In the spring of 2012, Shane and Jocelyn Sams, now 38 and 36 respectively, were Kentucky schoolteachers each making $38,000 a year. Shane was a high school social studies teacher and football coach, and Jocelyn was an elementary school librarian. They were also young parents.
“As my little boy got older and our little girl was born, I realized how much of our time was dominated by other people,” says Shane. “People think that teachers have some freedom, but really teachers work 12-14 hours a day and there are all these extra meetings. And they tell you exactly where you have to be at all times. It’s kind of like you’re stuck in that high school schedule. The bells are ringing, and you can only take bathroom breaks at certain times.”
He didn’t see any opportunities for them to make more money unless one of them became a principal, but it’s not easy to get one of those positions, and doing so would only worsen the time commitment. He began to search for new ways to make money online.
That’s when he discovered Pat Flynn, the guru behind Smart Passive Income, a multimedia empire with podcasts, blogs, e-books, videos and more that helps people learn how to make income online. Shane started thinking maybe he and Jocelyn could do that.
He started tinkering with a few blogs.
“The first money we ever made that made this real was 11 cents,” recalls Shane. “Someone got on one of my first sites and click on an ad, and I made a dime and a penny. I was literally in my room jumping up and down celebrating, because it proved the concept — holy crap, we can write a blog post and someone can give us money back for it. Basically after that, we said, how can we start making more money?”
A year later, in July 2013, the couple had their first five-figure month, earning $15,000. The next month, they made $36,000. “It was a year’s teaching salary in a month, and it was for a product that we had already created and didn’t have to keep working on,” says Shane. It was then that they faced the question of whether or not to give up their weekly paychecks in order to gamble on the possibilities with passive income. As Jocelyn puts it, “We thought, ‘If we can make this much in one month while working full-time jobs, what could we do if we were all in?’” They took the leap.
The couple now runs three passive income sites: ElementaryLibrarian.com, UShistoryteachers.com, and FlippedLifestyle.com, where they teach people how to earn money online. From 2013 to 2015, they earned $1 million. In 2015, they averaged $40,000 a month. So far this year, they are averaging $50,000 a month, and are growing so quickly that they aim to earn $1 million by the end of the year.
Each works about 10 hours a week, totaling about 80 hours a month between the two of them. That’s an earnings rate of $625 an hour. Here’s how they did it and how it’s changed their lives. This is a condensed and edited version of two interviews — one that took place in November 2014 (when they were at a waterpark) and one earlier this week.
Tell me how you got started.
Shane: The first site I ever put up was in May or June 2012. At the end of June or July, I got my first ad click. Then Jocelyn made her site, Elementary Librarian, and when she launched her first digital product in July or August 2012, that made $2,700. We basically went from $0 to 11 cents to $2,700 in three months.
One year later, in August, we both had digital products. I had my playbook — [Ed. note: Shane used to have a site for football coaches, but after it was hacked last year, they decided not to reopen it.] — Jocelyn was selling her Elementary Librarian lesson plans, and that’s when we went from $15,000 to $36,000. A year later, in July, we made $141,000 in one month. We had a string of three or four consecutive six-figure months in 2014. It grew a little faster than most people do it.
Jocelyn: When we had the $36,000 month in August, we had some real serious conversations. Shane was all in — that’s the kind of person he is. For me, I liked the stability of knowing I had a regular paycheck coming in, but he finally talked me into it. Our last day of teaching was Sept. 29, 2013.
Shane: We both walked in, pretty much on the same day, and resigned and freaked a bunch of people out. They were all shocked that someone would quit their job.
Jocelyn: We live in a really small town, and where we live, teaching is a really good job. People looked at us like, Are you crazy? What are you thinking?
