How to earn passive income

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Passive income is a source of extra cash you can earn with minimal ongoing effort. While earning money this way requires some upfront setup (and sometimes, a monetary investment as well), once you have a side business or source established, you can bring in consistent money month after month.

There are many ways to earn passive income. You can earn it by investing, renting various assets out to others, leveraging advertising opportunities, or just monetizing the knowledge and skills you already have. Even sharing your photos of your favorite trips can be a way to earn extra cash if you do it right. 

5 ways to earn passive income

Having a passive income stream can help support you in retirement, provide funds for paying down debts or saving for a long-term goal, or, in some cases, even support you entirely. 

Julie Murphy, a certified financial planner at JMC Wealth in Chicago, has seen many clients succeed with passive income streams. The key to their success? “You have to be in one that resonates with you personally,” she says. “It’s all about what supports the life you want to create and live for yourself.”

If you’re interested in earning passive income, here are some unique avenues to explore.

1. Sell your pictures to stock photo websites

Taking photos and selling them to stock photo websites like Shutterstock, Alamy, Getty Images, and iStock Photo is one simple way to earn passive income. 

You snap photos, ensure they meet the site’s specs (dimensions, size, etc.), upload them, and add related keywords to help them appear in search results. Whenever a user licenses one of your photos, you get a cut of the sales. Alamy, for example, offers anywhere from 17% to 60% of the image’s licensing price each time it sells.

Longtime travel enthusiast Kevin Mercier started selling stock photos in 2015, after a photo-filled trip to Singapore left him feeling inspired. His photo blog now averages about 100,000 pageviews a month, and he pulls in an average $75 per image license purchased. The money allows him to travel more and gives him a flexible work schedule. 

“The only disadvantage that I can think of is the money I had to spend on my camera and gear,” Mercier says. “A good camera won’t define your photography skills but can surely enhance them.”

If you’re new to taking photos, Mercier recommends using YouTube and other free online resources to hone your craft. “This helped me produce more creative, engaging, and noticeable photographs,” Mercier says. “I can now sell almost any photo online—from street photography to pictures of food and animals.”

How much you can potentially earn: Income varies; 20 image license downloads per month on Alamy would bring in about $500.

Pros

  • Easy to get started taking and selling photos
  • Each photo offers long-term residual income potential
  • Can be done from anywhere

Cons

  • Requires some advanced photography skill
  • Preparing images and adding keywords may be time-consuming
  • May require extra equipment

2. Rent out your car (to people or advertisers)  

If you own a car, there are a couple of ways you can turn it into a viable passive income stream. One option is to wrap it in advertisements. Wrapify, Nickelytics, and Carvertise are three companies offering these services (though the latter two are just for ride-share and delivery drivers). 

With Wrapify, you download an app, create a profile, and get matched with advertising campaigns based on where you go and the times you’re on the road. Once you select a campaign, your car is wrapped with the appropriate company’s advertising, and you can start earning.

Another option is car-sharing. It works much like Airbnb does for real estate: You list your car on Turo, including photos and details about its interior, gas mileage, and amenities, and users can sign up to borrow it for a daily fee. 

How much you can potentially earn: Varies; $264 to $452 on Wrapify; $876 on Turo

Pros

  • No extra equipment required (as long as you own a car)
  • May produce enough to cover your car payment or insurance
  • You can choose who borrows your car and what ad campaigns you place on it

Cons

  • Ad campaigns and demand for your vehicle aren’t guaranteed
  • May increase wear and tear on your vehicle
  • May increase the chance of accidents and damage

3. Invest in dividend stocks

Some publicly-traded companies pay out dividends—essentially a portion of their profits—to stockholders on a regular basis. These dividends are typically only a small amount per share, but as you invest more (or the company becomes more profitable), that income will grow. You may also choose to reinvest your dividends, growing your stake in the company and potentially your dividends even further.

“The most consistently successful path to creating and growing passive income among my clients has been investing in stocks that not only pay a dividend, but have a track record of growing the dividend,” says Tommy Thompson Jr., a certified financial planner with Innovative Financial Group in Atlanta. 

