Pat Flynn on 10 Great Lessons on How to Make a Living on the Internet


Pat Flynn

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income.comHere’s what I like about Pat — he goes above and beyond and he keeps things real.

I first stumbled across Pat while doing some research about really making a passive income online.I think it’s a skill more people will need as the world we know changes under our feet.As I read through Pat’s posts, it was clear that Pat lives and breathes his passion and he genuinely wants to help people succeed.

I like that … I like that a lot.

I also like Pat’s bio …”I didn’t win the lottery, I don’t drive a fancy car, and I’m not a millionaire. What I do have is a beautiful wife, an awesome baby boy, a loving family, awesome friends, and a line of work that allows me to spend all of my time with them.” … Pat is leading an extraordinary life and loving it along the way and that is success in action.

I have to say, this is truly one of the most amazing posts I’ve read on how to make a living on the Web.  I’m blown away.Rather than a step-by-step approach, it’s a set of timeless principles and patterns.  Pat has distilled an incredible set of insights that he’s learned from actually making money online and walking his talk.

Without further ado, here’s Pat on how to make a living on the Internet …

Pat Flynn here …

This post is not intended to be a step-by-step guide on how to make a living on the Internet.

Think of it as a compendium of the lessons I’ve learned since starting a number of online businesses – lessons that I hope will be far more useful to you than any “system” I could possibly teach.

The fact is that there are thousands of different business models one could choose from if you do want to make a living online, but it’s the core principles and motivations behind them that determine whether or not it will be successful and long-lasting, or just a waste of your time.

Lesson 1: Internet Business is Not For Everyone

This might seem like a weird first lesson to you, but it’s absolutely true – Internet business is not for everyone. Although I feel very fortunate to be living how I am today, working from home for yourself does have its drawbacks:

  • You Make ALL of the Decisions: Yes, this is the very reason why many people begin to work for themselves – to become their own boss and not answer to anyone else, but people fail to realize that this involves making business decisions that before (working 9 to 5) you would never even have to expend energy to figure out. With things like taxes, legal matters and healthcare, it can be too overwhelming for some to handle.
  • Your Schedule Isn’t Set in Stone: Again, this is exactly what you want, right? A flexible schedule with the ability to work when you want? Yes, but a lot of discipline needs to come along with it in order for this to work. One problem that many Internet entrepreneurs have, including myself at times, is having the discipline to stop working and enjoy life. There is always more work that can be done, and it’s really easy to just step into the home office or open up the laptop and continue working.
  • It’s Harder to Get Into Work Mode: Along the same lines, there are many distractions at home and online that can stop an Internet entrepreneur from doing work that needs to be done. I’m sure you can think of a few yourself.
  • No Co-Workers: Having co-workers to talk to and become friends with is probably what I miss most about working 9 to 5. Luckily, there are things like Twitter, Facebook and Skype that help me stay connected with people while working from home, but talking about Monday night’s football game isn’t quite the same anymore.

I do love working from home, don’t get me wrong, but its not exactly all fun and games. It may or may not be the right thing for you.

Lesson 2: Strive to Make the Internet a Better Place

With whatever you want to do online, if you’re not doing something that makes the Internet a better place – if you’re not creating something of value that people can appreciate and say, “This makes my life better”, then you’re not going to see any long-term success.

I’ve experimented with a number of various methods to make money online, and what has always given me the best results and the most ROI for my time and money (not to mention what gives me the most fulfillment) are those projects and websites that actually help people – businesses that if for any reason were to disappear tomorrow, people would notice.

My website at, for example, helps people study for a small exam in the building and design industry.

One day in 2009, my servers went down and my website was unavailable. That day, I remember receiving over 50 emails from people who were using my website asking me when it was going to be back up.

This just shows the kind of value I was providing, which is a good reason why this particular business has consistently earned thousands of dollars for me each and every month for over two years.

Lesson 3: The Passive Income Business Model

As I mentioned before, there are several ways to make money online, but the business model that I’m about to share with you is the one that I use because of how much work is needed by me in order to make things run.

Here’s a flow chart of how things basically work, starting from the top:

The driving force behind all of this is automation.

As you can see, the only part of the equation that YOU are involved in is at the receiving end of a payment.

