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How to Make Easy Passive Income Online With a Free Challenge or Mini-Course (The Ick-Free Upgrade Technique)

  |   Blog Income Report, Business Tips, Classy Marketing   |   65 Comments

Want a simple, no-hassle way to make passive income for your blog or business...AND grow your email list? It's not as hard as you think, and you can do it without a scary launch or crazy webinars. (Perfect for introverts + beginners!) Click to read the full tutorial on


Let’s say you’ve never released a product online and you’re terrified. You’re terrified because not only are you scared to pull off a “big launch,” the truth is…#letsbehonest, you don’t even know HOW.


Webinars? Sales emails? Instagram parties? Excuse me, but oh. my. gosh. and WTH…


Or, maybe you have launched big before. (In which case I say, you are amazing!) But your hands are full and you’re looking for a different, simple way to monetize your blog — something that’s low key, straightforward, and that will continue to bring in consistent passive income without any uncomfortable promotion OR continual sales-y fanfare on your part.


Whichever camp you fall into, this blog post is for you.


Today I’m teaching you all about The Ick-Free Upgrade technique, a monetization strategy for your blog or business that:


1. Does not require a big email list. (In fact, you don’t need an email list at all to start doing this and be successful, AND it’s going to help you build one at the same time — #winning.)

2. Is extremely affordable to set up. (All that’s required financially is a mass email marketing provider [I used Mailchimp originally, now I use ConvertKit] that allows you to set up a simple automated email sequence. To do this in Mailchimp you need to use their upgraded version, which costs as little as $10/mo depending on how many subscribers you have. With ~ 1-3 sales of your product you’ll recoup the cost.)

3. Demands exactly 0 promo efforts by you other than the normal promotion you would do for a blog post or email opt-in gift. (In other words, you decide how much and in what way you make people aware of it — there’s no pressure to be a pushy saleswoman or bubbly ball of experienced, entrepreneurial epicness. This means it’s very, very introvert-friendly AND perfect for beginners.)


Last month I made an extra $120 in no-hassle passive income by doing exactly what I’m about to teach you below. Here’s how:






How this works is that you’re going to craft something that’s so helpful, valuable, educational, fun, etc., that it’s worth actual money — and you’re going to give it to a lot of people at no cost. At all.


You can market it as a mini course, like:


How To Set Up, Design, and Launch Your Squarespace Blog In 17 Days

Sewing and Selling Baby Booties for Beginners: A 20 Day Workshop

Photographers: How to Make Your First $100 in Digital Product Sales Using Adobe InDesign


Or offer it as a challenge, like:


The 16 Day Green Smoothie Cleanse

Mudroom to Attic: a 21 Day Complete Cleaning Challenge for Your Home

31 Days to Doubling Your Freelance Graphic Design Income


For this particular product it works best if you deliver it in a day-by-day teaching format that spans a minimum of 15 days and a maximum of 31. (You could extend it to 40ish, but in my experience people tend to lose focus and drive after 31 days. Try hard to keep it focused and do-able for your participants — that is extremely important for their success AND for yours.)


To come up with your offering, use these questions to brainstorm:


1. “What thing do I offer right now (in the form of services, courses, other products, etc) that I could teach someone more about — or to do in some way themselves?”

2. “What do I know or what skills have I acquired that will genuinely help other people like me achieve a goal or noticeably improve some aspect of their life?”

3. “What have people been asking me for help with (in blog comments, in Facebook groups, via email, on Twitter, etc)?”

4. “What do I enjoy teaching, doing, or creating that I can make a different or more useful than what others are doing?”


After deciding on your topic, grab a piece of paper or open up a Doc and quickly outline what you will offer for each day.


(Tip: you should be so familiar with the subject matter that you don’t need to go into great detail or do much extra research. Remember: stick to what you know. SOMEONE out there needs your unique expertise + experience.)


This is what my preliminary outline looked like for the Brand Impressions Detox, my free biz + blog challenge that comes with an Ick-Free Upgrade:


Screenshot 2021-07-25 14.53.42


This is also a good time to think about how you’re going to convey the material:


Will it be written — or taught in some other way (video, audio)?