The biggest advantage to dividend investing is “its lack of maintenance,” Thompson says. As long as you choose stocks in companies that are consistently profitable, you should see earnings from your investments on a regular basis. Most companies pay dividends once a quarter. 

To get started, you can open a brokerage account through companies like Schwab, Fidelity, or eTrade and then purchase the dividend stocks you’d like to invest in. Some companies allow you to buy stocks from them directly.

How much you can potentially earn: Varies widely depending on the stocks you choose and how many you own; For example, one share of 3M offers around $6 per share annually in dividends

Pros

  • Consistent payouts, usually on a quarterly basis
  • Could allow you to grow your dividends further if you choose to reinvest them

Cons

  • Payouts fluctuate based on how the companies you’ve invested in perform
  • May be hard to choose investments if you’re not well-versed in the stock market
  • Investments could lose value over time

4. Rent out parts of your property

Listing on Airbnb, VRBO, or another platform isn’t the only way to earn passive income from your home. A number of companies allow you to monetize other parts of your property, too.

If you have a pool, for example, Swimply lets you rent it out for an hourly fee. With Neighbor, you can lease out unused storage space, like your garage, attic, basement, or even closet, while Pavemint does the same for extra parking. You can even turn your yard into a doggie play area using Sniffspot

The earning potential varies based on your location and the demand in your area, but the setup process is fairly simple on all four platforms. You’ll create your listing, set your price, and start accepting reservations. With Neighbor, you’ll also need to schedule a move-in date.

How much you can potentially earn: Varies; Swimply says some of its hosts earn up to $5,000 per month, while Sniffspot says $3,000.

Pros

  • Sign-up process takes only a few minutes  
  • No upfront costs
  • No extra equipment required

Cons

  • Earning potential can vary widely
  • May increase the chance of damage to your property
  • Requires regular maintenance of your pool, storage space, driveway, or yard

5. Share your expertise 

If you have specialized knowledge or training in a field, you may be able to turn it into a passive income stream. One option is to create a YouTube channel to educate others. 

That’s what graphic designer Nick Saporito did when he started his YouTube channels, Logos By Nick and Design Made Simple, back in 2015 and 2017. Saporito now has a following of nearly 600,000 across both, and his videos on creating GIFs, removing photo backgrounds, and other various design strategies have amassed millions of views.

“I now earn a living exclusively from the passive income I’ve built around my skill set,” Saporito says. Saporito’s YouTube channel didn’t support him from the start. Before you can monetize your videos with advertising, you’ll need at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 total watch hours

“As for pay, it varies by industry,” Saporito says. “Some industries have really good ad rates, whereas other industries pay poorly. For graphic design tutorials, my average ad rate is about $6 for every 1,000 views. So a channel that gets 100,000 views per month would make about $600 per month. If uploading well-researched videos twice per week, you could reach that within a year or two.”

If YouTubing isn’t a strategy you’re interested in, sharing your expertise in an ebook, online course, or by answering online questions is another option. At JustAnswer, for example, you can earn an average of $2,000 to $7,000 per month answering questions about your field of expertise. Examples of experts currently on the site include attorneys, veterinarians, and mechanics.

How much you can potentially earn: YouTube varies based on views and industry; JustAnswer says experts can earn an average between  $2,000 to $7,000.

Pros

  • Allows you to monetize expertise you already have
  • Each video or ebook offers long-term residual income potential
  • No upfront costs

Cons

  • May take a while to qualify for YouTube monetization
  • Requires some level of expertise

The takeaway 

There are lots of ways to create passive income. But whether you monetize skills or assets you already have or branch out into a new field, those who have been there say it’s all in the set-up. 

Be prepared to do the work upfront—in snapping great listing photos, choosing smart car wrap campaigns, or uploading plenty of videos that will resonate for years to come. If you can do that, passive income is a real possibility.

“The biggest piece of advice I could give someone looking to get into this is to be consistent and have reasonable expectations,” Saporito says. “Creating passive income is more like a long-term investment that requires patience than it is a gig to make quick money.”



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