My side gigs have brought in almost $7000 in passive income through the first half of this year, mostly by formatting and editing content I already had lying around. Here is why and how I did it.
As you may know my current day job is pretty magical. I get to do a lot of really cool things. I am also a Pluralsight author, with multiple courses focusing on the Ionic Framework. In addition to that, in early 2020 I had been working on multiple presentations for upcoming 2020 conferences.
Specifically, I was scheduled for two sessions to speak on Angular at DevIntersection/AngleBrackets in April at the Walt Disney World Swan. I was also supposed to speak about technology at Disney at the University of Central Florida KnightHacks meeting in March. The content was fresh and the PowerPoint decks complete.
Then COVID Happened
Around the middle of March 2020, the pandemic struck. Both conferences I was prepared for were canceled. I suddenly had content without an audience. I also had some new-found time.
My employer announced that anyone who could work from home should do so for until further notice. My typical morning commute was anywhere from 25-35 minutes, depending on traffic. My afternoon commute was far worse, typically 45-60 minutes. I decided that I would not waste those 70-95 minutes I was saving, and committed myself to spending about an hour a day doing something “productive.”
Angular PWA Book
It was about that time I happened upon a book on my Kindle about self-publishing on Amazon. I knew it was possible, but was not aware of the logistics. As it turns out, it is pretty simple:
- Register at kdp.amazon.com.
- Fill out a form describing your book.
- Upload a Word doc with the book’s contents.
- Provide or create a cover.
- Set a price.
- Congratulations! You are an author.
I decided to give it a try.
The most obvious subject was one of my presentations. I chose the DevIntersection presentation on Deploying Angular Apps as Progressive Web Apps. It seemed the most complete, and I did not want my first book to be about using technology at Disney. That probably would not go over well.
All I had was a PowerPoint deck with a lot of speaker notes. I tend to write out my thoughts as I create my slides. This helps me not lose my place during presentations. Most of the time, my notes are complete enough that they are practically an entire script, though I do not read my presentations verbatim. That would be awful.
I exported the entire deck as a PDF, and then extracted the notes into a text editor. The actual process I used is a blur. The point is that I ended up with all of my notes in a format that I could copy/paste into Word.
Word defaults to an 8.5 x 11” page size (at least in the US). The book I read about Kindle publishing recommends using 6 x 9” with 14-point Times font for the body and a larger, sans-serif font for the headings. Once those parameters were set, I had more than 40 pages of raw, unformatted text, about one page worth for every minute of my presentation.
Next, I carefully read through the entire document, start to finish. I accepted most of Word’s recommendations for spelling and grammar. There were many places where I decided to change the tone of the text from an informal manner of presenting into a more formal writing style.
As I went, I tweaked the styles and formatting, creating chapters along the way. Throughout this process, which took the better part of two weeks (one hour every morning), I copied relevant images from the slide deck into the Word doc. When the text was done, I added some required “front matter” and a table of contents. By the time I was finished, I had a total of 93 pages.
Every book published through Amazon requires a book cover. I first used Amazon’s cover generator and came up with this.
As you can imagine, I was not very pleased with it. I tried a few more variations, which I ultimately rejected. Then I hit on an idea that had served me well in the past. I looked for someone on Fiverr.com and found a few with decent portfolios and low prices. I think I ended up paying $20 to get two covers: one for the eBook and another with a back image and spine for the paperback version.
You can see (and purchase) the final version of the book here:
Ionic React Course
Once the book was published, I felt I needed to keep working every morning. Earlier this year I noticed that interest in using React with the Ionic Framework was surging. I had recently been playing around with upgrading one of my Ionic apps and decided to experiment with React. This led to a few blog posts, starting with this one. After seeing the level of interest, I proposed an Ionic-React course to my editors at Pluralsight. They politely declined, which left me with lots of ideas and a demo application, but no place to host the content.
After reviewing a number of potential hosting sites (Udemy, Teachable, SkillShare, etc.), I settled on a small provider called CourseCraft. I could upload and host my course there and not pay anything until I achieved 100 enrollments. That seemed like a good balance. I did not want to shell out a bunch of money on a gamble that might not pay off.
Around the time this decision was made, I thought it might be nice to have “a team” to help create the course. I set up a custom Slack workspace and put out a call on Twitter for people to help QA the course contents and offer suggestions for improvement, in exchange for free and early access to the entire course as it was made. I got about 20 people signed up, of whom maybe five are still actively engaged.
As I complete each video, it is uploaded to the course’s Slack channel for review. Any serious issues are addressed immediately. Minor issues are scheduled for a future video or course section.
