Side projects are more and more common nowadays. Some people do it to get an extra income or to pursue a passion that lies outside of their 9-5. The question is - what projects should you pour time into? Should you charge? Where do you draw the line? I take on side projects from time to time myself. Some projects have been professional in nature and some have been hobbies. For example, I've done a few side projects restoring old bicycles. It wasn't a side project I didn't get paid for (it actually cost money) but was a great creative outlet that was completely independent of what I did 40-50 hours a week. I also consider this blog a side project.
Then I've also done a few more professional side projects where I've made some extra money on the side of what I pull in from my DeMoss salary. Over the last five years, I've made some mistakes but have learned a lot about where side projects fit into my life. If you're thinking of freelancing to test out a new skill, hobby or make a few extra bucks, here are a few rules I live by when tackling work outside of my "9-5."
1. Only take one project at a time
Biting off more than you can chew is a really easy mistake to make. Myself? I sometimes like to think I'm invincible. My full-time role at DeMoss is my number one priority in terms of work. To make sure that my work in my main job doesn't suffer, I only take one side gig at a time. It doesn't matter if it's a hobby project or a professional job, I try and limit my time. My hours and energy are a finite resource. If my side projects are disrupting my ability to perform at my "real" job, I'm doing something wrong.
2. Try projects that are different than your day job
In social, it's easy to get a lot of work that is like or very similar to my work with DeMoss. There seems to be more social media needs out there than bodies able to fill the roles. However, it doesn't matter if I work in social media or accounting, taking on a side project that is very similar to my day job has its downsides.
Sure, if it's a passion point, it doesn't really feel like work - and if you can make a little side cash in the process then AWESOME. That said, I think it's healthy to have interests outside of your day work. It helps you (at least me anyway) keep from burning out and makes my mind shift and work on other things for a while. It's a great creative stretch to work on projects that I wouldn't normally do within the confines of DeMoss.
I've taken on projects like my day job in the past and have had good experiences with those, so it's not a hard and fast "no." But I have noticed a difference in my energy (as has my wife) when I take on a side project that falls outside of my normal realm of work. I've even see my work at DeMoss improve when I'm stretching my creativity in out-of-the-norm avenues. That's a win-win.
3. Get specifics in writing
I would say over half to two-thirds of the side projects I've worked on have come from friends or at least close contacts. It's pretty easy to do everything on a handshake and not really formalize what you're doing, even when there's compensation involved.
To protect yourself and whomever you're working with/for, I would definitely outline expectations in writing. It doesn't have to be a formal contract every time (most of mine have been done via 1-2 emails) but does help minimize "oh, by the way" occurences. Not only does it help you not have expectations grow on you unexpectedly, this also helps whomever you're working with be able to hold you accountable for the work you've agreed to do.
4. Have a start and end date
Also, when you're outlining expectations, always have a start and end date. The end date doesn't have to be a firm end date but a time for you and whomever to circle back and reevaluate whether or not to continue the work. You may find after that work period is over that it was more than your time could realistically handle. The person you're working with may need to go a different direction. Having end dates in place protects both parties fairly.
Even if you are working on a project you aren't being paid for, having an end date sets a goal for you and keeps the work from falling through the cracks.
5. Don't sacrifice personal and family time for extra cash
If you have a full-time job and are able to pay your bills, sometimes taking on a side project isn't the best idea. Being at a PR agency, I have seasons where work is so crazy that having any downtime at all is a blessing, much less taking on even more work somewhere else.
Sure, having a few extra bucks is nice. You could save up a little more padding or splurge a little more often with it. However, if you are still staying afloat without it, spending more time with the people around you will be an investment with far greater returns.
Do any of you take on side projects from time to time? What rules do you set for yourself?