Developing skills on your own in a new area doesn’t have to be a painful and confusing process.
You might not think this, but there’s so much you can do on your own – why pay for someone else’s cookie-cutter program when you can create your own?
Truth is, regardless of your current situation, you can make progress towards any field much faster than most people realize by building your side project.
I know because I did it, gaining experience without having experience. And it worked out better than I imagined.
By developing the skills I needed outside of my day job, I delivered results and gained confidence in my focus area of strategic partnerships, even without a traditional background.
Piecing the journey together, I outline the process of building your side project via a three-step framework.
The best thing about this strategy is that it can work for anyone, even if you have NO experience.
This framework is best suited to help you get started towards the area you want to go by building a side project, breaking down each step so that you’ll know exactly what to do.
By following this method, you’ll easily come up with ideas for what to do, create a plan for how to get there, and share your experience so that opportunities come to you.
How to build your side project (the quick and easy way):
- Match your project hypothesis with opportunities
- Create your project in a matter of weeks
- Document and share your progress
(Note: clicking on the links above will take you to a respective in-depth article on the topic)
Step 1: Match your project hypothesis with opportunities
Here’s where we help you figure out what to do via introspection and prospecting.
First, write down your goal. Think:
- What do you want to accomplish?
- What role are you looking for?
- What skills do you want to develop?
- What do you want to experience?
Next, write down your skills from your past experiences. Circle all of the skills that can be applied to your goal.
Lastly, jot down all of the skills required for your desired position. Cross-reference them with the skills you’ve written down to identify what’s missing – these are the skills you want to develop.
Now that you know what skills you want to develop to get to that end state, look for matching opportunities.
These fall into three broad categories: own, find, and seek:
- Own: opportunities you create on your own; create a side project that allows you to develop the skills you want and serve as proof for it.
- Find: existing jobs / asks from others that let you develop your experience, e.g. at startups, freelance work, or nonprofits.
- Seek: opportunities in working with others that you create for yourself – pitching a solution to someone’s problem making a project out of it.
With the information gathered from introspecting and prospecting, develop a project hypothesis, solidifying what exactly you want to do.
Step 2: Create your side project in a matter of weeks
Now that you’ve come across an opportunity, it’s time to execute.
Making the commitment
You must plan before diving in. Set yourself up for success by having a view of what the project will look like before starting.
To get ready for your side project is to commit.
Set a start and end date for your project and get in the mindset that this is something you WILL work on – it’s easy to let something go to the wayside when there isn’t any sense of urgency, so create your own with these timeframes.
Making the commitment, it’s now time to preview what will come.
Knowing what’s next
Broadly speaking, a side project involves the following stages:
- Ideation – deciding what to do.
- Covered in the project hypothesis.
- Validation – testing if the project will work / if there is a need / if it will help you.
- Here comes the mix of research, data collection, and outreach.
- Execution – turning an idea into a reality.
- This is where you put in the work.
- Growth – sharing your project.
- Getting feedback, marketing, and collaboration.
(Thanks to the BKYD playbook for the overview of these stages)
Setting yourself up for success
You’ve come up with an idea, and developed a vision to get there. Here you create the ideal conditions to make that happen.
Ask yourself: when can I find one hour each day to work on my project?
Ideally, this should be the same time every day (or at least for most days). Consistency is a habit, and you’ll get compounding results by working on your project every day.
It’s easy for your project to get lost with everything else going on. Instead, put in set times and schedule all of the other stuff around this time. That’s prioritization.
Incorporate timelines, project stages, and routines to turn your idea into a reality.
Step 3: Document and share your progress
Wine entrepreneur turned social media expert Gary Vaynerchuck often says “document, don’t create”.
Documenting is about building publicly, sharing your progress, struggles, and learnings along the way.
You’ll find that there are others in shoes similar to yours, plus those who have come from your situation – all potential points of connection. And with the power of the internet, your experience can reach audiences far and wide be it through social media, a blog, or a website.
Share so that opportunities can come to you.
Bottom Line: building your side project doesn’t have to be filled with doubt and uncertainty.
This framework for side projects helps you come up with ideas for your project, a plan for execution, and methods to finding opportunities.
All it takes on your end is the eagerness to explore, the commitment to following these steps, and the drive to turn them into a reality.
Note: This series on building a side project continues in a 3-part series: ideation, execution, and communication.