Things can happen without you having to do anything, as long as it’s setup properly.

People can arrive to your website, purchase a product and have it automatically delivered to them without having to lift a finger.

What’s nice about doing business online, especially today, is that there are so many different tools, services and resources available that make this passive income model possible.

And, if there are tasks in your business that do need the human touch, you can easily find someone else to do those things for you, on the cheap.

On my site at, I sell eBook and audio study guides that I created to help people pass the LEED exam. I purposely choose to only sell digital products because I can use a service like to accept payments and automatically deliver these electronic goods without having to take the time and worry about going to the post office or shipping and handling.

Furthermore, because my business is online, my “store” is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and is open to the entire world.

Just to give you an idea of what passive income can do for you, in March of 2009 I had worked a total of 8 hours the entire month.

Most of my time was spent in Hawaii with my wife on our honeymoon and just settling into a new apartment.

This month happened to also be my most profitable month ever, grossing $30,328.48.

It’s an amazing feeling to know that you have businesses setup working for you, instead of the other way around.

Obviously, however, you can’t take yourself totally out of the equation (since you may need to answer emails and deal with customer service), but you can get really close.

As Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week says, “I am not a tollbooth through which anything needs to pass. I am more like a police officer on the side of the road who can step in if need be…” What’s nice about this business model is that it’s something that you can setup in your spare time and continue to have while working a 9 to 5 job if you want.

Also, since things are mostly run on autopilot, you can use that extra time to do the things that you want, whether it’s travel the world, stay at home with the family, or even work on setting up new passive income streams.

Lesson 4: Take Action

In other words – just do it.

We all have business ideas (or ideas that will improve our existing businesses), but ideas mean nothing unless they are put into action.

We can plan as much as we want, but planning is just that – a plan.

It’s the doing that actually gets you somewhere.

I consider myself pretty lucky that I was laid off. It wasn’t a good feeling, that’s for sure, but looking back, my lay off (and the terrible economy which made it virtually impossible to land another job in the architecture industry) is what forced me to take that action.

I really had no choice, which is why I think I’m where I’m at today. It can be tough to take action when it’s not totally necessary, which is why I use the following “mind hacks” to make sure I get things done:

  1. I always set a deadline. I find that I’m more focused when I work under pressure, and if I know something has to be done by a certain time, I’ll make sure that it happens. This goes for items both big and small.
  2. I get others to hold me accountable. Sometimes, all this requires is announcing or telling people what I want to do. This forces me to take action because I don’t want to say I’ll do something and not follow through.

Lesson 5: Take BOLD Actions

To expand on lesson #4, not only should you take action, but you should take bold actions that will make a big difference.

It’s like in golf.

When you’re putting, if you swing your club and hit the ball but it never even reaches the hole, you’re not giving yourself a chance to sink the putt.

It’s impossible.

If you take a strong stroke and your ball rolls past the hole, then at least you gave yourself a chance to sink the putt.

Another way to look at bold actions is to compare it to some advice I learned from Ramit Sethi of

He says that in the personal finance game, it’s always better to go for “the big wins”. He explains that being frugal and saving money by brown bagging your lunch or cutting down the number of non-fat grande white chocolate mochas you drink is virtually pointless.

Although you will save money little by little, you can have more money in your life by going for the “big wins” like finding the lowest interest rate, negotiating down the price of your next car, or even starting your own business, and you can even still enjoy your non-fat mocha whatsits.

When I first started doing business online, I was making money through advertisements on my blog, but it was after spending two months writing my first eBook study guide that I saw my income skyrocket from $250 a month, to over $8,000.00 a month.

Then, instead of working on small things for my business, I took another bold action and added an audio guide to my product line. $1400 for a voice talent and another month later I took that product live and I began to see upwards of $15,000 to $20,000 a month.

Bold actions = big results.

Lesson 6: Stop Worrying About Being Perfect

I have worked with so many people who are starting online businesses who take forever to get things rolling because they want things to be perfect, and what happens is they end up missing out on valuable opportunities or chances to really make some good money online.

Like I said before – just do it!

As long as your product, website or whatever it is you’re doing online has value and the message comes across clearly, all of that perfection stuff doesn’t even matter.

