Reflectoring Review 2020 - Being Serious About Passive Income

  • January 2, 2021
Table Of Contents

It’s the time of the year again to look back at what I have achieved in the last year and to look forward to what I want to achieve in the upcoming year.

This account is more for myself than anyone else, but if you’re interested in some numbers around the blog and growing passive income, there may be some interesting nuggets for you in this post.

Let’s start…

The Blog -

The blog you’re just now reading is the center of my online activities. I started to write publicly in 2018, and every year I took it a bit more seriously.

Turns out that being serious about something pays out.

In 2019, I had about 600,000 unique users on my website (as Google Analytics counts them). In 2020, I almost doubled it to 1.1 million unique users:

Traffic 2020

That traffic generated almost $200 a month at peak with the subtle ad in the sidebar. And it also brings potential readers for my book(s).

But, I didn’t achieve that traffic growth all by myself. I had a little help from Google whose algorithm change caused a considerable bump upwards in May. But Google decided to withdraw their help again in December with an equally sized bump downwards.

But more importantly, I’ve had help from a bunch of great authors who published articles on reflectoring. In 2020, the step to take my blog more seriously was to open up the blog for contributing authors, with me helping them to polish their articles to get them over the finish line. The serious part in this is that I pay the authors to write on the blog, so I’m betting real money that this will pay out in the long run.

With the help of my authors, I doubled the number of blog posts from about 30 in 2019 to 60 in 2020! Of these 60, I only wrote 21 myself. The other 39 were written by contributing authors. I paid $3,700 in total to these authors. 2020 has been the first year that I’m investing serious money into this blog.

At this point, I want to thank all the authors that have published articles on reflectoring. Thank you for working with me! I’m looking forward to continuing working with you in 2021! I’m convinced that writing (or editing, in my case) is the best way to learn and I really hope that you gain valuable experience from your writing gigs on reflectoring! I certainly do.

If you’re interested in writing on reflectoring, check out the “Write With Me” page.

Another thing where I’ve been more serious is my mailing list. I’ve been consistently sending a weekly update with a link to the newest article to my mailing list. The list has grown from about 1,300 to 2,300 subscribers during 2020.

I have a feeling that the subscription rate to the mailing list could be a lot higher considering the traffic that my blog is generating. That’s probably because the hurdle of paying $5 for the welcome gift (my book) is quite high. But I’m rewarded with a very engaged audience with mail opening rates of about 40% (which is double the industry average), so I’m completely happy with that.

Thanks to all my subscribers - you’re awesome!

Book #1 - Get Your Hands Dirty on Clean Architecture

I wouldn’t have invested a couple of thousand dollars into paying authors if I didn’t earn that money somehow. My book “Get Your Hands Dirty on Clean Architecture” is what made this possible.

I finished the book in late 2019, and it’s been generating some steady income since then, which I decided to re-invest into growing the blog by paying authors to help me write more articles.

In 2020, I’ve made about $13,000 with this book, which is way more than I would ever have thought possible without having a giant audience beforehand.

But the book was received well and has gotten some great reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. It has 2,500 readers on Leanpub and probably around 1,000 more with the Packt version.

I put a lot of effort into it, so I’m very about happy how this turned out.

The SaaS -

One of my (informal) goals for 2020 was to create a SaaS application for bloggers. I’ve been frustrated with Google Analytics for a while and wanted to build an analytics solution for bloggers that gives me concrete and actionable insights into what I can improve (without having to read multiple tutorials and do a course on how to use Google Analytics).

I decided to start building a blog analytics app with myself as the first user, but building it in a way that I can sell it to other bloggers later. This became, but it’s not quite ready for the public yet.

I wanted to learn new things while building it, so I built it in a way that I would build a real application, with a modular architecture and a robust deployment on AWS.

So, I dove into AWS in depth to learn how to best deploy the app, combining the knowledge I already had from my work at Atlassian with new knowledge gained on the way.

