Quarterly Progress Report – Q1 2021


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How did the first part of 2021 stack up for you?

Are you better off than you were 3 months ago?

Over here, I’m actually feeling pretty sharp physically and mentally so far this year. I’ve been fired up ever since my “Masterpiece Days” chat with Brian Johnson.

Some positive habits:

  • Eating well (avoiding processed foods, refined sugar, and alcohol)
  • Intermittent fasting – generally going 14-17 hours in between dinner and lunch. I usually have some coffee with collagen and MCT oil powder mid-morning, which might not technically count as fasting.
  • Meditation – I finally broke down and got a Muse headband, which has both Bryn and I being much more consistent with our practice.

Plus, I pre-sold a new product and built it out over the last month and a half. Whenever I’ve got a concrete project to work on (and a deadline) I feel much more effective.

So all in all, off to a good start this year.

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 3 main metrics I track:

  1. Website traffic
  2. Podcast downloads
  3. Email subscribers

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 almost 7000 visits a day during Q1, which was about the same as the same time period last year.

q1 2021 pageviews

I wouldn’t say there were any major traffic wins or windfalls during the quarter. I saw a bump in early January related to New Years Resolutions and people researching various side hustle ideas, but that was short-lived.

Still, since the majority of this traffic is from Google, and most of it goes to content that was NOT written this quarter, it’s a testament to producing quality, evergreen resources. Those types of posts can serve you and readers for a long time — compared to posts like this that no one will probably read after a week :)

Interestingly, a couple posts / podcast episodes were picked up on Google Discover, but didn’t really result in noticeable spikes in the overall traffic chart.

q1 2021 Google Discover performance

Those were on starting a hot tub rental business and starting a charcuterie board business. And previously Google featured 11 Creative Side Hustles, so maybe there’s a pattern of them liking content that’s a little more unique?

(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!

Podcast Downloads

The Side Hustle Show earned 10,000 downloads a day during Q1. That’s actually down a bit compared with 2020, so I’ve got some work to do to get the audience growing again.

q1 2021 podcast downloads

The best-performing release days were:

Email Subscribers

My email subscriber base grew by an average of 43 net new subscribers a day last quarter, up to around 78,000 in total now.

q1 2021 email list growth

One of my main focuses this quarter was reviving the list growth, which I tried to do primarily through new lead magnets promoted on the podcast. (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!

What I’ve Been Working On

The Traffic Course

My biggest project this quarter was an online course to help bloggers and online business owners get more targeted traffic to their websites.

Compared to other courses I’ve attempted to launch in the past, the initial response to this was off the charts — in a good way. Here’s a brief re-cap of my process.

Before creating any of the content, I sent out an email asking “should I build this?”, and outlining what I had in mind.

I put a low-low introductory price tag on it and said if I got 20 sales I’d build it. It was exciting to hit that 20 sale mark in the first few hours, and end up with over 100 total orders by the time the pre-sale ended.

(I registered TheTrafficCourse.com and set up a simple sales page using Teachable. It was definitely one of those times you search a domain and are thrilled when it’s available!)

After some input from my mastermind, I decided to drip out the content as I created it — rather than waiting until it was all recorded. So glad they nudged me in that direction!

I think that helped keep some of the excitement and momentum alive, instead of waiting almost 6 weeks to drop everything all at once. Plus, we held weekly live Q&A Office Hours via Zoom, and those were fun as well.

HARO and PR

I spent some time and money this quarter on PR, basically trying to earn high-authority backlinks from press outlets.

The best free resource to do this is Help a Reporter.

When you sign up you’ll get 3 emails a day with requests from journalists. I don’t read every email but did reply to several inquiries and did earn some quotes and links as a result.

Some of the biggest wins included:

As far as best practices, lead with your credentials and make them relevant to the query. For example, in the first line or two of my pitch, I’ll mention that I’m the founder of Side Hustle Nation, the author of multiple books, and a TEDx speaker.

For new bloggers, your best bet at earning links may to target “roundup” queries. These posts are looking for multiple sources so it’s easier to get your answer quoted.

I have a Gmail filter set up to automatically “star” HARO emails that contain the words “side hustle” but you could set something similar up for your keyword or “roundup” / “round-up”.

haro star filter for your keyword

Episode-Specific Opt-Ins

In an effort to revive the growth of my email list, 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.

In Q1, I created:

I also included these 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 1500 times, which is encouraging. It’s also interesting to see the types of files that have performed best.

Next up — revamping the welcome sequences that people receive after they join.

Re-sending the Newsletter to People Who Didn’t Open

I’ve been sending emails to Side Hustle Nation subscribers almost every Thursday since 2013.

What I started testing this quarter was re-sending those newsletters on Saturday to the people who didn’t open them.

It’s early, but I’m encouraged by the results. The regular Thursday broadcasts see a 23-26% open rate. These re-sends are seeing anywhere from a 5-18% open rate!

Mechanically, I’m changing the subject line and the first few lines of the message. This does take a little extra time, but for the incremental exposure and engagement, I think it’s worth it.

On any given week, this little tactic results in thousands more people seeing my content and bumps the overall open rate to 28-40%.

Cool Biz and Lifestyle Stuff That Happened

Started Our Oldest on Skis

Little Hustler #1 turned 5 this winter, so it was time to strap some skis on him! It’s so cool to begin sharing a life-long hobby of mine with him, just like my dad did with my brother and me.

We ended up making 7 trips (so far?) and he never complained about the 2.5 hour drives (each way!), wiping out, or being too cold. Such a trooper.

