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**Rant Alert** – An Online Business is NOT a Passive Income Source

I warned you in the title that this is going to be a rant.  I have strong feelings about individuals telling others that an online business is a great way to earn passive income.  It is NOT (just ask my wife)!

Passive income is an income received on a regular basis, with little effort required to maintain it.

Plagiarism. (2013). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Online Business is not a passive income sourceFirst, I wanted to define what Passive income is.  As you can see from Wikipedia, passive income is income received with little effort required.  A few examples of passive income include rental property, royalties, dividends, interest payments, and pensions.

While Wikipedia does list that passive income can include advertisements from websites and online businesses that don’t require direct involvement from the owner, I don’t agree with that part.  There are very few online opportunities that allow anyone to set it and forget it.  There are no “overnight successes” out there.  You may not know about them until they hit it mainstream, but most “overnight sucesses” that are coined by the media have been in the works for months or years.

I started an online e-commerce business from scratch.  From the first line of HTML code for the website to the last shipped order.  I ran the whole business from start to finish.  I even did an interview with Veronica from Pelican on Money about my business.  You can check it both Part 1 and Part 2.  I have been in the trenches of online business and it is not easy.

I have found that most of the time when you hear about people saying that an online business is great for passive income is because they are selling you something.  Maybe an e-book or an e-course about how they succeeded in business and how you can too.  It is simply not that easy.  Business in general is not easy.  Yes, you can setup an online business cheaper than you can a brick-and-mortar one, but you still have to work.

There may be parts of your business model that are passive, such as advertisements and monthly subscriptions, but you still have to work to get those.  They don’t just come to you right after you start your business.  You have to work day in and day out to get visitors, then get advertisers, then keep advertisers, then get more advertisers.  There is not magic switch that you flick on and BAM!, there are the visitors.

I am not selling you anything, I am just telling you the truth.  An online business is NOT, I repeat, NOT, a passive income source.  It just isn’t.  I am sorry to burst your bubble, but it had to be done.  I am tired of hearing people from other sites tell their readers that an online business is great for passive income.  They can be a great source of ACTIVE income.  This type of income is worked for and you have to continually work for it.

If you want to learn about making income from different online sources, then check out Michelle from Making Sense of Cents.  She works very hard each and every day to earn her extra income.  I doubt she will say that any of it is passive, except for maybe the rent she receives.  If you are interested to see how hard running a business is, then check out John from Frugal Rules and his Taking the Plunge series.

To conclude my rant, please stop emailing me asking for ways to make passive income online or asking for my opinion on a great passive income business strategy.  They don’t exist.  Most, if not all, of my replies are going to be centered around working your a** off.  I have had a couple of businesses since I got out of college and each and every one of them required me to work hard.  This blog requires me to work hard.  If you want to succeed by making extra income, work hard!  That is the magic formula.  No smoke and mirrors, not bulls**t.  I won’t attempt to give you the hopes and dreams that an online business will be for you.  If you go into it with the hopes of it making you constant money without having to do any work, then you might as well not start one.

If you want to earn passive income, then rent out a room or you whole house.  You can diversify your stock portfolio and invest in dividend paying stocks.  You can start investing in Peer to Peer lending like Prosper or Lending Club.  These two options are great passive income strategies if done correctly.  These are some of the few passive income options.  Remember, passive income is a source that you don’t have to regularly work to maintain.  An online business is not one of these options.

**End Rant**

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About Grayson Bell

I am an average Joe, who built up over $50,000 worth of credit card debt and had to learn how to break it back down. It took 4 years of learning budgets, secrets, and many other personal finance tricks in order to cut the debt to $0. Now, I push to teach others not only how to get out of debt, but how to use credit wisely and how to start growing their wealth. You can view my other site, Sprout Wealth for ways to grow your money. I am also a freelance personal finance writer who provides staff writing and ghost writing services.


  1. Hmm you make a good point, but what if you were able to outsource all the work? I know someone in the political realm who owns an IT company and has a political blog/website. He has someone who manages it full-time and spends virtually no time on it (and did not spend much time at all in the beginning either). What do you think, passive income or no?
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..The Worst Plumbing Problem: Sewer Line IssuesMy Profile

    • It is still technically active income. He has to have a person manage it and run it full time. That is not passive income. While it may be technically passive for him, if he didn’t have a manager for it, then it wouldn’t be passive. The idea of passive is to not have to work on it at all. This is why dividend income is such a popular way, because you invest and then sit back and get your dividend checks.

