2020 started off so promising! And then around the beginning of March, the wheels started to come off.
And not just for me, but for the broader global economy — thanks in part to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Here in California, we’re “sheltering in place” until at least May, meaning no unnecessary trips out of the house. Day to day, that’s not all that much different from my last 11+ years of working from home.
It’s just I’ve got more company these days. Having the kids at home makes “deep work” time difficult to come by, but in the grand scheme of things, it could be much worse.
I’m grateful to still be able to work and make an income from home.
And in a nice silver-linings type of way, I’m grateful to have more time with the boys too. They’ll never be this age again and they’re a lot of fun.
In any case, I won’t let a little global pandemic stand in the way of the Quartely Progress Report tradition.
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:
Growth of the Nation
There are 3 main metrics I track:
- Website traffic
- Podcast downloads
- Email subscribers
Blog traffic growth:
Side Hustle Nation earned around 6700 visits a day during Q1. Most of those came from organic search traffic.
One cool milestone is that the site had over a million pageviews last quarter, which is probably the first time that’s happened!
As you can see from the chart, traffic followed a similar pattern to 2019, with greater interest in side hustles in January. After that, it kind of levels off or even declines into February and March.
Podcast download growth:
The Side Hustle Show received 10,600 downloads a day in Q1! That’s up about 10-15% from the first quarter of 2019.
But for the month of March, the show was actually down slightly from last year. My best guess is it’s related to fewer people commuting right now.
In any case, the show goes on and there’s some great stuff coming up.
Email list growth:
For the last couple years or so, I’ve de-prioritized email capture a little bit.
(In practice: removing popups, removing the sidebar on articles, making fewer content upgrades for the podcast.)
As a result, the email list has been between 65,000 and 70,000 since early 2018.
Of course, I still want your email–but I want you to want to get email from me. My subscriber database is probably the most valuable asset an online business like mine has.
Here’s what the slow-and-steady list growth looked like in Q1:
I added a little over 4000 net new subscribers during this time.
What’s missing? I didn’t perform any of my usual purging of inactive subscribers.
I’m testing my long-held assumption that removing inactive subscribers improves deliverability. I can go up to 75k subscribers before my pricing tier jumps on ActiveCampaign, so I may let this ride another month or two, or until I look at the overall impact on open rates.
Open rates are typically between 25-30%. I’d love to hit 30% consistently!
Best performing subject line: “$50/hr part-time” – 32.6% open rate.
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!
What I’ve Been Working On
Improving Site Speed
I bought Matt Giovanisci’s PageSpeed for Bloggers course in February, and have been working through his recommendations.
I still have a ways to go, but have reduced load times across the site by 34%. Some pages are now twice as fast. My hope is that results in a better user experience and better search rankings.
Some specific actions taken so far:
- Turning off my social sharing plugin. I was using Social Warfare.
- “Lazy loading” images with WP Smush.
- Loading Google fonts locally.
- Disabling Optin Monster and replacing the opt-in form below each post with a Beaver Builder template instead. (Only 0.14% of users filled in the old form, but it was costing speed.)
- Turning off my special Search IQ search plugin. It’s better than the WordPress default, but only 0.02% of visitors made a search.
- Removing the Pinterest retargeting pixel (no immediate plans to run Pinterest ads)
I’m excited about this and can definitely notice a difference in my own navigating around the site.
The WordPress support team at Zen WP has been helping me with all this!
Turning Off My Alexa Skill
After my year-long experiment with The Money Making Minute as an Alexa flash briefing skill, I wasn’t seeing the results to justify continuing it.
So I turned it off to focus that time on other projects.
More YouTube Content
Even though I’ve had my channel for years, YouTube is a new content frontier for me.
My old strategy of just re-publishing the podcast with a static placeholder image has shifted a bit. Now I’m playing around with creating:
- shorter-format video interviews
- quick review-style videos
- blog-post –> video content
- screen-capture tutorials and demos
I have a couple theories to test out here. The first is that a blog post with an embedded original video may perform better in search. For example, the Instacart Shopper Review I created last summer is ranking well in Google, and includes the embedded video interview.
