Or, the truth about passive income: what the six-figure spouters don’t want you to know.
As I sit here in this fancy Italian café in Adelaide, sipping a decaf cappuccino and reflecting on my recent speaking engagement, my phone pings three time in quick succession.
Three sales of my various templates, courses and resources.
Not an earth-shattering amount, but enough to make me feel I’ve made some money today.
And it’s passive income, so I didn’t even have to work for it.
I’m winning at life.
Now at this point you might be thinking,
“Wow, that sounds great”.
Or, “I want to speak at events”.
Or, “I want to earn money doing nothing”.
Or even, “What an incredibly smug cow and why the hell is she drinking decaf coffee?”
Well, in this article I want to tell you some home truths about the entrepreneur lifestyle, passive income, and being careful what you wish for.
Psst: I’m going to do as a Q&A to illustrate the kinds of questions I get asked all the time. Who knows? Maybe you’ll see one of yours.
Ready? Let’s go.
Q. How do you make your money, Kate?
A: I get asked this a lot. On podcasts, at events, and via a slew of private messages on Facebook.
Complete strangers think it’s okay to ask me this question, which strikes me as a little odd because it’s really none of their bloody business.
Of course, if I was trying to sell you some six-figure income formula then it would be fair enough to disclose the ins and outs of my Xero account.
But I’m not, and so it’s not okay. Please stop asking.
Instead, I’ll give you an overview.
Last year, I generated about 80% of my income by selling my time for money, and 20% through other sources
But now that has flipped around.
These days around, erm 0% of my earnings comes from actual service delivery work, and the rest comes from passive incomes sources.
I earn enough in my 30 or so hours a week to support my family and have an overseas holiday a few times a year.
But it’s certainly not enough to pay off my entire mortgage or buy a private jet.
Q. What passive income sources do you have?
I have a few. Let me explain
The Copy Shop
I started off with my Copy Shop, selling templates for budding and experienced copywriters.
At first there were only one or two, but now there are around 20, along with some other courses and resources.
- This is probably the most passive of my income sources. I make the thing once, and then I sell the thing over and over.
- The courses I have here don’t come with a group or any support. They’re completely self-driven.
- I keep my prices low because I know my audience doesn’t have a lot of money. So it’s never likely to buy me an island in the Bahamas
- I get ripped off all the time. Even members of my community (I’ll blog about this topic soon) have taken my templates, tweaked them slightly, and then started selling them as their own. It’s irritating, but there’s not much I can do about it.
- As with all shops there’s a degree of tech and admin involved in maintaining the site, dealing with log in issues and lost emails, etc.
The Copywriting Community Membership
I have a membership group for copywriters new and old. For a low-cost annual fee they get various bonuses, discounts, fortnight coaching and fee-free job referrals.
- I love the members of my group – possibly too much. It’s an enjoyable place to hang out, which can actually be a con sometimes.
- The group is very supportive and almost self-sustaining. I sometimes feel they could manage without me. But that doesn’t stop be being there every day.
- It’s cheap. Again, no island.
- I spend too much time there because I enjoy it so much.
- There’s a degree of maintenance in terms of renewing subscriptions that I don’t think I’ve entirely cracked yet.
- The larger it gets, the less cosy it feels. I often feel pressured to cap it, but also know this makes zero business sense.
The Copywriting Conference
This was not passive income. And I didn’t make a profit. Sad face.
Check out my conference here (Video ticket available).
The SEO eCourse
I run a seven-week SEO training course for small businesses, which involves a heap of assets, resources, videos, weekly coaching calls and a support community. It’s been going for three years now, and launches twice a year.
- The course Is reassuringly expensive (but great value for money), so it represents a large chunk of my annual income.
- It’s very well received by the students, which gives me a warm feeling in my belly.
- The course gets great results. (Many of my students are starting to outrank me.)
- SEO changes all the time, which means it’s not a set-and-forget course. I regularly have to trash out-of-date modules and tweak everything to stay relevant and follow best practice.
- SEO isn’t black and white. It can be complex, which means the support group can never be self-sustaining. I need to be there to help my students.
- The coaching aspect means I can only have a set number of people on the course. (One day I might offer a coaching-free version.)
- When I first I launched it there was one other SEO course in Australia. Since then a gazillion competitors have appeared in this ‘space’ – a lot of whom were major naysayers of my course at the beginin.
- I’m not a major fan of launching – it’s always stressful – but I may launch an evergreen version of the course at some point.
I wrote a book which I sell through my shop, Kindle and Amazon.
- I wrote a book
- People really like it, and tell me why they like it.
- I wrote a book.
- Payouts from Amazon and Kindle suck balls. They take around 50% of every sale I make. They may take less of a cut if I registered for US tax (or something), but I really can’t be naffed.
- Payouts from bookshops also suck balls. They also take around 50%, plus you have to physically get the book to them.
