Ideas to generate passive income with content

Running a business — one in which you provide services to your clients — sometimes ties you to the clock: You can only perform so many services in a day and that puts a cap on your income. As a copywriter, this is a frustration I face.

Yes, you can become more efficient, yes you can raise your prices, yes you can work longer hours, yes you can outsource some of your work. I do those things and I know other people who do those things too. But if you’re THE person who delivers value as a service, you will face the simple reality that there are only 24 hours in a day and at some point you have to stop working so you can eat a carrot or watch an episode of House of Cards.

Don’t get me wrong, I love service businesses and I think if you want to start a business, you should start by offering a service. But there comes a point when you want to grow your business but you can’t squeeze more productivity into your day.

Expanding your business to create income that isn’t chained to the clock is a great way to help you make more money without having to invent a time machine. This is sometimes called passive income.

One way to create passive income is to create content that you monetize. Here are the 3 steps to do that…


You’ll only attract eyeballs to your content if you give people a reason to view it. And the best reason to get someone to view your content is if you solve a pressing problem or alleviate a burning need.

I’m not going to go into more detail about that here. It will be different for everyone and if you’re not sure what your audience’s biggest problems (that you solve) are then that should be your homework.

So, I’ll assume that you know what the problem (it’s got to be a BIG problem) and how you solve it.

Okay? Let’s continue…


There are many ways to deliver content that earns passive income.

Here is a non-exhaustive list:

  • Print book
  • Ebook
  • Report
  • Ecourse
  • Articles
  • Blog posts
  • Video
  • Social media post
  • Email
  • Toolkit
  • Swipe file
  • Webinars
  • Seminars
  • Podcasts

I’ve mixed offline and online content deployment channels together, and as you read this you can probably identify a handful of options I didn’t include.


There aren’t that many ways, actually. Only two. Here they are at a high level:

  1. You can sell the content (actually, you’re just renting access to the information because you continue to own the information). It might include permanent access or temporary access. Examples: selling a book or ebook, selling tickets to a seminar.
  2. You can run ads or affiliate offers on or near the content so that you earn money as people view or click. Examples: An ad enabled video or an email with an affiliate link it.

You can also combine these together. I frequently write for clients who offer sold content that also has affiliate links inside of it.

For more info on monetizing your content, check out this blog post: 5 levels of content monetization.

There are many ways to put these pieces together and have them offered regularly through your sales funnel. So if you want to grow your business and start earning a bit more passive income to help bump up your income without working longer hours, start creating and deploying monetized content.

(Hey, want to see a case study of this very thing in action? Check out this passive income case study).

4 monetization models for video

In a post I wrote yesterday about the impending death of television and the rise of online video, I suggested that one of the overlooked reasons that we’re moving to online video is that the content is shorter. It fits into our day. Yes, the other arguments are valid (we can watch what we want, when we want, on whichever device we want) but we can’t ignore the fact that a 30 or 60 minute show doesn’t necessarily fit with our schedule… but we still want to be entertained. Shorter videos are attracting us away from television and filling our downtime with entertainment opportunities.

There is HUGE, HUGE opportunity in video, both now and into the future. If you are looking to create content — regardless of whether this is information or entertainment — video is a place you can carve out a space for yourself.

But how do you monetize your video content? Here are the two standard monetization models for video that are well-known and frequently used, plus a third model and fourth model that I think are still in the early stages and we’ll see more of in the future. (And I should point out here that I’m talking primarily about entertainment-type videos rather than informational videos, although I realize that the line is pretty blurry).

So here are the four video monetization models that are pretty popular right now:

1. Place ads in your videos

I think this is the default model for new video producers because YouTube makes it so easy to do this. Just create a video, allow advertisements to display, and earn money from the ad. There are YouTube success stories that make this an attractive model for anyone.

Actually, it’s not that different from traditional television monetization models — either a commercial precedes the video or a clickable ad overlays over the video for part of the video. In fact, the networks that post their full episodes to their websites also use commercials, in the traditional sense, inside their videos.

2. Use your entertaining videos to sell something

If you have a product or service to sell, you can create an entertaining video that people will watch — which subtly (or not so subtly) promotes your brand as people watch.

I have two examples. The first example is a little more overt — Super Bowl commercials. They are high quality productions that people intentionally watch to be entertained and good ones are talked about for years to come. (I still hear people talking about Apple’s 1984 commercial). I just recently posted about Radio Shack’s surprisingly excellent Super Bowl commercial. Those are overt because they ARE commercials.

