Not all dividend-paying companies make a lot of money, but the ones that do could fetch you solid returns in the long run, simply because a steady flow of cash doesn't just support a dividend but allows a company to grow dividends steadily, year after year.

In fact, top dividend-paying companies like Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), and 3M (NYSE:MMM) have consistently converted 15% or more of their revenues into free cash flows (FCF). Combined, the three companies generated nearly $173 billion in revenues in 2017. That's a lot of money, and a good chunk of it is going into shareholders' pockets. That's why these money-minting dividend stocks deserve your attention.

There's more to 3M than you might know

You may not hear 3M's name as often as Procter & Gamble's or Johnson & Johnson's, but you've probably used a 3M product. If you've ever stuck a Post-It note on your desk or used Scotch tape, you know what I'm talking about.

But these brands are just a tiny drop in 3M's portfolio, which comprises more than 60,000 products, serving the needs of industries ranging from healthcare, electronics, energy, consumer, to industrials. So for instance, you may not know that 3M makes products that go into electronic displays in televisions, smartphones, and other gadgets.

Dollars rolled and planted into soil with a green field in the background to denote money growth.

Owning money-minting dividend stocks can make your rich. Image source: Getty Images.

2017 was a record sales year for 3M, but a one-time tax hit its profits and drove its FCF to a lower-than-expected level of around $4.9 billion. Yet, 3M didn't disappoint income investors -- it raised its dividend by a good 16% and for the 60th straight year in 2017, returning $2.8 billion of its FCF in dividends.

3M's latest quarterly report wasn't well-received by the market, but the conglomerate only narrowly downgraded its earnings outlook for fiscal 2018 and still aims to convert 100% of its net income into FCF. The stock is barely 2% away from its 52-week lows and is yielding 2.5%, as of this writing. 

Johnson & Johnson is doing what it should do

At 23%, Johnson & Johnson's conversion rate of revenue to FCF is the highest among the three companies discussed here. J&J generated $17.6 billion in FCF in 2017, out of which it distributed $8.9 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends.

In 2017, Johnson and Johnson increased its dividend for the 55th consecutive year, substantiating the idea that companies with strong cash flows are also better positioned to grow their dividends.

As one of the most diversified healthcare companies with 12 megabrands, including Johnson's, Band-Aid, and Neutrogena, that are sold across 60 countries, J&J looks well poised to grow earnings, cash flows, and shareholder returns for years to come.

With several drugs currently acting as significant drivers of growth, J&J's pharmaceutical segment looks well placed even as the company strives to maintain its market share in consumer healthcare and medical devices. A strong footprint in each of the three segments also makes J&J one of the most diversified healthcare companies; and it'll need some serious blows to its 12 megabrands for the company's cash flows to be hit hard enough to hurt income investors. 

Procter & Gamble has some plans

Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson have a lot in common. Both are household names, global leaders in their industry, and popular stocks among income investors thanks to their Dividend Aristocrat status. (3M, too, is a Dividend Aristocrat, for that matter.)

P&G generated $9.4 billion in FCF in 2017, a whopping $7.2 billion of which was paid out in dividends. Hands down, that's one of highest dividend-to-FCF ratios even among the Dividend Aristocrats. Just weeks ago, P&G increased its dividend for the 62nd consecutive year, also marking the 128th year of regular dividend payments.

It isn't tough to see why P&G has been able to maintain its dividend streak. Having been in business for 180 years and selling its products in as many countries today across 10 product categories and more than 60 brands, P&G has proved its mettle.

A woman looking at a consumer product at a supermarket.

Image source: Getty Images.

To be fair, P&G is having a hard time maintaining its market share lately, which has irked investors, but the consumer giant's renewed focus on growth, partly because of investor activism, is hard to miss. For perspective, P&G is about to buy Germany-based Merck KGaA's consumer health business for 3.4 billion euros ($4.11 billion) in a deal that should add some popular over-the-counter brands to its portfolio.

P&G aims to shell out $7.5 billion on dividends in fiscal 2018, and plans to return nearly $70 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases between fiscal years 2016 and 2019. With P&G stock within striking distance of 52-week lows and yielding a strong 3.9%, you might want to take a chance on it if you're a dividend lover.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.