2021 Annual Review and Q3/Q4 Progress Report


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Heyo good people! Whew — it’s 2022!

Three months ago I was still unburying my office and inbox from moving, and as a result skipped my Q3 2021 Progress Report.

So here’s the Q3 / Q4 / Year-End combo edition. In this post I’ll attempt to highlight some of my most important projects and the impact those had on the bottom line.

Cheers!

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.

In fact, I’ve even got 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

Growth of the Nation

There are 4 main metrics I track:

  1. Website traffic
  2. Podcast downloads
  3. Email subscribers
  4. Overall profit

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.”

Website Traffic

SideHustleNation.com received around 7,800 visits a day during the second half of the year, and traffic was pretty consistent.

q3 q4 2021 side hustle nation traffic

This is essentially flat compared to the previous year, which is probably a win because I only published 3 new non-podcast blog posts during this time.

The evergreen archive content continues to perform well, but maintaining it and keeping it up-to-date is quite time-consuming. It’s kind of like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. By the time you finish, it’s time to start over at the beginning and do it again!

For the full year, the site earned 3.9 million pageviews, about the same as 2020.

full year 2021 traffic

Since a high-ranking blog post is a really a valuable (and income-producing asset), it probably makes sense to invest more in this area in 2022.

Earlier in the year, a couple podcast episodes (on becoming a Salesforce consultant and starting a party entertainment business) were picked up by Google Discover. In Q4, that quick strike of traffic hit again with my episode on Facebook Marketplace Dropshipping:

google discover q3 q4 side hustle nation

(There are a few things you can do to optimize your content for Google Discover, but it doesn’t seem like something you can proactively submit for.)

In other words, it’s bonus traffic. Do all the things you’d normally do, and you might get featured, but don’t bank on it. In my case, if I can convert that bonus traffic into podcast listeners, that would be huge!

And for a complete vanity metric, the site passed 14 million lifetime visits in 2021:

shn lifetime traffic

What’s the traffic worth? Of course it varies by landing page, but last year, each pageview was worth an estimated $0.05 in affiliate earnings. A few years ago, I had a freelancer from Upwork create a lookup table in Google Tag Manager where I could input historical Earnings per Click data, which now passes to Google Analytics. It’s not a perfect science — and yes, there are more sophisticated ways to track actual affiliate real-time income — but it works for me for now.

Podcast Downloads

The Side Hustle Show chalked up another 1.5 million downloads in Q3 and Q4, or around 8,500 downloads a day. That’s down around 10% compared to 2020 and the first half of the year.

(Though I published fewer episodes in the 2nd half of the year, which is a factor as well.)

q3 q4 2021 podcast growth

The silver lining here is that Q4 is showing signs of growth again.

I still love scooping new side hustle stories, but I’ll be honest, the multi-year-long plateau is a little frustrating:

podcast plateau

A better metric may be Podtrac’s “audience” size, which measures the number of unique devices that download or stream your show:

podtrac audience size

And to reach 85,000-95,000 listeners all around the world each month is pretty cool!

The podcast remains my most important relationship-building channel and as we close in on 500 episodes and 20 million lifetime downloads, I’m still exploring ways to reach new listeners.

Email Subscribers

I added around 44 net new email subscribers per day the last 6 months, to end the year at over 81,000 subscribers for the first time ever.

email subscriber growth 2021

I started 2021 with around 73,000 subscribers, and did a couple rounds of deleting inactive subscribers, but have a new email process that’s keeping more people engaged. More on that below.

These numbers are from my email service provider, ActiveCampaign. You can read my full ActiveCampaign review and check out my video demo here. Pricing starts at just $9 a month!

Profit

Profit-wise, Side Hustle Nation was essentially flat — down maybe 4% — compared to 2020. Obviously I’d prefer things to move up, but I’m also cool with the current income levels.

What I’ve Been Working On

$1,000 100 Ways

In July we sent the kids back to preschool 5 days a week. It was the first time since March 2020 I’d had a full workweek, and I felt like I got more done in the first few days than I had in months.

One thing the extra time allowed me to do was finally buckle down and finish / launch the $1K 100 Ways book project.

The project had started in the summer of 2020, when I began collecting stories the Side Hustle Nation community. The final product includes 100 case studies on how real people are making extra money. Each profile answers common questions like:

  • How did you come up with that idea?
  • How did you get your first customers or revenue?
  • What else has worked to market your business?
  • If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
  • And more

I launched it at the end of July, and have done a couple other smaller promotions since then.

bestseller status in amazon search results

The reviews have been largely positive and it was a ton of fun to be able to highlight so many creative entrepreneurs from Side Hustle Nation.

