2017 Annual Review and Q4 Progress Report

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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:

Yikes!

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.

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 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 :)

The upward trend toward the end of the year is the combination of a couple factors: one post ranking better in Google and beginning to drive paid traffic via Facebook ads.

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.

The biggest shift on the email front this year was a migration from tried-and-true AWeber to the much fancier Active Campaign.

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.

Facebook Ads

After my chat with Deacon Hayes about his Facebook money machine, I knew I had to test out a similar strategy.

I enrolled in Monica Louie’s Facebook Ads course (she’s Deacon’s ads manager), and set up my first campaign. Use promo code Nick50 for $50 off through my affiliate link.

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).

Click here to learn more and compare this card to other business credit cards.

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

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.

Health

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.

Bitcoin

After my recording with Rav Deol, I dipped my toe into the cryptocurrency waters, buying (a fraction of a) Bitcoin through Coinbase.

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.

Saying No

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.

Installed SSL

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?

1. 99 Side Hustle Business Ideas You Can Start Today

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.

2. Reselling Shoes: How I Make $10,000 a Month Flipping Sneakers

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.

3. 10 Ways to Make Extra Money That Don’t Take a Ton of Time

The numbers for this one are definitely inflated by me driving paid Facebook traffic to it, but still a fun post.

4. How to Start a Blog [Free 6-Part Video Course]

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.

5. How We Make $10-15k a Month from Blogging in Less Than a Year

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.

6. 41 Side Hustle Tools, Apps, and Resources I Use to Run My Online Business

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!

7. Peer-to-Peer Lending 6-Year Performance Update

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.

8. Beyond the Lemonade Stand: The 40 Best Business Ideas for Kids

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!

9. 10 Consumer Research Companies that Pay Up to $100 an Hour for Your Opinion in Online Focus Groups

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.

10. 79 Alternative Investment Platforms to Earn Stronger Returns, Build Cash Flow, and Diversify Your Portfolio

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.

1. Merch by Amazon: $53k in T-Shirt Profits in 10 Hours a Week, with Elaine Heney

2. How to Quickly Build an Online Business Without an Audience, with Mark Wills and Roman Rosario

3. Earn Your First $500 on the Side in the Next 7 Days – No More Excuses! with Scott Voelker

4. How 25 Side Hustlers Made Their First Entrepreneurial Income

5. Become a Master of Productivity, Discipline, and Focus, with John Lee Dumas

6. Steal This Process: A Step-by-Step System to Consistent $10k Months, with Nagina Abdullah

7. How to Build a 6-Figure Side Hustle on Fiverr, with Kendell Rizzo

8. 5 Real Estate Side Hustles You Can Start on the Cheap, with Chad Carson

9. Wholesale on Amazon: From Part-Time Hobby to $13 Million in Amazon FBA Sales, with Dan Meadors

10. How to Quickly Brainstorm and Validate Business Ideas, with Noah Kagan

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:

What about you? What were the best books you read last year?

What’s Next?

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.

You may have already noticed this strategy in action with the recently-refreshed 99 Side Hustle Ideas and 41 Side Hustle Tools posts.

I have a couple bigger projects in mind but I’m not sure if I’ll get to them this quarter.

Your Turn

How did 2017 shape up for you? What’s your #1 priority for this quarter?

24 thoughts on “2017 Annual Review and Q4 Progress Report

  1. That’s good to know that you had close to 6,000 ppl a day. Do you have specific goals when writing a blog post in regard to how many words you write?

  2. Is there a way to download your podcast PDFs without signing up? Some of us are already subscribed to your newsletter, so there is no need for signing up over and over again.

    • Hey DG, I agree it isn’t the most elegant solution at the moment. I’m sending the latest one each week in the newsletter so if you open those you can always download the new ones as they come out. Otherwise as long as you use the same email you’re already subscribed with, it’s just for file delivery and you won’t be double-subscribed or anything like that.

  3. I like the layout of this post. Plus, I am very proud of you for all your hard work in 2017!

    The pics and graphics were great.

    I feel like I am connected to a real human being—who has a real life.

  4. Great update! And congrats on the next mini side hustler :) I discovered your site and podcast less than a year ago, but they’ve really given me a lot of inspiration and motivation. Thank you for everything that you do for SH Nation!

    2017 ended on a high note for me:
    – Gaining more email subscribers than my previous goal (almost 300 now)
    – Converting a popular Medium post of mine into a PDF and promoting it on my homepage as a freebie

    My goals for Q1 2018 are:
    – Write more consistently! Goal is 1 long-form 2000+ work post per week.
    – Post every 1-3 days on Instagram, with the hope of eventually using IG as a funnel for merch sales
    – Interact with people on my Facebook groups and Instagram
    – Start generating a bit of money, more as a social proof than income source at this point

  5. I can honestly say that in 20 plus years, your resource for surveys
    is by far head and shoulders over anything else I’ve ever come
    across, PERIOD!
    Your side hustle lists aren’t too shabby either. You are a BOSS
    at what it is you do. Keep Us Informed!!

  6. I loved that book, too-Boys in the Boat! Great read. Thanks for all of your posts-between you and Chris Guillebeau I may be up and running soon!

  7. Nick,

    It was so inspiring to read your progress! I’ve been a happy side hustler listener since early 2017 and I’ve gotten tons of value from the show. You are actually part of my inspiration to start my own show and branded content platform. I currently work a 9-5 so it’s a side hustle that I’m still working to get off the ground, but I’m very excited! I’m thinking of doing more video content and then repurposing those videos for blogs/audio – what do you think?

    Thanks for all you do!

    • Thanks for tuning in Peter!

      I think you’re smart to start with video first, because you CAN later re-purpose to blogs/audio, but what I’d probably recommend first is to try and gain traction on one platform with one medium first, and then branch out to other channels leveraging what you’ve already created.

  8. As always, your work is loaded with good information. You and the people you feature provide awesome inspiration! I must have stumbled across fantastic Grace and Silas of Chasing Foxes on Pinterest when they were just starting. They, too, have a motivational story. Nick, you and all the entrepreneurs you introduce us to are my business heroes. I am continually learning from you all. Thanks for what you’re doing and please continue to offer more great side hustle stories.

  9. Nick,
    I think I remember that you started an editing service with two other people. I tried to Google “Nick Loper editing service” and that was a bust. I just finished my book and am interested in hiring your service. Please let me know if you are still offering this service. Am already a subscriber.

    • Hi Barbara, I’m sorry I’m swamped with other projects at the moment, but let me send you an email with the contact info for the editor I worked with on my latest book.

  10. It is so true – “What gets measured gets managed.” I was consumed by traffic and other metrics for my blogs and then realized last November that I was doing it all wrong. By completely ignoring email and building a list, I was leaving money on the table. Now, I am obsessed with trying to build a list and more importantly, keep the people who have trusted me with their email addresses engaged and interested in what I have to say.

  11. Congrats on awesome 2017 Nick! Especially big kudos for growing your family :D

    My 2017 was awesome, I quit half of my job, my wife quit her job and I stated a new business – advertising books of other authors on Amazon.

  12. Huge Congratulations on Little Hustler #2!! How exciting :) I love that you’re working on saying “No.” That’s something that I’ve been working on. Now, I have to stop saying “No!” With so much enthusiasm. Looking forward to hear about your adventures in dual parenting and seeing how you rock out SHN.

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