Side projects are increasingly popular. Partly because it has become easier than ever to create and distribute. And partly because the chances of succeeding in times of virality seem just one Tiktok video away.
This is also why I sometimes see the popularity of “side hustles” with caution. It seems as every minute of the day must be economically optimized. Pursuing a hobby without the intention of turning it into a startup becomes increasingly embarrassing.
That said, I am too guilty of quitting my job to become a freelance developer. But it was more about changing professions instead of building yet another income stream.
If you intend to do the same but don’t know if and when you should do it, this simple framework will help you.
Don’t Ask Your Friends For Advice
I only discovered this concept recently on Cal Newport’s podcast, yet I realized I did exactly the same when I switched careers.
The core premise is that we should use money rather our friend’s advice as an indicator of value.
If we face important decisions like “should I quit my job to become a full-time XYZ", we most always ask the people around us for advice. Though this advice can be misleading.
Usually, people don’t want to discourage you. Nobody likes to destroy other peoples’ dreams. Thus, most people, even your closest friends, will tell you to just try it. Unless you have really risk-averse parent’s as I did back then. 😉
Same with asking friends if they consider buying your product/service - of course they would - until they really have to make the first payment.
Money As An Indicator Of Value
Ultimately, it comes down to finding people who actually buy your goods or services.
Don’t look for friends who tell you you have a great idea. Don’t look for people who seem willing to buy your product. Instead, find a few first customers who actually sent you money for it.
If you find a few first and both sides are happy with the results, chances are high that you find even more and can actually make a living from it.
Before I decided to do web development full-time, I already had a few clients on the side who proved me that people are interested in what I do.
Additionally, it makes the start of your side project adventure much more enjoyable as you don’t start from scratch.
The Very First Customer Trap
One caveat: if you look long enough, you will eventually find someone who buys into your idea. Avoiding treating your very first client or customer as a validation of your business idea.
Try to ideally find a couple of first believers outside your circle of friends and family. The more you find, the more you know that you are onto something.
If you think it seems impossible to find first customers before you quit, be creative to find ways around your barriers.
For example, you could find first customers for your SaaS through a paid waitlist even before you have built the service. If you are a carpenter, build your first pieces and sell them on marketplaces like Etsy. Authors can try finding interested literary agents or publish smaller stories in online publications first.
In summary, try to validate your idea by finding first customers who are happy with your work. Luckily, as easy as it is to become hyped about side projects, as easy it is to validate those through numerous creative ways. Just make sure you do not quit your job only to find out that friend’s evaluation of “a great idea” does not turn out to be true.
A little disclaimer: I borrowed this simple concept from Cal Newport’s podcast. If you want to hear more about, check out this episode.
Also, if you are generally interested in hearing more tips like this on this blog, let me know on Twitter! @kmuenster