In this digital age, if you're a creative freelancer you'll undoubtedly have a little digital 'side project' on the go. Something that isn't 'client work' but could become an extra revenue stream.
You might be a developer building some new software, an app or tool. You could be a photographer trying to set up an online gallery for other artists. You could be a designer, trying to develop a new product. Whatever your side project is, it's always incredibly tough finding the time, energy and motivation to get it finished and launched. Especially when you have bills to pay and client work as a priority.
So how do you successfully finish your digital side project? Speaking of mine and Tom's own experience of planning, designing and developing this latest version of Creative Boom, here are our top tips to help you make it to the finishing line...
Before you do anything else, think things through and consider whether your side project will offer value to people. Is it something that fills a niche? Is it something that solves problems? Do you have any competition and what are they doing? Where can you offer more and stand out above the rest? Really take time to plan your side project so you're able to set off down the right path.
Break it down
Embarking on a new project can be hugely overwhelming, so sit down and sort your work into manageable chunks. By breaking your project down, you'll stay sane and take each day as it comes. During Creative Boom's build, we used Trello to create lots of jobs lists and then tackled them one by one. There are other online services you can use including BaseCamp and Things but we found Trello to be the best for this particular job.
Once you've got your project spread out into different stages, set deadlines for each one so you keep on track and don't lose momentum. Create detailed (not vague) plans and stick to them. Figure out when you can reasonably launch your project and set an overall deadline to finish.
Make commitments and stick to them
Nothing is more embarrassing than saying you'll do something by a certain date only to fail miserably, so announce to the world the date of your official launch. Tell family and friends. Take out banner adverts on other websites. Write a press release and send it your favourite industry magazine. Tweet about it. Do anything to put pressure on yourself to achieve your goal. For example, Tom and I set ourselves Friday 13 April 2012 as the 'launch day' for the new Creative Boom and we announced to everyone what was happening - it certainly ensured we stuck to our promise!
Perfection isn't key here
Your first launch doesn't have to be perfect, so don't spend wasted time fretting over whether your side project is 'good enough'. Just get it out there and know that you can carry on 'tweaking' and improving once it's launched. It's called having a 'Minimum Viable Product', something that you can launch as soon as possible with the minimum amount of features. You can always add things later on, once your project is live.
Fight the 'Half-Finished' Syndrome
It's so easy to lose faith, energy and enthusiasm on your side project - it's why so many people never finish what they start. Fight this inevitable phase by reminding yourself of all the hard work you've put in so far and how great it will be once it's launched.
Keep taking breaks
Breaks are so important, especially when you're working full-time on client work and then pushing through to evenings and weekends to focus on your side project. At regular intervals go outside, get some fresh air and stretch your legs. It will do you the world of good and keep you healthy and happy.
Don't forget to live
Although it's tempting to work every spare moment you have, don't forget to enjoy life and make time for family and friends. There's no point spending every waking hour in front of your computer screen - it's not healthy and will only wear you down.
Recognise the stress signals
There are times when stress can creep up on you and before you know it, you're passed out with exhaustion. Don't burn yourself out by setting realistic deadlines and goals and remembering to keep work/life balance in check.
Know when to down tools
There will be times when you hit a brick wall and just can't continue to work. Your productivity levels will fall and you'll be making lots of mistakes and taking three hours to do something that would usually take you half an hour. You're not a superhero, you're only human. Listen to your mind and body and know when to stop.
When you finally finish your project, pat yourself on the back and reward yourself with a holiday or fancy gift to yourself. You've launched a side project and that's something you should be extremely proud of. But the work doesn't stop once you've launched something. You've now got to keep making improvements, listening to customer feedback and seeing what you can do to make your project a success. Don't forget to spread the word, carry out some PR and marketing and shout about it through social media. Good luck!