2018 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?

Q4 wrapped up a really strong year business-wise. I’m proud of the work I did in 2018, and at least it seemed like I spent less time working than in previous years.

Family-wise, we’ve had some growing pains and challenges, but nothing too crazy. We’re learning to live as a family of 4 and maintain some semblance of sanity.

In fact, maybe learning is the constant theme both personally and professionally. My new favorite shirt from Thomas Frank is appropriate:

Why Progress?

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.

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 5600 visits a day during the fourth quarter of 2018. That’s up slightly from last year, though December was actually down compared to 2017.

The two tallest spikes on the chart correspond to my Thursday newsletters. Subject lines:

And zoomed out over the course of the year, traffic had a similar pattern to 2017. Most of the year was up 15-20%, but that margin of growth shrunk in Q4.

The January and early-in-the-year interest I attribute to New Year’s resolutions — people determined to start a business and make extra money in the new year. The December decline is a little concerning, especially given the focus I put on fixing some SEO issues this quarter (see below).

Though late in 2017 I began experimenting with Facebook ads, which also partially explains the traffic trending up then and in the first part of 2018. I stopped buying traffic in March — when my ads account was shut down!

Podcast download growth:

The Side Hustle Show averaged 8600 downloads per day in Q4. That’s up about 40% from Q4 2017.

The spikes are typically every Thursday as new episodes are released, and the “double-spike” in mid-November was when I released two episodes in a week.

(I made a special solo episode to support the launch of The Progress Journal.)

Zoomed out for the entire year, the chart shows a healthy climb, from 170,000 downloads in January, to 260,000 downloads in December.

In total, the show was downloaded over 2.6 million times last year!

New episodes are reaching 30,000 people on average and I think that’s incredible reach for someone with a $60 mic in their living room.

Given that The Side Hustle Show has really become my main focus, this is encouraging to see after a really long plateau.

Email list growth:

This is probably the most important metric of all, and it was actually a really weird year for the email list. I’d ended 2017 with around 65,000 subscribers and had my sights set on getting to 100,000.

Instead I ended 2018 with “only” around 68,000 subscribers.

Why?

Well, I kept deleting inactive people from the list:

If I re-set the report to start after “the great purge”, I averaged 43 net new subscribers a day, or around 15,000 for the year.

Is it painful to delete people who opted in?

Yes. But there’s also not much sense in continuing to pound someone’s inbox who’s obviously not that interested in hearing from you.

My theory is keeping a “clean” list should help with deliverability — meaning the people who DO want to hear from you are more likely to get your messages.

These numbers are from my email service provider, ActiveCampaign. You can read my full ActiveCampaign review and check out my video demo here.

Profit Growth

2018 was my best year in business yet. Profit was up about 33% from 2017, and I feel like I worked less to earn it.

The majority of those gains came from getting better at affiliate marketing, and increased sponsorship rates on the podcast.

What I’ve Been Working On

It was a pretty productive — nay, effective — quarter. Here’s what I spent my working hours on.

The Progress Journal

My biggest project of the quarter was creating and launching a physical productivity journal called The Progress Journal.

It centers on 5 key habits I’ve found make me feel more effective and happier when I do them consistently. You can learn more about the journal and what’s inside here:

5 Ways to Be More Effective Every Day – In Just 5 Minutes

And a little more behind-the-scenes, this post goes into the creation and launch process:

Creating and Launching a KDP Print Journal: The Making of The Progress Journal

I’ve been happy with the feedback and sales results so far — 500 copies have been sold!

And perhaps more importantly, I’m using The Progress Journal myself and getting stuff done!

If you missed the launch, you can grab a copy on Amazon.

The Money Making Minute

My latest experiment launched right after Christmas.

The Money Making Minute is an Amazon Alexa Flash Briefing Skill, that features daily money making ideas in audio form.

At FinCon, Nick True planted this idea in my head and I couldn’t shake it.

If you want to test it out, you can ask Alexa to Enable The Money Making Minute.

And if you don’t have an Amazon Echo advice, the content is available as a standalone podcast as well.

My goal here is to reach a new podcast audience, and you can read about / listen to my thoughts and strategies behind this new content frontier here:

Alexa, Enable The Money Making Minute (Why I’m Creating a Flash Briefing)

I’m also trying to solicit some reviews for the Alexa version. If you have a minute to drop one in, I’ll be in your debt!

