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Scale Down in Order to Scale Up: 2020 Business Performance and Personal Review

By Spencer Haws |

I recently reported on my earnings and progress for Own The Yard.

However, that niche site is really not a very big part of my business in terms of both time and money.

As a result, I thought it would be good to do something I haven’t done in a few years:  Reflect on my entire business for 2020 and share my vision going forward.

Today I’ll be sharing the progress I’ve made in my entire business; including NichePursuits.com and LinkWhisper.com.

In this report you’ll find:

Expectations vs. Reality

Tempering expectations is sometimes a difficult concept to grapple with as a business owner.  At the beginning of the year you set goals, but then you reflect on those goals a year later and half of them may not even matter at that point.

Sure, 2020 was a year that no one expected.  I didn’t expect my kids to still be doing “virtual learning” at home with no end in sight.  I didn’t expect half of the world to start working from home in 2020.

But such is reality.

However, I want to dive deeper than the obvious pandemic that impacted everyone.  This is just one example of a “Black Swan” event that no one could predict.

These types of events to a smaller degree happen every single year that change the trajectory of your business. 

For example, I had a goal at the beginning of 2020 to create a new software tool.  However, as my business progressed that turned out to be a really bad idea and I’m glad I didn’t fulfill that goal.

Doing so would have taken my focus away from existing projects that have tons of potential.

So, I will simply say that I am a BIG believer in settings goals based on the expectations that you currently have.  However, sometimes reality sets in, and the best course of action is to abandon your original goal and to pursue something completely different.

This may come in the form of a better business opportunity, a better work-life balance opportunity, or something else completely unforeseen.

For example, I had a goal in 2020 to run my fastest marathon ever and qualify for the Boston Marathon.  I had a goal of 3:05 (my previous best is 3:09:40 run at the end of 2019).

I was in the best shape of my life and I was scheduled to run a marathon on April 4th.  Well, that marathon (along with all others) got shut down 2 weeks before it was scheduled to happen.  Many many months of hard training were for not.

What in the world just happened?!

Here’s a picture taken a couple weeks before I knew my marathon was going to be canceled. I had just gone running on a relatively cloud-free day and then out of nowhere, about 3 miles into my run it started pouring rain and then hailing.  

I just took the picture to kinda say, “What in the world happened!?”

Sometimes things look great, then it starts hailing on you and you are 3 miles from home with no phone, and the only way home is on a dirt trail.  We’ve all been there, right? 🙂

Personal Happenings in 2020

Overall, 2020 was actually a fantastic year both personally and professionally.  I wanted to reflect a bit on the positive and perhaps get a bit more personal than I have in a long time.

My wife is going to hate that I’m sharing pictures of her and our kids.  But she never reads this blog, so she will never know! (<—- True statement, by the way).

As I started to look at a few photos, I thought I’d share a few highlights.

My son and I at the top of Flat Iron in Arizona
Looking to the future

  

 

Very secluded lake: Cougar Lake
Trying to graduate from Kindergarten
Excited for the Dozen Donut Challenge

(I made it easier on myself this year and went with Krispy Kreme, which are only about half the size of a normal donut that I usually do).

My children are zombies!

Overall, 2020 was pretty epic on a personal level with my family.  We explored a ton of new places and even managed a couple of other vacations that I didn’t mention here.

Family is always my number 1 priority and business is further down the list. 

But since this is a business blog, I’ll move on from this brief personal update.  Thanks for indulging me by reading so far.

Books Read in 2020

I enjoy reading and was able to make it through several books.  I did a poor job of documenting all the books I read, but here’s a likely incomplete list of the books I read in 2020.  I’ve simply bolded the ones that I enjoyed the most.

Here’s a few books I’ve already purchased that are on my “To-read” list:

I’m fairly certain I read a couple more last year, but this is most of them.  If you have good book recommendations, let me know!

Business Portfolio Overview

One of the themes that I started to apply at the end of 2020 and hope to apply even more in 2021 is to scale down in order to scale up.

What I mean by this is that I need to scale down the number of projects I’m working on in order to have the time and focus necessary to scale up the biggest projects with the most potential.

So, as I share my overall portfolio, I’ll also simply share whether it’s a project I’m planning to exit in 2021 or a project I plan to scale up.