The second theory is that YouTube search is faster and possibly easier to rank. It’s a major discovery channel.
I began to see this with my ActiveCampaign demo video. My written ActiveCampaign review post only has about 15 pageviews from search in the last 30 days. But the video I created has nearly 1000 views.
YouTube has also opened up the side hustle playbook a little bit, in that it gives me liberty to explore different side hustles that wouldn’t necessarily be a good fit for the podcast (like donating plasma or selling tradelines), but are still interesting and viable ways to make extra money.
And I’ve been earning $200-250 a month in YouTube ad revenue, which genuinely feels like my most exciting source of passive income at the moment. I’m closing in on 10,000 subscribers if you want to help me hit that milestone :)
Creating an Editorial Calendar in Asana
Outside of pen and paper, I’ve never really had an official project management system. This quarter I watched a view videos on setting up an editorial calendar in Asana.
That’s been helpful to map out future content. This video by TheSavvyCouple was instrumental in understanding the structure.
It was going great, and then the Coronavirus struck and work slowed to a crawl.
But I am excited to keep using this tool once the world get back to normal.
Streamlining Podcast Production
I attempted to do some “revenue attribution” at the beginning of the year, and the results were somewhat surprising.
For years, I would have told you the podcast drives everything. This attribution exercise suggested otherwise. Yes, the podcast was still a really important channel, but revenue-wise, the blog was bigger.
That led me to re-think my podcast production process, to try and streamline some things.
Among those, you may have noticed, has been creating a few “single take” episodes, where I attempt to do the introductions and ad reads “live” with the guest on the call. These worked out pretty well, but what happened was I built too big an episode backlog, and no longer had the sponsors nailed down that far in advance.
I think you’ll continue to hear a variety of formats as this is something that’s always in evolution.
Switching Recording Platforms
This quarter, Zencastr began giving my guests and I some trouble during recordings. Still, the platform was really reliable for around 150 episodes, so I can’t really complain.
I decided to test out Squadcast instead. So far so good, but time will tell.
Re-Thinking Email Collection
As you might have noticed on the podcast, I’ve shifted away from episode-specific lead magnets for the last year or so, instead trying an SEO-first strategy. If I publish the full summary show notes text on the page itself, could it rank in Google?
Often, the answer is yes.
So I’m playing around with some text-message opt-ins in addition to the traditional podcast leadboxes. I’m using LeadPages for this.
The early results? Not impressive. Apparently only 4 people opted in for Kai’s tips from this episode. (And I think one of those was me to verify it worked!)
Oh well, you never know until you try!
I believe in the power of “podcast guesting” to build relationships, build your audience, and build backlinks.
In fact, some of my biggest spikes in downloads have followed guesting on other relevant shows.
For all those reasons and more, I joined Andrew Allemann’s PodcastGuests.com. I’ve already gotten several bookings from inclusion in his directory.
Re-Publishing 9 Older Posts
I spent some time dusting off older content — some of which was only a few months old — to refresh and re-publish. This is generally for content that’s either timely or already performing well in search.
Once you’ve written something, that’s an asset that can serve you and your audience for years. Make sure to keep it up-to-date so new readers can find and benefit from it.
13 New Blog Posts
Thanks in part to working with more freelance writers, I’ve been able to publish more written content. These were the most popular new posts from the quarter:
- Get Paid to Walk: 40+ Creative Ways to Make $500 a Month or More
- How to Become a Mobile Notary and Make Up to $200 Per Appointment
- 24 Ways to Make Money on Facebook … without Selling Your Soul
Of the new content, about half were created by me and half were guest posts or written by freelancers and edited by me.
Many of these new posts are crawling their way up the search results. My hope is the upfront investment pays off down the road. After all, all my overall top-traffic posts from the quarter were written long ago.
15 Podcast Episodes
The most popular episodes of the quarter were:
- How to Start a Side Hustle: 7 Key Steps
- How to Monetize a Website: 15 Legit Strategies to Try, with Dave Chesson
- Marketing a Local Business on YouTube: $40k on the Side Hosting Walking Tours, with Rob Pitingolo
I did a few solo shows this quarter too, including:
- Decade in Review: My Most Important Moments and Lessons from the 2010s
- My Course Creation Process and Results
- Hunkering Down and Leveling Up: What Can We Do Now? (COVID-19 response)
Is there a particular topic you’d like to hear on an upcoming episode?
