Quarterly Progress Report – Q2 2020
Oh 2020 … I’m somewhere between “when will this year be over??” and “how is it July already??”
We’re still in a semi-strict social distancing protocol here in California. We haven’t seen family or most of our close friends in months.
Playgrounds are closed, as is the zoo and the library. Lots of conversations with our 4-year-old start or end with “when the germs go away.”
Still, we’re grateful for the extra time we have together and to be able to get outside. We’ve got a pretty decent routine going between riding bikes, looking for blackberries, playing on the patio, building LEGOs, and eating plenty of snacks.
And with preschool closed until at least mid-August, it looks like more of the same on the horizon as well.
Part of me questions what I was doing work-wise that was so important I sent the little guys to preschool 4 days a week before. And part of me can’t wait for a break. Even just a few hours!
We’re not taking for granted how fortunate we are to be able to work from home (with flexible hours), and I know we’ll remember this “era” forever. When the boys aren’t at each other’s throats, they’re pretty fun 🙂
In any case, that’s my preamble to say that even though work hours have been limited, business is still humming along.
Let the Quartely Progress Report tradition continue.
Table of Contents
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.
In fact, 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
There are 3 main metrics I track:
- 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 a little under 6000 visits a day during Q2. That’s down a bit from Q1, which isn’t unusual for the site (January typically sees a big surge in side hustle interest).
The bigger story is that the site got whacked by the May 4th Google algorithm update, which trimmed off 20-30% of the search traffic overnight. Ouch!
Overall, traffic is still up compared to 2019, but I’ve spent some time trying to re-optimize some posts that lost rankings.
The tallest spikes on the chart this time all coincide with my weekly newsletters, with the highest of those being when I promoted my post on in-demand freelance skills.
Podcast download growth:
After a pretty weak March and April, The Side Hustle Show showed some signs of recovery in May and June. In fact, May ended up being the second-highest download month ever, which was encouraging.
Overall, the show was downloaded over 1,000,000 times in Q2, or roughly 11,000 downloads a day. That’s up about 8% from the same period last year.
These stats are from Libsyn, my podcast host, but I’ve actually started using Podtrac for some stats as well. Once cool thing Podtrac does is give you an estimate of your overall audience size, based on the number of unique devices that are downloading your show.
Per Podtrac, the show had a global audience of:
- 75,000 listeners in April
- 99,000 in May
- 97,000 in June
I’ve started including those metrics at the top of the podcast archive page:
Social proof, right?
This month, July, I’m actually changing up for the format a bit with a series of debate-style shows comparing and contrasting popular side hustles. Should be fun!
Email list growth:
Interesting quarter for the email list. I’ve tried a few things to re-ignite opt-ins (see under “What I’ve Been Working On” below), but none have been home runs.
One initiative involved creating text-message opt-ins for a few podcast episodes. I did this for 5 different episodes this year, and received an average of 12 opt-ins per episode. Hmm probably not worth the effort or the airtime, or at least I need to re-think the offer.
(I used LeadPages to facilitate this, like, “text HELENTIPS to 33444 to receive a summary of Helen’s top tips from this episode.”)
Q2 started with around 70,600 subscribers, and ended the quarter with around 66,300 subscribers, a drop of about 4300 people.
The reason for the decline is I resumed my habit of deleting inactive subscribers, and actually added an automation to remove these subscribers automatically.
The interesting thing is I’m actually seeing lower open rates after deleting them. So maybe it makes sense to just let the list ride until someone explicitly asks to be removed or clicks “unsubscribe.”
I don’t know the answer.
My open rates are typically between 22-28%. I’d love to hit 30% consistently!
Best performing subject line this quarter: “Retired at 37” – 28.5% open rate.
These numbers are from my email service provider, ActiveCampaign. You can read my full ActiveCampaign review and check out my video demo here. Pricing starts at just $9 a month!
Of course profit is an important metric to track in your business, but I’ve found it to be a “lagging indicator” compared to the others on this page. What I mean by that is if I can improve the other metrics, profits tend to rise.
For the first half of the year, profits are up about 10% compared to 2019. Still, I’m curious to see what the second half of 2020 brings.
Demand for podcast sponsorships seems to be weakening, and the shrinking email list and website traffic are concerning.
What I’ve Been Working On
Re-Thinking My Primary Lead Magnet
I’ve used “The 5 Fastest Ways to Make More Money” as my primary lead magnet here on Side Hustle Nation since 2014. I’ve updated it several times, but the basic structure and format have been the same. (A PowerPoint presentation delivered as a PDF.)
In 2020, I feel like the value of a freebie “ebook” is greatly diminished. “Oooh a PDF!” –said no one ever.
Plus, 65% of my traffic is mobile. It doesn’t make sense to have people pinching and zooming a PDF in order to consume the content.