So far, the book has earned around $6,700 in royalties, but more importantly, it’s another asset in the catalog — another way for new readers to enter the ecosystem.

(The lead magnet in the book has generated about 650 new email sign-ups so far.)

1k 100 ways royalties

To fuel ongoing sales, I tried running AMS ads, but the campaigns never quite turned profitable so I turned them off.

If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, you can do so here.

$1,000 100 Ways Audiobook

In the fall, I started chipping away at the audiobook version of the 300-page tome. Recording in chunks as long as my time and voice allowed, I finally shipped my raw files off to the producer and got them edited.

The crazy thing was when I went to upload them to ACX, I found that someone else had apparently already claimed the title as their own. It took a few days to convince their support team to “unlock” it again — at one point they even wanted “proof” from copyright.gov that I was the owner. Super weird, but lesson learned: if you’re an author make sure to go in and claim your work even if you have no immediate plans for an audiobook.

In November — the month the audiobook launch — the book earned around $250 in Audible royalties.

29 Podcast Episodes

The most popular episodes from the last 6 months were:

Re-Publishing

On the written content side of the business, most of my time was spent updating old content rather than creating brand new posts.

This has become a pretty consistent process, going through the “evergreen” content to update and optimize it so it continues to rank well. I think of each post as a little mini digital asset that can attract traffic, revenue, and subscribers — and sometimes they’re worth quite a bit.

Once you hit the first page of Google, they can be extremely time-leveraged, but nothing lasts forever. Your competitors aren’t standing still, which is why the constant updating and re-publishing is required.

Perhaps the biggest shift I’ve noticed in SEO this year is a trend away from massive 7,000-word posts to a more curated approach. You still want enough content to cover the topic thoroughly, but you don’t need to write a novel.

For example, Google (and users) may not want to see “250+ Ways to Make Extra Money” — just give ’em your best ideas.

The challenge has been prioritizing new articles to grow the traffic. Even when I delegate the writing part, I still find myself as the editor/bottleneck-in-chief of the process before they go live.

YouTube

Speaking of evergreen mini digital assets, YouTube is another awesome place to plant those seeds — and one I’ve mostly neglected. Despite that, YouTube still brings in around $500 a month in “passive” ad income and introduces new people to my content.

So far, I have 3 main style of videos:

  • Re-purposed podcast episodes, made w/ Headliner
  • Shorter video interviews
  • Talking-head videos to support existing blog content

My theory is this: embedding the video in the blog post makes the post more valuable in the eyes of Google and readers, and gives you double the chances of being discovered for relevant keywords.

For example, I have this post on How to Monetize a Podcast, and created this video to target the same search query on YouTube.

Here’s another one to support my post on how to earn free Amazon gift cards:

Based on current ad rates for my channel, it takes around 2,000-2,500 views to breakeven on editing costs.

(None of the recent videos I’ve made so far have reached that threshold yet, but it’s a one-time cost to create one of those digital assets that can potentially earn for years down the road!)

My Biggest Business “Wins” of the Year

Saturday Re-Sends

With a hat tip to Pat Flynn, I developed a process to re-send my weekly newsletter a couple days later to everyone who didn’t open it the first time around. This simple step has bumped overall open rates from 22-30% to 40%+ pretty consistently.

I typically change the subject line and opening of the message, and am seeing thousands of incremental opens every week.

“You Might Also Like”

I started experimenting with a small “You might also like” section at the bottom of my newsletter. It typically includes 3 curated links to interesting articles (either mine or others), and gives me an opportunity to highlight other content, events, or even promote affiliate offers.

Plus, it’s been fun to keep an eye out for interesting stuff during the week to include there.

Underlining Links

This was a stupid-simple marketing win: underlining the links on this site. Either my theme didn’t have them underlined by default or I disabled it years ago for aesthetics (links were a different text color, but not underlined).

Since underlining them, I’m seeing an 8% increase in outbound clicks and a 12% increase in affiliate commissions.

Bench

2021 was my first full year doing zero bookkeeping, and it was something I should have let go of a long time ago. (I’m the weird person who actually likes keeping track of all the revenue and expenses, but it was definitely distracting and time-consuming.)

