December 8, 2022

Justice for Gemmel

Stellar business, nonpareil

Q3 2022 Progress Report – Side Hustle Nation

What a great summer!

Let’s try and catch up on what’s been going at Side Hustle Nation.

In these quarterly Progress Reports, I break down how the business grew (or shrunk), what I worked on, and other happenings from the last three months.

I’m super grateful to have had a lot of time off lately, especially in August and September. These little breaks often serve as a creative reset and give me some new perspective on the business — and the gratitude to be able to run it.

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.

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

What I’ve Been Working On

These are the projects that occupied most of my time this quarter.

From Twice a Week Side Hustle Show Episodes Back to Once

One of my big experiments last quarter was seeing what would happen if I released twice as many podcast episodes.

This was a result of the under-rated entrepreneurial skill of “looking around.” I noticed that many of the top entrepreneurship podcasts were publishing 2-5x per week — compared to just once for me.

In total, I ran the 2x a week format from April to mid-August, 4.5 months.

My hypothesis was the overall audience size (measured by Podtrac) would increase, but that the downloads for each individual episode may decrease.

In my mind it makes sense: give people twice as many menu options, they’re more likely to find something that appeals to them. But the amount of people who order each specific item will likely go down.

That’s pretty much what happened, but unfortunately I typically sell ads based on the number of downloads per episode — and didn’t sell many ads for the Monday episodes at all.

And because it took a decent amount more work, combined with me wanting to take some time off with the family over the summer, I retreated back to my once a week format.

I’ll probably still throw some shorter bonus episodes in the feed every now and then, but the show had a really strong September only releasing one episode a week.

In total, I released 19 new podcast episodes! Among the favorites were:

Prime Day Promo

In July, I put all my books on sale to coincide with Amazon’s Prime Day promotion.

Originally I was just going to send an email linking directly to the books, but I also wanted to include my affiliate link to take advantage of other Amazon shopping that would be happening over those couple days.

Unfortunately, Amazon affiliate links aren’t allowed in emails. (Though lots of people do it… I didn’t want to draw extra scrutiny.)

So I created this post instead, that listed my books and some other favorite Amazon purchases. Then I sent out emails promoting that blog post. It was an extra step, which I’m sure hurt conversion rates, but it was playing by the rules.

How did the promotion do?

Here are the totals:

  • $300 in Amazon Associates commissions that week
  • $264 in book royalties that week
  • Roughly $25 in incremental royalty “lift” the rest of July

Plus, I’m sure there were some Audible sales in there too, so maybe around $600 in total value.

And it was pretty cool to have 3 of my titles in the Top 20 books in the Entrepreneurship category on Amazon for a brief period.

Castbox Promo

At Podfest, I met Scott Johnson from the What Was That Like? podcast. It was great to swap tactics about growing our shows, and he had a new one for me: Castbox app advertising.

How it works is they promote your show in the Castbox app, guaranteeing at least 5,000 new subscribers.

The catch?

It was $3500!

Yikes.

I’d never spent that kind of money to advertise the show before — up until this summer I’d never spent a dime. But I decided to roll the dice and give it a shot.

In the end, Castbox delivered over 11,000 new “subscribers” (according to their reports). I didn’t see as many incremental downloads as I’d expect, but definitely a noticeable lift.

The promo ran in mid-August and comparing the Castbox numbers from July and from the previous September, I’m estimating the promo has delivered over 22,000 incremental downloads so far.

That works out to a cost of $0.15-0.17 per download, which compares really favorably to other podcast advertising services like MowPod (who I also met at Podfest), which charges $0.80 per download.

And if people like the show and stay subscribed, that cost will continue to go down. And hopefully they share it with others as well.

But it was a big expense, with kind of an indirect ROI in future sponsorship revenue.

Adding Calls to Action at the Bottom of Articles

Taking a cue from Matt Giovanisci, I went through my top 40-50 articles in terms of traffic, and added a bulleted call-to-action list at the bottom.

It looks like this:

These are 3 high-value actions any new reader can take. Prior to this, most articles just ended with a sign off or an invitation to leave a comment below.

The big goal was to see if I could improve the email opt-in rate (without resorting to popups). My baseline conversion rate was 1.7%.

