I’ve never really liked the term ‘side projects’. I think of them as central to what I do, not just in terms of being creatively rewarding, but also building a career.
I once spent six months blogging about ‘Mr’ shops for a project called Mr Blog. There was no way of monetising that project, but it didn’t cost anything either. And it led to a nice project for Little Chef – the agency got in touch having read Mr Blog, having no idea my day job was as a copywriter. A lot of good things in your career happen by serendipity, and personal projects give serendipity a chance to happen.
When I first went freelance, I remember sitting down and trying to think of a self-promotional idea, but nothing really came of it. Self-promotion is the wrong place to start – it leads you down quite predictable paths.
Eventually, I found ideas happened more naturally, through thinking around the work I was doing. Through working with designers, it led me to think about a written equivalent of Pantone, which became Pentone. Through reading poetry and writing corporate copy, I ended up merging the two into Corpoetics. And through playing with proverbs and channelling my inner grumpy bastard, I ended up doing Disappointments Diary, which eventually became a source of income, through selling it ourselves and later finding a publisher.
My advice would be not to think about doing a self-promotional idea – think about what’s interesting and worth saying. And think big – it might not make you a fortune or change the world, but there’s no harm in making that the aim. And finally, remember the idea is about 5% of the job – the rest is the process of making it happen, which is usually difficult and stressful. But consider that a creative challenge in itself – think laterally about ways to make it happen.