In this blog, we’ll take a look at some things to consider when you’re thinking about developing a successful and (mostly) passive income stream to supplement your main income – plus we’ll take a glimpse into a couple of potential side hustles for digital nomads based on my personal experience using them to generate income.
Passive income. It’s the holy grail. For the digital nomad or remote worker it’s something we all want to add to help grow our income streams and improve our lifestyle. “Making money while you sleep” is something most people dream about, and with the options available today – doing this is a reality for more and more entrepreneurs.
Gone are the days of one income stream. Not only is it risky business, it’s also boring. If you have a creative streak, being locked into one thing won’t be sustainable or feed your soul. The trend to niche down and focus on one thing isn’t for everyone. For me, variety is the spice of life which makes for a more dynamic and creative lifestyle.
Achieving this is different for everyone. We all have different skill sets so what works for someone will be different for another. It’s a matter of finding an income stream that matches your skills, developing new skills, or adapting what you know to fit with an existing platform that you can build a business on.
How I started out as a digital nomad
My background and core skill set is in graphic design, specializing in website design. I worked for years in leading advertising agencies before deciding to work for myself. Working 9am-6pm and only having 2-3 hours to myself after work was not my idea of having a life. I was also an avid guitarist and that lifestyle was not allowing for creativity, as there was never enough time to play.
Everything ultimately comes to a head, so I went on a quest to find balance. I decided to leave New Zealand and go and live in Spain to study Flamenco guitar, while I was still contracted to a handful of clients.
These projects ultimately all faded off until I had nothing. My main focus was to develop my musical skills in what is possibly one of the most difficult arts. I may as well have gone to France to become a prima donna ballerina!
Again I found myself jumping between poles, in an “all or nothing attitude” that was no different than when I was just working all the time.
This is the story of learning to not put your eggs in one basket. Balance and diversity is the goal. This alone is an art that needs to be learnt as much as anything.
What my digital nomad lifestyle looks like today
Fast forward to today. I have a design and copywriting agency (www.roikit.io) with my partner – specializing in helping B2B and SaaS brands grow.
I’ve also developed two passive income streams. A print on demand t-shirt design label where I receive a royalty on every unit sold, and some free-to-play hyper casual games where the revenue comes from ad placement. Both of these side businesses lend themselves to my design background, have zero initial cash outlay, and have zero risk – other than putting the time in.
These are things I never thought I’d do. I had to learn each process from scratch. Picking things that challenge and excite you, that are outside your skill set and comfort zone will be par for the course.
The first myth about passive income is that it is NOT passive. You will have to initially work hard to set it up, learn new skills, create content, and test to see if your idea works. Once it has a market fit and people start paying for it, you will need to start polishing both your strategy and product.
Your idea may not happen overnight. Don’t look for a quick fix – but also be aware that just because it doesn’t work initially, it doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track.
Print on demand t-shirt design business
I set my store up on Amazon Merch. To get started, you need apply for a free account. Once you get accepted you can begin to add your shirt designs and keyword them so they can be found by Amazon’s massive customer base. Merch lists your shirt, prints it, and deals with every aspect of customer support, including shipping and returns.
Out of all the ecommerce stores I’ve run, this is the most efficient if you’re looking to weave it into a nomadic lifestyle.
It took 4 months to sell my first design on Merch. Then I sold nothing for another 5 months. A few months later, I noticed it was getting organic traction, so I got more involved with it. Patience, standing back, and keeping an eye on it might be all you have to do. The Merch platform is mostly hands-off.
Often platforms want to see commitment on your part, feeding it content regularly, which takes up a ton of time. But on Merch, the more a design sells ,the more it will have a chance of showing up at the top of search results without you doing much at all from your side.
How and what you write for your shirt descriptions is even more important than the product/content itself. Be prepared to learn how to write excellent, targeted, keyword-rich descriptions for any idea you are trying to attract people to online.
Once the business took off, I found myself needing to adapt my ideas and strategy. Completely. Create content people want was the lesson! This is the magic success formula.
Its not always necessary to personally need to like what you create – though I do recommend you enjoy the process of what you produce so it’s sustainable and enjoyable.
Initially I just made things I thought were cool. But they had no definable audience, and I had no way of keywording and targeting the designs as a result.
None of these designs sold. Nothing happened until I started creating for a particular audience. I started to look for niches I had an interest in, and then made content for people that followed the same thing. You can be sure if you have an interest in something then others will too.
Start there and see where it takes you!
Game design business
What I learnt from designing t-shirts was then applied to the “free to play” mobile games I design.
Design a game with an audience in mind. Something with a easily recognizable theme. This makes keywording easy so your idea can be found by the people you made it for. If people can’t find it, it is unlikely it will generate revenue.
These games are “sold” free on Google Play and App Store. The revenue comes from ad placement inside the game. These ads are often placed on the instruction game play screen and “game over” screen.
Using Buildbox to create online games
To build the games, I found a game engine called Buildbox. It’s free to use, so again there was zero initial cash outlay. I always look for a platform that is free so I can test if the idea works first.
Later, you can shift to more sophisticated platforms. For me, I always want to get something produced as early as possible to see if there is an audience. You can always polish later – so don’t let perfection get in the way of getting any of your content live.
Buildbox is a no-code visual scripting tool that you can make 2D and 3D hyper casual games in. This fast, fun, and throwaway style of arcade game is quick to produce for people that are looking free mobile entertainment.
Again, game design built on my existing design skills and interests – coupled with the same strategies I learned from designing and marketing the t-shirts on Amazon.
I chose Buildbox for its simplicity, and it also had a complete end to end solution for easily adding ads and generating ad revenue. It also has a management tool so you can see how each of your titles is performing.
Once the game is built, you export them, compile them in Android Studio and X-Code, and then upload them to Google Play and App Store for people to find and download to their mobile devices. Easy!
Remember how I ran off to Spain to study Flamenco guitar? This ended up becoming a revenue stream too. I’ve played countless gigs at restaurants, cafes, weddings, promotional events, the Spanish Film Festival, farmers markets, and an event for the Spanish Tourism Board.
Learning Flamenco guitar was the most difficult thing I have ever taken on. The practice never ends – and I’ve spent years going round in circles doing things wrong and going back to the drawing board. I’ve learned a lot and would like to share what I know, and my approach to practicing – so I’ll be developing an online video course on Flamenco guitar techniques to add to my existing passive income streams.
While these passive income streams I’ve developed might not be what you have in mind – there are some key takeaways that cover anything related to building a new income stream online.
1: Create your content for a particular audience
2: Find out where your audience hang out so you can engage with them
3: Learn to write keyword rich descriptions so your content can be found (exactly like the crazy stuff they would type as a search request)
4: Be creative, be ready to adapt and polish what you do to fit what people want
5: Be patient and be in for the long haul
6: Select platforms and software for your ideas that get you up and running fast and with no risk
7: Don’t be precious and let perfectionism get in your way. Get it live fast, then polish it
Whether your passive income ends up supporting your entire lifestyle, pays for a trip somewhere, or funds your dinner and cocktails on the beach as you travel – there’s more options than ever to make this dream real – particularly if you want to sell digital products (or other products) online.
The question is no longer what you will do to create a passive income, but when – and it’s only limited to your imagination.
- Interview with Brooks Lockett – freelance copywriter and digital nomad
- Interview with Kerry Needs – health and wellness writer and digital nomad
David is a full-time remote worker and freelance website designer for B2B and SaaS companies. You can visit his design website at roikit.io.