Why go through this exercise?
It’s time to evaluate what happened this year, to see if you achieved your goals, and to ask if you’re happier or otherwise better off than you were a year ago.
So am I?
And why “progress”? Because that’s what it’s all about.
To me, progress means forward motion, or actively taking the steps to improve each day. It’s one thing we can control.
Progress is universal; everyone can make progress toward their goals in some meaningful way, however small the steps may seem.
As you’ll see, it’s a cumulative, iterative process we can work on week in and week out.
Overall, I felt happier in 2015 than I have in a long time. I think that’s the result of a lot of factors coming together, including lower stress, fun projects, and a growing comfort as to what’s “enough.”
Growth of the Nation
There are 3 main metrics I track: website traffic, podcast downloads, and email subscribers. The latter is the most important.
Blog traffic growth:
Side Hustle Nation earned around 1550 visits a day during the fourth quarter of 2015. Traffic was pretty consistent throughout the quarter, but was almost double what it was during the same time period last year.
And zoomed out over the course of the year, traffic is slowly trending upward. Month to month it doesn’t look like much, but the site averaged 1770 visits a day in December, compared with 810 a day in December 2014. I’ll take it!
Slow and steady; no real abnormal spikes this year. I think it’s the cumulative effect of creating more content, building more links and press features, and creating more relationships.
Podcast download growth:
There was a slight upward trend for The Side Hustle Show during Q4, averaging a little less than 1800 downloads per day.
The spikes are typically every Thursday as new episodes are released, and the “double-spikes” are when I put out a Friday episode as well.
Zoomed out for the entire year, the chart shows a little bit of a different story. There was a really healthy growth rate for the show the first few months, followed by several months of consistent, but flat, performance.
The tallest spike on the chart came on a random Wednesday with no new episode released. My theory is during that time iTunes was changing from showing all your episodes to only the 20 most recent ones. I think on that day the must have switched back to showing all the episodes. But it’s just a guess.
Love doing the show. It’s the highlight of my week!
In total, the show was downloaded over 637,000 times last year, compared with 147,000 the year before. Better than 4x growth.
New episodes are reaching 5000-7000 people on average and I think that’s incredible reach for someone with a $50 mic in their living room.
Email list growth:
This is probably the most important metric of all, and it’s looking pretty solid. I added 35 net new subscribers per day in Q4, and 33 net new subscribers per day for the full year.
All about that consistency, baby.
In addition the people who naturally unsubscribe (no hard feelings), I also removed a couple thousand inactive subscribers. It’s always a little scary to delete subscribers since “open rate” as reported by email service providers like AWeber is not a perfect science, but I think it’s an important habit to maintain a healthy and engaged subscriber base.
And what you’re looking at on all these charts is Year 3 of almost daily effort. Year 1 was about laying the foundation, Year 2 was about figuring out what works, and Year 3 was about consistent execution.
How’d I Do On My Goals?
At the beginning of the year I set goals following a 10/100/1000/10,000 pattern:
- 10,000 active subscribers
- 1000 “true fans”
- 100 customers
- 10 clients
And in the original post I described how I was going to define and measure those.
Using the metric I set up (at least one message opened in the last month), I ended the year at 10,500 active subscribers. Win!
This one is harder to measure, but I believe experiments like my personal email outreach to people who fill out my welcome survey and the SH Nation Facebook group (now with over 1200 members!) are having a positive impact on this.
I started tagging the happy emails I get with a “testimonials” label in Gmail, and add to that folder each week.
Win? Hard to say. But feeling OK about it despite my poor tracking.
I said a customer was anyone who spends $50 or more with me, and I ended up around the 130 unique customer mark this year. These are across a broad ranges of hustles, including freelancing clients, affiliate partners, advertisers, coaching clients, and mastermind members.
For full-disclosure I’m “rounding up” for several people who booked a $49 strategy session at the moment. :)
Call it a win!
I defined a client as someone spending $1000 or more with me. I ended the year at 17, so I’ll call that a win! These are primarily affiliate and advertising partners, and these 17 relationships accounted for over 50% of my overall 2015 revenue.
The Highlight (and Lowlight) Reel
What Was Awesome
I updated The Side Hustle Show cover art:
Cleaner, simpler, and more immediately recognizable in a sea of cover images in iTunes.
I started the SH Nation Facebook Group, which now has over 1200 members. I was hesitant to start the group because I was worried about moderating spam or it taking up too much time, but so far it’s been a great addition!
I released 4 new books, and updated another.
After a friend pointed out that I didn’t have any “side hustle-related” books on Amazon, I decided to change that. By the end of the year I added 4 titles to The Side Hustle Path series, and made the first one permanently free as a lead generation experiment.
