Quarterly Progress Report – Q2 2021


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Heyo! How’s 2021 treating you far?

Hard to to believe the year’s already half over!

It didn’t feel like I “shipped” a lot in Q2, but we did do some travel and was mostly off with the kids 4-5 days a week, so no complaints there.

In these quarterly Progress Reports, I break down how the business grew (or shrunk), what I worked on, and the books I read over the course of the last three months.

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
  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 almost 8100 visits a day during Q2, and traffic was pretty consistent throughout the quarter.

q2 2021 website traffic

This is despite only publishing one new non-podcast blog post. The archive content keeps humming along nicely, though I definitely need to dedicate more resources to publishing more if I’d like to see that traffic continue to climb.

The tallest spike on the chart came when I got this notice from Google Search Console, that one of my pages was “trending in Search”:

one of your pages is trending in search

That’s always cool to see! But not sure if it was a sudden shift in the position or a sudden spike of users searching for the target keywords.

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

google discover q2 2021

Those were on becoming a Salesforce consultant and starting a party entertainment 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 close to 10,000 downloads a day during Q2, which is awesome, but is kind of stuck in a plateau.

q2 2021 podcast downloads

I had a couple experiments in mind to try and grow the audience — only one of which I got to try — and I’ll share more about that below.

Email Subscribers

I added around 85 new email subscribers per day last quarter, but also deleted around 7000 inactive subscribers and had natural attrition/unsubscribes actually account for the list to shrink to around 74,500 in total now.

q2 2021 email list growth

It’s always painful to delete people, but if they’re never opening your stuff, there’s not much point in keeping ’em around.

I didn’t do many podcast-specific lead magnets like I did in Q1, but did add some in-content opt-in forms to popular posts, inspired by this episode with Matt Giovanisci. Those simple forms (created with Beaver Builder) have added around 1000 new subscribers so far.

Those look like this:

Too Many Choices?

Start here instead. Punch in your name and email below I'll show you step-by-step how to add $500 to your bottom line.

Join the Free 5-Day $500 Challenge

You'll also receive my best side hustle tips and weekly-ish newsletter. Opt-out anytime.

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

A New Email Welcome Sequence

One project I feel like I spent in a disproportionate amount of brainpower on was a new email welcome sequence. I called it the $500 Challenge, which was designed to get new subscribers some quick wins on their side hustle journey.

It promotes some easy ways to save money, get free money, get paid for your opinion, and other quick-start side hustles. The sequence is primarily monetized with affiliate offers, though I haven’t seen any measurable increase in income for those programs.

The open rates are actually slightly lower than the circa-2017 welcome sequence this replaced:

500 challenge open rates

I also created an upsell offer for a companion workbook, which I made in Canva. It’s converting at an underwhelming 3%, and generated $292 in sales last quarter.

For the time I put into this project, I can’t say I’m thrilled with the results.

Podcast Growth Experiments

One popular podcast growth tactic is arranging “pod-swaps” with similar shows. This is where you each drop a “bonus” episode of your show into the other show’s feed, usually with a quick intro/explanation.

I reached out to several hosts with similar or complementary audiences, and ended up making two of these deals in Q2.

In April, I aired bonus episodes from Steve Chou’s My Wife Quit Her Job podcast and Omar Zenhom’s $100 MBA podcast. In return, they each added an episode of The Side Hustle Show into their feeds.

But as you can see from the podcast download chart above, it didn’t really drive any measurable audience growth.

The other tactic I’d hoped to try was an incentive referral program.

My thought was it would be cool to reward word-of-mouth sharing by giving away swag, gift cards, or even free or discounted access to my products.

I signed on with Glow.fm to create that program and provide tracking. The price was right at $20/month, but the functionality was non-existent.

To make any edits to your referral program, you have to email them. Initially they were really responsive, but after a month of no replies, I had to cancel my subscription.

Have you seen anyone do something similar? Or do you have a referral tracking software you love?

I’ve got a couple higher profile guest appearances coming up in Q3, so we’ll see if that helps grow the listenership again.

Updated Side Hustle Nation and Side Hustle Show Branding

Side Hustle Nation was long-overdue a branding refresh. I wanted something cleaner and less “comic-book-y” than the old logo, which had been in place since 2017.

old vs new cover art and logo

I think it’s an improvement.

One question I’ve gotten was why not put my name and face on the podcast cover art? It’s definitely the standard in the entrepreneurial podcast space, with 19 of the top 24 shows doing it:

top entrepreneurship podcasts new cover art

But the show is much more about the guests than it is about me. If I added my mug, I wish there was a good way to split test it. Maybe I’ll add my name at least.

What do you think? Should podcast cover art have the host on it? Something like this?

side hustle show cover art concept

Operation Tool Swap

This project isn’t exclusive to the last three months, but one thing that’s been fun to play around with is this cost-cutting exercise. I call it “Operation Tool Swap” … because every project needs a cool name, right?

The idea — just like playing the substitution game with your personal expenses — is to find a better / faster / cheaper alternative to the tools you’re using in your business.

I feel like I’m pretty good at avoiding the AppSumo rabbit hole, but it’s still easy to get sucked into $9.99 a month here, $15 a month there, and it starts to add up to some serious expenses.