Even if primarily writing-based, will you supplement with any video or audio? If so, which lessons?


Will you have images (screenshots, illustrations, photos, other graphics)? (Note: the more you jazz up your course/challenge with clean, attractive visuals, the more people will love it. Use PicMonkey or Canva if you’re not a designing whiz.)




Next, you get to decide what this free product “package” is going to contain or look like. Your goal is to make it as attractive as possible to people, which means you should seriously consider sprucing it up with some extra free goodies (like iphone wallpaper, printables, etc.) and giving a portion of it away through your blog or another online channel (without requiring an actual email sign-up to go through the course/challenge).


You’ll want to determine 3 basic levels of access:


1. What you’ll share freely with the public on your blog/website/YouTube/etc.

2. What extras you’ll share only with actual course/challenge participants

3. What extras you’ll give in exchange for actual payment of your product*


*Point no. 3 is your Ick-Free Upgrade offering. This is where you take your spectacular free product and package it in a way that is more valuable/more convenient/more useful for people, then offer it for sale as an “upgrade” to your course or challenge.


You can do many different things for your upgrade offering. Some ideas:


- Create a beautiful e-book that contains all of your material in one simple, printable document (like what I did with the Brand Detox) and offer it on its own or packaged with some other extras (you could offer deep discounts on your other products, a special services perk, more neat digital downloads, etc.)


- Give full, immediate access to your entire course/challenge (great option if you have everything hosted on a website and are using membership software like Wishlist Member) — again, offer it on its own or packaged with some other extras


- Offer even more extra lessons, worksheets, planners, documents, photos, videos, templates, etc.


Here are my brainstorming notes for the Brand Detox — I wrote down what goodies I would give away directly on my blog for EVERYONE, what I would give away in the email version of the detox, and then what I would provide in the upgrade option (aside from the full e-book).


Screenshot 2021-07-25 15.00.31




Now you’re going to get to work creating the content of your product (both the free course/challenge and the paid upgrade package).


If you’re duplicating content across two different mediums (ie: InDesign for an e-book and Mailchimp for your course delivery), ask yourself: where does it make sense for you to create it first? Directly in your email marketing software, in a word processing document, within InDesign, somewhere else…?


I created all my content in my InDesign document (for the e-book), then I copied + pasted it into the Mailchimp emails when I was done. This is what was easiest for me, as I could make the e-book fit the content rather than trying to make the content fit the e-book. You may have a different preference.


This is the tutorial I used on how to set up an automated email sequence within Mailchimp: How To Create A Self-Paced Email Course — however, be sure to note that Step 5 (Create a Goal) is unnecessary unless you really want to take the time to do it that way.


Notice that the advice in the subsequent steps will need to be slightly tweaked if you don’t choose the goal option (but it’s relatively self-explanatory).


To set up a sequence in ConvertKit, go to ‘Sequences’ in your top menu bar. Click ‘Create Sequence.’ Then name your sequence.


From there all you need to do is edit the email content + timing as you like, then at the end save all of the emails as ‘Published’ rather than ‘Draft.’ When finished, go to Forms >> Create Form >> Settings. In the drop down menu under Sequence Settings, select the name of your Sequence, make it mandatory for all new subscribers (so that they’ll have to be added when they fill out that special form vs. having to check a button), and hit Save.


Screenshot 2022-03-14 19.13.57


From there simply install the form code wherever you want to collect signups for your course!




Once you have everything done, you’ll need to figure out the best way to get your paid product package to your buyers. The easiest way — particularly when you’re just starting out — is to use a sales + product delivery platform like Selz, Gumroad, SendOwl, and others. You’ll have a secure place to store your digital files, + you’ll get a simple link that you can share wherever you choose.


And this >> Be sure to pay attention (and be sensitive) to payment options. For a long time I underestimated the importance of having a PayPal option for my online sales (which is a small added fee if you use Selz like I do). Now over 90% of my buyers use it to pay, and I suspect my sales are higher because of it. Give people the choice!




