My Passive Income Portfolio - What Am I Starting With?
With over 20 years building websites under my belt, I've ended up with something of a collection of websites, blogs, domain names, ideas, pieces of code, and the occasional half-finished ebook. Before I can come up with a plan to develop my passive income, it seems sensible to take an inventory. I'm expecting, at the end of this, to be able to trim some fat and focus my efforts a bit more specifically on the projects which offer the greatest return.
My suspicion is, that with my previous slightly lackadaisical approach to marketing and developing of the incomes from my sites, I may find some low-hanging fruit. I certainly anticipate that I'll be able to reduce my expenses, and properly drop a few ideas that haven't managed to progress to anything more than a registered domain name and some grand dreams.
Unlike my last income report, the costs here are attributed to specific products or websites rather than grouped together. Costs and expenses are those from February.
|Hosting (CDN from Amazon)||-$89.52|
Cheatography is my busiest site, and is a cheat sheet builder and repository. Born from the cheat sheets I released over the last 15 years or so (you might have seen my Regular Expressions Cheat Sheet), it's both a tool for creating cheat sheets and a repository for finding them. Income is, at the moment, entirely advertising-based, and all from Google AdSense.
Verdict: Safe. Profitable, but with CDN costs so high, not by much. And not when you factor in that it takes more management time than most. However, it continued to build a repository of unique and useful content, and that's a great asset. With some attention, some marketing, and a better revenue model than AdSense, I believe this has lots of potential. Definitely a keeper, but can't justify much time investment at the moment.
Readability-Score.com has surprised me plenty of times over the years. It is cited in academic papers, and provides genuine value to its users. It's also badly underperforming - converting about 0.04% of visitors into premium users. That's not helped by a dated design, clunky sales process and premium benefits which could definitely be improved.
Verdict: Safe. My most profitable site, with current management time largely resulting from issues with checkout, password management and a few older bugs. Huge opportunity, with lots of traffic but poor conversion rate. Definitely a keeper, and can justify an investment of time into a significant upgrade.
I began work on ApolloPad late last year, and it is a really exciting project, still in beta. I'm expecting to start charging for it later this year. It's a novel-writing app, with some nifty features and a monthly subscription model.
Verdict: Safe. Early days for this project, but a tremendous opportunity and a project I am passionate about. My biggest concern is carving out enough time to maintain the momentum of development, and to keep bringing in new users.
CrosswordCheats is a crossword solver and cryptic crossword clue trainer. The clue trainer bit is the bit I'm most proud of, and the piece least used. At the moment, it generates a small income through AdSense advertising, but the long-term goal is to offer a subscription for access to the best features.
Verdict: Precarious. An old project (I built the first version of this in 2003!), but not very profitable. However, it hasn't been pushed at all, and crossword folk are a wonderful tight-knit community. Give them the right environment and they'll make it their home. A bit like very clever hamsters. The question is whether or not I have the time to put into it to build out the functionality, community features, and then to manage it.
5: Added Bytes
|Gumroad Transaction Fees||-$6.00|
Added Bytes is my web development company, and is my primary source of income. I build websites on various platforms, most often Magento, and I sell a few useful extensions for Magento on my site. It's not a huge piece of passive income, and in many ways it's more of a sales tool than an income generator, but it should be mentioned here alongside the others.
Verdict: Safe. Added Bytes generates some passive income, but it's not really a passive income site; it's my business and main source of income. So this one isn't going anywhere.
TriviBot is a twitter quiz bot. It asks questions, and awards points for the first right answer. First to ten wins the game.
Verdict: Precarious. It's not expensive to run, and it's slowly growing in popularity. The only monetisation strategy for it appears to be to push some sponsored tweets out, but it has nowhere near the level of interest it would need to make that worthwhile. However, it's only just been resurrected, so I'm inclined to give it a little time to win me over.
IconJoiner started as a tool I needed to quickly generate sets of icons with overlays. It's used a little, but has no real monetisation, and I can't see people paying to use it (and there are other free options now as well).
