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8 Ways to Determine If Your Side Project is Worth Pursuing

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If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re the type of person who’s eager to learn. You’re probably proactive with a great work ethic and your mind is constantly filled with interesting questions or ideas. Freelancers who like to learn usually (at some point in their career) end up pursuing a side project.

Before I go any further, I want to distinguish between a side project and a hobby.

A side project usually has a defined outcome. Whether you want to write an eBook or launch a new brand, there’s an intended outcome regardless of how many steps it takes to get there.

In contrast, a hobby is typically an additional skill or interest that you pursue on an ongoing basis. For me, hobbies include woodworking, biking, photography, and modifying my car.

So maybe you want to start a blog or write a book. Maybe you want to publish a course or just design or code more of your own ideas.

For freelancers, side projects are unique because they often relate to their professional skills or interests. They’re also unique because freelancers are often pressed for time. That’s why it’s so important to have a method of determining which side projects are worth pursuing and which ones aren’t.

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My first side project was my portfolio website. I worked on it constantly and it’s ultimately what started my freelancing career and later helped me quit my day job. Next, it was this freelance blog and newsletter. Then it was creating products for freelancers such as eBooks and templates.

A while later, I started a community for freelancers. Notice a theme with all of those side projects? Of course, I’ve had a number of other ideas along the way, such as creating an HTML & CSS intro course for designers. But I didn’t pursue it, because it didn’t mean enough criteria on my side project checklist:

  1. Is this going to help others?
  2. Will this help me build authority?
  3. Can this help me get more freelance work?
  4. Does this align closely with the authority + audience I’m building?
  5. Is this something that’s sustainable long-term?
  6. Is this something that I’m excited and happy about doing?
  7. Can I reach a big enough audience to make this worthwhile?
  8. Do I have the time and skills to create this with a high-level of quality?

Over the years, these are some of the questions that have helped me determine whether or not my side project ideas were worth pursuing. Let me explain them each a little further:

1. Is this going to help others?

While this isn’t necessarily a requirement for starting a side project, I find that it’s excellent motivation. When your side project serves a purpose and helps other people somehow, it’s a good sign it’s a worthwhile endeavor!

2. Will this help me build authority?

When you’re thinking about bringing your side project idea to life, it helps to consider whether or not the project will help you build authority. Side projects that help reinforce your own professional career or showcase your abilities are usually worth pursuing.

3. Can this help me get more freelance work?

Side projects that help you get more freelance projects are a win-win. Writing a blog, creating a course, or publishing an eBook are all great ways to help others, build authority, and attract more clients. If you’re a designer or developer, simply creating more projects for your portfolio can easily help you get more freelance clients!

For me, writing blog posts, publishing resources, and creating a community for freelancers met all the criteria.

4. Does this align closely with the authority + audience I’m building?

This is perhaps the most important criteria on my list. When you’re considering what side project to work on, it’s critical to make sure it aligns closely with the authority and audience you’re building.

For example, I create content to help freelancers understand the business of freelancing. When I had the idea to create an HTML & CSS crash course for designers, I decided against it because it didn’t align closely enough with the rest of the content I’m creating.

As a freelancer, it’s likely that you have multiple interests (design + video production, coding + copywriting, etc), but I’d recommend making sure there’s at least some overlap with the side projects you choose to pursue. Don’t forget that you can be creative with how you combine the things you’re interested in!

5. Is this something that’s sustainable long-term?

Before you start working on your next side project, think seriously about two things: if you currently have time to work on it and if you’ll continue to have time in the foreseeable future to work on it. Not only that, ask yourself if you’ll continue working on it whether it succeeds or fails — and how long you’ll give yourself to determine the outcome.

Not all projects require ongoing effort (such as writing an eBook), but many others do (newsletters, courses, communities, websites, apps, etc). Just make sure you think seriously about if you can see the project through to fruition!

6. Is this something that I’m excited and happy about doing?

This one might seem obvious, but it’s really important to be happy and excited about your side projects! You might consider doing a side project for money or recognition, but make sure you’re going to be happy and excited to do it. If you’re not, you might get burnt out and end up wasting your time.

That’s not to say you won’t have a great experience and learn along the way, but you want to make sure you’re properly motivated to work on your side project!

7. Can I reach a big enough audience to make this worthwhile?

The last thing you want to do is put tons of time, hard work, and effort into a side project only to launch it and hear crickets. Before starting work on your next side project, think about if you have a big enough audience to make it worthwhile.

The size of that audience is going to be different for everyone (and maybe even every side project), but you’ll need some kind of audience to make your effort worthwhile. It’s up to you to determine how big that is for you!

8. Do I have the time and skills to create this with a high-level of quality?

This question may be the most difficult one to answer honestly. Do you really have the time and skills to bring your side project to life with a high level of quality? If you’re trying to write an eBook, have you ever written before? If you need to build a website, have you ever built one before?

Don’t get me wrong, the first time I wrote a book or started a newsletter was the first time — and I had to learn along the way, but I was confident in my ability to make the outcome high-quality (even if it took many attempts and revisions).

I hope this list helps you decide to pursue your next side project, saves you the time and effort, or helps you turn your idea into something even better!

About Matt Olpinski
Matt runs his own web design and development company Matthew’s Design Co. and teaches thousands of freelancers how to succeed through his personal blog, newsletter, and community for freelancers — The Freelance Institute.
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