Make Money

5 passive income ideas to make money in your sleep

You snooze, you lose? Not necessarily. Grab yourself a brew, kick back and check out these time-smart ways to make money.

Man asleep at deskCredit: reynermedia - Flickr

If you’re looking for ways to make more money with less effort, you’ve come to the right place.

Sadly, there are few legit ways to get rich without trying, so this isn’t a guide to overnight wealth – but on the plus side, you won’t end up in jail, either! For the purpose of this post, we’re talking about passive income: that's one that doesn’t tie you to regular hours, yet drip-feeds you extra earnings in the long run.

The key lies in low-maintenance gigs that sell several times apiece – and we’ve got five top passive income ideas to get you going.

These can be fun projects in their own right or start-your-own-business tasters: suck ‘em and see if they’re for you.

Passive income is a bit like pocket money for chores: the more time you put in, the better the pay-off. Either way, you’ve nothing to lose by having a go, and could set yourself up for extra cash every year – no overtime required.

Top 5 passive income ideas

  1. Sell stock content

    black and white cameraCredit: Nicolas Alejandro - Flickr
    Websites, advertisers, self-publishers and app creators all need secondary content, from images to music, video and sound effects. If you spend your spare time snapping, sketching or singing anyway, this could be the route for you.

    How it works: You upload your work to several library sites for users to browse, pick and pay for. Royalties are typically low so you’ll need to build up a bank of work before it starts paying off. It’s also worth checking what’s trending or is always in demand and submit on those themes.

    You don’t need to be a pro to get successful with stock: niche ideas are in just as much demand as flawless execution. Think photos, logos, jingles, stickers, icons, buttons, banners and beeps. The sky’s the limit!

    Try these on for size

    Shutterstock: photos, video, illustrations, music
    iStock: photos, video, illustrations, audio
    Dreamstime, Fotolia, Picfair: photos
    Patternbank: fabric designs
    LINE: emoji, stickers
    Dafont, MyFonts: typography
    Envato: everything from graphics to web themes and music

    While not as simple as using a stock site, you can also sell music and sound FX through iTunes and Soundcloud, and anything else through your own site/store.

Some sites will ask you to submit your best samples before they’ll accept you as a contributor. If one site says no, move on to the next one!
  1. Write an eBook

    Book pages forming a heartCredit: Kate Ter Haar - Flickr
    If you’ve a passion for publishing then digital has to be worth a punt – the online publishing process is relatively straight forward and risk-free. Playing your cards right with online publishing could bring in some cash and set you up well for the future (linking to your ebook in your graduate CV is pretty impressive!).

    In terms of content, your secret stash of short stories is always a good place to start – but if you’re in it for the money rather than the Pulitzer, see what’s selling and work back from there. Check the best-seller lists but don’t fixate on fiction. There’s a chart for everything from politics to poker so, if there’s a topic you know (perhaps something related to your studies?), use it.

    The jury’s still out on whether you have to be a brilliant writer to be a best-seller – 50 shades of beige prose says you don’t – plus you can always learn to edit and improve your work as you go.

    The main publishing outlets take .doc files (check here for free alternatives to Word), but if you want a bit more say in your book's looks – and are HTML savvy – grab the free Sigil eBook editor. Amazon has tools for comics and kids’ books, too.

    Once you’ve got a file, you need a platform. To get listed on Amazon you’ll need the Kindle route. For everywhere else there’s Smashwords, which distributes to a whole host of stores including Waterstones and iBooks. Go with both platforms to maximise your coverage.

    Getting a book to market is easy: the trick lies in being discoverable. Banging out a few words and sticking a cover on them doesn’t make a best-seller - you’ll need to really focus on getting it noticed.

    In this digital space, people often do judge a book by its cover - so spend time (and a bit of money) making it look professional. Also, ramp up your book’s description and keywords to have a hope of being found online and of course to encourage sales.

    But most importantly (with Amazon anyway) you need to get your book lots of genuine reviews, so at the end of your book simply ask or incentivise readers to leave a review (hassle your family and friends to get the ball rolling if needs must!).