And awesome to see his progress from Day 1 wedging down the Magic Carpet to ripping down the blue squares!

skiing selfie

We also tried Little Hustler #2 just before his 3rd birthday … and let’s just say it was at least a year early. We did a few laps on the chairlift but there was a lot of just flopping over.

Dry January and Dry February (and Mostly Dry March)

Without really intending to, I ended up doing an alcohol-free January. Not that I was drinking a ton before, but it felt great so I kept the streak going in February.

In March, I celebrated an epic powder day with dad with a delicious IPA … and promptly felt like garbage the next morning. Totally not worth it!

This is not the first time I’ve felt disproportionately awful relative to the amount I’ve consumed, so I’m not sure if I’m just out of practice (which isn’t a horrible thing!) or if there’s something else going on.

Broke 1000 Miles on the E-bike

I’ve now clocked in over 1000 miles on the GenZe e-bike I bought in 2018. The cool thing is these are almost all “transportation” miles, rather than recreational riding, meaning that’s 1000 miles I didn’t put on the car.

Cashed in our Aluminum Can Collection

The boys and I have been collecting aluminum cans while we’re out on our bike rides as a way to clean up the neighborhood and show them how they can earn some money.

We went to the recycling center and cashed in for $5.45! Free money for the win.

Building a More Consistent Meditation Habit

If all it was going to take was to buy a silly $200 brainwave-sensing headband, I should have done it years ago! But ever since getting a Muse, both Bryn and I have been WAY more consistent with our meditation efforts.

And what’s interesting is where before I’d set the timer on my phone for 5 minutes and struggle to get through it, more often than not now with the headband and app, I feel like I could go much longer. So I’ve stretched the sessions to 8, 9, 10 minutes at a time.

Of course to people who’ve been meditating for years, that’s nothing, but it’s a big deal over here. And while it could totally be some placebo effect, I do feel calmer perhaps as a result.

In our Masterpiece Days episode with Brian Johnson, he told the story of his wall calendar with some of the habits and daily goals he has. Each time he checks one off, he described giving himself a little high-five and saying, “That’s like me!”

That story has been on my mind ever since that recording, and I’ve caught myself saying “that’s like me!” in my mind when I do my workout, prioritize that meditation, avoid the temptation of eating junk food, or don’t pour that drink.

8 New Blog Posts

I spent some time this quarter, like every quarter it seems, updating and re-publishing old content, but also cranked out several new articles. As always, my hope for those is they can turn into evergreen assets that drive traffic for the business.

None have hit the traffic jackpot so far, but the most popular have been:

12 New Podcast Episodes

The most popular were the $550k Side Hustle, linked above, and:

What I Read

Undaunted Courage

This 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 70 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.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman

Subtitled “Adventures of a Curious Character”, this is a collection of stories by Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize-winning physicist. His curiosity and open-ness to trying things a different way definitely come through, but I didn’t finish the book.

The Common Path to Uncommon Success

John Lee Dumas was gracious enough to send me an advanced review copy of his newly-released book, and it’s a good one. You heard John on the show a couple weeks ago, sharing some of the ideas and concepts inside, and I shared over email how I liked his advice to be willing to be “the worst.”

By that, he meant niche down until you can say you’re the only person or company in the world that does __________.

In his case, Entrepreneurs on Fire was the only daily podcast for entrepreneurs. By default, it was the best game in town … and also the worst. Where can you be the only?

And remember Jonathan Mendonsa’s advice from ChooseFI — if you can’t be first, be different.

Through that lens, both my footwear comparison shopping site and my virtual assistant review site fit that bill. The shoe site was the only comparison shopping site dedicated to footwear, and the VA site was the only directory and review platform for outsourcing companies.

But like I shared in that episode with John, I actually had to set the book down for a couple weeks to go and implement one of his suggestions. And that was pre-selling a solution you know your audience needs. In my case, the problem was people not getting enough traffic to their website, and the solution was The Traffic Course.

But following John’s advice, I pre-sold it to make sure it was something people really wanted.

Ready Player Two

The sequel Ready Player One wasn’t as strong, but still had a compelling storyline.

Super Human

It’s hard to tell where the science ends and the sales begins in this one from Dave Asprey. I’ll hand it to Dave — he’s hands-down one of the best content marketers on the planet. (In fact, my understanding is the whole Bulletproof brand and empire started as a blog.)

But just about every chapter in this book follows a Problem, Agitate, Solve framework, with many of the solutions being to buy Bulletproof-branded supplements or invest in some other product or service where Dave happens to be an advisor/part-owner in the company.

In any case, rather than pumping yourself full of supplements on a quest to live to 180 (Dave’s publicly stated goal), my takeaways were to focus on the fundamentals of solid nutrition, fitness, and sleep.

What’s Next?

Projects on the horizon include:

  • Finalizing the $1K 100 Ways book. This project has taken WAY longer than I ever expected to, but I think it will be a cool resource when it’s done. Hopefully we’re on the home stretch.
  • Re-thinking the Side Hustle Nation email welcome sequence(s). I think I could do a better job on these, considering most are at least 3 years old now.
  • Podcast growth experiments. I’ve got a couple ideas I’d like to test out here, including some sort of referral program, but I’ll let you know how it goes … or more likely you’ll hear some of the experiments on air!

Your Turn

How’d the quarter shape up for you?

How are you tracking toward your goals?

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1 thought on “Quarterly Progress Report – Q1 2021”

  1. 1st part of 2021 ? BAD, this is why I am on this site to make my financial life better. I will report back at the end of 2021 of things getting BETTER!

    Reply

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