Quarterly Progress Report – Q3 2020


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Is there a light at the end of the quarantine tunnel?

Or is it an oncoming train?

It’s Progress Report time!

This is a quarterly habit of mine to revisit:

  • what happened the last 3 months in life and business
  • what projects I worked on — and if they made any impact
  • whether or not I’m better off / happier than I was 3 months ago

Since the pandemic and ensuing lockdown in March, I’ve been through the full range of emotions and anxiety. Lately though — and this could change any minute — I’m feeling more optimistic.

Why’s that?

I think the biggest contributing factor was visiting family in Washington in September. It was a welcome break from the life-of-mostly-isolation we’d been living. The kids were thrilled to see everyone, and everyone was thrilled to see them.

Even if temporary, it was an important reminder about the power of community — something we’d been missing.

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 profitability

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 a little over 6000 visits a day during Q3, about the same as Q2.

q3 2020 website traffic growth

The biggest spikes came from updating my big list of passive income ideas (and sending out an email about it), and having my podcast episode on low startup cost business ideas picked up by Google Discover.

google discover feature

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.

A bit of good news on the SEO front is that the site seems to have mostly recovered from the May 4th algorithm update. Some important pages are still down, but the overall traffic picture in July and August was much better than May and June.

Credit where credit is due: I went through Debbie Gartner’s Easy SEO Revamp course, which was very helpful.

Podcast Downloads

The Side Hustle Show earned over 11,000 downloads a day during Q3. Thanks in part to the “Where are they now?” series at the end of the month, September was actually the biggest download month ever for the show.

q3 2020 podcast growth

Compared to the lows of March and April, the show has grown 25% since then.

It was also a fun podcasting quarter from a creative standpoint as well — more on that below.

Email Subscribers

My email subscriber base grew by an average of 30 subscribers a day last quarter, up to around 74,000 in total now.

I’m still deleting inactive subscribers, and didn’t really do anything differently to try and grow the list.

Interestingly enough, the biggest subscriber spike I saw was when I discovered that around 2000 people who’d opted in weren’t receiving my weekly newsletters. Major marketing fail on that one!

(They were getting the lead magnet I promised but nothing after that.)

My open rates are typically between 22-28%. I’d love to hit 30% consistently!

Best performing subject line this quarter:$60k/year w/ 5-day weekends?” – 30.9% 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!

Overall Profitability

Of course profit is an important metric to track in your business, but I’ve found it to be a “lagging indicator” compared to the others on this page. What I mean by that is if I can improve the other metrics, profits tend to rise.

For the first 3 quarters of 2020, profits are up about 15% compared to 2019. This is a slower pace of growth than the last several years, but considering the state of the world and my limited working hours, I’m really happy with that.

What I’ve Been Working On

1K 100 Ways

I’ve had this project on the back burner for at least 18 months, but finally decided to get started with it.

My basic idea is to crowdsource 100 side hustle success stories from the community and compile those into a book.

Working subtitle: How Real People Are Using the Time, Money, and Skills they Already Have to Cash In.

If you’re looking for ways real people are making extra money, I’m confident you’ll find some ideas and inspiration inside. Click here and I’ll let you know as soon as it’s ready!

Moving Out of the “Cloffice”

My humble closet office (“cloffice”… get it?) was my recording studio / Side Hustle Nation HQ for the last couple years. It was functional and gave us some much-needed space for a crib after our 2nd was born.

But it was about 6 square feet and the lighting was awful — like working in a cave.

So we dismantled it and set up a new standing desk workstation in the corner of our bedroom.

standing desk workstation

The lighting is much better, the desk is way wider, and we even figured out how to rig up Bryn’s camera as the world’s fanciest webcam. Side benefit of her not shooting any weddings this year!

The funny this is I’d actually had this standing desk listed on Offer Up for months, and had a few serious inquiries, but glad I didn’t get rid of it.

