One of the best ways to figure out how to better serve your customers or your audience is to, well, ask them.
So I set out to create my (annual?) member survey and see if I could get some insights into where readers and listeners are at in their side hustle journey, what types of businesses you’re working on, and what your biggest challenges are.
I also wanted to find out about how you first discovered Side Hustle Nation, your #1 goal for the year, and what you’d like to see me cover here in the future.
My Survey Requirements:
- Short – I wanted to be respectful of subscribers’ time, and also knew this would improve response rate.
- Mobile-friendly – Since I was only sending the survey invite via email, it had to be mobile-responsive.
- Actionable – I wanted to be able to DO something with the results! Not much point in going through this exercise if it doesn’t result in any new action.
The Set Up
Instead of dedicated survey software like Survey Monkey, I went with my tried-and-true Google Forms.
It’s easy to set up and edit, and all the responses get dumped into a handy spreadsheet for you.
I like it because it’s simple and you can choose between multiple choice, free-response, optional questions, and you have decision logic on pagination of where to send people based on what answer they select.
The design may not be the prettiest in the world, but it is mobile responsive.
Oh, and it’s free. :)
My survey this year had 7 questions, mostly multiple-choice, split over 4 pages. I broke up the questions on different pages because I reasoned having all 7 questions on one page might seem intimidating and hurt the completion rate.
Plus Google Forms will show a little progress bar that completionists like me really want to see hit 100% once I start.
Marketing the Survey
I sent out one dedicated email asking subscribers to complete the survey, and sent a reminder in the weekly newsletter a few days later.
To give people an incentive to complete it, I gave away 2 free 30-minute consultations. Here’s the message I sent:
It’s time for the third-annual Side Hustle Nation member survey!
Last year I got over 500 awesome responses — but we’ve grown quite a bit since then.
These few quick questions will help guide the direction of Side Hustle Nation for the rest of this year.
Your responses help me better understand and serve this incredible “Nation,” plus you’ll have the option to be entered to win one of two free Side Hustle Strategy Sessions with yours truly, just for filling out the survey.
Please Click Here to Complete the Survey
It should only take a couple minutes and you can even do it from your phone.
Responses are totally anonymous — unless of course you want to enter the drawing for the free Strategy Session.
Thank you so much for your input!
In total, I got more than 1200 responses!
Congrats to Jason and Christopher for winning the random drawing for the strategy session!
(I used this Random Number Generator from Google to pick the winners.)
If you don’t have the email list to send to, you can do one-on-one outreach, or post in relevant FB groups you’re active in.
The Questions and Results
Question 1: The Baseline
Goal: Figure out where your audience is today so you can create content to best serve them.
My phrasing: “Where are you at with your side hustle today?”
I used this this multiple-choice question to kick off the survey because it would be very quick to answer and hopefully build momentum into the rest of the questions. This was the only question on Page 1 of the survey.
The options were:
- Nowhere. Research phase.
- I’ve started, but haven’t earned anything yet.
- I’m making some money on the side.
- I’m earning $1000+ / month outside a traditional job.
- I’m earning $5k+ per month and/or I’m a full-time entrepreneur.
I added that last option to get a gauge for how many Side Hustle Nation members really aren’t side hustlers anymore. Either they’ve made the leap to full-time or already were in business for themselves but tuned in for some marketing or growth help.
This tells me that over 45% of the audience hasn’t decided the best course of action yet, and more than two-thirds are still “pre-revenue.”
A little over 30% of Side Hustle Nation has felt the rush of their first job-free dollars, while 6% have hit the elusive $1000 a month mark.
At the top of the scale, 4% are earning over $5k a month or are already full-time entrepreneurs.
The challenge for me is to move people counter-clockwise along this pie; to equip you with the idea, empower you to take action, and show you how to get results.
Question 2: The Hustle
Goal: Find out the most common or popular type(s) of businesses side hustlers are working on.