Side Hustle Nation was nominated Best Entrepreneurship Blog in the 6th Annual Plutus Awards at FinCon. Again didn’t win but was honored by the applause and cheering when the site was announced as a nominee.
I did my first official conference speaking gig at FinCon in September.
I traveled to Seattle, Hawaii, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Fort Worth, Charlotte, Chicago, Reno, Istanbul, Florence, and Venice. And held some fun Side Hustle Nation meetups along the way!
I was in a ballet (with my lovely bride Bryn).
I created my first side hustle “product,” a 30-day Challenge I ran twice this fall.
Profit-wise, all my side hustles added up to be my best year in a while. Plus it was a lot of fun.
Oh, and we created life. Debuting any day now.
What Was Not-So-Awesome
I feel like I could be more effective with my time. I still put in a lot of hours — and it doesn’t always feel like work because I enjoy it — but sometimes I don’t see amazing results compared to the time I put in.
For example, early in the year, I spend a bunch of time creating a couple new Fiverr gigs (in an attempt to build more time-leveraged assets to sell there), that flopped pretty hard.
There’s always a balance to strike between the speculative upfront work that’s usually required to build “passive income” streams, and the more immediate gratification of doing something you know will ring the cash register right away.
I spent way too long figuring out how to add a “merch” tab to Side Hustle Nation to sell t-shirts with witty hustle quotes. Plus, with the right 3rd-party printing platform, I could potentially earn passive income if people discovered the shirts on their own. Not one sale.
I removed the store after a couple months of zero conversions.
My public coaching experiment ended abruptly when Wellington bowed out due to burnout and Kathryn disappeared. (I haven’t been able to reach her in months; seriously, I hope she’s OK!)
Those episodes generated mostly positive feedback and were interesting to put together, so I may try something similar this year.
So far, my Amazon FBA experiments (all clearance arbitrage) haven’t been super profitable. After 6 or 7 months, I’m just now breaking even on a cash-flow basis, which is partially due to reinvesting in more inventory, and partially due to me making some poor buying decisions early on.
For all the hours I spent shopping and packing items, it’s kind of depressing.
Even though it’s a super-easy side hustle to start, there’s still a learning curve and there’s still a risk whenever you’re paying for inventory upfront and have little control over the market value of that inventory by the time it hits Amazon.
Still, I hope to continue experimenting with ecommerce and with Amazon in 2016.
After 2 years of pretty consistent growth in the podcast, I saw that taper off and flat-line this year. While the audience doesn’t seem to be shrinking, I’d still like to see that chart move up and to the right.
My Top 10 Posts of 2015
(As measured by pageviews in Google Analytics.) Did you miss any of these?
Describes my first adventures with the “buy low, sell high” business model of selling other people’s products on Amazon.
The list of resources that keep my biz rolling.
This guest post by Cassandre Poblah is an inspiring story about just taking action. And of course she shares some tactical advice too.
This round-up post shares some early wins from other successful Amazon FBA sellers.
This guest post by Neal Frankle shows how even small income gains can have a huge impact on your happiness, motivation, and wealth.
Happy to see this one in the Top 10 because a lot of time went into the research and analysis of reviewing LeadPages along with several alternatives.
I’m still seeing strong returns from my peer-to-peer lending experiment, and am happy to have found an easy way to buy new loans.
At the time of this article, I’d earned over $1300 for the year taking calls on Clarity.fm, a by-the-minute consulting marketplace.
I asked Side Hustle Nation how they’d answer John Lee Dumas’ “$500 Question” and these are their answers.
Udemy has turned into a nice (and mostly passive) income stream this year. Here’s what I did to launch my course.
My Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2015
Measured by downloads.
What I Read
These are the best of the best of my reading list for the year.
- The ONE Thing
- Essentialism | Essentialism and Finding Your ONE Thing
- The Alchemist
- 80/20 Sales and Marketing
- The End of Jobs
- The Martian | The 3 Laws of Side Hustle Physics
- Zero to One
- The Slight Edge | Finding Your Slight Edge
There’s a lot of stuff that didn’t get done last year, including at least 3 book projects that collected virtual dust on my hard drive, and an Amazon FBA private label experiment.
My main focus over the first few months of 2016 will be supporting my wife and being the best dad I can be. Never changed a diaper before … that’s about to change big time.
Business-wise, my theme for Q1 is going to be making the most of what I’ve already created. What that looks like tactically is filling out my portfolio on Amazon with paperbacks and audiobooks for the titles that don’t have them, starting and serving my private mastermind as best I can, and re-launching my 30-day Challenge program to a new group of hustlers.
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How did 2015 shape up for you? What’s your #1 priority for this quarter?