So what I’m testing instead is creating a private, mobile-friendly page here on the site. I don’t have the best metrics, but it seems to be getting more engagement so far.
Google Ads Test
This quarter, I fired up Google Adwords for the first time since 2014. My hypothesis: Could I drive profitable paid traffic to a blog post?
Early results are positive, even though the numbers aren’t huge:
- April: spent $22, made $51 = +$30
- May: spent $117, made $221 = +$100
- June: spent $234, made $434 = +$200
What’s exciting here is getting high quality clicks for less than $0.10. I had no idea that was possible via Google Ads in 2020. (Rising ad costs were one factor that sunk my previous business.)
One drawback here is that my conversion tracking isn’t perfect. I’m using estimated earnings-per-click data, rather than attributing actual affiliate conversions to their source.
Rumor has it a tool like ClickMeter could get that done, so maybe that’s the next step here.
Fusebox Podcast Player Opt-In
At the beginning of the quarter, I debated swapping out the embedded Fusebox podcast player on Side Hustle Nation to Spotify’s.
The advantages of Spotify are that it’s free and there’s a built-in “follow” button that subscribes people to your show. That, and Spotify has been making big moves in the podcasting space. Building a listener base on the app could potentially lead to more exposure.
But when I checked, there was no option to increase the playback speed. That’s a must-have feature for my impatient self 🙂
I learned that Fusebox has a cool feature where you can put an email opt-in link right in the player. Example at the top of this page.
Design-wise, it doesn’t look amazing (it’s pulling the form style directly from ActiveCampaign), but it’s generated about 50 sign-ups so far.
As far as I can tell, you have to pick one lead magnet to embed site-wide — not use it for individual lead magnets for each episode.
Passed 10k YouTube subscribers
YouTube was a bright spot this quarter, as my channel passed 10,000 subscribers. My first video, which I actually just deleted, was from 2012! (It was a compilation of clips from the Red Bull Flugtag in San Francisco.)
It’s also my first time ever seeing the 28-day revenue number over $400! Passive income ftw lol 🙂
In an effort to start creating more / better video content, I actually moved my workstation out of the closet and into a corner of master bedroom. The light is much better!
That said, I believe there’s an 80/20 to video production. I don’t plan to compete with the super well-produced cinematic videos with motion graphics and all that stuff, but I think there’s room for shorter form interview content, re-purposing/complementing archive blog content, and even re-publishing podcast content.
I used to push almost every episode of The Side Hustle Show over to YouTube with just a static placeholder image. Some of those “videos” have tens of thousands of views, but most (not surprisingly) didn’t perform very well.
The strategy I’m testing now is to schedule out some of the best episodes, especially those with search-engine friendly titles, and use the free Headliner app to create a wave-form video.
I know YouTube can be a powerful content discovery engine, and I’m excited to build a better presence there.
Facebook Group Efforts
The Side Hustle Nation community on Facebook now has more than 24,000 members! For the most part, it’s an engaged and supportive community, but like any group that size, it attracts a bit of spam and self-promotion.
Thankfully, I’ve got an awesome crew of moderators who sniff out the offending posts and comments right away, but I tried to think about addressing the cause and not just the symptom.
What if we made it a little harder for people to join? I’m totally fine “tapping the brakes” on growing the group if it means getting the right people in the door — and keeping the wrong ones out.
So I’m testing 3 things:
- Updating the group description, which people can see before they request to join.
- Asking different new member questions
- Welcoming new members each week
1. New Group Description
Here’s what that the new description looks like:
(The old description basically only had the first part about “the official community.”
While many members discover the group through the blog, the podcast, the email list, or my books, others discover the group organically through Facebook. For those people, I wanted to see if I could convert them into email subscribers and podcast listeners!
(And credit where credit is due — I modeled this description of Abbey Ashley’s Virtual Assistant Savvies group.)
2. New Membership Questions
Next, I updated the questions new prospective members see when they request to join. The old questions were:
- When it comes to starting or growing your side hustle, what are you struggling with?
- Are you subscribed to The Side Hustle Show? (If not, go subscribe)
I changed those to:
- Do you have a side hustle? If yes, tell me about it.
- What do you hope to get out of this group?
- How did you discover this group?
And some people are surprisingly honest here. As in, “I hope to recruit members to my MLM.”
Awesome. Thanks for letting me know upfront so I can avoid letting you in!
Being more selective has slowed growth about 20%, from 26 new members a day to 21.
3. Welcoming New Members
Now let’s be real, spammers gonna spam. But I also read somewhere that members who feel welcomed are more likely to take part in the community.
And Facebook makes it really easy to do this and tag everyone who joined in the last 7 days:
Also I’ve tested a couple weeks of creating welcome posts for new members.
