2015 Annual Review and Q4 Progress Report: What Was Awesome, What Sucked, and What’s Next

2015 annual reviewLast year I published my first annual review, and have been doing quarterly progress reports since then.

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?

I am!

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.

Twitter followers and Facebook likes are great, but these are the numbers I pay the most attention to. And like the great Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.”

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.

q4 2015 traffic growth

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!

2015 annual traffic growth

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.

q4 2015 podcast growth

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.

2015 annual podcast growth

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.

2015 email subscriber growth

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.

Subscribers

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!

Fans

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.

Customers

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!

Clients

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:

sidehustleshow new and old

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!

Join us?

sh nation fb group cover image

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.

The permafree tactic has resulted in more than 700 new email subscribers directly from Amazon, plus I used the same book in my NoiseTrade experiment, which added hundreds more.

The Side Hustle Show was nominated Best Business Podcast in the 10th annual Podcast Awards. Although I didn’t win it was a thrill and very flattering to be nominated. Thank you!

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).

that time i was in a ballet

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.

pregnancy announcement web

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.

The re-release of Work Smarter was kind of a dud compared with the original. I may have cracked the top 100 in the free store but I didn’t see the kind of sustained sales I saw the year before.

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?

1. My First Amazon FBA Clearance Arbitrage Shopping Trips – And My First Sales!

Describes my first adventures with the “buy low, sell high” business model of selling other people’s products on Amazon.

2. 41 Side Hustle Tools I Use Every Day

The list of resources that keep my biz rolling.

3. How to Make $1000 In Side Income On Craigslist This Month

This guest post by Cassandre Poblah is an inspiring story about just taking action. And of course she shares some tactical advice too.

4. 6 Amazon FBA Sellers Share How They Got Their Start

This round-up post shares some early wins from other successful Amazon FBA sellers.

5. How a $200 a Month Side Hustle Can Change Your Life

This guest post by Neal Frankle shows how even small income gains can have a huge impact on your happiness, motivation, and wealth.

6. LeadPages Alternatives: My LeadPages Results Plus Testing the Top Competitors

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.

7. Prosper.com Year 4 Performance Update

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.

8. Clarity.fm: Start a $100 per Hour Consulting Business in 5 Minutes

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.

9. How to Start a Business in 7 Days

I asked Side Hustle Nation how they’d answer John Lee Dumas’ “$500 Question” and these are their answers.

10. Udemy Launch Strategy and Results – $3525 in 60 Days

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.

1. Earning $3000-$4000 per Month on Kindle in Just 6 Months as a “Professional” Author, with Lise Cartwright

2. The 5-Step System to Quit Your Job in the Next 12 Months, with Bryan Harris

3. How to Build and Monetize a Blog from the Ground Up, with Melinda Fleming

4. Building a 6-Figure Online Store on the Side, with Steve Chou

5. How to Retire in Your 30s, with Jeremy Jacobson

6. The Best Passive Income Model, with Mark Podolsky

7. $4k a Month on the Side with Amazon FBA Clearance Arbitrage, with Travis Scott

8. 6 Figures in 6 Months … with No Inventory, No Coding, and No Selling, with Benny Hsu

9. 7 Days to a Profitable Business, with Dan Norris

10. Time Hacking for Side Hustlers: How to Get More Hours, Clarity, and Results, with Julie Sheranosher

What I Read

These are the best of the best of my reading list for the year.

What’s Next?

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.

If you want to join the wait list to be notified when it opens, enter your name and email below:

Your Turn

How did 2015 shape up for you? What’s your #1 priority for this quarter?

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25 thoughts on “2015 Annual Review and Q4 Progress Report: What Was Awesome, What Sucked, and What’s Next

  1. Hey again, Nick!

    So, I’m one of those weirdos who skimmed through your ‘wins’ area of this blog post and got right to the ‘Not-So-Awesome’ segment.

    Because the best lessons are often learned the hard way, it’s critical to learn from the trailblazers like you out there what paths probably aren’t worth taking.

    Your merch tab experiment was my biggest takeaway, as I’d toyed with that idea for 2016…now I can safely refocus on other areas that are proven (both by me and by other folks).

    All in all, the truth hurts — until it doesn’t. Then, it heals you, sending you on the path less-trod (but a path worth taking nonetheless).

    As a random aside, my reading list this past year has been a near-identical match with yours. One exception — you might find joy in the authentic self-promotion system outlined by entrepreneur Daniel Priestly in Key Person Of Influence. Not sure if you’re familiar with his work, though it’s definitely a worthwhile read! Expect to take lots of notes though. . . ;)

    2016 is gonna be a hella year, good sir. Glad to be part of the Nation!

    • Thanks Joshua – it’s gonna be a great year and happy to have you as part of the Nation :)

      I’ve never heard of the Key Person of Influence book but added it to my reading list!

  2. Nice dose of how it really works in the internet entrepreneurial space. Some thing’s work, and some things simply don’t work. Some things happen over the course of time, but nothing (I MEAN NOTHING) is quick and easy!

    I’ve discovered that the most important piece of the puzzle is to keep doing ‘things’ with an almost manic-like level of resiliency. Yes, you have to be researched so that you understand what it is that you’re doing, but much of it is just continually doing ‘things’ until they work, and ultimately move your vision forward.

  3. Hi Nick,

    First, what a great year all around. Congrats on working the hustle instead of letting it work you. Focusing on what went right this past year was a great way to format this post. When it comes to budgeting time, I think we all struggle with that. If you use a planner or online tool for that maybe looking at the setup can help with better budgeting. Just a thought. Again, nice work and thank you for sharing your year with us all.

