I'm a huge proponent of employees doing side projects, provided it's on the employee's own time. There are countless ways that side projects can benefit your own career or future -- and maybe we'll get into those another time (many are very obvious). But right now, I want to make the case for why side projects also greatly increase your strength as an employee of Joe Schmo's or Jane Doe's company.
- Acquisition of new skills. Some big companies will you send you to training seminars and possibly even pay for your post-grad education, but that's not reality for most companies -- not in a down economy. Side projects enable you to learn new skills that you're interested, which could inevitably help you become better at your own job. I know a project manager for a Fortune 500 company who helps small businesses build blogs and websites to increase their online visibility and grow their communities. When her superiors saw her work, they asked her to lead a team to build an internal community with social tools, and convince their "old boys network" to participate in an effort to increase collaboration.
- Expand your own visibility. This is one some companies get apprehensive about because they're fearful they might lose an employee. I understand this, but under the right circumstances, an employee who can build a name for himself becomes a valuable asset to the team altogether. Unless they're local sports fans, most people want to watch teams with the best players. It's the same way in business -- customers want to work with the most prolific teams.
- Obtain new clients. There are times when someone will come to you and ask for X, Y and Z. Maybe you only do X, and maybe they're one of the few companies with some discretionary income. Perhaps you're just booked and aren't willing to give up your weekly time set aside to watch "Dexter." (I sure wouldn't blame you.) But if you honed your craft in your spare time instead, you'll get good enough, and eventually, a client may come along that's a great fit for your company. Upselling the potential client often means they still get to work with you (in addition to other smart people) and your boss gets a new client and more money. Everyone's happy. (Or maybe you just stumbled on a startup idea.)
- Supplement your income/passion/intrigue. I admit that I'm a frugal freak of nature -- if I can't eat it or read it, chances are that I don't buy it. I put nearly everything I make in savings into my Roth IRA or I invest it. Having a little freelancing income on the side provides me with a little guilt-free spending: a new T-shirt, a six-pack, a Texas country music concert. Maybe you're saving for a wedding or your kids' college fund. It's always nice to have a little side income -- sometimes, it's what prevents you from leaving a job you enjoy for a higher-paying job that you'll actually hate.
If you're already doing work you really enjoy, statistics dictate that you're the minority. Even if you absolutely love your job, you still have outside interests that don't overlap with your job duties. What's the harm in keeping yourself fresh by maintaining a wide variety of interests? Bonus points for earning some spare change. Whatever you do, do it because you enjoy it and it supplements your life in such a way that it makes you a more complete person. Typically, those people are higher performers at work.
I know many of you write books, host Twitter chats, consult, coach, etc. on the side. How have side projects impacted your career or enhanced what you do in your day job? What kinds of concerns have your employers expressed? And if you don't have any side projects, what's stopping you?
Ryan Stephens is an entrepreneurial-minded twenty-something who is extremely passionate about both marketing and helping people. He believes in the power of the Internet and its ability to cultivate conversations, relationships and the spread of ideas.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.