Podcast Playlists

One common question I get from new listeners is some variation of, “Where do I start? You’ve got 300+ episodes. Which ones are best for me?”

So one thing I’m experimenting to help with that is a few category-specific playlists. I first heard of this idea from Nicole Holland and Mark Asquith at Podcast Movement.

The first two I put together are The Side Hustle Show Blogging Mixtape and The Side Hustle Show Freelancing Mixtape.

 

I pulled the best archive content in those categories and created a separate podcast feed in Libsyn. (Costs an extra $5 a month for each show.)

Two main goals for this project:

  1. Give listeners an easier way to find the content most relevant and helpful to them. Hopefully these binge-worthy spin-offs save people the trouble of sorting through 300+ episodes.
  2. Reach new listeners in iTunes and other directories.

I think it’s achieving the first goal in some small way, but it’s hard to say about the second.

Of the 2, The Blogging Mixtape has been more popular, but is still only seeing around 30 downloads a day.

When I search iTunes for “blogging”, it’s currently ranked #39 — which is actually better than I thought! (The main Side Hustle Show is #18.)

The Freelancing Mixtape fares slightly better in search, currently ranked #15:

My thought was it was an inexpensive test to see if I could capture more real estate for relevant keyword searches. It looks like that’s working, but not really to any crazy numbers yet.

What do you think? Are category playlists helpful for you? Should I add more?

On-Site SEO

One of my main focuses early in the quarter was fixing a bunch of on-site SEO issues. A technical site audit revealed lots of things that could be improved upon, namely:

  • Broken links
  • Broken images
  • Deleted pages with no redirects
  • Missing title tags and meta descriptions
  • A bloated index in Google
  • Slow site speed (see below)

I made it a daily habit to work through this list of chores, fixing, deleting, and redirecting pages and images.

A reader (thanks David!) pointed out that Google was indexing a bunch of stuff they probably shouldn’t:

3860 pages indexed! For a site with a little over 500 posts, that’s NOT a good sign.

Among those pages were a ton of affiliate and redirect links (created with the Pretty Link plugin), image files, and author archives.

The theory is having all that garbage in the index, it dilutes the value of your actual content, making it harder to rank.

(You can use that same “site:[your_website.com]” operator to see what pages of yours Google has indexed.)

Based on this I took 3 main actions:

  1. Updated all my PrettyLinks to nofollow. Turns out there’s a default setting so that all NEW PrettyLinks I create are noindexed/nofollowed automatically.
  2. Used the Yoast SEO plugin to hide media (images and PDF uploads) from search results.
  3. Used the Yoast SEO plugin to hide author archives from search results.

This was able to cut the number of pages indexed in half:

But this is still a source of frustration, because Google is still including a TON of pages I’ve asked them not to — or at least I think I’ve asked them not to.

My Google Search Console sitemaps have less than 600 total pages, but they’re still finding a bunch of less-than-optimized content to pull into the index.

If anyone has any insights on the best way to address this, I’m all ears!

And despite all this clean-up effort, organic traffic was still flat or slightly declining during the quarter.

Site Speed / User Experience

Another project I worked on was speeding up the site. To do that, I ran a few high priority pages through the tools.pingdom.com speed test. Then I worked my way down the waterfall chart and looked for elements that were either slow to load or large file sizes.

Among the biggest changes I made were:

  • Removing the sidebar for mobile traffic. More than half the total traffic is mobile, and on mobile devices the sidebar loads below the content, which most people never scroll that far, so it was costing load time for zero benefit. Gone. (We added a search bar to the top of the screen for mobile users in case people wanted to search for something specific.)
  • Removing the sidebar from all blog posts. After testing taking away the sidebar on some high-traffic pages and seeing improved load times, I just removed it everywhere. According to Analytics, only 1% of people were clicking on sidebar links anyway.
  • Turning off avatars for comments. Each comment was making a separate server call to Gravatar to pull in an avatar image, and for posts with dozens of comments, that was costing a lot of load time.
  • Turning off the Sumo popup on several high traffic pages, including the homepage.
  • Removing the Related Posts plugin.

These changes have cost a little bit in terms of email sign-ups (fewer pop-ups, no sidebar opt-in form), but I think make for a cleaner user experience on the site.

(Zen WP helped with some of this stuff.)

My Top 10 Posts of 2018

As measured by pageviews in Google Analytics. Did you miss any of these?

