Progress report time!
Why go through this exercise?
It’s time to evaluate what happened over the last 3 months (and in this case to look at the year as a whole), to see if you achieved your goals, and to ask if you’re happier or otherwise better off than you were when you started.
So am I?
I think so. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good year personally and professionally.
My biggest challenge has been coming to terms with never really being “done.” There will always be more I could do (and want to do) and not enough hours in the week to do it all.
And it’s important to come to grips with that, to be OK shutting down, and to accept that it’ll still be there tomorrow or next week. This realization — not sure how or why it took me 3.5 decades to figure this out — has helped me better prioritize the stuff I do work on.
And speaking of priorities, I’m going to have to get even better at discipline and focus because our house is likely to have a new resident before the next quarterly progress report is up:
So why a “progress” report? 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. In May, this project turned 4 years old, so you’re looking at over 1300 days of effort here.
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 5300 visits a day during the fourth quarter of 2017. Traffic was pretty consistent throughout the quarter, and up about 42% the same time period last year.
There really weren’t any abnormal traffic spikes or surges in Q4, and the spikes you do see typically coincide with my Thursday newsletter.
And zoomed out over the course of the year, traffic was actually pretty flat. Still, it averaged 5300 visits a day in December 2017, compared with 3700 a day in December 2016. I’ll take it!
The January interest I attribute to New Year’s resolutions — people determined to start a business and earn extra money in the new year. And having a certain New York Times bestselling author start a side hustle-themed podcast probably didn’t hurt either :)
One interesting thing is that more than half of all the site traffic comes from mobile devices (and almost all the paid traffic is mobile). This is eye-opening to me at least, because I interact with and add content to the site almost exclusively from my computer.
Podcast download growth:
The Side Hustle Show so similar flat-lining growth during Q4, averaging 6000 downloads per day. Still, this compares with a little less than 4700 downloads per day for Q4 2016!
The spikes are typically every Thursday as new episodes are released, and the “double-spike” in early October was when I put out a Friday episode as well.
Zoomed out for the entire year, the chart actually shows a slow decline.
In total, the show was downloaded over 2.3 million times last year, compared with 1.3 million downloads in 2016.
New episodes are reaching 20,000 people on average and I think that’s incredible reach for someone with a $60 mic in their living room.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that downward trend was depressing, especially since I’ve made the show my main focus and try to get better every week. I think the dip has a couple factors, the first being a huge spike in Q1 last year, with numbers at least partially attributed to Chris Guillebeau:
(Hmm, maybe it’s time to get a phone with a better camera!)
Around September or October, Libsyn (my podcast media host) updated how they report downloads to give more accurate metrics. Many podcast hosts saw significant 30%+ decreases in the reach of their shows, and while I didn’t see that kind of drop, I’m wondering if that was a factor as well.
Email list growth:
This is probably the most important metric of all, and it’s looking pretty solid. I added 8600 net new subscribers in Q4.
(Though that rate is down a bit from Q3.)
Still, for the full year, I added over 25,000 people to my subscriber base. Every time I lose sight of how awesome and crazy that is, I just think of a basketball arena or football stadium full of people, each one with their own side hustle story and goals.
Active Campaign has some awesome filtering and automation capabilities (like being able to send messages to people based on their area code — great for hosting local meetups!), but their support sucks compared with AWeber and I’ve had some issues with deliverability.
Several times in a row their support assured me the problem was fixed and several times in a row it was not. I’m still not 100% confident all the messages are getting through, so need to do some more direct outreach to find out.
What I’ve Been Working On
I didn’t ship any major public-facing projects but have been working on a bunch of stuff more behind-the-scenes. One of my main initiatives is to build a bigger backlog of podcast episodes — mainly to give me some breathing room when Little Hustler #2 arrives this spring.
After my chat with Deacon Hayes about his Facebook money machine, I knew I had to test out a similar strategy.
My strategy is to drive inexpensive clicks to this post that’s monetized with affiliate links. I’m happy to report that the campaign has been profitable so far, earning $798 in profit from $2317 in ad spend (a 34% margin).
It’s not quite the 100% margin that Deacon was able to hit in his first month, so I’m still tweaking some of the variables and offers. Still, to run a profitable paid traffic campaign on my first try (with Monica’s help) is pretty awesome.
Fun fact: my Chase Ink Business Preferred card earns 3x points on advertising spending (and came with a fatty sign-up bonus).
Systems and Processes
Another area of focus this quarter has been streamlining some of the systems and processes surrounding email and content creation.
For instance, I now have filters set up in Gmail so that anytime someone responds to one of the messages in my new Active Campaign welcome sequences, it gets sent to a special folder. That saves me time and makes it easier to reply in batches.
I’ve also been working to improve some of my podcast-related workflow. What that looks like in practice is pre-recording some of the ad spots, placing more trust in my editing service, and creating this pitch form for prospective guests.
With all the ad spots for Q1 pre-sold, my goal is to ultimately build a 2-month buffer of episodes.
Pinterest traffic was in a slow and steady decline for the first half of 2017, so I decided to hire some help to revive my account. Unfortunately I made some mistakes and didn’t provide clear enough feedback to my assistant, but the good news is traffic has stabilized.
The bad news is it’s still not where it needs to be to justify the expense of a Pinterest-only VA. We’re testing some new strategies this month and next to see if we can move the needle.
