Three months into After Hour Projects and I’ve produced 12 podcast episodes, published 15 blog posts, and grew the newsletter to 275+ subscribers.
But that’s not all.
It was my first time working on something of my own to share with an audience – separate from my personal blogging and projects on behalf of other organizations.
A taste of what it’s like to run a content business.
Sharing a write-up of what these three months were like, the learnings from each part of the journey, and some broader thoughts.
I started After Hour Projects, a site on side projects, as a challenge to myself: publish content diving deep on a single topic.
Side projects got me to where I am today. Starting out in a typical corporate job I neither felt excited about nor good at, I followed my interests to help out some companies after work. As a result, I discovered the field of strategic partnerships and pivoted to my current role.
Now it was time for me to share this story and the stories of others.
I started with launching the After Hour Projects podcast, speaking with the people I’ve met along my journey to share their experiences with side projects.
Little did I know that things would evolve, and the site grew to cover the entire lifecycle of side projects:
- Introduction: Blog articles and podcast episodes introduce the audience to the concept of side projects, showing what’s possible.
- Execution: Guides and the three-part course teach how to start and finish a project.
- Acceleration: The After Hour Projects program offers coaching, accountability, and mindset to create certainty in completing a project.
Looking back on the sequence of events, After Hour Projects went through three stages:
- Simply putting in the work to get the content out there
- Getting eyes on the content by building an audience
- Ting things together to ensure smooth sailing
Overall, this experience taught me to have a clear end goal in mind, craft a solution to a problem at hand, and adjust accordingly as things don’t always go as planned.
Phase 1: Just Doing It
What does it mean to “just do it”?
In this case, it’s building something from nothing. Creating a place on the internet to house the content and then pushing it out for people to see.
Coming up with what to talk about
First, I devised my thesis – to show ways one can use his/her free time in a structured manner, be it to:
- Formalize a hobby
- Advance a career
- Start a business
Side projects helped me advance my career, and I thought the guests in my pipeline could cover the other two categories, and more.
The goal here was to communicate this to an audience of young professionals, showing that there’s more out there than a first job out of college, plus opportunities to find ways to do things more aligned with one’s skills and interests.
Setting up the show
Next came launching the podcast, a process of setting everything up, recording conversations, and producing the episodes.
Having devised the overall messaging of my show, created a landing page, and recorded the podcast trailer, I reached out to guests for recording. (This process can warrant a whole separate essay since it was a personal accomplishment in getting people to come on).
Note: I spent less than $50 setting up the podcast, purchasing only a microphone, domain name, and website hosting. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to produce a podcast!
Creating the infrastructure
Armed with the content, I worked on distributing it by setting up my website and social media presence.
Some things I did to build my site:
- Created a site layout where each page had a specific message and purpose
- Wrote blog posts that spoke to what people were looking for answers to
- SEO (search engine optimization) – set up site for discoverability by search engines, researched target keywords, and brainstormed content ideas based on them
How I approached social media:
- Established identities across different platforms, focusing on my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts and a branded Instagram profile
- Launched podcast by posting on my personal social media, posting in several Facebook groups, and making an announcement in my personal newsletter
- Established a posting schedule, including tasks such as weekly reflections on Saturdays and new episode releases on Sundays
As an aside, I learned a great deal about copywriting, which is essentially online sales. Also, I took advantage of social media scheduling tools such as Hootsuite for Twitter and LinkedIn and Planoly for Instagram.
Learnings from just doing it:
- Know how much you can commit to podcasting before you start – it’s a significant amount of time recording, producing, and then marketing each episode.
- Have a plan for social media but stick to it loosely – you’ll get the hang of the platforms as you use them so don’t spend too much time in the beginning researching.
Phase 2: Building an Audience
It’s entirely possible for you to have built it, and they haven’t come.
I tackled this area on a variety of fronts: creating content addressing pain points, establishing a focused marketing strategy, and launching growth tools.
Speaking to pain points
My thinking around content creation changed the moment I learned about providing value:
Answer people’s questions and they will pay attention to what you are saying.
To understand my target audience, I conducted research online, followed discussions others were having, and set up my own conversations. I searched on Google for terms related to side projects, career fulfillment, and career advancement to see what questions people were asking. I also looked at what questions people were asking in Facebook groups and Slack channels around these topics. I rounded it out by asking the same questions to those who reached out to me.
Having an understanding of people’s desires to know how to start projects, finish them, and use them for networking, I created guides around these topics.
Reaching the right audience
Here came a number of experiments using social media.
Starting out with LinkedIn, I began sharing my content and engaging with others on the platform. Through these interactions, I realized that my posts ended up resonating the most with college students when I thought they would best fit young professionals.
This still confuses me; however, I did get to meet and work with a number of people on the platform.
Moving onto Twitter, I learned the importance of tailoring content towards the medium, in this case with Tweetstorms.
