Want a set-it-and-forget-it way to make more money? Obviously the answer is yes—and thanks to the Internet, there are more ways to do this than ever.
Here are a few totally legit ideas people actually use to earn supplemental or primary income.
What is passive income, exactly?
First, let’s take a look at what passive income is, and what it isn’t.
Basically, active income is income you make by trading your time. This is the salary you earn while spending 40 hours plus at the office, or wherever your workplace is. You’re trading your time for money.
Passive income comes in without you having to do anything after an initial setup period. It’s a product you put out there that people will pay for, without having to do any work on your part.
Of course, even that definition is a misnomer. Actually, most passive income options require a considerable amount of up-front work, and some (or a lot) of work afterwards to drive income—in terms of self-promotion.
But if you nail it, your passive income has the potential to make you more money than you’d earn just by trading your time. Once you liberate yourself from the time-for-money cycle, your life suddenly opens up—and you can spend time on things other than making a living.
Here’s a look at some passive income streams across different talents, abilities, and levels of difficulty. We've ranked each entry as easy, moderately difficult, or hard.
1. Peer-to-peer lending
You don’t have to be a bank to lend money. You can lend to people directly through a broker like Lending Club or Prosper. If you have extra money sitting around, you could potentially earn as much as 10% on it.
2. Rent your stuff
At Peer Renters, you can rent things you aren’t using all the time—like your leaf-blower or camping gear—to people in your area.
3. Rent out property
Got an extra house you’re not using? Consider becoming a landlord. Of course, being a landlord isn’t work-free—it’s still on you to make sure your tenants pay and your building complies with local laws about what makes a building livable.
This can be extremely difficult—or it can be relatively easy, depending on how you make it. If you’re one of those landlords who’s always on hand to fix every broken fuse, consider this a “difficult.” But it doesn’t have to be.
4. Sell things you make
Like with rental properties, this is as difficult as you make it. You can create handcrafted wonders that you sell on Etsy, or hire a graphic designer to do a simple but eye-catching t-shirt design, and sell that on Shopify.
5. Write a guide or course
Not as in-depth as a book, and if you pick a topic people want to know about, a step-by-step guide can do quite well.
You can sell this on its own (say, on Amazon Kindle Direct) or offer it on your blog or podcast if you have one.
6. Retail arbitrage
If you like to shop, this is for you. Buy stuff at a low price—doesn’t matter what stuff, as long as it’s something you can find for cheap and that other people will pay more for (that’s the sweet spot). Send it to one of Amazon’s distribution centers and open an online store. Watch people buy it.
This will require you to do a certain amount of trolling thrift stores and EBay, and it requires knowing what will and won’t sell. Seasoned arbitrage-ers will tell you to watch Amazon’s best seller category in the type of products you’re thinking of, and see what’s selling well before deciding what to go with.
Airbnb (if you’ve been living under a rock) lets you out a room in your house, or your whole house, on a short-term basis. Being a good Airbnb host does require a lot of work—your place has to be clean, and the most committed host will sometimes pick visitors up at the airport or show them around. But it doesn’t have to be that time-consuming.
8. Run a blog
The idea is simple: start a blog, find your audience, get some traffic going, and then monetize it through online advertising. Pick a niche sweet spot—find a topic that other blogs aren’t already serving, but for which there’s a significant demand—and you’re golden.
You can make money by linking to Amazon Associates, ClickBank, ShareASale, and other sites that will pay you a commission whenever someone clicks on that link and buys. You can also let Google Adsense pay you to host ads on your site.
Simple in theory. In practice, it takes considerable writing ability, a lot of consistent work, and digital marketing strategy. It can morph into a full-time job in itself. But if you can get it going, you could, theoretically, earn a decent income this way. People do.
9. Write a book
Again, this is not easy. But if you have the ability, it may be worth a try.
It’s not that hard to self-publish on Amazon Kindle Direct, Lulu, Booktango, and other places. Genre fiction can do particularly well. You can pay for editing and marketing services if you have the cash, or release your novel out into the world and hope for the best.
You can do this with how-to books as well—these sometimes fare even better than fiction, especially if you have good credentials.
10. Run a podcast
If you get your podcast popular enough, you can earn money from sponsors. Some companies will pay you a flat fee to run ads on your podcast, while others will pay a set price per number of downloads.