11 Tips for Getting More Out of Personal Projects

Many designers choose to work on some projects of their own in addition to work that they do for clients. There are a lot of reasons to dedicate time to personal projects: they can add some diversity to your work, they can allow you to explore your creativity, they give you the chance to be in charge and to make the decisions that you think are best, you can learn new things, you can make some extra money, etc.

Some types of personal projects that are popular with designers/developers are blogs, managing social networking sites, membership sites, e-commerce sites, and designing stock items. In this article we’ll take a look at 11 things you can do to get more out of these personal projects. Hopefully this post will help to illustrate why personal projects can be excellent for your career.

Here are some tips that will help you to get the most out of your time spent on personal projects.

1. Set Aside Time in Your Schedule

Personal projects can be a lot of fun, they can provide great learning experiences, and they can even produce some supplementary income, but they also take time. Depending on the type of project you may be able to work on it only when you happen to have some spare time, but if you hope to get the most out of it, and with most types of personal projects, you’ll need to set aside some time in order for it to be effective.

For most designers that are busy with a lot of client work, setting aside just a few hours per week is realistic but still enough to see some results with your projects. I’ve found for me that setting aside time on Fridays gives me a good way to close out the week, and having that time to work on my own projects gives me something to look forward to throughout the week.

2. Consider Maintenance That Will Be Required

Be realistic about the projects that you choose to pursue. Think about how much time it will take on an ongoing basis to maintain the project, and avoid pursuing anything that will require more time than you can commit. Don’t take on something that will just die in a few weeks because you get too busy to dedicate enough time to it. It’s better to choose a project that won’t require as much time going forward so you can dedicate the time needed to make it successful.

For example, blogging is a popular option for designers who are looking for a personal project. However, blogging takes a time commitment on a consistent basis. If you can’t dedicate some time each week you should probably choose a different type of project.

3. Consider Long-Term Potential

When deciding on a project, consider if it is something that you would like to work on in the future. Is it something that you would ever have an interest in making a full-time job? It doesn’t have to be, but considering the future will help you to determine what you really want to get out of the project.

If it has significant long-term income potential and if it is something that you would love to work on full-time, than you’ll probably want to stretch and dedicate as much time to it as you can, which will help you to get closer to your goals.

4. Explore Collaboration Opportunities

Working with another designer/developer on your project can be a great way to reduce the amount of work that is needed, plus you’ll be able to work with others that have skill sets that compliment your own, which can improve the end result. This can also be a great way to strengthen existing relationships with those in your network.

When you’re looking for someone to collaborate with, be sure that you are choosing someone who is reliable and trustworthy, someone that you will enjoy working with, and someone who has skills in areas where you are weak.

5. Utilize Your Network

Your existing network of other professionals can be a great place to start looking for collaboration opportunities, but the network can also help you in a number of other ways. People in your network may be able to help you by publishing a blog post about project for increased exposure, by providing you with guest posting opportunities to build links, by sending out a tweet about your project, by introducing you to someone in their network that can help you, or in any number of other ways.

While you don’t want to take advantage of people in your network, many of them will be happy to help you if you’ve been helpful to them in the past. Your network can be especially helpful for getting your project off the ground and helping to gain exposure when launching.

6. Choose Something That You Can Learn From

Ideally, your personal project will provide you with some valuable experience that will make you better and more valuable to clients and/or employers. It’s best to choose something that you’re not already a master at so you can work on improving specific skills. For example, you may want to start a blog so you can work on your writing skills, which will open up new possibilities in the future. Or maybe you want to work on learning more about selling online, so you could start an e-commerce site of your own. This type of experience could prove to be extremely valuable to you in your work with future clients.

Think of the things that you would like to learn or improve on, or the skills that would make you more valuable to clients or employers. Once you have identified some area where you would like to improve, think about the types of projects that you could work on to allow yourself to gain experience in those areas.

7. Consider Future Projects

While you are thinking about what you would like to learn, also think about the types of projects that you are likely to work on in the future. If you’re a freelancer this could be something that clients frequently ask you to do, and maybe something that you haven’t been able to take on in the past due to a lack of experience. If you’re employed by an agency it may be a type of project that normally gets directed to someone else in the agency or to another department. Maybe you’d like to improve your experience and skills in these areas because it will allow you to participate in specific types of projects in the future, which can also make you more valuable to clients and employers.

8. Get Variety

Personal projects are a great way to incorporate some variety into your work. Rather than choosing a project that is very similar to what you normally do on a daily basis, choose something that will give you diversity and allow you to try new things. This type of project will not only give you new experiences, but it will also help to keep you focused and interested in your work instead of getting bored and unmotivated.

9. Take Your Time

Most designers are only able to find a few hours per week to work on personal projects. Because of this, it can take a long time to get your project launched. Try not to rush things, but rather take your time and focus on getting it to a place where you are happy with it before launching. Personal projects are most effective when it is something that you can be proud of, and this takes time.