Verdict: Terminal. It costs next to nothing to run, but doesn't offer anything in return except security risks to wherever I host it. It was useful for a little while, but now it's little more than a distraction. It's been running a little while, but without even collecting users' email addresses, I'm not sure it has much value to a buyer.
FeedbackFair is a consumer review service. Pass it details of orders placed on your site, and we will collect unedited feedback for you to display to other customers on your store. It boosts your SEO, helps with conversions, and even helps highlight potential problems with your product range or service.
Verdict: Precarious. I still think FeedbackFair is a solid idea, but it's a marketplace that has been explored reasonably well. There's plenty more space there, but this would take more time than I can hope to carve out to get to a point where it will be a viable prospect for me alone to grow. If I had the time, I would pursue this further. So, for the moment it's avoiding the axe, but only by the thinnest of margins, and only because I hope to be in a position to push ahead with it again. I'm going to give this one a time limit - the domain expires in 2017, and if I've not been able to put time into it by then, then it wasn't meant to be.
Mathaversaries celebrates the passing of time - it will tell you when you've been married 1000 days, or when you are 1 Jupiter year old. It's a fun site, but it's never given me much cause to think it could generate income.
Verdict: Precarious. It costs next to nothing to run, and it gives me the joy of seeing the occasional retweet from some of my favourite authors and celebs. Terry Pratchett retweeted this, and for that reason alone I may keep this going forever. Putting my objective hat on, though, this doesn't offer a lot of opportunity. Maybe some paid e-cards for special occasions? It would need expanding for that to get anywhere, likely with stronger social integration, like a Facebook app.
Envoy started as a bug tracking and work management tool, with the ability to create work, assign it to people, track changes and all the tools you expect from a bug tracker or work manager. It even has time tracking and Wiki functionality. But it suffered from a lack of development time and hasn't really changed in the last 5 or 6 years.
Verdict: Terminal. Envoy is a tool I use every day, for managing work and storing information. However, as a single developer I can't hope to keep up with the pace of development of Jira or GitHub Issues or the myriad of alternatives - both free and paid - available. That said, there might be mileage in converting a piece, like time tracking or the Wiki functionality, into a standalone product, either to build up, or maybe to sell. Is there any chance of that happening ahead of some of the other items on this list? Not a good chance, no.
We are really plumbing the depths here. I'm a rugby fan, and once upon a time I, and several like-minded folk, were toying with the idea of starting a rugby forum. We were arguing enough about rugby by email, and on Facebook, and wherever else at the time, so doing it somewhere that other people could join in sounded like fun. I bought the domain, and put together a little demo. And it never progressed - we found ourselves using other places. But I liked the domain, so I kept it, thinking it was a decent domain for a rugby community and might be useful one day.
Verdict: Terminal. Time to let it go. I have enough on my plate without trying to run a forum as well. The only questions become, how to dispose of it? The domain automatically renewed recently, so has some time to run. It's reasonably old, as domains go. I could try to sell it, or maybe put together an actual forum on there and sell it as a ready-to-rock rugby community. The specifics are to be decided, but it's definitely on the way out.
On The Chopping Block
I have really enjoyed building up some of my apps over the years. Envoy, for example, at one point, had about 200 companies giving it a try. However, one thing I have failed to do well is pick my niche. Something like Envoy would make a great project for an agency, where time can be dedicated properly to it. As a single developer, bootstrapping my projects, with a young family, I don't have anything like enough time to dedicate to it, so cannot possibly compete with the larger companies and their development teams.
I've also tended to hold on to ideas too long. Rugby-Forum.com was a nice idea, but in the end all I've done is pay for a couple of domains for several years, and I should have dropped it once I realised there was no realistic chance of advancing it within a year or two. The name is nice enough, but it can be easily replaced. The name is not the important thing.
The last of the terminal bunch, IconJoiner, is actually getting a little use. Not a lot, but a little. It's tempting to keep it, as it doesn't cost much to run and it's useful. And it might be an earner, with a few more tools thrown in, and some nice pre-defined icon and overlay sets. Or with the ability to share icon sets through it. But nothing leads me to think it should be ahead of the other more promising items in my portfolio. And so, to help me streamline my portfolio, reduce my domain name bill, and simplify my life, it's going to go.
