Quarterly Progress Report – Q1 2022

Shaun H. Ruff


Highs and lows as we turn the calendar into April this year.

From the isolation of the whole family getting the ‘rona in January to some really strong traffic and profit months, never a dull moment!

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.

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

  • Tailor Brands — Get 40% off the all-in-one platform to build your online brand the smart way w/ code SIDEHUSTLE.

tailor brands

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 6,800 visitors a day in Q1, which was roughly the same as in Q1 2021. It’s typical for me to see a relative spike in traffic in January, and then a slow tapering decline as the quarter progresses.

side hustle nation traffic q1 2022

I’ve always attributed that to the optimism of New Year’s Resolutions and people’s interests in budgeting and developing new income streams in the new year.

Podcast Downloads

The Side Hustle Show saw over 1,000,000 downloads during Q1, up significantly from the year prior.

side hustle show download chart q1 2022

However, I also added a Podsights redirect to the feed at the beginning of the year, which led to a bunch of duplicate downloads. I was pretty pumped on the first Thursday until I realized that it was a glitch!

Still, even with those outlier spikes, the overall trend is higher than it was all last year which is a positive sign for me.

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 audience size q1 2022

Any month it’s above 90-100k is awesome in book.

Sponsorship inventory was completely filled in Q1 as well. Big thanks to Freshbooks, Skillshare, RankIQ, The Blogging Millionaire, and Nearside for supporting the show and Side Hustle Nation!

Email Subscribers

I added around 4,000 net new email subscribers in Q1 (after unsubscribes). That’s about 45 new subscribers per day, coming in from the Facebook group (via GroupLeads), podcast lead magnets, book lead magnets, and general Side Hustle Nation opt-in forms.

shn email growth q1 2022

Not gonna lie, the downward trend on the chart is kind of alarming. The biggest factor I can attribute that too is slower growth on the Side Hustle Nation FB group.

Maybe there was a shift in how FB was recommending the group to people over there, but the silver lining is it’s easier to moderate when there aren’t 100 new people coming in every day.

One of my projects for the quarter was trying to figure out how to convert more of my website traffic into email subscribers. The project has been plagued by technical challenges in getting Beaver Builder to behave properly, but I am starting to see some opt-ins to the various placements I’ve added.

Still more work to do on that front for sure though.

Overall Profit

The year started off extremely strong, thanks to a couple pre-paid podcast sponsorships. In fact, I think February may have been my most profitable month of all-time.

What I’ve Been Working On

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

Simplifying Onboarding Sequences and a “Long-Term Nurture” Campaign

Inspired in part by Rosemarie Groner, I wanted to do a better job at building a relationship with email subscribers. The system I’d been running for the last couple years would run new subscribers through a brief onboarding series, usually over the course of 5-10 days, depending on which “niche” they were grouped into.

(I have different onboarding paths for blogging, freelancing, e-commerce, etc.)

Then after that, they’d just be lumped into the weekly newsletter segment. I knew I could do a better job of introducing killer archive content that is otherwise buried.

So I built out a new weekly automation series in ActiveCampaign called “Long-Term Nurture.” It lasts 15 weeks and covers all sorts of fun stuff, including:

  • the most important skill(s) for side hustlers
  • how to escape the rat race
  • more on my entrepreneurial backstory, including failures and successes
  • some specific side hustle ideas and resources

The goals are to:

  • build a stronger relationship
  • help subscribers find the content that would be most beneficial
  • soft-sell The Traffic Course and other products
  • generate affiliate earnings

Over the long-run, I think I’ll be able to better answer the question “how much is an email subscriber worth?” Because if you know that number you can proactively try to improve that metric, and you can potentially advertise to find new subscribers and know how much you can afford to pay.

As part of this project, I went through and updated all the links in all my welcome sequences to include the UTM parameter “ltn” for “long-term nurture.” That way, when anyone clicks a link from an email to the website, and then subsequently follows an affiliate link, I’ll be able to estimate a dollar value from that click in Google Analytics.

estimated value of an email subscriber

So if this report is to be believed, the site earned approximately $136 from subscribers in welcome sequences over the last 30 days. But if I divide that by the roughly 2400 new subscribers over that time, I get a pretty dismal value of $0.05 per subscriber.

Of course the longer people stick around, the better the picture gets. They have more chances to make purchases and share content with their friends.

(The “email” campaign shown is the tag assigned to the weekly newsletter.)

