It Wasn’t a Fluke
Remember at the end of last month’s wrap-up when I questioned whether I could sustain March’s sudden revenue growth? April not only met that new high bar—it cleared it with a little room to spare.
As a reminder, here’s why I’m working so hard every day.
2021 Goal: Double niche site income within 12 months.
In April, I expected to see traffic and earnings dip. After all, traffic dropped significantly at the end of last month, and I didn’t know if it’d bounce back. (Google giveth, and Google taketh away.)
On the earnings side, my ad platform educates publishers that the first month of a new quarter (e.g. April) has the lowest advertiser spend… which trickles down. Plus, April is a short month, so there’s one day less revenue/traffic.
It’s safe to say, I went into this month with “cautious pessimism.”
Looking back on these monthly updates is a perfect reminder to keep the faith. Before I dig into the results, though, here’s a quick look at the overall performance of my site.
This Month in a Nutshell
By now, I should’ve learned there’s no predicting what an affiliate site will/won’t do. I went into my mid-month earnings check *absolutely sure* it’d be lower than March.
To my great surprise, April earnings were tracking to meet the previous month’s $6K revenue high bar.
Not only were Amazon and ad income holding steady, so were my overall traffic numbers. Which begged the question: if I can hit $6K per month doing the basics, what might be possible when I add more of my own digital and physical products?
Suddenly, that 2x income goal for 2021 felt more like an inevitable eventuality than a farfetched dream. Whatever I’m doing is working.
This Month: $6,223.79
In April, my site squeaked over $6K for the second time ever—and reached nearly $70K in lifetime earnings. I didn’t think I’d be at this point until much later in the year, if at all.
If I can boost my earnings to $7K per month—and sustain it—I’ll reach my 2x income goal. Being this close already gets me fired up!
Think about how far the site has come. In April 2020, I was on the verge of hitting $2K. Go back another year to April 2019, and I had been thrilled to make $662.
What brings me the most comfort is knowing these gains were the byproduct of slow-won, incremental wins. I didn’t try to “game the system” and buy a bunch of backlinks or trick Google into sending traffic my way.
I put in the hard work. I built quality content on a professional-looking site. I did the work—and it’s paying off big time.
(Fun Fact: This month, alone, the site paid for my new refrigerator and dishwasher, and contributed to my Hybrid Plugin new car fund.)
This Month: 99,490
I was worried about traffic heading into April. March was really good (Thanks Google!), but traffic suddenly dipped ~25% during the last few days. After looking into the numbers more with Doug, though, he agreed there wasn’t anything I needed to change. March was an anomaly, and my overall traffic trends were still net positive.
Reaching 100K visitors in a single month was addicting, though. I wanted more of those vibes in April!
Though this month started with daily traffic numbers under 3K (eek), it slowly recovered to a more normal range of 3,000-3,500 per day by mid-month.
Once I started to see more $100/day advertising milestones, I was able to take a breath. I ended up with 8 days over $100/day from ads alone, up from 5 days in March. My highest day was $154 on April 18, the first time I crossed 5K visitors in a single day.
To put it in perspective, I need the site to earn $250/day in order to meet my 2x income goal for 2021.
In April, I landed at $207/day—up from $195/day in March. Ads were a big part of that equation.
I also saw another direct traffic spike mid-month on a single blog post. It was the same post that spiked in March, then returned to normal a few days later. The same thing happened in April.
This Month: $1,166
I was super happy to see my site recoup all my 2021 expenses in March alone. It gave me the confidence to keep investing strategically in April. Here’s where my funds went:
- $210 | Knowledge directory support (creator outreach, course descriptions, etc.) and administrative support (putting new blogs into WordPress, etc.)
- $119 | Teachable platform subscription (monthly) for future online courses
- $837* | Pre-payment to the team helping get my first course off the ground (user journey mapping, system setup and content input, email drip campaign development, etc.) This cost reflects a $200 barter for logo design services I provided.
*Note: I anticipate paying one of my Upwork writers to draft the initial course content in May.
As a reminder, I was willing to invest up to $15,000 this year to help reach my goal of doubling site income. I’m approaching $7,000 already, but the site is growing enough to justify it.
Activities & Accomplishments
Like Doug, I’m a project management nerd. It’s why I built a Gannt chart showing my goals for each month that would (*should*) help me reach my overall goal. Though I’ve tweaked it a little, the big pieces are still about content development, adding my own digital products, and building a directory of courses from influencers in my niche.
So, what did I end up focusing on most in April?
Focus Area: Knowledge Directory Promotion
At the very end of March, I launched a searchable directory featuring 30+ educational resources from other experts in my niche. There’s no fee to be listed, but the creator must have (or make) an affiliate program.
