Michael Ellsberg is the author of The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think, and It’s Not Too Late, which is launching from Penguin/Portfolio in September. It’s a bootstrapper’s guide to investing in your own human capital at any age. Michael sends manifestos, recommendations, tips, and other exclusive content to his private email list, which you can join at www.ellsberg.com. Connect with him on Twitter @MichaelEllsberg and on Facebook.
In order to build an audience, you need to have a platform. You need to have something worth following and sharing; something that’s valuable to others. And that, of course, takes time. That’s not to say you can’t build a huge audience in a short amount of time. But as much as we hear about the people who’ve succeeding at doing this, we don’t hear about the millions of others who are struggling every day to get just a few more fans and followers.
Venture debt ($12,240 a year): The first venture-debt fund has returned almost all my initial capital, so I decided to invest $200,000 in the second fund. I took a risk investing $150,000 in my friend's first fund, so I'm hoping there's less risk in the second fund, given he has four more years of experience on top of his 12-plus years of experience running a venture-debt portfolio for another company.
When I sold my company, the buyers were both thrilled and surprised that I was willing to accept such a large portion of the proceeds as structure payments. For 5 years, I received a monthly check, including interest, for the sale of that company. I created the value a long time ago, added a little more value by allowing payment over time, and thereafter that value was paid on a schedule.
There are a couple of problems with direct investment in real estate though. It’s expensive to buy even a single property, a minimum of tens of thousands of dollars, and there’s no way most investors can build a portfolio of different property types and in different regions to protect from those risks when you have all your money in just one or two investments.
Truebill is an app that helps you save money by identifying recurring subscriptions and other bills and helping you cut costs by negotiating better rates and fees. One of their partnerships is with Acradia Power, which has the potential to save you up to 30% on your electric bill. It searches for better power rates in areas where competition is allowed, and it locks in the better prices for you.
If you are a photographer looking to diversify your income stream, putting together styled stock photo packages can be lucrative. For example, a package of 15 wedding-themed stock photos for $10. You can then market this to any bloggers or businesses who are in the wedding business for their use (photos of different engagement rings styles are super popular). Through this method, it’s possible to make a continuous stream of income off of photos you’ve taken once (similar to a licensing deal).
If you are not able to get a mortgage on the property, there are still a few options available though rates can be fairly high. You might try approaching the seller for owner financing where they sell the property to you on monthly installments. This might not be possible if there’s a mortgage on the property since many carry a “due on sale” clause. If you do go this route, make absolutely sure you get a notarized contract with all the details.
Let’s say you just decided to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card. Once you had the card in hand, you could begin using it for purchases and earning cash back for every swipe. For every dollar you spend on regular purchases, you’ll get 1 percent back in the form of rewards. For dining and travel purchases, on the other hand, you’ll score a smooth 2 percent back.
You are also free to choose a fund that is based on any index that you want. For example, there are index funds set up for just about every market sector there is — energy, precious metals, banking, emerging markets — you name it. All you have to do is decide that you want to participate, then contribute money and sit back and relax. Your stock portfolio will then be on automatic pilot.
The organizing principle behind this grouping, appropriate economic units, is relatively simple: if the activities are located in the same geographic area; if the activities have similarities in the types of business; or if the activities are somehow interdependent, for instance, if they have the same customers, employees or use a single set of books for accounting.
There is a specific tax definition of passive income, known as “passive activity” to the Internal Revenue Service. Passive income is any income you make without actively working or are materially involved. The IRS defines it as any rental activity or any business in which the taxpayer does not “materially participate.” Nonpassive activities, or active activities, are businesses in which the taxpayer works on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis.

