The myth of passive income streams for small businesses

I regularly cover Amazon scams on my Lean Media blog (see “AI gives new life to Amazon low content book scams“) and create videos detailing some of the specific lures and schemes that dominate YouTube and social media. Sometimes, I get responses from people who have fallen for the tricks … or are desperate to learn about passive income streams that will translate to easy money.

passive income streams amazon KDPA recent viewer of one of my passive income videos reached out to tell me she was at her wit’s end. In her 50s, she was tired of her career and was hoping passive income streams could lead to real income to support her financially. It had dawned on her that the get-rich-quick Amazon schemes, whether using Amazon KDP, Audible, or Amazon FBA were the modern equivalent of fool’s gold. What were her options?

My first piece of advice: Don’t despair.

Howard Anderson, one of my business school professors at MIT Sloan (he later went to Harvard Business School and now teaches at Dartmouth) once told our Entrepreneurship class, “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

There’s real truth to this simple saying. My first small business, a software startup, failed. My cofounder flaked after getting some equity in the company and cold feet, and left me swinging in the wind.

usps shipment at our Newton small business
An outbound holiday shipment at our Newton small business.

However, that failure led to the creation of the second completely different business which is still going strong 10+ years later. It took a while to scale it up, but this is now a small business based in Newton that provides a salary and other benefits.

My second piece of advice about starting a new venture: Find something that people like and are willing to pay for.

Not just something they say they like. Rather, it needs to be a real product (it can be a prototype or soft launch or demo version) that is resounds so much customers or audiences are willing to take out cash or a credit card and pay for on the spot.

It can be a product, a service, a piece of media, or something else. Effort then should go into trying to scale it up (finding more customers, lowering marketing costs, etc.)

My third piece of advice: It’s also possible to do a venture on the side or support it with activities like consulting. Take advantage of new trends and technology platforms. For instance, if someone has expertise in something related to mortgages, maybe this person can find a bank or finance company that needs remote customer service agents (taking advantage of the work-from-home trend) while the new product or venture is developed on nights and weekends.

Bottom line: Passive income streams promoted on the Internet are bogus. Stay away from “passive income” traps, especially on Amazon. Most are scams to get people to sign up for expensive masterclasses, and provide terrible advice that will lead to wasted time, lost money, and possible account bans. It’s possible to create a legitimate online business, but it takes work, creativity, and patience … not easy money fantasies.