  2. You mean that it’s not the lollipops and rainbows fantasy that gets spewed on a semi-regular business?? ;) Seriously though, I could not agree more Grayson! Being in business for yourself in HARD I mean HARD work…not that you didn’t already know that. Most weeks we’re running around with our hair on fire because we’re so busy. It is absolutely hard work and not for the faint of heart. We’re ok with the hard work and like it because we get to see the direct result of it. That said, for those that think they can throw something up and fall a$$ backwards into a pile of cash will meet reality quickly. Love the rant btw. :)
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Even More Blogging Tips From a Beginner, Part IIMy Profile

  3. I agree that it is active income. It is better than a 9-5 job, though. I love working in my pajamas!!!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Debt: 4 Reasons to Leave Debt Behind TodayMy Profile

  4. Thanks for the mention! And I agree, an online business is not passive. Nothing I do is easy, except for the rent payment as you said.
    Michelle recently posted..Blogger or WordPress – Tips on How to MoveMy Profile

  5. Great point.
    I often wondered why some bloggers call blogging “passive.” There really isn’t anything passive about it. Being in business online is a hard thing and something many newbies forget. It’s no wonder that the highest dropout rate for blogs is in the 6-12 month mark. The novelty wears off, and most realize that blogging (for example) is A LOT of work.

    • With you there Eddie. I have received many questions lately about running an online business and how much “passive” income I get from it. Can’t call it passive if you have to work for it each and every night.

  6. LOVE this post! I recently made the jump to making more money through online avenues and it’s far more work than ever. I agree whole-heartedly that you’ll work your a$$ off to make the money you do online–I’m doing that each & every day!
    The Happy Homeowner recently posted..What are the Biggest Financial Mistakes You’ve Made?My Profile

  7. One of my most read posts early in my blogging career was called “The Passive Income Lie.” I join your rant, Grayson!
    AverageJoe recently posted..Long Term Care Planning: What Would You Do?My Profile

  8. Great article Grayson. I’ve never considered an online business a completely passive income at all. I earn money from the online world like a financial bloggers do but it takes a lot of work to get that far. Sometimes I think people just wan to take the path of least resistance but they would better off pick one thing and working hard at it because they would be ten times more likely to see success.
    Chris @ Stumble Forward recently posted..Income Tax Return Scams – 5 Tips To Protect You When You FileMy Profile

    • I have never considered anything online really passive. There is a lot of work to be put into any business, but apparently people just want the set-it-and-forget-it. It just doesn’t happen.

  9. Rental property is not passive income either! I used to be a landlord and I owned several apartment buildings and a shopping center. Even if I used a management company to manage the properties, you still are involved.

    • Good point Krant. Some consider rental properties passive, so I figured I would include it. You still have to work though.

      • Real estate is part passive, part active. I consider that I get paid for my work when I look for tenants, have the heater fixed or handle other house things. But most months I just get rent and the bills are automated, that is passive income.

        • I agree Pauline. You still have to work for tenants, take care of issues, and other things that comes with real estate. Yes, you collect checks every month (hopefully), you still have to keep up the property.

  10. So once again, you’re trying to say an online business IS passive income? ;)

    I’m kidding Grayson!

    I can tell you work hard at this blog and it inspires newbies like me (with debt) to work hard to pay it off asap :)
    Girl Meets Debt recently posted..Feeling Forced to Tip Even for Horrible Service?My Profile

    • Yep, spot on! I think everyone should start an online business for passive income….:). I work hard and so does every other PF blogger that I know, including you. If you want to succeed, then work for it!

      Technically, I am still a newb because I haven’t hit the 6 month mark yet. There are many things to learn.

