Quarterly Progress Report Q2 2017

Progress report time! I’ve been doing these quarterly progress reports for the last couple 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 a quarter of consistent effort, content creation, and watching our little hustler learn more every day.

One of my favorite moments was last week on the 4th of July, when he stayed up way past his bedtime to watch the fireworks. Each time there was a break in the show, he’d put his hands together in the baby sign language sign for “more” and ask, “More?”

Super cute.

Other than that, I’ve been working on physical therapy rehab for my shoulder after my surgery in March. I’m excited to get back on the softball field and throw at full strength again.

Side Hustle Nation also passed some big milestones this quarter:


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 turned 4 years old, so you’re looking at over 1400 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 over 4700 visits a day during the quarter. That’s down about 10% per day compared with last quarter, but almost 50% higher than what it was during the same time period last year.

As usual, traffic was pretty consistent throughout the quarter.

What am I doing to improve the traffic numbers? The biggest change was bringing on a dedicated Pinterest VA to help give my profile a makeover, redo some high-value pin images, and drive more traffic and email sign-ups.

Since starting at the beginning of June, she’s reversed the year-long downward trend in Pinterest referrals and already almost doubled the traffic.

Podcast download growth:

The Side Hustle Show averaged 6500 downloads per day during Q2, also down about 10% compared with Q1.

I’d seen a huge spike in the first quarter so while part of me is bummed the climb didn’t continue, I’m not totally shocked either.

In raw numbers, the podcast is almost 2x as big as it was in Q2 2016 so the year-over-year growth is still strong.

It’s also exciting to see continued interest from sponsors like Freshbooks, Sanebox, DesignCrowd, ZipRecruiter, and SendPro.

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 it was a down quarter here too. I added around 51 net new subscribers per day in Q2, compared with 82 a day in Q1.

I attribute the decline to the slowdown in blog and podcast traffic, as well as deleting a bunch of inactive subscribers.

As painful as it is to do, I deleted thousands of inactive subscribers throughout the quarter. My current process for email list “cleanup” looks like this:

  1. Once a month or so, create a segment of everyone who hasn’t opened an email in the last 6 months.
  2. Send them a “breakup letter.” I ask if they’re still interested in side hustling and include links to some of the best content from the last 6 months they may have missed.
  3. After a few days, delete those subscribers who didn’t open the breakup letter.

If you don’t take this action with your email list, you’ll see a slow steady decline in your open rate, which can send the signal to email service providers like Gmail your messages don’t belong in the inbox.

Still, I’m excited about this growing list and it’s nuts to think about 50,000 people. That’s a stadium-full of hustlers getting my emails! It’s a lot of pressure every Thursday to write that newsletter!

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I’ll share a little more below on what I’ve been working on when it comes to the email list.

What’s Working

Theme Days

I picked up the “Theme Day” idea from Mike Vardy and have been loving it ever since implementing it in April.

Here’s a look at my daily themes:

  • Mondays – Content creation for Side Hustle Nation. What that looks like in practice is finalizing that week’s podcast episode and working on writing for the blog.
  • Tuesdays – Meetings and podcast interviews. With a few rare exceptions, it’s now the only day of the week I have calls or meetings, and that’s been probably the biggest gamechanger.
  • Wednesdays – Various side hustle projects and admin stuff.
  • Thursdays – SHN growth projects. Lately that’s been working on the new version of the Side Hustle Nation website and re-working the onboarding email sequences.
  • Fridays – Family day.

In my ScheduleOnce booking tool, Tuesday is now the only day that’s open.

What that’s done is opened up bigger blocks of uninterrupted time the rest of the week, which has been really helpful in moving forward with deep work blocks or on longer term projects I would normally procrastinate on because there wasn’t enough time to make meaningful progress.

Do you theme your days? Think it’s worth a shot?

Amazon Book Ads

I’ve been playing around with AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) book ads for the last few months, and have found them to be a profitable way to sell more books.

In fact, these ads are probably the main reason Buy Buttons remains in the top 20,000 in the Kindle store.

What Amazon has done is added a 2nd carousel row to book pages. The first is the familiar “people who bought this also bought this” one, but the second one right below that is sponsored products:

Oh hi, Chandler!

As an author, these ads give your book the chance of being discovered. You can enter in the titles and authors of much more popular books in your niche and start showing up as sponsored products on their book pages.

Getting eyeballs to your book page is a huge challenge, and AMS ads solve it.

Now I should warn you that the raw numbers aren’t huge and that Amazon’s reporting is horrible. But since I’ve started running ads, I’ve spent a little over $3000 and sold over $9000 worth of books.

