Nick Loper is an author, entrepreneur, and founder of sidehustlenation.com, a growing community and resource for aspiring and part-time entrepreneurs. As the host of the top-rated Side Hustle Show Podcast, Nick explores a different business idea every single week and helps listeners discover the path to new job-free income streams.
Nick’s original side hustle was a footwear comparison shopping site. Back in the day before you could just go to Amazon and search for what you want to buy, you’d go a site like Pricegrabber or Nextag. These are comparison-shopping sites that allow you to search for a product and find the best price on the web.
Nick’s idea was to create a comparison shopping site specifically for footwear. It was a good business for quite a while, but eventually Nick had to shut it down. However, this first side hustle allowed him to quit his job after working three years of nights and weekends to make that happen. Nick calls the experience his “trial by fire” initiation into online marketing and online business.
The online footwear comparison-shopping engine that Nick designed played in the margins between the cost of traffic and the amount of commission that you could get from a sale on his site. He never got a lot of organic Google traffic. His primary traffic source was Google ads. By 2014, the amount of money that he could make per sale wasn’t enough to cover the cost of the traffic coming into his site. So he had to shut it down.
However, by that point, Nick had two other successful side hustle ventures. He has failed much more than he has succeeded online, but his story shows the successes are all that matter.
This is a great interview. We dive deep into online business and what it takes to succeed. We talk about how to manage online business failure. Finally, we discuss how to convert a potential audience member from a stranger to a true fan.
How to Deal with a Failing Online Business
The first thing Nick did to help keep his footwear comparison-shopping business afloat was to take a look at what products and activities got the best results using the 80/20 rule.
The 80/20 Rule
Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who discovered that 20% of the people in Switzerland owned 80% of the land. This was later expanded into the Pareto principle, which states that roughly 80% of results come from 20% of actions. This is even true in nature, where 80% of a crop comes from 20% of the land being cultivated.
With this in mind, Nick took a deep dive into his business and figured out which 20% of his actions led to 80% of his profits. He was able to cut his ad spend at Google significantly by focusing on the brands that people were searching for. He also focused on the brands people were buying the most.
Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to save a business long-term. That’s when you have to look for other income streams to replace the one that you are losing.
Fortunately for Nick, he had systems in place that allowed him to work on other projects before he had to close down his website.
The main lesson from Nick’s experience is to always be looking for another income stream. If you have multiple income streams, losing one is not a problem.
The day after Nick quit his traditional job, he got an email from Google saying his account no longer met their quality guidelines. It took them three months to reinstate his Google Adwords account. That really hammered home the point for Nick that he needed diversity of traffic sources and diversity of income streams.
Nick thought he had solved that problem by having 40 advertisers on his shoe comparison shopping site. His problem was that 80% of its traffic came from Google, so when the cost of that traffic became too expensive, his business was no longer sustainable.
How to Diversify Traffic So Your Online Business Is Sustainable in the Long Term
Nick learned his lesson. His current primary side hustle, The Side Hustle Podcast Show, isn’t reliant on Google Adwords. It has several different traffic sources.
- About half the traffic comes through Google (although not Google Adwords).
- A lot of traffic comes through email.
- Some traffic comes through doing podcast interviews like this.
- He also gets traffic from social media channels.
Sidehustlenation.com has become a brand itself, so there’s a small amount of people who type in the website directly without going through another channel.
The podcast has a much more solid foundation then the shoe comparison shopping site ever did.
Should You Focus on Your Strengths or Diversify Your Portfolio of Income Streams?
As an entrepreneur, you should try to strike a balance between following your strengths and diversifying your income streams. It’s essential to have more than one income stream—although on the other hand, you don’t want to spread your efforts so thin that you don’t get anywhere.
Nick has seen entrepreneurs become successful by diving deep and committing to one business. He has personally found success with sidehustlenation.com and indulging his creative spirit.
The Importance of Thinking Time and Focusing on Your Next Project
One of the secrets to Nick’s success is his commitment to thinking time and focusing only on the project that comes next.
He makes an appointment on my calendar once a week to sit down with a notebook, ask himself questions, and write down the answers.
He treats this like any other appointment he has with somebody else. When he puts it into his calendar, he’s committed to it.
He also tries to maintain his focus on only the project that comes next. It’s important to focus on future projects so that you can plan and execute.
But you don’t want to focus so far in the future, or on so many projects, that you’re paralyzed because everything seems overwhelming. Something that’s worked for him is to only focus on the next project, and not worry about future projects until that one is complete.
It’s important that once you put something on your calendar, you are committed to following through on spending the time you set aside.
Lessons from Business Successes and Failures
After the shoe comparison shopping site, Nick thought a sandal site might be good. It turned out not to work for a few reasons:
- Sandals cost less money.
- They’re a seasonal product.
- The content on a sandal site was duplicated from the shoe site.
After the sandal website didn’t work out, Nick tried to create a luggage comparison-shopping site. That site cost $5,000 to develop and never broke even.
- The commission structure was already lower than shoes at that point.
- It was much harder to develop a program to scrape the Internet for luggage brands.
