The Benefit of Having Side Projects as a Freelancer

By Nicola Brown, Contributor, on April 5, 2017

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When I transitioned my side-project work into full-time work as a freelance writer, my side-project career didn’t end, so to speak. I simply added a new side project to my schedule.

Many people see the benefit of having side projects as a way to do the thing you actually love alongside the thing that actually pays the bills. If there were a way to turn your side project full-time, you wouldn’t need an extra endeavor anymore, because you’d already be doing the thing you love. But to me, this thinking is like saying, “You’re not in school anymore, so why keep learning?”

We need to shift our understanding of side projects as creative professionals (like writers, designers or software programmers) looking to pad their resumes. Instead, let’s look at the benefit of having side projects to help everyone pursue their passions, no matter what their career looks like or how much they love or hate what they do.

What Constitutes a Side Project?

It could be as elaborate as running a small business or as simple as working through recipes in a cookbook (depending on how comfortable you are in the kitchen, this may not actually be that simple). If you engage in an activity outside your regular work that has some direction or goal that helps you achieve something you want, you have a side project.

It might be a personal goal, like learning to run a 10K, or a professional one, like selling handmade jewelry on Etsy. It could have a great deal to do with your full-time job or nothing to do with it whatsoever. It may take up hours, days or just a few minutes every week.

What Side Projects Can Do for You

A side project isn’t just resume fodder. They can help you explore new interests, give you a creative outlet that’s not controlled by anyone else or let you develop skills and habits that can better you personally and professionally. They’re a way to look at your life as more multidimensional than just business or pleasure. They also offer a more structured way to explore a new activity, prompting you to follow through on your goals and take your passions and interests seriously.

For freelancers, side projects can serve as feelers for different avenues of work. To remain competitive, freelancers need to stay one step ahead of technological changes in their industry, continually reach out to new clients or customers, broaden their social networks and get comfortable reinventing themselves every so often. Side projects can keep us moving; no matter how established we are, there’s always uncertainty around the bend.

I’ve found that maintaining a side project ensures I don’t become disenfranchised with the work I love to do. I know a few people who achieved their dreams when they started freelancing doing what they loved, only to end up hating their former passion. Maintaining a purely personal project on the side will keep you sane through the tough times and remind you why you pursued freelance work in the first place.

4 Quick Tips for Making the Most of Your Side Project

  1. Set goals. The difference between a side project and something you do occasionally is a goal or a set of goals. Think about why you want to start this project and what you hope to get out of it.
  2. Don’t make it about financial gain. The quickest way to start resenting your project and feeling like you’ve failed is to aim for financial gain. Set goals that reflect personal growth and intrinsic aspirations instead.
  3. Start small. Start by allocating a feasible amount of time each week to your side project. Avoid the tendency to overcommit too soon, which will make your project feel like a chore. You can always scale up later.
  4. Involve others. A great way to stay motivated and receive positive feedback on your successes is to involve others. Whether you get other people directly involved in your project or you share regular updates with your social networks, tap into this useful source of support.

Everyone should have a side project. Check out this list of 51 awesome side projects for a bit of inspiration to get you started.

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