The Truth About Making Money While You Sleep

image of person sleeping in a hammock

Want to hear about the day in the life of a so-called “successful entrepreneur?”

Yesterday, I stayed in bed until about 2 PM. I watched the last few episodes of Mad Men. Around sunset, I took a leisurely stroll down the beach. When I got back, I hung out with a friend for a couple of hours, ate dinner, and went to bed.

In other words … I goofed off.

And while I was goofing off, my business generated a pretty decent chunk of revenue.

You want to know the coolest part?

I did absolutely nothing to “earn” it.

I didn’t check my email. I didn’t talk to anyone on the phone. I didn’t write anything.

If I wanted to, I could do the same thing tomorrow and the next day and the next day, and it would keep on trucking all by itself. Parts of my business are so automated I could actually die, and it would be months before anyone noticed.

You might think, “That’s not right. Nobody should be able to goof off and get paid for it.”

But you know what?

I’m totally unashamed. Here’s why:

I worked my ass off to get here

For the past three years, I’ve worked at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for stretches of around six months without taking a single day off.

For the vast majority of that work, I wasn’t paid a dime. Rather, I was building a machine capable of running on its own.

That’s what truly successful entrepreneurs do:

We build money machines.

We take our expertise and transform it into systems that run without us. Sometimes that means hiring employees, but in my opinion, the best system to put in place is something infinitely cheaper, easier to manage, and simpler to create right now.

(Ready? I’m going to lay my super ninja, “make the internet your ATM” breakthrough secret weapon on you.)

The best “money machine” you can build is content.

Why is content King?

Well, we could argue about whether it really is King or not, but most of the marketing world is coming to understand that content is important … maybe even indispensable.


Well, think about this:

These days, some of the highest paid people in the world are the copywriters who craft the “junk” you receive in the mail. The best ones charge a minimum of $100,000 to create a single direct mail piece.

Obviously, there’s a lot of research and thinking and smarts involved, but here’s what’s funny:

A beginning copywriter will compile demographic data, conduct focus groups, dutifully collect the official line on what the product’s USP is supposed to be — you know, all the normal marketing tomfoolery.

An experienced copywriter, on the other hand, often finds the best salesperson in the company, hands them a tape recorder, and says, “Tape yourself doing your next 10 sales calls.”

From there, our crafty copywriter transcribes the sales calls, isolates the most persuasive elements, and organizes those into a letter. Then they mail the letter to 200,000 people.

It’s not necessarily less work. It’s smarter, more effective work.

Some would say they aren’t being “creative.”

Instead of reinventing the wheel, they’re taking a salesperson whose methods already work, distilling and cloning that salesperson 200,000 times, and instead of paying each of those clones a salary, they can be distributed in the mail for around a buck apiece.

The point? (And I do have one)

Your blog post isn’t just a blog post. Your podcast isn’t just a podcast. Your video isn’t just a video.

They’re components of a system.

If you’re not getting any results from it, it’s not the media’s fault. Blog posts and podcasts and videos and any other media can and will create sales …

… but only if the system wrapped inside the media is effective. If the system sucks, the result will suck, and the flashiest and most whizbang media in the world won’t save you.

So, the question becomes:

How do you create content that sells stuff?

Let’s talk about that next.

How to get paid to goof off

Sounds awfully nice, doesn’t it?

Well, here’s the “secret” formula:

  1. Find somebody who is good at selling stuff (maybe that’s you)
  2. Create content that duplicates what they do
  3. Distribute said content to as many people as possible
  4. Repeat the process until you have the desired level of income
  5. Go goof off (hooray!)

If you want to “make money while you sleep,” you’ve got to create the kind of content that does the work for you.

Really, that’s it. It’s the whole shebang.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. And I’d be lying to you if I said anyone can do it.

The fact is, most of the top marketers in the world have experience selling one-on-one. Look into their past, and you’ll find they were on a sales floor, going door to door, or on a telephone, talking directly to customers and convincing people to buy.

Most people are too squeamish to do that, and in my opinion, that’s the real reason why almost everyone fails at making money online. They try to create a piece of content that does the selling for them, but they have no idea how selling works, so they essentially end up cloning the worst salesperson in the world.

That’s not going to get you what you need. Your content is an extension of you, and if you suck, your content probably sucks too.

Does that mean you’re doomed if you hate to sell?

Fortunately, no.

Mainly because you probably don’t understand what selling is.

