The Power of Side Projects

get started, advance your career, collaborate, and stay inspired

Side projects are a great way to exercise creativity, meet new friends, and advance your career. They can make you happier, healthier, and more productive. They are easier to start than you may think.

What’s a side project?

A side project is usually a creative or learning endeavor that has some sort of output. This could be blogging, selling your paintings online, creating a software app that solves a problem, writing a book, podcasting, making candles, recording a music album, giving advice on gardening, speaking at local meetups, etc.

Sometimes, side projects sound like hobbies, hustles, or startups. They overlap. Don’t worry about the definitions. But if you’re curious: A hobby is a long-term interest, usually creative. A hustle is something to quickly make money. A startup is a new business meant to make money and grow quickly.

Side projects, or whatever you call your endeavor, are activities outside your main paid day job, or parenting responsibilities, that you can share with others, and leads to personal growth. They should be low-risk, low-pressure, and something you love. This difference, over you day job, keeps you motivated and passionate.

The 3 rules of side projects. Low-risk, low-pressure, and love. — Kevan Lee from Buffer

Benefits

People often do side projects to fill unmet needs in their day job. They are a creative outlet and way to learn something new. They help you ask better questions, share your work with the world, gain recognition, and learn new processes.

Side projects are a great way to get noticed in work, as you grow, and bring new experiences and skills to the workplace. They can lead to raises and promotions. And if your current job doesn’t appreciate your side projects, find a new one, and make your side project a talking point when you’re applying for new jobs. They show self-actuation and commitment to growth. Something all employers should seek. They make you unique and well-rounded.

Your side project may even become a business itself! Either extra money, or a way to sustain your livelihood and work for yourself.

One of the best side projects benefits is they make you meet new people. They get you into the local community to collaborate with likeminded and passionate people. These are the people you want to be around. Those who better themselves, and those around them.

Examples

If you’re not getting jazzed up already, here are a few side projects, and the people who made them — my local Charlotte friends:

What She Techs — Criseida Rico

Inspiration: The intersection of women, fashion, and technology

Criseida Rico recently transitioned her career from fashion to technology. Now she’s sharing her experiences, and those of other women in technology. Her side project, What She Techs, features exclusive interviews to inspire women and expand their participation in technology. It includes a curated collection of tech items for purchase, just for women. This project builds on Criseida’s passion for marketing and fashion. She’s networking with impressive women in the tech space. And advancing her own tech career.

Marché Crypto Payment System — Sam Shaibani

Inspiration: Blockchain and cryptocurrency needs UX, badly

Samantha Shaibani got interested in cryptocurrency during the late 2017 investment bubble. She was stricken with the complexity of starting, and had a lot of questions around how crypto could be used by the masses. She teamed up with some local friends, working on a crypto wallet and payment system called Marché, and provided much needed usability research and testing. This project expanded Sam’s understanding of blockchain and crypto tech, gave great experience in UX and user research, and let her work with other passionate designers and developers.

B-LINE Natural Energy — Chris Hawks and Roddy Burgess

Inspiration: The need for natural and healthy sports foods

Chris Hawks and Roddy Burgess were on a remote group mountain biking trip, when a friend bonked (totally ran out of energy, had to get carried home). Chris saw a nutritionist afterwards, who shared a solution: a healthy mix of honey, molasses, and maple syrup. A natural energy gel. Chris and Roddy started making this for their trips. They shared them with friends, who told their friends, and then bike shop owners, who then wanted to buy the gel! This side-project, turned side-business, was a great exercise in solving a real life problem, forming a business, and most importantly, working with others, right in the Charlotte biking community.

Getting started on a side project

Not sure how to get started? Need an idea?

Here are some tips to start on your own side project:

Passion

Start with something you’re passionate about. Something that you want to share with others. Maybe its painting, building terrariums, planting succulents and cacti, or coding Amazon Alexa skills. Talk about it with your friends over morning coffee. Tweet about it. Post pictures of it to Instagram. Try blogging or podcasting about it.

Solve a problem

Another approach is to list your problems. Maybe you have crazy curly hair, and no products work for you, so you make your own. Maybe you need to find the best wifi spots (and pastries) in town, so you start a spreadsheet and share it with others, who can make updates. Or try to make it an app. Turns out, when you solve your own problems, others probably have the same problem too. Then you can collaborate, share, or sell your solution!

Build on others ideals

Check out reddit, starter story, or idea machine to see some ideas.

Collaborate

A big part of side projects is collaboration. Find others — work with them, or just be in the same space. Be willing to get out of your comfort zone. Talk about you work at meetups. Visit to a coworking space and tell someone what you’re making. Try a skillpop class. Go to the coffee shop and talk to the regulars, or the barista. Maybe someone is doing something similar. Maybe they’ll share their side project. Or give you honest feedback on yours. You’ll feed off each other’s energy.

Make (a little) time

The important things is to start doing, learning, and sharing. Try carving out 30 minutes before your day job, in the morning, or some quiet moments before sleeping, at night. Substitute some television, or social media time.

Staying motivated

Don’t boil the ocean with your side project. Set realistic expectations for yourself. It’s a passion. Not a job. Tackle it a little at a time to stay inspired. Share your work to see results. Work next to somebody for support.

Your turn

What’s your side project? Share it with the world!

Don’t have one yet? Give your passion a try. Talk about it with others. And remember that side projects let you learn, grow, advance your career , stay creative, and get inspired with others!