Speaking tactically, posts with links have less engagement since they move the user away from the social media platform. One solution is to instead put the link you want to post as a reply to the original thread. You can even tweet a bunch of threads together as a Tweetstorm, sharing more at the same time than the 280 characters of a single post; tag some relevant people for them to like your post, and it’ll show up on even more newsfeeds.
Ending with Facebook, I made a number of “value-add” posts in several Facebook groups meant to advance a conversation while also drawing eyes onto my content.
- Sharing a Spotify playlist of Asian podcasters to the Asian Creative Network, drawing listens to my show and those from other podcasters
- Posting about my own career journey as inspiration to side projects and linking my guide for tactical advice
Thinking outside the box
Growth tools are offerings put out there to drive traffic and engagement to your core content.
Some examples of growth tools:
- Namecheap’s logo maker
- Human Interest’s Layoffs.fyi
- Avaamo’s Project COVID
I drew an audience to After Hour Projects by:
- Curating a list of 100+ resources on side projects
- Creating an events calendar for Asian Heritage Month, which took place in May
- Driving subscriptions to my newsletter by making a very specific type of post on LinkedIn
Each tool was a “mini-project” meant to add value in some way while also attracting an audience.
Learnings from building an audience:
- It’s not just about the product; it’s about distribution.
- Create content that people care about, that speaks to their pain points.
- Sometimes, you can use a boost (with growth tools).
Phase 3: Continuing into the Future
At this point, After Hour Projects had hit its stride.
I’d accomplished my initial goal of releasing a podcast, diving deep on a specific topic, and publishing on a schedule. As a bonus, I built a small following and learned a ton about digital marketing.
But there’s more.
I decided to take things further, adding some commercial elements in the areas of sales and growth.
Online courses are all the rage, so I decided to create a free course.
After all, I’d been doing projects for years and used them to transition careers. Furthermore, I’d spent months researching, writing, and speaking with people on the topic of side projects.
Thus, I combined both to create a course on side projects for career advancement: gain the experience you need for your next job while in your current position.
Aimed at young professionals looking to make their first job transition, the course covers:
- Coming up with project ideas
- Executing on a project in six weeks
- Leveraging side projects to pursue opportunities
Of course, I had no experience in creating online courses, but I made it work by recording the videos over Loom. Not only that, I also got a crash course in market segmentation, pricing, and the customer journey via sales funnels.
To wrap up the education side, I also created a personal consulting offering – providing my time to work with clients either in a power hour where we would map out a customized project plan, or work together over six weeks through a project from start to finish.
Speaking of experimentation, I experimented with partnerships, events, and email marketing.
Although I work on partnerships at my day job and have structured partnerships on my previous projects, this was the first time I was doing them for myself (hence it felt a little different, but I executed the same – just had to take rejection a little less personally since it was, well, personal). I managed to get After Hour Projects shared with some communities, and booked some speaking engagements to reach more audiences.
I also hosted my first live webinar on something of my own. Not a bad start with 10 attendees coming out on a Friday at 5pm to hear me go at it.
Lastly, having built up over 275 newsletter subscribers, I experimented with email marketing by running a multi-email “course” on side projects, aimed to inform readers and also direct attention to my course and consulting offering. (The results will come in early July – work in progress).
Learnings from continuing into the future:
- Create a business plan at the START of your journey, not later. This serves as your guidepost.
- I’m still adjusting to working on things for myself. I’ve achieved positive results working on partnerships for others; it’s time for me to be more aggressive in pushing for myself.
- There’s so many ways to take growth, so much so that everything is an MVP. But the more you do it, the better you’ll get.
Building After Hour Projects was an exhilarating journey.
Creating something from nothing is not easy. But it sure is a learning experience, be it in writing, marketing, sales, events, design, or everything else.
If you want the ultimate generalist experience, try running something yourself.
What I learned
My main takeaway from these 100 days of After Hour Projects is to have a defined focus right at the start.
After Hour Projects started out as an idea for a podcast. I then added the blog, newsletter, course, and offering.
In a perfect world, I would have created a formal “business plan” for the podcast before launching instead of adjusting the messaging as the show progresses. Focused on drumming up the podcast pre-launch, and announced the series with a few episodes lined up.
Instead, I tacked everything at the same time, creating episodes, writing, and working on the advisory components all at once and adjusting everything on the fly.
Eventually, things came together and After Hour Projects now covers an end-to-end lifecycle for side projects:
- Podcast – introduce and inspire audiences on what’s possible with side projects
- Blog, Course – equip viewers with the knowledge and tactics to start their own projects
- Advisory offering – accelerate projects through coaching, accountability, and mindset
They say that it’s better to have tried than to have not tried at all, and I am confident that I will fondly remember working on After Hour Projects.
This was not just about the hours spent “grinding” it out handling all parts of the project, the sudden “aha” moments from thinking about one thing on a daily basis, feelings of swimming against an unpredictable tide balancing this project with a (some might say) intense day job, camaraderie with fellow creators and operators, or moments of connection shared from the conversations on and off the podcast.
No, this was all of that and much more.