At some point, I started a conversation with Philip Riecks and Björn Wilmsmann about blogging in general and we decided to write a book about AWS - “Stratospheric”.

Blogtrack is not generating any income, yet, and the AWS bill is around $100 a month, but a new book doesn’t write itself, so I had to stop my work on blogtrack for now. But I’m happy with the result so far nevertheless. I’m using it for myself and my authors are using it to see the stats of their articles. And I plan to continue work on it in earnest in 2021.

Book #2 - Stratospheric

As mentioned above, my current focus is writing a book called “Stratospheric” about deploying Spring Boot apps on AWS. It’s for Spring developers who are not familiar with AWS, yet. We’re about 30% done and I’m guessing we’ll have a final version ready sometime around April 2021 or so.

The book is already available on Leanpub and we’re adding new chapters as we finish them. We already have 200 paying readers, which is very encouraging. I’m happy with how the book is turning out and looking forward to getting it over the finish line in early 2021, so I can focus on blogtrack once more.

Review of My Goals for 2020

2020 has certainly been disrupting. I’ve been spared a tragedy caused by the pandemic, but I’m aware that many others were not so lucky.

The main impact for me was that working from home became the new normal for knowledge workers. This has actually made it possible for me to invest more time into some of my goals for 2020.

Let’s see which of my goals for 2020 I could scratch off my list:

  • I wanted to read (at least) 15 nonfiction books from cover to cover: I’ve read something north of 20 books last year. I’m reading 20-30 minutes every lunch break and I want to keep it this way. Books are such a great source of inspiration!
  • I wanted to prepare a fun talk connecting psychology and habits with software development: No new talk last year. With everything going on in 2020 (in the world and personally), I couldn’t muster the creativity to come up with something.
  • I wanted to start (and perhaps even finish?), another writing project: I’ve started writing “Stratospheric” and it’s even already available on Leanpub as an early bird preview version. Working on it with two co-authors definitely helps to deliver on promises!
  • I wanted to speak at 3 or more conferences or meetups: Not much conferencing this year. I had a talk accepted to the Spring I/O conference in Barcelona but the pandemic had other plans. I also had submitted some talks to other conferences, but my creativity was elsewhere last year, so they weren’t accepted. I spoke at a Java User Group meetup about Clean Architecture, though.
  • I wanted to double the visitors to my blog by working together with other authors and editing their work: Only with the help of my authors could I increase the visitors to my blog. Thanks again!
  • I want to build a habit of working out to get my neglected body into shape: My body is still not what I would call “in shape”, but I have built a steady habit of walking and/or running every day. I’m consciously shaping those habits so I have a good feeling about the next year.
  • I definitely wanted to take surfing lessons while I’m in Sydney: I didn’t take the time for surfing lessons. I need to get out more!

Goals for 2021

Here’s what I have planned for 2021:

  • I want to get my back in order. Despite my new fitness habits, my back and ribs are acting up, probably because I’m sitting more (and wrong) in my home office. I’ll have to get professional help.
  • I want to go up another level of seriousness and invest a full day each week in my online activities of blogging, writing, and building a SaaS. First step is to find a source for that day (I can’t just take it from my day job since my visa currently doesn’t allow me to work part-time).
  • With that investment of time, I want to reach a passive income of $3,000 a month in 2021 (with the higher-order goal of generating more options about how I can spend my time)
  • I want to read even more books than in 2020! 20 books at least! More if possible! I already have a stack of books lined up!


For my online activities, 2020 was a good year. I enjoy writing, blogging, and building a SaaS, but doing all that means that I can’t do other things I enjoy any more (like preparing and giving talks). For now, I will just accept that and come back to those other things once my passive income gives me more control over my time.

Written By:

Tom Hombergs

Written By:

Tom Hombergs

As a professional software engineer, consultant, architect, general problem solver, I've been practicing the software craft for more than fifteen years and I'm still learning something new every day. I love sharing the things I learned, so you (and future me) can get a head start. That's why I founded

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