Freelance Advice: The Importance of Side Projects


Freelance Advice

The Importance of Side Projects & Hustle

Years ago in 2014, I wrote my first solo-blog post in which I talk about the importance of side projects. The post was brief and to the point and now 4 years later I decided to both revise and add to my original post.

As a freelancer, I’m always finding myself working on projects for my clients and partners. Working long hours and sometimes every day of the week. It can be stressful and lead very quickly to burn out.

There have been many times I find myself working hard on my projects and then coming to a realization “Oh wow! I haven’t created something for myself in weeks or even months!” 

We get stuck in this mentality that all of our creativity and time should be going towards other people and none should go to ourselves. 

Instead we need to find a balance. I’m not talking about a work-life balance because in reality there is no such thing. When you’re a freelancer, you always have to be hustling and pushing the needle— that being said, I still have fun and spend time with my loved ones. The balance I’m talking about is with our creativity and where we allocate it. If we give all of our creativity to our clients, then we leave little time to ourselves and our own creations. 

You’re probably asking yourself “Rocky I don’t get money from creating for myself, my clients pay the bills.” Thats true, but, side projects tend to grab people’s attention way more than client work. Why? Because you put way more passionate into your own ideas than others.

Now I’m not saying that you don’t put passionate into your client work but naturally everyone is more passionate about their own creations. 

In the past I’ve created a few different fun side projects that have done a couple of effects.


The first one that I’ll talk about is Slaptastick. This was a fun side project that technically was started in 2013 while I worked at Focus Lab but was later restarted in the summer of 2015. Slaptastick was a monthly sticker subscription service that ran from 2016 - 2018 and was an amazing experience where I was able to work with some of the best artists from around the world. We shipped sticker packs to almost every continent except for Antartica—couldn’t get those penguins to sign up.  

Even though we never made money from this side project, it did help me gain a lot of exposure and some amazing friendships. It also brought in client work as well. The first coming from a series of avatars I illustrated of the original roster of artists. In the end, the avatars and the stickers that I created led me to many illustration projects. 


The other project I’ll share about is one that I started just after I went full time freelance. During a lull in my projects, I decided I wanted to create a small series of characters based on one of my new favorite shows, Stranger Things. I spent about a week working on and off with the project and when it was finished I had 8 illustrations of some of the main characters and monster. 

A few weeks after I created the series and shared it on social media, I attended a design conference in Grapevine, TX — Circle Conference. While I was there I was able to rub elbows with a lot of amazing people including some of the team that worked for InVision. We had a great time talking and I learned a lot about them and their business.

The next day I see an email in my inbox from InVision’s art director, looking for me to create a series of characters— like the Stranger Things illustrations— for a halloween blog post.  The interesting thing in this case is that none of the people from InVision who attended the conference even had mentioned me to their Art Director. He had simply found my work and reached out on his own.

Both of these examples show that by spending time focusing on side projects I was able to bring in work organically without looking for it. I created things for myself and they lead to clients finding me on social media and reaching out. 

If you can find some time each day, each week and each month to create a little bit for yourself, you can scratch your own itch and hopefully bring in some freelance work at the same time.