Many people use perfection as an excuse. “I want things to be perfect” is just another way of saying “I’m too scared to really do this.”

You don’t have to be perfect to be profitable! Get something out there now and you can worry about perfecting it later.

It takes time for things to happen, so the longer you keep “making things perfect”, the longer it will take for you to see results.

Lesson 7: The King and Queen of Online Business

Content is King. Content, or what you write or publish online and in your products, is the driving factor behind any successful online business.

Not only because original and desirable content matters to people, but because it matters to the search engines and their algorithms for what pages rank higher than others as well.

You will hear many Internet marketers preach the phrase “Content is King” quite often.

Not many of them, however, have taken on the idea that Design is just as important, but it is.

Design is the Queen, and as we all know (especially if you’re married), sometimes the Queen has more of a say.

This is why companies like Apple go over-the-top on the design of their products, because they know that there are people out there who really care about what something looks like, sometimes even more than what the product actually does. If you’re going to sell an eBook or audio product online, you should always include a high-quality digital representation of the product on your sales page.

There are companies out there (like coveractionpro) that are dedicated to doing just that – creating high-quality eBook and CD covers – because they know that design matters too.

Lesson 8: Specialize

When I ask people who their target audience is, the worst thing they can respond with is “everybody”.

If you try to cater to everyone, you’re going to sell to no one.

At most of the malls here in San Diego, there are at least 5 or 6 different types of shoe stores. There’s a store for athletic shoes, casual shoes, dressy shoes, walking shoes, and even one that sells only sandals.

So why isn’t there one “all-kinds of shoes” store at the mall which could just tear the little competitors apart?

Because it wouldn’t.

Businesses know that the more you can cater to a specific type of person, the more likely it is that that person will buy from you.

If someone is shopping for some serious basketball shoes, which store do you think they would visit: All Shoes Company, the shoe store that has all different kinds of shoes, or The Athletic Foot Company, a store that specializes in shoes for athletes. Of course, the Athletic Foot Company, since they would probably know more about basketball shoes and have a better selection than All Shoes Company.

This “specialization” is even more important online, which is why you must really narrow down your niche and figure out exactly who your target audience is.

There are over 6 billion people in this world, and you don’t need to build a business for all of them. In fact, you shouldn’t.

Even a small, tiny niche like the LEED exam can be very profitable, and it’s even at your advantage to stay narrow, because you’ll run into less competition, both in terms of number of competing companies, and ranking in the search engines.

Lesson 9: Join a Mastermind Group

One of the smartest things I’ve ever done is join a mastermind group. For those of you who don’t know, a mastermind group is just a fancy term for a group of people with a common goal that meet (in person, on the phone, via Skype, chatrooms, meeting software, etc.) to share and learn to improve what they do.

Think of it as a show and tell (and ask) for highly motivated individuals who want to get things done.

In these meetings, members of the group share their ideas, questions, triumphs and downfalls.

Members with questions get immediate feedback from the others, while everyone learns from everyone else’s experience and wisdom.

I’m involved in two separate mastermind groups, both made up of other Internet entrepreneurs and business people who are all looking to improve what they do online.

I’ve learned so much from these groups that I am confident in saying that if it were not for them, I would not be living like I am today.

It’s not one single person, but rather the group as a whole that provide the advice and encouragement I need to get results. And, at the same time, I can give back a little bit of the knowledge that I know to help other people and their businesses succeed as well.

You may know a group of people with similar interests who you may be able to get together with and start a mastermind group already, but if you don’t, and you’re interested, you might be able to find a group of people through or other online communities.

Lesson 10: Don’t Give Up

If you do decide to want to start something online, please understand that it will not be easy, and results don’t happen right away.

There is no such thing as “get rich quick”, so don’t expect that.

You will struggle and you will fail. That is what you can expect, and instead of giving up, learn from your mistakes and failures and just keep going.

I’ve failed a number of times and I’m not afraid to admit that, but each failure brings me one step closer to a success. In all of my online businesses, I’ve wanted to give up at one point or another, but I’m really glad that I didn’t.

Remember what your goals are, and take things one step at a time on your way there.