That $200,000 a year might sound like a lot to you, but the median home price in San Francisco is roughly $1.6 million or almost eight times our annual passive income. For a family of three in 2018, the Department of Housing and Urban Development declared that income of $105,700 or below was "low income." Therefore, I consider us firmly in the middle class.
I have six rental units which are a good source of passive income. I don’t use a property manager because you are right…they take about 10% of your rent. There are really only 2 things that tenants call about: 1. A plumbing issue 2. Heat/Air problems. Just find a plumber and heat/air guy you can trust. I travel a lot for my primary job. When a call comes in from a tenant, I can call the repair guy in just as easy as a property manager.
What I find most interesting is the fact that I had never considered options like LendingTree or realityshares for other income sources. Investing in property has been too much of bad luck for people that I know personally, so I am interesting in getting involved in a situation where I would have to be dealing with maintenance issues or tenants. There are services for you to do that, but I had not come across any that didn’t eat most if not all of the earnings. Then again, I live in the NY area. Investing in the midwest would not be reasonably possible for me, directly, but reading about realityshares is something I am going to look into further. That might be a real possibility.
Those who choose to focus on passive income will need either family money, funds from investors, or the nerve to borrow large sums by taking on debt to fund the purchase of assets. Consider someone who takes out substantial bank loans to build an apartment building or buy rental houses. Although this can turn a very small amount of equity into a large cash flow stream, it is not without risk. When using borrowed money, the margin of safety is much smaller because you can’t absorb the same degree of setback before defaulting and finding you balance sheet obliterated.

I’ve built several businesses since 2008 using one or more of these models. I’ve been featured in magazines and articles across the globe, and since I started my journey I’ve generated over $5M in earnings from these businesses. All of my income and expenses for those businesses dating back to October 2008 have been tracked publicly on SPI.com. You can see 10 years of income reports here.

eBay is, of course, the biggest and most popular auction and shopping site out there. You pay a small insertion fee to list your product (starting from 10 cents) and a small portion of the selling price (10%) if your item sells. Currently, insertion fees for your first 50 listings per calendar month are free. Also, if you are planning to sell on regular basis, you may want to consider setting up an Ebay store. Among other things, this will allow you to list your products at reduced rates.


​Network marketing, or multi-level marketing, seems to be on the rise. Companies such as Young Living Oils, Avon, Pampered Chef, and AdvoCare are all multi-level marketing companies. You can earn passive income through network marketing by building a team underneath you (often referred to as a down line.) Once you have a large team you can earn commissions off of their sales without having to do much.


Affiliate marketing means you sign up with a company and/or entrepreneur and sell their products. For example, if you start a tech website, you could become an affiliate of a web hosting or anti-virus software company. You can earn hundreds or even thousands of dollars each month if your website receives a decent amount of web traffic and you have thousands of email subscribers. Being an affiliate marketer takes dedication and time. You need to build traffic via your website, email marketing and social media. Is this for you? You be the judge.
Do you have stuff in your basement, attic or garage that's collecting dust? If you do, pack up the SUV or car and kids and go to a flea market. You could make a couple of hundred, even thousands, of dollars, depending on what you're selling. You'll want to go to flea markets every weekend or at least every other weekend. Make an event out of it, and show your kids how easy it is to earn money selling their stuff.

Lending Club went public in 2014 and is now worth about $1.7B. They advertise P2P lending returns of over 7% for well-diversified portfolios of over 100 notes. I’ve personally been able to achieve a 7.4% annual return over the past two years in a completely passive way by investing in A and AA notes. Others have achieved a 10% annual return through relatively minimum effort.

I need to create a passive income stream that has a definable risk profile.I have $250k cash as a safety net in my savings account getting a measily 40 bps but I am somewhat ok with this as it is Not at risk or fluctuation (walk street is tougher nowadays). i have 270k in equity in my house, thinking of paying off the mortgage but probably does make sense since my rate is 3.125 on a 30 yr. I have 275k in my 401(k) and another 45k in a brokerage account that is invested in stocks that pay dividends.

