2016 Annual Review and Q4 Progress Report: What Was Awesome, What Sucked, and What’s Next

For the past couple years, I’ve been doing these quarterly progress reports.

Why go through this exercise?

It’s time to evaluate what happened over the last 3 months (and in this case to look at the year as a whole), to see if you achieved your goals, and to ask if you’re happier or otherwise better off than you were when you started.

So am I?

I ended 2015 on a high note; I was happier than I’d been in a long time, my businesses were doing well, and we had a baby on the way.

Then, said baby arrived and threw everything for a loop. It took months to re-establish a sense of normalcy, routine, and most importantly, happiness.

(I developed the unique skill of sleeping through the night, even if he didn’t. Mom wasn’t so lucky.)

As we move into 2017, on the surface, things are great. I had my best year financially since 2009, we managed to keep our little hustler alive 11 months in a row, and we went on quite a few cool adventures as a family.

Yet I’ve got some weird anxiety. Like I’m working every week, but maybe not on the right things. Like I could and should be taking on more or different projects. Like I’m letting people down who email me. Like I’m in maintenance mode and not growth mode — even though things are growing.

And perhaps that’s the curse of online business and social media; we see everyone else’s highlight reel and it makes us question our own path.

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, this project turned 3 years old, so you’re looking at over 1000 days of effort here.

Growth of the Nation

There are 3 main metrics I track: website traffic, podcast downloads, and email subscribers. The latter is the most important.

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.”

Blog traffic growth:

Side Hustle Nation earned around 3700 visits a day during the fourth quarter of 2016. Traffic was pretty consistent throughout the quarter, but more than double what it was during the same time period last year.

There really weren’t any abnormal traffic spikes or surges in Q4, and the spikes you do see typically coincide with my Thursday newsletter.

And zoomed out over the course of the year, traffic is slowly trending upward. Month to month it doesn’t look like much, but the site averaged 3700 visits a day in December 2016, compared with 1550 a day in December 2015. Even though I was down 9-10% vs. Q3 of this year, I’ll take it!

Slow and steady; no real abnormal spikes this year. The big wins traffic-wise came from Pinterest and some increased Google love following my content audit.

One interesting thing is that half of all the site traffic comes from mobile devices. This is eye-opening to me at least, because I interact with and add content to the site almost exclusively from my computer.

Podcast download growth:

There was a slight upward trend for The Side Hustle Show during Q4, averaging almost 4700 downloads per day. This compares with a little less than 1800 downloads per day for Q4 2015!

The spikes are typically every Thursday as new episodes are released, and the “double-spikes” are when I put out a Friday episode as well.

Zoomed out for the entire year, the chart shows a similar story of consistent slow and steady growth.

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In total, the show was downloaded over 1.3 million times last year, compared with 637,000 the year before.

New episodes are reaching 15,000-17,000 people on average and I think that’s incredible reach for someone with a $60 mic in their living room.

Email list growth:

This is probably the most important metric of all, and it’s looking pretty solid. I added 80 net new subscribers per day in Q4, compared with 98 subscribers per day in Q3.

This is actually the first time I’ve seen that chart decline compared to the previous quarter. I remember playing around a little with SumoMe’s welcome mat in Q3, but decided not to continue with it. Other than that, I’m attributing the dip to the 10% decrease in site traffic in Q4 compared with Q3.

(You can see the tallest points on the annual traffic chart are from July to September.)

Still, for the full year, I added over 23,000 people to my subscriber base, which more than doubled the size of my list. Every time I lose sight of how awesome and crazy that is, I just think of a basketball arena or football stadium full of people, each one with their own side hustle story and goals.

In addition the people who naturally unsubscribe (no hard feelings), I also removed thousands of inactive subscribers over the course of the year. It’s always a little scary to delete subscribers since “open rate” as reported by email service providers like AWeber is not a perfect science, but I think it’s an important habit to maintain a healthy and engaged subscriber base.

And what you’re looking at on all these charts is 3.5 years of almost daily effort. Year 1 was about laying the foundation, Year 2 was about figuring out what works, and Years 3-4 have been about consistent execution.

How’d I Do On My Goals?

Well, I actually didn’t set any annual or quarterly goals, so I can’t really measure this one!

Going forward, I’m aiming at shorter project-oriented or sprint-goals combined with mini-habits.

For instance, a short-term goal I’m working on this quarter is to add a subnavigation menu to Side Hustle Nation to make it easier to find relevant archive content.