And lastly, know that I’m not anyone special. I don’t consider myself an expert, and I only attribute my success to working hard, working smart and being confident that I could really make it happen.

BONUS Lesson 11: Always Over Deliver

To get even more results and leave a long lasting impression with your audience, one that will keep them coming back for more, you should always overdeliver on your promise.


Seth Godin simply describes this as “the free prize inside”. With my free eBook that you can get at, I made sure to really go over the top with it.

I’ve had people email me saying that I’m crazy for not selling it, and that it’s one of the best eBooks they have ever read (both paid and free).

I did go crazy with it. I spent 2 months writing (and designing!) it to make sure that anyone who wants to publish, market and automate their own eBook could do it too.

I went all out with it because I knew I was going to give it away for free, and that if I did that, people would be happy to pass it along and I’d be able to reach more people in the long run.

Thank You!

Before I go, I just wanted to say thanks to J.D. for allowing me to share a little bit of what I know and a bit of my story too.

If you have any specific questions about my businesses or what I do online, you can leave a comment here and I will respond, or you can find me on my blog, Facebook or Twitter if you’d prefer that instead. I wish you nothing less than success.


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  1. Good stuff. Thanks for boiling it down and also giving leads to concrete places that offer the services you are talking about.

    Another post to go into my reference.


  2. Hi J.D.,

    Thank you for introducing us to Pat. This has been a truly informative post in which I found myself nodding my head as I read. Being self employed, some of what Pat suggests (such as going the extra mile) is what we also do in our real life business. I agree. It’s not about getting paid for everything we do, but the benefits we receive later by giving that little extra.

  3. @J.D. – Thanks again for allowing me to guest post on your blog to your awesome group of readers! I’ll definitely be back here to respond to comments and answer any questions they may have.

    @Rob – No problem, Rob. J.D. said he loves it when people mix in both the abstract and the concrete into their posts, which is why I was happy to include specific sites that I use. Wishing you all the best!

    @Barbara = Pleasure to meet you! By the way, I just checked out BAWB, and it is amazing. I love the design and the content is just as great. I love blogs with active communities like yours and J.D.’s, because I can immediate tell they’re providing value. Cheers!

  4. Hello Pat

    I love your blog and have been following you for sometime now. This is a great post to read and probably the main reason I follow and read your blog post all the time and eveywhere you are.

    I think people a lot of people are sold the internet as a “get rich quick scheme.” I believe this is unfortunate and also can give internet entrepreneurs a bad name. They sell the dream of online business without full disclosure and this creates distrust over time.

    Imagine if all internet entrepreneurs spent part of every day or every transaction helping to improve customer internet experiences and making the internet better each time they post.

    For me, I practice this constantly on my blog and as I read your blog posts I believe you also spend a great portion of your time selling online entrepreneurship with a bit of reality, help and fun….thank you so much sharing as much as you do. Your post has outlined the “keepin it real” factor of entrepreneurship and online alchemy.


  5. Hi Pat,

    I loved your post. Your authenticity and passion shine through…not to mention…so does your wisdom.

    All that you shared confirmed my observations about running an online business. Although I have been blogging for over two years, I recently decided to be my own boss and started my own business. I am in the process of figuring out my new direction. So your post was of great help. Thank you!

    Btw, I love the whole content is king and design is queen because it is so true. Both are needed and both do wonders.

    And to JD…thank you for introducing Pat to all of us!

  6. Each lessons you distilled resonates a lot with me. I especaiily liked the visual fo the architecture for internet business – although it[‘s simple and naive – it is sticky and creates mental image. And that’s very powerful.
    I also love you stressed the idea of mastermind group – I witnessed it quite a few times first hand how powerful the small group of motivated individuals can be.

  7. There’s such an overload of information about making money online, it’s hard to know who to trust. Since I trust J. D., it’s great to have his recommendation. I also happened on your website recently, Pat, and was impressed by your authenticity and care. I’m far away from the idea of starting a business online, but should I ever decide to look in that direction, I know where to go. First, step would be back to this article which is replete with insight and wisdom. Thanks!

  8. Yay!

    It is awesome to see Pat here J.D., thanks for that!

    thanks for your generous share of your insights with us.

