The Realities of Passive Income


I enjoy FreelanceSwitch on a semi-regular basis (when I come up for air in the middle of deadline hell). I think this is a great site that offers relevant material for all kinds of freelancers. That said, some of the advice in this post about creating passive income falls into the “easier said than done” category at best.  Several of the ideas in the post are far from “passive”, but good advice regardless.

5 Passive Income Opportunities for Freelancers really hits the mark with “Create Niche Resources”. There’s nothing more valuable to a freelancer than taking advantage of specialized skills and expertise. I’ve got nothing but warm fuzzies on this part of the blog post because I’ve seen this principle at work again and again.

Not so warm and fuzzy is the advice to sell subscriptions. I think for a select few freelancers, selling subscriptions to newsletters or websites could turn into a stream of income–but there’s nothing passive about having to create new content for that newsletter or website, and unless your offerings are first-rate, asking for subscription money in the current economy is counter-intuitive. I think for the average freelancer, selling subscriptions will result in disappointment and a waste of the time invested in trying to make that model work.

The advice to sell side items to your list of current clients is a much better use of your time than trying to hawk subscriptions. Here again, the blog gets it right on the money–you already have the attention of your clients, they are already used to paying you money. Getting them to sign on for some extras may not be EASY, but it is much easier than doing another cold call.

My biggest gripe with the post is the advice about selling merchandise. Not that advice in general, but the encouragement to use Cafe Press as an alternative to actually running a merchandise operation with all that packaging and mailing. For starters, Cafe Press charges a base price that’s practically full retail–try $14.99 for a woman’s t-shirt. You have to add the markup from there. Does that sound like an easy sell? Large mugs have a base price of $11.99. Thanks, but no thanks.

What a lot of proponents of passive income don’t tell you is that there’s really no such thing–it all requires some effort on the front end. Even if you plan on selling stock footage, using Associated Content, or installing Google Ads, you still have to put in the time to get it running and sustainable. Experienced freelancers with a large portfolio have a much easier time getting passive income streams up and running because they have a base of material to draw on. New freelancers don’t have that luxury in many cases.

I hate to offer criticism without also offering advice on how to get it right, so here’s my two cents–when writing pieces like this, I find specific advice much more helpful. Does the writer know something about using Cafe Press that could make it profitable and viable? Cafe Press seems like a bad idea at first glance. Is there a specific technique or strategy that can be used to sell additional services to a client? What about the benefit of  your experience when it comes to selling stock?

It’s easy to write an article or blog post in the style of that old Monty Python joke where the TV presenter shows you how to play a flute. “Blow in at the far and and move your fingers around like this.” Properly explaining how to do something has infinitely more value. You don’t have to go step-by-step every single time, but specific advice is quite valuable and worth the effort.

2 thoughts on “The Realities of Passive Income”

  1. Excellent points.

    I also think too many freelancers clutter up their websites with ads for products that likely don’t bring in much revenue.

    If you are trying to sell your services, you can distract potential clients with Google Adsense. First, they could click on an ad and be gone from your site. Second, they could think you are not very successful in your business if you’re willing to visitors away for a PPC nickel.

    Now I know some people do make substantial money from Adsense and ads on their sites, but they usually have large volumes of traffic that come to those sites for specific information or entertainment, not freelance services.

  2. @John–agreed. In fact, I just removed my Amazon ad box for that very reason. It wasn’t performing, it took up space and I just plain got tired of looking at it.

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