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What’s your project?

Justin Watkins

January 2016

Side-projects. Passion-projects. Whatever you call them, practicing your craft on your own terms is wildly beneficial. Few things teach us more than experimenting with a personal project. Not surprisingly, those hobbies can often turn into full-time gigs. Writers record podcasts. Project managers become photographers. Geologists become homebrewers. Everyone has a project they’ve considered and put off.

So how do you kick-start your own side-hustle?

Here’s my advice:

1) Do it.
Publicly. Find a way to make yourself accountable to a group of friends if nothing else. Nothing drives a person like the fear of disappointing others. (Or maybe that’s just me oversharing.)

2) Make it sustainable.
That’s the real trick. Our busy-ass schedules will get in the way. Find a way to make the most impact with the least amount of time you can legit commit to on a regular basis.

3) Ask for help.
Include others and get assistance when you need it. You’ll be surprised how people come through.

4) Pick a problem.
Not all side projects have to be driven by love. Sometimes you pick something that pisses you off and commit yourself to solving it.

5) Do it for free.
There’s so much freedom in working for nothing. It means you work strictly for yourself. No clients, no customers. Think twice before you start selling your passion. That’s the day it turns into a job. Make sure that’s what you want it to be.

Each of those points became abundantly clear during a recent project of my own. Friends of NATIVE are familiar with the interview project highlighting marketers and makers in Kansas City. It’s something I wanted to see in the world, so I did it.

kansas city interviews

Sticking to a pace of publishing an interview each week for a year and a half wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worthwhile. Fortunately I made it easy on myself by streamlining the process. I batched interviews at the top of each month. Found a consistent style. Stuck with 5 questions for each interview. It was like going to a conference year-round. It didn’t need to make money – the conversations were worth the effort.

Grammar hawks may have noticed that last paragraph was written in past tense. That’s right, the interview project is capped off. Hitting the archives. Donezo. If you haven’t perused the list, you should. They are an impressive bunch. I started with a goal of running the project for one year. It went almost two.

During year two I also resigned from my steady paycheck to start NATIVE, the content agency. Not to say that it stole time away from the project (it did), but at this point it’s time for new projects. When you take away so much from a single project, it makes you wonder, “what else can we cook up to pull lessons out of?” Especially as an agency rooted in digital, the whole freaking internet is a playground.

We’re already tinkering with a few simple ideas. One we’re calling a Happy Hour Roundup. Basically turning our HH discussions into helpful resources for anyone interested. Another is directing questions beyond one interview recipient to our team and friends on social. We dubbed it #topicaltopics (much to Nadine’s chagrin) and it’s the furthest thing from an original idea. That said, I guarantee in its success or failure, we’ll learn something worthwhile.