2019 Annual Review and Q4 Progress Report

Progress report time!

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?

2019 was my best year yet in business, and I’m excited for what’s in store in 2020. In fact, if I can make a confession, I’m writing this at 4am because I couldn’t sleep — too many ideas running through my head.

And that may be one of the most common themes of the year as I reflect back: this weird feeling of making more than I ever have, but battling against seemingly molasses-slow progress at times.

There’s always more that I want to do, and coming to terms with never really being “done” has been a challenge.

But still, it was a record year for the business, all while working 4 days a week, taking plenty of time off, and watching our two boys grow and learn more every day.

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.

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

The primary metric I track (actually on a daily basis) is profit. But profit is a “lagging indicator” — in many cases I can have more influence over other metrics that ultimately increase that profit. Among those are:

  • website traffic
  • podcast downloads
  • email subscribers

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 7000 visits a day during the fourth quarter of 2019, up around 25% compared with 2018.

q4 2019 traffic growth

The majority of that increase is from more SEO traffic. I understand there was a Google algorithm update in late October, which seemed to benefit Side Hustle Nation, but I’ve also been putting in a lot of effort on the SEO front as well.

It was actually a post of mine on the diet-betting service HealthyWage that saw a sudden spike in the rankings toward the end of the year, and propelled the site to record traffic levels.

Other than that, the tallest peaks on the chart coincide with new content and promoting that content to my email list. Those include:

And zoomed out over the course of the year, traffic had a similar pattern previous years. As you can see, I was in a bit of a traffic slump for the first half of the year:

2019 full year traffic growth

The trend reversed upon publishing and promoting my monster list of passive income ideas, which was an absolute blast to write. It was an example of being in flow, and those 7000 words didn’t feel like much effort at all.

If only every time I stepped up to the keyboard felt the same!

Still, for the full year, the number of sessions was only up about 4% compared with 2018. And I only really began to meaningful traffic growth Q4 — hopefully the impact of new content and some SEO experiments paying off.

Podcast Download Growth:

The Side Hustle Show averaged 9300 downloads per day in Q4, up around 9% vs. Q4 last year.

q4 2019 podcast growth

(The spikes are typically every Thursday as new episodes are released, though I was actually hitting 20k on release days more consistently last Q4.)

Zoomed out for the entire year, the chart shows an interesting shape:

2019 full year podcast growth

Not exactly hockey stick — or even linear — growth. December finished with the same download total as January: 291,000.

Still, new episodes are reaching 30,000-40,000 people on average and I think that’s incredible reach for someone broadcasting from their kids’ bedroom closet!

In October, the show passed 10 million lifetime downloads, which was a fun milestone. Here’s what I wrote on FB to commemorate it:

I think the moral of the story is to keep going.

It took 17 months for The Side Hustle Show to reach 100,000 total downloads.

It took almost 3 years (and 164 episodes) to reach 1,000,000.

And this week, 2,335 days after I first hit record, it hit 10 million downloads.

An overnight success 6.5 years in the making 🙂

Somewhere along the way though, things started to accelerate. I started to consider myself “a podcaster.”

It probably sounds dramatic, but this little side project experiment has been life-changing. It just didn’t happen right away.

I’m incredibly grateful to every guest who’s taken the time to share their story, and to everyone who’s taken time out of their day to listen in!

For the year on the whole, the show reached around 34% more people than in 2018.

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I’ll take it.

Email List Growth:

Email was once the most important metric on my mind, but that’s shifted a bit. It’s still a crucial component in my business, but I’ve seen excellent revenue and profit growth without exploding my subscriber base.

I started the year with around 67,000 subscribers … and ended the year with around 67,000 subscribers.

But they’re just not the same 67,000 people. People are constantly adding themselves and removing themselves from the list. And occasionally, I remove inactive subscribers as well:

email list growth q4 2019

It’s painful to delete people who opted in, but my there’s not much sense in continuing to pound someone’s inbox who’s obviously not that interested in hearing from you.

My theory is keeping a “clean” list should help with deliverability — meaning the people who DO want to hear from you are more likely to get your messages.

If I didn’t do these routine purges, the list would continue to grow, but the raw number of people opening the messages probably wouldn’t. That costs me more to maintain and the decrease in open rates may be detrimental in the long-run.

These numbers are from my email service provider, ActiveCampaign. You can read my full ActiveCampaign review and check out my video demo here.

Profit Growth

2019 was my best year in business yet. Profit was up about 33% from 2018, and I feel like I’m working the same or less than before.

The majority of those gains came from getting better at affiliate marketing, and a little bit from increased sponsorship rates on the podcast.

What I’ve Been Working On

Here are some of the projects I focused on during Q4.