As you can see, I have 7 total businesses that get some of my time, even if it’s a very little amount of time.

I’d love to only have 2 businesses to focus on, but I’m not sure I can scale down that far in 2021.

In addition to perhaps selling some of my sites or exiting other businesses, I have a goal set in stone that I will NOT start any NEW websites or businesses in 2021.

I want to scale up what I already have.

The 2 businesses that I will be focusing on for 2021 is NichePursuits.com and LinkWhisper.com.  And the nice part is that both of these businesses are very interconnected.  So, my time spent on either one is really spent helping both.

Link Whisper Progress

When I originally created Link Whisper, I was planning to create 3 or 4 different little WordPress plugins that would add up to a nice little software portfolio.

However, when I launched Link Whisper just about 18 months ago, the demand was MUCH larger than I expected.  I won’t go into the numbers that I was expecting; however, I’ll just say this was another time where expectations did not meet reality…in a good way.

As a result of what I’ve seen over the last 18 months of running the business, I plan to focus heavily on growing the Link Whisper business and won’t be pursuing any other software tools at this time.

I honestly never thought I would have another tool as successful as Long Tail Pro (which I exited 5 years ago).  Link Whisper is still not as big as Long Tail Pro, but when I compare the trajectory of Link Whisper to Long Tail Pro after the first 18 months, Link Whisper is definitely ahead.

Product Hunt

In May of this year, I was able to do a promotion on Product Hunt.  Link Whisper ended up being the #1 product of the day and got listed in the Product Hunt email.

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This led to some nice exposure and quite a few sales.

New Features

During the year, we released so many new features that I won’t list all of them.  I now have a dedicated full-time developer working on the project, so we are making lots of updates all the time.

Recently we released:

Coming soon, we will be adding the ability to interlink multiple sites that you own.  If you own both site A and B, you will soon be able to see link suggestions between those sites if you so choose.

Link Whisper Performance

I’m a little hesitant to share the exact revenue of Link Whisper.  However, here is a graph below of the monthly revenue since the product was launched 18 months ago.  

I know the graph doesn’t give a ton of data.  However, when I compare the same month of 2019 vs. 2020, it’s pretty easy to see the awesome growth.  Most of the spikes that you see are when I did some sort of promotion.

For example, the big spike in July 2019 is when I launched the tool to my email list.  Then Nov. and Dec. of both years are Black Friday and Cyber Monday spikes.  And May 2020 was my Product Hunt launch.

I’m excited to see where this business goes.

Niche Pursuits Progress and Vision

I plan to put a lot of my time into growing Niche Pursuits both as a community and as an income stream.

I’ll be honest that 2020 was a VERY rough year for traffic to Niche Pursuits.  The site got hit hard with the May Google update.  Niche Pursuits has avoided every single other update Google has ever thrown out since 2010.

I’ve never done any “link building”, so I’ve never worried about negative impacts from Google.  However, for whatever reason, Google decided to lay down the hammer.

Here’s what the carnage looked like:

That’s not the kind of graph you want to see.  Early in the year I had lost the rankings of a couple of my big keywords, but this only impacted a couple of articles. 

However, in May the drop was really across the entire site after the core update.

I wish I could say I knew the reason my site got hit with the update, but I don’t know for sure.  However, during the second half of the year, I spent a lot of time auditing and cleaning up Niche Pursuits in hopes that Google would once again smile on my site.

The work appears to have paid off when the December core update came out.

Here’s the rest of what 2020 looked like in Google Search Console (and beginning of 2021):

As you can see with the red line I added, my Organic traffic is VERY close to getting right back to where it was before the May update.  And the trend that I’m seeing with increased traffic right now leads me to believe that in another month or two I could definitely exceed where I once was at the beginning of 2020.

Here’s a few things I did that I believe helped me “recover” from the Google core update in May.  (I also deep down believe that Google made a mistake penalizing my site, and maybe they were just “fixing” that mistake in December):

Niche Pursuits Traffic and Monetization

When I look at the total traffic (not just search traffic) for Niche Pursuits Year Over Year, I can see that traffic was only down 10.66%.  Now, I hate a decline of any kind, but with all that went on with the May core update, etc, I’ll live with it.