My phrasing: “What type of business / side hustle are you running or are you most interested in? Please check all that apply.”
At the top of Page 2, I used another quick-response multiple choice question designed to build momentum and help me understand the types of content that would be most helpful to focus on.
The options were:
- Amazon FBA / Ecommerce (incl. physical products, private label, arbitrage)
- Freelancing / Service Businesses (including coaching and consulting)
- Blogging and Online Businesses (including affiliate marketing, niche sites, online courses, and content marketing)
- Software / Apps
- Investing (like real estate, peer-to-peer lending, buying websites, dividends, etc.)
- The Sharing Economy (like Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit, etc.)
This distribution is interesting to see, but also something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The “hustles” to the left already have a lot of content created, which is probably how people discovered the site/podcast in the first place.
The hustles to the right, I haven’t created as much content for.
Still, it’s good for me to see the types of businesses people are most interested in and spend the majority of my effort on those.
The top 3 most popular side hustles in this year’s survey were Blogging and Online Business, Freelancing and Service Businesses, and Amazon FBA / Ecommerce. These 3 are unchanged from last year, and all made the subnavigation menu I added to the site to let people access the relevant content in these categories more easily.
Question 3: The Pain
Goal: Find out what side hustlers are currently struggling with.
My phrasing: “When it comes to your business or side hustle, what’s the biggest challenge you’re facing right now? For example, finding the right idea or opportunity, not enough time, finding clients, website traffic etc.”
This was the second question on Page 2 of the survey, and was a free-response question. The theory is, once you know what your audience is struggling with, you can craft a plan to help them.
Other responses included:
- Idea validation
- Product research and sourcing products
- Accountability and support
- Conflict with the day job
- Making too much at the day job!
Even though this was a free-response question, I saw several common themes, including time management, productivity, marketing, and generating ideas. The good news is I love learning and writing/talking about pretty much all of these.
I thought motivation was the most surprising recurring answer. If you’re investing your spare time learning about online business and side hustles, it seems like you’re pretty motivated to me!
One thing I CAN say is that time is a universal struggle, even for full-time entrepreneurs.
Case in point: when was the last time you were bored? If you can’t remember, yoooou just might be a hustler. (Cue the Jeff Foxworthy voice.)
There will always be more things you want to do than there are hours in the day, so it becomes a battle of prioritization.
I have content to address all of these struggles already, but that doesn’t magically make them go away.
According to the book Ask, this is the most important question of all, and allows you to create different “buckets” of your audience. For example, based on these answers I can see buckets related to:
- Finding your side hustle idea
- Making the most of your limited hours
- Growing your business to the next level
Can I create more content or products to solve those challenges? You bet I can.
In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have included the example struggles in the question prompt and left this one completely open-ended.
Question 4: The Discovery
Goal: Discover how people found Side Hustle Nation or The Side Hustle Show, to know which of my marketing efforts are the most effective.
My phrasing: Do you remember how you first discovered Side Hustle Nation or The Side Hustle Show?
The options were:
- Word of mouth
- Google search
- iTunes / other podcast directory
- I heard Nick on another podcast
- Amazon / books
- Other social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter…)
The purpose of this question was to see what the common points of entry were for new readers and listeners. Yes, it’s a little more selfish than some of the other questions.
Other interesting responses:
- Press mentions like magazines or radio appearances.
- I was searching for Chris Guillebeau’s Side Hustle School and found you instead.
- My TEDx talk
Google was far and away the biggest driver here, and I’ve been paying a little more attention to SEO lately, first with my content audit and more recently with my Google Search Console experiment.
The answers to this question also illustrate the value of guesting on other podcasts and building relationships with other bloggers.
Some of the most frequent podcasts mentioned were the $100 MBA, EOFire, the Mad Fientist, and His & Her Money. The other blogs mentioned most often were Chasing Foxes, The Penny Hoarder, and the forums over at Mr. Money Mustache.
