Side projects are a lot of work. If you’re anything like me you probably have your toes dipped in several. Similar to any sort of project, they require care and attention. Often they end up time consuming and creatively or emotionally draining.
You might not even earn a single dollar from your side projects, yet I bet that doesn’t stop you from doing them. With often no financial benefit and the level of work required for side projects to be successful, have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you do them?
In my recent interview for Design Feast I was asked this exact question:
Why have a side project?
Immediately I came up with a list in my head; fulfil a passion, grow an audience, help others and challenge myself. As I started to write these down it began thinking not only about why I have side projects, but the purpose behind them.
Defining purpose allows you to see everything clearer. It’s a tool – a lens you can use to make project related decisions.
For example if the purpose of your side project is to help others become a master at crochet, you can refer back to that purpose when making business decisions about what crochet skills you need to teach.
Regardless of the nature of your side project is and whether it’s for serious or fun, you need to define its purpose at some point. Just the same as freelancers or even full-time workers define their purpose, it’s equally important to define the purpose of a side project.
Purpose should differ from your goals. Like in the example above, your purpose could be to help others become a master at crochet. Goals are measurable. In this example the goal could be to earn $1,000 in extra revenue each month through teaching crochet.
Finding your Purpose
Finding your purpose can be a challenge. It requires a little bit of soul searching (but not too much I promise). By asking yourself a series of questions you can begin to uncover the purpose behind your side project:
- Who is your side project serving?
- How does it differ from others like it?
- What does it help others achieve?
- What does it help you accomplish?
For my podcast Design Life, my answers are something like:
- Who is your side project serving? – Motivated creatives
- How does it differ from others like it? – We’re two women offering a different perspective
- What does it help others achieve? – Challenges them to think differently and provides them with clarity & direction to achieve their own goals
- What does it help you accomplish? – Allows me to help others, push myself out of my comfort zone and build up my reputation and audience
Design Life has a very public purpose of helping others. Eventually it might graduate from being a side project and turn into something bigger. If this happens with your side project it’s good to review your purpose.
Unlike Design Life, your side project may not necessarily be so public or serving of others. It could be something you do at home for fun like scrapbooking or DJ ing remixes – something fun. Fun side projects still have purpose. For these types of projects the purpose could simply be: to have fun! That’s OK. Your purpose doesn’t have to be something selfless or contribute to the greater good of the world.
'Fun' can be a purpose that’s just as important as anything else. Your side project doesn’t have to bring you a million dollars or a bajillion newsletter subscribers for it to be purposeful.
It doesn’t even have to be on the internet! Your side project could be you and your DJ deck creating some sick beats. If that purpose of having fun brings you fulfilment, you’re on a great path.
Once you’ve defined your purpose, use it as that important lens. When creating your next piece of content, consider whether it aligns with and reinforces your purpose. Use it to make important yes or no decisions, or to asses what your next step should be.
Remember, purpose isn’t something carved in stone – it’s adaptable. If you’re unsure about whether you’ve defined the right purpose or it’s not helping you make the right decisions, take some time to review it and steer yourself back on the right path.
Just make sure you’ve got a bag to carry that lens in.