Profitable ads a great way to meet your minimum spend for a credit card sign-up bonus 🙂

Most of those were at a 70% royalty — but that figure includes paperback sales through CreateSpace — so you have to estimate your actual author earnings. I estimate mine at $5000-5500, leaving me with a $2000-2500 advertising profit over the last 7 months or so.

(The system also doesn’t track audiobook sales or Kindle Unlimited borrows / page reads attributed to your ads.)

If you want to learn more about how to set up a profitable campaign for your own book(s), my friend Dave Chesson’s free AMS Course is the best resource I’ve found.

He walks you through everything you need to know in an easy-to-follow way, with several examples.

What I’ve Been Working On

11 Blog Posts

I felt like this was a good quarter for writing and created a few posts I was quite proud of, including the new monster piece I spent the most time on: 37 Proven Ways to Grow Your Side Hustle Business: How to Get More Traffic, Leads, and Customers.

The most popular posts of the quarter were:

The interesting thing is that nothing I published last quarter was in the top 25 most visited pages. Those spots were all occupied by popular content from the archives, which is actually something I talked about in the latest “#1 tips” episode.

Joseph Hogue argued that if you don’t expect a piece of content to be able to stand alone and generate its own traffic from search or social, why are you creating it? So it’s cool to see all these “old” pieces of content still holding their own and still generating traffic, and it’s something I aim for now with nearly everything I publish.

13 Podcast Episodes

Even though the podcast numbers are down slightly from Q1, 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:

I think you’ll begin to notice a broader range of episodes with varying styles, including the round-up show in episode 230, the return of public coaching in episode 234, and the #1 tips solo show in episode 236.

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Plus there’s some more fun stuff coming in the next few months.

Merch by Amazon

Bryn and I’s Merch by Amazon side hustle is closing in on $1000 in revenue for the year!

We haven’t had any viral sensations yet, but have been doing OK following Elaine Heney’s advice of making shirts that piggyback on trending topics and holidays.

And yes, we have a few hustle-themed ones for sale too 🙂

I see this as a shotgun/volume game. We’re now at the 500-shirt tier, meaning we could upload 500 different designs.

That’s a lot of opportunity to appear in Amazon’s search results and I think if we build out that inventory this could turn into a $500-1000 per month income stream.

Scott Voelker’s $500 Challenge

In episode 226 of The Side Hustle Show, Scott Voelker challenged listeners to make $500 on the side in the next 7 days by selling stuff on ebay and Craigslist. I didn’t hit the $500 mark but I have gotten rid of several “dust-collecting” items around the house and brought in a little over $100 so far.

Among the items that sold were these old Asics sneakers:

Getting paid to declutter is super satisfying!

My YouTube Channel

By working on it, I mean I’ve been adding the old podcast episodes to YouTube in a more drip-feed fashion, instead of all at once every 6 months.

I know Libsyn can get this done automatically, but I’ve been doing it manually via TunesToTube.com because that way I’ve got a little more flexibility on the placeholder image, title, and description.

I also turned on YouTube ads for the first time and have got myself a new little income stream — $64.29 and counting so far!

I also found a cool tool video front: Lumen5.com. This slick software helps you convert your blog posts into videos for Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube quickly and easily.

For example, I made this one in about 45 minutes and saw 5x the engagement of a typical post from my Facebook page:

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: it’s currently free!

And the FB results:

Email Migration and Improved Onboarding Sequences

One project I’m really excited about is finally migrating to a modern email marketing automation platform. I’ve got nothing but love for AWeber as they’ve served me really well over the last 4.5 years, but I was looking for something a little more robust.

I found that in Active Campaign.

A big driver for the switch was being able to send new subscribers more relevant and timely content. In AWeber, I could only “tag” a subscriber one time, and everyone was pushed through a one-size-fits-all welcome sequence.

For instance, if someone opted in for something related to freelancing and then for something related to ecommerce, the system wouldn’t capture that interest in ecommerce. Not ideal.

So what I’ve built out in Active Campaign is half a dozen different autoresponder sequences related to the specific side hustle the subscriber expressed interest in (by downloading a lead magnet).

For instance, here’s the start of one Automation I built for people interested in blogging.

These were super fun to outline and build out, but really took a lot of brain power! I found myself using all available RAM to get these done 🙂

My theory is that will be more helpful and more engaging than sending everyone through the same generic sequence. After all, if someone already has a business running, it probably doesn’t make sense to send them a message like “4 side hustles you can start this week.”

