Being a full-time writer is awesome. I get to spend most of my time doing what I love, which is writing science fiction and creating content for other writers and creatives. I get to make my own schedule, work from wherever, and take time off if I want or need to.
But as you regular readers already know, publishing is by far the fastest-changing industry, and it continues to evolve at a rapid pace. As a fiction author, this puts a lot of pressure on my creativity. I have to produce books at a pretty good clip, and the pay-to-play nature of Amazon in 2019 means ad spend is continually eating into my bottom line.
But as with any challenge in life, you can either sit around wringing your hands or take action. I’m a woman of action. More specifically, I’m a woman armed with spreadsheets who spends a lot of time brainstorming and looking into the future.
If you listen to my podcast episode on future-proofing my business (or read the transcript), you know that one of my goals for the next five years is creating alternate streams of income in the form of podcasting, coaching, an online course, retreats, and investments in audiobooks.
When your business is doing well, you can invest the money from alternate streams of income back into the business. (See Warren Buffett’s first rule of success.) Other streams of income can also provide financial cushion in lean months.
Diversifying just makes your creative business more resilient overall.
If you’re a smart writer — and I know you are — you should have a few different sources of money coming in (or at least a plan for new streams of income if things go south).
Here are five alternate streams of income that are highly compatible with the writing life:
I like to think of freelancing as being a “gun for hire.” It sounds much cooler than “sitting around at my computer creating content for other people.”
As a freelance writer, you complete projects for clients and can be paid per project, per hour, or even per word. (Of course, you can freelance as a graphic designer, an editor, a marketer, or even a web developer if you have those other skills.)
The advantage of freelancing is that it allows you to take on more or less work depending on your schedule and the amount of money you’d like to earn.
The disadvantage is that you get paid once for your time on a creative project, and you can never earn money from that project again. (Unlike creating assets for yourself, which can continue to bring you traffic and earn you income for years.)
If you’re thinking of having a go at freelancing, set your rates higher than you think you should and do a fantastic job for your clients. Competing in a race to the bottom is always a losing proposition.
You should try this if: You’re good at working on a deadline and managing multiple projects at once.
How to get started: Upwork and Fiverr are online marketplaces to buy and sell freelance services. Fiverr is definitely a race to the bottom in terms of the prices you can expect to charge, since there are a lot of English-speaking freelancers working outside the US. 99Designs is a marketplace specific to graphic design where designers can charge fairly high rates. This is the service I personally use to hire graphic designers.
2. Teaching or Tutoring
Tutoring kids at the elementary, junior high, or high-school level is a great way to earn some extra cash if you enjoy spending time with kids and are good at breaking down concepts in a way that’s easy to digest. If you loved reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream in sophomore English class, this is a great way to take your passion and convert a whole new generation of kids into Shakespeare lovers.
If you have an advanced degree, you might be able to teach at your local university or community college. In fact, some community colleges will let you teach a non-transferrable class with just a bachelor’s degree.
You should try this if: You like working with others, you’re patient, and you love helping people learn.
How to get started: You can tutor online through TakeLessons or Wyzant, and you can often find local in-person gigs on Craigslist and NextDoor. This summer I saw a post on NextDoor for a parent looking for someone to teach their kid how to write in cursive. You never know what unlikely skills may be in demand.
3. Creating Online Courses
If you’re an expert in a specific field, you can create an online course to teach people while you sleep. There are variety of formats you can use for a course, though video seems to be the most popular.
I’m in the process of completing my own business course for authors, and what I’d wish I’d known from the very beginning is that you should start with a short course that is highly targeted at solving one specific problem. (I dove right into creating an all-encompassing mega-course, which is a good value for my future students but not a great value in terms of my time.)
Courses have the advantage of allowing you to show someone how to do something (rather than just explaining how like you can with a book). Because they tend to be more interactive and in-depth, you can also charge significantly more.