10. Outsource When Needed

There may be parts of your project that would be more cost effective for you to outsource, or it could be an area where you just need some help from an expert. Things like copywriting, SEO, marketing, design, and coding can all easily be outsourced. Outsourcing will allow you to use your time for what you do best, and others can fill in the gaps to help you get the project completed in the most effective way.

You can outsource parts of the project to people that are in your network, or you can use bidding sites like Elance. Another option is to use job boards like the Freelance Switch Job Board. Outsourcing can also be a great experience because it gives you a chance to see things from the client’s perspective and that alternate view of things may help you to see some ways that you could be more effective in dealing with clients or to give better service.

11. Enjoy the Freedom

If you spend most of your time working for clients or working on projects assigned by your employer, personal projects can be especially refreshing because you get to work on something of your own choosing. Make sure you enjoy this experience and take advantage of the freedom that it provides. Sometimes the most important aspect of a personal project is simply to give you a new creative outlet that will help to keep your work enjoyable and increase your inspiration for client projects.

What’s Your Experience?

If you’ve worked on personal projects please feel free to share your experience and your thoughts in the comments.


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15 Responses

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  • Robert, July 8, 2012

    Great post! I find that doing personal design projects definitely allows me to explore my creativity and learn new techniques.

  • Al Baround, August 23, 2011

    Just a couple more of advices, if you let me. It probably has to do with personality, so some people might not feel identified.
    1- Fix a reasonable personal deadline: before next Spring break, etc. To me that helped so much.
    2- Try to rely on someone besides own criticism. It’s like you ow it to somebody besides oneself.

    Good luck from Barcelona!

  • Adrian Stuart, August 16, 2011

    This was a nice article, def going to use this to inspire my team to create more fun an exciting personal projects!


  • invitatii de nunta, July 5, 2011

    It’s natural to have your own projects in any domain you work. You want to make something for yourself, to work on your own, to have a satisfaction from your work. I work like a freelancer in web design, and from time to time i make something for myself, like change the design for my blog.

  • Toronto Web Developer, June 9, 2011

    #9 Is such a huge challenge.
    It’s a dog eat dog world out there and everyone wants it Yesturday.
    I appreciate this reminder to take my time and enjoy the ride, the process of creating is so incredibly fun and it’s important as creatives to never squelch that.

  • SCSD, May 26, 2011

    Thanks for the post! These are great tips to include in future project outlines. My problem is a project will evolve into a new project and the original gets left behind. Need to focus more on #9. Thanks again.

  • Popartgal, May 23, 2011

    Thanks for the sharing your knowledge. I will definitely keep this in mind.. im currently in the midst of establishing my own online graphic designs website. Great notes to keep us on track :) thanks and cheers!

  • Because of the massive changes in marketing methodologies in recent years — from primarily print and broadcast to online/social media marketing — personal projects have grown in number and importance among my marketing and designer friends. Those of us in the business for awhile must learn a whole new world of marketing while trying to maintain a steady income. The personal project is a fantastic and important way to learn SEO, metrics, social media, email marketing, etc. It gives you the legs to stay relevant in the brave new world of digital marketing.

  • Zen Web Services, May 15, 2011

    I think that the #1 point is knowing when to outsource in order to be able to scale because in the past I’ve only worked on personal projects during quiet times and lost momentum when my business was busy. Thanks for this article!

  • Joe, May 13, 2011

    I think personal projects are important, when things are quiet with clients it gives us something to work on and develop skills, we’ll maybe find better ways of working, most likely we will try out new things on personal projects and if they work we can maybe use them on a clients website, I think these are really important for our development as a designer/ developers.

    Thanks for a great article :)

  • Ryan Collins, May 13, 2011

    I’ve been working on a what turned out to big personal project ( http://theat.me/ ) which really started out as just a tiny idea; it’s amazing seeing what a project can blossom into.

  • Ryan Leaper, May 13, 2011

    Exploring and experimenting on outside projects is a great way to develop as a designer. The beauty of personal projects is that you can take time over them and there is no pressure to meet a specific deadline. I think the freedom that personal projects provide enable us as designers to be at our most creative. I think point 8 is particularly important (to be varied in the work we undertake) as this helps fuel our creativity and keeps us inspired.

  • Darlene, May 12, 2011

    Great post! We do currently have a personal project on the go that not only fills in the gap between clients but we are also looking forward to turning it into a secondary stream of income.

  • David, May 12, 2011

    I really like #11, the freedom of working on your own project allows me to try new things I might not normally take any risks on. That kind of goes with #6 for me as I usually make my own creations about something I have never done before. Great article!

  • Rune Ellingsen, May 12, 2011

    Thank you for this ideas! this were really effective techniques in getting into the right track. It’s a big help for us in getting the best in our projects. Gonna keep this content.