1. 99 Side Hustle Business Ideas You Can Start Today

This often-updated list post of side hustle ideas accounted for 18% 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. 250+ Proven Ways to Make Extra Money in 2018: The Ultimate Guide

Another re-publishing effort. This version expands and breathes new life into the monster list post that I originally wrote in 2016.

3. The 90+ Best Affiliate Programs for Recurring Commissions

What’s better than getting paid once? How about getting paid over and over again? Here’s a big list of companies that pay recurring commissions for sending them new customers.

4. 35 of the Best Fiverr Gigs to Start and Grow Your Business

I originally drafted this post back in 2013, and it was due for a refresh. The expanded and updated version has done well in SEO.

5. Earn $200/Month with this Stupidly Simple Affiliate Marketing Side Hustle: A Step-by-Step Guide

This selfless guest post (he didn’t even want a link) by Mike Benkovich walks readers step-by-step how to create their first small affiliate site.

6. How to Make Money with a Drone: Up to $200 an Hour on the Side

Another guest post highlighting the specific ways drone pilots can make money.

7. Direct Marketing: How We Made $30,000 from a 3-Page Website with No Traffic

Here’s a cool guest post about a successful direct outreach campaign.

8. Storage Unit Auctions: How to Make Money From Abandoned Storage Lockers

Coach Dom Costa takes us behind scenes of his “Storage Wars” side hustle.

9. Credit Card Rewards 101: How to Earn Free Cash and Travel by Spending Smarter

My free video course on making the most of credit card rewards. One of the assets I’m most proud of from the year.

10. 11 Ways to Monetize a Podcast – Plus My Actual Results

This was another re-publishing effort, diving into all the ways The Side Hustle Show (and other podcasts) make money.

My Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2018

As measured by total number of downloads. Which ones were your favorites?

1. 294: How to Start an Online Store with No Ideas and No Inventory (and still sell $300k in your first year), with Rene Delgado

2. 303: The 15 Income Streams I’m Working on Right Now

3. 300: 5 Listeners Who Took Action and Are Seeing Awesome Results

4. 298: $100k a Year Flipping Random Items: The Return of Rob “The Flea Market Flipper” Stephenson

5. 292: Free Houses: How to Build a $1 Million Real Estate Portfolio on the Side, with Austin Miller

6. 266: The Simplest Side Hustle Ever? How to Earn $30-50 an Hour Picking up Trash, with Brian Winch

7. 306: How to Start a Business You Care About — With No Business Ideas and No Money, with Alan Donegan

8. 295: A Local Service Business that Scales – From Zero to $60k a Month in Revenue, with Chris Schwab

9. 268: Blogging ROI: From $18 to $100k a Month in 2.5 Years, with Rosemarie Groner

10. 296: Blogging for Multiple Income Streams – How a Part-Time Blog Became a Diverse Revenue Engine, with Mike Riscica

What I Bought

MCT Oil powder – In an effort to get more calories from “good” fats, this jumped into my Amazon cart.

Keto pee strips – Testing the level of ketones in your urine, to see if your intermittent fasting / carb-limiting is working. I actually feel really good when I stick to this plan.

A ridiculously expensive kid’s bike – After mastering the Strider, Little Hustler #1 was ready to step up to a pedal bike. This fantastic affiliate site pointed me to the Woom. And sure enough, he rode it on the first try — no training wheels!

Hamilton tickets – For April. Excited to see this show again!

Cool Biz / Lifestyle Stuff

The baby started sleeping! But it was right around that time when big brother started getting scared of the dark or having nightmares or something. One of these nights!

Potty training! Little Hustler #1 is doing a great job keeping his underwear dry.

12th Annual Friendsgiving!

Side Hustle Nation meetups in Detroit, Oakland, and Seattle! Huge thank you to everyone who came out. These events get me buzzing with energy and it’s so awesome to hear what everyone is working on.

We saw the Huskies win the Pac-12 Championship!

Got in a couple ski days with dad!

What I Read

Kind of a light quarter for reading, but did enjoy a couple books.

Tools of Titans

I’m falling behind on my Tim Ferriss books, but thought the second half of Tools of Titans one was excellent. (I found the first half really disjointed and hard to follow.)