But there’s also the slightly more subtle (and perhaps more powerful) videos that are true “television shows” in their own right, and yet are created for a commercial purpose. The best example I know of are the BMW commercials. (Search for them on YouTube if you’ve never seen them). The entire series is excellent.

And here are the other two models that were inevitable but are still in the early stages and offer a lot of promise to producers that can use them well.

3. Sell your videos

If you create video content, you can put it behind a paywall and sell access to it. Infomarketers do this already but now we’re seeing entertainment companies do this as well. The best example I’ve seen is Netflix, which has resurrected itself from the ashes to become more than just a paid aggregator of video… they are actually producing their own video entertainment now!

4. Get promotional support and include product placements

This one is the newest and most untried of the four models (at least in online video). I think this is partly because companies just don’t know what kind of ROI they can get from this.

But I recently saw one series (produced right here in Winnipeg — awesome!!!) that is very well done. The show is entertaining, there’s a decent storyline, and the brand placement is present but not silly or overwhelming. The series is called Wind City and it’s a 6-part series of videos that have a storyline but also integrate brand advertising into the show. I think it’s actually a pretty cutting-edge attempt at this business model. Even if you don’t love the show or Winnipeg, you should check out Wind City on YouTube for a bit of entertainment and to see their business model at work.


Some of the monetization models above are being used well already for informational videos. But as entertainment videos increase in number and variety and quality, we’ll see more of those become monetized in these ways.

Starting a business? Start with a service.

I’m going to get into trouble writing this post. I think people might comment (in this post or privately by email) who will chastise me for suggesting this. I can predict the emails now.

But I’m here to tell you that they are wrong.

Regardless of what the experts tell you, start a business that offers a service.

Years ago, I started my business as a freelance writer. Although different aspects of my business changed (including what I wrote and who I wrote for), I always came back to the one key element: I provided a writing service for other people. It was my default position.

Later, I branched out into other things — selling infoproducts, writing ad-based or affiliate-based content, and more. But writing was always there, always funding that expansion and always putting food on the table.

I’m a big fan of starting a business by providing a service to other people. That service could include something you do (as in my case — writing — or perhaps it’s something else, like renovating houses or consulting on social media or being a plumber, etc.). If you find a group of people who want what you sell, and you market to that group effectively, you’ll always have work… and you’ll always have income. And if you ever want to make more money as a service provider, you can always increase how much you pitch and how much you charge. That’s true security as a business owner. There’s a very simple link between the work you do and the success you enjoy.

A service also makes you relevant and keeps you sharp. It keeps you in the game. It helps you establish and strengthen your position in the industry. It gives you a “laboratory” that you can experiment — see what works; see what doesn’t.

And no matter what happens, you can wake up and make money… and you’ll always have the confidence that more money is just a few phone calls away. (If you have the right service to the right group of people, of course).

Once you have a service established and in place, then you can extend to other monetization opportunities: Products, information, etc. These are awesome because they are “do-them-once-and-profit-continuously” opportunities. Often, they require a lot of work up-front but then can become serious profit generators in the future because the hard work is done initially and all you need to do after is market them.

And eventually, product sales might even outstrip your service sales so you get to the point where you don’t earn much money at all from services. And a lot of the gurus will tell you that starting with a product is the way to go because they can generate a lot of profit.

But I think you should start with a service. Find something you do well and provide it to a well-chosen market.

Products (whether physical products or infoproducts) are good to sell and can boost your income considerably. And products are often heavily promoted by the gurus as THE way to monetize your business. But here’s what they don’t tell you:

  • Cost and effort: Products take a lot of work up-front to do well. Physical products may require that you pay for them to be imported or manufactured. Digital products require time spent in writing and design.
  • Risk: Along with the effort, there’s a considerable amount of risk offering a product that is designed and created… but then turns out to be a dud.
  • Income and timeline: Products are (often) not a windfall. They trickle money in — and sometimes it’s not a lot of money at all. Yes, you could eventually get to a point where your product business is bringing in decent cash from product sales but in the very beginning, you won’t be lighting cigars with $100 bills.

