Why comparing your side project is a bad idea

Comparing side projects represented by windows side-by-side

Just before you sit and work on your side project or start thinking about creating one. Do you ever compare your side project that you started for fun or exploratory reasons to big time success that produce headlines like this:

Twitter headline showing off it's success

Why is this wrong?

Not all side projects are the same. You will find that experts like [KL] Kevan Lee , [DA] David Airey, [FR] Fred Rivett or [SF] Spencer Fry will give you completely different advice depending on whether your project is for fun or commercial purposes. So to make sure you benchmarking your project correctly and listening to the correct advice you need to ask yourself:

Is your project for fun or are you doing it for the money?

Experts advice on : For Fun projects

[KL]It should always be enjoyable and interest you.

[DA]These types of projects should never be over thought and its up to you to see where it goes.

For-fun projects are sometimes described as a labour of love. But do not be surprised when these types of projects become something much bigger. Which tends to happen like in the case of Jessica Hirches Company and Tattly.

For example, a side project for me was researching “Co working space for entrepreneurial South African creatives”. I am really interested in Real Estate so I become totally engrossed in the finding out, “where are my fellow programmers, graphics designers, digital nomads , people that can’t afford an office or only need a place to work a few times a week”. Now this may sound like a very commercial objective, but I just wanted to know more about where they hang out. So I could maybe one day join them.

For this type of side project you should always be asking yourself, “ Am I enjoying this?”

Typical Symptoms include:

  • Losing track of time
  • Want to talk about it to everyone
  • Can’t wait to work on it again

In contrast, you should wary of these types of projects cutting into work that “helps keep the lights on”. So do not be afraid to scale back or put on hold.

Experts advice on : Commercial projects

Commercial projects need to be treated completely different. For example, your mindset changes from something you believe in and enjoyability, to finding out whether your idea resonates with an audience.

There are entire frameworks to approaching commercial projects like lean or agile product development. Typically, it involves you shipping often, failing and learning fast; and then repeating this cycle until it gains traction.

This is the approach taken by Fred Rivett with We are Contrast and Do lecture by the Hiett family.

These project types are normally a big commitment that normally take longer than expected. So be laser focused in whatever you trying to achieve. According to Fred Rivett,  start small, set a deadline, nail your scope, tell someone and most of all, ship it. Move past your fears and hit the big shiny launch button.

Lastly, do not be afraid to cull commercial project that do not show promise so you can move on to bigger and better ideas.

My advice when it’s a little of both (aka ‘Happy-go-money’)

Some side projects are both for fun and commercial. So now what?

When I think of ‘happy-go-money’ side projects, I think of the following quote by Violeta Nedkova:

“When you get an inspired idea, grab it. Run with it. Learn from it. Don’t ever despair if it doesn’t work out and definitely don’t start with the idea of making money. Side projects should be fun first. If you’re not having fun, nobody else will”

I love these types of side projects and try to treat all my projects like hybrids because it affords me the flexibility to be adventurous, in a structured way. Also, I do not like thinking of the idea of doing something I do not enjoy, in my spare time only, just for the money.

So what do Hybrids look like for you

If we continue using my example of the co working space for creatives, the general research aspect and genuine interest is for fun; and entirely exploratory.

I personally keep all research in a Google Doc for future reference, so this specifically allows me 2 commercial avenues.

  1. In the future I can aggregate all my notes and sell it.
  2. I can build or rent out a coworking space for creatives, provided my research reveals that this market is underserved or I can provide a better offering.

For DA, he just enjoyed learning about logos and sharing it with friends. The site now gets a significant number of visitors, which he can use to monetise his website.

The key here is to do what you like doing and being aware of its commercial potential if or when it presents itself.

Now what must I do with this?

I highlighted how to differentiate between commercial, fun projects and also considering those hybrid “happy-go-money”. We concluded the approach of how the 2 differs, and what should be kept in mind throughout the project to improve efficiency. Also, we’ve found that hybrid projects…

So I leave you with this – to start treating your side project correctly, ask yourself this question

Is your project for fun or are you doing it for the money?

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