In the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity. I started tracking how I spend my time. I’ve also been reading Turning Pro. I’ve known for a while now that to really achieve my goals with Learning by Doing, I’d need to utilise my weekends for projects way more. There just isn’t enough time before/after work on weekdays and whilst I do work on the weekends; it’s in my living room, TV in the background and housemates in the flat. It’s not optimal for work.
Advice from an old friend
“Show up on Saturday” – Lopo Champalimaud
Lopo is the CEO and founder of Treatwell. I first met Lopo in 2014 when he came and told the Treatwell story (then Wahanda) to the YPlan team. We kept in touch and in 2015 I invited him to do the same for the Deliveroo team. He’s a great speaker and I greatly admire his approach to work, building a business and leading a team.
He said something that day that sat with me. “Show up on Saturday”. So simple, but it has it’s nuance.
Taken simply, it means work hard. Work an extra day and you’ll be ahead of the crowd. That in itself is a competitive advantage.
But then there is the “show up”. Physically be present. Show up at the office. For me, this implies not just working hard but working hard with professionalism. Working hard with the same rigour you would work Monday to Friday. As Steven Pressfield would say in his book, this means Turning Pro.
So today, I put Lopo’s word’s into action. I packed my laptop and my sketchbook in my bag and jogged into the office. I showed up on Saturday.
This post was typed from my office. It felt good to sit down, in quiet, at a proper desk and write this. It was effective. I felt productive. I have a to-do list of 5 things that I want to get done before I leave today and I feel confident that I can get them done.
Productivity and momentum
And I intend to keep showing up on Saturday’s. Giving up Saturday’s might seem like a big commitment but it takes a big commitment to make something a success. To reference Steven Pressfield’s great book again; you need to put in the work, you need to be a Pro.
Working on Saturday’s may be tough at first, but if it builds momentum, it can be energising. It’s like pushing a tyre. At first, it is hard. But once you have momentum you need less effort to keep it rolling.
So I’ll do my best to keep it rolling. I’ll keep showing up on Saturday.
Before I started pursuing my passive income goals, I wanted to assess the full range of passive income streams. What do they look like? How are they different? What is required before you start? What time and skills needs to go into them?
The passive income categories below are defined and then grouped by their common factors: monetary cost (upfront and ongoing) and time cost (upfront and ongoing). To simplify things, I’ll assume the revenue opportunity across each is the same. Whilst this ultimately may not be true, I think it’s difficult to say what the revenue opportunity is as ultimately this is dependent on how well you execute.
In this case, I have also made a note of the skills you might stand to gain from each and whether you would be tied to a location. As mentioned in my first post, this project is also about skill acquisition and becoming free from a physical location.
So let’s see how the different types of passive income models stack up.
This model requires ownership of something (typically high value) that you can rent out to others on a shorter term basis.
Property Income from renting out a room/house (long term)
Property Income from renting out property on Airbnb (short term)
Rental income from renting out a high value product (such as machinery, tools etc)
Costs & Skills
Upfront monetary cost – High. Property in general is very expensive and requires a high salary to get a mortgage. Renting out a high value product can have a lower barrier to entry but are still typically expensive.
Ongoing monetary cost – Minimal (relative to value of house/product). Some maintenance etc maybe be required.
Upfront time cost – Low. If you own the house already, then renting long or short term just require putting on a letting site. If you don’t own the house/product already, then finding and buying the right one may take some time but still, relatively low and can often be put onto a specialist who is incentivised to make the find for you (e.g. Estate Agent).
Ongoing time cost – Low. Finding new tenants, maintenance, etc. Can be low effort and can also have someone manage it for you if desired.
Location-tied: Yes and no. If you hire someone to manage it then no, otherwise if you are managing it directly, you will want to be around.
Similar to the rental model, this requires buying some form of ownership in something so that you can earn a yield on that over time.
Funds – Index funds, IRE’s
Managed Personal Funds
Portfolios – Nutmeg, Betterment
Public Company Stocks
Private Company Stocks – via crowdfunding, angel investing, etc
Peer-to-peer lending – LendingClub, FundingCircle
Invest as a silent partner in a business
Buy an already monetised blog and continue to sell the ad space
Costs & Skills
Upfront monetary cost – Medium to high. To be worthwhile, you need a decent amount of money to invest in the first place. New digital portfolios have reduced the amount you need upfront, e.g with Nutmeg you can invest starting at £5,000 but for many people this is still a large chunk of disposable income to see go.