If you’re afraid of selling, you probably have visions of pushy car salesmen chasing old ladies through the dealership parking lot, willing to say or do anything to make the sale.

And it makes you nauseous. You would rather change careers than become somebody like that.

But here’s the good news:

Good salespeople are not pushy. Good salespeople will never lie to the customer. Good salespeople usually aren’t even called salespeople. You give them your money in exchange for something you want, never even realizing you participated in a sales process.

That’s what you need to learn how to do.

If you’re still terrified, the other method is to study master salespeople and marketers and try to model what they do. In other words, build a swipe file.

The only problem is, you don’t know exactly what to model. In the beginning, you duplicate elements that don’t matter, and you ignore elements that are essential. It’s only after years of trial and error that you finally get the hang of it and do it right.

This method of learning selling does work. Just be prepared to starve for a few years as a penalty for being a scaredy-cat. :-)

Either way though, there’s good news:

You don’t have to work until the day you die

Unless you want to, of course. Some entrepreneurs would have it no other way, and I respect that.

Also, it’s important to realize sometimes you don’t have a choice about when you quit.

As I’ve written about before, I have a (supposedly) fatal disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and every year, I lose a little bit more strength. While I’m fairly productive now, science says I’ll eventually lose the ability to move everything but my eyes. Which isn’t the end of the world, but it will slow me down.

Honestly though?

I’m not worried.

Already, my business makes more than enough money to take care of me, and every day I work to make it less and less dependent on me. One day, I might be forced to step away, or I might not, but really, that’s not the point.

The point is peace of mind.

Because of my business, I can afford the best medical care anywhere in the world. Because of my business, my family will be taken care of, regardless of what happens to me. Because of my business, I can scale beyond helping just one or two people at a time and help millions.

Strategic content is what lets me do all that.

And goofing off?

That’s an added bonus. Living is one thing, but enjoying your life is quite another, and nothing is quite so empowering as getting up every morning and knowing you can do whatever you want, not just because you’re the boss, but because your business goes on running without you.

So, learn how to sell effectively.

Clone yourself by creating lots of awesome content.

Distribute that content far and wide.

And then goof off, if you want to. Life is short, my friends, and I don’t know about you, but I intend to savor every last moment of it.

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Reader Comments (68)

  1. says

    Hello Jonathan – you have made a great point. People see success and they say, “wow, what a life this person has!” and then start fantasizing about how they could to do something like that. They fail to realize all the hard work and perseverance that goes into creating such a lifestyle.

  2. says

    Thank you for putting the right things in perspective Jon.

    I think that we run around worrying way too much whether we picked the right shade fo blue for the header graphic and then, after mindlessly clicking the refresh button 45 times a day to check email, it all comes down to why we do it in the first place.

    It’s not about the money.

    It’s not about the being lazy.

    It’s not about the chase (although that is part of the fun).

    It’s about goofing off and doing what you love with the money that your business brings you. Business is never a means to an end, just a tool to get you to where you want to be.

    Great piece.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

    • says

      John, this is so far one of the best piece I am reading from you – it sure shows you have done a great work.

      Firstly, I am happy you are less concerned about what the Docs says, its their own opinion and not yours, wat they say never matters really but what you believe – dead people do rise you know!

      As per making money while sleeping, it sure means one has to do the work big time. Work your ass off. Work work work and i mean work and make sure the system you set out is in place to generate the sales you desire.

      I have 3 books in the making and I am working back and front with my team to make sure the ebook becomes a success!

      Living is one thing, but enjoying your life is quite another, and nothing is quite so empowering as getting up every morning and knowing you can do whatever you want, not just because you’re the boss, but because your business goes on running without you.


  3. Fadi Sassine says

    Summary of the article: …finds the best salesperson in the company, hands them a tape recorder, and says, “Tape yourself doing your next 10 sales calls.”

    Thanks Jon Morrow –

  4. says

    Great article Jon! I started reading it fully prepared to roll my eyes at any given moment for fear of it being another “I make money while I sleep and in 3 simple steps you can too” article. No the case at all. Tons of value here…thanks!

    • says

      It is three simple steps — learn how selling works, work your ass off to create content that sells, assemble it into a viable business system.

      You said “simple,” not “easy.” 😉

  5. Tomás says

    This morning I did not feel able to move on. After reading your article I feel capable of anything… again!

    Thanks Jon!

  6. says

    Loved this! The best line is: “I worked my ass off to get here.” That is the key… work hard. Great motivation on this Monday morning. Thanks!

  7. says

    Good stuff Jon!