  11. Couldn’t agree more. I work way more than I ever did at my full-time job.

  12. Love your rant, Grayson! I always laugh when people say they were an overnight success. Sure, yesterday I never heard about them and today nobody will stop talking about them, but they have been working their butt’s off for months and/or years to become an overnight success. But the allure of easy, passive money is just so tempting for most. Honestly, if I could earn a great living without needing to do anything – I’d say sign me up too. When I started my blog, I foolishly thought people would just show up. They didn’t. :) Now things are on a upswing, which I’m incredibly grateful for, but I’m also spending a lot of time on my blog and networking. Thankfully, I love it.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..Children and Money: Don’t Turn It into a Taboo TopicMy Profile

    • Thanks Shannon. Trust me, if I could work on something that would allow me to just do what I wanted and not have to worry about money, then I would have signed up a couple of times.

      You example about blogging makes me always think of the “if you build it, they will come” scenario. So many think this is the case when creating a website. Too bad there are billions of websites on the internet, and you are just one of them.

  13. I often wondered the same about passive income and blogging. I’ll be honest I didn’t start my blog to make money nor do I still but I also didn’t realize how much work it is. I’ve worked my arse off for over a year at my hobby to spread the word, engage people to get them thinking about their finances and I certainly would call that full-time work nothing near passive even if I was monetizing my site. Even if you hire people to do the job someone is still working. So, in other words when you do nothing at all… and money falls from the sky .. that’s passive income. I can dream can’t I!
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted..Becoming a Single Homeowner – Part 2 “Property/Down Payment”My Profile

  14. The only way an online business, whether it’s eCommerce, blogging or anything else could ever be considered passive is if you could set it up, walk away, and get a check from google every month. I’m afraid I don’t have the formula to that website and I doubt it exists!
    Jose recently posted..Investing in Stocks and Fundamental Analysis – An IntroductionMy Profile

  15. Justin@TheFrugalPath

    Great rant Grayson! I agree that blogging is definitely not passive income. Heck, I haven’t even found the income yet (haven’t really tried at that though).
    I think that any form of passive income is a lie. Every source of income requires some amount of time and effort to be successful. Although blogging is definitely more active than many of these sources.
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Are Drug Companies Buying Your Doctor’s Opinion?My Profile

    • I am with you on that one Justin. Everything requires work, but some require more than others. Blogging is one of those, especially if you want to make it into a business.

  16. Good rant! I’ve seen a lot of VERY loose definitions of passive income.
    Alex recently posted..Happy Thought for the Day: Figuring things out for yourselfMy Profile

  17. Totally agree! Too many bloggers claim passive income from things (virtual assisting, blogging, ghost writing, etc.) that are a lot of work! Even our rental condo, which is mostly passive, requires a bit of work, because we have to attend strata meetings and occasionally do repairs.
    CF recently posted..Where are all the girls in the game industry?My Profile

  18. Totally agree with you. Having a business, online or otherwise is definitely not passive income, nor is blogging. With most things in life, if you want to make money doing it you have to work hard. If there were more passive income opportunities everybody would be rich and nobody would work.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Required Reading at Work!?!?My Profile

  19. Having run my own online business since 2009, I can say that I agree 110% with you, Grayson! Even if you outsource a good bit of the work, those workers have to be actively managed. In my experience, it’s much tougher than a 9-5 (or 8-6) job. Sure, you have more flexibility, but it’s VERY tempting to work 24/7, and Google has rolled out more algo updates in the last couple of years than they did in the previous decade – so you definitely can’t sit on your laurels. Passive, yeah right! :)
    Taylor @ recently posted..Three Ways Retirees Can Tap Into Their Home EquityMy Profile

  20. Great post Grayson, there’s a few bloggers sticking there neck out this week and saying the unsayable! I agree no online business is easy, hopefully it becomes more financially rewarding as time goes on but I’ll have to wait and see about that. You have me intrigued about your ecommerce business now, I’m going to have to take a look!
    Money Bulldog recently posted..Save Money ~ Be Frugal & Fix It!My Profile

    • Haha, I don’t mind sticking my neck out. If you have any questions about ecommerce, let me know. I don’t run it anymore and it just sits there and gets affiliate income, but very little.

