Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore Personal Projects Any Longer

You’ve heard it time and time again, personal projects are almost a necessity as a freelance web professional.

In this post, we’ll explain (once more) why personal projects are important for freelancers. We’ll also brainstorm with you on how to get started on a personal project of your own. Finally, we’ll give you some tips on how to monetize your project.


A Personal Project Can Keep You Current

As a web professional in general, even if you don’t freelance currently, you should keep up with the ever-changing technology and coding practices. A great way to keep up is to build a personal project.

Maybe you can start by taking a page out of Davy Kestens’ book and building a site dedicated to your passion such as his Run Addicts website.

It’s great to develop a playground that you can have accessible to test out new forms of coding, new languages you are learning or even new design techniques.

A Personal Project Can Increase Your Income

Aside from the learning aspect, depending on the website you choose to build as a side project, you have the opportunity to increase your monthly income (or just possibly build a cushion to fall back on during the slow months).

Depending on the success of your side venture, you could even find yourself running that site 80% of your time instead of just the initial 10% as planned. You may eventually be able to use your side project as your main source of income.

Getting Started on a Personal Project

There are many directions you could take to get started with a personal project.

Side projects could consist of:

  • CMS Themes–There are dozens of CMS out there, WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, ModX, etc. All of these systems use themes as a way to spruce up the overall look of their product and stock themes. Let’s face it. There are a lot of very basic or unappealing themes out there. You can earn money by making themes or selling themes to other sites.
  • Phone Apps–Making iPhone applications or BlackBerry applications can easily increase awareness of your work. Creating these applications is a great way to learn new languages as well as design techniques.
  • Web Articles, E-Books, Books, etc.–Writing is a good release as well as being very relaxing. Start with a personal blog, then progress to writing for other blogs. Maybe you could even sit down once or twice a week to write a page or two for a book or e-book. This could be a great way to earn an income, learn more about yourself, or give you a reason to learn something new to put into the book or article you are writing.
  • An informational site–You have hobbies … you may not notice it, but you do. Poker, Baseball, Hockey, Sketching, Cars, Knitting… Whatever it is, there is always an opportunity to increase awareness of your services or spread your ideas about the certain hobby. Create a website in which visitors have a chance to interact with the site. Include reviews, ratings, chats, comments, etc.

Now that we’ve given you a few ideas for creating a personal project, we’ll talk more about how you can earn money with your project.

How to Monetize Your Personal Project

Right now, you may already have a personal project. You may be thinking to yourself, “okay, this project is done, but how do I create a way to generate income for myself through this website?”

Well, sometimes generating income is the labor-intensive part. Here is an idea. Go out and find advertisers for the website, or find an online banner company to set up sidebar ads on your website.

Everything starts with marketing, regardless of what type of product or website you have. Generating traffic is a great asset when trying to find
companies or people who are willing to advertise on your website.

Advertisers want to know what they are getting for their money, and that they are not just tossing it away. Have analytics ready for your advertisers. They will most likely ask about your hits, time spent on site, page views, new visitors per month, etc.

Improving Your Personal Project

Of course, when building a personal project you always have those ideas in mind of how you can improve things. Improvement is always a huge part of being an entrepreneur, whether you are small or large.

Look for ways to increase your traffic and user interaction with the site through comments, emails, sales, etc. There are many resource sites that are around to help you out with any questions that you may have.

Visit FreelanceFolder’s great forums, which are available to the public. There are many knowledgeable professionals on these forums, all of whom seem very willing to help in any way possible.

Your Turn

If you have some personal projects, I’d love to see them. Share some background information about your projects, the technologies you used, and possibly even share your inspiration for the project?

Don’t be shy, let’s see them!

Image by heipei

Comments

  1. Clifford says

    What you’re saying is people need to invest in themselves. Learn new software, study other techniques, develop other skills. Life-long learning is a good thing!

  2. says

    I wanted to figure out how to make mobile websites (you know, when you go to a website on your phone, it asks if you want to view the mobile version, and then there is a cleaner, pared down version of your site? one of those). So, I investigated, found a dev guy to help me with the initial script, and then created one for myself….a learn by doing kind of project.

    Now, I have people who want me to design/develop mobile apps because I was able to do this for myself, and I have a good project (my own site) to show them.

  3. says

    I’ve just launched a new website, a personal project to “give back to the community”. It’s called WordPress Snippets and is used as a place for me to share some tweaks I use when creating WordPress websites for customers.