I signed up for Bench’s remote bookkeeping service in late 2020, and it’s been a great move. I just spend a few minutes a month checking reports and recategorizing items, but other than that, it’s hands-off.

My only beef is that I can’t tell you up-to-the-minute profitability like I used to be able to, but I think that’s a worthwhile tradeoff.

Group Leads

For the last couple years, I’ve noticed a lot of people joining the Side Hustle Nation Facebook Group organically from Facebook. They either discover it through Facebook’s search or as a suggested group based on their interests.

This is on contrast to the first few years of the group, where almost every member was a listener of the podcast or a reader of the blog.

But I wasn’t doing a great job of bringing all those new members into the broader Side Hustle Nation ecosystem.

That’s where Group Leads comes in. Over the summer, I started using this affordable Chrome extension to begin capturing emails from new group members and the tool syncs them directly with ActiveCampaign.

Since then, this tool has helped add more than 4,000 new subscribers to my email list.

Overall, the group added around 18,000 members this year to finish at over 47,000 members in total.

Building a Process Library

While Group Leads was a huge win, since it was a local browser extension, it meant that group member approvals had to be done by me on my laptop — not on my phone or by any of the awesome moderator team. Reviewing all the requests was taking up a lot of time, so I eventually created a process and asked my assistant to help me with it.

I also created processes for spot-checking the podcast and scheduling it to go live, and setting up the Saturday Re-sends.

There’s still plenty more room to keep delegating, but I feel like I made some strides this year in that area.

Preselling The Traffic Course

One of the projects I was most proud of was The Traffic Course, my quick-study guide on how to get more traffic to your blog or online business.

I pre-sold it to my email list at half-price, and got over 100 orders. Then I spent the next several weeks building it out and dripping out the content to the students.

Feedback has been great so far and I really enjoyed our office hours sessions. I’ll follow a similar process for future products.

The challenge here has been driving evergreen sales, but I have some ideas to try and implement in 2022.

Operation Tool Swap

By playing “the substitution game” I’ve been able to reduce expenses in several areas this year. For example, I swapped out:

  • PicMonkey for Canva for graphics (the free version)
  • GoDaddy for Porkbun for domain renewals
  • Squadcast for Zencastr for podcast recording
  • Optin Monster for Beaver Builder
  • Dropbox for Google Drive

I estimate total savings in the $750/year range.

Podcast Lead Magnets

In an effort to revive the growth of my email list in 2021, I started creating episode-specific opt-in offers again.

For context, I did this almost every week from mid-2014 to mid-2018 and it helped me grow from around 1000 email subscribers to over 60,000.

The lead magnets I created during that time were PDF summaries of the episodes. Lately though, I’ve shifted to just publishing those summaries on the show notes for the sake of creating a better user experience and content discovery in SEO.

So this time around, my idea was to create complementary resources that would help listeners apply what they learned in the episode.

For example, I created:

Some of these I’m able to “recycle” and plug in multiple episodes, which saves some time. I also include them in my weekly newsletters so existing subscribers wouldn’t have to re-enter their information. (And posted on the super-secret subscriber-only VIP page.)

In total, these new opt-ins were downloaded more than 4,600 times, which is encouraging. It’s also interesting to see the types of files that have performed best.

(Similar to content on the site, big lists of ideas tend to perform well.)

I’ll probably continue to do this in 2022, but try and be more intentional about either using resources I already have or creating something that will be more compelling for listeners.

Cool Business / Lifestyle Stuff That Happened

Moving and House Stuff

The biggest shift this year was moving from California back “home” to Washington. We’re super close to where my wife and I grew up, and very close to all our family as well.

Nobody’s getting any younger — not us, not the kids, and not the grandparents, and having a stronger relationship with family was a big driving factor. That, and our oldest was starting Kindergarten so we figured it would be easier to make the move before school rather than trying to do it later.

number 1 tips 2021

It was tough to say good-bye to our adopted hometown of Livermore and all the friends we’d made there — honestly they’re probably what kept us there as long as we were. It was a great place to live — and we had a great deal on our rent!

Of course the real estate market has been crazy all over, and the area to which we moved was no exception, but we made the shift from renting to buying as part of the transition as well. This was probably more for emotional and stability reasons rather than purely financial ones, because I know I’m on the record as recently as September of 2020 extolling the virtues of renting.

And despite everyone else telling us to just hire movers, we were stubborn and wanted to do most of it ourselves. Some of the moving quotes we got back where north of $10,000 … and we were like, “um, I don’t think our stuff is worth that much!”