  21. I think many people consider it passive if it’s not 9-5 wearing nice clothes in an office. Even being a landlord isn’t passive unless you are renting to a family member. Everyone else requires some things to keep them happy. Good rant. You’re allowed.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Things That Make Me Go HmmMy Profile

  22. So true Grayson! I think we get the skewed idea that a website is passive income from the media who sugarcoat the success stories of companies like AOL, Zappos, and the Huffington Post. They highlight the earnings and successes but fail to illustrate how difficult it is to get to that point!

  23. I tend to agree with you that “passive income online” is a bit of a unicorn, but having owned several rental properties when I was younger I can tell you they didn’t feel very “passive” when we were looking for new tenants, repainting the house to prepare for new tenants, fixing bathrooms, etc.

    I also think that people should stop trying to build online businesses and instead build “real” businesses that just happen to have their marketing channels online! Many think that their blogging constitutes an online business which is clearly not the case…it’s simply a marketing channel you use to sell products, services, etc…or a creative writing hobby that happens to have a bit of monetization through AdSense or something similar!
    Justin recently posted..AFP 37: Squashing The ResistanceMy Profile

  24. Just reading this post now. I never thought of an online business as being passive. The thing that attracted towards this venture is that you can work from anywhere and you are your own boss. But like any other job or business success is largely dependent on how hard you work.
    Kevin Watts recently posted..Doomed to Debt – Bottom 5 Earning DegreesMy Profile

  25. Grayson, that was a great article and I only hope that people read it. It’s pretty much status quo for websites to pitch their “passive income” strategy. It’s as easy as writing 200 quality posts, engaging with your readers constantly, tirelessly working to help people find that your site even exists, etc… If that’s no work than I obviously suck at this.

    At least once a week my fiance has to say to me “I don’t want to hear about any more blog stuff today”, and I have to make a conscious effort to not make her have to drag me out of my office to hang out.

    Like you said, there is no easy set it and forget it money, if there was we would all be doing it. The main way to make passive money is to put existing huge piles of cash to work for you (buy a rental property, a business, invest, etc..). Of course the step that most beginners forget is that you had to work your butt off to get that pile of cash so… put on your big boy/big girl pants and get to work!

    ( BTW, I love rants, you should do it more often so we can all chime in with you :P )
    Listen Money Matters recently posted..Build Credit Without A Credit CardMy Profile

  26. I agree, I agree, I agree! As the old saying goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch!” To make money, effort is required in nearly every case. That’s it. There are no magic ways to make a living. Successful people generally are incredibly driven people with a vision and a passion. Thank you for an honest post (rant)!
    Ron Sample recently posted..Simple Tips to Avoid Delinquent PayersMy Profile

  27. Seriously! I agree with you. If it was just as easy as setting up a blog we’d all be set. But I started a blog in 2010 and have only made 3.00 off my active Google AdSense. Essentially you have to have something really interesting to offer, consistency, followers, etc. So totally not passive. Not to mention, I need to find interesting things to write about or else people don’t come by to say hello, and 500 people may have come by, but they didn’t all click on my ad. Now I write about travel, people seem to like that more, and it gives me a reason to take a vacation :)

    Hopefully all the people who emailed you are reading your rant :D

  28. Grayson, I have to amen to this post. I started an e-commerce site as you did. I did not know a single line of html or any other code. I built a site with HTML for Dummies in one hand and some hope in the other. The easiest part was finding suppliers…at least in the beginning. I had no clue about SEO, on page optimization, etc. As quick as I would catch on to one thing, I would have trouble with a supplier or an order not arriving on time. It wasn’t even passive to close the site and terminate the EIN. I actually enjoyed the brick-and-mortar I owned more. Again, amen to this post.
    Jerry recently posted..3 Financial Tips For StudentsMy Profile

    • Thanks Jerry. Not glad to hear that you struggled through it like I did, but glad to hear that you dealt with the same issues. It was a constant learning experience that I am glad I went through.

  29. I’m glad you to see that you actually defined passive income. The term is hot and people want it but they either don’t really understand what it is, or don’t want ot put in the work to get it. I would also argue that unless you have a major amount of rental property, with another firm managing it, it is far from passive income.

