We've presented reasons why side projects are great and have featured people who have decided on dedicating time out of their life for them. But something we don't really focus on is the opposite - when side projects don't work out. This happens more often than the successful projects we hear about. Of course, I don't have any concrete data on side projects run on top of a full-time job, but looking at stats for start-ups as corollary, 25% of startups fail in the first year. 44% fail by their third year.
Those numbers seem a bit low to me but I think I get that point across. What do you do when your side project fails?
Failure as a Signal to Move On
There was a time when I wanted to do a comedy YouTube series back when YouTube celebrities weren't a thing. I'd write scripts, rig up some lights and try to have some fun. Hours later, I'd take the footage to the editing floor and -- lock the footage away from seeing the light of day. It was crap. So, YouTube didn't really work out for me (thankfully).
Side projects are hard and require a lot of time sink. And failing sucks a lot of energy out of you. But instead of halting your creativity, consider it a time of reflection. Maybe it's best to put this side project down and try something completely new.
Though the comedy YouTube channel never worked out for me, the curiosity to explore other online outlets never left me. So, I put down the camera and started a blog here and there to see where that took me. Hopefully starting (and failing) a side project doesn't stop you from trying something new.
Failure as a Learning Experience
Sometimes, you can take what you learned from a failing project and apply it to your current project. The company behind the chat application we use as a team, Slack, was at first a gaming company. Their game, Glitch, failed but they found that the internal chat system they built was a better product.
Imagine that: a company attempts to build a game and penetrate one of the hardest markets, and on the side, build and maintain a chat tool to help them communicate with each other. The game failed but instead of folding, they instead put their awesome side project to market.
This is a pretty cool pivot done by a company and is a great learning experience to take away for your side project. Is there something that you can take away from one side project and use it in another?
Failure as a Chance to Iterate
Here's a fun fact: before Suitless Pursuits, I started a niche blog exploring Asian Culture in North America. Another fun fact -- that side project failed as well. But I didn't want to move on from trying my hand at launching blogs.
Things that worked for that failing blog were applied to Suitless and refined: for example, editorial calendars worked great in the past but we didn't have clear definition of what content to post. So at Suitless, we focused on interviewing people running an interesting side project on top of a full-time job.
We iterated on this again in earlier this year by adding new content (not just interviews) but still with a narrow focus.
When projects don't work out, it's easy to give up and never try anything again. But in listing three reasons on how to turn that failure around, I hope we can inspire you to keep on doing what you love.