    As, J.D.’s tag line on blog says: “standing on the shoulders of giants” and as you Pat say: “we should join mastermind group”

    I say: it is “super cool to have such inspiring gang around” on my journey.

    Thanks for that.

    cheers from Slovakia,

  9. @Nadia – congrats on the decision to become your own boss. I think that’s a huge step that many people are too afraid to take. I know a few people who have exactly what it takes to be on their own, and in fact they are already making good money online, however they are still attached to their day job and the security that it provides. I thought my 9 to 5 was secure too…but after getting laid off I learned that it really wasn’t. All the best to you!

    @Alik – thanks for your comment, and I knew the visuals would help because I know I’m the kind of person who learned best from charts and diagrams and stuff like that (besides actually just jumping into the deep end and doing whatever it is I want to do). And yes – to reiterate, mastermind groups are essential! Thanks Alik!

    @Sandra – I appreciate you putting your trust in me, because I know trust is a very hard thing to earn from somebody, especially online these days. If you ever have any questions if you do decide to go forth with something online, please let me know how I can help. Cheers!

    @Ivana – it’s true, my mastermind group has actually watched me and my businesses grow, and I’ve been there to witness all of their businesses grow too. We’re like a family now, all with the same goals and aspirations, it’s great! Sometimes our immediate family just doesn’t understand how things work online, or even that what we’re doing is totally possible. Wishing you all the best!

    @Lance – thanks so much for the comment, and your tweet as well! All the best to you!

  10. Hi JD and Pat – love the bio too .. so simple but so all encompassing and passionate ..

    Then the ways to help ourselves .. 1) knowing what we’ve let ourselves in for .. and then doing all it requires ; 2) making the internet a better place – couldn’t agree more .. we must provide value and maintain it; 3) good for him – but the right model .. to make sure we can get a reasonable living; 4) Exactly .. just do it & 5) … be prepared to try things, test things, give it 110% and persevere … = be bold; 6) I agree – we do like things to be right .. but I’m sure we’ll all say – wish I’d started earlier, when it was rougher .. tastes the same – just not a neatened cake! 7) Content and Design .. ok; 8) write for your market (your! Market) – your niche .. 9) Interesting idea .. the group meetings … 10) never give up .. I agree .. and the bonus 11) .. over deliver .. – your ebook idea is excellent and so true.

    Yes – Pat I agree – JD’s a great mentor – we’re lucky to have found him .. and now you – thanks so much .. Hilary

  11. OK .. emoticon 8 ) crept in I see .. could have been more smiley – but too inappropriate as it happens .. live and learn! Cheers H

  12. What a great resource. Thanks, Pat. This definitely reinforced the guiding principles I apply with my blog and taught me a bunch of new things too. I strive to produce great content with the good of all concerned… Victory love the sincerely persistent.

  13. Great post Pat, truly original! The only thing I would add or change would be my personal view on who the King is. I believe the King is Context, and that the content is the queen. But that is all!

    I’m going to be bookmarking this to share with some of my struggling friends over at successfulupstart as well!

    Cheers man!

  14. @Hilary – thanks for the quick summary! It probably helps, because I didn’t realize this guest post would turn out so long, but I really enjoyed writing it so I just let things flow. Anyways, I just checked out PositiveLetters and I must say that we need more things like your website in the world. I try to stay away from watching the news nowadays because all it does is make me wonder what else is going to go wrong, and they never report on anything happy or inspirational, except maybe one story at the end. Thanks for spreading happiness and inspiration 🙂

    @Rob – Victory love the sincerely persistent, indeed! Even though there are “quick” ways to earn an income online, those people never seem to have a long lasting business model. Be true and stay the course, and you can’t lose. Cheers!

    @Brandon – I see where you are coming from with context, which is obviously super important as well. Maybe “Content in Context” would be a better way to put it. Thanks for sharing the article with your associates. All the best to you!

  15. Hi Pat .. I just put Word up against the post & comment against what was said .. as I hit publish .. I thought oh oh .. that’s a bit ‘silly’ – but perhaps not .. if it summarises (essentially) your post. I like to see what was said – because I couldn’t make a pertinent comment from memory on something so relevant and necessary to our lives.

