Working on side projects as a freelancer

As a tech freelancer, there can be a great temptation to work on 'side projects', coding or design work which has not been requested by a client, but is interesting in some way, often more interesting than the client work you do have on.

There are pros and cons to working on an extra project.

Good for sanity

When you're doing client projects that constantly get bogged down by problems, whether that's because of the work you're trying to do, or the people you're working with, having a side project on can be a great stress reliever.

In this sort of situation, I recommend trying to make something small, something that can be achieved in a short space of time. You're looking for the feeling of completing something and getting it in to use or out in to the world. The exact opposite of what's happening in your client projects.

If you only have big ideas, try to cut one down in to smaller steps where you can make just a small part of it. The last thing you need is it growing in to another big project where you're not making progress.

Portfolio pieces

If you're new or don't have many client projects completed, creating a side project can be a good way to bulk out your portfolio so when a potential client is researching you, they can see you have good capability to get work done.

In this case it is a good idea to keep the project small as you want to be able to show something that's complete. Try not to get bogged down with making the project perfect, as going down that rabbit hole means you may never put the project public.

To make the most out of your work, write up what you did and why as a case study on your website. This shows potential clients that you think about your work, whether it's why you chose a particular colour scheme or font, or what your technology choices were when writing a programme.

The write up doubles the benefit of having made the side project. You both get an example of the work you do, and you get something you can write about, which builds trust with a potential client as they realise you can both complete a project, and also make considered decisions within it.


Side projects can be an excellent way of learning a new skill. Whether it's a new technique in illustration, an experimental way of presenting information, or learning a new programming language, having a project to build gives structure to your learning and a way of applying a new skill, an excellent way to make it stick.

Don't overwhelm yourself

All of the above are great reasons to do a side project, but when you get good at sourcing work as a freelancer, or if you have a large project on, side projects can be very difficult to fit in. Don't overwhelm yourself, these things are not mandatory! If you are already doing work, it's important to give yourself the time and energy to complete that to a level that satisfies yourself.

Pushing yourself to fit in extra work when you're already busy can be counter productive. You do not need to fill every waking moment with working. It is very important to have down time where you're not thinking of work or things related to it. Do something else instead or just take time to chill out and think of nothing, that can help you avoid burn out in the long term.

Paul has been freelancing for 15 years and runs a weekly freelancers networking event in Brighton, England. He specialises in making websites using PHP/Laravel, and has way too many side projects on the go.