Posted 12 July 2018

Find a friend, give it a title and use your job: We get some top advice on side projects

The benefits of having a side hustle are exclaimed far and wide, and the rewards are plenty: new skills, self-promotion and an immense feeling of accomplishment. But it’s not always easy; fitting projects around full-time jobs, feeling lost and losing motivation can all lurk in the shadows. So how do you get started, and how do you keep the momentum going once you’re up and running? If you’re looking to start something new, or finally kick-start that idea you’ve been keeping in reserve, we’ve called on some of our contributors to give their thoughts on side projects.

Maisie Willoughby, head of production at Cult LDN, and a photographer in her spare time
Most people work a job to earn a living. If you can make money doing something that you love, that’s great, but you may not be able to do that straight away. Some people manage to blur the line between their work and artistic outlet, but it’s also totally ok to enjoy both separately.

For example, I get a great deal of fulfilment working with creative people and developing powerful concepts in my full-time work. But I get an altogether different fulfilment from shooting my own self-initiated photography projects.

“Use your job to realise your side project.”

Use your job to realise your side project. A huge benefit to working within the creative industry is that every single day you have access to a wealth of premium talent and advice, for free. Talk about your project with people to make it a reality. Book in dates to make a project feel more real – you need a clear deadline so that you can keep prioritising it, otherwise it’s all too easy to put it aside.

Balancing work responsibilities with your side project can be very stressful, especially as with the latter you become the most critical client you’ve ever had. It’s something you love dearly and you feel that everything you do reflects on you personally. You just have to power through regardless. Ultimately it will be a personal accomplishment that’s well worth it.

Sam Smith, designer at GBH, and co-founder of ME&EU and Season Annual
I always seem to have a lot of ideas for personal projects running around my head. Anytime an idea pops into my mind, I write it on a post-it and put it on my bedroom wall. It means I keep thinking about them and helps me work out if they are worth pursuing.

Side projects are incredibly important for improving as a creative. They keep your brain ticking, and teach you about parts of the creative process that are important but often overlooked: time and project management, organisation, payment, production and the dirty (but invaluable) side of design. But they also teach you to trust yourself. You might not have anyone senior to you, or other people around to bounce ideas off, so you learn to value your own opinion and work out what your personal taste is.

“Base your project on something you're genuinely passionate about.”

Base your project on something you're genuinely passionate about. You'll be more invested in it, and that will push you to produce the best work possible. I co-founded Season Annual (a yearly 400 page publication, now in its second year) with Charlie Sims and Josh Williams. We're all designers with a passion for the beautiful game. And I co-created and curate ME & EU with Nathan Smith, a collection of postcards designed by UK-based creatives and sent across Europe in reaction to the referendum result in June 2016.

I know it's an obvious thing to say, but collaboration is key. Find someone to throw an idea at (no matter how crap). It will stop you getting lost in your own thoughts, and can create discussion that might lead to a better idea, or way of realising it. All projects benefit from some kind of external stimulus, so even if you are working alone I seriously recommend having someone who you can talk to, and use as a screening board for your thoughts.

Grant Orchard, filmmaker
Side projects are good. Vital if you want to create an identity and body of work that you can say is you. But it’s tricky. If you have found yourself a good stimulating job in a field of you’re dreams that keeps you busy, you have less inclination and energy to work those late nights on your own stuff. What you do have, however, is an environment where you can learn and feed off the people who love the same thing as you.

A perfect job to give you the impetus to do your own work is probably one you hate, preferably one that has nothing to with what you really like. Bitterness and dissatisfaction can be a very positive creative mindset. Extending that rationale would therefore make unemployment the perfect working condition. Time is after all, the holy grail.

You make these side projects because you have a creative urge and you are ambitious. Ambition is good, but it can lead you down some pretty deadening avenues. My advice (learnt through painful experience) is to start your side projects small. Be as ambitious as you like with them in terms of technique, content and execution, but start small, then work up.

“No matter what you do, give it a title.”

A lot of people want to make a grand project that will blow people away, but if it’s one of your first projects, the likelihood is that you’ll never finish it. Either through lack of time or through lack of confidence in how it’s going. You meet lots of people who are forever working on that one side project. If you look closely they’ll have a slight haunted look in their eye (and a nervous tic in the other).

With each project you’ll learn more and get better. Each one generates more ideas and sophistication. So when you do the big ones, you’ll be all over it.

One last thing is that no matter what you do, give it a title. If it’s a film for example, even if it’s 10 seconds, give it title and credits. It’s a way of saying that it’s done, that you’ve completed it, you’re serious about this. Then you can move on to the next thing that will be even better.

Barbara Ryan, art director at creative studio Cloudfactory in Amsterdam
My main side project has almost been going for almost a decade! I began BFR mag (embarrassingly, named after my initials) when I was 15. It was a way of channelling all my teenage confusion, angst and silliness into something tangible that I could pass to my friends and see if they were feeling the same. It wasn’t until my parents suggested putting some copies in my art foundation portfolio that I realised that the zine could be an art thing too.

Now it’s a fantastic excuse for me to collaborate with friends and approach people I admire to be contributors. I love the production side of it too – talking to printers, learning new processes and deciding all the details – something I don’t get to do at my job.

“Find a very motivated friend to help spur you on.”

In my mind, side projects equal sanity. They mean I don’t feel really disheartened if a project at work goes a bit tits up or a client has something iffy in mind. Side projects definitely help me let off steam. You can also have total control over it, which often is never really the case working in an ad agency.

I advise finding a very motivated friend to help spur you on to complete your side project and discuss it with them. Mine is the brilliant, omni-talented Amelia Pemberton. We remind each other of projects we discussed years ago that haven’t been made due to one excuse or another. Despite living in different countries, just a quick glance at her Instagram is enough to make me up my side hustle activity. Nothing like a bit of healthy competition, eh?

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