Ongoing monetary cost – Minimal. Management fees over time can be reasonably low.
Upfront time cost – Low to medium. Depending on how active you are with your investments, the time input can be pretty low.
Ongoing time cost – Low to medium. Again, depending how active you want to be and what strategy you take to your investing, the ongoing time can be low.
Skills: Market analysis, stock analysis
Location-tied: Mostly no. If you do a more active type of investing like angel investing, you may want to be near your investments, otherwise you can invest and manage investments from almost anywhere in the world.
Create and sell a digital product
This requires a lot of upfront energy to assess a market and opportunity, create something of value and sell it to a willing customer base. It requires minimal up-keep and normally has a set and sell approach. Normally digital products are created in niche areas were you can carve out a customer base.
Sell digital products online – photography, ebooks, video course, mobile app, wordpress themes, plugins
Create an affiliate site – comparison site, review site, directory, etc
Lead capture website
Create a niche marketplace or job board
Resell online products/white label software
Costs & Skills
Upfront monetary cost – Low. The barrier to producing most digital products is very low at this stage. For example, ebooks can be published for free.
Ongoing monetary cost – Minimal. Depending on how much you want to market the product, this can be minimal.
Upfront time cost – High. You need to invest a huge amount of time upfront to properly assess an opportunity and make sure you can make money. This may involve keyword research, competitor analysis, etc.
Ongoing time cost – Low. Again, provided you invested enough time upfront to make sure you were in a suitable niche that you can profit in, the ongoing time can be fairly low.
Skills: Opportunity analysis, market research, tech, design, digital marketing, monetisation
Create and sell a digital presence
This is similar to the above digital product approach, in that you need to asses a market and opportunity. It differs however, as rather than selling a product, you are typically selling advertising to an audience of interested followers.
Build a blog
Vlog – Youtube, Snapchat
Costs & Skills
Upfront monetary cost – Minimal. It is free to create accounts on youth, instagram or snapchat and start uploading content.
Ongoing monetary cost – Minimal. With time, you may want to invest in some better equipment than a standard smartphone but again this can be minimal.
Upfront time cost – Medium to high. To really have success, you need to assess what people might find interesting and how you can gather a lasting following.
Ongoing time cost – Medium to high. These pages require constant updating and fresh content to keep followers engaged. You also need to monetise this though sponsored content relationships and so on. (Of course, at some point you could outsource this work, but initially it would be on you).
Skills: Opportunity analysis, market research, digital marketing, community building, monetisation
Similar to the digital products, this involves market research of some kind but adds a physical element to the model; the storage and delivery of products.
Create and sell products – jewellery via Etsy, t-shirt printing, etc
Buy bulk from overseas and sell it down stream
Ecommerce Store and drop ship
Costs & Skills
Upfront monetary cost – Medium. You need to invest some money upfront in producing the product or buying in bulk. You also need t consider storage.
Ongoing monetary cost – Medium to low. Depends on the cashflow ongoing but generally you’ll need to have some stock and store at all times.
Upfront time cost – Medium. If you’re investing in product you’ll want to commit some time up front to make sure you’re in a market you can profit in so do your research.
Ongoing time cost – Medium. You’ll need to be around to do some marketing as well as monitor the packing and shipping of product. You may also need to consider customer service. (Of course, you could outsource this with time).
Location-tied: Yes. You need to be with the product so that you can ensure the sale fulfilment.
Automate a service business
This requires finding an opportunity which you can attract customers to but then typically outsource the work to others who are able to do it for you. Often, this may involve taking advantage of remote services in other countries that you can buy at a far cheaper rate.
Become a referrals source for small business
Build a service business and outsource the work – SEO agency, cleaning agency, consulting business etc.
Costs & Skills
Upfront monetary cost – Low. May involve small marketing tests to see how easily you can attract customers.
Ongoing monetary cost – Low. You can outsource work to far cheaper places in other markets.
Upfront time cost – High. You’ll want to commit some time up front to make sure you’re in a market you can profit and effectively outsource the work.