After the first two sections (or chapters) of the course were complete, I discovered a significant limitation with CourseCraft. The “free” tier I was using has a hard limit on the total size of the videos that can be uploaded. I was unable to add any more content to the course without paying money. I had some decisions to make.
- Release the course “incomplete” at an introductory price to try to get some revenue.
- Move the courses elsewhere.
- Stop being a cheapskate and upgrade my service.
I decided to opt for both #1 and #2.
A friend of mine who has been pretty successful with courses on Udemy gave me some advice and recommended that I release my course there. “What could it hurt?” he asked. After our chat, I created an account on Udemy and set up the course there.
The Ionic-React course is available on Udemy here.
Angular Version of the Course
Around the same time I was struggling with the upload limits at CourseCraft, a prominent member of my QA team asked how much different an Angular version of the course would look. Would it be 50% similar? 75% similar? He suggested that I could do an Angular version in parallel with the React version for not much extra effort.
I decided to give it a try. Less than a week later, I completed the Angular version to the point that the two courses were at content parity. Since then, I have been doing them in parallel.
At the time of this writing, I am working on the section involving deploying and publishing the Ionic application to the Apple App Store. I have found that the process is 100% identical between the Angular and React versions.
The Ionic-Angular course is available on Udemy here.
Throughout these few months, I had heard good things about Gumroad, particularly about how easy they make it for creators to publish and host video content and eBooks. I kept that information in the back of my mind, but decided to focus on getting the courses on Udemy first.
Angular PWA Book
Then one day, someone asked me whether I could provide a PDF version of my PWA book, as he did not own a Kindle. It took me about an hour to create a new eBook product on Gumroad, export the PDF, and make it available for sale.
You can purchase a copy of the PDF for yourself here.
Seeing how easy it was to create an eBook product on Gumroad, I next decided to upload all of my videos for the Ionic-React course to Gumroad. Udemy was still an experiment in my mind, and its exclusivity rules are still unclear to me. I needed a place I could guarantee that I own my content, so I made the course available for purchase on Gumroad also.
Not wanting to stop there, it made sense to keep all my options open. So I uploaded the videos for the Ionic-Angular course shortly thereafter. You can see and purchase the Ionic-Angular course here.
At the end of April, I lost the use of my “recording studio” when my son came home and took back his bedroom. I still wanted to spend at least an hour per day working on content, so I decided to replicate what I had done with my first eBook. I took the script from my courses and began formatting Word documents from them.
Ionic-React UI Book
Knowing that my content was not finished with either course, I put together Volume 1 of the book version of the course. I called it Developing a Mobile Application UI with Ionic and React: How to Build Your First Mobile Application with Common Web Technologies (Ionic and React: Idea to App Store Book 1) (Yeah, it is a long name). Just as I did with the Angular PWA book, I released it first on Amazon and then on Gumroad.
Amazon has an exclusivity clause if you want your eBook included with Kindle Unlimited. You cannot offer the same book in electronic format other than on Amazon. I decided to take a slight risk and release a PDF on Gumroad, but with a twist. Whereas the Amazon book is the first of three volumes in the “Idea to App Store” series, the Gumroad title is the complete book in a single volume (or will be when it is finally completed).
So if you prefer Kindle, you can find and purchase Volume 1 at Amazon here. If you happen to be a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can actually read it for free.
On the other hand, should you prefer a single-volume PDF or ePub, you purchase and download the Gumroad version here.
Ionic-Angular UI Book
Next, I went through the exact same process with the Ionic-Angular course, offering it available in both places.
Volume 1 on Amazon Kindle Unlimited
Gumroad Single-Volume PDF or ePub
Don’t Say That at Work Book
Back in May, one of my Twitter followers commented on this tweet:
I've said this before, but it's worth repeating: Next time you start to ask, "why don't you just..." instead try, "what if we were to try..."— Michael D. Callaghan (@walkingriver) May 29, 2020
Why don't you just handle that in CSS?
What if we were to try handling that in CSS?
The 2nd is not nearly as confrontational.
He asked that I produce a course about communication with more information like what is in the tweet. I thought about it and decided that I do have enough content to create a small eBook, though I am not convinced it will ever be a course. The book is available for pre-order on Gumroad. It is currently about 40-50% complete.
Angular PWA Course
In early June, my son left home again, thus freeing up my recording studio. I could start recording in the mornings again! I had the thought that if I could go from video course to eBook, then I could probably go in the other direction also. I still had the complete deck of my Angular PWA presentation sitting on my computer. I decided to give it no more than a week to see how well a video version of the presentation would work. The resulting videos were well-received by my QA team, who at this point are reviewing everything I throw at them. I get early feedback, and they get all of my content free of charge. Truly a win-win.