Everything is in place — now you simply have to offer your Ick-Free Upgrade (paid product) to your course/challenge members in, well, an ick-free way. 🙂 This means that not only do you NOT want to push it so hard that you take away from the value of the free product, you want to be SINCERE and GENUINE with people.


You can use smart marketing language (in fact, I recommend it), but come at it from a point of REALLY wanting to be helpful to people with your paid product. If you do otherwise, you’ll sound like you just want to make a buck off people. And that’s icky.


With the Brand Impressions Detox, I understood that there would be people who would want to jump ahead (or behind, or to the side, or all over the place) on their schedule — because that’s exactly the kind of person I am! So here are some screenshots of what I said:


In the 1st day’s Intro email:


Screenshot 2021-08-05 22.28.26


In the 2nd day’s email:


Screenshot 2021-08-05 22.30.56


On day 4, a simple link after my signature:


Screenshot 2021-08-05 22.32.56


As a rule of thumb it takes people about 7 times to see something before they take action on it. This means that for those who could benefit from my product, the best opportunity to present my particular Ick-Free Upgrade was within the first 7-10 days of the detox.


As such, I made sure most of my emails in that span of time made some mention of the upgrade option. Do you need to do the same?


I took a break in the middle of my detox emails and didn’t mention the upgrade option at all. (There’s no need to push, push, push. Try to be polite.) Then, near the end, I quietly reintroduced it in about every other email + included mention of my extra freebies (the brand style guide template + social media strategy planner).




Finally — it’s time to set your mini course or challenge into action!


How are you going to spread the word? Some suggestions and ideas:


- Write a value-packed blog post + design a stellar post graphic to accompany it. Include the course or challenge sign-up form directly in your blog post. (*highly recommended)

- Tweet it, Facebook it, Pin it, Instagram it, etc. Do it more than once. Do it weekly. (*highly recommended)

- Create a special page on your website dedicated to featuring ONLY this mini course or challenge (again, include the sign-up form)

- Replace all of your social media website URLs with the blog post or landing page URL for this course/challenge (*highly recommended)

- Share the post/landing page in appropriate Facebook Groups (where and when allowed) (*highly recommended)

- Place a sign-up form (with prominent, pro-looking graphic) in your sidebar, header, or footer (*highly recommended)

- Write guest posts around your course/challenge subject and include the course/challenge URL in your author bio

- Hold a Twitter chat around the subject of your course/challenge and mention it there

- Periscope about it

- Hold a G+ Hangout webinar where you explain or walk people through part of the course/challenge

- Use Promoted Pins or Facebook Ads to drive people to the course/challenge blog post or landing page

- Your idea here!


Have you done anything like this before? Is this something you’re going to try out? Talk to me in the comments, + pretty please Pin and Tweet this post if you think others would find it useful in monetizing their blog or business. 🙂


(And then check out my blog income report and traffic numbers for July below!)








Now, for my monthly traffic and income report:


OLYVIA.CO BLOG TRAFFIC REPORT Pageviews for July:   27,650  (+6,906) Users for July:   15,536  (+3,701)




Post which saw virality this month:



(Click image to visit the post.)



Top Pin driving visitors to


Screenshot 2021-07-25 09.56.20

(Click image to visit the Pin.)





As I’ve mentioned in past income reports, the figures below are what I made through “passive income” on this blog, not my other client work and services.


Last month’s earnings are as follows:


21 Day Brand Detox e-book package - $120.00 ($26)

Bluehost (from the Resources page, sidebar, + footer) - $65.00 ($0)

Tailwind - $22.48 ($2.25)

BlogHer Ads - $21.11 (last month: $19.26)

Blog Beautiful ebook (from the sidebar + Resources page) – $9.60 ($9.60)

Sovrn/Meridian Ads - $7.25 ($3.70)

Amazon Associates (from the Resources page) - $2.72 ($28.91)

Creative Market (from the Resources page + pins on Pinterest) - $2.00 ($8.90)

Grammarly - $1.00 ($0)


GROSS EARNINGS:  $251.16  ($103.62) 




1482 people have chosen to receive The Olyvia List™ (+ 289 from last month) 


Screenshot 2021-07-25 10.18.40


375 people are Brand Detoxers


Screenshot 2021-07-30 12.36.46





Twitter:  3,369  (+ 305 from last month)

Pinterest:  2,473  (+ 403)  

Facebook:  649  (+66)

Instagram:  302  (+ 15)

Periscope @OlyviaMedia: 154 (+ 154)



How did your blog grow this month? 



