‘I work 10 hours a week’

When I created my money and lifestyle blog Making Sense of Cents in 2011, I had no idea what I was doing.

I was a 22-year-old financial analyst making $40,000 a year and struggling to pay off my student loans. But a big part of what I actually got into blogging was debt—I wanted to track and share the progress of my financial goals.

Eleven years later, Making Sense has gone beyond my wildest dreams. Over the past five years, I have averaged $760,000 in passive income per year by giving advice on how to start investing, what financial products to use, and how to tackle other money decisions.

My husband and I have achieved financial independence and have saved enough to retire whenever we want. This has allowed me to live my ideal lifestyle: I work only 10 hours a week and travel full time on our sailboat. I regularly snorkel, explore and hike.

Best of all, we have plenty of time to spend with our six-month-old daughter.

Michelle’s passive income allows her and her family to live and travel full time on their sailboat with limited access to the internet.

Photo: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

How did I start my financial blog?

Making Sense started out as a hobby, but about six months after I started writing, a friend hooked me up with a company that asked me to write a sponsored post for them. They paid me $100 to reach my 50,000 monthly site visitors.

After that, I started to review other bloggers who make money from their blogs. I posted more often and set up display ads on my website. I also continued to write sponsored articles by reaching out to brands that I saw other bloggers working with.

In just two years, I was making about $5,000 to $10,000 a month, more than I earn in my day job. After paying off my student loans in full in 2013, I decided to quit my job and blog full time.

For the first few years, I focused on the blog element of my job and published new posts almost daily. I’ve also guest-posted articles on my friends’ blogs.

Then I doubled my social media presence. I now have 110,000 followers on Facebook, where I post several times a day, and 161,000 followers on Pinterest, where I post about twice a week. I also have more than 130,000 email subscribers.

Over the years, I’ve leveraged my audience to create several passive income streams. And I started my first blogging course in 2016. Today, I only blog and post once or twice a week and have generated over $4,000,000 in gross revenue over the past five years.

Working just 10 hours a week allowed Michelle to spend more time in nature with her family.

Photo: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

How do I make $760,000 a year from passive income?

Making passive income from a blog doesn’t mean you never have to work. You will always need to manage the accounting side of your business, maintain your website and create new content. But you can do a lot of work up front and make years of money with little maintenance.

I have three main sources of passive income: affiliate marketing, course sales, and display advertising.

Affiliate marketing commissions make up about 50% of my revenue. I’m paid when I drive traffic or sales to partner brands through links on my blog, including posts that were created months or years ago and are still discoverable through Google, my social channels, and my blog.

About 20% of my income comes from course sales. I have two blogging courses that I sell to my blog audiences and email subscribers: Understanding Affiliate Marketing and Understanding Sponsored Posts.

I created my first lesson in Teachable and did all the planning, writing and recording. I commissioned graphic design elements to freelancers.

I’m selling Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing for $197 and Making Sense of Sponsored Posts for $159, both costing much less than my competitors’ prices. However, I have earned over $1,000,000 over the years from these two courses.

I also earn passive income through display ad commissions through Adthrive. I’m paid when readers see or click on an automatically generated ad on my blog.

My top tips for making passive income

I am always trying to increase my passive income. In addition to blogging, my husband and I invest in both individual stocks and investment accounts to supplement our pension fund.

As I live and travel on a sailboat, there is not always reliable internet. So without passive income drivers my family and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this wonderful nomadic lifestyle.

Michelle and her husband travel full-day on their sailboat with their daughter.

Photo: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Here are my top tips for creating content that can help you generate passive income:

1. Write as you speak.

On Being Meaningful, I discuss financial issues using language that is easy to read and understand. People walk away feeling like they’ve learned something, rather than feeling head over heels or confused. This makes them more likely to come back or share my blog with their friends.

Make sure your social media language is engaging and approachable, too. A good trick is to write as if you were talking casually over coffee with a friend.

2. Diversify your income streams.

Affiliate marketing, display advertising, and digital product sales are some of your best bets for generating passive income.

Diversifying your revenue streams ensures that you don’t depend on just one way to monetize or just one of your traffic sources. Instead, you will have balanced income streams to mitigate risk.

3. Publish consistently.

Even though your old blogs can bring you years of income, it’s still a good idea to keep producing new content. This helps you attract new readers or followers while retaining your loyal readers (who don’t want to see the same things over and over).

4. Help as much as possible.

The goal is to make people want to come back to your blog. You want them to trust you enough to buy a course or affiliate product you recommend.

Ask readers what they would like to read more or what questions they have. Do your own research on what’s trending for new ideas. Include actionable tips they can use right away. And finally, only promote and sell products that you personally believe in.

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner is the founder Understanding Centshere helps readers make smart decisions about how to earn, save, spend and invest. He paid off nearly $40,000 in student loan debt in just seven months and is now sailing full-time with his family. follow him Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.

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