Quarterly Progress Report – Q1 2018

Progress report time! I’ve been doing these quarterly progress reports for the last few years.

I find this exercise a helpful time to evaluate what happened over the last 3 months, to see what you got done, and to ask if you’re happier or otherwise better off than you were when you started.

So am I?

I think so!

I don’t really have any big product launches or major projects to share, but it was another quarter of consistent effort, building a backlog of podcast episodes, optimizing some of the existing site content, and prepping for a new addition to the family (more on that below).

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, Side Hustle Nation will turn 5 years old, so you’re looking at about 1800 days of effort here.

Growth of the Nation

There are 3 main metrics I track:

  1. Website traffic
  2. Podcast downloads
  3. 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 about 5200 visits a day during the quarter. That’s up about 30% compared with the same time period last year.

The two biggest spikes on the chart are both “email days”, when I emailed my list about new posts.

The first one was for a great guest post on getting started with affiliate marketing. The subject line was “Your first $200/month online”.

The second one was when I re-published my monster list of ways to make extra money. (Subject line: “250+ ways to make extra money”.)

If it looks to you like the traffic chart is generally trending down, it looks like that to me too. One loss of traffic happened in early March when my Facebook ads account was shut down for a mystery policy violation.


In my old business that relied 100% on paid traffic, this would have been devastating. And while it’s annoying and I feel wrongfully accused and will work on getting the account re-instated, thankfully this time around it hasn’t made a huge impact to my bottom line.

It did put a kink in my goal to be earning $2k a month with 50% profit margins from Facebook Ads though!

Podcast download growth:

The Side Hustle Show passed 5 million lifetime downloads during Q1, and averaged 5700 downloads a day. 

The most popular episodes were Round 3 with Rosemarie Groner, a chat about Instagram marketing with Allie McAdam, and a glimpse into “the simplest side hustle ever” with Brian Winch.

It’s also exciting to see continued interest from sponsors like Freshbooks, Skillshare, DesignCrowd.com, ZipRecruiter, and more.

Do you think your company would be a good fit to sponsor the show? Be sure to get in touch.

Email list growth:

This is probably the most important metric of all, and I took a step backward by removing 13,500 inactive subscribers from the list.

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The week after this painful but necessary list cleanse, my open rate doubled from 17.7% to 34.1%! (It’s since eased back down.) And it’s not just the open rate that improved, the raw number of people opening the message was up dramatically too.

If I crop that report after the great purge, I’m still seeing a steady 100+ net new subscribers added each day:

Now the question of what to do once somebody opts in? That was a topic of conversation with Greg Hickman on the podcast, and something I’m still figuring out.

What I’ve Been Working On

It’s kind of been a weird quarter work-wise. In January there were a couple weeks our little guy was out of preschool, then we went to Hawaii for a week and a half, and then in March Bryn was off for maternity. During that time we hung out a lot and were prepping the house for the new arrival.

I still aimed to make progress every day and every week but the hours were somewhat limited. Kind of like a side hustle, I suppose!

One of my main initiatives is to build a bigger backlog of podcast episodes — mainly to give me some breathing room when Little Hustler #2 arrived. My goal was to have a 2-month buffer by the end of March, and I was able to achieve that.

Facebook Ads – Account Disabled!

The biggest kick in the nuts for the quarter was getting my Facebook ads account shut down.

After my chat with Deacon Hayes about his Facebook money machine, I knew I had to test out a similar strategy.

I enrolled in Monica Louie’s Facebook Ads course (she’s Deacon’s ads manager), and set up my first campaign. Use promo code Nick50 for $50 off through my affiliate link.

My strategy was to drive inexpensive clicks to this post that’s monetized with affiliate links, but on March 4th, my account was abruptly shut down without warning.

According to Facebook, I violated one of their ad policies, but they won’t tell me which one, nor did they give any consideration to my appeal in which I said I must have made a mistake and was happy to correct any issue they found.

This was the reply I got, which came back almost instantly:

It makes me sick to my stomach that someone thinks I was intentionally breaking the rules!

“We don’t support ads for your business model??”

Um, I call BS on that, given these show up in my feed every single day…

Since the ads were just a little side project for me, I haven’t exhausted all my resources trying to get the account back, but it’s still frustrating.

Plus, in February, my advertising efforts earned about $500, so things were working, and I had a goal to scale that aspect of the business to $2k a month by mid-year.

Fun fact: my Chase Ink Business Preferred card earns (well, earned) 3x points on advertising spending (and came with a fatty sign-up bonus).

Click here to learn more and compare this card to other business credit cards.

My First Facebook Lives

I “went live” several times this quarter, mostly in support of Udemy’s New Year’s promo, but also to share some takeaways from Traffic and Conversion Summit.

I used BeLive.tv to facilitate the interviews — super easy to use and I found a receptive audience inside the SH Nation FB group.

Google Tag Manager – Goal Tracking and Keyword Tracking

After a peek inside Robert Farrington‘s Google Analytics, I felt a little inadequate.

He had it set up such that he could estimate how much he was earning from every visitor to every page based on historical ad and affiliate performance — using Google’s Tag Manager and Goal Tracking features.

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It took a bit of time to figure out how it all works, but I think I’m on the right track. Thanks to Dave Chesson for the help as well!

One thing I’m struggling with is Google Analytics limits your site to 20 goals, but if you have more than 20 affiliate partners you want to track, I’m not sure the best way around that.

