Taking Your Personal Project Full-Time



As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been asking folks what their biggest challenge is right now related to doing their best creative work.

By far and away, there are two very common themes:

  1. The first theme is along the lines of not feeling in control of the hours in your day.

  2. And the second them is along the lines of not having the clarity you need for where to focus your energy and what priorities to set for yourself.

(FYI: For both of these two themes I’ve already put together some resources: Both the Time Management Class and The Focus Course respectively.)

But there are also quite a few more specific questions I’ve been getting. And over the coming weeks, I’m going to be diving in and answering them.

Let’s get started…

* * *

Here’s a question I received from reader, Ross Kimes. He says:

“I would like to see tips for taking a personal project that you do on nights and weekends to a full-time job.”

The first thing that comes to my mind is what you all know: There is no single path to success. Even Seth Godin attributes quite a bit of his own success to chance and luck.

See also this video of Kevin Kelly’s fantastic talk from XOXO 2014.

So my point is that you’ve got to love the process and the journey. You must love doing the work. And you’ve got to be delighted with having just a teeny-tiny amount of impact.

This is crucial for a few reasons.

For one, as you know, it’s not a sure bet that you can turn a personal project into a full-time gig. If the only reason you’re in this racket is to make it big, you might not make it. And so, then what?

Now, I know that’s not you. You wouldn’t be showing up to do the work on the nights and weekends if you didn’t love it already. Which is why there is another reason you’ve got to love the process…

The bigger reason you’ve got to love the work is because the work never gets easier. Every single day you choose to show up, it’s another choice. If you don’t love the work now, when it’s on the side, you won’t love it then when it’s something you have to do.

* * *

Going from amateur to pro is as simple as getting a sustainable business model.

In order to do that, you need customers and clients, a valuable skill-set and/or a valuable product, the right mindsets, and more.

Thus, the road from amateur to pro is jam packed with micro-adjustments as you learn and mature and adapt.

Here’s the great news: you can do it. I know you can.

There has never been a better time in the history of history to take your personal project that you do on nights and weekends and turn it into your full-time job.

You’re not too late. You haven’t missed your opportunity. It just takes a TON of hard work. It won’t happen over night.

* * *

Lastly, here are some unordered thoughts from my own experience of writing on the side for several years before going full-time, and then growing my business over the past 5 years.

Show up every day for a few years years

There are so many reasons why it’s vital for you to show up every day. The main ones are that (a) you need a creative habit; (b) you need to prove to yourself you’re in it for the long run (remember that thing about loving the work); and (c) you need to build your audience.

Showing up every day is the best thing you can do for your business, your creativity, and your platform.

  • Establishing a creative habit means “making stuff” becomes part of your every day routine. If you can’t make the time when you have other life responsibilities, you will struggle to make the time to do it when you go full-time, too.

    Once you take your personal project full time, you’ll be surprised how difficult it is to keep showing up. You’ll find that there is a stronger pressure to show up and deliver (which, ironically, can make it more difficult to keep showing up). You will also have a hundred new things you didn’t have to do before, like bookkeeping.

  • Show up every day to prove to yourself that you can do it. When it comes to the creative work itself, the grass won’t be any greener on the other side. If you don’t enjoy it now, you won’t enjoy it then either.

  • Show up every day in order to build your audience, your reputation, and your “brand”. The internet thrives on regular cycles and people get used to looking forward to things in daily / weekly doses. So you need to make sure you’re a part of your audience’s daily / weekly routine even now while it’s still your personal project you do on the nights and weekends.

Understand the Rule of Reciprocity

In a nut, the rule of reciprocity looks like this: if you buy someone coffee, they will feel indebted to you. They will want to buy you lunch.

So, in the world of marketing / business, this idea translates into a focus on giving and then asking.

Do people take advantage of this idea? Yes, absolutely. Do they do things that are annoying or sleazy? Yes.

But you’re not other people.

You need to give, give, give. Then give some more. Be the first one to provide value, every time all the time. Make the life of your audience better than you found it, every single time you interact with them.

Be willing to give if there’s nothing else next. (That’s why you’ve got to love the work, remember?)

If you give enough, then you earn the right to ask. But, of course, that’s not the point.

The point is: are you willing to give if that’s all there was to it?

Now, of course, you have to pay the bills and feed your kids. I do, too. We all do.

So you absolutely need to ask, and that does not make you a sell out or a shady person.

Give and ask. Don’t focus on just one or the other. You need to do both to survive and to serve.

Make sure you are always out-giving your audience. Always give more; always over deliver; always surprise and delight.

You need to be seen as the most trusted advisor, and not just as a conveyor of yet another commodity. As Jay Abraham says, the competition and the consumer are both trying to commoditize you. Don’t let them. Don’t surrender.

You have to establish yourself as the only viable solution to a challenge or opportunity in your client’s life. You want to always be guiding them to make the right decision — which doesn’t mean only ever doing business with you. Because you want to make your relationship a permanent one.

Start selling something soon

You need to practice making money.

Get into a cycle of shipping so you get used to the innate fear related to putting your work out there.

You learn so much by selling. You begin to normalize price points (which price-points do you want to play in?), you learn how to serve your clients/customers better, you get familiar with doing business and developing your business plan, and so much more.

Diversify Your Income

Personally, I’m a fan of having multiple streams of income through multiple products and services.

Not only does this minimize the risk that your entire business model goes away over night (because you don’t have all your eggs in just one basket), but it also means you can serve different people in different markets and at different price points.

At Blanc Media, we have a little over 11 unique streams of income: sponsorships; display advertising; affiliate sales via iTunes, Amazon, and others; my Shawn Today membership; Delight is in the Details; Day One in Depth; The Focus Course; Time Management Class; Awareness Building Class; The Focus Club; coaching and consulting.

Have a Minimum of 3 Months Financial Runway

Three months is the minimum. I’d aim for six if you can. Six months worth of expenses saved up, and sitting in the bank as your financial margin.

How much you save can depend on how at risk you are to losing all your income at once.

When you are taking your personal project full-time, you want to be free from financial burden. Get out of debt.

It’s going to be financially stressful enough as it is as you work to get your revenue streams regular and sustainable. But also, you want to be able to take as much of your income as you can and invest it right back into your business to help you grow while staying debt-free.

In short, Change careers like Tarzan.

Get around a community

Doing the independent creative entrepreneur thing is super lonely. All the more a reason why social support is your single greatest asset.

Find a mentor or a coach. Get around a community of like-minded folks. Go to conferences. Never eat alone.

Build your email list

It’s the only way you can own your platform. It’s the most profitable way to sell your products.

And, most of all, it’s the most direct way to serve and connect directly with your audience. It’s a fantastic way to develop open feedback loops with your readership as you serve and nurture your audience.

In short, your email list allows you to do many things. But, most of all, it allows you to focus on relevancy rather than recency.

What else is great about building your email list is that as your business grows, you can begin to automate your processes and emails.

ABL (Always Be Learning)

I have definitely learned some things from the internet, but the things that have most impacted my business mindset have come from the printed page.

Here are a few recommended books:

More Thoughts on Creativity and Entrepreneurship

Earlier this year I wrote a 7-article series on creativity and entrepreneurship. Here are those articles.

  1. Five (Years)
  2. Creativity and Entrepreneurship
  3. Consistency and Honesty
  4. Family Balance
  5. Thoughts on Risk
  6. Creative Goals
  7. Quality is a Probabilistic Function of Quantity
  8. Bonus: Why You Should Show Up Every Day