Ongoing time cost – Medium. Of course, the goal is to eventually outsource it but at the beginning you’ll want to know the process yourself an you’ll be needed for ongoing management and perhaps training every so often.
Skills: Opportunity analysis, market research, marketing, people management
Location-tied: No. Services can be outsources on digital platforms such as Fiverr, Upwork, etc.
Summary and comparison
As you can see, there are many different examples and ideas that fit into the above framework. Each of them are passive to varying degrees and have different barriers to entry.
Below, I have given each model a score based on the criteria outlined above.
Now, with each of the models having a score we are able to compare and order the models by certain areas of preference.
The passive order
For example, if you have time to invest upfront but want to generate purely passive income, you would want to order the models based purely on their ongoing time cost.
Here you can see that digital products is the winner, whilst the investing and rental models also score well. It’s interesting to see the models that don’t score so well; digital presence and physical products. These initially are not very passive until you can’t outsource the day to day.
The time poor, money rich order
Now consider someone starting from a position of money or wealth, but has little to no extra time. This might be a business exec or investment banker, typically working long hours but earning good money. They might rank the above factors by limiting the overall time that goes into each, both upfront and ongoing.
By summing the upfront and ongoing time cost you can see that the investing and rental models perform best. They are also those which require the most monetary investment upfront, so this would seem to be a good fit for someone of this profile.
The overall order
Now consider an individual who cared about both time and monetary costs. What would they go for?
Again, digital products and investing score very well.
Now consider my motivations from my first post. I wanted a passive income stream that had a low ongoing time cost, was not tied to location and would build a useful skill set. I also have a preference for low upfront costs.
With these factors considered, digital products seems to be the clear winner. There are several very useful skills to be learned and can be extremely passive. Of course, work needs to be put in up front to have the desired results.
Let’s get digital
With the above analysis done, it became clear to be that I’d want to move forward with some digital product strategy. I’ve already begun work on a few ideas and look forward to sharing soon.
This post was also published on Medium. If you’d like to hear progress of my journey with LBD, you can sign up for the newsletter here.
About half way through 2016, I was feeling that my personal productivity was particularly low. Work was getting away from me during the day and in the evenings I wasn’t managing to get any personal goals complete. I was spending time responding to other peoples requests rather than proactively setting my own agenda. Come August, I felt I had to slow down, say no and re-focus.
Towards the end of the year, I managed to pick up my productivity. Work felt better. My social time felt more deliberate. I even managed to put time toward personal projects which has led to the launch of this latest project.
With momentum in my favour, I want to push this to another level again. As I’m working on LBD but still in full-time work, improving personal productivity will be a major factor in it’s overall success.
Productivity is an amplifier
Productivity amplifies all our actions; allowing us to do more, better.
Historically, being productive meant who could produce the most units of output in industry. As our work has changed though, so has the meaning of productivity. It doesn’t just refer to the amount of work you can do but also the importance of work you can do.
If every day we are just 10 minutes more productive, over the course of the year you have an extra 3,650 minutes. That is just under 61 hours or two and a half days.
What would you do with an extra two and a half days?
In order to find a solution to the ‘how to be more productive?’ question, I need to first be fully aware of the problem. What is preventing me from being more productive now? And what can I change to be more productive?
To understand this, I am doing a full assessment of how I am currently spending my time. For two weeks (and possibly longer) I will be recording start times and end times for everything I do. When do I wake up? When do I start work? What do I do in between? What do I do when I’m home? As in the post, I’ll put all this time spent into a spreadsheet (although I’ll initially be writing them down as a note on my phone).
To start, I’ll be considering work as one large block, allowing me to focus on my personal time. If I find this useful, I’ll also break down my work hours into their individual components.
For each day, I’ll also make a simple note of how I felt. Did I feel productive? Yes or no. Did I feel productive throughout the day? Just in the morning? Just in the evening?
Some questions I want to answer
In tracking my time, I want to understand:
Am I spending my most productive time on my most important tasks?
How much time do I spend being responsive to others vs acting on my own agenda?
Am I spending my time with people I want to spend time with?
How much time do I spend with people vs on my own?
What activities do I allow to ‘slip’ from my agenda?