At Dave’s recommendation, I also bought Keyword Hero (through an AppSumo deal), a tool that plugs into your Google Analytics and replaces the dreaded “(not provided)” keyword in your search query report.

I’m not quite there yet, but I think the magic will happen when you can combine this keyword level reporting with your goal tracking to measure what keywords are really driving revenue for you.

And lots of fun SEO and post optimizations ensue.

Setting Up a New Work Space

With the impending arrival of a new baby, I thought having an additional out-of-the-way work space would help protect my sanity. (My main office is in the living room.)

And since the last treadmill bit the dust and went off to treadmill heaven, I was in the market for a more compact replacement stand-up desk.

Bryn and I ended up cleaning out the closet in our son’s room and turning half of it into my new standing workstation / recording studio.

It was a bit of a challenge to mount the monitor to the railing, but in the end we got it done with only one trip to the hardware store. Win!

Now I’ve got a semi-quiet place to retreat during the day and take calls. I’m still working on the lighting (hey, it’s a closet!) but definitely happy to have a stand-up desk again.

A New Side Hustle Nation T-Shirt

It’s been a while since the last side hustle swag, so Bryn designed this awesome “make something happen” t-shirt:

I think I’ve signed off just about every episode of The Side Hustle Show with that call to action so I wanted to pay homage to that!

Want one? You can order on Amazon 🙂

6 Blog Posts

I’ve been struggling to find writing time lately, and actually a lot of the writing I’ve done has been updating old posts:

This guest post on getting started with affiliate marketing was a hit too.

The re-publishing strategy is an intentional one, aiming to create the best and most up-to-date resource for the target keywords. For each new article I write (with the exception of progress reports like these), I’m trying to be conscious of HOW the site will generate traffic as a standalone asset.

13 Podcast Episodes

Even though the podcast numbers have kind of plateaued, I feel like I’m practicing my craft and getting better each week. I don’t know if that shows in the listening experience, but I’ve got a process in place for producing the shows I feel good about.

The most popular episodes of the quarter were:

The podcast was my main focus for the quarter as I tried to build that 2-month buffer. It felt great to have some breathing room!

Practicing Early Retirement

This is more of a mindset game than any specific project or tactic. When I feel stressed out, I try and ask myself, “What would a retired person do?”

It’s my little reminder that every deadline in my business is self-imposed and it’s all voluntary.

“What would a retired person do?”

A retired person would prioritize their workout, bike or walk their kid to preschool, go on lunch dates with their wife, stop checking email at night, that sort of thing.

I think it’s helping 🙂

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Cool Biz / Lifestyle Stuff that Happened

Little Hustler #2!

Obviously the big news for the quarter was the arrival of our second son (actually in early April, but still counting it here!). He’s got a full head of hair and a super cute big brother.


We went to Maui with my family and had an awesome time eating shave ice, chasing chickens, and playing in the waves.

Our little guy loved hanging out with grandma and grandma and uncle!

I Bought a New (to Me) Car

I prided myself in having the crappiest car in the neighborhood, but my trusty 2006 Escape had developed a growing list of issues.

I drove it for almost 10 years and 100,000 miles and while it still had plenty of mechanical life left in it, I was spending a lot of time and mental capacity dealing with its new “features.”

So I upgraded to the 2015 model.

Car shopping is a major pain!

Business idea #1: Used car concierge service. I tell you what I want and you find it for me, negotiate the best deal, and take a commission.

Business idea #2: Used car search aggregator. There are way too many databases to search for used cars. A global search tool would be super helpful.

Traffic and Conversion Summit

I went to Digital Marketer’s Traffic and Conversion Summit in San Diego, and hung out with lots of Internet friends and Side Hustle Show guests.

I also got to hold a little coffeeshop meetup for members of Side Hustle Nation and it was great as always to meet listeners face to face.

My top takeaways from the event:

  • Nothing beats face-time for building and strengthening relationships.
  • Be grateful for where you’re at and what you have.
  • Embrace the FOMO — you can’t do it all.
  • Maximize what you have before starting something new (hence my focus on re-publishing).
  • Stop overthinking it — build your product / make your offer.
  • Measure / track everything.
  • You’re not that smart. Surround yourself with smart people.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Preferible morir de pie que vivir de rodillas — “better to die standing than live on your knees.”

I also took my first Limebike ride — with an electric pedal assist — it was awesome.

Stretchy Jeans

At Bryan Harris‘ recommendation, I picked up a pair of stretchy jeans. My wife informs me these apparently have been a thing for girls for years!

They’re way more comfortable than regular jeans — we’ve been missing out!

What I Read

It was a little bit of a light quarter for reading, but here’s what made it onto my Kindle this quarter. None were particularly page-turning.

Ogilvy on Advertising

This is one of the classic advertising books, and it did have some interesting copywriting tips, but I didn’t love it.

There are a bunch of sample ads in the book, but at least in the Kindle version they were too small and almost impossible to read. A lot of the text was focused on building an ad agency, not necessarily related to creating more effective ads.

I’d be curious to check out the updated edition “for the digital age.”

Smarter Faster Better

I couldn’t get into this one from Charles Duhigg. It seemed too academic.

The Inevitable

I made it a little farther into Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future.

It’s an interesting futurist take on where we’re headed in terms of AI and other tech, but I didn’t find it particularly applicable to my day-to-day work.

What’s been on your reading list? I’m ready for some new titles!

Your Turn

How’d the last quarter shape up for you?

How are you tracking toward your goals?

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