Erika Madden

(Chief Olyvia)



The free 21 day ecourse that creates pro online impressions for business owners!

  • you my lady, are a genius!! I cant wait to give this a try for my next project!

    • You’re awesome, Alisha. It’s such a fun + casual way to earn some extra cash. 🙂

  • Erika, I honestly get giddy every time I see one of your signature images pop up in my Feedly. Thank you so much for such thoughtful, super helpful content like this! You read my mind - this is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been collecting my thoughts about and starting to work on, and all your wisdom couldn’t have come at a better time. 🙂

    • Michelle wow — it’s such an honor to hear that. There is nothing more encouraging to me than to hear that my content is helpful to someone. And how neat that this is exactly what you’ve been considering! If you decide to develop something, please keep me in the loop. I want to be sure to check it out!

  • Wow, this is so helpful! Thanks for sharing!


    Lee Anne

  • Now this was an awesome read Erika! Such an helpful post. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for checking it out, Shae. 🙂

  • These are great ideas. As a new blogger I’m still working up the courage and building an idea list for something like this but I’m pinning this for when I’m ready. Also, just signed up for your email list and brand detox. Thank you!

    • Marina, yes, I def understand the process of building up the courage + finding the right thing to offer. I just took a look at your beautiful blog (way to go!) and see so many different possibilities for you. The 21 Day Mindful Eating for Weight Loss Challenge… The 30 Day Memory-Keeping Workshop…

      I genuinely hope you find the brand detox useful!

  • Erika, this is fantastic! And it couldn’t come at a better time for me, as I’m planning a 5-day challenge for later this month. Can’t wait to put these ideas to use!

    • Nice Rachel! What will the challenge be about???

      • It’s a social media challenge!

  • This looks very useful - thanks!

  • Yesssss this post is sooooo helpful thank you!!!! I’ve been meaning to create a challenge as a gateway into something else and I will DEFINITELY be referring to the helpful tips in this post!!! I’m the most organized person in the world and some times I STILL feel completely overwhelmed with all of the things that I need/want to do.

    Also completely off subject but … how do you create the cute opt-in at the end of your posts? Is it a widget? Or … something? Creating opt-ins seem to be the bane of my existence!


    • Hahaha Allison, well then let me just tell you that if I can do this, you DEFINITELY can — because I am so, so far from being an organized person. LOL. It’s a sad story.

      Ah, I created the opt-in form with Ninja Forms! It is free, but they have an add-on for Mailchimp if you want to connect it to your email list (they also have other email marketing provider add-ons if you don’t use Mailchimp) that costs $29 to purchase. I just implemented it a few months ago (with my Ultimate Pinterest Guide post) and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. The one thing to know, though, is that to visually style it requires some level of HTML/CSS knowledge. They have another paid add-on that makes it a cinch to change the visualization, but I wasn’t keen on paying for that. 🙂

      • Ohhhh, awesome thanks! Haha yeaaaah, I have pretty much ZERO HTML/CSS knowledge (probably why opt-in forms have always been the bane of my existence,) so I would definitely need the add-on to dumb it down for me, haha. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Hi Allison,
      I found your blog through the Nectar Collective and I’m in love! Really enjoyed your post on Instagram tips and the photos hoot with Skunkboy. I don’t know if you got your question answered about the optin but I use a plugin for WordPress called Mailchimp WP and it allows you to do sidebar, top bars and after post optin forms. What platform to you use for your blog? My blog is if you want to see how it looks. Let me know if it’s something that works for you. I can share the style code with you as well. All the best!

      • Oh awesome, thanks for sharing Dija! I love the look of your blog- and your logo is so lovely. It’s been added to my reading list! 😀 I have tried the Mailchimp WP plugin (I think), but I was still having issues on making it look pretty since I know NO CODE whatsoever. Guh. But YAY you are so sweet for offering to share the code, that would be amazing!!!