    Thanks for the thumbs up re the blog – I enjoy writing it & that’s important, while it seems to be appreciated!

    Good to meet you .. Hilary

  16. First response was another great JD introduction and lots and lots of fabulous information – Liked the bio and the lists and all the ideas.

    Glad to see Barbara here, Lance and Hilary who will all be able to use this information and go forward with it.

    Second response is that I need to share this my partner for his business, and his younger partner who will know how to work with this information and the 2 very young architects who are just joining the firm because this should help them really take off…

    Third response is that I need to be happy I can share this with folks and I will keep my fingers crossed that they will use it, because this is another thing I don’t think I can figure out before everyone is on to something else….I just can’t burden people with helping me any more.

    I get so excited about all the possibilities you share here and I want others to know, and I think I make the internet a better place for sure…I just wish the internet was something I could learn and use…wishful thinking exposed here.

    Thanks for the info. I can see why you are successful.

  17. I have made money with the internet since 2008. What I like about Pat and his website SmartPassiveIncome is the fact he is real and says it is going to take time. It is like building wealth through good management of personal finances, then investing and building passive income streams. It all takes time and is a step by step process that does not happen overnight.

    But if you build a system and stick to it you can do great things! Excellent Article.

  18. These are wonderful tips. I like that you didn’t sugarcoat the whole online business thing. It’s a tough go like any business. There are no short cuts. Just hard work and willingness to try new things.

    As I build my business I realize how hard it is to motivate people to part with their money. People have almost an infinite amount of options, you have to ask why should they buy your product/service over someone else’s. If you have trouble answering the question then you know you aren’t providing something special.

  19. Pat, thanks for a very through and thoughtful post. You’ve gotten through to me on one very necessary point. need to pay more attention and investment in Queen design. I guess looks do matter. Congrats on your great success you have indeed gone narrow and deep in choosing your niche and how you serve them.

  20. I am loving this guest post! It’s one of the most realistic and thorough articles I have read on the topic. I am taking away a few ideas to work with including the idea of a mastermind group and making my posts as specific for my target audience as possible. Thanks so much for sharing what’s worked for you with us all. 🙂

  21. Hi J.D. and Pat,

    Wonderful article for people who want an on-line or even off-line biz. My favorite, Take Bold Actions. This is where a lot of people fall off the radar. It takes guts to do this because we are taught to be meek and wimpy (no matter what “they” say.) Will check out your site.

    Enjoy your “active” income.


  22. @Eric – thanks for checking out the guest post here buddy!

    @Patricia – When I first started out, I didn’t know anything about the internet and how things worked, so you already know more than I did because you’re leaving comments on blogs! There is a bit of learning, but once you get used to it it’s really worth all of the time and effort. Thanks for sharing this article with the people you know. Wishing you all the best!

    @Steve – Thanks for the kind words! I always tell people it does take time because really there’s no such thing as an easy button. If someone claims there is, they are just trying to get money out of you probably. Cheers!

    @Karl – I love that question. Everyone should ask themselves that about their business or blog and you’re right, if they can’t then they’re doing something wrong. Wonderful!

    @Tim – Thanks for the wonderful comment, and yes Design is really important, and it’s a great way to easily stand out from the crowd. Most people online are more visual and it’s the design of a site that keeps people sticking around in the short 7 seconds you have to make that first impression. Wishing you all the best!

    @Clearly Composed – It’s my pleasure! Glad you liked the post!

    @Giulietta – Thanks so much! Wishing you all the best, and take Bold actions!

  23. […] This is actually a 30% increase from the previous month, which is amazing. I think there were several factors involved, including a recent surge coming from the Podcast and YouTube Videos, as well as interviews and features on sites that have audiences that I’ve never been in front of before, such as Podcast Answer Man & Sources of Insight. […]

  24. wou wou I had never known of such for sure pat u have really inspired me . you have really openned up ma mind , you are agreat. thanks alot .

  25. Hey Pat, Like what you say above specially about taking bold action and not giving up – when you start out its really an overwhelming amount of information to get through to begin to see the big picture. I got some great coaching and then went on to quickly create 12 of my own sites. Love how its all unfolding. Truly an adventure. Jeffri

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