The entire video is just over half an hour, which is understandable. It was only supposed to be a 40-minute presentation at DevIntersection.
I immediately created two new course offerings, one at Udemy and one at Gumroad, and uploaded the videos. The minimum price Udemy allows is $19.99, so that is where the course is priced on both platforms.
The biggest question mark in my mind about all of these efforts is still how best to market everything. I admit that it is not a problem I have solved completely.
First and foremost in my marketing strategy had to be my own Twitter feed. I have been active on Twitter for a number of years now and have slowly grown my following to just over 3400 at the time of this writing. I used online tools such as buffer.com and recurrpost.com to manage a periodic drip of Twitter posts with tidbits of my content, occasionally containing links to purchase.
I have received a little traction by occasionally posting links to the books and courses in Facebook groups dedicated to the Ionic Framework. In what I consider the most successful failure of the year, I posted a Udemy “3-day Free” coupon to my Ionic-React course to a Facebook group dedicated to free and discounted online courses. Over the next three days I had more than 12,000 enrollments. I got lots of exposure and was listed in Udemy’s “Hot and New” section but earned almost nothing.
Some of my best successes have been when I simply answer a question on Reddit in an appropriate subreddit dedicated either to Ionic or Angular, including a link the appropriate book or course. Every few weeks I post a raw link with a discount code, which usually provides a few sales.
I also tried Reddit Ads for a couple of weeks. I got hundreds of thousands of impressions, very few clicks, and 0 sales. It seems the direct (and free) approach seems to work best.
Any social media post I make from buffer.com also goes to my LinkedIn profile. So far, I have received hundreds of likes, but to my knowledge, no actual sales.
Probably the most effective thing I have done is to keep up with my weekly blog posts. They help keep me in the minds of my readers and followers. Articles about my career successes and failures seem to be the most popular. For a while, I was presenting a weekly Twitter poll with three options, asking my followers to vote on next week’s topic. That has helped me see which kinds of stories are most appreciated.
I am only just now starting to experiment with affiliates. I have signed up fewer than ten so far, and have not yet recorded any sales. If anyone reading this wishes to become an affiliate, I am offering 50% of any sale you bring me. If you are interested, sign up wth Gumroad.com and send me a DM on Twitter (@WalkingRiver) with your email address.
In addition to everything I have done above, I have been approached by two other education platforms to host my courses. Though I am not ready to make any public announcements, one of them in particular has a pretty unique offering and looks promising.
For people who prefer a subscription model, my courses are also available on Skillshare.com.
You probably think I am pretty proud of myself for being able to leverage my existing content in so many creative ways. Before I conclude, let me share with you what is probably my biggest missed opportunity.
A little more than a year ago, my manager approached me with an intriguing question. Would I be willing to design and present a crash course on Node and Angular to some of our senior developers? The audience would consist of mostly PHP and Java developers, many with 15-20 years’ experience. I readily accepted and got to work.
The course ran 8-weeks. It started with an introduction to TypeScript, then some lessons on Angular basics, then more advanced Angular, and finally two weeks of Node. We met once per week for 90 minutes. Each lesson started with a PowerPoint deck describing the lesson’s concepts, some in-person demos and Q&A, and ended with a coding challenge that each student was to complete by the next lesson. We used one of our corporate training rooms and everything was recorded.
Last week I searched for those recordings. They are gone. No one knows what happened to them. Imagine the value that has been lost. 12 hours of live Angular and Node training has simply vanished, never to be seen again. Yes, I do still have the slide deck and all of the coding challenges. However, if I ever decide to present that training again, either at work or publicly, I will need to recreate all of the live portions that have not been preserved.
I hope that some of this might motivate you to take action. Look around your hard drive for content. Start thinking about things you know so well that you can simply “brain dump” them into a PowerPoint deck or Word doc. The first version need not be perfect, or even pretty. That is the beauty of electronic content. You can start with something modest and update it as you improve it.
Spend 5-10 hours creating something and put it out there. Try Gumroad and Amazon first, as they do not charge you anything up front. Sure, they take a percentage of each sale, but what have you got to lose? You have everything to gain.
When you do have something to share, please let me know. I am happy to retweet for you.
Summary of Content
In case this entire article has not been “salesy” enough, here is a consolidated list of where you can currently find and purchase all my content.
*Note: The Skillshare link provides you with two free months and no obligation.
Do you have any comments, questions, or just want to see more? Please follow me on Twitter and let me know.
Did I make any mistakes in this post? Feel free to suggest an edit.