Like I mentioned earlier, coming in late in the game can be an advantage if you listen, learn and provide solutions for what seems to be missing. Even coming into a market with a minimal viable product, you’ll have the advantage of being able to get deep into the customer experience to shape your product or service to what it should be, again, all based on what you’re able to measure and learn.


The term affiliate marketing has taken a bad rap over the years, primarily because people are abusing just how easy this is to do. Internet marketers are finding products they don’t even use because they come with a sweet commission, and are spamming everyone until they either buy, or unsubscribe. This is also known as the dark side of affiliate marketing.
The reason I consider dividends artificial and believe they don’t matter is because you can just as easily reinvest your dividends. If a stock is worth $100/share, I don’t care if it issues a $1/share dividend or if the share price instead increases to $101/share – either way, I have the same amount of money, because there’s no difference to my net worth whether I take the dividend or sell part of a stock.
When I started SmartPassiveIncome.com, I already had experience with a successful, automated online business at Green Exam Academy. A lot of people were providing online business advice at the time, but most were using other people’s businesses as examples, or just spoke theory with no real case studies to back it up. Here, I was able to use my own experience as evidence, and it helped me become more credible right from the start.
I just can’t seem to get my head around creating my own online product. When you talk about it, you make it sound like its mostly just about putting in the time and plugging away at it. Problem is I can never seem to come up with any ideas for a site or product that seem remotely unique or compelling or that I have any special knowledge about. The stuff I do know about is pretty commodity type knowledge that can mostly be found on thousands of sites on the internet already. Any tips on discovering what your “unique angle” is? I mean, you have a pretty compelling and somewhat unique personal story of working on wall street and then walking away at a young age.
Instead of working in the service framework, passive income necessitates that we build (or otherwise acquire) something that inherently contains value, which can then be easily and repeatedly transferred to others with little or no work. Plain and simple, we have to create or buy valuable assets, preferably ones that deliver their value automatically. There are a lot of ways to do this, but they all fall into the 3 categories above, and realistically, a lot of them look like different flavors of the same thing.
It is so much better to let your property sit vacant for an extra month or two than to rush into an agreement with a bad tenant. You will be tempted to just go with your gut and not check out applicant tenants – fight the temptation if you want to keep your sanity! A bad tenant will trash your property and cost you thousands in missed rent and eviction costs.
It takes the “books I’m reading” area you often see in blogs (within Amazon affiliate links) to a whole new level. not only is this great for you, but it’s extremely helpful for your readers who may be looking for additional resources related to your niche. Plus, they may come across products or services they weren’t originally looking for while on your resources page.
Can you expound on the use of publicly-traded REITs as a passive income source? I’m 31 years old. No children. No wife. No dependents. (I am the closest thing to Ebenezer Scrooge you’ll ever see). My monthly expenses amount to less than $2,000 per month (most of which go to pay student loans) . I have a decent job making over $55K per year. I also have a $60K inheritance coming my way in a few weeks. I am absolutely crazy about achieving absolute financial independence, which for me would require a passive income of over $2000/month to cover my living expenses. I could achieve that in a mere couple of years if I were to save excessively and dump my savings (and inheritance) into a Mortgage REIT via the stock market, most of which are shelling out above 10% returns in dividend payments. Is this a good strategy for me? Or am I being too hasty and assuming too much risk?
That depends what you call a “good” lifestyle. Could I rent yachts and get bottle service every weekend living off my passive income? No way. Could I travel 10–15 weeks a year and live in central Tel Aviv with money to spare? Definitely. I was able to earn low 6 figures completely passively. But if you want to make boatloads of money, and step up to the 7-figure territory, then yes, you’re going to need a combination. If, however, you want time to pursue your passions and have a moderate amount of fun, you can definitely sustain yourself with passive income.
The organizing principle behind this grouping, appropriate economic units, is relatively simple: if the activities are located in the same geographic area; if the activities have similarities in the types of business; or if the activities are somehow interdependent, for instance, if they have the same customers, employees or use a single set of books for accounting.
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