Like I mentioned last quarter, I’ve been working with an online personal trainer to gain more energy and hopefully prevent future injuries.
I lost a lot of hustle time in 2017 to physical therapy so I’m hoping that by getting more fit it won’t happen again this year.
I “invested” $500 when the digital currency was valued around $4600. As it climbed throughout the quarter, I sold off more than enough gains to recoup the initial investment and am now playing with only the house’s money.
Given the big run-up in price over the last few months, I’m wishing I’d placed a bigger bet!
If you want to get started you can use my Coinbase referral link to get $10 worth of free Bitcoin. (I’ll get $10 too.)
Of course don’t speculate with any money you can’t afford to lose.
I’m practicing using the “Hell yes! or no” decision-making framework, and while I still sometimes feel like I’m letting people down, this is getting easier with practice.
I know I have to say no to most things in order to say yes to the projects I really want to work on.
SEO and Re-Publishing Content
I just went through another round of my content audit process, in which I deleted another 50 or so posts that weren’t generating any traffic.
The other thing I’m working on is updating some of the pillar posts to see if I can improve their search engine rankings and drive more traffic to them. And after taking Michelle Schroeder-Gardner‘s affiliate marketing course, I have some ideas on how I can better optimize them for affiliate revenue as well.
You’ll notice that your browser bar now says https://www.sidehustlenation.com instead of http. The “s” makes the site more secure, as recommended by Google. Organic traffic is up since the switch, but of course it’s hard to pinpoint causation vs. correlation.
My Top 10 Posts of 2017
(As measured by pageviews in Google Analytics.) Did you miss any of these?
This recently-updated list post of side hustle ideas accounted for 15% of all the traffic to Side Hustle Nation last year. It’s easily the most popular piece of content I’ve ever written for the site.
This guest post by professional shoe-flipper JV Ortiz has been climbing in the search results ever since it was published in August and drives a surprising volume of traffic.
The numbers for this one are definitely inflated by me driving paid Facebook traffic to it, but still a fun post.
This year I finally got around to doing what I should have done a long time ago and created my own “how to start a blog” guide. It was fun to put together this little video series and even negotiated a special deal for Side Hustle Nation readers with Bluehost.
Grace Moser contributed this beast of a post on how she and her husband Silas hustled their Chasing Foxes blog to incredibly-fast baller status.
This is another “classic” from the archives that was due for a refresh. My favorite new tools of the year? Sanebox and my new external monitor!
Almost 12 months removed this post, I’m far less bullish on Prosper than I was when I wrote it. The performance in 2017 was rough, and I’ve been moving my investments to a couple other alternative investment platforms.
I had a lot of fun putting together this post and actually hoped it would perform a little better than it did. Maybe I need to build some links to it to give a boost in Google!
This one came on the back of me earning $150 to participate in an in-person focus group in San Francisco. Considering it was just published in September, it’s doing well.
This monster list of alternative investments took forever to research and write, and for a hot minute I thought it might be the topic of my next book. Maybe some day.
My Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2017
Measured by downloads and heavily skewed to the first half of the year.
Cool Biz / Lifestyle Stuff
I recorded a podcast at a brewery. This is Chris Luecke and I recording a session for his Pubcast show at Shadow Puppet Brewing in Livermore.
During Q4, I held Side Hustle Nation meetups in Dallas, Atlanta, and Seattle.
At FinCon in October, I took a ton of notes and learned from some of the best in the biz. And got to hang out with my Internet friends for a week!
The free Side Hustle Nation Facebook group passed 7000 members (now over 8000).
Our little hustler did his first trick-or-treating.
The Side Hustle Show was nominated Podcast of the Year at the Plutus Awards.
We went to Michigan for our 11th annual Friendsgiving!
I lost 8 pounds! Well, before Christmas anyway…
We had a white Christmas in Seattle! (And yes, those are Ziploc bags on his feet.)
It’s really cool to watch this tiny human grow and learn more every day.
What I Read
I’m excited to have been back in the reading habit this year. This quarter I tackled:
- Let Go by Pat Flynn — helpful to get an inside look at Pat’s entrepreneurial journey and some much-needed advice about how and when to “let go.”
- Freelance to Freedom by Vincent Pugliese — incredible story about turning around your financial life.
- The Boys in the Boat — super fun and loved all the historical Seattle references.
- Side Hustle by Chris Guillebeau — couldn’t resist :)
- Origin by Dan Brown — because I’m a sucker for Robert Langdon.
Other faves from this year:
- Ask by Ryan Levesque, which helped fuel some of the survey decision making.
- 100 Content Marketing Tips
- Google SEO for Bloggers
- The Last Lecture
- Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness
- Unmistakable: Why Only is Better than Best
- Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
- American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company
What about you? What were the best books you read last year?
My biggest priority is to build a backlog of awesome podcast episodes to schedule out in advance for when Little Hustler #2 comes along and disrupts things.
Goal: To have a 2 month backlog by the end of March.
I’m also working my way through a couple courses I bought last year, experimenting with Facebook ads, and improving and re-publishing some of the best blog posts from the archives.
Goal: $2k profit per month from Facebook ads with a 50% margin.
I have a couple bigger projects in mind but I’m not sure if I’ll get to them this quarter.
How did 2017 shape up for you? What’s your #1 priority for this quarter?