I highlighted a ton of different passages, but here are some sections that stood out:

  • “Lack of time is lack of priorities. If I’m “busy,” it is because I’ve made choices that me busy.”
  • “The Purpose of Life Is a Life of Purpose.”
  • “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” —Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  • “My one repeated learning in life: ‘There are no adults.’ Everyone’s making it up as they go along. Figure it out yourself, and do it.”
  • “Create slack, as no one will give it to you. This is the only way to swim forward instead of treading water.”
  • “We are simultaneously gods and worms.”—Abraham Maslow
  • “If I could only work 2 hours per week on my business, what would I do?”
  • “Did I spend today chasing mice or hunting antelope?”
  • “Luxury, to me, is feeling unrushed.”

Side note: Tools of Titans is a cool example of what you can do with podcast content!

Atomic Habits

James Clear’s Atomic Habits is both an excellent piece of writing and an actionable manual on how to establish good habits / break bad ones.

For me, it really hammered home the point that environment is stronger than willpower. Stop playing defense with willpower and instead set up better systems and a better environment to make positive habits automatic.

What’s Next?

I’m working on a few projects this quarter, and using The Progress Journal to track them. Here’s what I’m kicking around:

  • A Pinterest account / strategy makeover. This is already in process.
  • Bringing on some writing help. The ball’s rolling on this as well.
  • Process documentation and delegation. I need to get better at this to free up longer blocks of “deep work” time.
  • Updating The Side Hustle Path book. This is coming up on 4 years old and could use a refresh. I think it’s a great opportunity to reach readers on Amazon with a permafree title.
  • Soliciting reviews for The Money Making Minute.
  • Creating some sort of “choose-your-side-hustle” quiz to try and point people in the right direction.

Your Turn

How did 2018 shape up for you? Are you happy with your progress?

If not, what’s got to change?

12 thoughts on “2018 Annual Review and Q4 Progress Report”

  1. Wonderful tips on removing the sidebar on posts and improving page time and stuff. I’ve always had a low score on load time, and I should probably clean stuff up.

    How do you think Google Indexes so many more URLs than you have posts? How does that work?

    “3860 pages indexed! For a site with a little over 500 posts, that’s NOT a good sign.”

    If the other pages were just images, isn’t that a good thing to rank an image in a key word?

    Thanks,

    Sam

    • My theory is having all that “thin” content indexed (image attachment pages that wordpress automatically created, near-duplicate author archive pages, straight-up redirects to other sites), that would bring down in the eyes of google to “average” quality of the content, and potentially hurt rankings for the real pages. So far though, no drastic shifts positive or negative.

  2. You mention getting better at affiliate marketing. Is that by making a bunch of mini websites or mentioning affiliate links in blogs or podcasts??? Is there one main way you’ve noticed that affiliate marketing can bring in a nice amount of change? I know the general idea behind affiliate marketing but am wondering if I should dig deep and study it. Thanks so much for your time Nick! (I’m slowly growing a Merch by Amazon account at the moment but would love to spread my wings.)

  3. Hi Nick,

    I know you’ve been using Pinterest more and more — I have a suggestion! Make blog posts about your podcast playlists (one post per playlist) and then make Pinterest-friendly images and share them on Pinterest! I myself have a “podcast for creative entrepreneurs” board, and would LOVE to pin that kind of thing. SHN is already on there, but those playlists are genius!

    Thanks for sharing your progress, it is so encouraging to me!

    With gratitude,
    Jules

  4. Love the progress report and that you’re always tweaking and course-correcting along the way. I’m off to check the number of pages my site has indexed in Google – thanks for the tip!

  5. Love the post, thinking of doing something similar. Will go back through it and dig in more, as well as dig into the site more. (New to the site)

    One suggestion – I dumped the automatic related posts plugin, and the same function in my theme, and installed “Custom Related Posts” instead. I was always frustrated by what the plugins were choosing, because I knew there were better choices. CRP lets you search your site for a keyword or words, then gives you a list of titles that match. From there you can choose which ones to link to (and from). You then can either put a shortcode in a widget, or put the shortcode right in the post. Or don’t put it at all — your call.

    I have been super pleased with this way to do related posts, and it seems to be used much more than the standard plugin. And, it doesn’t seem to affect site speed at all. (I suspect because the choosing is done as part of the page code, rather than after the page is loaded.)

    Just a thought.

  6. Relatively new blogger here and just stumbled upon side hustle nation for the first time, love it!

    Love the tip to track what Google is indexing against your website via site:[your_website.com]!

    For your blog traffic, do you have a target number of post you publish per quarter along with podcast episodes?

    Thanks for sharing your progress!
    Kevin

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