All of those terminal cases offer different prospective avenues of disposal. Envoy has a small base of prospective customers and a host of useful tools. It's not making money, but certainly does have value. Rugby-Forum.com is a potentially decent domain for the right person. Even IconJoiner might be able to bring a few pounds on the way out to offset its costs for the last few years. I'm going to try to sell all three, one per month over the next three months, and will include the income in their final entries on the income reports for those months.
CrosswordCheats and Mathaversaries, while not financially particularly useful, are both sites I enjoy using. For that reason alone, I'm likely to keep them indefinitely. However, until they can pay their own way, they are going to stay off the "Safe" list.
TriviBot offers little in the way of direct or passive income, but I'm going to give it a little more time to find its place. A Quizbot on Twitter is something I can see getting some use, and I'm keen to adopt the code to other projects. However, the outlook isn't great.
Which brings us on to FeedbackFair, as the last of the "Precarious" class. This is a project that has spluttered to life a few times and then stalled. Consumer reviews are big business, and there is competition, but there's plenty of room for another player, especially in a niche. If I had time available, I would like to give this a proper go. But, as ever, time is the limiting factor. If I'm able to put some time into it this year, I will take it on as a 2017 project. If not, it will be axed. Can't say much fairer than that!
Slipped the Noose
Added Bytes, as mentioned elsewhere, is not really at any risk. As my passive income grows and the demands that places on my time grow, the focus may shift to development work for passive income sites in addition to client work, but it is the umbrella for all of my work.
ApolloPad is a very exciting project for me, and one I will be writing about more over the next few weeks. The first rounds of development were completed in early 2016, and since then it has been in beta, with a small army of budding authors putting it through its paces and feedback back to me about bugs, feature requests and more. It's a project with lots of potential, and one I'm passionate about. I'm expecting this project to occupy the majority of my efforts in 2016.
Cheatography continues to potter along, but I want more from it than that. I know from experience that there's huge demand for online and printable resources for programming and languages (among other topics), and that the current traffic for Cheatography is far below the maximum levels I saw with the cheat sheets on my previous sites. There are a few reasons for that, I'm sure, but I need to better understand them. It has a great many problems, not least of which is a lack of attention. So, I'm going to take some steps towards rectifying that, starting by speaking to a few of the more active users to see if one (or more) is interested in taking on a little management of the site, specifically in welcoming new members, handling support, blogging and fostering more of a community feel.
Finally, we come on to Readability-Score.com. I think this might be the lowest-hanging fruit in my digital orchard, and for that reason I'm going to dedicate the time I have available in the next few weeks to this project. With a conversion rate so low, and decent traffic, there is every chance this can earn considerably more with a relatively small influx of development. I've had a new logo designed already, but I'll be following that with a new design, a re-think of the premium membership benefits, a change to the free tool access, proper email engagement, and a new payment system. And, finally, password resetting. With any luck, that will help a few more of the users convert to paying subscribers, and maybe even tempt back a few lapsed subscribers too.
It's surprisingly tough to say goodbye to projects you once thought held great promise. In fact, that's unfair - I think those projects that I'm ending do still hold promise, I just can't do much with them. I have too much on my plate. Getting the rest of my ducks into some sort of sensible order though has really helped me focus. Without this exercise, I'm not sure I would have seen the potential value in putting time into Readability-Score.com, and would likely have left it as-is indefinitely. Which would have been a shame, as it's in a good position to be reinvigorated.
I'll be making this a regular exercise, every six months, and I hope to get the same kind of value out of it in future. Following reviews will likely be based on the previous six months, rather than just one month of revenue (but you can still keep track of monthly figures, if you're interested in such things, with the income reports).
Is this something you're tried with your online portfolio? Do you have any tips that worked well for you? How do you decide when a project is worth investing more in, and when it is better off being closed? And if you have closed a project, how did you do it? Share your stories in the comments!