Shane: It was unilateral no support across the board. People called us irresponsible and stupid, because people are trained to think they have to trade time for dollars: ‘I have to go to a job for nine hours a day if I’m going to eat.’ And we had discovered this system whereby you could invest your time by creating an information product that will never go away. Abraham Lincoln will always be the 16th US president. If I make a lesson plan about him, that lesson will still be good 50 years from now. We had discovered you could invest your time in products upfront, and then just sell them over and over and over again. It’s on sale 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No one could comprehend there was a way to invest your time and make passive income instead of going to work for 12 hours and then getting whatever they decided to hand you.
Jocelyn: The funny thing is, now all this has happened, the same people who told us we were nuts want to know how to get into this too.
How much time do you spend on your sites each week?
Shane: When we first started, the first year, from May 2012 to June of 2013, we were squeezing every minute out of our schedule to spend on our websites. It looks so cool, when you see people like Pat Flynn making passive income, but the work going into it — you’re working 30-40 hours a week, and if you hit it pretty hard, 50-60 hours a week — until we got everything on a stable footing with all of our products automated. Now, we switched to a membership system, but back when our sales were dependent on products, if we were about to do a launch, we might put in around four hours a day. But we would still take time off to go on trips every two weeks.
We only sell memberships now, because we can make a sale one time and people pay forever. On Elementary Librarian, people join for $50 a month and they just keep paying. It’s so much easier now to make money because we just add a few customers and we keep making more and more and every month. We don’t start at zero anymore like when we were selling digital products because we have 1,500 members that are going to be there next month too. When we add on top of that, it’s just exponential growth now, basically. We have automated a lot of our marketing so Facebook ads go into automated webinars and they sell for us 24 hours a day.
Jocelyn and I now only work about 10 hours each a week. We created community forums where the members talk and help each other, and Jocelyn and I just keep the machine rolling. It’s made our business ridiculously even more passive.
But oh my gosh, it was scary when we switched.
Jocelyn: When you’re used to a launch model —
Shane: You get those big hits.
Jocelyn: We had been doing it for a long time, and we knew just to make $30,000 a month or —
Shane: Or $140,000 in July. Usually, what happens in an online business is you create a course and videos. You do this big huge launch where we’re running ads and it’s going to be a certain day, and you might sell 1,000 of them for $100 and make $100,000, but then you put all your eggs into one launch and then you’ve got to pay affiliates. Maybe you had 10 affiliates and you’ve got to give them 40%, so you’re really only making 60, and then you’ve got to pay taxes. You may get $30,000 to $50,000 in one hit, but then what are you going to do the next month? Because you can’t sustain that kind of energy. You’re just so exhausted. We would be destroyed, then over the next few months we might go back to only making $10,000, $20,000 a month.
With the membership, you just open the doors and let people flow in and out. You don’t have to sit there and say well if I don’t make all my money on July 15, I’ve got to wait three more months to launch again. You don’t get up every day and say, I hope someone buys my e-book or I hope someone buys my course.
The best analogy is that making money via products is like being a hunter. I’ve got to go out every day, spend a lot of energy, and I’ve got to go hunt and kill something. We’re more like farmers. We’ve planted our crops. All we got to do is give it a little sunshine and a little water.
What do people get with a membership?
Shane: We always say, People will come for your content, but they will stay because of your community, so the biggest thing we try to do in all of or memberships is we create forums where people can come ask for our expert opinions. So, in Flipped Lifestyle, they can say, What do I need to do in this model of my business? Should I make my emails say this? Should I sell this? What about this price? There are hundreds of other people in there, so you can get a lot of feedback.
We also help people connect to other entrepreneurs in their region, like Flipped Lifestyle members in the southeast or the northeast or in Australia.
How else do people hear about you aside from the ads?
Jocelyn: We put out podcasts weekly for Flipped Lifestyle. I use Pinterest a lot for Elementary Librarian. Also, we send out free content on our email lists.
Shane: Free content drives everything. With our education businesses, we’ve created so much content that we just repurpose it on Pinterest or run ads to certain pieces of content. As for Flipped Lifestyle, a new podcast comes out every week. We created all of our podcasts for four months in a two-week period, so we do not have to work on podcasts anymore for four months.