Unfortunately, the piece of the pie I haven’t quite figured out just yet is how to estimate the value of affiliate clicks that happen directly from an email. Analytics doesn’t seem to pick those up, despite redirecting through the sidehustlenation domain with the PrettyLink plugin.

I don’t get postback conversion tracking or subID tracking from a lot of my affiliate partners, but if you have a solution or system for this, please let me know!

YouTube Content

I need to do a full breakdown of my YouTube experiments soon, but this is an exciting new frontier for me. This quarter, my channel passed 20,000 subscribers, and I published 12 new videos.

None of those have really hit the viral jackpot, but most are racking up steady views. In fact, the most popular video this quarter is my review of the popular Steady app.

What types of videos am I making?

  • Product reviews, like for Steady, Miles, and Respondent
  • Shorter interviews, like this one on flipping mattresses
  • “Talking head” instructional videos, often re-purposed from existing blog content
  • Re-purposed podcast episodes
  • Dabbling with YouTube shorts.

Short-form content is a challenge for me. My wheelhouse is a 45-minute podcast conversation or a 3,000 word blog post! Coming up with clever, witty, compelling tweets and TikTok videos is like learning a new language.

I like the idea of embedding these videos into existing blog content where relevant, and possibly even pulling the audio from certain ones to syndicate to the podcast. If you’re going through the trouble of creating the content, you might as well get it in front of as many people as you can.

Podcast Episodes

Q1 saw the release of 13 new podcast episodes, covering a wide range of business models. Among my favorites were:

Per the stats, our episodes with Georgia Austin on freelancing writing on Fiverr, our big brain dump of life hacks with Chris Hutchins from All the Hacks, and Johnny’s window cleaning business were the most popular of the quarter.

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.

So far that’s resulted in:

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.

It was helpful to map out this content plan and put a target month for publication. I started with a list of dozens of keywords, and prioritized those with the best happy medium in search volume and competitiveness.

And as usual, I spent a good chunk of time updating some of the pillar posts from the archives, including my lists of money-making apps, paid market research companies, the best items to flip for a profit, side hustle ideas, and more. One trend is trying to actually cut length from a lot of these posts—attempting to curate the best of the best, as opposed to just trying to create the longest article possible.

Adding Opt-in Forms to Side Hustle Nation

On my mission to reach 100,000 email subscribers this year, I recognized I need to do a better job of converting website visitors into email subscribers. The conversion rate is pretty low, maybe around 1%.

So my plan was to target high-traffic, low revenue pages, and plaster them with opt-in forms. So far, I’ve seen around 350 sign-ups through those forms, which is lower than I was hoping for, but certainly better than nothing.

What may be interesting to you is I tested this in 3 stages:

  1. Adding an opt-in form directly to the post—with the name and email address field clearly visible (converted so close to zero you could barely see it).
  2. Using the same call out, but instead using a button to link to a LeadPages landing page to better explain the offer (which converted slightly better).
  3. Using the same call out, but having the button open a popup with the name and email fields (this is converting the best so far).

Unfortunately this project was way more frustrating than I feel like it should have been, just in dealing with technical challenges of getting the pop-up to work properly. Lots of issues with performance caching and minification, which I have set up in the name of better load times.

The next stage is probably to continue to target high traffic pages, but make a clear call-to-action at the bottom of the post to opt-in. I have a generic opt-in form at the bottom of every post, but I feel like a call-out that’s slightly more related to the content and is easy to understand would perform better.

Another thing to test 🙂

Testing One-Time Offers

Several Side Hustle Show guests have mentioned the power of a “one-time offer” — a small upsell you present immediately after someone opts in to your email list. For years, I hesitated to try it because it just kind of felt weird … someone opts in for a free thing and then you immediately try and sell them something else?

But if the upsell is designed to complement your initial lead magnet and help subscribers get their desired result faster or easier, then I think it makes sense to at least test.

So I set up a couple of these.

One is the $500 Challenge Companion Workbook, which people are offered after they opt in for the $500 Challenge. I’m using LeadPages for this sales page, and they have an integration directly with Stripe for payment processing and you can even add a little countdown timer to let people know this truly is a limited-time offer.

Even at a $7 price point, I’m seeing just a 2% conversion rate on this OTO, which is a far cry from the 15-30% that some guests have shared. So clearly I’m missing something here, whether it’s the product or the messaging or something else entirely, I’m not sure.

The second OTO I created was the Start My Side Hustle Workbook, which was previously bundled in with my Start My Side Hustle course. I figured it was something I’d already created and was worth testing as a standalone offer.

