Could you live for free?
That’s what The Side Hustle Snowball framework proposes: to erase your expenses with new income streams.
Start out with your smallest monthly expenses and work your way up:
- Gym memberships
- Life insurance
- Cell phone bill
- Car payments
- Car insurance
- Day care
- Student loan payments
- Rent or mortgage
We all want our business to cover our costs of living and then some, but the “Snowball” framework (apologies to Dave Ramsey) allows you to work your way up to that ultimate goal of financial independence.
Celebrate the small wins along the way.
In this post / podcast episode, I’ll break down the 15 income streams I’m working on right now. Which ones can you start or add to your existing business?
(If you prefer the audio version, use the green player app above to listen in.)
1. YouTube Ads
This is a newer income stream for me, because YouTube has not really been a focus. In fact, if you visit my channel today, you’ll see that most of the videos are really just episodes of the podcast with a static placeholder image.
(I use TunestoTube.com to create those “videos.”)
On the ads front, I began experimenting with this after my chat with Thomas Frank from College Info Geek and episode. He pointed out that viewers on YouTube expect ads. They think it’s just YouTube running an ad before their video, not realizing that the individual video creator can decide whether to turn the ads on or off.
Over the last year, these YouTube ads have made me $930.
Note: Monetization on YouTube is only available to accounts with over 1000 subscribers.
2. Credit Card Rewards
This might not be a true side hustle in the entrepreneurial sense of the term, but it is something that adds a material amount to our bottom line each year.
My wife and I have been able to travel quite a bit over the last few years, and the truth is almost all of those trips were heavily subsidized by banks, in the form of airline miles, travel points, and hotel rewards.
Because people have been asking about our free travel strategies, I put together a quick free video course on how to get started earning free money and rewards from what you’re already spending.
Of course be smart about it; don’t buy crap you don’t need or spend money you don’t have.
It’s pretty simple and make a dent in your expenses, all while improving your lifestyle. Check out FreeCreditCardCourse.com to learn more.
(I also recommend getting a business credit card for any of your side hustle expenses, even if you’re “pre-revenue.”)
Since 2014, I’ve made over $19,000 on Udemy.com, the peer-to-peer education platform.
The vast majority of that is from just one course on Kindle publishing, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the longevity of this income stream — and the passive-ness of it.
As far as the recent income trends go, over the last 12 months, Udemy’s averaged around $250 a month for me, which in Side Hustle Snowball terms, covers our monthly utilities — Internet, cell phone, gas and electric.
4. Peer to Peer Lending
My efforts / experiments in peer-to-peer lending have been focused on 2 sites:
Historically, Prosper was a nice little passive income stream, spinning off 8-10% returns and over $200 a month in positive cash flow.
Lately though, my portfolio has been taking a dive; maybe my strategy of going after the high risk, high return notes is coming back to bite me!
So this income stream has actually been going backward this year, by about $50 a month.
I’ve been a Prosper investor since 2011 so overall my portfolio is still up over $11,000, but I’m drawing down the account as notes mature for some other platforms.
With Kickfurther, you invest in inventory for growing e-commerce companies.
This has kind of been the opposite experience as Prosper. I started out in the negative but have been seeing slightly better performance lately.
One drawback is it’s hard to build a diverse portfolio of loans on Kickfurther just because the volume of borrowers isn’t there yet. Because of that, you end up having a lot eggs in one basket if one deal goes south.
Still, this is a platform I’ll keep an eye on.
5. Alternative Real Estate Investments
So I mentioned drawing down my Prosper account, but I’m still trying to figure out where to put that cash to good use.
With PeerStreet, you’re essentially helping real estate flippers with their acquisition and rehab costs, and earning 7-9% on your investment.
The big advantage over Prosper is the loans are backed by the real property so if the borrower stops paying, you have some recourse — namely foreclosure.
The loans are shorter term, generally 1 year or less, instead of 3-5 years.
The big drawback is it’s $1000 minimum investment per deal, compared to $25 on Prosper — so if one of those blows up, it could potentially be a big blow.
I actually have one PeerStreet deal that’s getting foreclosed on as we speak, so we’ll see if the company is able to recoup the principal on that one!
On Fundrise, they have several funds that operate like mini REITs or real estate investment trusts where you’re buying a combination of debt and equity in a range of commercial properties they’ve bundled together.
I’m about 3 years into my investments there and have been happy with the cashflow returns so far. Of course there haven’t been any major real estate downturns that time!
It’s probably too early to tell how it’ll all shake out, but between the two platforms I’m seeing a few hundred dollars a month in interest and dividends.
6. Dividend Investing
The last investment income stream in the “investment” category is the dividend growth portfolio I’ve been building over the last few years.
This has been my relatively low risk way to buy cash flow. The basic strategy is this: buy shares of boring old companies like AT&T, Proctor and Gamble, Chevron, and others that have a looooong history of not only paying dividends, but increasing those dividends year after year.
I’m the person who always thinks the market is about to tank, so investing for cash flow instead of hoping for share price appreciation, has been helpful for me.
It may not seem super exciting in the moment, but over time I’ve built up this income stream to thousands of dollars a year, which to me is really cool.
If you prefer a more active approach, this chat with Teri Ijeoma on trading stocks might be worth a listen.
Platforms where you can buy stocks for free:
Blooom is a cool service that integrates with your existing 401k plan. The technology moves the money into investments that save you on fees and take your retirement goals into account to generate better returns.
It costs $10 a month but could save you hundreds of dollars a year in hidden fund fees — a silent killer on many investment accounts.
Yes, I’m still a seller on Fiverr and still make some sales here and there.