Here are some of the tool swaps I’ve made so far (or would like to make soon).

Optin Monster –> Beaver Builder + Beaver Popups

Optin Monster is a super powerful email collection software, but I wasn’t using it to its full capability. Mainly I just had an opt-in form below my blog posts.

In taking Matt Giovanisci’s PageSpeed for Bloggers course, I realized Optin Monster was slowing down my site and I could accomplish the same functionality with a tool I already had — Beaver Builder.

I don’t get any of the fancy Optin Monster analytics, but I never looked at those anyway.

I was also using LeadPages to power some click-triggered popups on a few pages, but it was loading javascript on every page throughout the site. With the Beaver Popups plugin, I could build my own without the load time burden.

(I’m still keeping my annual LeadPages subscription for landing pages and some lead magnet delivery.)

Savings: $228/year

Dropbox –> Google Drive

This move dropped my cloud storage from 2 TB on Dropbox for $119.88 per year to 100 GB on Google One for $20. Since I’d only ever used a small fraction of my Dropbox storage, this was a pretty easy move.

I mainly use Google Drive for sharing podcast files and other working documents.

Savings: $100/year

PicMonkey –> Canva

I’m loving Canva lately for creating Pinterest images, YouTube thumbnails, custom blog graphics, and even workbooks that accompany my courses or email sequences. The free plan has been working well so far.

Savings: $48/year

Squadcast —> Zencastr

Squadcast was great for remote podcast recordings, until it developed a weird echo, even when guests were wearing headphones.

When they didn’t want to jump on a quick test call to troubleshoot, I jumped back to the free alternative.

Savings: $240/year

Other Potential Tool Swaps:

  • ScheduleOnce —> TidyCal – I bought a lifetime license to TidyCal, thinking I could save the $50 a year for ScheduleOnce, but haven’t fully committed to the switch yet.
  • GoDaddy —> Namecheap – I spent around $800 in the last 12 months on domains and renewals. I’m sure switching registrars would save some money, but it’s kind of a pain so I haven’t prioritized it yet.

Have you made any tool swaps in your business recently?

One of the more creative ones I’ve seen was Pete McPherson’s dual email service provider setup: ActiveCampaign for funnels/automation, and Flodesk for newsletters.

$1K 100 Ways

This book project is finally coming together! I reviewed all the edits, finalized the stories, recruited some “beta” readers, and even got some votes on a few cover design concepts:

1k 100 ways cover design votes

Progress!

14 Podcast Episodes

The most popular episodes of the quarter were:

I also had the chance to digitize my valedictorian speech from 20 years ago! (Check your Side Hustle Show podcast feed in mid-June to give it a listen.)

1 All-New Blog Post (and Several Updated Posts)

This may have been a record low for new written content production, but this post and video interview on how to start a pressure washing business has already climbed to the bottom of page one in Google.

Beyond that, as is becoming routine, I updated and re-published several of the archive posts, including:

Cool Biz and Lifestyle Stuff That Happened

Washington Visit

Over Memorial Day week we took a road trip and drove up to Washington to visit family. We lucked out with some unseasonably warm weather, which resulted in lots of opportunities to jump in the lake.

summer in may

Lots of Pool Time

Back in California, we’re taking full advantage of the community pool being open again. It was such a bummer to have had it closed all last year!

Both Boys Riding to School

Another cool milestone is both boys — at 5 and 3 — riding their own bikes to school. They’re always the only ones using the bike rack!

What I Read

Tax-Free Wealth

I was optimistically hoping for some “secret” tax strategy to save some money, but didn’t find many silver bullets here.

For example, real estate depreciation is a fantastic deduction, as long as you never sell the property. If you have kids you could employ in your business, there might be some strategies for you as well.

The book read like a giant ad for the author’s tax advising firm (good for him!), and the anti-government rants were tiring.

Profit from Your Podcast

Dave Jackson is one of the original podcast teachers, and his book has a ton of great examples of how to monetize a podcast — even if you don’t have a huge audience.

It was a lot of fun reading through since there were lots of familiar names and friends from attending Podcast Movement over the years.

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 this one, 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!

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.

Elon Musk

We had this one on audiobook during our drive to and from Washington. I always love to learn the behind-the-scenes stories of big companies. Incredible feats of engineering at both SpaceX and Tesla.

Brainiac

I remember watching Ken Jennings make his historic Jeopardy! run when I was in college, and this was kind of the back-story of how that happened. To add page count, this book makes lots of detours into the esoteric world of trivia competitions and game show history. I found myself paging ahead for many of those.

There’s lots of fun trivia baked into the narrative (I didn’t score too well!), and I can get on board with the argument that some level of common cultural knowledge brings us closer together.

What’s Next?

On deck for Q3, here’s what I’m working on:

  • Figuring out better ways to leverage the Side Hustle Nation Facebook group, which has doubled in size in 12 months. Initial attempts to get better at collecting emails from new members haven’t had amazing results.
  • $1K 100 Ways book launch.
  • The Traffic Course re-launch.
  • Building a bigger podcast episode backlog.
  • One big scary surprise!

Your Turn

How’d the quarter shape up for you?

How are you tracking toward your goals?

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