  • Love all of this information! I am trying really hard to focus on making a lot more passive income off my blog so I can use all of the help I can get!

  • Wow, I can’t even explain how helpful this post is. I love how you are diving deep into the details here.

    • I’m glad it was so helpful to you. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment, I really appreciate that.

  • This is such a great idea and has come at a perfect time for me! I’ve been planning out a free 21 day challenge but would never have thought of adding in a paid upgrade. Thanks so much for this! 🙂

    • So cool, Stacey! I’d love to hear what your free challenge is going to be about — and how you decide to add a paid upgrade, if you do!

  • I heart you! #thatisall. Love this and can’t wait to experiment! Thank you for this helpful post.

  • hmmmm… this post really got my head spinning with ideas. I am going to have to shelve this for now but I’d love to do something like this in the future!

  • Love this idea! I’m going to use it for a 17-day challenge to help people use their website to establish trust and transparency. I have a question about how you deal with the two lists. Do you sync your detox list to your main newsletter list? If so, have you figured out a way to make that automatic?

    • Very good question, Kiffanie. As far as I know there is not a way to automatically sync the two lists. However, after someone has completed the challenge you can move them to your main newsletter list in Mailchimp. This is the how-to article: I haven’t done it yet but I plan on doing it soon, once I figure out how I can still keep those subscribers I import in a special group that I know were detoxers. (For sending targeted emails in the future.) 🙂

      I love your challenge topic! That’s a subject near and dear to my own heart; so glad you’re tackling it!

  • Ashlyn Tengan

    Erika, this was sooooo helpful and it’s EXACTLY what I was looking for! I’ve been wanting to start a challenge on my site for some time now, but didn’t really know how to make it “work” {aka convert visitors into subscribers and then into buyers}. Pure. Genius. I’ve already started on my challenge, and wanted to come back here to thank you for posting this idea. Thanks!

  • Erika Swafford

    Wow! This is great! I’m going to spend the next week (or more) digesting all of this and putting it to work in my business. You’re my new favorite blog!

  • This is such a great idea for launching a product! Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. My goal for the next month is to get something like this set up for my website - thank you for the inspiration!

  • This is such great advice. And, I am immediately going to implement it. Already begun creating my Free Course for beginner guitarists.

    Thank you very much for laying the information out in such clear manner.

    Thank You!

    • I love that James! Thank you so much for your comment. 🙂 Best of luck with the course!

  • Maria Gladkovskaya

    This is a fantastic post. Thanks a lot;). I can not wait to use it on my blog.

    But I also want to complain about. I can not subscribe to your newsletter. Page is updated but nothing happens (((What can help?

  • For those of you who want to see this in action, we pioneered this concept in 2013 with our free 30 Day List Building Challenge: 🙂

  • I’ve been skeptical about offering something at such a low price point, but I can really see the value here! I’m currently running a 5-Day Challenge… Now I’m thinking about way to sneak in a paid version. 😉 Do you have any recommendations/comments regarding pricing?

    • That’s a smart question! Here are my thoughts: your brand should ideally have something available at multiple price points. There should be “entry level” products to introduce people to your brand and that don’t require massive levels of trust to buy, all the way up to premium products and/or services that offer your ultimate work/time to those who already love + trust your brand. For things like monetizing small challenges, I think it’s wise (and more profitable) to place those products near the entry level price point. Ultimately that exact number is going to take some experimentation and will be unique to each brand, but aiming for something under $10 or $15 is a pretty fair starting point. What are your thoughts? 🙂

  • Erika, I’ve been lurking on your website for a few weeks now. This is such a great, valuable post. I’ve just started working on building my list and I’m planning to release a free course & eBook in a few months to help with that process and I’m totally following the tips you’ve outlined here. Thank you for sharing!

    • Tega, hi! Thanks for leaving a comment and introducing yourself. 🙂 I’m sooooo very happy that this post has been useful! Have you also read Regina’s post on this topic? It’s here if you want to take a look. Please let me know when you release your course + ebook so I can check them out!

