When I started my money and lifestyle blog Making sense of pennies 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 repay my student loans. But my debt was actually a big part of why I started blogging — I wanted to track and share the progress of my financial goals.

Eleven years later, Making Sense has exceeded my wildest dreams. Over the past five years, I’ve earned an average of $760,000 a year in passive income providing advice on how to start investing, what financial products to use, and how to make other financial 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 only work 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, where they have limited internet access.

Photo: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

How I started my financial blog

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

After that, I started studying other bloggers who were making money from their blogs. I posted more frequently and set up display ads on my website. I also continued to write sponsored posts by reaching out to brands I saw other bloggers working with.

In just two years, I was earning around $5,000 to $10,000 a month, more than what I was earning in my day job. Once I fully paid off my student loans in 2013, I decided to quit my full-time job and blog.

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

Then, I doubled my presence on social networks. Now I have 110,000 subscribers on Facebookwhere I post several times a day, and 161,000 subscribers on pinterest, where I post about twice a week. I also have over 130,000 email subscribers.

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

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

Photo: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

How I make $760,000 a year in passive income

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

I have three main passive income drivers: Affiliate Marketing, Course Sales, and Display Advertising.

Affiliate marketing commissions make up about 50% of my income. I get 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 viewable through Google, my social media, and my blog .

About 20% of my income comes from course sales. I have two blogging courses that I sell to my blog audience and email subscribers: Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing and Making sense of sponsored posts.

I created my first course on Teachable and did all the planning, writing and recording work. I commissioned the graphic design elements from freelancers.

I’m selling Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing for $197 and Making Sense of Sponsored Posts for $159, both cost a lot less than what my competitors are charging. Nonetheless, I have made over $1,000,000 over the years from these two courses.

I also earn passive income from display advertising commissions via Join. I get paid when readers see or click on an auto-generated ad on my blog.

My Top Tips for Earning Passive Income

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

Since I live and travel on a sailboat, there isn’t always reliable internet. So without passive earners my family and I would not be able to enjoy this wonderful nomadic way of life.

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

Photo: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

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

1. Write like you speak.

On Making Sense, I discuss financial topics using easy to read and understand language. People walk away feeling like they’ve learned something instead of feeling condescending or confused. It makes them more likely to come back or share my blog with their friends.

Also, make sure your social media language is engaging and personalized. A good trick is to write as if you were casually talking to a friend over coffee.

2. Diversify your sources of income.

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

Diversifying your sources of income allows you to not depend on just one way to make money or just one of your traffic sources. Instead, you’ll have balanced income streams to mitigate risk.

3. Post regularly.

Although your old blogs may bring you income for years, it’s always a good idea to keep generating new content. This helps you attract new readers or subscribers while retaining your loyal followers (who don’t want to see the same things over and over again).

4. Be as helpful 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 that you have recommended.

Ask readers what they want to read more or what questions they have. Conduct your own trend research for new ideas. Include practical tips they can use right away. And finally, only promote and sell products that you personally believe in.

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner is the founder of Making sense of pennies, where she helps readers make smart decisions about how to earn, save, spend and invest. She paid off nearly $40,000 in student debt in just seven months and now travels full time with her family on a sailboat. Follow her on instagram, Facebook and pinterest.

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