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Summary:

Side projects can be businesses or just-for-fun efforts that we do in our nonworking hours. While there are some risks with taking side projects, I strongly believe that most of the time they benefit both the individual and the employer.

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Side projects can be businesses or just-for-fun efforts that we do in our nonworking hours, usually out of some passion for the work. There are some risks associated with taking up side projects. For example, I have at least one friend who was fired partly because he spent too much time working on a side project, while I have at times previously picked up way too many side projects and ended up burned out as a result. However, despite the risks, I strongly believe that most of the time, side projects benefit both the individual and the employer.

Here are a few reasons why side projects make good business sense.

  1. New skills. I love to use side projects as a way to stretch myself and learn new things that I wouldn’t normally do as a result of my regular work. In the past, I’ve had side projects where I co-founded a nonprofit to organize community technology events, co-founded a location-based startup, wrote a book about community, wrote a cookbook, started blogs and much more. Out of each of these efforts, I’ve learned many new skills that I’ve applied in my day job. I’ve personally benefited from each of these efforts, but the companies I’ve worked for have also benefited from the skills learned in my off-hours.
  2. Connections and networking. Most of my side projects have given me an excuse to meet new people. I’ve made friends and valuable industry connections that I can talk to about new ideas or trends. Especially for those of us working in technology, many of these connections bleed over from one project or company to the next. Having additional contacts in your industry gives you a broader base of people to talk to about new side projects or interesting things that you are working on in your day job.
  3. Sense of accomplishment. While many of us are lucky enough to have great jobs where we get a sense of accomplishment from our regular work, it isn’t always the case. There is nothing quite like launching a fun project to boost your overall mood and give you a sense of excitement. For me, the accomplishments from my side projects tend to have a positive impact on my regular job, too, since my improved mood makes me even more productive when it comes to other work. Employees with improved self-confidence from a big accomplishment can often become better workers in other areas.
  4. Safety net. In today’s economy, we need to be prepared for a potential job loss. The people who have wrapped their entire identity and life around their job at a company can be devastated when they lose a job. Those of us with healthy side projects can throw ourselves into these existing projects and maybe even generate a little income while we look for a new gig. Having some projects to fall back on and keep your skills current can help to maintain your sanity and prevent you from becoming despondent over your loss.
  5. Fun. Most importantly, side projects should be fun! In many cases, side projects can be hobbies that you enjoy spending your free time on. If your side projects start to suck the energy out of you, then it’s time to find a new side project that leaves you energized and with a sense of enjoyment. This is part of why I organized tech events in my spare time for so many years. They were hard work, but it was great to get all kinds of different people together and create an amazing and fun experience. After a while, I had done so many of these that it ceased to be much fun, which is when I dropped them from my side projects and moved on to other projects.

What types of side projects do you most enjoy?

Photo courtesy of Selena Deckelmann

  1. Great post! I absolutely think it is important to have side projects and I cannot function without them! I have way too many ideas to simply work my full-time job during the day. It’s true that I get overwhelmed at times, but I just can’t help myself! Personally, I run an Etsy store, create the art for it, attend art shows, and help plan events for the college and sorority alumni groups that I belong to. All in all, it’s been a rewarding experience and helped me meet people that I would not otherwise have met in a new city!

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  2. Great article. Side Projects also provide confidence to “keep up” with the world beyond formal training!

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  3. Very good points, Dawn. I’ve always been amazed at how my side projects end up dovetailing with and supporting my primary gigs in some unexpected and fortuitous way.

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