What we didn’t take into consideration was the time and mental energy it would take to literally put eyes and hands on everything you own and make the “keep/toss/donate/sell” decision. That occupied most of August.

(Ultimately we found a great driver on UShip; it turned out one-way U-Hauls were hard to come by with apparently everyone leaving California. And I’m glad I didn’t have to drive the truck.)

In some non-insignificant way, California actually subsidized the move. We’re paying more every month here in mortgage and property taxes, but the cost difference is actually less than what we were paying in California income taxes.

Still getting used to the colder, wetter weather but definitely happy not to be making those estimated tax payments to the state anymore. And a huge thank you to all our family members who would dutifully go check out houses for us in person after our Redfin virtual visits. Nothing like buying a house you’ve never actually stepped in, but we still like it!

FinCon

Even as an introvert, I found I really missed hanging out with Internet friends in real life over the last couple years. FinCon took place in September in Austin, TX, and it was great to get out (and eat all the tacos and BBQ in sight).

It was the first time seeing many online business friends since February 2020.

The event itself was understandably not particularly well-attended — maybe a third the size of the 2019 conference in Washington DC, but was still good to catch up with colleagues and advertisers.

The Top 10 Most Popular Side Hustle Show Episodes of the Year

These were the most-downloaded episodes of the year. Make sure to add any you missed to your podcast app!

  1. 449: Etsy Printables: $10,000 a Month Selling Digital Products on Etsy, with Rachel Jones
  2. 426: My $550k Side Hustle: An Online Business from Idea to Exit
  3. 432: How a New Blogger Went From Zero to $20k in 12 Months, with Tami Smith
  4. 457: Building a 6-Figure Side Hustle on Twitter: Audience Growth and Monetization, with Dickie Bush
  5. 448: Rank and Rent: $1000 a Month From Simple Local Websites, with Luke Van Der Veer
  6. 430: Built to Sell: Design a Business to Run Without You, with Tyler Gillespie
  7. 450: Children’s Publishing: How to Make Money with Kids Books on Amazon, with Matt Ralph
  8. 435: How to Make Time for Your Side Hustle: 10 Steps to Positive Progress
  9. 441: Become a Salesforce Consultant: $225k a Year … Working Part-Time!, with Brad Rice
  10. 459: Online Arbitrage: Make Money with Amazon FBA from Home, with Chris Grant

Some pretty awesome stories in there :)

Did you have any favorite episodes or favorite moments? Let me know in the comments below!

My 5 Best Purchases of the Year

My brother wrote a post on the ways to spend money that will actually make you happier. Among them were spending money on experiences, spending money on others, buying your time back, and spending money to remove annoyances.

And I’ll vouch for those — they seem pretty accurate and align with some of my best purchases of the year.

I’ve already mentioned some purchases on the business side, but here are some on the personal side.

  1. A new kitchen sink. Our new house came with a tiny, shallow, 2-basin sink. With help from my dad, we replaced it with a much deeper, single-basin variety. It changes the whole feel of the kitchen and makes it so much less annoying to do dishes!
  2. Vessi sneakers. My New Balance mesh-top running shoes are great … except when it’s rainy. Then my feet are immediately soaked. It wasn’t so much a problem in California, but in Washington it definitely was. These solve that problem and are super comfy as well.
  3. A new-to-me phone. My old iPhone 6 was getting pretty glitchy and wouldn’t support several of my apps. I got a used iPhone Xs from Swappa and love it. The best feature? The upgraded camera for taking much better pics of the kids.
  4. Amber reading lights. I like to get some reading time in before bed, and this supposedly is better for your eyes and sleep than a regular lamp or white/LED light.
  5. Season passes for skiing. This is like pre-committing to what’s valuable to you — in this case, time in the mountains with family.

What about you? Any favorite purchases of the year?

My Favorite Books of the Year

1. Four Thousand Weeks

Four Thousand Weeks is a different kind of productivity book, focusing more on the mindset side rather than the “tools and tactics” side.

I took a ton of notes. Among them, these quotes:

“You begin to grasp that when there’s too much to do, and there always will be, the only route to psychological freedom is to let go of the limit-denying fantasy of getting it all done and instead to focus on doing a few things that count”

“The modern world provides an inexhaustible supply of things that seem worth doing, and so there arises an inevitable and unbridgeable gap between what you’d ideally like to do and what you actually can do.”