How much time do I spend on work (Deliveroo or personal) vs leisure?
What days of the week do I deviate from my plan?
How does alcohol effect my productivity the next day?
Does my diet effect my productivity?
How much time do I spend being healthy?
Once I’ve plotted my time spent, I should be able to make statements like: 10% of my time is spent on being healthy, 50% of my time is spent at work, and so on. I’m excited and nervous to see how this looks for me.
The road to improved productivity
In two weeks, I’ll share the results of my time assessment. I’ll break it down and categorise exactly how I actually spend my 100 blocks currently.
I’ll then be making a plan of how I desire to spend my 100 blocks. In an ideal world, what would I spend my time doing? How does it differ to the actual? What do I do too much of? What do I do too little of? And most importantly, how can I move from the actual closer to the planned ideal?
I mentioned briefly in my first post what you can expect from this blog in terms of content. I wanted to share a little bit more about that and expand on what I’ll be writing about as well as the general format and principles to which I’ll be writing with.
Types of Post
In terms of format, I imagine posts will follow the following formats:
Update – This is an update, such as this, that serves to tell you a bit more about my journey, milestones or what to expect. Examples may include: site updates, milestone (my first £ made) or the launch of a new product. (Note – for particularly big updates, I’ll also add the category ‘LBD Journey’).
Define/Describe/Informational – These are posts the aim to educate and inform people about specific topics. Examples posts may include: ‘Different types of passive income’, ‘What is SEO?’, etc.
How To/Educate/Actionable – These are longer posts that aim to deep dive into an actionable process. Example content ideas might be: ‘4 steps to keyword research’, ‘how to choose the right domain name’, etc.
Results/Review – Following a “how to” type article I would like to do results reviews. This means paying whether the action was effective or not. This should be useful in closing the loop on whether the how to is actually worth following and will be really important for my learning (and those following along).
From the above formats, there will also be a few key themes. The themes are generally applicable to formats 2, 3 and 4.
The themes of content will generally fall into the different phases of building a revenue generating project. Currently, I see these as the following:
Opportunity Research – This is the research that goes into assessing an opportunity, how hard it might be do execute and how large the opportunity is. This also includes an assessment of what skills I stand to learn. (Remember – at worst I want to grow my skill set, at best I want to make money too). So far, most of the pre-work I did before launching this site has been in this stage. Examples of content here could be: competitor analysis, keyword analysis, market research etc.
Create Phase – This is the creation stage of a project; actually building or making the thing. Examples of content here could be: launching a site on wordpress, creating an ebook, etc.
Marketing – This is the building of a user base or customer base for the product. Examples of content here could include: SEO, backlink generation, paid ads, content marketing etc.
Partnership Building / Revenue Generation – This is the stage that actually sets about to make revenue from the project. Articles here could include: how to find profitable affiliate partners, how to make Google ads work, etc.
Productivity – This content theme is slightly different to the above in that it doesn’t directly input into the projects themselves. Productivity is clearly majority important to making sure all the above actions are as effective as possible. Examples here may include: time management, short cuts, tips, etc.
My writing is a reflection of me. Given this, I think its important it reflects a few of my core values. I commit to writing with the following principles in mind:
Transparency – I want to be as open and transparent as possible. I want people to learn as much from my writing as possible. I’ve found when I read other blogs, transparency is always a positive. To what degree I’ll be able to do this, I am still not fully sure. For example, do I want to share revenue figures of projects? After all, this will be my income. That is to be decided, but the general principle stands.
Honest & Straightforward – I want to write with honesty. I’m not tying to sell people on anything. If things are easy, I’ll say so. If they are hard, I’ll say so.
Data Driven – In order to encapsulate the above two, I think data is important. Numbers help people to understand the scope and scale of tasks and challenges. Often, numbers and tables can be more useful than words. Where possible, I will aim to include as much data as possible. This will be particularly prevalent in “how to” type content and “result review” type content.
Emotional – I want my writing to reflect the journey. I want it to reflect my feelings on the way. I want it to reflect the highs and the lows. Often half the battle is staying motivated, keeping at it and persevering when things get tough.