Let me know in the comments below!
Cool Biz / Lifestyle Stuff that Happened
I Joined 1% for the Planet
My charitable efforts have historically been really inconsistent. Inevitably I go down a “research rabbit hole,” which just leads to indecision and “cause one-ups-manship.”
But one thing I do really care about is taking care of our only home. It’s a cause that benefits everyone sharing this planet, and future generations, too. Several 1% partners are taking specific actions to help those most impacted by COVID-19 as well.
There was a lot of inspiration for this move, but perhaps the most powerful was when our friends’ 3rd grade daughter organized a “park cleanup.” Even in relatively-clean Livermore, I was appalled by the amount of litter lying around.
Now whenever we go on a walk, I can’t not see it. So thanks for that, Lana :)
In February, I got to hang out with a bunch of friends from the FinCon community up at Lake Tahoe. Even though it hadn’t snowed in weeks, it was still a blast. Friends to ski with are hard to come by!
A Visit from Mom and Dad
We were grateful to get a visit from mom and dad the last week before our “shelter in place” lockdown.
We did lots of hiking and biking.
Little Brother Started Talking So Much!
“He learns more words every day!” –big brother
One silver lining of the kids being out of school is being able to spend more time with them. They’re an endless source of entertainment (and frustration, of course).
But they seem to be playing and interacting more with each other, which is really rewarding to watch. And the little guy (just turned 2) is getting a ton of practice on his Strider bike — he’s getting fast!
His new favorite phrase is, “I not pooping!” To which big brother replies, “That sounds like something a pooping person would say!” I agree — that’s a pretty suspicious thing to say out of the blue :)
What I Read
It was a good quarter for reading.
What is Your What – If you’re looking for a side hustle idea, there are some helpful exercises and prompts in this one from Steve Olsher. (We connected for an interview for Podcast Magazine — thanks Brian Winch for the intro!)
Get a Grip – This was an interesting business parable, but not super applicable for me since I don’t manage a team right now. It shares how a make-believe small business applies Gino Wickman’s Traction framework.
Unstoppable – This was the first of several “productivity” books I read this quarter that spent a great deal of time on health, fitness, and general wellness. It’s a big picture personal case study on the benefits of going keto, but somewhat light on specifics.
The Money Tree – Chris Guillebeau’s latest is a fiction narrative about “finding the fortune in your own backyard.” Among the big highlights for me were the power of a deadline, and to think about a specific offer you can put out into the world. (Make sure to check Chris out on The Side Hustle Show later this week.)
The Power of Full Engagement – I don’t think I made it all the way through this one, but one big idea I took away was the requirement of both stress and recovery for growth. Sprint and rest.
You can’t sprint all the time; it’s a recipe for burnout.
And you can’t rest all the time, or even keep at a steady pace the whole time; because there’s no growth.
- “Happiness has been clearly associated with higher productivity. In short, money may not buy happiness, but happiness may help you get rich.”
- “Is the life I’m living worth what I am giving up to have it?”
Traffic Secrets – I was grateful to get an advance copy of Russell Brunson’s latest. Like his other work, this is filled with tactical ideas on how to get more traffic to your website, or “into your funnels,” if that’s your thing.
He breaks down specific free and paid strategies on podcasting, YouTube, Google, Facebook, Instagram, and more.
Grab a copy for “free” (just pay shipping) here.
The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek’s theory here is that too many business leaders play “to win,” when they should play to “keep playing.” Stop thinking month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter (am I guilty, with these reports??), and start thinking year-to-year, decade-to-decade, or generation-to-generation.
Truth be told, most of these are summarize-able (check out a tool link Blinkist). Depending on where you’re at in your business, Get a Grip and Traffic Secrets are worth digesting page-by-page.
What’s new on your bookshelf?
How’d the quarter shape up for you?
How are you tracking toward your goals?
Hope you’re staying safe and finding ways to navigate this brave new self-isolating world!