“Once you truly understand that you’re guaranteed to miss out on almost every experience the world has to offer, the fact that there are so many you still haven’t experienced stops feeling like a problem. Instead, you get to focus on fully enjoying the tiny slice of experiences you actually do have time for — and the freer you are to choose, in each moment, what counts the most.”

“The core challenge of managing our limited time isn’t about how to get everything done — that’s never going to happen — but how to decide most wisely what NOT to do, and how to feel at peace about not doing it.”

2. Undaunted Courage

Undaunted Courage is an almost day-by-day account of the Lewis and Clark adventure. For a history nerd like me, it was a real page turner!

This was the ultimate backpacking trip, except instead of covering 50 miles over 7 days, it covered close to 4000 miles roundtrip over 2 years. The lasting takeaway for me was a new and deeper appreciation for the simple luxuries and conveniences that we enjoy today.

For example, going to the grocery store instead of hoping to come across an elk. Being able to instantly communicate with anyone almost anywhere on the planet, instead of sending a letter and waiting potentially months for a response.

If nothing else, it will give you some perspective about what counts as a problem in your day-to-day life.

The book loses steam after the expedition ends (much like Lewis’ life), but this was a very fun, detailed account of what it was like to venture into the unknown 200+ years ago.

3. Work Optional

Through her Our Next Life blog, Tanja Hester has been a great advocate for thoughtful spending and early financial independence. I seem to have lost my highlights from Work Optional, but I remember some thought-provoking exercises and a more detailed explanation of how an actual early retirement portfolio drawdown might work. Tanja explained both how to access “retirement” funds early and offered a path where your post-tax accounts pay for your lifestyle until retirement age.

One eye-popping stat: “every dollar you can avoid spending every month is $300 you don’t have to save for in retirement.”

Lifestyle inflation is WAY more expensive than you think!

4. Facing the Mountain

After binging on Dan Carlin’s Supernova in the East, his Hardcore History telling of World War II in the Pacific, Daniel James Brown’s Facing the Mountain caught my eye.

This is the true story of Japanese American soldiers in World War II, who faced both internment and intense racism at home, and horrifying battle conditions on the front lines.

5. Wood Floats

My brother wrote a book! And it’s a good one. I’m not surprised — he’s a great writer.

Wood Floats is a hilarious collection of short stories, often with some important life lesson worked in. Lots of teenage antics, outdoor adventures, and even some pyrotechnics. I think this will be a page-turner for you, as it was for me.

Honorable Mention:

  • Andrew Warner’s Stop Asking Questions – Pretty much only applicable to fellow interview podcast hosts, but if that’s what you do, definitely worth picking up.

What was on your reading list? Anything I should check out?

What’s Next?

What’s next on my project list? Here are a few things I’d like to tackle this year.

Expanding the Email Welcome Sequence

As it is today, new email subscribers get a few onboarding messages before graduating to the general newsletter list. Once they’re on there, they get notified of new content each week.

But what about the archive content. There’s a ton of gold in there from the last 8+ years!

I’d like to put together an extended weekly welcome sequence introducing subscribers to some of the “greatest hits.” I think there’s an opportunity to drive more word of mouth sharing and potentially affiliate and product sales as well.

A Product to Help People Get More Clients

The next product idea I’m kicking around is the Get More Clients Playbook… name TBD.

One of the most common challenges people share with me is trying to grow their business. My thought would be to pull together all the great marketing tactics from Side Hustle Show guests (and elsewhere) into a choose-your-own adventure playbook of sorts.

I’ll probably follow the same pre-sale process to gauge interest as I did with The Traffic Course.

Expanding YouTube Content

I’d also like to continue to expand my library of YouTube content, following the 3 types of videos I outlined above.

Your Turn

What about you? How did 2021 shape up for you? Anything you’re excited about going into the new year?

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2 thoughts on “2021 Annual Review and Q3/Q4 Progress Report”

  1. Holy moly you had a busy year! Any idea why profits weren’t up? I have noticed significant pricing power as demand boomed.

    I mainly just wrote on Financial Samurai and then finished my book coming out this June with Portfolio Penguin Random House.

    FS received about 14 million pageviews. Better than nothing! I have thought about becoming more entrepreneurial like you, but I just don’t have the time or the desire anymore. I want to relax more in 2022 and spend more time with the kiddos.

    How do you find the motivation to do so many different things? I’m struggling in this department

    Thanks,

    Sam

    Reply

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