By July 30, 2015

How Do I Come Up With A Profitable Side Project Idea?

In this episode, I'm finally going to answer a question about side projects.


Full transcript:

John:               Hey, John Sonmez from I got a question. I’ve been getting asked this a lot, so I'm finally going to answer this. I’ll probably do a blogpost at some point on this as well, but I always mention this idea of side projects. I get a lot of questions on how to create one or how to pick one. It seems obvious to me. I don’t mean to insult you, but it’s worth talking about. Michael sent me this email and I’ve got a lot of emails about this. Michael, you’re not alone by any means.

He said, “Do you have a method or technique for brainstorming ideas for personal side projects? I'm not looking for actual project ideas, rather way of coming up with ideas that people might want and develop these into potential money earning ideas that I can invest some time in writing. I'm thinking I want to do something web or mobile based to increase my skills in those areas, but exactly what people want and hasn’t been done a thousand times so far is eluding me. Mike.”

Mike, yes. There’s a couple of different components to this. First of all, you got to think about, “What is your motivation for starting a side project?” Sometimes you can kill 2 birds with 1 stone. Sometimes your motivation might be “I want to learn new skills so I can get a better job,” and sometimes it might be “I want to make money” or “I want to be an entrepreneur and quit my job someday,” or it might be “I just want to have fun.” Right? Sometimes you can combine those things and if you can, that’s always good. You’re already talking about possibly doing something in the mobile space, increase your skills in those areas, which makes a lot of sense. You also want to build something that people want that will make you some money, so that makes sense as well.

In general, I want to break this down and say, in general, like if you’re just how do I create some kind of side project or what can I work on? One good thing to do that’s probably going to fulfill multiple of these possible reasons for creating side project is to go and find some community of people and go hang out in that community. It might be online. It might be in person and figure out what they do and what kind of problems do they have, right? Maybe you go and maybe you go to a dentist convention or whatever it is, or maybe you go and you see what professional swimming instructors, their forums, their message boards or whatever and you find out that they have a scheduling problem or they have this kind of issue, whatever it is. You want to figure out what their pains are and what’s not being solved if you’re trying to create a software solution for them.

The reason why I would take this approach is because you’re going to actually build something for someone’s pain rather than building something and then trying to find someone who needs that thing. You know that someone needs the thing if you’re kind of integrated. This is a lot of advice that you’ll find from a lot of entrepreneurial circles on how to create a startup or something like that. That’s the basic place that I would start, is because I would want to make some money from my side project because if I'm going to spend a lot of time doing a thing, I might as well do the legwork to make sure that it’s probably going to be something that I could sell, that’s going to potentially earn me some income.

Once you figure that out, what the pain is, it’s up to you how to solve it. You could use whatever technology you want. That’s where developing your skills will come into play or even fun like what you enjoy working on, and you can solve that problem. That’s a really good place to start. I think for most people, that’s what you really should do, is try to find the pain the world and solve that pain. Understand that pain really well, do the legwork, and then solve that pain as a side project.

I understand that not everyone wants to make money and not everyone–not everyone wants to make money on their side project. I think everyone wants to make money, except for like some Buddhists and monks. I'm assuming that you might have other motivations that you think are more important, although I would tell you to possibly question that because most of the things that we do are like traced back to making money, but that’s a different topic.

Anyway, if you’re more about having fun or increasing your skills, then your world is pretty wide open to you then my answer to you is just pick something, because I get all these questions. I don’t mean to sound harsh here, but I get a lot of people asking me, “How do I find a side project to work on? How do I pick?” Well, my answer is like anything, just do something, right? Write a book. Do your blog like I’d like to always to say create a blog. Create some YouTube videos. Develop some software. Create a game. Do something. The key is, the key here is this, take it to completion. Think about how it’s going to end before you begin, right? Are you going to get tired of the thing and stop doing it? Because don’t even start if you’re going to do that, right?

Most people are not unsuccessful because they failed at a thing. It’s because they gave up. As long as you’re going to see something through to completion, it might not be the wild success that you want, but it’s going to have value. When you get 99% done with the thing, it has zero value. All that time you put into it.

The big thing that I would recommend to everyone who is asking how do I start a side project is, like I said, I gave you my prescriptive way that I would start one of finding something that will be profitable and then you can pick from there. My more general advice would be just pick anything and do it to completion. It doesn’t really matter what it is. You should always have some kind of a side project. You should be doing something besides—I mean when you’re working for the man and you’re doing your 9-5 job, you’re building someone else’s empire. You’re not putting any bricks in your own wall. It doesn’t do anything for you. You’re getting experience maybe and maybe you’re improving your skills at your job, but you’re really not building anything long lasting for you. If you’re building a side project, it doesn’t even matter what it is, right? It’s at least building something. Everyday you’re coming home and you’re expanding your empire a little bit. Maybe you’re writing a book. Maybe you’re building some kind of software or maybe you’re doing something, or you’re just learning entrepreneurial skills that are going to benefit you in life.

Make sure you have something. Even if it’s just an hour a day, pick something and do it. That’s the most important thing. It doesn’t really matter so much what it is. If you want to make money, then yeah, it can matter. You’ve got to solve someone’s pain because people only pay for solutions to their problems. The problem could be that they want to be entertained. That’s a valid problem. The more painful the problem is, the more people will pay for it. Do something and take it to completion.

Hopefully, that helps you. For everyone who is asking about side projects, hopefully this puts that to rest. I'm tired of getting that question because it really should be obvious at this point, right? Just do something. This is what I always say, is like take action. Do something and that’s going to be better than nothing. Don’t spend like months trying to figure out what you should do. Instead, do something and you’re going to benefit from that.

You can do something else when you’re done. Maybe this thing doesn’t work out. So what? You’re going to hit a lot of failures in life, but you’re never going to hit success until you start hitting those failures. Stop delaying. Stop procrastinating. Stop trying to hit one out at the park on the first try. Don’t worry about that. Just do. When you do, you’ll reach the end.

Hopefully, that helps. Thanks for the question Mike. If you have a question for me, email me at and I’ll try to get a video for you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the channel. Take care.


About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."