An example of a mini-habit I plan on tracking is doing at least one proactive task before checking email or social media. I’m so bad at this!

What I Shipped

It was a weird quarter in that in looking back, I didn’t create much outside of the ongoing Side Hustle Nation blog and podcast content.

Buy Buttons Audiobook

The biggest new product I created was the Buy Buttons audiobook, which I’d actually finished recording in September, but took until the end of November to finally get approved by Audible.

Even as someone who’d been recording and editing audio for the last 3 years, looking over the technical requirements for approval was like reading a foreign language. Thankfully, Scott Panfil from WNYBrews.com stepped up big time to help me get the files ready for prime time.

If you’d like to hear some extended samples of the audiobook, check out this episode of The Side Hustle Show.

And if you’re new to Audible, you can actually get the full audiobook for free when you sign up for a trial membership.

14 Podcast Episodes

The most popular ones were:

8 Blog Posts

The most popular ones were:

My Top 10 Posts of 2016

(As measured by pageviews in Google Analytics.) Did you miss any of these?

1. The Sharing Economy: 200+ Ways to Make Extra Money in Your Spare Time

This massive post includes just about every peer-to-peer app or marketplace I could find. It took 40+ hours to research, compile, and format, but it’s driven great results and even inspired the Buy Buttons book, which has been a consistent seller.

2. Earn $500+ This Weekend: An Intro to Car Flipping

This guest post by Jeremy Fisher proved to be a big hit.

3. Mechanical Turk Review: How I Made $21,000 a Quarter at a Time

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Mike Naab wrote this guest post about his side hustle experience on Amazon Mechanical Turk.

4. How to Get Paid Over and Over Again — From Work You Do Once

Ben Reynolds contributed this piece on getting started with dividend growth investing, an article that sparked my interest in the topic and led me to buying my first individual stocks in … forever.

Geez, starting to see a pattern here? Three out of the top 4 are guest articles! But if you want to pitch a guest post, this is what you have to live up to 🙂

5. The 134 Best Udemy Courses for Entrepreneurs, Freelancers, and Side Hustlers

This was another “epic” post I was really proud of. I originally published in January of 2016, but updated it again for this year since it was such a strong performer.

6. Peer-to-Peer Lending 5-Year Performance Update

I’m almost due for another update on my Prosper loan performance, and it will be a little less bullish.

7. The Side Hustle Snowball: How to “Erase” Your Expenses with Extra Income Streams

This is one of my favorite articles of the year, as it itemizes some of my actual expenses and explains how I “erase” them with different income streams.

8. How I Built A Successful Service Business to $4k Monthly Recurring Revenue (And How You Can Too)

Another super-detailed guest spot, this time from Tom Hunt.

9. The Pinterest Traffic Experiment: I’m Up 2350% In 60 Days

This post shares the results of implementing the Pinterest traffic strategy Rosemarie Groner shared in the first of her Side Hustle Show appearances.

10. Here’s Everything I Did To Launch a Bestselling Book (and How Much It’s Made So Far)

My Buy Buttons book launch recap post and income report just snuck into the Top 10. This one was a ton of fun to write, but I’m not in any hurry to do another book project.

My Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2016

Measured by downloads.

1. How to Start an Online Store Without Touching Any Inventory (Drop Shipping 101), with Anton Kraly

2. A 6-Figure Amazon FBA Business in 7 Months, with Toni Anderson

3. Zero to $30k on the Side in 6 Months, with Chris Deardorff

4. Side Hustle Idea Brainstorming: The 7 Rules of Business Idea Generation Plus Live Listener Q&A, with Don The Idea Guy

5. This Passive Income Empire Started With Just $36 and a Bag of Gumballs, with Matt Miller

6. How to Turn Your Ideas Into Recurring Revenue, with Stephen Key

7. How to Build a 6-Figure Blog in Under a Year, with Jon Dykstra

8. How to Build a 6-Figure eBay Business Part-Time, with Darrel Fitzpatrick

9. Starting an Ecommerce Empire on Etsy, with Kara Lamerato

10. Building a Blog to $20k a Month and Beyond, with Rosemarie Groner

What Was Awesome

In October, Bryn and I visited Prague and Italy. With the baby. In Prague we got to hang out with some self-publishing friends and colleagues, Hynek, Michal, and Simon.

In Italy, we were joined by grandma and grandpa and ate gratuitous amounts of gelato.

