Build Things That People Want

One of the best parts of building The Simple Dollar came during the periods when I actually took a break from managing the site. I wrote a bunch of material in advance, locked everything down, and essentially took a break from managing the site for a while.

During those down periods, the income from the site – generated by the ads, from links to Amazon, and from a few other sources like that – continued to roll in. That felt extremely good.

I have another good friend that runs a number of YouTube channels of various types. He has expressed a similar feeling – it feels really good when you’re not actually doing anything, yet you’re still earning some income from what you’ve done.

I’ll give you two additional examples – the two books I’ve written.

In 2008, Adams Media published my first book, 365 Ways to Live Cheap. It’s a simple and relatively short book that does almost exactly what you would expect – it lists 365 ways to cut your spending along with a few paragraphs of advice on how to achieve each one.

In 2010, FT Press published my second book, The Simple Dollar. It’s a bit longer, essentially summarizing my own financial story along with the lessons I learned along the way.

Both of these books are still in print. They’ve each been translated into multiple languages. My active work on both books was done by the end of 2010. Today, I receive a small royalty check every few months from each publisher in the mail and I don’t have to do anything for it.

Building things that people want is a great way to help achieve some degree of financial independence for yourself.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t earn nearly enough from royalties to even think about financial independence. I’m a very long way from that. However, those little streams help – especially considering that they don’t require any additional effort from me at this point.

The Internet affords many, many opportunities for people to make money in this way. You can start a website. You can write books and sell them on the Kindle Store. You can create YouTube videos. You can start a podcast.

However, there are a few things that are absolutely important to understand when it comes to building these kinds of passive income streams.

First, you’re going to do a lot of up-front work with little return for a long time. The Simple Dollar didn’t make much at all until I had written hundreds upon hundreds of articles for the site. For the first few hundred posts, I made virtually nothing.

Second, you can do all the up-front work in the world, but if the product isn’t interesting to someone, it’s not going to ever make much money for you. Whenever you create something, you need to constantly ask yourself a few key questions. Does this help people? Does this entertain people? Use your own judgment, but also listen (somewhat) to the feedback of others. Does this help or entertain others? Keep asking yourself that with everything you create.

Third, accept that you’re going to fail disastrously sometimes. You’re going to make things that aren’t entertaining, aren’t helpful, and aren’t successful. The key is to keep picking yourself up and trying to make something new.

Fourth, there is no such thing as 100% passive income. Your goal is to create things that earn money, but without additional effort, even those things will become stale. Instead, you’re striving to build things that can survive periods where you are focused on other endeavors while still earning money for you. Nothing in this world truly runs on autopilot – everything requires at least some time and/or money from you.

Fifth, do something you’re passionate about. If you’re creating content – making videos, writing – focus on areas you’re personally interested in and passionate about. That passion comes through and it makes your end product more interesting and engaging and useful for people. Your chances of success go way up.

Here are five different avenues to follow for making things that people want, sharing them, and making some additional income for yourself.

Build a YouTube Channel

Get a digital camera and some simple video editing software and start recording some videos. Sign up with YouTube and upload your creations. Then repeat. And repeat again.

You can literally make videos about anything, but successful videos achieve at least one of two things: They’re either entertaining in some way, or they’re informative in some way. The best videos manage to capture both.

I can offer up tons of examples, but here are a few of my favorite channels that balance information and entertainment: Laura in the Kitchen, Ron Hazelton’s home improvement videos, BeFiT, The Dice Tower, and perhaps my favorite, Crash Course.

Just pick a topic you enjoy and start making videos about them. Let your passion shine through and keep working to fix the rough edges and it will become entertaining and others will want to watch them. It just takes time and patience.

Build a Website

You can either build a blog, like The Simple Dollar, or a standalone static website. Fill it with information on the topic that you want to share about, give it a personal voice or something else that makes it different than what’s out there, and then share it with the world by finding Internet forums related to the topic and sharing the site with them. You can earn a little money by putting ads on the site, whether Google AdSense ads or some other service.

Again, look for a topic you’re passionate about because you’re bound to create entertaining and worthwhile material about it, and you’re more likely to stick with it and create a lot of material, which is a big key to success.

Write a Book

Sit down and crank out a book. Don’t worry about getting it published at all – just write what’s in your heart. Maybe it’s fiction – maybe it’s nonfiction. Just sit down and write that book that’s inside of you. When it’s done, put it aside for a while, then edit it yourself. When that’s done, have someone else edit it and work with them to make it better.

At that point, you’re ready to publish it – and the tools you need to publish are already at your disposal. You can publish the book in electronic form on the Kindle Store and even have physical copies of the book made as well without even having to deal with the inventory.

Once that’s done, all you have to do is publicize it. Share it in some of your favorite forums. Let your friends know all about it. Give some copies away to interested parties who might talk about it elsewhere. If it’s good, the ball will start rolling.

Create a Smartphone App

This is a great avenue for a programmer to earn a little money on the side while also honing their programming skills and building their resume.

Just identify a problem of some kind that needs solving and can be addressed with a smartphone app, figure out how to solve that problem, and then write the app. You’ll have to do some learning along the way, most likely, and you may need some graphic design assistance in the later stages, but you can make a good prototype yourself without any help if you’re a good programmer.

After that, just put it on the App Store, let people who might be interested know about the app, and then watch some revenue roll in.

Sell Your Art

If you’re an artist or a photographer, there are many venues for you to sell your art online. This site lists several avenues, both for selling digital copies and for selling prints, including services that will manage all of the physical prints for you.

The key, then, is to produce great art and take great photographs, ones that people will want to buy for other uses or display in their home. As with all forms of art, this takes dedication and practice, but the internet makes it possible to earn at least a trickle of steady hands-off income from your best work.

Final Thoughts

Here’s the most important tip of all: If you’re not having fun doing it, it’s probably not going to work out. With a project such as this, the journey is the enjoyable part; the income stream might come along down the line if others like it, too.

The Simple Dollar is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever worked on. It was enjoyable from the very first day, when it didn’t earn me a penny. It was still enjoyable after writing a few hundred articles, when the earnings were still in the pennies. It’s still enjoyable today, too. If it were not for that joy, I would not still be writing; of course, if it were not for that joy, it likely would never have been successful.

Do something you love, something that can someday potentially turn into an income stream. Along the way, build something that people want. It’s a great way to spend your spare time.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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