passive income isn't passive

I recently surveyed a group of entrepreneurs on what topic they’d like to hear more about from me and by far the number one request was to learn about building a passive income product.

I’m probably the perfect person to riff on this topic.

Having launched my first online program 3 years ago I’m still close enough to the beginning to remember all the steps I took to make it a reality, but have had enough success that I can speak to what it takes to get from zero to profit.

I know when I look at the most famous passive income product mavens I feel a bit discouraged when I realize they started their online presence 10-15 years ago when the internet was a completely different landscape. Just having a website up for that long will bump your Google results.

Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week has a whole section of advice based on Google strategies that just wouldn’t work today. I still love the concepts in the book, but the actual tactics are antiquated because of how much smarter Google’s algorithm is now.

Unlike those gurus, I haven’t made millions of dollars in passive income products (yet!). But last year I did bring in $100,000 selling my signature course the Brandup Bootcamp and another $50k+ on my new program the Badass Authority Bootcamp without spending a dollar on ads.

That probably sounds pretty awesome to you, and I’m not knocking it—it was pretty sweet!

But there was nothing passive about it and I want to bust open some misconceptions you probably have based on the advertising language that’s so prevalent around passive income products these days.

The following are the 3 biggest misconceptions about passive income:

1. You have great info, so people will buy.

Just like with business, it doesn’t matter how great you are on the back end if you aren’t amazing at communicating why you’re different and better than the competition on the front end.

When we initially built the Brandup Bootcamp we definitely didn’t understand this. We thought it being great was everything.

Back then the first thing we did was spend 6 months full-time building something that we could be proud of: not only is it unique in its approach to branding and the process we teach, but it’s fun and entertaining unlike 99% of courses out there. Unlike other courses that I had taken, where I was bored to tears by a power-point presentation coupled with a monotone voice, we animated the course and put a lot of energy into making each lesson as concise as possible so people would actually want to watch it. (In fact, many people who have taken it have told us they binge watched Netflix-style it because it is so entertaining, and that helped the information sink in that much more!) But when we first put the program out there nobody wanted to buy it.

Just because it was awesome, just because it was better than what was out there, wasn’t enough. How would they even know?


It took me almost a full year, and a lot more time and money to figure out how to sell it. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much of each, but my back-of-the-napkin calculation is that, in addition to the 6 months we spent building it, I spent another $40,000 and the equivalent of 6 full months just working on figuring out how to sell it before I was able to see any real sales.

That money was spent on marketing companies, multiple Facebook ad courses, a high level Facebook ad consultant, the Facebook ads themselves, and hosting a live event. That time was spent learning about funnels, writing, practicing and delivering webinars, writing and testing ad copy, designing and testing different ad images, putting on an in person live event and getting people to show up to try to sell it there, sponsoring other events to market my event, and so much more.

Testing everything is the part that takes time and money and stamina and even though there are shortcuts learning from others who have done it, you cannot eliminate the testing.

Once I got it working, finally, Facebook ads ended up helping me sell about 80 bootcamps in the next month and a half. At the time I was charging $497 and the cost per sale in Facebook ads was about $250 so I made $20,000 off the course.

$20,000 off a course in 6 weeks, not bad huh!? Which brings me to misconception #2.

2. Passive income stats you hear are accurate. *(LOL)

I’m not going to say everyone is lying, but let’s just say that marketing (especially these days when the online landscape is the most competitive it’s ever been) requires selective messaging.

I could sell you “my system” for how I made $20,000 in 6 weeks of my first program, or I could even say how I made $40,000 in 6 weeks of my first program, and it would be technically true. I could also sell you my system for how I made $100,000 last year selling my course without doing any Facebook ads.

I mean, aren’t you ready to buy from me right now?!

The problem with this marketing speak is that it’s both necessary to peak interest, and never true. It didn’t take me 6 weeks to sell 80 courses, it took me 10 months of trying and testing and tweaking, and $40,000 in various programs and coaches and my live event, to sell $40,000 of courses in 6 weeks.

However—and this is where I will give you a glimmer of hope, now that I have hopefully burst your bubble— it is true that now, after having spent years of tweaking and building and testing and trying, as well as investing significant time in building my own brand with a blog, my Forbes column, a book, podcasts, etc… it is true that I made $100,000 last year selling my program without paying for ads.


But does anything about this journey sound passive to you?!

And it’s not like I cheaped out and tried to figure it out on my own instead of paying the experts to show me a faster path. I took the faster path. I took the programs, hired the experts, invested the money, and invested the time. And I didn’t even start from scratch like so many do! I started with knowledge about writing branding and marketing copy, which is an essential ingredient in any funnel.

And the most crucial ingredient of all? I didn’t give up. And I believe because I did all of that is the reason I have a so-called passive income product now.

But it’s still not passive! Nothing is. How would anyone buy my program if they never heard anything about me? Especially when we are all bombarded with marketing all day long? They couldn’t, they wouldn’t know about it in order to buy it.

