Why you should persist with those passion projects

Whichever business idea you pursue, there’s huge value in having some passion projects on the go too. Here’s why.

For us, pulling silly faces is a passion project - but the jury's out on whether it will make us millions.
For us, pulling silly faces is a passion project – but the jury’s out on whether it will make us millions.
When we quit our jobs back in 2012, the field was wide open when it came to ways in which we could make money. (Wide open-ish. I’m never going to be a dance teacher, for example, and Rob knows deep down that drawing animal pictures is not his strong suit, even if he won’t admit it yet.) After a few months of Elancing, Fiverring and taking a variety of classes and courses, we decided to create a web design and copywriting business called Mortified Cow.

Using the depressing-but-unavoidable-given-our-circumstances method of cold-emailing, we gained our first few clients and started to earn money. At the same time though, we never stopped working on our passion projects and side interests.

Funnily enough, it’s those little projects that have become our biggest successes – both financially and, er, happiness-ly.

For example, we started Making It Anywhere to find friends: we didn’t personally know anyone who was living the digital nomad lifestyle, and we felt a little bit alone and misunderstood. It worked in that respect, but over time it also spawned an online community and coaching and mentoring services. Both things make us money, but we get so much more out of them too: friends, people who understand us, and the opportunity to help others with our experiences and insights.

The biggest and weirdest unintended consequence is that MIA is now our primary means of getting new clients for Mortified Cow! We’ve been able to drop outreach, guest posting and other marketing activities because our blog acts as one massive portfolio for potential clients.

Making It Anywhere isn’t our only “passion project success story” though. There’s also Property Geek – a blog and podcast Rob started up purely because he was interested in property. He wrote blog posts documenting what he’d been learning, and interviewed successful property investors on the podcast as a way to make them feel special while simultaneously soaking up all their knowledge.

Property Geek led to an opportunity to co-present another podcast called The Property Podcast – which is now the UK’s most popular business podcast on iTunes. That, in turn, has led to The Property Hub (an online community for property investors with a paid membership element) and Yellow Lettings (a rental and management agency for buy-to-let investors). All these property-related businesses are quite new, but they’re destined to be way bigger and more successful than any of our pre-meditated businesses.

As well as all the property and MIA stuff, we also have a few books under our belts. Combined, the books make enough money to sustain us in a very cheap country – and yet we only wrote them because we were interested in a number of topics and needed an excuse to learn more about them.

What does all this mean?

Here’s what all this has taught us: when starting out, there’s no real way of knowing how things will pan out, which initiatives will be successful, and what you’ll enjoy working on.

So you may as well continue with your passion projects at the same time. They’ll keep you sane while you’re grinding away at your business or freelancing career, and they may well turn into something that can make your main business more successful – or even become the main business itself.

But we also believe that that passion projects have an additional benefit that makes success more likely: you don’t have any expectations for them. You don’t intend for them to make any money – you work on them because it’s enjoyable. You don’t care about creating any sort of “path to success” for them. If opportunities present themselves, fantastic. If not, so what – you’re only doing it for fun anyway.

And as a result of being this laid back, your project is able to find its own path rather than be shoved in a certain direction. It’s given the freedom to grow and develop more naturally.

Having side projects also means you’ll learn a bunch of new skills – skills you might not learn otherwise. As a wise person on Twitter once said, “Never trust a developer without a side project”. The same holds true for any profession: people with side projects learn new skills that can complement and improve their work. Those new skills can also create opportunities for new businesses.

What do you think?

We love having a few passion projects on the go – no matter how busy we are with “work work”. But some people think we’re mad and splitting our focus too much.

What do you think? Are passion projects a good thing, or are they for people with too little direction in life?