Trying to find a toehold in the industry you want to work in can sometimes be like trying to scale Orthanc (you’re welcome, Tolkien fans)! I’m happy to tell you that there’s always a way in, you may just have to think a little laterally to get there. If your passions lie in a particular field of work, there’s no sense in not going after it. However, if you’re in a reliable job–or broke from the lack of one–it can be hard to see how to pursue your goals.
Developing a side project can help you define what kind of work you want to do and what kind of company you want to work for, if indeed you do want to go down the traditional employment route. With widespread Internet access, it’s easier than ever to start up a project that tickles your fancy. If you’re short on time, don’t be afraid to start small. If you burn yourself out, you won’t be much good to any kind of company.
What Will Your Side Project Be?
Coming from journalism, it’s pretty natural for me to write under several hats. Journalism students are told in no uncertain terms that work is precarious and that you’re likely to have to write thousands of words about flower shows and flooring options to make a living. Fortunately, I managed to avoid shrubbery reviews by volunteering for work that interested me, and building a portfolio of writing that I would eventually get paid for.
Writing isn’t the only kind of project that you can do to add value to your CV. Creating a side gig is a great option for photographers, designers and even software developers, who–while there’s no shortage of interesting IT work out there–often code little applications in their own time to keep their skills sharp. Sometimes, that little project becomes the foundation of a company.
If you’re gunning for a great marketing position, companies will often want to see examples of what you can do. If marketing isn’t something that you’ve had much experience with, you can build up a portfolio through promoting local events or classes, or running their social media campaigns. To make your side project useful, you need to be able to show tangible results and that you can do a great job. Put value on your work and don’t be afraid to charge for your efforts.
Herein lies the secret. Create a striking brand for yourself with your own website–a free blog is fine to start–and keep your social media presence active and interesting. You don’t have to be on it all the time, but make sure that if someone googles you, they get the results that you want them to see. I know a woman who started out drawing pictures of her friends as presents. They were so popular that she started drawing celebrities and posting them on Instagram. The golden moment came when Kim Kardashian regrammed a drawing of herself, and Cosmopolitan contracted her to draw for them. She now runs her own business illustrating, and doing exactly what she loves all day long. She’s a perfect example of how a little side project can become your dream job.
Getting the word out about your project can make all the difference. Don’t be shy about telling people what you do and make sure to plug it to people that you think would like it. Spamming people on Twitter is never the way to go, but if you make something relevant to someone you admire, let them know. You never know where it could take you.