How I make money: My 18 sources of online revenue


Note: When I originally published this article in 2017 I had 18 sources of revenue but today I have 20. I have updated the post to reflect the new channels.

Today I thought I would do something unusual by peeling back the curtains of my business and explaining how I make money. I suppose I am a poster child for the gig economy since I have no fewer than 18 different sources of online-generated revenue!

It’s important to note that since I founded my business nearly 10 years ago I have spent almost nothing on advertising, paid promotion, or business development in a traditional sense. The key to my success is content marketing in a manner that has allowed me to become a trusted authority that people want to hire.

More than 95 percent of my company income is indirect, meaning I never sell you a product through an ad or a pitch. My income comes to me because I am “known” and I am the person a company wants to bring in for a speech or consulting engagement.

Here are my sources of online revenue, in descending order of importance:

1. Consulting

Depending on the year, consulting and speaking flip-flop between number one and number two in the revenue stream but marketing consulting is my passion. My gift is being able to see things that others don’t, to be able to find that key point of leverage that can propel a business above competitors. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the finest brands and most talented marketing people in the world.

2. Speaking

I love being a keynote speaker because I can have an impact on a large number of people in a short period of time. It has allows me to travel to many interesting places in the world (like Poland, Scotland, Russia, and the Czech Republic this year). This part of my business has grown steadily for eight consecutive years.

3. Workshops

There aren’t that many people in the world who can stand and deliver 4-8 hours of original insights on social media, content, and digital marketing strategy, so this has been a great niche for me. It takes a lot of preparation but I enjoy the intellectual challenge. For example, I did a half-day workshop for Carlsberg Brewing in Russia that pushed me to the limit. It required an intense amount of preparation and research … And that is fun!

4. Book sales

Most people will tell you that you can’t make money off the sales of a business book and they are correct. However, you can make a little income if you have many books and that’s what’s happening as people discover the six helpful marketing books I’ve written. Once they love one book, they tend to buy others. It took me seven years to make a notable amount of money from book sales. Also, moving from a traditional publisher to self-publishing significantly increases profits. I don’t have a “master plan” to write books and can only grow this area if I have supremely good ideas worthy of a new book. I can’t ever let a reader down so I’m not going to write just to write. It has to be great.

5. Teaching

I’m a faculty member of Rutgers University and I love being associated with this wonderful institution. Teaching normally doesn’t pay well but Rutgers has the finest digital marketing programs in the world because they pay enough to attract premier instructors. This revenue stream has grown a small amount over the last few years as the university has introduced more online options.

6. Coaching

Providing personal branding advice to executives is my fastest-growing revenue stream. This growth has been generated by the success of my book KNOWN. People have certainly bought in to the value of developing a personal brand and I am really enjoying my new work as an executive branding coach. Current clients include executives in high tech, CPG, agencies, and health care.

7. Training

Over the past few years I’ve been hired to develop training programs for marketing staffs. For example I recently did a series of training videos on emerging marketing trends for Microsoft.

8. Retainer income

I only do a small amount of retainer work. The reason that I don’t have more long-term contracts is that at this point in my life I usually don’t prefer to have a team dedicated to a long-term execution of a strategy. I do not intend to grow this part of my business. I am more interested in focusing on strategy.

9. Referral fees

I receive business development fees when I refer business to a few select strategic partners.

10. Podcast host

I am being paid to co-host and develop Dell’s first podcast called Luminaries. I enjoy this work because it introduces me to a lot of new ideas and I normally won’t have to travel to do the job. The program has been successful for Dell and I’m optimistic the program will grow in the future.

11. Original content

Beginning with this item there is a large drop-off in importance to my overall revenue stream. When I started my business nearly 10 years ago I developed a lot of content (like blog posts) for clients but the fact is that now the time/value trade-off usually doesn’t match and most companies can’t afford for me to create content for them. But when I choose to do a project it is something momentous. A recent example of a very successful paid content assignment is the influence marketing research I helped create for Traackr.

12. Webinars

Occasionally companies hire me to do webinars for them. I’m open to doing more of that kind of work and I usually have a lot of relevant content prepared and ready to go.

13. Instant marketing advice

A lot of people want to “pick my brain” which means they want my time for free. I simply can’t afford to do that a lot but I’m a nice guy and don’t want to say no, so I created a function where people can sign up for an hour of my time for $200. Turns out, I do quite a few of these — probably more than a 150 now over the years.. It helps me stay in touch with small business marketing challenges and I have a 100 percent success rate so far. I won’t raise the price because the whole idea is to remain accessible to any one, not make a lot of money. It’s a fun intellectual challenge and it helps people.

14. Advisor

I’ve taken on a few advisory positions to start-ups. Not a lot of money now but potential for the future.

15. Influencer

It’s a tricky business taking money to be an “influencer” because I’m not going to turn around and sell other people’s stuff. However, I have had a few nice relationships with large companies who compensate me for my time. I know a lot of people want to be an “influencer” but I am not actively seeking this as big piece of my income. I will work with a few companies I believe in.

16. Sponsorships

Brooke Sellas and I have sponsorship money coming in for The Marketing Companion podcast. I have also had sponsors for some of my books. I could do a better job in this area but I frankly don’t like spending the time courting sponsors. An opportunity.

17. Translations

My books have been translated into more than a dozen different languages, including Mandarin, Spanish, and Romanian. The Content Code was recently translated into Japanese. I received $20,000 for the rights plus a percentage of sales so this can be a pretty good deal for an author.

18. Licensed content

I get a very small amount of revenue from blog content licensed through I support this primarily because I love their business model and I see they are sincerely trying to help authors get paid for their work. Essentially I “rent” content to big companies.

19. Affiliate links

I don’t normally participate in affiliate marketing programs but I might make a few bucks from linking to a book or from promoting my participation in a conference like Social Media Marketing World. The income stream from this type of promotion is generally not worth my time and I hate bugging my readers with a lot of salesy-stuff.

20. Medium

I love Medium because it has eschewed the advertising model and is trying to compensate authors for their contributions. My revenue from Medium is lucky to reach two figures in a month but it is just starting out and I’m hopeful for growth because I believe in this platform.

The stuff I don’t do …

If you’ve read through this list carefully, you might be surprised by what’s NOT in there. So I thought I would explain that, too.

Sponsored content — I have never taken money for companies to post content on my blog and I never will. I have turned down many thousands of dollars but I look at it this way … If I turn my content into an ad, it is the beginning of the end of your trust. I will not publish sponsored content because I will never let you down. It’s that simple.

Sponsored links — Likewise, I have never traded, sold, or bartered for links. It’s just not worth it to cross that line.

Online classes — I’ve had many requests to turn my content and ideas into online classes, or perhaps a master mind group. I’ve resisted this opportunity for the simple reason that the grind of creating, maintaining, and promoting this online content would not be fun for me. I have too much going on to take on these regular time commitments, even though there is probably a good source of income there. I also hate the idea of the constant self-promotion needed to make it work.

So there you have it. What surprises you about my business model?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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