New subscribers are presented with this after they opt-in for The 5 Fastest Ways to Make More Money, and it’s converting slightly better, 4-5%, but still not amazing. If anyone wants to take a look at these micro-funnels and offer some guidance, definitely hit me up!

One incremental revenue stream this quarter has been some limited newsletter sponsorship placements. So far, these have been coordinated directly or through 3rd-party brokers like Stack Media and Paved.

Here’s a sample of what it looks like:

sample newsletter ad

I’ve been including these placements at the bottom of the newsletter in the “You Might Also Like” section, and are worth anywhere from $100-500 a week. (Sometimes it’s a flat fee; sometimes it’s based on how many clicks the link gets.)

Either way, that’s been a positive development this quarter.

Push Notifications

Another marketing experiment I’ve been playing around with is push notifications. I bought an AppSumo deal for a service called Gravitec, which allows website visitors to opt-in to receive browser push notifications when you publish new content or really whenever you want to share something.

So far I’ve collected 2,700 subscribers, and the engagement is actually OK. My campaigns are seeing a 2-6% open rate, which I guess if I keep it running and 10x the number of subscribers, the traffic potential keeps increasing.

gravitec push notification results

I’m looking at this as a way to try and capture some of the 5,000+ daily visitors — most of whom will never come back. Around 1% of visitors opt-in to receive the push notifications.

It’s another touch-point, but it doesn’t come free. It costs a fraction of second in terms of load time (where every millisecond counts), and to look at it the other way — 99% of visitors are declining it. I’ll probably keep Gravitec running for a while longer to see how the results stack up with a larger audience size.

TikTok Experiments

After seeing the viral success of Kat Norton, Tori Dunlap, and others on TikTok, I finally broke down and created an account. My thought here was to try and re-purpose some of the existing content we’d already created for Pinterest. Idea pins / story pins, I think they’re called.

You can create these pretty easily in Canva, in a vertical video format. My main thing was trying to build the account without needing to be on camera myself, but I’m not sure if that’s going to work. The best of these “idea pin” videos has around 800 views, so they’re not exactly winning the viral lottery.

The next genius idea I had came to me in the shower, and that was to re-purpose some of the Money Making Minutes — these little micro podcast episodes I ran as an Alexa Skill in 2019. With the help of Lumen5, a really slick AI video creation tool, my assistant and I have started putting together some 60-second clips, narrated by me, to post on TikTok and as YouTube shorts.

We’ll see how those end up performing, but I felt like I needed to start taking some swings in a different format.

Cool Business / Lifestyle Stuff That Happened

Dry January

Dry January turned into dry February and March as well. I don’t know that I really intend to be dry the whole year, but in the meantime, Spindrift for the win!

It’s one less variable—not having to worry about you’re going to feel the next day.

Meditation Streak

Q1 also brought another streak — 3 straight months of daily meditation. I’m using the Muse device, which gives auditory feedback supposedly based on your brain signals and how calm your mind is. Whether or not it actually works, it’s been helpful for me to develop a habit.

This usually happens early afternoon after lunch or in the evening after the kids go to bed. And I’ve been using the built-in journal entry in the Muse app as kind of a daily gratitude journal and work check-in, to answer what I got done that day.

It’s crazy how you can be so focused on your breath and then not 20 seconds later, you’re way off in left field. But apparently, the magic is in that noticing you’re distracted and then recentering. Biceps curls for your brain, as they say.

Office Upgrades

Side Hustle Nation HQ got an update this quarter with a slightly bigger 4K monitor and a new electronically adjustable sit-stand desk. Truth is Bryn upgraded her home office setup and I was kind of jealous.

The desk is an SHW model from Amazon if you’re in the market. I got the 55″ model.

adjustable standing desk

I’m still trying to find someone to take my old IKEA Jerker standing desk away. I think buyers might be confused because it’s got a big cutout in the middle for where the treadmill control panel went when I was still rocking the treadmill desk setup.

Coffee Maker

Another lifestyle upgrade was this Ninja coffee maker. It was actually a Christmas present (thanks mom!), but it’s a big improvement and time saver over our old French press process.

The best part is the little frother attachment on the side I use to mix in my collagen powder and MCT oil powder.

Ski Weekend

My brother organized a family ski weekend up in the mountains, where we lucked out with some sunny weather. We even got Little Hustler #2 to take some rides on the chairlift.

