It’s nearly impossible to build wealth without owning assets.
Unless your income is very high, saving alone won’t get you very far. Even if you have a very high savings rate.
Instead, when you save you need to invest your money into buying assets that can produce income and go up in value. In the post The Three Ways to Become a Millionaire (Without Getting Lucky), I laid out three assets that have historically helped people build wealth:
- Real estate
- Starting a business
All three are great options. I talk a lot about investing in stocks on this site because they are by far the easiest way for most people to own wealth-creating assets.
But this is a post for people who want to go beyond the basics. This is a post for people who are interested not just in investing their money, but in investing their time into creating their own assets.
Traditionally the way that you created your own asset was by starting a business. It involved a lot of time, money, and risk.
The internet has greatly reduced the amount of money and risk it takes to create digital assets. It’s not easy, but it’s possible to create online assets that work 24/7 and make money while you sleep. It’s possible to divorce how you spend your time from how you make your money.
In this post we’re going to talk about how.
The Mechanics of Making Money Online
At the highest level possible, there are two separate things you need to focus on to make any money online:
- Attention acquisition
Let’s break them both down.
Attention is the currency of the internet. At the highest level, it’s measured by views. How many times have people looked at what you’ve created?
It’s pretty simple, if you can’t get anyone’s attention, you can’t make any money.
So how do you get their attention?
Again, there are two main strategies, although you can combine both:
- Build something for people to find when they’re ready
- Go where people gather and get your work in front of them
With this blog I’m using both, but with stronger emphasis on the first approach.
I’m using a strategy called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. The idea is simple. I did some research on keywords that people are searching for, and I write the best article I can on them. More than half of the 100+ articles on the blog are me writing about what people are searching for on Google.
This strategy takes a long time to pay off. It takes a while for Google to recognize your site as being a useful source of information. But the more time passes and the more useful content I produce, the more traffic I will get for search engines.
Today the keyword I’m targeting is “Online assets.” This is how the sausage gets made.
I also republish the articles on the popular website Medium. This is a place where it’s easier to get my writing in front of readers and link back to the blog. Right now, I get way more views on Medium than on the blog, but my views on the blog are growing faster than my views on Medium.
Other places to get in front of people include basically all social media sites.
Getting views is great, but views aren’t revenue. Conversion is the process of turning attention into income.
So how do you do it?
There are a few main ways:
- Advertisements: Ads are slightly annoying for your audience, but at least you don’t have to charge them anything
- Affiliate marketing: This is where you recommend a product you use and like and get paid a commission if you make a sale
- Selling your own product: Courses, eBooks, PDF templates, etc. Digital products scale without racking up additional costs
- Donations: Patreon is a popular service that lets people donate money to you on a monthly basis
You might notice that there is currently little conversion happening on this blog (although there is an affiliate link for the free tool Personal Capital if you’re interested). It’s not because I don’t want to make money, it’s because I’m prioritizing.
I could start monetizing right now and make $10 a month or so, but I’d rather focus all my energy into creating great content. Great content will set the stage for future attention acquisition. And monetizing with a large audience is much more fun than monetizing with a small one.
Plus, it comes off as a little greedy and desperate to monetize to early. I’m not going to come out and say “here’s this one thing I wrote, please give me money!” By the time I truly monetize, there will literally be hundreds of useful blog posts on this site. There will be no question that I gave first and monetized second.
Mediums and Platforms For Creating Online Assets
There are three or four main mediums and billions of platforms.
Here are the main mediums:
- The written word
You can combine mediums or choose one to focus on. Obviously this blog is mainly based around the written word and dabbles in images.
Every medium has several platforms that you can leverage to gain attention. So for instance the most popular platforms for video are YouTube and TikTok. Although, many other platforms like Twitter and Instagram readily welcome video.
For writing, there are a few platforms that seem to work well:
- Linked in
- Twitter (as a thread)
You could even leverage Facebook fro writing by blogging within Facebook posts.