  30. I agree with you 100%. Having any kind of business, online or not, is going to be active in some way, shape or form. But I think that having an online business can require even more time than a 9-5 job! At a regular job, you clock in, clock out and go home, and usually you’re not bringing your work home with you. But with any kind of online business, you have internet access 24/7! I think it can be hard to leave ‘work’ behind with smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. But some forms of ‘passive income’ ventures are better than others. I plan on owning rental properties in the future, and like it was mentioned in a previous comment, there is still work to be done, but for the most part, collecting the rental checks each month is fairly passive if you have good tenants!
    Sharon J. Gilman recently posted..Hands off my Starbucks!My Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by Sharon. I appreciate your comment. You are correct. It is hard to get away when your business is online. You can fire up the laptop at anytime and deal with issues or work longer hours. I found many times that I would work until about 3am because I was on a roll.

  31. I had an online e-commerce business and it was a ton of work, like you I did all of the programming and website maintenance myself. I would argue that owning rental property is not passive income and can become a huge time and financial drain unless you have a property management company handle all aspects of the property.
    Paul @ The Frugal Toad recently posted..Budgeting Tips: How to Stop Spending Money on Things You Don’t NeedMy Profile

    • Yeah, I am rethinking the rental as passive. Unless you have a rental company, it is not passive and then it might still be a stretch. Good to hear about your business.

  32. Definitely agree. I’ve often debated with folks who claim they’re making “passive income” meanwhile they’re working extremely hard. It’s almost like they’re writing off their hard work as worthless.
    Joe recently posted..Budget Rent-a-Car SucksMy Profile

  33. I have several articles that rank well for specific keywords or phrases and they each bring in $50 to $100 a month in Adsense revenue. I wrote these posts a few years ago and I’ve done nothing to actively maintain them.

    Obviously I’m actively working on my blog by publishing new content every week, but I’d suggest those older posts are earning passive income. That may change with the next Google algorithm update, but for the time being they are earning passive income.

    The same can be said for an article that ranks well for an affiliate product (credit card, discount brokerage, etc.). Once the post has been established on the front page in search it can earn passive income with little to no effort.

    That’s the holy grail of blogging, when your old posts can earn an income without any ongoing effort.
    Robb recently posted..How To Overcome Financial InertiaMy Profile

    • You are indicating that part of your online blog is passive. If you put up those posts and then never updated your site, you wouldn’t earn anything. The key to your passive articles is that you continue to update your site, network, and build links each and every day. These are not passive techniques for building income. If you were to stop doing these things, then your “passive” articles will fall quickly from the results. I think there are parts of an online business that are passive, but any business or blog as a whole is never close to passive income. The same goes to niche sites. You can put up a few articles, then build links to it and start earning income. In order to keep income, you need to update the site a few times a month in order to please the search engines.

      I do agree with you on the holy grail for bloggers. If you can create a post that continues to bring in revenue, then it is the best position to be in.

      • You are speculating that if I never posted something new again that those old posts would fall in the rankings, but I’d argue that we don’t really know for sure what would happen. If they are authority posts already established with solid links then there’s no reason why they wouldn’t continue to rank.

        I do agree that the online business as a whole is not passive (not even close), but there can certainly be aspects of the business where you can earn significant passive income.

  34. So very true…. and even renting rooms or houses isn’t really all that passive – you have to market it, clean it, fix it and respond to renters….hard work.
    Marie at Family Money Values recently posted..When is the Cost of a Conference or Seminar Worth the Price?My Profile

  35. I agree blogging has been featured all over the place as some sort of joke where regular folks can make a living. But the hard work and dedication to put into a site is no joke. I will agree with the rant my friend.
    Rich Uncle EL recently posted..Money Lessons IMy Profile

  36. I agree that Peer-to-Peer Lending is a great way to earn passive income.

    For your readers that are looking to get the superior returns of Peer to Peer Lending but don’t know how to get started, I have a service that will facilitate your investments for a small fee. Check out
    Sam recently posted..Peer-to-Peer Lending Advantage: Geographical Targeting (or avoidance)My Profile

  37. Yes. Someone who is brutally honest. I think people who think they can find some “hustle” to skate by in life are deluding themselves. No matter what you do, if there is income to be made from it, you are going to have to work for it.
    Chad@thstockmarketandi recently posted..Know When to Fold ‘emMy Profile

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