A Guide to Creating Your Own Projects

Client work is great, but it’s not always the kind of work you really enjoy. While you can pick and choose your clients and projects, client projects are never really as exciting as creating your own.

There are several benefits to doing your own projects:

  • Make some extra money
  • Create something awesome for your portfolio that a client hasn’t butchered
  • Learn some new techniques or skills
  • Stay interested in and motivated in what you do everyday

The best benefit of all of these is the potential to make money. While additional income is not guaranteed, side projects can bring in much needed residual income during slow periods.

So how do you get started with making your own projects?

What Do You Want?

The best place to find ideas for your project is yourself. What’s something that you need that’s missing from the world today, or something that’s already done, but done poorly?

37signals started out as a regular web agency. When they needed project management software, they found that every app they tried was too complicated for what they needed, so they decided to create their own to use in-house. Their clients loved the app so much, 37signals decided to sell it–and now their business is focused entirely of productive type apps.

That’s the same way I came up with the idea for my own app, Codesnipp.it. I found similar code snippets sites already on the web, but everything I tried to use had a terrible design, was overly complicated and had no real social aspect to it. So, I started my own.

What Do You Want To Learn?

Another way to find an idea for your project is to use it as a way to learn whatever it is you’ve been wanting to learn. Personally, I want to learn how to build iPhone apps, so I’ve been working on making a mobile version of the app I made for it.

We often don’t have much, if any, free time as freelancers, so bundling a couple of goals together really helps!

What Can You Realistically Do?

Since this is a personal project, you’ll need to try and figure out how to do as much of the work as possible yourself, or you’ll have to figure out a way to pay someone else to do what you can’t.

Can you trade your services for the ones you need? When I was building my app, I traded free advertising for hosting and free dev hours for a design. This meant that the only thing I had to pay for out of pocket was the domain itself. That kept costs low in case I never made a dime from the site. If you can figure out a way to barter for the services you need, you’ll come out ahead of those who borrow money or pay money out of their pockets.

Do As Much As You Can, As Fast As You Can

When you finally think of an awesome idea, you’ll get super excited about it. You won’t be able to sleep. You’ll wake up six hours early and go to bed super late to get some extra work done on the project.

Use this excitement to get your project done as quickly as possible because there will quickly come a time when you get tired of the project. If this happens and you’re not close to launching, the project will most likely remain in limbo for forever.

Finding the Time

Freelancers are probably the busiest people in the world. I know I am! So finding the time for extra projects is super tough, especially if you’re like me and tend to try and schedule 10 at once. Here are some tips that have helped me in the past to find time for these great ideas:

  • Schedule regular time for the project, put it in your calendar and set an alarm for it. Believe me, if it ain’t scheduled, it ain’t gettin’ done!
  • Make sure it’s something you really want to do. You’ll never be motivated enough to work on something you half care about after you’ve done client work for 10 hours straight.
  • View it as hobby or pleasure time. This helps avoid angry work burnout.
  • Do NOT work on the project during scheduled client time. I’m guilty of this more than once and it’s a huge productivity killer. The days I decide to work on CS are the days nothing else gets done.
  • Reduce client load. Chances are that you’re charging too little anyway. What if you could take on half the work for twice the price?
  • Say goodbye to weekends! (But, hello to geek fame and fortune!)

Getting Your Project Out There

This is the toughest part of all. After you have a super cool thinga-ma-bob that’s going to change the world, how do you get it out to everyone?

  • Find help from popular blogs. If you have a relationship with anyone, ask them to tweet or mention the project in a blog.
  • Hold a contest for free copies of whatever it is you made.
  • Tweet a lot, but make it more about what you’re working on in the project. For example: “I’m adding feature B to Project A tonight!” This gets others interested without making you spammy or annoying.
  • If you have some money, sponsor an event.
  • Take out some advertising at Buy Sell Ads, some ads in great places can be bought for as little as $10!

Your Projects

Have you started your own projects? What are they?

Image by Kevin Zollman