I know everyone says to keep work out of the bedroom, but so far we haven’t noticed any sleep issues.

YouTube Experiments

In July, an old “video” I posted (read: a re-purposed podcast episode — this one) went mini-viral on YouTube.

pallet flipping viral video

This is one reason of many I’m taking a more serious look at YouTube.

$1500 passively, in 3 months, from ONE digital asset is tough to ignore.

You start to wonder what it would be like if you had 10 or 20 of these things out in the world collecting views and revenue!

I’m testing YouTube from a few different angles.

1. Re-Purposing Podcast Content

The first is resuming some of the podcast re-purposing I did for years.

I’m using a new-to-me free tool called Headliner to make wav form videos. I think this is an improvement over the static image I used to throw up there.

For the background, I’m including the podcast cover art and images for Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Trying to be fully upfront that this is audio content!

Here’s an example:

LinkedIn Lead Gen Headliner Background

I probably won’t put every episode up on YouTube, but will try and publish the ones I think stand a chance to gain some keyword traffic.

I also created a playlist on my channel called Best of The Side Hustle Show.

Is it working? In terms of view count, most of these videos are between 200-400 views so far. By YouTube standards, nothing to write home about.

Still, you never know where you’re going to connect with your next raving fan, AND you also never know when one of these takes off and jumps to 75,000 views and makes an extra $1000+.

The video that took off in July was published 2 years ago!

2. Shorter Form Interviews

The second YouTube strategy I’m playing around with is shorter form interviews on side hustle ideas I’m interested in. For example, in the last year or so we’ve done videos on:

YouTube gives me an outlet for these types of stories that are still viable ways to make extra money, but for whatever reason, I don’t think they’d justify a full podcast episode.

Plus, I’m also creating written content on the same topic to see if an original, related embedded video can help the article rank in Google.

How are these performing?

These typically run 15-20 minutes, and most popular of these have between 8000 and 30,000 views.

3. Videos Around Existing Blog Content

The third YouTube strategy I’m testing is creating short videos to complement or supplement existing blog content.

I’m curious to test a couple things there:

  1. If you can provide a steady source of outside traffic, in my case, from existing Google traffic, will YouTube start to rank your video higher in its own internal search?
  2. For pages that aren’t already ranking well, will adding a video component improve the perceived value and rankings?

Time will tell, but I have some somewhat encouraging early results. And on top of that, video is a fun new frontier to play around with.

I’ve done 5 of these so far, a couple examples of which are embedded on my passive income and apps that pay you pages. They’re seeing 500-2000 views apiece so far.

This style of video also resulted in me buying a new toy: a DSLR teleprompter. It’s pretty slick! It mirrors the text on your phone and you control it with a bluetooth remote.

I’m only one video in on it so far, but hope to get lots more use out of it. (H/t to Jacques Hopkins for the recommendation!)

17 Podcast Episodes

Perhaps one reason for the download growth was releasing more episodes. The deviation from the weekly schedule came at the end of September with a fun “Where Are They Now?” series with some fan-favorite guests from the archives.

That series included:

It was a blast to catch up with these guests and hear what had changed in their business. But that wasn’t the only change to the programming last quarter.

In July, I moderated a series of head-to-head debate-style shows I called The Side Hustle Showdown series. It featured:

We also did a crowdsourced voicemail clip show on low startup cost business ideas, which was the most popular episode of the quarter, and a couple more casual talk show-style episodes.

4 New Blog Articles

The line has been blurred here for a while on what constitutes a standalone blog post vs. article-length podcast show notes, but for the sake of this number I’m only counting new posts with no accompanying podcast episode.

None of these have really stuck in the search results yet, but the most popular so far has been our list of recession proof business ideas.