SEO Experiments

I’ve tried a bunch of stuff related to SEO this year, including:

  • Adding emojis to title tags (a bust)
  • Updating and re-publishing content (a win)
  • Adding more internal links to important pages (mostly a win)
  • Creating new content based on keyword research (usually a win)
  • Attempting to improve the site speed (hard to say)
  • Playing around with FAQ snippets (I think a win)
  • Adding Tables of Contents to posts (a win)

In Q4, my main experiment was related to internal links. I looked at some of my “pillar” content and other pages with affiliate monetization, and tried to see where I could add relevant internal links.

While I probably can’t say for certain this was the cause, many of those pages began to perform better in search. Because of that, I’ve made it a part of my process for publishing a new piece of content. For each new post I publish that I want to rank in search, I try and add 5-10 relevant internal links from archive posts.

You can see several examples of this already in this post, as I’m linking back to important content throughout. Each of those links signals to Google, OK, this must be an important page because he’s referencing it quite a bit.

Launching the Start My Side Hustle Course

Starting in the summer, I opened my new Start My Side Hustle course to small groups of beta students. Building this thing was my main focus over the summer months, and though feedback from these early students was largely positive, I was still waiting for that killer student testimonial before launching to a broader segment of my email list.

My mastermind group encouraged me to stop procrastinating and just get it out there.

Let me say this: you can expend a tremendous amount of brainpower trying to come up with “the perfect” course launch strategy. I read tons of case studies, revisited archive podcast episodes, and studied Expert Secrets by Russell Brunson.

But in the end, you’ve just got to figure out a way to sell that sits well with you. What I came up with was a modified version of Jeff Walker’s Problem, Agitate, Solve framework, and offered the Start My Side Hustle course as the solution.

My emails were:

  1. “Just start” … but WHAT? – This email talked about how some of the most common advice is to “just start,” but it isn’t always clear WHAT exactly to start. This was the “problem” email.
  2. Which is it, [first name]? – This email talked about the “Big 3” pains I hear from my audience: time, money, and ideas. This was the “agitate” email, and invited people to reply with their biggest perceived road block. It got a great response.
  3. Found this – The third email reveals a discovery mine, that more Side Hustle Show guests started with a service business than any other business model. This was the “solve” email, and presented the course as the solution.
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I put together kind of a mini 10-minute webinar based on those emails and embedded it on the sales page.

Over the next few days, I sent several more emails:

  1. The course is now open
  2. An FAQ email
  3. A “logical appeals” email
  4. Last day to enroll!

I was hoping for 100 students in this round, and ended up selling 49 copies of the course. Yes, from an initial launch list of 45,000 people, it was an abysmal conversion rate.

My next challenge is to support the existing students and “evergreen” the course so it’s always available. I think I can make some tweaks and bake the course launch emails into an onboarding sequence for new subscribers.

I get that “scarcity” is an important sales tactic, but for a self-paced program like this, I think it makes sense to have open all the time.

(In fact, you can enroll now if you want to check it out!)

Eating Less Meat

On the personal side, one thing that’s been going on in our house is experimenting with eating less meat. I don’t think I’m ready to go full-vegan just yet, but for health and environmental reasons, we’re testing out more plant-based meals.

My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2019

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

1. 99 Side Hustle Business Ideas You Can Start Today

This often-updated list post of side hustle ideas accounted for 14% of all the traffic to Side Hustle Nation last year. It’s easily the most popular piece of content I’ve ever written for the site.

2. Reselling Shoes: How I Make $10,000 a Month Flipping Sneakers

I’m amazed by the traffic this guest post from JV Ortiz receives. The downside is it’s the only piece of content related to sneaker flipping I’ve got, so I’m not doing much with the traffic.

3. Online Focus Groups: 10 Consumer Research Companies that Pay Up to $100 an Hour for Your Opinion

I first wrote this on a whim after participating in an in-person focus group in San Francisco. It’s proven to be super popular and I’ve updated it a few times since originally hitting publish.

4. 200+ Proven Ways to Make Extra Money: The Ultimate Guide

I updated this post several times throughout the year, and in the most recent editions I’ve actually been removing content. I always thought longer was better — or more authoritative in the eyes of Google — but I’ve deleted over 2500 words from this one and have seen a slight improvement in the ranks.

5. 25 Ways I Make Passive Income + 46 More Ideas that Actually Work

Like I mentioned, this was probably the post I had the most fun writing this year. The key things to keep in mind are:

  • If you don’t allocate some of your time and resources to building passive income, you’ll never stop trading time for money.
  • I’ve built up these streams slowly over time, and many aren’t big at all, but they add up.

6. 50 Ways to Get Free Money: Legit $200+ Inside!

I had some help from a freelance ghostwriter in drafting this one, but remember editing it heavily from coffeeshops in San Diego while I was visiting for a conference. For whatever reason, it’s stuck near the top of Google and become a top-performer.

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

This is another guest post from a few years ago that continues to drive a ton of traffic.

8. Earn $500+ This Weekend: An Intro to Flipping Cars

I didn’t write this one either. By the way, the performance of some of these guest posts is a killer argument in favor of accepting content from other authors!

