Progress report time! I’ve been doing these quarterly progress reports for the last few years.
I find this exercise a helpful time to evaluate what happened over the last 3 months, to see what you got done, and to ask if you’re happier or otherwise better off than you were when you started.
So am I?
I think so!
Our 2nd son was born at the beginning of April, so it was a pretty light quarter work-wise. Day to day, most of my efforts have been going toward the podcast.
I’ve been a little stressed about just being in “maintenance mode” — struggling to keep up with the email and weekly production of The Side Hustle Show, and not really moving forward with any major new initiatives.
It’s a frustrating feeling, but at the same time, business is good (up 40% from last year), so I can’t complain too much.
Of course there will always be more to do, but I’m trying to recognize the “season” of life for what it is: an opportunity to spend time with Bryn while she’s on maternity leave, help with baby stuff, and unplug to chase a toddler around when he’s home from preschool.
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, Side Hustle Nation turned 5 years old, so you’re looking at about 1800 days of effort here.
Growth of the Nation
There are 3 main metrics I track:
- Website traffic
- Podcast downloads
- Email subscribers
The latter is the most important.
Blog traffic growth:
Side Hustle Nation earned about 4400 visits a day during the quarter. That’s up about 25% compared with the same time period last year, but trending slightly down over the last 3 months and down vs Q1 as well.
(Q1 is historically a strong period. My theory is people are looking for new business ideas to start in the new year.)
Most of the spikes on the traffic chart coincide with my Thursday email newsletter.
The good news is my organic traffic from Google has been very consistent, and that’s been a primary focus. I’m trying to optimize each new post to get free evergreen traffic and make sure the posts that are already ranking are relevant, sticky, and (if applicable) monetized.
Podcast download growth:
After passing 5 million lifetime downloads during Q1, The Side Hustle Show averaged 6200 downloads a day in Q2.
The most popular episodes were the $60k a year part-time blog, James Johnson’s freelance writing lessons, and Abbey Ashley’s journey from active to passive income. Those have all been downloaded more than 25,000 times each so far.
And after a year-long plateau, it’s encouraging to see the show beginning to see signs of growth again. There’s a lot that goes into each episode so hopefully the upward trend continues!
I actually updated some of my iTunes settings after this chat with Jonathan from ChooseFI, who challenged new podcasters to think of how new listeners will find them.
Email list growth:
This is probably the most important metric of all, and I added close to 6000 net new subscribers during the quarter.
That’s actually a slower pace of growth than what I’ve seen during certain periods in the past, but I’m testing some less aggressive email capture strategies.
(For example, including some of the content that would have traditionally required an opt-in directly on the site.)
My theory is that could help with SEO and perhaps lead to more engaged subscribers.
The little dip on the chart is a “mini-purge” I did to remove some inactive subscribers — people who hadn’t opened an email in 6 months. I plan to do that a little more regularly going forward.
I’ve been sending weekly newsletters on Thursday (well, almost every week) for the last 5 years, but I’m re-thinking that strategy a little bit lately as well. Active Campaign has some powerful filtering / segmentation options so maybe there’s a smarter way I should be communicating.
What I’ve Been Working On
It was another weird quarter work-wise. With a new baby in the house, a steady stream of visitors/helpers, and Bryn home on maternity leave, “deep work” hustle time was extremely limited.
One of my main areas of focus was trying to get ahead on the podcast. Crazy, but every week another Thursday rolls around and the show must go on!
Building a Story Brand
If you haven’t read Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand, I highly recommend it.
I read this in the early morning hours holding a baby, and it took a while to implement (really still a work in progress), but it’s well worth it.
You’ll learn the common structure of the best stories (books, movies), and how to position YOUR business just like the “guide” character in those stories. Let your customer be Luke; you be Yoda.