    Hopefully it turns out great!

  4. says

    I’m working on a personal project on the side based on London subject matter. I’m in the early stages of this and I think the idea is good. I just need a few contacts with some business know how to get it off the ground, as a web design, im looking forward to getting it going.

  5. says

    I started working on a personal project to beef up my illustrating skills and not longer after designing the initial character it led to a great website possibility. I added that to the list. A few weeks later and I have plans to do: posters, business cards, website, more character designs, possibly a comic strip, flier and more. All from a single illustration that was done for the fun of it.

  6. says

    I totally agree about personal projects, especially if you’re just starting out as a freelancer or if you have more time than jobs to get personal work done. I’ve used my personal projects as part of my application for jobs. Also, just because it’s a personal project doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to monetize it. You might want to do a personal project but also find a company or site willing to pay you to do it. If the pay is low, that’s okay because it’s something you wanted to do anyway.

  7. says

    I noticed the increase in demand for Worpress coming from my clients, while at the same time had increasing requests from students on how to contact me with questions. To kill two birds with one stone I created a site TalktotheT.A. for students and designers to go if they needed questions answered in a crunch. At the same time i was able to improve my WordPress skills a bit.

    The site: http://talktotheta.com

  8. says

    Personal projects are an awesome way to fill up your time and make extra income when client projects are slow. They can also be very fulfilling in terms of professional and personal growth. You call the shots and see the results of your choices and decisions.

    All client work and no personal projects makes one a dull freelancer :-)

  9. says

    I’m a huge supporter of the Personal Project! I have time in my schedule every day to work on my personal projects.

    My most widely used personal project is easily http://who.unfollowed.me – a twitter app for tracking unfollowers.

    Some things to consider when starting a personal project.
    1. If the project takes off, are you willing to dedicate yourself to it? – do you have the resources (hosting/time available) to cover this project if required?

    2. Take the project as seriously as any paid/client work. – I sat on a project for almost 12 months before I launched it. I would be 12 months ahead if I had finished it in the first place.

  10. says

    Personal projects, according to my husband keep the creative juice from running out. He has regular and freelance jobs. Despite the lack of time, he still finds a way to create personal projects, no only for additional income, but also for him to be able to go beyond his comfort zone. Allow me to share with you an interesting read on Financial Future & Lifestyle Success. If you think your job is crippling you, it might be time for you to engage on your personal project. :)

  11. says

    I had a ton of personal projects spanning 1998 to 2003. Two biggest ones included a huge care guide for reptiles, and one was a band fansite that even the band had mentioned at one point. I really, really wish I had kept them up and running. Ad revenues alone would be killer by now. And who knows how established they’d have made me. Heck, most of them were at the top of Google/Yahoo searched for most of their lifespans already. But I can either look ahead or do the “woulda-coulda-shoulda” routine.

  12. says

    I agree, personal projects can serve as a cushion when client work is slow. I’ve started on my own personal project (an ebook) and it’s been good so far. The problem though is that I don’t know how to make a good ebook cover for it.

    I also wonder, how do authors of ebooks protect their products from being bought and distributed for free all over the internet?

  13. says

    I cannot afford to put off personal projects. This is quite a true statement. When time comes that a client project ends, you’d be forced to look back and ask why you don’t have another income stream.

  14. says

    I preach the same thing to all my freelance friends every chance I get. When I quit my day job at XBox to become a fulltime freelancer I figured I had the time now to broaden my skillset. One thing that was lacking was building database driven apps. So I started teaching myself about PHP and MySQL – I had only done client side Flash/Actionscript prior to that.

    Doing tutorials or reading through books is really boring. I don’t learn very well by following another person’s project. So I started working on an old idea that I’d been kicking around for a few years: a website that would collect data about the best time to pee during a movie without missing anything. I agree: it’s a crazy idea. It will never make any money but during the process of building it I learned a tone about database driven Flex applications. That helped my freelance career. And then something unexpected happened: the media found out about my website – RunPee.com – and it became an international hit. Now I don’t need to do freelance work anymore. But, I do have to see a lot of movies. :)

    Now I have time to work on the next project without distraction.

    Without question: freelancers must work on personal projects. There is no idea that is so crazy it can’t become profitable.