I test-drove a few different email marketing services before making the move, and hope to share a full breakdown of what I learned on the blog soon.

SHN 3.0

The last time this site saw a major facelift was right around New Year’s 2014. I remember because I wanted to have it done before heading off to New Media Expo in Las Vegas the first weekend in January that year.

So it’s safe to say it’s long overdue for a refresh! Here’s a sneak-peek at the new homepage, which I hope to have live very soon!

The primary goal of the update is to help people get where they need to go faster. You’ll find improved filtering in the site’s categorization and on the podcast archives page.

The new theme has the ability to hide the sidebar on certain posts to create a single column reading experience. I’m excited to get this thing up and running and see what kind of impact it has on the engagement metrics like time on site and email conversions.

I’ll break down my redesign process, methodology, and the tools I used in a later post.

Cash Flow Investing

Inspired in part by Dr. Kenyon Meadows and Ace Chapman, I’ve been on a slow mission to “buy” more cash flow. So far that’s taken the shape of dividend stocks and my first few loans with PeerStreet.

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Later that might look like direct real estate investment, business lending, or even buying another business outright. (Though that last one didn’t end so well for me the first time.)

Related: Do you know your net worth? Check out Personal Capital.

Publishing on Medium

After my interview with Ben Foley, I had to take another crack at writing on Medium to see what all the fuss was about.

I’ve been accepted as a contributing writer on The Mission, one of the largest Medium publications, and published one post there so far (re-purposed from the SHN blog of course). It didn’t exactly go viral, but it definitely got more views than any of my other Medium posts to date.

I’ll keep swinging over there to see what happens.

Cool Biz / Lifestyle Stuff that Happened

We didn’t do much traveling this quarter, but that will definitely change come August and September. Instead we had plenty of visitors in town as all the family wanted to spend time with our little hustler.

He’s growing bigger and smarter (and more opinionated) everyday. The past few months he did his first Easter egg hunts, got his first haircut, went cherry picking, went to a Mariners game in Oakland, and spent lots of time at the pool!

He didn’t love wearing his hat though…

In May I was invited to speak at FinCon Masters in San Francisco. My presentation was on automation and outsourcing but the best part of the event was just hanging out with the awesome FinCon community in a smaller setting.

A publishing company in Taiwan licensed the rights to Buy Buttons, and sent me a low 4-figure advance. I’ve definitely never gotten an advance before so that was pretty cool!

After our trips to Japan and Europe last year, Bryn decided she wanted a “do nothing” vacation. So we returned to one of our favorite spots in world: Cabo. We stayed at the same place we got married almost 7 years ago … only with a tiny 3rd wheel this time.

When my friend and longtime Side Hustle Nation member Andy McCabe came into town, it was awesome to finally hang out in real life and grab dinner.

A friend from softball asked me to speak at the SF WordPress Meetup, so I did a presentation on How to Start a Podcast for Less Than $100 … and how it can turn into multiple income streams.

It was a fun crowd with lots of great questions!

What I Read

I’ve been getting back into a nightly reading habit lately, and it feels like a good way to end the day.

Business Adventures

Recommended by Bill Gates, I figured I should check out these Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street.

Author John Brooks is a great storyteller but I didn’t find these stories particularly relevant to my business today.

The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture by [Pausch, Randy, Jeffrey Zaslow]I never watched the actual YouTube video of Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture, but I finally got around to reading the book and really enjoyed it. Some of my favorite parts:

  • “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”
  • “Not everything needs to be fixed.”
  • “Failure is not just acceptable, it’s often essential.”
  • “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”
  • “It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”

Highly recommend this one!

Habit Stacking

The latest edition of Steve “S.J.” Scott’s Habit Stacking is a quick and powerful read to get you thinking about the healthy micro habits you can add to your day.

No matter which area of your life you’re looking to improve, this book has ideas on how to you can it — and more importantly, make it habit.

Stay tuned to The Side Hustle Show because I’ve asked Steve to join me to break down the 10 “foundational” habits for side hustlers and entrepreneurs.

The 10% Entrepreneur

I love the idea between Patrick McGinnis’ 10% Entrepreneur. Invest 10% of your time and capital into building ownership stakes in businesses. He presents a few ways to get this done, including playing venture capitalist and angel investor, and becoming an advisor to startups to lend your expertise in exchange for equity.

Still, I found the book a little light on the how-to and seemed more geared toward the Wall Street / private equity crowd.

Your Turn

How’d the last quarter shape up for you?

The year’s half over — how are you tracking toward your goals?

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