Yes I mean it, start your side-project now. For several years now I have been working on personal side-projects in my free time. In most cases, the ideas for those side-projects came about rather spontaneously. No matter where I am, I always keep a small notebook with me. I use it to write down ideas of this kind so that I can come back to them later. The side-projects I have worked on in recent years were all digital products. This is the most obvious in my case. Some of these projects never saw the daylight.
This is because I want to challenge my creativity and my skills in general with projects like this. Because of these challenges, I am getting better at what I do. My basic idea behind these side-projects is that I try to acquire new skills. But also to further strengthen and expand existing ones. If you are still thinking about starting a side-project, then this blog post will give you the necessary motivation to finally start.
Ways of approaching a new side-project
There are various ways to approach a side-project. On the one hand, it can be used as an opportunity to learn new skills. As an example, a designer designs an app and then wants to program it. Now, the designer is using this project to teach himself how to program. However, it is also possible to start such a project with the ulterior motive that you want to solve a personal problem. An example of this. You lack ideas about what to cook every day.
You now program a tool that, based on the ingredients on your shopping list, suggests dishes that you can cook with your groceries. The third option, you not only solve a personal problem with your side-project but in the course of your work on the project, you conclude that it can also solve general problems. With a little luck, an actual business use case develops from a concrete idea and your side-project. Of course, you can also work on side-projects to simply promote your creativity. Or because you enjoy implementing creative ideas in the form of projects.
The freedom of side-projects
Side-projects allow you to work on a very specific topic without establishing the pressure that might be felt during work or at the university. This creates a feeling of freedom. It is precisely this freedom that causes many people to turn to a creative topic alongside their job. If you think that your brain is already a bit rusty because you swing from one job to the next every day and don't do the creative work you want, then a side-project can get your head moving again. As we already know, side-projects can also be very useful in many ways, even if this is not apparent at first glance.
Brainstorming your ideas
If you have no idea where to start, that's not a problem at all. There are different techniques to brainstorm and generate ideas. It is easiest if you select a certain area at the beginning and try to narrow it down. For this, I will now refer to an example already mentioned. You have now decided to design an app as a side-project. To further narrow down the project, you have selected the cooking/food sector.
Now you ask yourself which problem you have personally, which concerns cooking and/or food and can be solved by an app. You now realize that you struggle to find ideas about what to cook. Also, you don't just want to go shopping for a recipe over and over again, because you think it will be very expensive in the long run. When you go shopping, you always buy fresh fruit and vegetables without knowing what you will ultimately prepare.
Developing an idea
Your problem is slowly developing into an idea that you could solve with an app. You always write your shopping list on your mobile phone. Maybe you could design a grocery list app (well my girlfriend and I are using Basecamp for this, but if you built the ultimate grocery list app, let me know). So far so good. But your problem that you will never find ideas about what you should ultimately cook with your purchase has not yet been solved.
Therefore you could now design a shopping list app that suggests different recipes based on your purchase. Then you don't have to worry about what you should ultimately cook with your groceries when shopping. This would solve your problem. You would record all your groceries on your mobile phone before you shop. Just like you've always done. The only difference is that you now create your list in your app. Logically, the more foods you put on the list, the bigger the recipe suggestions.
Solving a problem
This is one of many approaches to generate ideas for a side-project. However, an important part in my eyes is the question "Does my idea solve a problem?". While dealing with the solution of a personal problem in the course of a side-project, a direct relationship is created. Since the person repeats the problem daily, weekly or monthly, you get new impressions and insights, which in turn can be directly included in the project. If I deal with the first best idea that occurs to me but does not solve any of my problems, I never make this connection.
At some point, it will happen that you don't want to develop the project anymore because the knowledge is missing. Another huge plus factor of a side-project is the fact that you can explicitly learn new technologies or tools. It is always better to voluntarily adopt new technology than to be more or less forced to do so by work or study. Have you always wanted to design an app with Figma even though you use Sketch at work? Has there been a specific framework for a long time that you wanted to test extensively? A side-project creates the best outline conditions to address these and other topics.
Share your learnings
Many people, including me, write on a personal blog or sites like Indie Hackers about the progress and developments of the side-project. In this way, you not only do marketing quite easily but also take the first steps to create a brand around its name. The people who read this blog post will always link the project with your name in the future. Anyone who undertakes to always share experience reports will subsequently gain new followers and perhaps also users for the side-project. I can confidently answer the question of whether it is still worth starting a blog these days. A blog is a big win either way. Because you are doing an incredibly creative activity, namely writing. However, if you cannot find readers for your blog, you still have a collection of useful insights about your project.
No matter what purpose you pursue with a side project, it is the best way to create and learn something new. It is incredibly important for personal development to break out of everyday work. Various companies support their employees in this project. The most prominent example of this is Google. Because Google has a so-called "20% policy". This allows employees to spend up to 20% of their working week on Google with their projects. This is how Gmail, Google Talk, AdSense, and Google News were created.
Be active – join communities
Being active in communities such as Indie Hackers also has many advantages. The indie hackers community helps each other a lot. If you need advice, are in a tight spot with your project, or just want to get feedback on a pure idea, then you should visit Indie Hackers. With a side-project, you can sometimes "get lost", no longer find the motivation to continue working on the project, and ultimately leave it at the far left. If two, four, or even six additional eyes examine and analyze the project on Indie Hackers (or in another community such as the subreddit r/sideproject), this can lead to new insights and new motivation.
It is very valuable in every respect to exchange ideas about a project with like-minded people. This is a challenge for many people, as most feel that when they publicize their idea that someone else will snap them away. No idea is unique. It takes exchange with others so that an idea can be evaluated. In this respect, feedback is mandatory.
In summary, it can be said that a side-project does more than just help you learn new skills, develop yourself and build a community. If you solve a problem with your project that is also a problem for many other people, a side-project can also develop into a business. For starters, however, it is important to start small. Try not to push yourself too hard, so that after a short time you will no longer have any motivation, because the project is not developing as you had imagined.
Besides, you should keep the project as simple as possible at the beginning. Concentrate on the main problem that you want to solve and continue to build on it. One after the other. Even if some side-projects have blossomed into large companies, one of the main reasons why such a project starts is that you have no pressure to make money or monetize the project. If the project fails, that's the way it is. However, you have no obligations, no deadlines, but complete creative freedom to set up the project as you imagine.
Even if it is a side-project, do not simply stamp it as such. Because at some point it can develop into something that makes you happy and satisfied. So a side-project can eventually develop into your main project. Just start small, be patient and develop your project step by step. You will have fun, learn a lot and develop yourself.