Our growth strategy is to get to over $100,000 a month over the next three months. We’ve got some new ad campaigns and some other stuff on Facebook. At Flipped Lifestyle, we fully expect our business to double by year end.
The reason we can say that with such confidence is because, with memberships, we know what our growth was last year. I know exactly what our turn rate is. So let’s say every month 10% cancel but 90% renew. We actually can now run future income reports and see exactly how much we’re going to make a month moving forward. Then, we know how much we have to add on top of that. It’s amazing when you get into recurring memberships to see how consistent your numbers hold. We know what we’re going to make almost every day of the year.
What’s been your biggest failure?
Shane: Not outsourcing fast enough. We were trying to do everything ourselves. We kept working harder and harder and all of a sudden we were doing more hours than we were doing in our old jobs. We looked at each other and we were like, We’re making all this money. Why would we not hire people to do all these things?
What does a typical day or week look like for you guys?
Shane: We eat breakfast, hang out with the kids and take them to school at about 8 o’clock. Afterward, Jocelyn and I go to the gym until about 10 or so. We’ll usually stop for a cup of coffee or tea or something on the way home. We usually roll in about 10:30 or 11 and do work till 2. If we have phone calls, we do those between 2 and 3 just because Isaac gets off the bus at 3, so it’s an easy out for us.
Jocelyn: We spend between 30 minutes to an hour answering member questions.
Shane: Then we’ll spend maybe an hour to an hour-and-a-half delegating tasks. We’ll send things to our executive assistant, check in with the customer service team and our webmaster. If we record anything, we’ll drop that in Dropbox for the podcast and video editors.
Now, about once every three months, we’ll take a week and we’ll work probably about four to five hours a day for one week, and we’ll schedule all of our podcasts for the next quarter that week.
We try not to do anything on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Describe the rest of your lifestyle.
Shane: Jocelyn and I go on a business trip to a conference about once a quarter to, like, San Diego, Chicago or Washington D.C. We’ll try to only schedule one out of the quarter because we don’t want to be away from the kids. We’re going to hire a nanny that’s going to start coming with us on those trips, so we can bring them.
About every other month, we’ll just fly the kids somewhere. In about a month, we’re going to go to Sea World, Lego Land, and the beach for a few days. At least once a month, we just take the kids somewhere within driving distance. We may run down to Atlanta for a few days or stay in the mountains in Tennessee. We try to travel at least once a month now just because we’ve got a lot more time. The business is a lot more automated, so it’s easier to just get out of here and go.
How has all this money changed your life?
Shane: Where to start.
Jocelyn: It’s crazy. We both come from pretty humble beginnings, so it’s not like any of this was handed to us. It’s just all hard work.
I grew up in rural western Kentucky. My parents were very young when I was born. I think my mom was 18 and my dad was 20. My dad worked as a cable repairman until I was in college. We didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t realize how little it was until I started making my own money. Most months, we make more now than he made in the entire year. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. It was a big struggle for them, and I realize that now that I’m on the other side of it. I can’t even wrap my head around some of the things we’re able to do sometimes.
Shane: I grew up in rural eastern Kentucky in an old coal town called Corbin. Basically, it had a train stop. My dad was an insurance agent and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I had four brothers, and we grew up in an 800-square foot house until I was about 17 years old.
For Jocelyn and me it was just a very lower middle class to middle-class upbringing until all this happened to us. Now, it’s just…I mean, Gosh. In the last year, we’ve been to Korea, the Philippines. We travel all over the country, Canada. We’re going to Australia in seven or eight months. While growing up, I would have never even close to have imagined this. Four years ago, I couldn’t have imagined what our lives are like now. It’s just mind-boggling.
Also, the opportunities our kids have — I never flew on an airplane until I was 18 years old, and our kids have been on 20 airplanes already, and Isaac’s 7 and Anna’s 5.
It’s really not just changed our lives as much as just changed our entire family tree forever because the perspective and everything our kids have and their kids will have, is just going to be totally different. Very grateful. That’s why we do Flipped Lifestyle. I desperately want as many other parents and children to have the opportunity we have.