Nerdy Stuff…

  • I changed the link color in my ActiveCampaign emails to match the color of links on the site. (Inspired by Matt Giovanisci.)
  • I ran my annual payroll to myself, with a generous 401(k) company match.
  • I bought a cyber liability insurance policy through CoverWallet. Hopefully I’ll never have to use it, but it theoretically provides some protection against hacking-related damages, as well as media liability coverage like defamation claims.

Cool Biz / Lifestyle Stuff that Happened

Lots of play time with the kids. If nothing else quarantine has given us lots of extra bonding time. I think my favorite part of all of this has been taking the time to just notice all the cool stuff that’s all around us.

For example, we’ve examined all sorts of bugs, picked wild grapes, discovered crawdads in the creek, and made up all sorts of new games. (“Tickle fight” is a current fave.)

We go on adventures and take lots of pictures like this:

quarantine selfie

I feel incredibly grateful to have this time with them and not worry about paying the bills.

Lots of wild blackberries. It was our best crop in 13 years of living here, probably thanks to reduced competition!

Vacation in Washington. In September we loaded up the car and headed north. We drove all night and made record time.

This was a welcome break from our routine for the previous 6 months, and I think helped ease our sanity a bit. Plus Uncle Chris showed us this sweet semi-secret waterfall trail:

hiking in washington

Published the 400th episode of The Side Hustle Show. When I started I don’t think I ever imagined doing 400, but I found it was something really rewarding as a connector and as a creative outlet.

(If you’re thinking of starting a podcast, definitely check out my buddy Pete’s free training.)

Binged Hardcore History. It’s hard to over-state how good Dan Carlin is at his craft. I’ve been working my way through the World War II in the Pacific saga and it’s excellent. These bluetooth earbuds changed my life.

What I Read

My Kindle habit started off strong this quarter, but then fizzled out toward the end.

The System

If you’re a college football fan, you owe it to yourself to check out The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College FootballThere were some exceptionally uncomfortable sections in here, exploring the good, bad, and ugly in the high-stakes industry of college athletics.

Thanks to Spencer Haws for the recommendation!

Artemis

I really enjoyed Andy Weir’s other book, The Martian, so decided to dive into the follow-up. Artemis is based on a moon colony in the not-so-distant future. It was fun, but not as fun as Ready Player One (below).

Ready Player One

I’d heard only great things about Ready Player One, and it lived up to the hype, even though I’m not much of a gamer and missed some of the 80s pop-culture references.

I haven’t seen the movie yet but would be curious to see how it compares.

Thanks to Dave Chesson (and others) for the rec!

The Wright Brothers

I loved The Wright Brothers biography as a snapshot into what life was like 120 years ago, but also as an example of doing what had never been done before.

The Wrights did their whole airplane business as a side hustle to their bike shop! I loved how they approached every problem methodically and with an iterative process. They preserved through some pretty rough conditions, including a very public, near-fatal crash.

Thanks to Chad Carson for the rec!

Your Turn

How’d the quarter shape up for you?

How are you tracking toward your goals?

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3 thoughts on “Quarterly Progress Report – Q3 2020”

  1. Thanks for the info! We’ll have to check out the SEO course. We’re just beginning to expand beyond Facebook Ads and our email newsletter by beginning to blog again after a long break. SEO improvement is a big goal for the rest of this year for us as well.

    Reply
  2. Love the stand up desk set up. Need to do that myself.

    Have you looked into repurpose.io It puts your podcast on to youtube and other places. Mine is set to do it automatically. $20 a month I think.

    Reply
  3. Thanks for the transparent report and inspiration Nick. I’m reading How I Built this by Guy Raz and One Million Followers by Brendan Kane. Kane has moved me to turn off FB ads that aren’t performing, tweaking creative, rather riding them out.

    I’m also taking Andy Crestodina’s advice at Orbit and spending more promo time on Pinterest rather than Instagram because of the linkback traffic. My side hustle at Eat Drink Dive became a full-time thing in July when I lost my job. I’m happy to say the #s are going straight up though it’s a LOT of work as you know.

    Reply

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