 using one or more of these models. I’ve been featured in magazines and articles across the globe, and since I started my journey I’ve generated over $5M in earnings from these businesses. All of my income and expenses for those businesses dating back to October 2008 have been tracked publicly on SPI.com. You can see 10 years of income reports here.
The craziest part of this was I’d wake up in the morning and there would be more money in my bank account, from people who had bought my book overnight. When you think about it, an online store that sells something that’s digital is something that’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Using tools, software and systems, you can automate the delivery process so you literally don’t have to do anything to serve that audience. That’s super powerful.
When most people think of investing opportunities, they think of stocks, bonds, and precious metals. While these are still some of the most common ways to invest, the platforms have evolved, and there are more options than ever. Gone are the days of mountains of paperwork, high brokerage fees and unattainable account minimums. Now you can invest on your own terms.
I will share what we did, because it’s an incredible success story. We used an existing tax loophole where if you sell your primary residence (after having lived there at least two years) you get to keep your profit tax-free. So, we stair-stepped. We bought house after house, at least two years apart, used the profit money to pay down on the next house (so on and so forth, yadda yadda) building up equity as we went along… and now, we own a $600,000 house debt-free. And now we are using our paid-off home as leverage to borrow money to buy commercial buildings to rent out. I like commercial because it’s a BUSINESS transaction… kids, pets, other wear and tear that you see with residential rentals is nonexistent. People take care of their business space much better than residential. You have to be in a good area for renting out commercial – a thriving business community – to make this work. But that’s how we “made it”, and though it took 15 years, we will have residual income to take care of us when we’re old enough to retire. People made fun of us for moving so much, but who’s laughing now? 😉 Oh, and our child only had to change schools once (and we wanted to anyway) because we stayed in the same general area as we moved around. We were careful not to disrupt his life too much.
Michael Ellsberg is the author of The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think, and It’s Not Too Late, which is launching from Penguin/Portfolio in September. It’s a bootstrapper’s guide to investing in your own human capital at any age. Michael sends manifestos, recommendations, tips, and other exclusive content to his private email list, which you can join at www.ellsberg.com. Connect with him on Twitter @MichaelEllsberg and on Facebook.
You can earn royalties from online books sold on the Kindle Publishing Platform, and even create comic books through Amazon-owned ComiXology. That's not to mention you can build Alexa skills, sell computer software, Android apps and more. These income sources are not likely to be used to fund the "base family budget," offering a great opportunity to save, Barnett says. That means directing those monies not into a personal account, but auto-drafting them into an investment account.

I just started out with Affiliate Marketing (idea # 8) and it is not as easy as people make out to be. For me, the hardest part so far, is learning Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and driving traffic to my website. I’m only 3 months into it, but I am confident that the site will begin to generate some incom., I have to give it 6-9 months, so we’ll see.
Instead of working in the service framework, passive income necessitates that we build (or otherwise acquire) something that inherently contains value, which can then be easily and repeatedly transferred to others with little or no work. Plain and simple, we have to create or buy valuable assets, preferably ones that deliver their value automatically. There are a lot of ways to do this, but they all fall into the 3 categories above, and realistically, a lot of them look like different flavors of the same thing.
While Im working on developing my husbands web presence: I cant seem to make a decision for my own business between becoming a social media consultant OR doing the niche website biz. Niche webstie biz is more appealing to me. It would be great if I could help to make that final decision. I love all the options you mentioned. All very good. Apps biz takes upfront cash flow for sure.
I also noticed that in your passive income chart at the bottom that you don’t include your internet income other than sales from your book. Is there a reason for that? Do you not consider is passive because you are actively blogging all the time to create it? Or do you just not want readers to know how much money you generate from blogging activities?

Question: You mention receiving $200k of passive income a year, but your chart shows half of that coming from real estate holdings, and reading between the lines it appears that you hold mortgages against those holdings. Then you conclude that $200k/yr of passive income should be enough to live comfortably anywhere in the world. So are you subtracting your real estate expenses (taxes, insurance, mortgage payments, maintenance, remote property management company fees, etc.) when you report your passive income from those properties? Really I think it’s the net (after taxes and everything) that tells us what is left over to “spend” on living, right? When I set up my spreadsheet to retire early at age 47, I calculated the after-tax income I would need to live. Then I compared that to my income streams (estimating tax on the taxable income streams) to measure the surplus/shortfall. Also some good advice from GoCurryCracker: If you can minimize your taxes so you’re in the 15% tax bracket, you can possibly receive tax-free long term capital gains. I agree with your philosophy that time is more important than money as we age. I am not sure I agree with a philosophy that is fixated on needing such a large income, and would rather minimize taxes if it’s all the same on the happiness meter. Furthermore, having 20 plus income sources in the name of diversification adds stress and requires more management (TIME!). I think this is fine for those of us while young, as we have the energy to work hard. But as time becomes more important, the extra headache of managing, planning, and buying/selling our assets becomes a resented hindrance on par with the resentment we felt when working for an employer and fighting traffic each day to go to a job we hated. Every thing we own in actuality owns us, by virtue of its demands on our time and affections, and that includes investments. It also includes our home, and is a good reason for downsizing. As long as we have food on our table, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our bodies, what more do we need? I think we need to consider freeing ourselves from the weight of the chains of managing too many ventures. Personally, I plan on investing in no more than 5 simultaneous ventures ever, with the exception of some IRAs that I just plan to let sit for the next 20 years (and therefore no thought or anxiety required). 

After these tenants move out, I'm thinking of just keeping the rental empty with furniture. It sounds stupid to give up $4,200 a month, but I really hate dealing with the homeowner association, move-in/move-out rules, and maintenance issues. Given that the condo doesn't have a mortgage and I have to pay taxes on some of the rental income, I'm not giving up that much. The condo can be a place for my sister, parents, or in-laws to crash when they want to stay in SF for longer than a week or two.


When you buy a turn-key rental property you are saving a lot of time and work, by letting the turn-key company complete the repairs, find the property and manage the property. You are giving up equity in the property over buying one yourself, because you aren’t doing any of the work. You have to decide if the time you save is worth the equity you give up. Typical returns I have seen on turn-key properties have been in the 10 percent range.
I just found your site & so far I like what I see. I am 50 years old & will be retiring at the end of Jan 2019. I turn 51 the following month. I will have a pension income of $60,000 per year & an additional $5,400 from a survivors benefit. I was able to save $200,000 in a deferred comp program through my employer & wish to know what to do to generate a passive income? I can leave it in the plan which will generate about 3.5% or invest it. My concern is the tax liability of taking out a large sum from that fund & leaving me less to invest. I do have an opportunity to invest in a bar/restaurant with family (my main concern) that currently generates $120,000 annually for an absentee owner. It would be a 3 way partnership if I did that. I do like your idea of creating my own product such a blog with a goal of $12,000 to $18,000 passive income I feel that may be my best option. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.
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