We went to Michigan for our 10th annual Friendsgiving! It was my first time back in the mitten state since leaving Ford.

We saw the Huskies win the Pac-12 Championship. And then we went to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl, which didn’t have as nice of an outcome.

I had a virtual doctor’s visit to diagnose a persistent cough. It was a big time and money saver and it felt very futuristic to say “ahhh” into my webcam.

The Side Hustle Show passed 2 million lifetime downloads.

The free Side Hustle Nation Facebook group passed 4000 members.

Our little hustler celebrated his first Christmas (and first beer exchange).

Zooming out to look at the year as a whole…

Lots of travel! In addition to Europe, Michigan, Atlanta, and Seattle, we also made trips to Japan and Texas. I made solo trips to Chicago and San Diego and was able to hold a few Side Hustle Nation meetups along the way.

Buy Buttons was a hit — over 100 5-star reviews — and continues to sell copies every day.

The Side Hustle Show was nominated a Best Business Podcast.

Side Hustle Nation won a Plutus award at FinCon for Best Entrepreneurship Blog.

Still, the biggest and most stressful/frustrating/rewarding challenge has been caring for this tiny human. Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder how I’m scarring him for life, but each day is a new adventure.

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The Lowlights

So that’s what went well… but what about the stuff that didn’t go so hot?

In last year’s annual report I said my theme for the first quarter and perhaps the year would be to make the most of the assets I’d already created.

I said that would mean building out my author portfolio by adding paperback and audiobook editions to the titles that didn’t have them.

I also said that would mean re-launching my Plan, Launch, and Hustle challenge.

That didn’t happen.

I did add paperbacks for the first two titles in The Side Hustle Path series, and was actually pleasantly surprised that Volume 1 sells consistently. However, Volume 2 sold maybe two copies in total, so I didn’t bother to create paperbacks for Volumes 3 or 4.

Because the audiobook for Buy Buttons is selling well, I might record Volume 1 of The Side Hustle Path and see what happens.

I also did add an audiobook version to my virtual assistant book, narrated by Scott Panfil. The whole thing is about outsourcing, so it would have been weird to read it myself, right?

I had high hopes of re-purposing some of my best archive content and turning it into SlideShares or videos, but that didn’t happen either.

After the first quarter group session ended, I didn’t launch another private mastermind crew despite a dozen or more applications. All of a sudden that extra hour in the evening became a lot harder to part with.

I hosted exactly zero local side hustle meetups after the baby was born.

I created a Gmail label called “Hate Mail” … OK some of those messages are actually kind of funny.

My Skype recording software stopped working and I struggled to find a high-quality alternative, and actually lost a couple interviews in the process. Embarrassing!

I also intended to redesign the site, improve access to relevant archive content, and get smarter about my email segmentation, but all that got pushed to the back burner as well. Turns out, simply maintaining this stuff takes a lot of time.

But perhaps most frustrating of all are all the business ideas and experiments I didn’t execute on. I did basically nothing toward Amazon FBA all year, said no to probably a dozen freelancing requests, and didn’t produce any new video course content.

What I Read

Reading is definitely an area that was hit hard by our little hustler. Early in the year, every spare moment was spent either working or sleeping — reading books wasn’t high on the priority list.

Later in the year, thanks in part to my new Kindle (love it, thanks B!), I’ve been getting back into the reading habit. Aside from a few parenting books, here’s what’s been on my list:

What about you? What were the best books you read last year?

What’s Next?

A big theme for me is thinking about how I can better serve the Side Hustle Nation community. How can I better create and structure content that helps people get results?

Like I said, I’ve got lots of project ideas — and will be doing another member survey this quarter — to help guide some of my direction. My expectation is that will lead to some improved systems and smarter segmentation, which should improve the user experience for everyone.

The other theme is focus. I’m not necessarily trying to work less, but am certainly trying to work smarter. A handful of actions and partnerships really drove results last year (for instance, the podcast, the Udemy post, and the sharing economy post), so my homework is to double down on what’s working, while still keeping things fresh and trying new experiments.

An oxymoron? Probably.

What does that mean for you? The blog and podcast aren’t going anywhere, and I still want to help you start a business and earn money on your own terms.

So stay tuned. It’s going to be another great year of building non-job income streams and chasing financial freedom.

Your Turn

How did 2016 shape up for you? What’s your #1 priority for this quarter?

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