After this change, the conversion rate was 1.9%. For the level of traffic the site gets, that tiny little bump is worth 10-15 new sign-ups a day.

Soundcloud Trial

Another experiment I tried to grow the Side Hustle Show audience was syndicating episodes to Soundcloud.

Unlike other podcast listening destinations, Soundcloud requires a separate hosting subscription. It cost $15 a month and I think I got less than 10 listens over the course of my two month trial.

So I pulled the plug on that.

Listener Win of the Week

In an effort to encourage listener involvement, I tried adding a “win of the week” segment to the show. I used Speakpipe to set up a landing page for easy recording. I promoted it on air, in the email newsletter, and in the Facebook group, but didn’t get many submissions.

I think I got 3 or 4 I was able to use, but not really worth the effort.

New Blog Content

At the beginning of the year, I created a Google Sheet with several keywords I wanted to target, and a monthly plan to tackle those articles.

I didn’t do a ton of writing this quarter, but added to the library:

In most cases, a freelance or guest author submitted the first draft, and I cleaned and formatted it.

You’ll notice that some of those are more listicle format posts, some are reviews or informational content, and some are based on podcast interviews. Not every podcast episode easily lends itself to SEO/search intent, but many episodes do. When that’s the case, I do my best to beef up the show notes to create a resource worthy of ranking on the first page.

And as usual, I spent a good chunk of time updating the archive content as well.

YouTube Content

I published 5 new videos this quarter, not including several YouTube shorts (created with Lumen5 based on audio from my now-defunct Money Making Minute podcast).

None has over 1000 views 🙁

A few of the videos are video versions of full podcast episodes. But somewhere in the editing from the Zencastr raw video through Screencast-o-Matic, the video itself gets all jumpy, which makes it hard to watch.

I’ve got to figure that out before I push more episodes over to YouTube.

Cool Business / Lifestyle Stuff That Happened

Enjoyed the Northwest Summer

We made the most of a beautiful summer in the Pacific Northwest, my first here since 2004. That meant lots of swimming, hiking, bike rides, golfing, Mariners games, picking blueberries, roasting marshmallows, and more.

denny creek hike

The nearby pool was open for lap swimming early in the morning so I’d bike over there 3-4 days a week to get some exercise. It felt great to swim again, even though I’m so much slower than I remember being!

Visited Friends in California

We took a family trip to see friends in Tahoe and Livermore in August. It was fun to see everyone and for the kids to stop by their old school.

Solved a Rubik’s Cube!

I spent more time on this than I care to admit, but it was so satisfying to finally finish! I tried watching YouTube videos but they were all WAY too fast and difficult to rewind to the exact spot.

So what ended up working was this 40-year old pamphlet Bryn’s mom had saved. It still took a lot of studying — and actually coloring in some of the pages since it was in black and white — but eventually I got it figured out.

I think the next step would be memorizing the different rules and patterns to move the colors around — I wouldn’t be able to do it without looking at the instructions.

Attended My 7th FinCon

After they announced FinCon was going to be in Orlando, I have to admit I was less-than-thrilled to make another cross-country trip.

Should I go? I’d already bought my ticket last year but it would be cheap to eat that cost and still save on the flight and hotel.

My tie-breaker was submitting a speaking proposal: if I got selected to speak, I’d go. If not, I’d sit it out.

That was pretty silly thinking — my speaking proposal did get accepted, but within 10 minutes of walking into the lobby of the conference hotel I knew I was in the right place! These are my people, and it was so great to spend a few days talking shop and catching up on life and business.

It’s pretty rare to have a community of people all super supportive, putting good work out into the world, and accomplishing big things.

Turned 40

It was a milestone trip around the sun this September. To commemorate the occasion, I updated my big list of things I’ve learned in my time on this planet.

Visited the Rose Bowl

Our annual tradition of attending a Husky road game resumed with a trip to Pasadena at the end of September. The Dawgs didn’t manage a victory, but we still had a good time!

Growth of the Nation

There are 4 main metrics I track:

  1. Website traffic
  2. Podcast downloads
  3. Email subscribers
  4. Overall profit

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.”