I chose to primarily use a website because it relates to my attention acquisition strategy. When someone searches for the phrase “how much money do you need to never work again?” I want my post on the 4% Rule to come up:
I covered more details on platforms like podcasting, YouTube, Medium, and Quora in these posts:
Progress Happens When The Work You Do Today Builds On The Work You Did Yesterday
The most powerful thing about creating online assets is that they provide an opportunity for the work that you do today to build on the work you did yesterday.
So often it feels like work is a treadmill. You get on and put in effort, but it just keeps spinning and you never get anywhere.
When creating digital assets, you can make progress.
Yesterday I had 112 posts published on this blog. When I publish this today I’ll have 113. That’s progress.
I didn’t used to have a post breaking all this down, but now I will. I didn’t used to have a post targeting the keyword “online assets” but now I will.
Each post is something else for my existing audience to enjoy.
Each post is another opportunity for someone to discover the site for the first time.
Most important for me right now, each post is further proof to Google that this site is worth something and that they should rank it more highly.
The Keys to Success
I’ve mentioned this before. There are two main keys to success.
This is the one that requires courage. You’ll have to start before you’re ready and be willing to improve as you go along. You’ll have to be okay practicing in public. You will almost certainly have to deal with your work getting criticized.
It’s tough, but the good news is that these obstacles thin out the competition.
You can’t give up. You have to persevere.
Seth Godin describes a phenomenon called “the dip.” Once you finally start a new project, you’re riding high on enthusiasm and eager expectations. Then the dip comes.
The dip is the long valley of despair between when the initially excitement evaporates and the results finally materialize.
And the results will take longer than you hope for.
I wish I knew away around the dip that I could give you, but I don’t.
In fact, this might be the area I’ve struggled the most in the past five years. It used to be that I lacked the courage to get started, but then I started a bunch of stuff and didn’t persevere with any of it.
It’s nice, because I still get checks from Medium and YouTube. I still sell copies of a Kindle book I wrote and make money off some podcast episodes I recorded. But I never stuck around long enough to grow them into anything substantial.
This blog is my attempt to stick around for a while.
In many ways, creating online assets can be seen as an alternative to the old methods of wealth accumulation.
But it can also be combined with them.
The money that you make with your online assets can fund the purchase of more traditional assets like stocks and real estate.
This is what I did in 2018 and 2019. Most of the money that I made from my various online royalties went into buying shares of a low-cost index fund.
I literally have tens of thousands of dollars in the stock market ready to compound on my behalf thanks to money that keeps rolling in from work that I’m already finished with. I’m still getting paid every month for a YouTube video that I put up in 2016. It’s crazy how well this stuff works when it works.
Practicing What I Preach and Preaching What I Practice
In the book The Millionaire Fastlane, MJ DeMarco makes a valid criticism of most personal finance gurus when he points out that they didn’t get rich by following the advice that they give.
They preach frugality, but got rich by selling books and hosting expensive seminars.
He’s not wrong.
Now, most of my wealth has been built by the following:
- Investing in low cost index funds
- Systematically paying off my mortgage early
It’s not like I have a ton of wealth, but I have a fairly impressive amount for my age. Especially given the fact that I’m supporting a wife and three kids on a fairly middle-of-the-road salary.
So I feel fine preaching all those things. But I’m also compelled to point out that this blog is an online asset.
At the time that I’m writing this post, it’s not making any money. But the organic search traffic from search engines like Google and Bing is growing every day.
One day you’ll come to this site and there will be ads (sorry in advance, I know ads are mildly annoying). Once there are ads, the thing I just wrote about not making money will no longer be true. I won’t come back and edit this post though. For someone who finds this blog post late, seeing me mention not making any money just before seeing an ad will prove my point better than anything else I can say.
It also probably won’t just be ads. I both use and recommend credit cards (with the caveat that you should use them responsibly). There are affiliate programs out there that let you recommend credit cards and get paid when someone signs up with your link. Don’t be surprised to see Money: The Simple Way become a credit card affiliate in the future.
Online assets are absolutely a way to create wealth over time.
Get started. Improve as you go on, but just get started. Once you get started, keep going. Good things eventually happen when the work you do today builds on the work you did yesterday.
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