Overall, I got pretty good mileage out of my season’s pass despite it being kind of a low snow year. That’s been one of the biggest advantages of moving to Washington — both the proximity to the mountains (40 minutes instead of 2.5-3 hours), and my brother and dad to ski with.

Broke 100 on the Golf Course

I shot my best round yet on a wet, muddy winter morning, and was riding high from it … until the next time I played and returned to reality. I don’t play very often, but man, when you hit it well, very satisfying!

San Diego and Legoland

At the beginning of March we visited Legoland in San Diego, which the kids were thrilled with. If you haven’t been, we decided a lot of it would be pretty kitschy if it weren’t Lego, but because it is, it’s pretty cool.

legoland with the fam

Kind of like Disneyland-light, definitely geared toward younger kids, and with ours at 6 and almost 4, they were the perfect age. And our youngest is super into Ninjago, so he was pretty pumped to meet the green ninja in real life.

The other fun random part of the trip was I learned that Joe Saul-Sehy from Stacking Benjamins was in town for his book tour. Stacked is his new book, which I encourage you to check out. But it was cool to head over to his meetup stop and find some familiar faces from FinCon and even some Side Hustle Show listeners as well.

Wordle Addiction

And finally, like apparently a lot of other people, I got pretty hooked on playing Wordle. 100% success rate so far, and am grateful they only let you do one a day, which limits the time suck. But it’s brain exercise, right?

wordle stats

What Sucked

Everybody Got Covid…

In January, our youngest brought Covid home from preschool. He generously shared it with his brother, who kindly passed it along to Bryn and I. Thankfully it was mild all around. But we think even the Side Hustle Shih Tzu got it. Poor guy!

Hopefully we have some strands of immunity for the inevitable next variant at this point.

My Merch by Amazon Account Got Banned

After 5 years on Merch by Amazon, my account was suddenly banned. No recourse, no explanation, and just a boilerplate template response saying “this decision is permanent and final” when I tried to appeal.

Thankfully this wasn’t income we were relying on, but it was a fun side hustle and a bummer to have apparently broken some rule. And an illustration that there’s always a risk when you build a business on someone else’s platform.

What I Read

Project Hail Mary

I don’t read much fiction, but I enjoyed The Martian so decided to check out Andy Weir’s latest, Project Hail Mary. It’s a fun one, and I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read it, but definitely takes a turn I didn’t see coming.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen

This one was actually really helpful in providing a ton of case studies, scripts, and strategies to try when our kids are not exhibiting the behaviors you’d like to see.


Indistractible was my best read of the quarter, and I made a bunch of highlights. Among them:

  • All motivation is a desire to escape discomfort. Identify and manage the psychological discomfort that leads us off track.
  • “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
  • Fun is looking for the variability in something other people don’t notice. It’s breaking through the boredom and monotony to discover its hidden beauty.
  • Does your calendar reflect your values? To be the person you want to be, you have to make time to live your values.
  • Without sufficient amounts of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, kids turn to distractions for psychological nourishment.

Brick by Brick

Inspired by our Legoland visit, I wanted to learn more about Lego the company. This book is about 10 years old, so it doesn’t cover The Lego Movie or other recent projects, but dives into the culture of innovation and collaboration and how Lego very nearly went bankrupt in the early 2000s.

What’s Next?

What projects are on the horizon for Q2? I have a few things in mind.

Doubling the Podcast Output

First, I plan to test bumping the podcast output to 2x per week instead of just one. I’ve noticed that many of the top podcasts publish multiple episodes a week.

My hypothesis: doing so will grow the audience.

The second episode, which I plan to release on Mondays, will be a shorter show and I’ve got a handful of formats I’m anxious to test out. But hopefully it sparks some incremental discovery and word of mouth sharing.

The main metric I’ll be tracking is Podtrac’s estimation of audience size, which for me has historically ranged between 80,000-110,000 people per month.

Side Hustle Quiz

I’ve actually had a few reader/listener requests for some sort of side hustle selector quiz, to help point people in the right direction from the huge breadth of side hustle possibilities.

This is a challenging proposition — can I really take a handful of answers and provide meaningful results? Other people are really rocking the quiz as a top-of-funnel lead magnet, and that’s encouraging as well. I’d love to build something that help people narrow down their side hustle options and then guide them on a more curated path — and bonus points if it can drive email sign-ups at the same time.

Your Turn

How did 2022 start off for you? What were the biggest projects you made progress on! Let me know in the comments below.


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