  4. I am some what shocked and also assumed that the top post is FBA and the most failed thing you did was FBA. I think it goes to show that while someone can be totally successful by devoting themselves to one goal or quest it doesn’t always mean the market is ready for the influx of sellers who are looking to take advantage of a new hole in something.

    Of the books listed that you have read throughout the year. What 1 book would you call you go to book for the year?

    Patrick

    • Bahhhh I can only pick one? There’s definitely a similar theme in Essentialism/The ONE Thing/ 80/20 Sales and Marketing and even The Slight Edge, but 80/20 was probably the most eye-opening for me. Always looking for ways to work smarter and more effectively and that one was pretty juicy!

  5. Boom! Heck of a year! Thank you for sharing the details. It’s really cool to see how your hustling and how many different avenues that you explore for your business. Cheers!

  6. Excellent Post!

    I love that your current quarter’s goal is to get more out of what you have.

    I really enjoy your podcast and your blog – other than Amy Porterfield and Pat Flynn – your the only blogger I can say that about!

    I would love more real estate bloggers on your podcast.

    Let me know if I can help in anyway!

    • Thanks Tracy — I see strong traffic from Google, but a growing segment from social (mainly Facebook and Pinterest lately), referral traffic from getting mentioned on other sites, and direct traffic, which I think is mostly a result of email list growth.
      SHN traffic

  7. Hi Nick

    I really like your disclosure as we are all trying for the same thing and hopefully prepared to support each other in doing this. One thing though: I must say I think you are a little hard on yourself and without ignoring things that don’t go well would like to affirm that you have something really good going on. I was a member of your launch 30 day challenge and really got a lot from it – we have a little Mastermind group in Europe from that. I have really enjoyed your recent podcasts, and I am really thinking that you are getting to the guts in those interviews. They exactly the questions I want to ask. You and Steve Scott are the only guys I would really spend the time to listen to even though I am a member of a number of forums. If I have one criticism it is probably that you are spreading yourself too thinly but from your brand, it is something you are probably obligated to do in a sense.
    Have a great 2016 and enjoy family life – you are making difference to mine!

    Steve

    • Loved having you part of the challenge group Steve, and hopefully this new mastermind leads to exciting success in 2016!

      You bring up a good point that the struggle to FOCUS is very much alive and well over here! But as long as it remains more fun than stressful, I suppose it’s OK :)

  8. Thank you for sharing, Nick! I’m inspired by your success and I appreciate that you gave us both sides of the story – what worked and what didn’t work. I’m new to the online marketplace, so this was very informative. You have inspired me to do a 2015 progress report and start my quarterly checkups for 2016. Congrats and keep up the great work! I love your podcast and your blog!

  9. Interesting! I love that you breakdown exactly what worked, what didn’t and what you are going to do differently going forward.

  10. I thought the public coaching was valuable. I was very disappointed to see it disappear. It gave us all an image of the great advice and accountability available with your coaching.

    Also, the facebook group has been great.

    You can count me in the “Fan” group. :)

    Kevin

  11. Hi Nick,
    We don’t know each other but I hope you will see this message as an invitation for dialogue, if you want it.

    I came across your site while doing searches around the words “side hustle” for one of my projects. I appreciate that you shared the results of your work this year. Through your transparency you are encouraging your readers to consider a number of different metrics and guideposts (like personal fulfillment) in measuring their success. That’s great stuff.

    As I read through the post I was most struck by the information at the end about your podcasts flatlining after 2 years of growth. Podcasts are hotter than ever. It would seem that you would experience growth just because the addressable audience continues to grow with the popularity of the medium and the adoption of smartphones.

    So here’s a question for you, by which I mean you no offence or harm: Have you considered that the problem might be your brand?

    Is it authentic?

    Can a self-professed fast skier and bad golfer really be a “hustler?”

    I ask this question because where I come from, and when I can first recall hearing the words, a side hustle was not a means of financial freedom; it was a means of financial survival. People didn’t do it to escape the mundanity of their job at the giant corporation. They couldn’t get a job at the giant corporation and often were not even interviewed because their name or address may have given it away that they were a person of color. Forget skiing or golfing; living right in Southern California, many of them had never even been to the beach.

    The “hustler” may have had some kind of work in the mainstream economy like driving a truck or doing maintenance, while the side hustle could have been legit, like trying to make a record, or it may have been in the underground economy (running numbers, gambling, prostitution, selling drugs).

    I guess my point is that the “side hustle nation” existed long before you launched this web site. They are among the working poor, the “3 strikes” felons, the single mothers and the vast underclass who live in poverty in the U.S. For them the side hustle isn’t optional or another way to look at making money from a hobby. If they don’t do it, they may be choosing between food, gas and diapers.

    Maybe you know all this, but I couldn’t easily find anything about the origin of the side hustle on your blog. Perhaps if you consider how your business might help the people who coined and lived by the phrase out of necessity, and make that a part of your vision and brand statement, you might see a completely different trajectory of growth.

    I hope that this comment is received in the spirit in which it is intended. And I’d be happy to chat with you or anyone else about it.

    Thanks for reading,
    Brenda

  12. Loving your show – really getting into listening to a podcast in the car each day till I catch up. Best thing is your style, the personal aspect, interesting how a spike was on the fears thing, I lik this to being so appealing to us connecting human beings. And the interviews, you seem to usually ask the questions I’m thinking about.

    Looking forward to that coaching experiment….I’m hoping I’ll wear you down :-) ;-)

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