I hope the above gives everyone a greater insight into what is to come on LBD. As always, any feedback or comments appreciated.
p.s. If you missed the first post, you can see that over here. You can learn about what LBD is and my motivations for starting it. You can also subscribe to my monthly newsletter here.
Today, I’m officially starting a new project; Learning By Doing. I wanted to share some more information about what the project aims to do, the genesis of the project and what you can expect to come in the future.
What is it?
Learning By Doing will be the official place I come to blog about my journey into trying to build an income stream online.
What is the Motivation?
There are three key motivations behind this new project:
Acquire digital skills and build practical experience – As I continue to build my career in startups (more information on that over here) I’ve found that I’ve naturally become more narrow and specialised in focus. At the same time, I consider myself a generalist and I enjoy learning new skills. I find myself wanting to learn more and have a desire to get to a level where I can hold at least a base of functional knowledge. In particular, I’m keen to learn the practical skills that can be applied generally to most online businesses:
– Search Engine Marketing
– Search Engine Optimisation
– Paid Social Marketing
– Monetising online traffic
– Building commercial partnerships
A long term goal of mine has been to start my own company and I feel these are all skills that would benefit any aspirational founder. The motivation to learn and in particular to learn with actual practice is what gave birth to the project name, Learning By Doing.
Build passive income stream – I wanted to create an additional income stream outside of work and particularly one that was passive. This means I wanted to create an income stream that wasn’t directly tied to time. With work, I find myself spending so much time and mental energy that I rarely get to focus on my own side-projects (something I previously spent at least some time doing). As Pat Flynn, author or Smart Passive Income puts it, passive income is about:
“Building online businesses that take advantage of systems of automation that allow transactions, cash flow, and growth to happen without requiring a real-time presence.”
Some examples may be: writing and selling an ebook or building an affiliate site. The key here is that you can continue to earn money even when you’re no longer putting time into it. This also contributed to the name of the project, as Learning By Doing is really Learning By Doing – see what I did there?
Build an income stream that is detached from location – I live in London, one of the great cities of the world. It is also one of the most expensive cities in the world, something I became all the more aware of when I moved out of my parents home. We live in a unique time where people can earn their living purely online and detached from location. Whilst I’ve never been enamoured with the digital nomad lifestyle; for example, I couldn’t see myself travelling for years on end, I do see an opportunity for some geo-locational arbitrage. In theory, you can make money online whilst living in a much cheaper part of the world. I’d like to put myself in a position to at least have this as an option and make some travel for longer than two weeks a possibility too.
Why share this all publicly?
Inspired by projects such as Built in Public and the work of Levels, I wanted to document and share my progress for the following reasons:
Keeps me motivated/accountable – By making the project public I am openly accountable for any lack of progress. When my friends ask “how is that going by the way?” I’ll be reminded that I should put more time to it.
To help other people – If there are other people trying a similar thing, hopefully my public posts will serve to help them. I certainly find it helpful when others share their progress and learnings.
To get help from other people – It’s not all selfless. I hope that in sharing my progress publicly, those who are further down the road or have specific expertise might be able to comment with ideas, questions or feedback that will ultimately benefit me along the way.
To learn better – I’ve always found I retain information better once I’ve taken the time to write about it. Writing helps me to structure the information into memorable chunks and also gives me a place to come back to if I feel like I need to go over it again.
Sentimental – I’m sentimental and I found when writing my personal blog that I often look back on it to see how things have changed.
What you can expect?
In general, you can expect me to openly and honestly document everything that goes into the creation and growing of an online, passive income stream.
More specifically, this may take the form of:
Posts about different types of online income
Posts about market research
Posts about marketing online
Posts about growing revenue, etc.
You can also expect this site to change regularly as the project grows and develops. I expect that with time I will want to share different things and keep note of certain milestones. When I do change the site, i’ll keep a log of what’s changed.
The real work, in short. Unofficially, I’ve already been doing some of the groundwork for 3 months. I wanted to make sure this project satisfied my motivations before labelling it and publishing it as a project.
I must stress, I am on the beginning of a journey here. A journey that I expect to be long and sometimes painful. I’m trying to not set any expectations right now, but I do have two very simple downside and upside goals in mind:
At worst, I’m building valuable knowledge and real-life experience. At best I’ll hopefully make some money too 😉