However, despite a 10% decline in traffic to Niche Pursuits, the actual income INCREASED by 97.85%. That’s right I almost doubled the income of Niche Pursuits in 2020 compared to 2019.

How did I nearly double the income with declining traffic?

When you have an email list that you’ve built over 10 years that you haven’t fully monetized, there is a lot of “meat” on the bone so to speak.

Now, I have been very careful about trying to not just send out offer after offer without any real content.  I now have gotten into a rhythm of trying to provide 3 or 4 stories, articles, interviews, or other great pieces of content in my emails.  Then I have one “By the way, this service is x% off today” type of offer.  

As a result, the feedback I’ve gotten is that people are still excited to open my emails and read because they get those motivational or strategic stories that I share or the entrepreneurial interviews that I do.  And they don’t mind seeing a small paragraph that might mention a special offer that I make an affiliate commission on.

Now, if all I was doing was making the special offers 100% of my emails, this would backfire pretty quickly. 

You have to keep sending great content that your email subscribers want to read and then they don’t mind a short “commercial break” halfway through.

This process has been working so well that I’ve hired a full-time COO to help me grow the business side of Niche Pursuits.  Eric Burns started in late September and has been a great addition to my team.

Niche Pursuits Income

I won’t be sharing the actual revenue numbers, as I’d like to continue to keep that private, but NichePursuits.com is a good business.

As you can see from the graph above, the income has been steadily increasing over the last couple of years.

I track the “passive income” and the “active income” on the site.  The passive income is simply the articles that are ranking in Google and make sales without my involvement.  Basically, everything happening directly on NichePursuits.com.

The other income is things that happen off Niche Pursuits, like email promotions or other one-time payments that I might get, like podcast sponsorships, etc.

As you can see, 2 years ago, I basically had no sponsorships or “active” income happening with my email list, etc (at least not very frequently).  Now you can see that this has become a bigger part of my business and I believe there is tons of growth potential here.

I’m putting more and more effort into growing my email list and I almost treat my email list like its own business separate from the passive income that is happening on NichePursuits.com.  They definitely feed off each other, but they need to be operated differently.

Link Whisper vs. NichePursuits.com

Again, I’ve edited out the actual income numbers, but I thought it would be interesting to compare the month over month revenue of Niche Pursuits vs. Link Whisper.

As you can see my 18 month old business of Link Whisper is already performing at the same level of my 10-year-old business, NichePursuits.com.

Link Whisper actually edged out Niche Pursuits overall for the entire year for revenue.  However, the expenses are definitely higher for Link Whisper with a full-time developer, paid ad campaigns, and support staff.

(It’s still very profitable though).

Goals for 2021

Overall, I’m happy with the performance of both businesses during 2020, but I have goals to make them even better.

I always set goals in both my personal and business life. Here’s my business goals for 2021:

I won’t bore you with all the personal and family goals that I have for the year, but just know that I have those as well.

I’m off to a great start with my writing 1500 words a day goal!  I think having this dedicated “deep work” time is going to hone my skills as a blogger and I’m finding it quite fulfilling.  Here’s a quick look at my daily goal tracker for writing (home-made spreadsheet):

Overall, I hope you’ve gotten some value out of reading my 2020 year in review post.  I believe that 2021 is going to be a fantastic year for online entrepreneurs in general and I look forward to sharing my progress along the way.

If you’d like to stay informed with what I’m up to, what’s happening on Niche Pursuits, and any other business strategies that I have to share, I recommend that you join my email newsletter right here.




Stories & Projects

By Spencer Haws

Spencer Haws is the founder of NichePursuits.com. After getting a degree in Business Finance from BYU (2002) and an MBA from ASU (2007) he worked for 8 years in Business Banking and Finance at both Merril Lynch and Wells Fargo Bank.

While consulting with other small business owners as a business banker, Spencer finally had the desire to start his own business. He successfully built a portfolio of niche sites using SEO and online marketing that allowed him to quit his job in 2011. Since then he's been involved in dozens of online business ventures including: creating and exiting Long Tail Pro, running an Amazon FBA business for over 3 years and selling that business, founding LinkWhisper.com, and co-founding MotionInvest.com. You can learn more about Spencer here.

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