However, creating content for a video course takes way more time and energy than you think. When I was developing content for my own course, I realized that being in front of a camera for several hours a day was uniquely exhausting. I wasn’t just speaking — I was performing. I had to make sure my hair and makeup looked good. I had to modulate my speech, look into the camera, and use the appropriate facial expressions. If you hate performing, you won’t enjoy video courses, so it’s best to stick with books and audio.
You should try this if: You write nonfiction, you’re really tech-savvy and don’t mind appearing on video.
Okay…I freaking love podcasting. (Shameless plug for my podcast, The Fearless Creative.) I’ve been an avid podcast consumer for years, but I always dismissed the idea of starting my own because I didn’t like my voice.
But creating good audio content is no different than creating good written content in that it takes practice. If you work on your voice — even just by listening back and adjusting what you do — you’ll eventually get much better.
If you decide to start a podcast, you should go in expecting some technical hang-ups — either with your equipment, your editing software, your hosting service, or your recording environment. My first two episodes sounded like they were recorded from the bottom of a barrel, but I built myself a blanket fort and improved the sound 200 percent.
Another word of caution about podcasts: All too often people are excited to start. They record a few episodes with intense enthusiasm, and then they podfade (abruptly quit producing) after 10 or 12 episodes.
If you’re going to start a podcast that’s meant to be ongoing (rather than a planned 10-episode series) make sure it’s a topic you’re passionate about. (And when I say passionate, I mean passionate enough to have 100+ conversations about.)
One reason people podfade is that they don’t experience overnight success. You can’t expect to have 1,000 or even 100 listeners right away, and this bothers some people. It takes a lot of time and consistency to build up a listenership, so you have to be patient.
There are a few models for monetizing podcasts that are popular right now. One is by using Patreon (asking listeners to commit to paying a small monthly donation to the pod — usually to unlock some special bonus content). Another is by becoming an affiliate or using paid sponsorships.
You should try this if: You write nonfiction and have a good personality (or enjoy performing).
How to get started: You can edit your podcast in Audacity or GarageBand.
Personally, I think Audacity is so much easier to use than GarageBand. The best part? It’s free open-source software that you can download for Mac or PC.
You’ll also need a hosting service. I use Buzzsprout to host my podcast, and I am totally in love. It’s user-friendly, easy to set up, and reasonably priced.
5. Affiliate Marketing
This last one is on my list of things to try. Affiliate marketing is a broad term for when you (a content producer) are paid by a retailer for traffic or purchases that result from your referral. The biggest time investment with affiliate marketing is just getting it set up.
Generally, the way it works is you use a special affiliate link to a product that you (hopefully) believe in, and if a customer uses your special link (or code at checkout), you earn a percentage of that sale.
With some programs like Amazon Associates, you can also earn a percentage of a customer’s entire purchase. So if you run a fitness blog and recommend a specific protein powder using your affiliate link, if that customer decides to also purchase a twelve-pack of underwear, you would also get paid a percentage for the underwear. Or say that customer decides the protein powder isn’t for him because he’s a vegan. If he turns around and buys some vegan protein powder or a flatscreen TV, you’d get paid for that sale.
If you’re new to affiliate marketing, you shouldn’t expect it to pay your bills unless you have a pretty large following. Personally, I’d be satisfied if it paid for a few lattes a month, so I think it’s totally worth setting up.
How to get started: Amazon Associates is a very well-known and reputable program. Plus, most people are already comfortable buying from Amazon, so your odds of conversion are higher.
Unfortunately, due to certain states’ legal and tax policies, Amazon has a ban on affiliates from Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont. (As luck would have it, I’ve lived in two of these states for the last eight years, and so I have never been an Amazon Associate.) You can fight it by setting up an LLC in another state if you like, or you can be an affiliate of another retailer like Walmart or Target.
You should try this if: You have a blog that gets good traffic and you like recommending products.
Photo by NeONBRAND