This month I started developing a plan to promote these resources across the site, whether in new drip emails or text and image calls-to-action in relevant blog posts.
Getting these pieces off the ground took longer than I planned, largely due to having some personal events and activities that drew my focus in April. Since the site is doing so well already, between Amazon and ads, I’m fine if it takes more time to get these promotional items in place.
I also worked with my developer to remove my standard sidebar and ads from all directory listings pages. Less distractions should = more sales.
Focus Area: Digital Info Products
In March, I finished my first two digital products—20+ page guides on different topics. This involved setting up Shopify Buy Button and putting 20-30 image calls to action on relevant blog posts for each guide. I also listed these resources in the new knowledge directory.
I sold my first four digital guides in April for $8.99 each. That proves it’s possible (and Shopify is functioning!).
While four guides isn’t a huge number (or income stream), it’s the first time I’ve sold something on the site that didn’t rely on a behemoth system outside my control (e.g. Amazon, Mediavine).
I also removed ads from any page that includes promotions for my guides. I want to keep visitors focused on the blog content and related guides, as any sales will be more than what I’d make on ads for a single page.
Focus Area: Blog Content Sprint
April concluded my first “cluster content” sprint of the year, which included ~50 new blog posts. I worked with Upwork writers I’ve used in the past, so the process was quick and painless.
Now, I simply wait for Google to notice and rank this content.
Focus Area: Online Course Prep
In late March, I started planning my first online mini course (4 units with 4 lessons each). I’m engaging a team member to manage the entire process—except writing, which will be handled by one of my Upwork writers.
I’ve never made an online course before, so I have no idea what to expect.
This month involved choosing my course topic, completing some planning worksheets for the team helping me, and reviewing the “user journey map” they came up with. I should be able to get my writer started on content in early May, with the expectation that the final course launches by July 1.
- (Somewhat) Knowledge Directory: I haven’t made any affiliate sales through the knowledge directory—yet. So why is it on my “what’s working” list? First of all, the directory looks and feels like what I envisioned. Second of all, I’ve driven more than 400 clicks to directory pages with virtually zero promotional effort. Of those, more than 110 additional clicks went to affiliate course sites in April. If I focus on promotion this summer, I’m fairly confident I’ll see some sales.
- MarketMuse Optimization: In March, I realized I was the one holding up this process. Optimizing existing blogs using the MarketMuse tool is very manual, but my credits to do so expire at the end of each month whether I use them or not. Come April, I upgraded my team member’s WordPress access so she could manage the entire process herself—no input from me required. It’s been working great!
- Pressing Pause: Though I didn’t intend to take a step back from my site this month, I ended up having several weekend-long events and other work projects take more of my time. Here’s the great part: I knew my site would continue to function (and make me money) regardless of whether I put a ton of time into it or not. I’m not trying to create a machine that can’t work without me. It’s nice to see my side hustle keep hustling even while I’m busy.
- Email List Growth: To date, I’ve put almost no effort into list building. I have a Mailerlite popup that generates 200-300 new signups per month, and an automated drip email sequence delivers 10 messages without me lifting a finger.
What’s Not Working
- (Somewhat) Knowledge Directory: As I mentioned above, I haven’t made any affiliate sales from directory resources yet. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit bummed about that. Then again, all I did so far was add a promo graphic to my site sidebar and add the directory to the main navigation. I’m trying to stay focused on the fact that traffic is finding those resources with almost no effort, so there’s even more potential if I turn up promotional activities.
- Third Digital Guide: This is more of a short-term issue, but I wasn’t able to get my third digital guide finished in April like I planned. Even though I have another writer draft them, I have to do a fair amount of copy and design work to get them into final form. I simply didn’t make enough time for it this month.
On the Horizon
Overall, I’m delighted that March’s record income was NOT a fluke! April kept pace, even with me working far less than the previous month..
Being so close to my goal already is very motivational.
With summer right around the corner, I need to hold myself accountable for “getting more juice from the squeeze” on the directory and my own digital products.
Speaking of which, here’s what I plan to focus on next month:
- Promote and SEO-optimize the knowledge directory
- Promote and add more paid digital guides
- Grow my email list with free lead magnets
- Begin content development for my first online course
- Start the process of redesigning my home page
It may sound silly, but I’m so surprised by the success of this site. Yes, I did my homework. Sure, I found a mentor and followed his advice. Yep, I put in a ton of time (and a fair amount of money!) to get where I am.
Looking back now, I’m SO glad I hung in there during the months when I was making $20, or $200, or $2,000. If I’d taken my foot off the gas then, I would never have reached nearly $70,000 in side hustle income in just over two years.