You can even fill out a full “brand script” online and watch quick explanation videos for each part. Here’s what mine looked like:
As a result of this book (and my conversation with copywriting pro Laura Belgray), I’ve actually been re-working the home page of Side Hustle Nation:
There are still a few tweaks I need to make, especially on mobile, but overall I think it does a much better job. (It’s purposely not as aggressively conversion rate optimized as it could be.)
Working with a Podcast Coach
As important as The Side Hustle Show is to me and my business, I probably haven’t been reinvesting into it as much as I should.
For that reason, I took the plunge and began working with a podcast coach for the first time.
Dave Farough (let him know I sent you!) has a long history of radio experience and has been helping me with some subtle suggestions for improvement. I think you’ll notice those in episodes starting this month.
Selling Out Sponsorships
Ad spots on The Side Hustle Show are just about sold out for the rest of the year, with just a couple pre-roll spots remaining.
It feels great to not have to think too much about that side of the business for the next several months.
Gmail shortcuts have been around for years, but I never took the time to learn them until recently.
They’ll make you feel like a productivity boss as you fly through your inbox.
Side note: my mastermind members say this is a perfect example of focusing on the wrong thing. Hire someone to triage email for you, they said, instead of trying to make incremental gains processing it faster.
That’s probably fair.
Adding Pinterest Followers
My Pinterest assistant and I are trying to figure out the best ways to drive traffic from the popular content discovery site.
I was surprised when a rep from Pinterest HQ contacted us to talk about growing the account following. By encouraging my email subscribers to follow Side Hustle Nation on Pinterest, we added another 1000 followers to the account, but traffic from the site is still relatively flat.
Every now and then a pin will go medium-viral and I’ll see a spike, but I’d still like to see more traffic.
I’ve also started to use consistent fonts and colors for my pins, which should at least my boards look nicer. For what it’s worth.
7 Blog Posts
I have not prioritized writing time lately. In fact, I think this post is my first since the last progress report!
To keep the content flowing, I’ve been relying on guest writers and even experimenting with paid freelancers for the first time.
(The 90+ Best Affiliate Programs for Recurring Commissions was mostly outsourced.)
The most popular posts of the quarter were:
- Direct Marketing: How We Made $30,000 from a 3-Page Website with No Traffic
- 35 of the Best Fiverr Gigs to Start and Grow Your Business
- The best affiliate programs post linked above.
For each new article I write (with the exception of progress reports like these), I’m trying to be conscious of HOW the post will generate traffic and revenue as a standalone asset.
13 Podcast Episodes
Even though the podcast numbers have kind of plateaued, I feel like I’m practicing my craft and getting better each week. I don’t know if that shows in the listening experience, but I’ve got a process in place for producing the shows I feel good about.
The most popular episodes of the quarter were:
- 27 “Weird” Productivity Hacks You Can Try Today
- How to Build a $60k a Year Part-Time Blog, with Brett Lindenberg
- From Active to Passive Income: From $25 an Hour to 6-Figure Launches, with Abbey Ashley
The podcast was my main focus for the quarter as I keep trying to get ahead. This time, it was to build a little breathing room in advance of a month-long stint away from the office.
Practicing Early Retirement
This is more of a mindset game than any specific project or tactic. When I feel stressed out, I try and ask myself, “What would a retired person do?”
It’s my little reminder that every deadline in my business is self-imposed and it’s all voluntary.
“What would a retired person do?”
A retired person would prioritize their workout, bike or walk their kid to preschool, go on lunch dates with their wife, stop checking email at night, that sort of thing.
I think it’s helping :)
Starting a Month Away From the Office
Also we embarked on a month-long adventure to visit friends and family in Seattle, and to do some exploring/relaxing in Mexico. Gotta make the most of that maternity leave and take advantage of this location-independent business!
What I Bought
Here’s a new section in the report to highlight my favorite or perhaps most interesting purchases from the last 3 months.
My new upstairs “cloffice” set up is working great, but the problem is the webcam looks directly at a bright window, making it horribly backlit.
My solution? This giant Side Hustle Show banner that blocks the window. Plus a little more branding never hurts, right?