  2. Build your own app

    Social media app iconsCredit: Jason Howie - Flickr
    In terms of passive income ideas, this one's a pretty cool choice and the question isn’t whether you’ll make a million (… unlikely), but whether you need to be a coding ninja. The surprising answer is: nope.

    If you’ve got a functional app in mind (i.e., it ‘does something’, or extends built-in messaging, camera or system tools) you’ll need to talk some kind of computer lingo – or find someone who does and split your profits! Until then, MIT’s free browser-based App Inventor lets you drag and drop ‘building blocks’ instead of churning out code.

    If games are your thing, it’s possible to create professional apps – from Sonic-style endless runners to Angry Birds physics puzzles – with next to no coding.

    You’ll need to get your hands on a ‘game engine’: a bit of kit that helps you design, develop and deploy apps right from your desktop. There are several out there, including a free app called Unity, which is drag-drop friendly and supports multi-platform publishing (build once and launch to IOS, Android and PC at the same time – a must if you want to maximise potential sales).

    You can make money by charging for your app or in-app purchases (extra lives, hints or episodes) or by running ads. However, you’ll lose a chunk of each sale in store fees, plus for Google Play and iTunes you’ll need to pay a developer fee upfront to list your app.

    While you don’t need to be an uber geek, it helps to be an avid app user for the market you’re going after. Having a couple of cross-platform phones/tablets is handy – but there are plenty of ways to test on virtual devices if not. If you’re serious about making decent residual income you’ll need to push at least a couple of apps out there.

  3. Affiliate marketing

    Stall outside shopCredit: Moyan Brenn - Flickr
    Want your own internetz store, but don’t have anything to sell? Start a website or blog that plugs products and businesses on other sites for a cut of the sale instead.

    How it works: You add special tracking links on your own website, or pop ‘em out through social media. If someone follows your link – and buys the item – you get a referral fee. You don’t need to faff about with storage and shipping as the stores take care of that themselves.

    It works well if you’ve a site, store or social account that already has some traffic, and if the products you’re linking to tie-in with your existing posts. It can be quite lucrative beyond a bit of passive income, too, though you’ll need to invest a lot more time and effort to get to that stage.

    Loads of retailers have affiliate programmes – a quick Google will set you on your way – but if you join a network, you’ll only need to sign-up once to get access to a range of stores and products, so you spend less time clicking and more time getting kick-backs. Try Affiliate Window for starters.

    Easy-in: Post reviews on your blog for anything you buy online and include ‘buy now’ links. Or add a page for a ‘book store’ featuring your favourite titles and the reasons you rate them.

We've got guides on how to start your own website and how to make money blogging to get you started.
  1. Print-on-demand products

    T-shirts on a washing lineCredit: 55Laney69 - Flickr
    The last of our passive income ideas is a bit of a student classic.

    From t-shirts to baby bibs, there are scores of stores that sell customisable gear and gadgets: the opportunity lies in selling your inspiration to other customers.

    One of the best-known marketplaces is CafePress, which sells just about anything that has a blank surface. Whoever you go with, sign up for a seller’s account (to sell via the store) or a shop account (to sell from your own site).

    You then upload your best illustrations, photos or jokes, and pick which products can be customized with your art. If someone buys an item from your range, you get a cut of the sale – without having to manufacture, stock or ship anything. You don’t even need any ideas of your own: if you’re fresh out of inspiration, you can list other people’s custom products for a referral fee instead.

    Top tip: Go for cute or funny images, logos and quotes that work on multiple products, from pens to pet accessories to get best dollar on your efforts.

Most of the sales platforms we've mentioned are free to list with, but they’ll each take their cut in their own way – check it out before you sign up.

There may also be international tax forms to wrestle with if you don’t want the relevant government siphoning off their share of your takings. In the meantime, get to grips with UK tax rules here.

There are heaps of ways to set-up and then snooze your way to extra earnings. If we’ve piqued your interest about passive income: great. Feel free to use and improve our suggestions, or add your take below. Let us know how you get on!

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