In my posts, I draft a quick welcome message and include 3 high-value calls-to-action:
- Join the email newsletter
- Subscribe to the podcast
- Check out the big list of side hustle ideas
(That last one has the ulterior motive of preventing “give me ideas” threads, which inevitably lead to people pitching their network marketing business.)
I also created a new email opt-in page for the Facebook group:
I used LeadPages to build this page, and created a new form in ActiveCampaign so I could track sign-ups.
Between the description text and the welcome messages, this effort is generating 5-10 email new sign-ups per day.
On-Page SEO / Re-Publishing 8 Older Posts
Since the site got whacked by the May 4th algorithm update, I spent some time trying to recover some of the lost traffic.
Some actions included:
- Updating and adding content to high-priority posts
- Adding or updating image alt-tags
- Examining Google Search Console data for secondary keywords to target
- Adding more internal links from other posts
- Adding outbound “authority” links to support data or arguments
- Removing low quality comments
The biggest project here was completely re-vamping my list of ways to make extra money. That post had been originally written in 2016, and updated several times since then, but was due for a wholesale restructuring.
Despite the update, it’s still stuck at the bottom of page 1 for its primary keywords. It’s probably too early to tell the full results of this effort, but I think it’s a good practice and almost a requirement maintenance task for a blog.
Don’t neglect your archive content. Once you’ve written something, that’s an asset that can serve you and your audience for years. Make sure to keep it up-to-date so new readers can find and benefit from it.
Beaver Builder Saved Rows
When I redesigned the site in 2017, I used Beaver Builder to help create some custom pages. Then I kind of forgot about it and didn’t really use it again.
Fast forward to this year, and I’ve been using Beaver Builder a bit more to create some “saved rows” — basically content you can quickly insert and update across multiple pages.
For example, if I want to point people to a certain credit card with a nice sign-up bonus, I can insert a saved row like this:
Credit cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card offer up to 30% cash back — $150 after you spend $500 in your first 3 months — with no annual fee.
Learn more and compare this card to other cash back cards here.
If you know you’re gonna spend $500 in the next 3 months, that’s #freemoney. This card also gives you one of the highest cash back rates, with unlimited 1.5% back on every dollar you spend.
(Still working on some formatting / css issues.)
The advantage is I can update that content in one place, instead of going into every post that might feature it.
I also created this one for The Side Hustle Show:
Find The Side Hustle Show in your favorite podcast player app, or listen in right in your browser.
Part of the idea is to make content that’s more visually interesting, instead of just staring at a wall of text.
10 New Blog Posts
With the transition to publishing more in-depth podcast show notes, the line is really starting to blur between what constitutes a blog post vs. a straight podcast episode these days. But for the sake of this exercise, these were the most popular pieces of new written content (with no complementary episode):
Of these posts, most of the time I was playing an editing role to freelancers and guest authors, rather than drafting the entire thing from scratch. In fact, aside from the last Progress Report, the only one that was all me start-to-finish was how to make money in college.
Still, when I look at posts like that, I’m reminded about how much I do really enjoy writing when it’s a topic I’m excited about.
14 Podcast Episodes
The most popular episodes of the quarter were:
I did a couple solo shows this quarter too, including:
I loved compiling the bits of usually very-literal advice from dad, and turning those into broader life lessons. Plus, he and my brother both make cameo appearances in that one.
And then I returned to the phone-in round-up format in Pandemic Pivots, asking members of Side Hustle Nation how their business has changed this year.
To change up the format a bit this summer, we’re kicking off a series of “Side Hustle Showdown” episodes — friendly debates highlighting two sides of popular side hustles.
Is there a particular topic you’d like to hear on an upcoming episode?
Let me know in the comments below!
Cool Biz / Lifestyle Stuff that Happened
Normally this is the section where I talk about travel and other adventures … but there hasn’t been much of that going on. We did leave the house to go cherry picking though 🙂
Our Youngest Turned 2
I love this age, and it’s awesome to watch Little Hustler #2 learn and talk more every day. He’s adorable … yes, I’m biased 🙂
We do lots of biking. I think we can get him on the pedal bike by 2 and a half.
The end of Greatest Showman got me pretty good …
Oh, this is the greatest show
It’s everything you ever want
It’s everything you ever need
And it’s here right in front of you
This is where you wanna be
Meanwhile, our oldest has been working through a bunch of LEGO sets. The 3-in-1 “Creator” series has been awesome … basically 3 kits to build for the price of one.
At one point we caught him building with his eyes closed. “Why are you doing that?” we asked.
“So I can be a master builder.”
He’s also been into the Dragon Masters series — not reading by himself yet, but at least they’re more entertaining for us to read to him than the same picture books over and over again.
I recently did my 3rd year of WellnessFX blood testing. This is an effort to see if anything is out of whack and if any adjustments need to be made.
