Articles - 17th September 2020

How your passion project can help your stable freelance gig

Words by Amanda Smith
Illustration by Will Francis

All freelancers share a similar view about work. That it can be fun and whimsical to have a schedule peppered with variety and a revolving backdrop as an ‘office’. And, that work doesn’t have to suffocate us and swallow our best years.

When I went full-time freelance, just shy of six years ago, the goal driving me forward was skewed with a dream lifestyle – to write my way around the world and share human-centric narratives.

High on breaking free from full time shackles, I created my first passion project. An online travel magazine, that I dreamt would supplement my client work (and serve as a home for my, sometimes, abstract think pieces about the world around me).

I wrestled with imposter syndrome and the voice in my head that plagues many freelancers – ‘will this work?’, ‘will this make money?’, and ‘am I wasting my time?’

Let me tell you something I wish I’d grasped then: your art matters.

If your artistic-love side-projects colours your weeks, break up the monotony of tracking every minute and brings you into that joyous stream-of-consciousness zone (that’s almost impossible to reach in your compartmentalised ‘work’ state), your art is a priority.

When balancing your bread and butter with beautiful projects, here’s what I’ve learned:

 

It’s not all about the money

This might take time to wrap your head around, as the sugar-high of fulltime gigs wear off. As freelancers, we have a ‘controlling relationship’ with our time, where we become obsessed with monetising every hour. Yes, you need to make enough money to live but beyond this, it’s just as valuable to fill your ‘offline’ time with projects that set your soul alight.

Clients can tell when you’re inspired, creative, and invested in their work. When you have a schedule bursting with projects that live there simply to pay the bills, the art-driven pilgrimage helps to introduce a sense of ownership, freedom and fun.

You’re slamming a pitchfork into the ground, screaming to the world: “THIS is the work that’s my soul, and I want more of it! “

It flips the bird at the soul-destroying cycle of appeasing clients as you squirt petrol onto your fire of creativity. Workout your baseline income first, so you can earn with your head while feeding your soul on projects that’ll turn a buck in their own good time).

 

Passion projects… with benefits!

Beyond monetary value, allow for benefits to show up in surprising, serendipitous ways. “When I started it, I had no idea it would lead to… (insert cool story here).”

Is it getting you excited about the direction of your career?

Is it helping position you as an authority in your field?

Is it the community you’re growing?

Is it invitations to events, conferences and webinars?

Is it the people you meet?

Move away from the trappings of money being your only success metric.

As you’re birthing and working on these projects, take the time to ponder some non-financial goals. Ask yourself, what are all the ways this can support my business?

 

Know your values

When you’re gazing out the window in a mid-task lull, what is it that’s keeping you going? We’re all driven by different forces and it’s important to know what matters to you. This is always in flux.

What got you out of bed last year (and kept you up all those the nights) might be different now. As freelancers, we’re always reinventing ourselves. Adaptation is a beautiful thing and a skill that project workers have as a default.

Your values and needs can help you discern your artistic path. What’s important to you, and what do you want to achieve in your career? Comfort and security or recognition and acclaim?

Tony Robbins has a simple adaptation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The six human needs are Certainty, Variety, Significance, Connection, Growth and Contribution. Someone who values Certainty over Contribution will have a different set of metrics. Sit with your guiding values and see what it means for your artistic projects.

Don’t compartmentalise

It’s human nature to outgrow things, but for freelancers, survival is our dopamine and growth’s in our blood. We are the brand, so it’s important not to compartmentalise side projects. It’s an iteration of what you do and how you present yourself to the world.

Whether you’re writing a book, planning an art show for your photography or designing an app, let it be known to the everyone in your world.

If a client had the option of two writers – both doing corporate work, but one of them also has a fabulous, self-published fiction book – who do you think they’ll choose? Chances are, they’re going to pick the most interesting person. Someone who thinks outside the box, who challenges them (in a good way), and delivers work unlike anyone else.

At the very least, the writer-author will ignite their client’s curiosity and create an opportunity to sell themselves.

Don’t hide those artistic-love-projects, just because they’re not ‘corporate enough.’ Weave them in with your personal brand and you’ll enjoy more freedom to introduce, grow drop projects as your values change. Business have seasons, too.

Instead of compartmentalising, use the ‘hat-stand’ analogy. Think of all the hats as the ‘things that you do’ (client work, webinars, exhibits etc.) and the stand as the central theme that connects it all. For example, ‘I help people make sense of the world through observative, human-centric prose.’

Focus on your central theme and it’ll unite everything you do – unattached to a specific side project. It puts a whole new meaning on ‘wearing too many hats.’

 

Freelancing = the freedom to play

You don’t need anyone to give you permission to spend your days however you desire. This is why we become freelancers after all. While it might feel like you have a dozen micro-bosses, no one should dictate your artistic creations. It’s your job to make space for them and protect your time like it’s your firstborn.

Oftentimes, the only thing getting in your way is the voice in your head, rambling a long list of ‘shoulds.’ Tame that chatter and liberate yourself from any self-limiting beliefs.

Create a courageous body of artistic work that you’re proud to put your name to. Make a positive imprint on the lives of others and change the trajectory of your career. It’s up to you and no one else.

The world needs your unique voice, beyond what’s possible in the limiting confides of contracts, deadlines, and Zoom meetings. Artistry is bold, courageous and boundless, just like freelancing.

It’s the perfect pairing.  You and your art matters.

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