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


  1. says

    Hi there, nice post.
    We’re developing our own CMS for small websites. The project started almost as a joke and now is growing and developing more than we believed. Thus it will be now our new project and product for musings.it.
    We’re launching it at the end of summer (crossing fingers!). Cheers

  2. says

    Some good examples of how small projects can get huge and shape yourself or your company.

    Also, I saw this post and was like holy crap! I know that place in the picture! Haha I am 93.4% sure that the picture is from the library where I went to school, small world!

  3. says

    “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.”

    100% true for me. I have about eleventy-hundred projects sitting in limbo.

    So sad. They were going to be awesome.

  4. says

    My eBook grew out of frustration that there weren’t comprehensive resources for freelance writers interested in web-based markets (outside of places like Guru.com or Demand Studios – I’m talking about places that pay decent money). So, I created an eBook as a personal project, and the experience has been really empowering and enlightening. I discovered a ton of great online markets for my own business. I learned to trouble-shoot a host of technical issues. I bought advertising and discovered that giving review copies to bloggers gave me a MUCH higher ROI. And the best part is that it’s money that isn’t reliant on the whims of clients!

  5. says

    I’ve been trying out different personal projects and they haven’t really lifted. Right now, I’m trying to create a web application, but my inexperience with PHP is killing me. I know how to code it with HTML/CSS and how to make interact with Javascript, but PHP is going to be the death of me.

    Oh well, I’ll just have to overcome it and learn it.

  6. says

    “When you finally think of an awesome idea, you’ll get super excited about it.”

    It’s great to have a pet project in the works to keep you motivated when doing your regular freelance work. For some reason, I find that when I keep myself busy working on personal projects plusmy regular work, I am WAY more productive in the regular work. Go figure.

  7. says

    it all comes down to doing work you love doing…

    there are freelancers that will take anything… meaning that they don’t have a market they don’t cater to exclusively… and that leads to doing work they don’t like doing…

    attention young freelancers…

    my advice to you: stop competing on price, pick a market you absolutely love to do work for, and be the best there is in that market.

    you won’t be a prisoner to the design industry… you will an advocate and leader

    you will innovate better design which means you will be the best problem solver in your market. the result is that you are valuable and your prices will automatically go up.

    get known for being the best in what you do….

    the ultimate payback is that you will love living your life everyday without regret…

  8. says

    Great post, Amber! I tried for a while to develop something on the side, but couldn’t seem to make the time. Finally, I just decided to dedicate the majority of my time to the project and move away from client consulting work. The result has been the production of a great app that is helping a lot of folks. Very fulfilling…..but not easy!

  9. says

    great post amber

    ” while surfing so many websites about freelancing topics, graphics and coding related website i have to save there links on notepad file and when links grew in numbers it was difficult to find..So i developed a link manager for my own use right now where i can find links related to there topics or theme…….its right now on beta phase i am applying new techniques to it and really enjoying learning with no tension…

    Happy freelancing all :)

  10. says

    I think dedication is most important thing when you are starting a project, you should focus on it it might not going to return you a big money in the start but still keep your focus and dedication with it.

    Hats off to Amber, I think her web app is great place for every developer and I love the login page of codesnipp.it :)

  11. says

    Nice post, that’s basically what I did while creating my own project Smokin’ Tops. The most important I guess is to “View it as hobby or pleasure time” as you said.

    Thanks for your post again!

  12. Max says

    Good, none of the reasons mention open source stuff as in creating something to give to the community or contributing to a better web.

    Remember, most of the web actually runs on open source software.

    The “do as much as you can as fast as you can” approach especially when learning new tech might work to your own disadvantage unless you are a pure genius since you might actually learn less in the end.

  13. says

    Great post. I started working on a personal project over a year ago – it languished in limbo between attempts to build it on various platforms, but it started coming together well about 6 weeks ago. I’m planning to launch it this weekend – it’s a regional directory of creative professionals in CO/WY.

    For the most part, it was a fun process, if a bit overwhelming at times. I learned a lot and am looking forward to seeing it up and running.

  14. says

    This is a very timely post for me!

    I’ve been wanting to start work on a personal project for a while now, but I’m still waiting to stumble on an idea for it! :). Hopefully one day I’ll get there.

  15. says

    Great article. I’m in the middle of starting my own side project at the moment.

    I am starting an online clothing store, mostly tshirts to start, but in the future i look to expand into hoodies, children’s clothes, hats, etc.

    Keep an eye out for it, launch date is August 1st, and at the moment its looking pretty good for hitting that deadline. :D



    Follow us on Facebook too!! Help me get the word out, I’d appreciate it. I am also looking for donation designs for Tshirts!


  16. says

    Many freelancers have come to me in the last month looking for work, but at the moment I have no projects to give out. To a few, I have sent these two articles about creating your own projects. Thank you! As a part-time freelancer myself, I understand the frustration of not finding work you want to do. So create that work! And as an added bonus, when you are talking to other professionals, you can say “My current project is . . . .” You don’t have to divulge that it’s entirely your own doing.

  17. says

    @Chris Are you trying to say I copied them? Exactly what parts came out of 37signals, besides their personal story? I own the book and their advice is completely different from what I’ve written here.

  18. says

    @Chris, I own ReWork and disagree with your comment as well. The basic topic is the same, but the similarities end there. ReWork is all about challenging time-tested business practices (especially as they apply to web apps) with real life examples proving the opposite. This article is filled with general advice for starting your own personal project.

    Great work Amber, as always.

  19. says

    “Do As Much As You Can, As Fast As You Can” says it all, I have had so many ideas fade-out by not following this rule, usually if I can get at least half of a project materialized I can keep it in the works.

    This really is a good resource. There are so many hang-ups on the web that can keep us treading water, tinkering in half-way projects, ideas, and preventing productivity. I think that this post really shows experience and real involvement in the business as any developer heavily invested in the game should relate to all points mentioned here.

  20. says

    I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your site. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Outstanding work!


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