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Many people’s side projects have lead to a dramatic positive change in their life. Whether it’s taken them in a different lifestyle direction or become their full time job. You read or hear these stories all the time.

Only yesterday I was reading a post by Paul Jarvis @pjrvs. Paul’s a designer whose side project led him to selling thousands of copies of a book that started out as a way for him to express himself creatively. Or Tina Roth Eisenberg who runs a temporary tattoo company, a shared workspace, a lecture series, and a popular design blog seems to have the knack of converting side projects into successful businesses.

So why are so many people turning to doing side projects outside of their 9 to 5? And if you’re ready to dive into a project or have already taken the plunge, we have some pro tips to boost your chances of success?

Why do a side project?

Greater freedom

While your 9 to 5 job pays the bills, a side project can give you the freedom to try something new or different, to take a risk. To do something your passionate about.

Express yourself

A side project can help you grow by gaining new skills, or allow you to flex your creative or entrepreneurial muscles. Side projects allow you to do something that you enjoy doing and are passionate about.

More fulfilment

You often hear people talk about their side projects as something they do for fun and because its rewarding and make us happy.

Greater independence

We live in a rapidly changing economy with ever greater job uncertainty. The idea of a job for life is dead and buried. Personally I couldn’t think of anything worse than living my life 9 to 5 in a cubicle. Now you’re much more of a personal brand, more like a freelancer. You’re more likely to move between various roles and companies and have multiple careers during your lifetime.

A side project by definition is in addition to your main job. So making extra money may not be your primary goal, but a side project can still be a great way to earn more money even if it’s accidental.

side project
What’s stopping you?

There seem to be a lot of benefits and other people seem to be able to succeed on the side. So what might be stopping you from following through on a project on the side? The two most common reasons are a fear of failure and existing commitments. So let’s tackle them.

Fear of failure

No one wants to feel embarrassed or to be made fun of. But no one in the world is perfect and will never make a mistake. So how do you overcome this fear of failure?

The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.

Sven Goran Erikkson

Well if you’re like me you regularly listen to entrepreneur podcasts from creative edge or entrepreneurs on fire. If you do, you’ll often hear successful entrepreneurs regurgitate the cliché about failing and the value of lessons learned. Yes it’s a cliché, but I reckon there is something in it. Successful entrepreneurs seem able to look at the failure objectively and not as a personal mistake. The objectivity allows them to analyse why it happened and use it as an opportunity to change, learn and improve.

I started too late. I toiled in a job I hated for a long time.

Leo Babauta

Best selling author, entrepreneur blogger of ZenHabbits.net . Leo says he started too late – because of fear of failure or a lack of belief in himself. He stayed in a job he hated for a long time, instead of starting a blog or building a business that he loved. His view is that not starting is the worst case scenario.

Most successful entrepreneurs fall multiple times before hitting their stride. Look at Thomas Edison, who created the light bulb, only after failing thousands of times.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Thomas Edison

Treat each side project as an experiment. Paul Jarvis, a designer come author mentioned earlier in the post does this as a way to tackle his fear of failure. He finds it less intimidating this way and it gives him the self confidence to pursue his side projects. It’s an interesting approach and if you’re interested you can read more on Paul’s post about side projects as experiments.

One of the best things about side projects is that if your side project fails, simply try again with another project.

Commitment

A popular reason for not having a side project is that you’ve not got any spare time or too many commitments already. You don’t feel like starting work on your project when you get home from work.

The trick is to look at how you spend your time. Keep a diary for the week of how you spend your time. At the end of the week identify those hours where you could be doing something else. Identify what time you do have or can make available for your side project.

A side project is a commitment, but it’s also about getting balance in your life.

Spreading myself too thinly over too many projects.

Neil Patel, co founder of KISSmetrics

Pro Tips for a side project

So no matter what you’re motivation a side project is be a big commitment. So if you’re serious how do you turn your ideas into an actionable side project and avoid the common pitfalls?

Our list of pro tips will help.

side project

Follow your passion

This is one of the most important tips. It’s vital to focus on something that you really enjoy if you’re to have any chance of putting in the work and making the time sacrifices. Focus on doing great work.

Set a clear Goal

It doesn’t matter what your goal is, whether it’s creating a web comic, or reaching 10,000 subscribers to your blog, or writing an ebook. Be clear about what you want to achieve and by when.

Break it down

Either you run the day or the day runs you.

John Rim

Have you heard the phrase “To eat the elephant one bite at a time.” It applies to breaking down your side project into the smallest tasks possible. Then focus on one task at a time. Not only will you avoid feeling over whelmed, but you will feel like you are accomplishing something every time you complete a task.

Work with the minimum

Don’t outlay a ton of cash when you start. Find ways to do it cheaply. Look how innovative ways you can achieve your goals without spending the money upfront. Derek Sivers, the founder of CDBaby which became worth $22 million was self taught SQL and PHP because he couldn’t afford to hire a web developer when he started CDBaby as a side project.

Fail fast

If you are going to fail, “Fail fast, fail cheaply.” Is the mantra of The Lean Startup. It’s the idea that doing anything new is about learning quickly and cheaply. It’s about learning from making small mistakes rather than costly big ones.

Commitment

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

Albert Einstein

Don’t treat your side project any less seriously than you would your day job. If you’re an early riser, can you do a few hours before going to work, or if you work late, can you ignore the TV and do a few hours each evening.

Schedule dedicated times to your side project. This will help you maintain focus and balance your other commitments. Be realistic with your time.
When working on your business, put on headphones, ignore work email and get stuff done. You will be surprised at how much time you can save when you cut out distractions.

Don’t do it alone

Social facilitation is the tendency for people to do better on tasks when with other people. I’ve always found studying or doing exercise seems easier when someone else is doing it with you. Working with someone can give you the added support, motivation, and commitment you might be lacking if doing it solo.

side project

Just Do It

We all know that actions speak louder than words. So above all, just do it! Don’t spend too long on the planning and not on the doing. Decide what you want to do, how you are going to do it, and get started.

Action will delineate and define you.

Thomas Jefferson

Having a side project is a fantastic way to try new things, learn new skills, and to productively make the most of your time. Beyond that, starting and completing something that you are passionate about can give you an enormous sense of accomplishment. And you never know, it might lead into an additional source of money, a new career or a dramatic lifestyle change!

So what are you waiting for?

See what can you get achieved on your side project in the next 30 days?

Featured Image credit: New Morning routine by Johan Larsson
Post Image credits:  Stop Sign by Kt AnnLive Work Create  by Darwin Bell,Just Do It by akhilkay

About the author

Geoff Austin

Geoff Austin

I talk and write a lot. Some of it about eCommerce, selling online, startups, SEO, digital marketing. Chauffeur to twin daughters and a pizza chef master.

3 comments

  1. David Hutcherson

    There is a new norm being created. I believe the conversation will switch from, “do you have a side project?” to “what is your side project”. Side projects aka side hustles are becoming a necessity.

    Great article! What are some of you current or former side projects Geoff?

  2. Dion Lynk

    I feel as if I could have written this post myself! It feels great to know that I’m not alone with these thoughts and dreams that be waking me up at night (Yeezy reference). You can literally do whatever you want and earn more than a living from doing it today, and forevermore. I liken having a 9to5 job, and working in the environment of enemies, to what the literal hell may be like. I cannot imagine going back to the frame of mind of my parents and grandparents where you get degree’s and certificates to be able to create the good ole middle class life you want. Nothing wrong with education, but something has shifted in the atmosphere, and the only rules are for people reading the book, but all who understand this new precedent will win the future! I like to refer to this as “Our American Fantasy”.

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