Side projects are important for expanding your skills. Doing client work generally doesn’t make you better. Most clients say they want cutting edge work, but when it comes down to making decisions they play it safe or compromise.
A roster full of clients who make decisions by committee will kill your career.
Side projects give you the opportunity to sharpen your skills, explore new territory, and build your portfolio with modern work. If your work is filled with client projects, chances are it’s not your best work. I’m not saying client projects are not portfolio worthy. You may have done an incredible job, but you can do even better.
A blog is a great place to share your side projects. Even if your projects are offline, you can video, photograph, and write about them. Some projects will turn into new product offerings and, in some cases, a new career.
Not every side project needs to be shared publicly. I recently came up with an idea related to candy sprinkles. I created the website, developed the process, and made a marketing plan. It’s a good idea and the people I’ve shared it with seem to think it has promise. I may never launch it. But in the process I did learn new information and techniques that I will apply to client projects. I also discovered concepts I would never have thought of if I had not taken time to experiment. Remember: Failures are great learning experiences.
Almost 15 years ago, a friend and I decided to create a side project, CityNet Magazine. It was an online and print magazine focusing on the positive things in and around Detroit. Our work with CityNet led to partnering with a locally produced, glossy lifestyle magazine. My work on that magazine led to larger publishers recognizing my work. Eventually, I was enlisted as the lead photographer for a series of magazines produced by the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. Those magazines kept me very busy during the mid-2000s.
Before I started the CityNet project, most of my work was in the realm of photojournalism. After about three years working on this and following projects, I developed skills in food, Interior and corporate portraiture photography. To this day, they remain my photographic specialties for traditional, online and corporate media.
Creating an online magazine in 2000 also expanded my website knowledge and skills that I still use today.
In 2008, I started a new blog and podcast called New Media Photographer. The skills I developed on that project led to my employment with S Media, many speaking engagements, and publishing opportunities.
Green Sprout Forum is one of my side projects. We are having a great time interviewing experts live on YouTube and sharing articles and posts online that support our community. Who knows where it will lead?
Side projects don’t always lead to new work and career opportunities. I have a long trail of unsuccessful projects. Fortunately, I’ve learned from all of them. Make sure your projects don’t inhibit you from doing the work that pays the bills. After a project is complete, don’t jump in to the next project. Apply what you have learned to your core skills and career. This is an important element of the Combination Code.
What is your side project? Feel free to share a link in the comments.