  15. says

    I echo the above sentiments… personal projects seem to just attract more work. I’ve gotten many, many projects based on doing design work that wasn’t necessarily for a client. Even more, you know that the people who contact you based on a person project they’ve seen will likely want something similar. Since it was a personal project it was probably something you like doing very much. It’s a win-win. 8)

  16. says

    I launched a website about three years ago aimed at left handers. It was an information site all about left handedness and I also sold left handed products via affiliate links. The idea was to have an extra income over and above my freelance copywriting income. The problem was that no-one seemed to want to buy stuff like left handed scissors/knives etc because they said they simply had adapted to using implements designed for right handers.

    In the end, I closed the site because it was costing more to host it than it was earning. Still, it was a great learning curve. I’m a great believer in freelancers having at least three income streams. A bit like three legs of a stool – if one breaks, you still have two to keep you from falling off. With downloadable e-books etc, it’s now easier than ever for freelancers to earn extra income streams.

  17. says

    Thanks for the great article, I couldn’t agree more. I’m experienced in coding, but the web design thing is a whole new ball game to me! Unfortunatley I can’t do it as part of my day job, but I recently started a personal project (http://www.creativity-quotes.com) so that I have a platform to start trying out some simple design learnings. I, like many people, always learn better by doing something for real, rather than doing tuorials for the sake of them. Even in the tiny amount I’ve done, I’ve learned alot already.

    Hurragh for personal projects!

  18. says

    Gee, I’m just about to start a personal project…so may I come back later and repost? Seriously, your post makes a lot of sense – especially to us who have been swallowed up by our works ( freelance or not ) that we don’t have time anymore to go back to the drawing boards and polish what could have been the next big thing in the world of innovation. I think I really have to free even one day a week for this. Thanks!

  19. says

    Great Article, and so true!
    It’s of course very hard to turn down a client or make that extra room late at night to get started on a personal project. But the outcome is in almost all cases mind blowing.

    I think starting a personal project is easy but getting it over the finishing line can be a challenge. Don’t let anyone talk you out of a good idea/project.

  20. says

    Nick,

    I love this idea. The cost of entry to producing content on the web is so low that it would be careless not to be maintaining a small side project.

    I think for me personally I could foresee myself investing some time in creating a new website soon around my hobby of playing the saxophone. That would be fun. :)

  21. says

    Great article to read about. I have ton of ideas for web-related personal projects. It’s just finding the time to do them ;), but I am on my way!

  22. says

    This is quite an old project but one I undertook when first getting into web design and I used it to learn php and css.
    It was after I went travelling for a year and realised there was a gap in the market for solid information on backpacking Australia. There was a lot else I could do with the site but I needed help from a developer and as such I have let this fall by the way-side.

    However I do earn enough from it to cover the hosting costs and a little bit more, and it has impressed many a interviewer in the past too. So it was well worth the effort!

    http://www.tickettotheworld.co.uk

  23. says

    “So true, but i really gotta finish this other project i’m working on atm, because it brings me money that i desperately need.” is the story of my current freelacing business.

    And i really hope that the time, where i’ll put 30% of my time in my personal projects and 70% of the time into other “money making” projects, is really soon :)

  24. says

    Personal projects are a great way for me to use my creativity and learn new things, especially if these aspects are sometimes coming too short in normal work life.

    My personal success story is a community forum I started 8 years ago around the Irish framedrum ‘bodhran’ (http://www.bodhran.de). At that time the scene around this instrument in Germany was basically non-existent, the few people interested were mostly unconnected to each other. Through the forum, we have an active bodhran community in Germany today, where workshows are held nearly every weekend and people can earn their living as teachers or bodhran-makers.

    Recently I started to write my blog “From a Visual Standpoint” around design, photography and creativity (http://blog.mw-info.de).

  25. says

    I’ve learned many things while I was working on personal/side projects: self (and time) management, got to know more about things I thought I knew, many of my skill were improved along the way and it’s a good thing for your portfolio. This is how I created Cocoon Health with a friend (a social network for health professionals and therapists in the UK): http://cocoonhealth.co.uk. In a near future I plan to start a new project. It’s kind of addicting!!

  26. says

    My creative juice is flowing at the moment, and there are two personal projects that I have initiated. As I have just started to do freelancing I guess it is good to put them on hold for a bit not to get carried away of putting the main focus on too many things at once.

    At the same time, yes, you are right, personal projects expand your vision and let you come across other interesting tools and techniques that can unexpectedly very useful in whatever else you are doing.

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