How Much I Earned From 4 Income Sources in 2021

Some income streams are way more lucrative than others, but is that the most important thing?

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The deadline for filing taxes in the United States is in April, when everyone has to report all their income, withholdings, deductions, credits, blah, blah, blah, so they can avoid the wrath of the IRS.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be all about filing taxes. I mention tax time because I like to file early and get them out of the way, so I’ve been preparing for the past couple weeks by going through all my income statements and thinking a lot about money.

And, what the heck? I love a good income report. I devour them. Maybe I’m just nosy. Maybe I have an unhealthy obsession with finance. Whatever the reason, here’s mine.

I’m going to talk about how I made money in 2021, and how much I made, covering 4 income streams that are generating consistent income and, as a bonus, 3 income streams that aren’t making money at all.

Wait… who am I?

How we make money is largely dependent on our skill set and experience. So, who am I? What skills do I have? Where am I at in my career?

I’m a woman in her (very) late twenties and I’ve been working as a software engineer for about a decade. I currently work at a fitness software company in a technical leadership position. By this, I mean that I generally don’t manage people; I manage code (and sometimes I even get to write some).

Another important detail is that I don’t have children, so my time is mostly my own. I do have a partner, many pets, and I own my home, so I would rank my responsibility to freedom ratio somewhere above “single college student” and below “working mother”.

I don’t have any illnesses or physical limitations that affect my ability to work, so I’m fortunate in that respect. I think it’s important to recognize these differences in situation (i.e. privilege) when indulging in income reports. These numbers are inextricably connected to my unique situation, for better or for worse.

Now you have a decent idea of who I am as it relates to my work. Let’s talk money.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Income streams that do make money

I’ve talked before on Medium about how I want to do everything. I have a hard time narrowing down my projects, so I have a number of income streams that are still maturing, some that I have abandoned, and just a few that have been consistently profitable for me. Today, I’m only going to talk about things I actively worked on in 2021, profitable or not, but perhaps in a future story I’ll do a postmortem on the graveyard of my abandoned side hustles.

Day Job Salary: $140,000

It will probably surprise no one that my day job salary is the largest portion of my income, the most predictable, and (for the most part) the most secure.

I’ve nudged this number slightly because of the vague internet consensus to avoid disclosing my exact salary (mostly to stay competitive in case I need to job search in the near future), but it is close enough to show that I make a comfortable salary from my 9-to-5. I have a lot of work experience and expertise under my belt and I’m paid well for it.

With this income, I don’t need a side hustle (or three) to pay my bills. But, as we all learned the hard way in 2020, sometimes steady jobs don’t stay steady. Sometimes the world flips itself upside-down without warning. While this is a comfortable salary, it isn’t a permanent salary, and it also doesn’t provide the flexibility found in self-employment.

That said, I really enjoy my work. I’m really fond of client-facing software (rather than enterprise software) because I get frequent feedback from everyday people, real users. The company goals align closely with my own and I’m happy to be part of the larger effort that encourages fitness and well-being.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Skillshare: $560

My most consistent income stream after my day job is Skillshare*. I have a series of 3 courses on web development using a framework called Django that I published from 2018 to 2020. A big lesson I learned from publishing on Skillshare that seems obvious in retrospect is that courses for beginners are vastly more popular (and therefore more profitable) than advanced courses. My intro-level course has over 300 students while the most advanced course has about 40.

I spent between 15 and 40 hours creating each course, but once they’re published, they are pretty low-maintenance. I get occasional questions through the platform that I answer as promptly as I can, but otherwise this income is entirely passive.

Skillshare royalties are paid out based on watch time and vary based on the season. Seasonality is pretty common for video platforms, but Skillshare is a little more volatile because it’s affected by times of year when people stay inside and also seek out educational videos (usually January and September). My lowest monthly income in 2021 was about $11 while the highest was about $100. On average, Skillshare brings in $45 a month.

Skillshare is a great platform if you have a skill or craft that you can teach someone in a video format.

Photo by ELLA DON on Unsplash

Twitch Affiliate Program: $240

I started streaming on Twitch in April of 2020 and was eligible to join the Affiliate Program a few months after that. Right now, and for most of 2021, I stream 3–4 times a week for about two hours each time.

The way earning works on Twitch is that once you have qualified for the Affiliate Program you earn a portion of the income every time someone subscribes to your channel, gives “bits” (a Twitch-based digital reward), or watches ads. Twitch offers official ways to make money through product referrals, but I haven’t pursued these myself.

Viewers can also give tips directly through services like Ko-Fi or PayPal, if the streamer has it set up, but this depends a lot on the particular channel. I didn’t receive any tips in 2021. The vast majority of my Twitch income is from subscriptions.

Twitch only pays out once the earned amount exceeds $100, so this means that instead of a small monthly income, I make slightly larger chunks of income every 3–5 months and $0 on the months in between. On average, the math works out to $20–30 a month.

Viewership on Twitch is also dependent on the season and current trends, so my average viewership can vary anywhere from 2 viewers to 10 viewers depending on the day, what I’m streaming, and if any larger channels have decided to “raid” my channel, effectively bringing their viewers over to mine when they’re done streaming.

My community is pretty small, but many of my frequent viewers are friends I met through Twitch and we have a lot of fun chatting and exploring new games. Even though Twitch is not a huge earner for me, and creating live content creates a certain pressure that other platforms don’t have, I get a real sense of fulfillment and community from streaming that I haven’t found elsewhere.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Medium: $6

The last income stream that has actually generated income is right here on Medium! I will preface this by saying: I have not been terribly prolific on Medium and I also haven’t prioritized sharing my stories outside of Medium or pushing membership referrals.**

This year I started making a concerted effort to do more writing, and I have seen a really encouraging uptick in number of reads! However, this income report is for 2021, where I published just 10 stories spread out through the year, none of which were published to a publication. Of those 10 stories, 2 earned the bulk of the $6 while most averaged about $0.20.