    I definitely agree that the difference between business owners and the self-employed is systems. Good marketing is itself a system, and it’s built part by part. Just as you spent three years busting your butt to build your platform, anyone can build a foundation for future success with a little effort over a long time.

    Thanks for the post!

    • says

      Yeah, in my opinion, systemizing your marketing is one of the most powerful things you can do in your business, but not surprisingly, it’s the LAST thing most entrepreneurs do. We systemize technology, employee productivity, finance, and fulfillment, but we forget about something that actually makes us money: the marketing. And really, it’s just as easy to systemize as anything else.

      • says

        I think a lot of entrepreneurs are scared of becoming inhuman because they don’t fully understand HOW to systemize marketing. They don’t understand that systemizing marketing isn’t the same as automating it, and even then there’s ways to keep the human element.

  8. says

    Jon, your points are so true! I always thought I hated sales, until I got my own business and simply started talking to people. I turned out to be a pretty good “salesperson” as a result – because I was helping people with something I totally believed in,

    REALLY looking forward to learning to scale these skills big time!

    • says

      Yeah, the next step is systemizing it so you can help people without actually being there in person. That’s what content does for you. :-)

  9. says

    Excellent post. One important point to call out here: it requires that initial work. I think a lot of people get lost at that point, with so many excuses about not having enough time, blah, blah, blah. How can you not make time to generate success? I know and agree that hard work pays off. Thank you for this enlightening post!

  10. says

    Forget the content is king line. If you have nothing to sell content don’t mean squat.

    Good products to sell is king. Wish I’d learned that years ago then I could be on that beach chair enjoying my lemonaide.

    • says

      True enough, good stuff is so much easier to sell. Gary Bencivenga always used to say that “a gifted product was more valuable than a gifted pen.”

      Deeper than that, for me, is the “starving crowd,” the audience of buyers. Figure out what they want, and then you engineer those “good products to sell.”

    • says

      It occurs to me that “content” is simply the line of communication between the starving crowd and the product created to give them what they want.

  11. says

    This was an amazing and inspiring post. The benefit goes far beyond just providing for ourselves but when we can give to those in need and provide for our families while freeing up the time to spend with them is just a great thing. I hope to get to that level some day soon.

    • says

      Absolutely. I believe it’s important to keep that goal in front of you while you’re working as well. The truth is, building a business is really hard, and pretty much everyone wants to quit at some point, but if you think about spending time with your family and having a peaceful retirement (or whatever it is that motivates you), it can get you through the rough patches and keep you moving.

  12. says

    Wow, Jon. Way to put things in perspective for all of us.

    We’re not working just to work. We’re working to LIVE. And we might as well create some awesome stuff along the way.

    And yes, I teared up at the end of this post…

  13. says


    You make excellent points. And, I’d refer to this post every day and use it as a motivational tool. But I’d like to add that most people don’t know what they want out of life, let alone ‘how’ to start a profitable business that can make them money while they sleep. Most people know the following:

    1. They don’t want to be poor.
    2. They don’t want to be like their parents.
    3. They don’t want to be alone.
    4. They don’t want to have bad relationships.
    5. They don’t want to work for someone else.
    6. They don’t want to leave the world a sad and desolate place for their kids and or grandkids.
    7. They don’t think they’re responsible for their lives.
    8. They don’t think they’re good enough or good at anything.

    The list goes on and on.

    I think when people become ‘clear’ about what they “do want out life” and recognize how their self-sabotaging patterns and behaviors have kept them stuck, they can move forward and create a business that makes them money while they sleep.

    Also, if people would become clear about “WHY” they want to create a blog/website and sell whatever it is they want to sell, their lives will turn around. Until then, they’ll either continue to do nothing or continue to do the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. According to Albert Einstein, “This is the definition of insanity.”

    • says

      I agree with that, Amandah — from what I’ve seen, 95% of what people need to start successful businesses starts with how they think before they even decide on a topic or market.

    • says

      Right on. Also, one thing I didn’t mention is, if you’re unclear about what you want in life, you can use those “don’t want” thoughts to motivate you in the beginning. They are actually called “away from” goals, because you want to move away from those things. Properly harnessed, the fear of ending up like your parents or being alone or having a bad relationship can motivate you to take action and improve your life.

      When I started, all I knew is I didn’t want to end up in a nursing home. It took me a while to really develop my goals. The fear of ending up in a nursing home, however, was more than enough to make me work day and night to make sure it didn’t happen. No, fear isn’t the most comfortable motivator, but it is a powerful one, and we can use it.