Now let’s compare those same factors with a services offering:

  • Cost and effort: Services don’t need to be “created” so they take zero dollars to do. (You might point out that some services require costly tools or training. That’s a good point but I cover it in my next point)…
  • Risk: If you offer a service and no one buys, you haven’t lost much. You can adjust your service to offer it to a group of people who do want it. Or if you want to make more money, you can offer different services. In other words, services are much more agile. (And as for the point about expensive tools, here’s what I think: If you have the tools required to do the job then you probably have the experience and skills necessary. If you don’t have the tools then find something else that you can do).
  • Income and timeline: With services, you can potentially earn a good living right from day one. The more you sell your services, the more the money comes in. It’s fast and it’s relatively substantial (compared to the profit you earn from most products).

Once you start selling your services, don’t stop there. If services are the only thing you sell from now until you die then you run the risk of capping your income and burning yourself out. However, if you start with services and then start adding products or other “passive” monetization opportunities, you can grow your business further while always having that income from services.

The naysayers of this idea will point out that services limit you by taking your time and capping the amount of income you earn in an hour. It’s true that services pose that risk. However, I’ve seen enough people who dreamed of starting a business but couldn’t earn enough money from products to earn enough income when they needed it.

What I’m suggesting is not a popular recommendation, and it’s not surprising that products are hailed as the best business choice over services. But I think a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs could become actual entrepreneurs right now if they stopped trying to find the perfect product to sell and instead focused on the service they could offer.

If you aspire to start a business, think about what services you could provide. What could you do well that other people might be able to hire you for. Use that as your starting point, enjoy the fast income you can earn from it, and use that income to fund expansion into other monetization opportunities.

How social media can save television

When I was a kid, my family set aside Thursday nights as our “family TV night”. Dad would bring home a bag of chips and a bottle of pop. He’d turn on the TV a couple of minutes before the show started and the four of us would sit there on the couch and watch Family Ties and The Cosby Show (and maybe something else? It’s a little foggy now).


My parents were the last generation of people who may or may not have had a TV in their house. I’m in the generation that grew up with television — usually just one in the house. The generation(s) since have grown up with more televisions and more channel choices. Today, the entertainment choices have grown beyond “television” (in the strictest sense of the word) and the very existence of television as we once knew it is threatened.

Once, viewers were at the mercy of whatever was showing on the available channels. Some people had more choice because they had cable or satellite. My family couldn’t afford that stuff so our TV grabbed whatever was broadcast through the air. I remember it being someone’s job to adjust the rabbit ears on top of the TV to improve reception when things got fuzzy.

Other technology changed how we view television (and I should also include movies here, too): VCRs and DVDs allow us watch our own entertainment choices when we want. PVRs allow us to delay watching our chosen entertainment (and skip the commercials if we want). Other services (like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, AppleTV, etc.) are all changing how we are entertained by giving us more choice and more control.


Entertainment is not going away. And neither is watching something (i.e. a “television device” — whether it’s a big screen TV or a tablet). But what is really at risk is what we might call “real-time” television. Maybe there’s a better term for it. By “real time” television, I mean sitting down to watch a show from start to finish, including commercials, at the time it is broadcast.

I never watch shows when they are broadcast, and you probably don’t either. I use my PVR almost always, to fast forward through commercials and to watch shows on my time. And the occasions when I happen to watch a show in “real time” (when it is broadcast), I feel impatient and impotent because I can’t fast forward through the commercials. In fact, if I happen to see that a show was on that I wanted to watch, I usually prefer to record it on my PVR and return to it about 20 minutes later just to skip the commercials.


Most channels earn their money from commercials. But people are skipping the commercials so the value isn’t there for show providers anymore. To counter this effect, we’re seeing other monetization techniques like product placement or on-screen marketing broadcast in the corner of the screen during a show.

Real time television is at risk. But I think it can be revived. I think people will watch real time television once again.

And I think this is where social media is the answer.


My wife and I love NASCAR and we PVR the race because we usually fast forward through the pre-race show and the commercials, and because sometimes (depending on when it airs) we might not get to see it right at the very beginning.

The PVR gives us a lot of control, which we love. But there’s a drawback: If a driver does something that I want to tweet about, I don’t… because my tweet will seem almost silly coming a full hour or two after it actually happened. And, Janelle and I both avoid Twitter before and during the race because of our self-imposed PVR-delay. We don’t want to know who won the race if we’re still only at the halfway point in our viewing.

It’s almost enough for me to want to watch a race live. And if I had more friends or followers who were as avid race fans as I am, that might just happen. (But my network of people who are also NASCAR fans isn’t that big so it’s not likely going to happen any time soon).