9. Respondent.io Review: Can You Really Make $140 An Hour For Your Opinion?

What can I say? It’s a review post.

10. 63 Apps That Pay You: The Best Money Making Apps

This took quite a while to research and compile so I’m happy to see it “sticking” on page 1 of Google so far.

My Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2019

As measured by total number of downloads. Which ones were your favorites?

1. 320: Multiplying Money, Morning Routines, and $100k Side Hustles: 20 Questions with Nick

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2. 323: Financial Independence Fast-Track: How to Replace Your Salary by Buying Mini Businesses, with Stacy Caprio

3. 325: The Million Dollar Hobby: Monetize What You’re Already Interested In, with Marc Andre

4. 326: Reselling on Amazon with a $1 Million Seller: Let’s Go Pick Up Profit, with Jessica Larrew

5. 328: How to Start a Service Business to Replace Your Income, Step-by-Step, with Abbey Ashley

6. 330: Land Flipping Revisited: From Zero to $10,000 a Month on the Side, with Roberto Chavez

7. 351: Thrifting for Profit: How I Made $270k in Sales Reselling Vintage Items, with Keely Stawicki

8. 353: Small Blog, Big Income: Recurring Revenue from a Low-Traffic Site, with Carol Tice

9. 352: 37 Things I Have Learned in My 37 Years

10. 356: 11 Simple Ideas that Tripled My Business

These are a bit front-loaded to the beginning of the year, so I tried to include some later episodes that out-performed their peers released around the same time.

What I Bought

A New-to-Us Car. We replaced Bryn’s 2005 Civic with a 2017 CR-V. It’s got way more rear-seat leg room than my Escape, which is good because these kids aren’t getting any smaller! It also has AWD, so hopefully we see lots of trips to the mountains for skiing over the next decade.

Mint Mobile. I’m testing out a switch from Ting to Mint Mobile. $15 a month is a pretty sweet deal, and I was able to keep the phone and phone number I already had. Mint runs on the T-Mobile network (as opposed to Sprint for Ting).

Cool Biz / Lifestyle Stuff

10 Million Lifetime Downloads. I know it’s just a number, but it was a cool milestone for The Side Hustle Show nonetheless.

13th Annual Friendsgiving! We’ve done NorCal, SoCal, and Michigan, so this year we decided to try a new venue: Puerto Vallarta. It was a hit 🙂

Got Featured in Luckbox Magazine

This was a pretty cool press mention!

Visited the grandparents for Christmas. Always good to see the fam. Highlights included an aquarium visit with Uncle — complete with scuba-diving Santa — and playing tennis with dad.

1 Daycare Drop Off! In October, little Hustler #2 started going to the same pre-school as big brother. It’s great that they’re in the same spot and we try and ride bikes to school most mornings. He’s also beginning to talk a lot more, which is super fun!

What I Read

It was a pretty light quarter for reading, but I’ve got several on my Kindle now ready to go!

Expert Secrets

Russell Brunson’s Expert Secrets is a fascinating breakdown on selling (and the psychology of selling) anything online. Some of this stuff is a little aggressive for my taste, but I picked and chose some of my favorite bits to help with my course launch.

How I Lost 170 Million Dollars

This book recounts Noah Kagan’s time as employee #30 at a little startup called Facebook. He ends up getting fired before his options vest, hence the gut-wrenching title. It was an interesting read on what Facebook was like in the early days and how Noah coped with losing his job.

I think the most powerful part for me was when his therapist asked him, “OK, so what would you have bought with the money?” And he came up with:

  1. A BMW
  2. A house
  3. ???

It goes to show that you may be closer to affording your dreams than you think. And that if you don’t have stuff to work on that you care about, even $170 million probably won’t make you happy.

Lifestyle Builders

I consider Tom and Ariana Sylvester friends, as we’ve hung out at several conferences over the last couple years. Lifestyle Builders is their guide to reverse-engineering the life you want, through creating a business that aligns with your ideal lifestyle.

I found the exercises thought-provoking and loved the personal stories of what they went through to create their own job-free income streams.

What’s Next?

I’m working on a few projects this quarter, and using The Progress Journal to track them. Here’s what I’m kicking around:

  • A YouTube / blog strategy, where I can interview experts in particular side hustles and use the video to bolster written content on the same topic. You can see this already in action on posts like my Instacart Shopper Review.
  • Hiring a Content Manager. I feel like I could accelerate my efforts if I had a dedicated person on staff to help create and edit content.
  • Creating some sort of “choose-your-side-hustle” quiz to try and point people in the right direction.
  • Supporting the Start My Side Hustle course students and turning the course into an evergreen (always available) product.
  • Developing a system for more consistent charitable contributions.

Your Turn

How did 2019 shape up for you? Are you happy with your progress?

If not, what’s got to change?

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