Always good to get a snapshot of what’s going on inside.
Embracing the Easy Button
One thing I think is actually going well during quarantine is meal prep and meal planning. Since we’re making fewer trips out for groceries, we’ve been leaning on HelloFresh and Sun Basket delivery services.
We’d tried a few of these in the past, but frugal ol’ me always had a hard time justifying the cost. And truthfully, sometimes I still do. So instead of the sticker price, you have to think about it in terms of all the time and mental energy you’re not spending planning and shopping.
If you want to try these for yourself, you can get a discount through my referral links:
- HelloFresh – $40 off – Lots of tasty options based on dietary preferences, filling meals, often heavy on the rice/pasta/tortillas.
- Sun Basket – $40 off – Easier to prep, more interesting menu, more low carb options, but sometimes pretty small servings.
We’ve also taken advantage of delivery services from Costco, Target, and Amazon / Whole Foods. I talked about this on the podcast, but I feel like it might actually save us money since we’re not getting sucked into the impulse buys in the store! 🙂
All said, this probably saves at least a couple hours a week.
Any favorite food delivery services we should check out?
What I Read
I’d been on the hunt for a book about longevity or healthy aging and found it in Lifespan: Why We Age — And Why We Don’t Have To. This one gets really deep into the weeds of microbiology, so I’d probably look for a more actionable summary instead of plowing through all the science.
The big idea I took away was there seems to be tremendous benefit in activating “survival circuits” for cellular recovery. Could you stress your body and your cells a little bit, so they repair themselves, without putting them at long-term risk?
The jury seems to still be out (pending human clinical trials) on how to mimic this result with supplements, but the author proposed a few ways to do this safely and naturally:
- Intermittent fasting (I try and eat between 11am and 7pm, and fast the rest of the time)
- Plant-based diet (We’ve significantly cut back on meat in the last 9 months)
- High intensity workouts / movement
- Cold/heat exposure (we live our lives the “thermo-neutral zone” … get out of your comfort level once in a while!)
As far as supplements, the author didn’t recommend specific brands, but did say he currently takes:
- NMN supplement – 1000mg a day every morning
- Resveratrol supplement – 1000mg daily
- Daily dose of Vitamin D, K2
(I haven’t added any of these to my routine yet.)
I’ve found I really enjoy what I’ll call “business thrillers,” and Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, definitely falls into that category. loved reading the story of Uber.
Things The Rich Don’t Want You To Know
A lot of the more advanced tax strategies in here went over my head, but it was still interesting to explore Noah Kagan’s “Rich Person” book. He sells the paperback for $100 (because it’s for rich people), but the Kindle edition was just $9.99 at press time.
It’s a short read and did make me re-think some asset allocation.
We’re trying to get our kids to stop saying “I can’t” and instead say something like, “I can figure it out,” “I can do hard things,” “I’m still learning,” or other growth-minded phrases.
I had a hard time getting through this one. To do it over, I might look up a summary for parents instead.
100 Side Hustles
I finally got around to reading this coffee-table style side hustle book by Chris Guillebeau.
It was fun to see all the familiar faces and creative stories, including:
- Jodi Carlson – The $5k a month girl scout blog.
- Rene Delgado – $300k in drop shipping sales his first year. (At press time, Rene’s episode is the most-downloaded Side Hustle Show episode of all time.)
- Robert Farrington – Beyond the powerhouse personal finance site, TheCollegeInvestor.com.
- Chris Schwab – A local cleaning service.
- Mike Benkovich – Mike wrote this guide on affiliate marketing for beginners.
- Harry Campbell – The Rideshare Guy.
- Ryan Grant – Amazon FBA seller extraordinaire.
- Shirag Shemmassian – Grad school admissions consulting — $600k+ on the side!
- Alexandra Kenin – Hiking tours in San Francisco.
- Maury McCoy – Maury sells plans to create an Abraham Lincoln portrait out of pennies.
- Teresa Greenway – Teaches online classes on how to bake awesome sourdough bread.
Start from Zero
Start from Zero by Dane Maxwell is different than most business books you’ll read, in a good way. Among my highlights:
Business simplified: Customer — uses a mechanism — to get a result
The most important question to ask yourself: “Did I build any equity today?”
Dane’s 5-question idea extraction framework:
- Over the course of the last year, what has been your most persistent and present problem?
- How do you currently go about solving that problem?
- What happens if you don’t solve that problem?
- What would your dream solution be? (Or) If you could wave a magic wand, how would you solve this problem?
- Would that be worth paying for, and if so, how much?
I love this because it takes the pressure off you to come up with a side hustle idea, and instead lets your prospects drive the conversation.
What’s new on your bookshelf?
How’d the quarter shape up for you?
How are you tracking toward your goals?
Hope you’re staying safe and finding ways to navigate this brave new world!