It also showcases how word of mouth is an important but often overlooked channel in online marketing, outpacing the discovery from YouTube, Pinterest, and Amazon.
Question 5: The Goal
With this question, I wanted to find out — in their own words — the audience’s #1 goal for the year.
My phrasing: What’s your #1 side hustle or business goal for this year? If a year is too long to think about, what’s your #1 goal for the next 30 days?
Because this was a free-response question, the results were predictably all over the map. Many people listed financial goals like:
- “make $600 a week passive income.”
- “become location independent and make at least $5k a month.”
- “reach at least $2k per month in net profit by the end of the year.”
- “earn $16,000 a month through my coaching business.”
And those are the goals I guess I was expecting. I was more surprised to see a ton of responses like:
- “To actually sit down and write.”
- “I wish I could get started on my side hustle.”
- “To just get going.”
- “Just to make my first dollar.”
These goals of course correlate pretty closely to the responses from Question 1 (where are you at today?). Naturally the people who haven’t started a side business yet recognize getting started as the next first milestone, and those who already have a side hustle going are looking to grow it and improve their bottom line.
Could I go from a weekly posting schedule to a 2x/month posting schedule? Looks like I probably shouldn’t stress too much if I miss a week.
Questions 6-7: How Can I Improve?
For the last couple questions of the survey, I wanted to give people a voice in improving Side Hustle Nation. How can I make it a more valuable resource? What would you like to learn more about?
Question 6 phrasing: One thing I wish you’d cover more thoroughly is _________.
This question was also free-response, but there were some patterns that emerged. Among the most commonly-requested content were:
- Affiliate marketing (As this has been my main source of income for over 10 years, I think I take a lot of the basics for granted. To be sure, I could do a much better job covering how it works and how to get started.)
- Amazon FBA
- Blogging (My free course on how to start a blog)
- Brainstorming ideas
- Offline side hustles
- Finding clients
- A step-by-step make your first dollar program
- How to choose the right side hustle for you and get started
- More options for non-US residents
- Passive income
- Productivity and time management
The final question was the one I was most anxious about, but knew it would be important to ask.
My phrasing: … and if I’m being totally honest, one specific critique I have is _________.
(Shout out to Lisa for the suggestion on this phrasing.)
So one afternoon, I swallowed my pride and dove into a pile of constructive criticism. And people didn’t hold back!
- “Buy a decent microphone and set it up correctly. Your audio is the worst podcast I listen to.”
- “Emails a bit bland and wordy.”
- “I don’t need to hear from you more than once a week.”
- “Sometimes you have bad guests.”
- “Stop pushing your business.”
- “The Buy Buttons Book cover design still sucks!”
- “Your intro announcer dude makes me want to break my headphones every time I hear it.”
Now as to be expected, there was a fair amount of conflicting critiques:
- The “show is too slow and too long.” (Most podcast apps and the embedded player on this site give you the ability to speed up the playback.)
- “Podcasts should be longer” (More people were actually in this column).
- You’re too sales-y. “Dial down the hype.”
- I wish you’d sell more. “I’d like to see you monetize more, oddly enough.”
- “The call to action…”buy my book” too often…”
- “You don’t push your book enough :)”
But after sorting through hundreds of responses, a few votes started to pile up in favor of:
- Updating the super cheesy podcast voiceover intro. A little dated and a little off-brand.
- Updating the website. I’ve been rocking this basic theme/structure since early 2014.
- Fixing the audio levels on the show during music transitions and otherwise work on improving the overall audio quality.
- Bringing on “less successful” guests.
While some of these answers stung a little to read, they were actually super helpful. I’ve got some concrete actions I can take to improve, and will be working on those this quarter.
I owe a big thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out the survey!
Think you can borrow some of my questions/formats and learn from my mistakes?
Have you run a survey to your audience recently? Did you take action based on the results?