If that’s the case for me, it’s going to be the case for other people, too — for other shows or sporting events. In fact, the “second screen” phenomenon is a growing industry in itself and I think we’re only seeing the start of it: The second screen — a mobile device or tablet or laptop screen — becomes a way for people to act on what they’re watching. They can research, shop, find news, and interact with others.


In my opinion, television hasn’t caught up to the second screen phenomenon yet. It’s still broadcasting as a real-time medium in an on-demand world. For TV to survive, it needs to give people a reason to watch real time TV again. We’re seeing the very first elements of that happening — mainly through hashtags or encouraging people to view more online or play social games. But a lot of those efforts encourage participation after a show is complete. Can TV do even more?

Here are some ideas:

  • Pose questions for people to answer in a forum or with a hashtag. Instead of just inviting people to talk about the show, give them something to talk about.
  • Encourage live commentary/discussion during the show (perhaps on Facebook or some kind of Twitter-like discussion page)
  • Get crowd-sourced decisions that will adjust how characters deal with a situation in a show. This could be done either in a live show setting, which would be very awesome, or on a delay until the following week.
  • Split a story across multiple screens — sharing the first hour on TV and the last 30 minutes online
  • Provide deeper plotlines on multiple screens — sharing the main storyline on the first screen and a secondary but intersecting storyline on the second screen. You could follow the lives and adventures of secondary characters this way, fleshing them out more fully for avid fans.
  • Broadcast a post-show talk show (similar to what AMC does with The Talking Dead, a talk show that follows The Walking Dead). Broadcast it online if you don’t want to use up air-time.
  • Split a show (perhaps creating a 45 minute show instead of a one-hour show) with actor discussion part way through — answering questions live.
  • Drop clues during commercials that people have to watch for, perhaps something that will help them understand the show or interact more fully online.

I’m sure there are more things that could be done. As I write this, I’m seeing some major themes: More intentional splitting of the story (or characters or storylines) across screens. More intentional interaction/involvement required of viewers. Discussion. Dissection. Learning more.

The production companies and channels that create these shows will need to invest more time and effort but the result will be deeper engagement from viewers and the cultivation of a group of people who watch the show in real time.

The emporium of monetization

When starting up a business, the entrepreneur usually has a couple of monetization options in mind. A consultant might offer one-on-one coaching OR team-participation workshops, for example. In my business, I offer written content for businesses to use in their marketing and sales efforts, plus I sell my content in other ways as well (i.e., books and ebooks).

And as a business grows, it should seek out additional opportunities to make more money. These opportunities should be related to the core business in some way; I don’t mean that a barber shop should start selling used cars. So the consultant I mentioned above might add a book and seminars and some affiliate marketing to their business.

These additional monetization opportunities have two benefits:

  • They offer additional ways for existing customers to spend more in the business
  • They offer new ways to attract new customers into the business


Recently, while searching for bookstores online, we stumbled across a bookstore in England that we will definitely visit next time we’re in the UK. And this bookstore, in my opinion, has mastered the art of monetization.

When you think of a bookstore, what monetization possibilities do you have in mind? There are the books, obviously, plus a lot of bookstores are adding coffee. Those are the two top-of-mind monetization possibilities.

But Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights (which should win an award for awesomest bookstore name ever) rocks in the monetization department.

Along with books (and perhaps food; I couldn’t tell from their site), they offer:

  • Two “reading spa” packages where booklovers chat about reading with a member of the staff, they read in a “Bibliotherapy room”, they eat cakes and cookies, they get a bag of treats, and they get a voucher to buy books.
  • A year-long reading plan package where you pay some money to the Emporium and they send you books that they think you’ll like.
  • They also have an impressive array of literary events that might not be monetized themselves but are a great way to bring customers into the shop.

Non-book-lovers might look at this list and wonder why anyone would ever want to spend money on this stuff. But my wife and I are pretty avid book collectors and we both remarked about how much we would love living near a place like this.

And you don’t have to be a book-lover to admire the creative ways that Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights has branched into creative monetization.


When I set up businesses for myself or for my clients, monetization is usually part of the early conversation. And quite often I find myself relying on some of the most common forms of monetization. But there’s a lesson we can learn from Mr. B’s: Get creative about your monetization!

How can you get creative about your monetization? What can you do that will get people experiencing your business in new ways? What are some new and unexpected ways that you can repackage your products and services that would attract new customers or get existing customers to buy more from you?

Here are a couple of places to start:

I’d like to hear from you: In the comments, why not tell us about the creative monetization ideas have you seen or that you’ve developed in your business…