It was surprisingly affordable from HalfPriceBanners.com. Check ’em out!
The banner combined with this “selfie” LED light actually makes for a decent video setup. (Bryn calls it my “Kardashian light”.)
I had heard about getting some baseline blood tests done years ago from either Tim Ferriss or Scott Britton, but never actually did it.
Well this quarter curiosity finally got the best of me and I wanted to see if was in good shape “inside.” I did the “Baseline” test from WellnessFX to find out.
Thankfully there were no surprises in the results, and most areas checked came back in the green:
I think it’s definitely an interesting service and will probably do it again next year or if I start to feel changes in health/energy.
Brain Octane Oil
It’s part of my effort to eat more healthy fats (and fewer carbs/sugars), and attempt to practice intermittent fasting — basically not eating between 7pm and 11am.
Ever tried this stuff?
I can’t say I feel noticeably smarter or more alert, but it does seem to provide lasting energy in the mornings.
Cool Biz / Lifestyle Stuff that Happened
Little Hustler #2!
We’ve kept our new addition alive for 3 months already! He’s doing great and is way easier than his brother was — so much less barf :)
And big brother has only made him bleed once so far, so we’ll count that as a win! In all seriousness, he’s been a very sweet older sibling and can’t wait for a playmate.
Lots of Visitors
We had a steady stream of family at our place helping out with the baby and entertaining his brother. Since we live a couple states away, it was great to see everyone.
I never used to click on the little circular “stories” buttons at the top of Instagram, but this quarter I found myself checking them out — and adding my own for the first time.
Check me out on Instagram to follow along :)
I finally got around to scheduling another Bay Area meetup for local side hustlers and had a great turnout in Oakland. One attendee even brought this amazing 3D-printed Iron Man helmet as a gift!
Because it’s not always rainbows and unicorns.
A Bunch of Sites Got Hacked
“Um, you might want to check your website.”
That’s not a text you want to see!
Several of my smaller sites fell victim to a malware infection and were redirecting to some spam sites. It took a few days and a couple different services to get everything straightened out.
These were mostly neglected properties so it wasn’t a huge deal, but it was still a pain to have to deal with, and you just feel dirty and violated that someone “broke into” your virtual house.
I used a combo of WP Fix It and a seller on Fiverr to get them cleaned up. After that, I changed all the passwords, installed a backup plugin, and a security plugin. And then I set a calendar reminder to go in every month and update the themes and plugins!
Kidney Stones in the Sky
About 10 minutes after our flight took off for our month-long adventure, I got attacked by a kidney stone.
It made the short flight from Oakland to Seattle the longest of my life!
Super painful but grateful for the Southwest flight attendants and the hospital ER staff who helped me out.
What I Read
I actually had a decent amount of reading time this quarter, most of it being up super early in the morning holding a baby on the couch.
It made me super grateful for the Kindle and not having to physically turn the pages!
Building a Story Brand
Like I mentioned above, this was the most important book I read this quarter. I took action on it and am implementing some changes on the site as a direct result.
Definitely worth checking out.
The Everything Store
This is the history of Amazon through 2013 or 2014. It was fascinating to learn more about the ins and outs of this company that is at the center of so many side hustles.
The author does a good job of balancing all the positive things they’ve accomplished with their sometimes ruthless business practices and sometimes toxic internal culture.
American Kingpin tracks the rise and fall of The Silk Road, a dark net site where apparently people could (and did!) buy and sell all sorts of illegal goods.
Since I never heard about this when it was actually going on — and the main character spends a good amount of time in nearby San Francisco — I thought it was awesome.
A real life page turner :)
Work Less Make More
James Schramko’s Work Less Make More is a quick read that will inspire you to focus on the few things that really matter in your business.
My favorite parts were his discussion of EHR; your Effective Hourly Rate and his definition of a business as “an offer that converts.”
I think you’ll like it. Well worth the $6 (current Kindle price).
How’d the last quarter shape up for you?
How are you tracking toward your goals?