- It’s super hard to market a book. (I’ll tell you all about it in another blog post.)
The affiliate programs
I’m a member of a few affiliate programs for various software and hosting solutions.
- It’s free money.
- I don’t feel bad about taking free money from big corporate hosting companies.
- I always forget to share my affiliate links.
- Some people are against affiliate links, and question whether you’re just promoting it for the cash. I’d never promote anything I don’t personally believe in, but obviously some people won’t believe that. Watchagonnado?
The referral programs
I have referral arrangements set up with various other business people.
Some of the kickbacks come in the form of money, and some come in the form of contra work.
Psst: I don’t take a referral fee from members of my Copywriting group. It’s part of being a member of my gang.
- It forms strong relationships with other business owners.
- I’ve helped several business owners really kickstart their businesses with clients they’d never have won on their own
- It’s hard to track and measure.
- It requires a huge amount of trust between myself and the referees. It took a long time to find the right people to refer to.
- I often feel judged for taking a fee, and that perhaps I should just do it for the karma points.The way I see it: I’ve spent eight years building up my reputation, written more than 300 blog posts, etc. And it drives a lot of traffic and enquiries.
If I can use all of that to help out a newbie business owner, and earn a little money from doing it, I think that’s fair enough.
But hey, judge away.
Q. Wow, that’s a lot of different income sources Kate, what gives?
I know, right?
It’s great to have a variety of ways to make money because it means I’m not relying on any one of them.
But of course, each income source has its own admin requirements.
It breaks down pretty much like this:
Q. So why do you think passive income sucks?
Well I don’t think it completely sucks.
But I also think there’s a huge misconception about how easy it is making money this way.
Here are a few reasons:
- EFFORT: Each thing I create takes hours of effort. It needs to be written, edited, proofread, designed, coded, and occasionally updated. This means I have to sell a lot of the ‘thing’ before I break even.
- TECH: To handle the sales, I need a huge variety of software and plugins. They all cost money, and all need regular maintenance.
- CUSTOMERS: I’ve gone from having maybe ten clients a month to 100 customers a month. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get what I mean. Each customer has issues, questions, and technical problems.
- MARKETING: I know people who launch products and get only one or two sales. Why? Because the hard work starts after the product is launched. To sell a product you need to endlessly market it through content and paid ads.
- THE PROFILE: To sell my bits and bobs I’ve had to build a profile. Over the years I’ve created podcasts and groups galore. And having a profile, however small, has a whole list of pros and cons. (I’ll be writing about this as well.) While 99% of the interactions I have are positive, that 1% of negative ones really suck me dry
Q. So if it sucks so bad why do you do it?
Believe me I often as myself this question, but the truth is when it works it’s great.
And when you get the PayPal ping it feels like free money.
Your investment is a sunk cost – a price and effort you paid so long ago that you’ve almost forgotten it.
And I like making things and interacting with people – well, most the time.
Which is better – passive income or working with clients?
I’d say neither is better. They’re just different.
Increasingly, I long for the simplicity of having a few one-to-one client relationships rather than thousands of customer relationships.
I miss writing copy. Sometimes I feel more like a business owner than a copywriter.
I spend my days doing admin, fixing tech stuff, sending emails, filling out spreadsheets and checking other people’s work.
I’m not writing as much as I’d like to be.
And that’s not really how I expected this whole work for myself thing to pan out.
Q. What about the money? You’re richer right?
Yes. I earn about 30% more as a passive income person than I did as a copywriter.
But I think I work harder for it.
I also feel it’s all-consuming. It doesn’t have the same clean start and end points that project work does.
And the tax man gets most of it after a certain point, so it hardly seems worth it at times.
Q. Have you ever thought you might just be doing it all wrong?
I know I could automate more.
I know I hire a creature to do a lot of the grunt work.
I know I’m a control freak.
I’m also an overgiver, a worrier, and an obliger.
But while these character traits could be seen as a negative, and impeding my path to millions, they’re also what makes me… well, me.
And that’s what differentiates my products from a lot of the crappy stuff out there.
Maybe to be truly successful with passive income you need a to have a passive attitude.
You have to care less, do less, and show up less.
If you care too much, passive income can be a recipe for disaster.
Q. Should I start looking at passive income opportunities?
For sure. Have at it.
But do it with your eyes wide open.
Don’t believe the 6/7 figure hype. It’s rare—really rare.
I know a lot of business owners who aren’t making money from their passive income schemes, despite their public positivity on social media.
I’d also say be careful what you wish for.
Passive income has a lot of catches.
By all means try to develop something passive. But keep up the day job until it builds into something worthwhile.
Over to you
Do you have a passive income source? How’s it working out for you?
Did anything in this post make you stop and think? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. Yes I super imposed my head on the body of someone else. But shhh.