  14. says

    Always enjoy your messages Jon but this one is especially timely for me. I’m in the ‘working my butt’ off phase at the moment. And while there is of course the larger ‘build a business’ intention driving the effort – my short term reward will a 3-week road trip – my first real vacation in 10 years – this Sept. I’m writing, and networking and learning a LOT … also stumbling and making a lot of mistakes along the way (but only once) and loving the journey! As always, thanks for the inspiration.

  15. says

    Thanks Sonia! I do believe that most people ‘fear success’ more than they fear failure. I recommend people examine this and find out ‘why’ they fear success. I think they’d be amazed by their findings.

  16. says

    It agree that fear can be an excellent motivator. It usually takes an ‘Aha’ moment or a couple of ‘Aha moments’ for people to realize they’ve been going in circles or haven’t fully ‘awakened’ yet to their potential. For me, it was my father’s death in 2004. And again in 2007, when I was about to graduate with a Master’s degree. I was ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ I knew I had to change on the inside to shift my life on the outside. I had to stop focusing on what I didn’t want and figure out what I wanted. It was and is an interesting journey.

  17. says

    EXCELLENT article Jon! It’s funny, I still feel guilty when I am not working even though I know I shouldn’t. On the other hand, when you love what you do each day, it’s hard to find something you would rather go do (most days). Thanks for another detailed and insightful article!

    • says

      Yeah, that’s the interesting thing. I don’t really have to work anymore, but it’s SO much more interesting than just loafing around all the time. Being lazy actually gets old really quick.

  18. says

    I can so relate to this post :)

    Without boasting and bragging about how I earn while I sleep, I can safely say that I am somewhere near that point. The web properties I have established in past five years may continue to lay golden eggs for me, even if I decide to go on a world tour for few months. However, being the workaholic I am, I still like to spend 10 hours a day in front of computer. Poor me.

  19. Fadi says

    i didn’t only enjoy such inspirational article, in fact i am in love with each and every single comment, everyone was describing the route cause of the challenge from his own perspective, i’am sure the stubborn and patience people can easily understand how humble they should be in order to be gifted and succeed, moreover, i think that there is a small light living inside every entrepreneur to keep him/her pushing and asking for additional guidance n effort till we reach the safe shore. I’m comparing between eastern n western difficulties to bridge the main gap between what is called entrepreneurs/success/1st world and between capitalists/ventures/3rd world. once again, thanks Jon for your words.

  20. says

    Great article! I especially loved what you said about the penalties of being a “scaredy-cat” as I definitely have to fight myself from being one of those. Though I’ve been told time and time again that I’m a good salesperson, the idea of doing it person to person has always terrified me and I think I’m still trying to overcome those fears.

    But my goal is to have income generating on its own, so I do know that I need to get over my fears. Thanks for the kick in the tush I needed.

  21. says

    Amazing article.

    This is a reminder that high quality always wins and last longer than crap, however it does take some talent and a lot of training.


  22. says

    “I could die today and nobody would notice for months.” Really pulls the point across. I think it’s incredible that people don’t realize how much the work they put in now can pay off in the future. My dad always was willing to work overtime and, for that, he earned a beautiful wedding. It’s that simple.

    It’s like the four boys from Liverpool (The Beatles, of course) said – “A man must break his back to earn his day of leisure”. I think it’s completely brilliant. You get out what you put in.. And then some. That’s how it always works – dedication, time, and hard work will always result in great things. If it weren’t for all of that pressure (hard work) and time, we wouldn’t have diamonds – it’s something to think about.

  23. says

    Great post and very timely for me. I’ve been doing done-for-you copywriting services for years, first in Madison Avenue ad agencies, and later (now) for entrepreneurs. I’m exhausted. And if I died, my clients might notice before I did.

    But starting this week I’m dipping my toe in the content-provider waters. My first free teleclass is on Thursday, that will upsell into a three-part webinar series in June. It will be a modest pricepoint, but I am just getting started. Done is better than perfect.

    And i’m printing out your post as a rallying cry for when I start to think it’s too much work and not worth it. For me having the kind of freedom you describe means time for my other creative projects (screenplays, childrens’ books, inventions) and the freedom to fail at as many of those as I want.


  24. says

    Jon – I love the idea of working with a company’s best sales person as a way to figure out how to write persuasive copy. Major light-bulb just went off! Thanks for that.

  25. says

    Howdy Jon.