How has the money changed your relationships?
Shane: It’s touchy sometimes. It’s hard living in small towns because word travels. When we quit our teaching jobs, everyone within 15 miles knew because people just didn’t do that, especially right after the recession. A lot of people have discovered our podcasts and our pages. For the most part the relationships don’t change because we just try to keep them that way. We don’t talk about money. We just try to be blessings in other people’s lives. We hire people locally. I’m going to Wrestle Mania next week in Dallas and I’m taking my brother with me. He’s a teacher. He could never probably go if we couldn’t help him. We just try to be blessings and help people when we can. Some people are resentful because we get to stay home and work, so we get a lot of comments like, Must be nice, and Man, you’re lucky, so there are some relationships that are not around anymore, but most of the time, 90%, it’s been great. People are proud of us. They respect what we did, and they’re very happy for us.
Jocelyn: We’re the same people. We’re the same Kentucky kids we’ve always been.
You mentioned you had student loan debt. Have you paid that off?
Shane: We have got the money to pay all those off, and we’re getting ready to write the check, but we’ve got to write our tax check too, which is a lot bigger than before.
Jocelyn: We actually just paid off one of the student loans two days ago.
Shane: Yeah. We’ve let those sit there because we wanted enough cash to run the business for six months, but now, we’ve got that.
A couple years ago, we sold our first house and bought a bit more modern house, and we’ve stayed here and banked cash. We’re going to keep this one. I think we’re going to turn this one into our world headquarters with a video room and a podcasting room. Then our next house is going to be a big house out in the country with a big pond and animals running around. It’s going to be our dream house, our forever house.
Other than the travel, is there any other way in which you feel like you’ve upgraded your life?
Jocelyn: We just bought our first brand new vehicle last year. We were able to pay cash for that vehicle.
Shane: $35,000 minivan, baby.
Jocelyn: That’s the first new vehicle either of us has ever driven in our lives.
Shane: We just buy things. It’s not a flippant thing, but if I see something I want I just order it. Jocelyn just ordered a treadmill for our office. She just wanted one, so she ordered it, and I was like well, let’s just go get a TV and hang it on the wall. When we went in, we picked the one we wanted. We never had to worry about what it cost. We just said, That’s the TV I want to be in front of this treadmill. We bought Apple watches just because we could.
As parents, the normal stress we used to be under living paycheck to paycheck is gone. It’s just freed up so much mental space and energy to be able to enjoy each other and your kids and to look around the world and say, my God, this place is big and beautiful, because you’re not worrying about your rent or mortgage or groceries.
What has been the most surprising thing about your journey?
Jocelyn: The impact we can have on other people’s lives. We get messages every single day from people saying, You changed my life. We’ve gotten that so many times, but it’s still so humbling whenever somebody says that.
Shane: The reach is unbelievable. This morning we had people in our community join a webinar from Laos and Australia. We have people in England, Germany, all over the United States. It blows our minds a couple of kids from the coal fields of Kentucky could have people on every continent listening to them every week.
What’s your biggest challenge?
Shane: How to raise our children without them being entitled. We’re really, really vigilant about the things we buy for them, and about teaching them values, like respect and care for other people and understanding they have a great opportunity some kids don’t get and that they need to use it to bless other people.
What have I not asked you guys that readers should know?
Shane: People see people like me and Jocelyn or Pat or somebody else that’s made it, and the problem is they only see us after we’ve made it. They say, Those people are making $50,000 and above a month, they have nothing to worry about. But it takes strategy. It takes accountability. It takes mentorship. It takes hard work and effort and time to be an overnight success, basically. Don’t get frustrated. Be prepared to sacrifice, but if you do, you can get to a point where passive income is your only income stream, and then you can start doing all those other things.
Be sure to check out Shane and Jocelyn’s tips for making passive income — and to see photos of their travels — in this slideshow.
More Info: forbes.com