- The upfront cash investment was simply too much.
After the luggage comparison shopping site failed, Nick decided to try a wine comparison-shopping site.
This site failed for one reason: Nick doesn’t like wine and doesn’t know anything about it. The website he created could have been written by anyone. There was no reason for anyone to do business with him instead of somebody else.
Use Your Passions and Personality to Succeed
Nick has found that the successful people online aren’t anonymous. He has found the most success where he built a brand around himself and his experiences so that people want to do business with him.
The more deeply you connect with your audience, the more they will want to see you succeed, and the more they will do to help you succeed in the marketplace.
“Once you get going on something, even if it’s not something you see yourself doing for decades to come, all of a sudden all the opportunities and ideas start to pop into motion.”
“The best ideas don’t show up until you’re already in motion.”
“Picking what’s next doesn’t necessarily mean picking what you’ll work on forever.”
You will get new ideas as you’re working on projects. The key is just to pick a project and try it. Monitor your results. Eventually you’ll find something that resonates with you and makes you the money you need if you keep at it.
TCK Publishing grew from the idea to publish one ebook: Rules of the Rich: 28 Proven Strategies for Creating a Healthy, Wealthy, and Happy Life and Escaping the Rat Race Once and For All. That one book became the foundation for a much bigger side hustle, then a full business helping others achieve the same kind of publishing success.
How Do You Know When It’s Time to Move on from a Side Hustle?
For Nick, knowing when to stop one side hustle is simple. You should move on from the side hustle when you no longer enjoy the work, or it’s no longer exciting for you. The last thing you need is a second job that you don’t like to do.
For Nick, this is different than when you’re in the pre-revenue stage of just starting something up. However, he believes that the faster you can get into making money on your side hustle, the more motivated you will be.
If you can see that your project is on a downward slide, then it might be time to pull the ripcord and move on.
What Has Made the Side Hustle Podcast Show Successful
The Side Hustle Podcast Show audience has grown slowly over time. Nick attributes its success to two major factors:
- Nick has put out an episode every week for years. There are currently 244 episodes.
- Nick likes putting on his marketing hat and trying to think of titles that are clickable.
He’s seen podcasts that explode faster than the Side Hustle Nation Podcast has. He has also seen podcasts where the episode titles aren’t enticing at all.
Podcasting allows you to really build a loyal fan base. It’s a much more personal connection than just reading something on a blog or even in your email client.
Nick’s podcast has gotten better over time. When you practice something, you get better at it. Nick would prefer you don’t listen to the first 50 episodes because “they are really rough.”
As Nick has continued to do episodes and the audience for the podcast has gotten bigger, he has really tried to focus on giving the listeners the best experience he can.
How to Give Your Podcast Listeners the Best Experience Possible
One major thing Nick has done to improve his listeners’ experience is to cut out the empty space in his podcast episodes. He also eliminates any stammering or stuttering. And he tries to create a podcast episode where he gets to the meat of what the guest is saying faster.
He’s made a point of eliminating all of the long, rambling intros. And he will ask a guest to summarize something if their first attempt is a rambling explanation. It takes him longer to produce episodes, but he feels like he gets that investment in time back because he’s making the listening experience better for thousands of audience members.
The Podcast Audience Journey
The journey of a podcast listener goes like this:
- Stranger to listener
- Listener to subscriber
- Subscriber to fan
Stranger to Listener
Part of starting people on that journey is discoverability. How are people going to find you?
- Through Google
- Through Facebook groups
- Through other social media
- Through iTunes
Turning a Listener into a Subscriber
To turn listeners into subscribers, Nick has found it effective to create episode-specific lead magnet offers.
A lead magnet is something you give somebody so they’ll give you their email address. The most effective lead magnet that Nick has found is to only send people the show notes if they sign up to his email list.
That tripled the size of his email list from 1,000 to 3,000 subscribers.
Turning Subscribers into Fans
Turning subscribers into fans is all about creating a community around shared points of commonality.
Nick makes sure to have similar segments on his show every week. He also uses similar language every week to start the show and to sign off. He also makes use of email as a way to connect personally with his fans.
“You have to have some kind of quality control on the Internet.”
—Tom Corson Knowles
You shouldn’t let the fear of failure prevent you from trying. Failures are what you learn from.
“Sometimes it’s worth it to swallow your pride and ask for honest feedback.”
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
http://www.sidehustlenation.com/ – Nick’s website, where he’s built a community of people dedicated to finding freedom through side hustles.
http://www.sidehustlenation.com/side-hustle-show/ – the Side Hustle Nation Podcast show, where Nick interviews a new entrepreneur every week and they talk about a single business idea in depth to help his listeners find a side hustle that might work for them.
http://www.pricegrabber.com/ – a comparison-shopping site.
http://www.nextag.com/ – another comparison-shopping site.
Rules of the Rich: 28 Proven Strategies for Creating a Healthy, Wealthy, and Happy Life and Escaping the Rat Race Once and For All – a book to help you uncover the strategies needed to succeed by stepping outside the regular 9-5 world.
https://fizzle.co/show – a show known for its inside jokes.