Your approach to your side project will determine if you reach your goals

originally published on

I've recently been studying people who have turned their side projects into successful ventures. While everyone has a different approach to side projects, one common thread appears throughout - taking it seriously.

By its very nature a side project is less important than a main job or main business. It's something you're doing on the side, maybe as a passion, maybe as a moonshot. But, if you have any aspirations to see any kind of success come out of your side project - whatever that success means to you - it has to be taken seriously.

It seems like an obvious statement, but I've seen the misalignment of goals and discipline time and time again with side projects. I've talked to a lot of indie makers, most of whom have day jobs and side projects. Everyone wants their side project to reach certain milestones - maybe $1K MRR, maybe 100 users, maybe they even want to make it their main source of income.

But, despite having similar aspirations, different people approach their projects with different levels of discipline and seriousness. I can usually tell by their approach who will eventually reach their goals, and who will end up quitting their projects.

People who take their projects seriously approach it with the same level of discipline as they do their day jobs. It can be hard to justify using strict discipline on your side project, especially when you're tired from your day job, or there are other wants pulling on you.

Here are some ways that those who take their projects seriously do so:

  • They plan around it. On any given week, they plan to spend a certain number of hours on it each day or each week. This is important because if you don't plan ahead of time, it's easy to always put it off and say you'll work on it another day.
  • They stick to their plan. Just as important as planning, is sticking to your plan. This is where discipline comes in. You do it even if you don't feel like it. You do it even if your friends ask you to go out instead. You give it the same level of commitment as your main job.
  • They stick with it despite not seeing results. Most things take time to gain traction. The Sleep with Me Podcast (post on this coming soon) was a side project, and it took 150 one-hour episodes (over a year and half) before it gained any real traction. It's so easy to quit because you don't see results. Unlike a day job, which rewards you immediately with money, side projects can take years to get off the ground. Successful makers see their projects through the hard times all the way to the other side when it starts to pick up speed.
  • They do the hard, boring parts alongside the fun ones. Some people love building products, others love marketing the products. Rarely, does one person love both parts. But, successful owners of side projects commit to spending time on all of the aspects that will help their product grow and be successful - not just the parts they enjoy.

As I think about my side projects moving forward, I'll take a leaf from the book of those who have done it before me. Those who have spent 5, 10 years growing their side projects and are just not seeing traction. Those who spend their nights and weekends chipping away, making barely noticeable progress that one day amounts to the goal they initially set.