Side Projects: How to make a career switch without starting from scratch
I recently posted an article about how I made the switch from being a Civil Engineer in Australia to being the Marketing Manager for fast growing online learning startup GO1. In the days and weeks to follow, I received a stack of messages from people who had a similar experience with their career change, as well as hearing from a lot of people who are feeling stuck in their current path and looking for advice on how to start taking steps towards being able to make a career switch.
There are A LOT of things that you can do to start preparing for such a huge life change such as this, and you might not even realize that you actually already have experience with a lot of the skills that you will use even if you change industries.
We’re going to take a closer look at some of the things that you can do to get the ball rolling and how you can establish yourself in a new industry without having to quit your current job and start from scratch.
Work out what you’d like to do next
So you don’t like what you’re currently doing, but that doesn’t always mean that you know what you’d like to do instead. It’s also important to take into account that just because you think that you’d like to do something because you do it occasionally, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d like to do it as full time job.
The majority of people that I spoke to recently are trying to find a place in technology, but don’t necessarily know what they would like to work on or with. If you are unsure as to where you’d like to take your career, talk to people!
Ask your friends about their jobs and what they like and dislike about them. Get on twitter and LinkedIn and start following people that you find interesting to see what they do and what roles that you are interested in entail, as well as what the people currently in those roles have done to get into these positions.
The great things about LinkedIn is that you can see the steps that people have taken to get into their current roles, and you should use this do your advantage!
Try things out through side projects
Now you’ve figured out the direction that you’d like to take your career, why now trying it our before you commit to it full time? Well you can and it’s actually a lot easier that you’d think.
I’m a firm believer in Side Projects and their ability to help you learn and advance you career, even if they are not directly related to your profession. At any one time I have at least 3–5 side projects happening. This range in everything from being an NBA sideline reporter, to being a photographer, and running an online music publication, but they all help me to in developing my skills to improve myself as the Marketing Manager of Go1, and we’re a key part of the reason as to why I am in that position.
It also gives you the chance to try before you commit. As I previously mentioned, just because you really like dabbing in a subject every now and then, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d enjoy it every day.
If you want to be a web designer, set up a website, take online course, start designing things, build up a portfolio, offer to do work for people for free to get experience, and work on building up your brand.
It doesn’t matter what you’d like to get into, the same process applies:
- Learn which skills you need to master
- Take courses or do tutorials to improve your knowledge
- Put you new skills to work, CREATE THINGS!
- Offer your services to others for free to get experience
- Build your brand to establish yourself in the industry
You might find after a few months that you aren’t enjoying what you’re working on, and thats’ fine! You can stop and try something different. There’s not shame in that at all.
I learned everything I know about how to run a business, market a brand, and a heap of other amazing skills through my side projects, and it’s a great way to get experience doing things that you might not get the chance to do it your current role.
START MAKING THINGS!
I can’t emphasize this point enough. Start making things, it doesn’t matter how big or small the things area, or if you are any good at them. MAKE SHIT. It could literally be a horrible disaster of an experience, but from that you will learn how to improve your next attempt at a project, and that’s the first step.
Saying that you don’t know how to do something is not an excuse either.
Anyone can learn anything online, and have an outlet to publish it to the general public. Creating and publishing websites, blogs, videos, photos, physical items is a simple process that ANYONE can learn with the help of a simple online courses or youtube tutorials.
There are no excuses for not trying. This will be tough and you have to start getting out of your comfort zone.
My first side project was Chucking a Mosh, an online music publication that set me up for a series of other side project which in turn led me to where I am in my career now. It was a life changing project, but terrifying and a lot of work, but it has paid off.
Until you put yourself out into the public eye, you are not going to progress.
Seriously, start making things now!
Did I mention that you should be making things? DO IT!
I know it takes time to create things, but you need to make time. You know how you come home and watch TV for hours until you go to bed? Why not spend just 1 hour of this time every night working on making something?
That’s 7 hours a week right there!
Once you start making things, you will notice that you will want to spend more time working on theses cool projects too!
What transferable skills have you got?
When you are working on your side projects you will find that you actually have a lot of skills that you are using in your current role that are also applicable to what you are trying to move into.
Things like project management, people management, administration skills, business development are all very common skills at people have but not understand how important they can be when making a career change.
Spend some time looking over your past experience to figure out what skills you have that you can use to leverage your way into a new field. Having years of experience in a particular area might be edge that you need to secure a position over another candidate when interviewing.
It’s ok to make mistakes, but be committed
If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not learning. You will make mistakes and how you respond to them will define your success. Bouncing back with a bigger and better outcome is a sign that you are evolving and your knowledge around a field is developing to a point that you understand what you have done wrong and how to improve.
Quitting at the first sign of trouble is probably a good sign that you might not be cut out for a the project you are attempting. Resilience is the key establishing yourself, and being committed to you project is what will help to push you into your new career.
Making a career switch takes time
Nothing good and lasting happens overnight.
When I changed careers it took me around 4 years of running my side projects to get the experience that I needed to finally crack into the marketing industry. During that time I was working my ass off to learn new skills, establish my name and brand within the industry and networking like crazy. It was a very tough process, but If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
START MAKING THINGS NOW!
Hopefully this post has encouraged you to start taking the first steps towards your career switch and to kick off some exciting new side projects.
If you have any questions or wants some tips for your side projects, hit me up on Twitter. If you have started a cool side project that you’d like to share, post it in the comments for this article so we can all see and share your awesome work!
“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.” - William James