My goal this year is to increase my course revenue by helping a exponential number of entrepreneurs badass their brands and businesses. But that means that instead of spending some time servicing other businesses by building their brands, I’ll be spending that time marketing.

Which is awesome, that has been our goal for the last few years: to become our own clients. Instead of working for other clients, we are the in-house marketing agency for our own company. And we get paid on commission, because we take 100% of the profits, so the better we do the more we make.

But we are in the position to do that after 3 years of dedicated focus, and that’s an important message I want to communicate to anyone looking to get started in the passive income space.

Which leads me to misconception #3.

3. Selling a product “quickly” fills your income hole.


If I haven’t already made it painfully clear, this is not the quick solution. The reason I called myself the “impatient” entrepreneur in my book is because originally, when I started my business Worstofall Design, I was looking for quick profits.

The quickest way to make money it is to sell your services.

The brand methodology we teach in the Bootcamp focuses on how to do that in a way that allows you to continually increase your profits, and therefore the amount you take home, which can lead to making more and more money over time while working less and less.

If you’re impatient about wanting to make money soon, your best bet is to narrow your offer to what you are best at delivering, focus your messaging on it and do a few specific moves that will help you build a reputation as an expert to get the right clients while you continually raise your prices. I highly recommend doing this first before building a passive income product for the following reasons:

  1. You’ll be in a better position when you do decide to focus on your product.
    Building a reputation and raising your prices means you will be doing all the things needed to build an audience of fans, some of whom will buy your product once you’re ready to put it out there

  2. You’ll develop something SPECIAL to sell.
    Working with clients to hone your specialty and your process is the best way to build a process that you can be known for. This will become the basis of your product eventually. If you don’t have a methodology that you yourself have successfully implemented for clients that is effective and unique, you will have a very hard time selling your product, which will come off as (and probably actually be) pretty generic. There are too many awesome programs out there to be able to compete with something generic anymore.

  3. You’ll have the much-needed time and money to build your product and funnel.
    Getting an awesome product, with a funnel that converts, and a system for getting people in the funnel consistently, takes time and money. If you’re looking for the product to plug your income hole that means you have neither the time nor money necessary to make it happen.

    If you build a brand that attracts high paying clients, you can free up your time and extra money to invest in building and selling your product.

How is it possible that we took 6 months off to build the Brandup Bootcamp, and then I spent another 10 months and $40,000 to figure out how to sell it? Because we made $500,000 in the 12 months before we built it, and because we were doing Brandups for $20,000 here and there during the year which freed up both time and money. Had we not already built a profitable brand that gave us the time and money to spend figuring this funnel out we would not be where we are right now, 3 years later from when we first launched our program to our list and got zero sales.

Now if I were reading this I would think that couldn’t possibly be the way. Pia, you could have hired a company to figure this out for you faster, or Pia you should have learned from (pick favorite guru here) and that would have gotten you there quicker.


Um, no.

Not only did I purchase the courses, but I hired multiple funnel and Facebook ad experts to implement this work for me. And what I learned is the magic, the special sauce, is YOU. I don’t knock experts, quite the opposite I am a huge fan of coaches and programs. I buy them and take them and they get me much farther, much faster than not taking them and trying to figure things out on my own. I buy courses, and I sell courses, because I believe in the course model. I don’t regret any of the money I’ve spent on this stuff because they all taught me things I couldn’t have even known I needed to learn.

But none of them solved it, because the magic sauce is always you. Even in my program, the Brandup Bootcamp that has changed people’s lives, only changes the lives of the people that took the information and ran with it. I’ve gotten email after email about how entrepreneurs now understand their business in a way they never have before, how much clarity they now have in their brand, how they know how to talk about it confidently, how to price their offerings, how to deliver their services in a profitable way.

But they get those results because they did it. I showed them the way, but they implemented. They listened. They tested and tried. They gave it a shot and if something wasn’t quite right they tried again.

That’s business, whether you’re selling a high end service or a passive income product.

If you want to eventually sell a passive income product, be ready to make that your goal that you are going to strive for and never give up on it. Be ready to invest in trying and testing and figuring it out, even as you learn from others who have done it. YOU are the secret sauce.

And before you try and test, I urge you to set yourself up for success by first getting…

  • A solid foundation under you with a brand that has clout,

  • A fan base that knows, likes and trusts you,

  • Profit margins large enough that they give you the time and money you need to properly invest in your product and see it through to fruition,

  • And a unique approach that you are known for that can become the basis of your product offering.

And so, like most of my articles do, I will leave you with this:

If you are ready to take your service business and brand to that next level, to create the time, space and focus needed to build your passive income product in the future, first you MUST invest in building a strong brand as an expert. This will not only guide you on how to create a product that is actually valuable and unique to you, but it will give you the time and space to actually create and market it!

Just another day at the office

Just another day at the office