If you’re a content creator, you may be prone to working around the clock to hit deadlines, meet client expectations, and polish your personal brand. In turn, passion projects often get neglected and treated like despised, ugly stepchildren.
But here’s the thing: Your passion projects serve a role and function in and of themselves. They can boost your personal brand and potentially land you client work.
Most writers can write on a lot of topics, but once you home in on a niche, it’ll bolster your brand and your visibility to clients. I started my personal finance blog many moons ago because I had no other outlet to combine my love of writing with frugality. The blog helped me position myself as an authority on the topic of saving money, get a few writing samples under my belt, and develop a network of contacts. That in turn helped me land my first paid gig writing about money, which gave me the footing to land more client work.
And while I’ve never made much money from my blog, maintaining one served as a professional calling card. Before I had a lot of writing clips with brands, companies would vet me by reading my blog. This gave them an idea of my approach and values around money as well as my writing style.
Chad Eschman, a brand storyteller and company director of Trap Street, a multimedia storytelling company, combined his love for mixology and writing to land client work with the wine and spirits site VinePair. “When I started writing about alcohol, I found a corner that I could be the expert in,” says Eschman. “In turn, there’s less competition. Ask yourself: Where can you take your professional skills and interests and slam them together? What can you be the authority in?”
Creative passion projects provide a respite from your client work and serve as a much-needed creative outlet. For instance, animator and illustrator Patrick Gerrity jumped at the opportunity to work an animated end title sequence for the pilot of Abby Normal, a kids’ TV series. While Gerrity was already working as an animator, he was hitting a rut and getting rather bored with his day job.
“The Abby Normal gig didn’t pay anything at the time, but I was getting burned out with my regular work and wanted an opportunity to stretch my legs,” says Gerrity. “And working on something that you have ownership of, it spurs your creativity and actually gives you energy. You get obsessed, and even end up solving the problems in your sleep while you dream. (This is true.)”
Image attribution: Soragrit Wongsa
Your personal projects not only give you a reason to reach out to people but offer something of value in return. Instead of asking to “pick someone’s brain,” which will elicit the eye roll, you can help experts boost their visibility and personal brands as well.
Case in point: Michelle Jackson’s blog and podcast, Michelle is Money Hungry, not only helped position her as a personal finance influencer, but it also gave her a platform to develop the skills and build a network to land client work (e.g., a podcast for Aspiration Bank’s Make Change).
“The best thing about connecting with all of these amazing people via blogging and podcasting is that you build a community of people to share your dreams and goals with,” says Jackson. “And a large percentage of my client-based work has been a result of introductions from friends or new connections in my professional and personal network.”
Also, because Jackson has developed and published two very different podcasts, she was able to pitch a spectrum of projects to future clients. “I’m able to offer more because I’ve developed more skills—and grown my social capital as a result,” says Jackson.
Your passion projects can show potential clients what your personal brand is capable of. For instance, Eschman had been putting on theatrical productions through his company Trap Street for several years in Los Angeles. While it was strictly a passion project, he developed a network of actors and writers and established rapport with managers at venues around town. He used the relationships he developed, along with work he’s done with Freelancers Union, as leverage to land a gig as the LA brand ambassador for Upwork.
For animator and illustrator Gerrity, the work he did on the kids’ TV pilot served as a solid stand-alone piece that eventually landed him work on high-visibility projects for ATTN: featuring celebrities such as Bill Maher and Jessica Alba.
Many of us are guilty of letting our creative side projects fall to the wayside. But when you realize how crucial they are to bolstering your personal brand—as an outlet for self-expression and as a network builder—you’ll see how they can propel your professional life as a content creator.
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Featured image attribution: Kit Junglist