It definitely has not been a focus lately, but in total I’ve earned over $13,000 on Fiverr since late 2013.
That revenue comes from a combination of book editing, video website reviews, and selling a handful of digital guides and ebooks.
The gigs I have live now are almost entirely for those ready-to-deliver products so any orders that do come through are essentially passive income. So far this year, I’m averaging less than $50 a month though.
I still like Fiverr as a Buy Button platform but just haven’t dedicated the attention to it that it needs to sustain and grow.
8. Merch by Amazon
Merch is my wife and I’s print-on-demand t-shirt side hustle. It’s a fun little business and generates around $60-200 a month for us.
We had one month that was $500 and would love to get to that level consistently. I think it’s just a matter of creating more designs, which hasn’t happened since the arrival of little hustler #2.
Clarity.fm is another income stream that appeared on my 2014 list, and it’s earned over $6000 in total.
The by-the-minute consulting platform is really the last holdout of “active income” — straight trading time for money. I’ve pushed pause on most one-on-one coaching / consulting work, but if people really insist on a call, I usually send them to Clarity.
On a monthly basis today, it varies but probably averages $100 a month.
10. Display Ads
One of my other sites is earning around $1000 a month from display ads. I love this income stream because the advertisers are on auto-renew billing.
Of course I spent years getting the traffic and reputation of the site to the level that would justify companies spending that with me, but today, it’s very passive.
In the “display ad” category, I’m lumping together:
- Traditional banner ads.
- A “featured” listing, like what you might see at the top of Yelp search results.
- Hosting retargeting scripts for other companies.
That last one, the retargeting scripts, was an interesting one. It allows advertisers to run their own ad campaigns to my visitors. If you don’t want to clutter your site with ads, that could be one way to add some recurring revenue to your business.
11. Self-Publishing: Kindle
The next 3 income streams I have are all self-publishing-related, and the first is Amazon Kindle author royalties.
Books are a cool brand of digital asset where you can create the product once, and sell it over and over again.
I currently have 9 books on Amazon, and over the last 12 months, have earned $200-500 a month in royalties.
In fairness, there’s definitely a downward trend in those numbers since it’s been a couple years since my last book, Buy Buttons, was released. Still, when I did a breakdown of the book’s first full year, I found it had earned almost $18,000 and had at least 9 income streams of its own!
12. Self-Publishing: Paperbacks
The second component to the self-publishing business is paperback sales, which for me are handled by CreateSpace.
(I believe CreateSpace is being phased out in favor of KDP Paperbacks, so that will probably change shortly.)
In any case, the paperback editions of my books will still be print on demand. That means I have no inventory to carry and Amazon handles all the shipping.
CreateSpace has generated $150-400 a month this year, and I’m planning on experimenting with a new paperback only book here shortly.
13. Self-Publishing: Audiobooks
The final self-publishing income stream is audiobooks, of which I have only 2 available, compared with 9 Kindle editions.
I’m a relative newcomer to the audiobook game so I consider this incremental revenue. It’s been in the $100-200 per month range for most of this year.
One cool thing is if you don’t have the recording equipment or know-how, you can actually get your book narrated and produced for free! On the ACX platform, professional narrators produce your book in exchange for a share in the future royalties.
In any case, for self-published authors, I highly recommend giving readers all 3 formats to buy your book. If you’re only doing a Kindle version, you’re leaving a lot of cash on the table.
14. Podcast Sponsorships
This year, just from sponsorship spots, The Side Hustle Show will probably be a $45-50k business, which is crazy because that’s what I used to make at my old job.
And that doesn’t count any of the other benefits of doing the show.
Of course it took a long time to get there, but to me that’s really rewarding. I actually sold out of the available ad spots several months early, which was cool too, because it meant one less thing to spend time on for a while.
15. Affiliate Marketing
My biggest income stream is affiliate marketing.
How affiliate marketing works is you’re earning a commission for selling someone else’s product or service. It’s how I got my start online in 2004, and though the methods have certainly changed since then, it still represents a large chunk of my monthly income.
Since that was my background with the other sites I was running, I naturally incorporated affiliate links into the content at Side Hustle Nation, and as the traffic has grown, the income has grown as well.
Affiliate Marketing on the Blog
If you dig around the site you’ll see lots of examples of posts that are monetized with affiliate links. Sometimes they’re almost over the top, like my monster list of the best Udemy courses. That one post has earned over $40,000.
Even though it’s a pretty blatant affiliate play, I think it works because it’s also a helpful resource.
Another example is my new free course on credit card rewards.
It’s a ton of useful content, and if you sign up for a new card through my affiliate link, I’ll earn a commission.
I was earning around $400 a month from credit card signup commissions before creating that, and my hope is I can bump that to a consistent $1500-2000 now that there’s a legit asset to point people to.
Affiliate Marketing on the Podcast
Affiliate marketing works on the podcast as well.
Probably one of the best-performing examples is Jungle Scout, Greg Mercer’s Amazon product research software. When Greg comes on the show, delivers a ton of value, and then says he’s got a special deal on it for Side Hustle Nation, it works.
And it’s been working to the tune of $200-300 a month in commissions pretty consistently for the last couple years.
And over the last 5+ years in building the site, there are tons of little examples like these. Each piece of content you create is like a little micro business on its own.
A Final Note
While diversification is great, I think if you’re just starting out it makes sense to focus on one or two income streams.
Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to do a million things simultaneously. Instead, build out one side hustle, and see how that can translate into the next.
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What income streams are you working on today? What’s one annoying expense in your Side Hustle Snowball you’d love to erase?
Let me know in the comments below!
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