Website Traffic

Side Hustle Nation received around 8,300 visits a day in Q3, up slightly from last year but up almost 8% compared with Q2.

q3 2022 traffic growth

The biggest spike on the chart is when I was (briefly) featured on Inside Edition on Labor Day. It was a little weird since we filmed the segment in June, but did have a couple friends message me that Monday that they saw me on TV.

Other fun milestone: the site hit over 1 million pageviews for the quarter!

Podcast Downloads

The Side Hustle Show saw over 1,500,000 downloads during Q3, or around 16k downloads a day. That’s about the same as Q2, and what’s cool about that is I cut off the 2x a week schedule in mid-August.

That means the show reached a similar download total in fewer episodes.

q3 2022 podcast growth

Perhaps more important than the raw download counts is Podtrac’s estimation of overall audience size. I believe they’re tracking this based on the number of unique devices downloading or streaming your show.

podtrac monthly audience size q3 2022

Any month over 100k is awesome in my book.

I’m encouraged to see the peaks on the download chart starting to creep up since mid-August. They’re now reaching over 30,000 downloads on new-episode release days.

Email Subscribers

I added around 7,000 net new email subscribers in Q3 (after unsubscribes). That’s about 76 new subscribers per day, up significantly from Q3.

q2 2022 email subscriber growth

These new email subscribers are coming in from:

As noted above, the BC Stack drove hundreds of new email subscribers. When people registered for the Podcast Growth Playbook course, they were automatically added to the Side Hustle Nation email list. (via Zapier)

I ended the quarter with 94,688 subscribers. To reach my goal of 100,000 by the end of the year, I’ll need to add 57 net new subscribers a day from here on out.

It’s gonna be close!

Overall Profit

The year is off to a great start profit-wise. Margins are strong and it’s rewarding to see some of my projects starting to pay off and build on each other.

There were some disappointments this summer in losing one important affiliate partner and having payouts cut for a few others. That was frustrating but has long been part of the affiliate game.

What I Read

Taking Stock

My friend Jordan Grumet (aka Doc G from the Earn and Invest podcast) penned this thoughtful personal finance guide from his perspective as a hospice doctor.

This will make you think twice about how much is “enough” and the brevity of life.

I’ve still got some homework to do on the worst-case-scenario planning side of things as a result.

Soul in the Game

I’d never read any of Vitaliy Katsenelson’s stuff prior to this, but his team sent me a copy and I thought it looked interesting. Inside are stories about growing up in Russia, raising good kids, Stoicism, and building a consistent creative practice.

Becoming Trader Joe

The origin story of Trader Joe’s. Interesting, but not amazing.

Maybe most insightful were the parts about building a company culture and how Joe spotted some long-term demographic trends that helped guide decision-making.

Ghost in the Wires

This is the fun true story of a famous telephone system and computer hacker, Kevin Mitnick.

What I found most interesting was that many of his “hacks” were what he called “social engineering.” Instead of brute-forcing a system or hacking into some obscure technical backdoor, he’d just call people within the company posing as a co-worker. If he knew enough of the internal lingo, the person on the other end of the line would often help out or give access without asking too many questions.

The EXITpreneur’s Playbook

I picked this one up at FinCon from the Quiet Light brokerage booth. Got me thinking on what it would take to make Side Hustle Nation an attractive acquisition target. Bottom line: I’ve got a lot of work to do before that happens!

And then, I’d still have to come up with a good answer to the question of what to do next. Just retire? Start another project? There are certainly some aspects I’d miss, but I’d be lying if I said the idea of getting paid for the next 3-5 years upfront wasn’t pretty compelling.

What’s Next?

What projects are on the horizon for Q4? I feel like I’m still playing catch up from the summer!

The side hustle quiz I mentioned last quarter is still on the table. Other than that and continuing to add new content, I’m working on some systems and scaling work to remove myself from the work that doesn’t require my direct involvement.

Easier said than done, but plenty of opportunities.

The business operates well when I’m not sitting in front of the computer, but after a few days or weeks, the work starts to pile up. It’s fragile in that way, and I wonder if there’s a way to strengthen it and grow at the same time.

Maybe a homepage redesign is in the works for 2023.

Your Turn

How’s the year shaping up for you so far?

What were the biggest projects you made progress on! Let me know in the comments below.