    You’re an inspiration. Truly.

    Thanks for your courage. Thanks for your attitude. And thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    Good stuff my friend… :-) Eric

  26. says

    Thanks for the post, Jon! I meet so many aspiring entrepreneurs who think that starting an online business releases them from the responsibility of selling. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth and many of the effective sales techniques that worked offline can also work (with some modification) online.

  27. says

    Thanks Jon. Awesome advice you’re giving us. It’s comforting to learn that I don’t have to work my ass off until the day I die … on condition that I do the right things NOW.

    I’m writing content, but I don’t get traffic to my site. I literally had to beg relatives to visit the site and subscribe to my mailing list. The problem is they’re not in the least interested in what I have to say (No shared goals). It’s literally too much trouble for them to use their index fingers to get to the post … and they’re doing me a helluva favour to do it only once. I’m running out of relatives and friends anyway. The point is content alone doesn’t do the trick.

    Mind you, I am a terrible salesman. I can ramble on and on, but I can’t close. I’ve still have a lot to learn and a long way to go.

    You’re a source of inspiration and an excellent role model. Keep it up.

  28. Darlene says

    Excellent article and I understand your points. But my question is how did you survive 3 years without making any money?
    How did you pay your bills and eat?

    Or did you already have money socked away to live on for those 3 years?

  29. says

    When it comes to the prospect of generating serious revenue on the Internet I usually encounter four types of people. The first person dismisses making money online as if it’s one big scam. The second person dismisses making money online because he lacks creativity or technical know-how (which isn’t even needed nowadays). The third person thinks that just because it’s the Internet, business should be easy and he just doesn’t want to put in the excruciating hours and productivity. The fourth person basically works his ass off blindly with the hope of making big money online, so he keeps working industriously every day until he sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

  30. George Nosa says

    Jon…Jesus can heal ya! Yes He can and will. A fine charismatic person like yourself shouldn’t go through life like this. Now google “christ embassy healing school”. Look it up man!

  31. says

    To me this sums up success as much as anything: “I worked my ass off to get here. For the past three years, I’ve worked at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for stretches of around six months without taking a single day off.”

    I’ve been able to rank as one of the top travel bloggers in less than a year by doing just that – working my ass off and then some :) It’s the best advice for anybody passionate about making a living on-line during the initial stages.

  32. says

    Jon, you are such a great inspiration. I totally enjoyed your webinar and reading everything you have to say. I’ve got nothing to add here, except gratitude.

  33. says

    Thanks for being such a great inspiration Jon. The best line is: “I worked my ass off to get here.s” This is so true! For the past years, I’ve read books, study and went to different trial and error before I got to where I am now. And I wont be here if I didn’t worked my ass off!

  34. says

    Amen to everything in this post! I completely agree that the point really is ”peace of mind” and the sooner we can get there, the better!

  35. says

    You hit the nail right on the head. Building a business, first learn about sales and marketing. I had my fair share of seeing many of my coaching classmates who want to do coaching only but are unwilling to prospect and enroll. So they don’t have clients to work with. Some are waiting for clients to drop from the sky. They wanted to do the easiest work.

    When you can’t sell or market, you are always at the mercy of others unless you are international well known. Nothing happens until a sales is completed. Many of my peers don’t see that. Although I’m also a coach but I see myself as an entrepreneur more than a coach. I am building a business to work without me. My peers see themselves as a coach, so their business can’t work without them.

  36. says

    I really enjoyed this post and also the incredible comments.
    I too am in the work your butt off phase. Studying and learning so much about the technical side of blogging (thanks to Jon & Johnny B Truant’s course) & producing products that people want to buy from me so I can give great content, make a difference & create a passive income for me and my 2 sons.
    Thanks Jon.

  37. says

    I love the way you write, Jon. One of the main byproducts of producing lots of content is that you produce a writing style. Most writers think they can write. After years of doing it, they realize that they didn’t really know how to write before but now they do. Of course, they will discover in a few years that they were still learning how to write.

  38. says

    I think what bloggers usually forget, including me, especially me, is to promote the contents. I always write new contents, post them on my blog and just forget about them. And then, i do it again tomorrow, and so on and so on.

    I agree with you John. Promoting our contents is definitely, absolutely the most crucial part when blogging. We cannot just post new articles and let them do the work. We have to work our ass off for them every time we publish new posts. That’s the system that hopefully i can implement in 2013.

    Thanks for your great post John. Hopefully, we all can be like you. Generating cash while sleeping.

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