      • Thanks for responding Erika. I hadn’t seen that post before, it was very helpful! And I look forward to receiving your feedback on my course when it’s released! Thanks for offering. 🙂

      • HI Erika, So I launched that course I mentioned a few weeks ago, and in the planning process, it ended up being a challenge. Lol. I’m really excited though, it’s the first time I’m working on a project like this. It’s at if you want to check it out. Thanks for asking me to share it with you!

        • I’m so sorry I missed this, Tega. Ack! But I just checked it out now and it looks so, so great. I just love what you’ve done with it.

  • Hi I have one question what if i have challenges like that runnig for a while, but now i want to include ebook as buying option is there aby way to use on ppl who already took change?

    • Hi Ewa, I’m sorry I missed your comment. To answer your question, yes, you could introduce it to the people who have already taken the challenge if you were able to segment them out (choose just the challenge subscribers who joined before a certain date). Then you could send them an email talking about the ebook, and giving them an option to buy. 🙂

  • Lily Liseno

    Wow this is an amazing post. I feel so inspired to do this now! Just need to brainstorm my topic ;D thanks so much for this!!

    • Go for it, Lily! Have you decided on a topic yet? I’d love to hear if so.

  • This is really well laid out! Love it.

  • Leah

    I am SO freakin excited that I found you on Pinterest, After years of starting and failing to stay on top of various different blogs I am doing everything I can to set myself up for success this time, Making #Goals, Yeah! So Thank You for providing such awesome (non boring) content!

    • Thank you, Leah! What an awesome compliment. (To be called non-boring — YES!) Are you monetizing your blog, running a business, or both? I’d love to visit your website!

      • Leah

        As of right not I’m looking into monetizing options that will work best with my brand. I would love for you to visit my site! Keep in mind…It’s VERY new.
        Thank you again!

  • Eva

    tried it and it doesn’t work this way 🙁

  • Mel Smith

    Ooh, I like this. I’ll be rebranding this year and this sounds like something that can help spread the word.

  • Lisa Northey

    Just found this today — so very helpful and I’m bookmarking it to reference later. Thank you

  • I have actually come across this post various times in the last 6 months, and I think it finally makes sense for me to go ahead with it. I’ve had a 14-day free challenge for the past couple months, so most of the work is actually already done. Just gotta package it all up into a PDF for those who want it all at once.

    My question is: I’m also in the middle of creating a membership site that’s kind of like “the next step” for the challenge. Like the end the challenge, and “now what?”… membership site. Do you think it would make sense for me to offer the Paid upgrade for the challenge all at once and like a month or two free of membership site??

    Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for the great post!! I have seriously read it about 10 times.

  • I love this - thank you!! No webinars or scary launch. I like creating tutorials and helping people but the monetizing part is, well, not my cup of tea. This sounds like a casual way of doing it without being pushy. Thank you!! I have an idea brewing now in my head for a series and product. 🙂

  • This has been THE most comprehensive outlining / explanation I’ve gotten on this topic! Thank you SO much. I actually came across this post via pinterest , and I couldn’t be more greatful! Definitely planning to implement!

  • Amazing, Awesome and just too good Olyvia. You know your stuff dear and that makes it so good to read.

    I am planning to create my own course too and was wondering how to go ahead along with the freebie, This has made it so much clear.

    No way Pushy….but in a Polite Way. I especially liked your last part- where in the middle of the emails, you dont have to mention the upgrade at all. That’s really important.

    One last thing, I just loved these pretty ‘click to tweet’ images which you have used, can you please tell how you did this.

  • This is my goal for August. Thanks for the tips and ideas!

  • Mohit Puruswani

    very nice information about How to Make Easy Passive Income Online With a Free Challenge or Mini-Course.In this blog we can see How this works is that you’re going to craft something that’s so
    helpful, valuable, educational, fun, etc., that it’s worth actual money —
    and you’re going to give it to a lot of people at no cost. At all.For much more information about best passive income ideas please visit

  • Maria A

    Wow! What a great article!

  • Erin Alexander

    LOVE THIS! Now I just need to figure out my topic! Thank you!