Looking back with my perfect hindsight, there are a few obvious traits of the “big earners” that aren’t present in the other stories:

  1. Catchy titles. I knew from the start that titles are important, but it has taken me time to get familiar with title-crafting. Even now, I’m still learning!
  2. Actionable stories over personal ones. This isn’t a hard rule — some writers are great at entertaining and wholly personal stories — but in general, educational content is more valuable to a reader who doesn’t know who you are

While I haven’t put my full attention into Medium (and my stats reflect that), I think it’s clear that there is a lot of room for growth here. Medium also teaches a hard lesson: you have to provide value in order to earn value back. It’s not a perfect system, but stories that offer something to the reader — a piece of advice, an inside look at something they’re curious about, a moment of peace in this crazy world — will get distributed and shared and ultimately will earn more.

I’ve had a lot of fun so far this year working on the craft of writing, trying to find and polish the value that I have to offer, and it’s been thrilling to see the response.

Photo by Emil Kalibradov on Unsplash

Income streams that don’t make money

Pobody’s nerfect, right? As a serial hobbyist and optimist, I spend a considerable amount of my time working on projects that could, maybe, eventually earn money, but haven’t so far.

Game development

Several paragraphs ago, I introduced myself as a software engineer. So, where’s the software-based side hustle? Here it is! I’ve been pursuing game development on the side of my main work for the past 8 years. I started as part of a small team. The project that we worked on together was an ambitious open-world RPG that had several fatal problems (you can probably guess at least two just from the description) and ultimately got put on an indefinite hiatus.

Then, a year ago, I decided to make my own game. It’s smaller in scope by an order of magnitude, and there are no scheduling conflicts or team disagreements because the team is just me. The main reason that this game isn’t making any money is because it isn’t done yet.

I consider this my top priority, my most passionate passion project, which is why my “profitable” income streams haven’t gotten more attention. I’m putting all my attention here, which I wouldn’t be able to do without my full-time salary.

My current goal for this game is to publish in late 2022, but I have a ways to go before I can commit to so much as a release month.

YouTube

As side hustles go, I think YouTube has a higher barrier to entry than a lot of other options. Maybe it’s just me, but the 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours that a channel needs in order to become officially monetized has been a challenge. And, even then, with average ad rates around $2 to $10 per thousand views (depending on topic), I imagine that getting monetized is just the first of many challenges in building a profitable YouTube channel.

I have been making videos for YouTube since late 2018, and have been hovering around 300 subscribers for a while. One problem that I’m aware of is that I haven’t found a searchable starting niche. I stubbornly like making content that works better for established channels than it does for new ones (namely, vlogs)

In terms of effort and return, I should probably stop putting energy into my YouTube channel. I haven’t found the sense of community or impact on YouTube that I’ve seen with Twitch, and I haven’t gotten within spitting distance of monetization, either.

But, I’m optimistic and I generally have fun making videos. For now, I think I’ll keep chucking spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

Amazon Affiliate Program

I have attempted to join the Amazon Affiliate program multiple times, and I have been rejected each time for a lack of traffic. My failure here isn’t surprising. What is surprising is how often I see this recommended as an “easy” hustle.

If you want to make it as an Amazon Affiliate, you have to reach frequent clicks on your links, and at least some of those clicks need to convert into purchases. I’ve tried using both YouTube and a blog as a platform for affiliate links and so far I haven’t been able to support the traffic necessary to make it past the probationary period.

I could be uniquely bad at promoting products (in fact, I am certain that’s part of it), but I think it’s important for people to understand this going in. The content that you build around the links needs to support that funnel and encourage people to use the link and buy something.

You have to build up credibility, specifically with an audience who has money to spend, and that takes time. It’s hard, and I’m giving you permission to not feel bad if you’ve also struggled getting this “easy” side hustle off the ground. It happens to the best of us.

2021 Totals

a pie chart of the writer’s income, where the “day job” slice takes up almost all the available space, at 99.4%
A pie chart of the writer’s income sources from 2021

If we chart out the percentage of my income from side hustles compared to my day job, it’s pretty funny. The slice of the pie is so small, you almost can’t see it.

What this doesn’t show is how that itty bitty slice of the pie has gotten a little bigger each year, each month, each week that I put effort into these projects. This year will be the first year that I’ll be able to pay for business licensing and web hosting completely out of my profits, and I’ll have some left over.

I’ve also got a number of projects in the works, such as my game development project, a new Skillshare course, and of course new stories for Medium. Next year, if all goes well, that tiny slice will be bigger still.

I hope that this income report offers a realistic look at side hustles, specifically on the schedule of someone who works full-time to support a household and struggles to “specialize” with just one side project. And, I hope to report back again next year with another batch of lessons learned, achievements, and shiny new goals.

* If you use my Skillshare link you will get 1 month free and I will earn a referral bonus if you end up purchasing a membership.
** If you use my Medium referral link I will earn a referral bonus, as well

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A software dev / creative ✨ writing about game dev, mobile apps, productivity, and self-improvement ☕ https://ko-fi.com/savallion

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Alyssa Blackwell

Alyssa Blackwell

A software dev / creative ✨ writing about game dev, mobile apps, productivity, and self-improvement ☕ https://ko-fi.com/savallion

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