The Internet is littered with side projects that never received the attention they could have and thus never took off like they might have. I love side hustle post-mortems and stories of serendipitous things that happen because of them. Others have written on this topic, so now it’s my turn.
I would bet that every entrepreneur’s journey is full of these, and mine is no different. I’ve set out with big intentions to launch communities in a couple different areas I’m interested in (outdoors gear and cycling), bought a site to use as my home base as a nomadic marketing consultant (which never materialized), started writing an ebook about marketing that I never finished (but built a big email list for), and more. Each of these “failed projects” taught me something different that was valuable. In fact, I’ve come to think of each of mine as failed startups and now count them as part of my journey to finally having a business that could succeed.
Here are the lessons I learned.
Every Project Teaches You New Skills
When I worked on a few of my side projects that I never fully launched, I entered into them because I was actively involved in the spaces they were created around – outdoors lifestyle, cycling, and personal development. I never fully invested in them because I had other projects I was working on that took more of my time and I could see clearer results from – such as this blog where I published twice a week for almost 3 years.
However, each project taught me something new. For example, the outdoors community site taught me how to create a WordPress site that requires login to access content. The cycling site started as a personal development site and then pivoted into a cycling site (the domain worked for that). From that I learned how to rebrand a website and social media profiles, which came into use when I rebranded Credo from its original name of HireGun.
Lesson: even if you never launch, you’ll learn new skills by trying new side projects.
Quitting != Being a Quitter
When I let each side project go, I felt like a quitter. I felt like I had failed because I hadn’t launched, or I hadn’t grown the site, or I didn’t keep up the cadence I set out to keep. I learned important lessons from this, like the importance of a content strategy to keep a content-based site alive and healthy, but I also learned something more.
Quitting something that is not right is actually the opposite of being a quitter. Instead, I’ve come to view quitting something that you are not passionate about as a sign of maturity instead of immaturity. I’m a big fan of Ramit Sethi, whose site I Will Teach You To Be Rich talks about living a Rich Life, which isn’t necessarily about money but rather about being able to have or do the things that add joy to your life. That might be money, but it might not be.
For me, a Rich Life means having the freedom to call my own shots in my career, being my own boss, and being able to travel and spend time with my friends spread out across the world. My wife and I cut back on areas that don’t bring us a lot of joy (such as eating at a restaurant every night) so that we can spend that money on things like travel that do bring us joy.
Being able to quit is a part of my Rich Life. I am able to make my own choices and say when something isn’t working, and instead of feeling trapped by it I can let it go and close it down. Closing down other projects means I can focus on the ones that matter most to me.
Sometimes, Side Projects Grow
You never know when a side project might grow into something else. This is part of my journey with Credo, which started as a side project in March 2013 when I saw an opportunity and decided to do something about it. Even though the site sat relatively dormant for the next couple years while I worked inhouse and gained a lot of valuable experience that serves me well today, it kept going and I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind.
When I got laid off back in September 2015, my side project suddenly became my fulltime hustle. I made it a legal entity, set up business bank accounts, and have been figuring out how to run a company where I am the founder and have the vision for it. I’m learning how to hire contractors, business strategy, how to scale an operation while keeping overhead and headcount low, and so much more. I’m also learning how to manage my own psychology as a solo entrepreneur (more to come on that at some point) and what really matters to me as a person, both personally and professionally.
All from a side project.
What about you? What have you learned from side projects you’ve launched, or why have you not launched any side projects? I highly recommend it. You never know where it will lead you.