May 10, 2019

Reflections on starting a side project

Reading time: 8 minutes

Let’s just call them projects, because “side” or otherwise, we’ve learned that to do well takes a lot of work!

A duotoned dark purple and beige version of the Apple 'sparkles' emoji, in front of a dark blue circle shape in the centre of the image

It’s an apt time to be reflecting on this blog as a side project because guess what? It’s been over 12 months since we conceived of this ‘producer blog thing’.

A screenshot of an early email notification from when we setup our project Trello board.
An early email notification from when we setup our project Trello board.

A short history of Producing Paradise:

  • February 2018: We started chatting about the project, and Aimee setup a Trello board for us to compile our thoughts and tasks
  • April 2018: We setup a free site on WordPress.com as a testing ground for early content and information architecture
  • November 2018: We bit the bullet and signed up for a paid hosting account so we could start using WordPress.org*
  • December 2018: We quietly took the site live, as a little Christmas present to ourselves!
  • February 2019: We applied the stellar branding Aaron created to our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and started actually telling people about the site
  • May 2019: …and here we are, reflecting on the journey so far!

*Psst… we’ve written a whole other post about how we chose our website platform, in case you’d like to hear more about our process there.


Jess’ reflections

When we first started talking about what this project could be, I remember thinking it would be fun to have an outlet for sharing my work habits, tips and tools, and a blog would be a “quick and easy way to do it”. Ohhh boy, HAHAHA… ahem.

My first major learning is:

1. Everything takes longer than you think it will

For us, this was a product of wanting to give our blog the best possible chance of success, so we chose better rather than faster options along the way. While self-imposed deadlines did help keep us motivated, we were kind to ourselves (and each other) by extending those deadlines whenever ‘life happened’ (as it does!).

Which brings me to my second learning:

2. Work with people you like and it won’t feel like work

Screenshot of the Google Hangouts app showing three ladies in the conversation, all smiling

The best part of creating Producing Paradise so far has been getting to know my kick-ass collaborators (Aims and Lil, that’s you!), and working together to shape this thing (shoutout to my homeboy Aaron too!). There have been ebbs and flows around how much we can contribute week to week but it always balances out, and on the whole we’re better together. Each of us bring our own ingredients to the table, that make our special sauce that is Producing Paradise, you know?

Actually, there’s a learning in that:

3. Figure out what you’re good at, but also what you want to do

We’re in the process of deciding what each of our roles and responsibilities should be on this project — both where we need distinct boundaries, and where it makes sense to share. Will one of us become the ‘editor’? Perhaps someone else handles ‘operations’? And what about ‘marketing’? Or ‘website development’?

For example, up until now Aimee has been handling our WordPress theme edits as she’s the most familiar with how to do it, but if Lil or I want to upskill in that area, we might agree to take over the responsibility, or if it’s not of interest to Aimee any more, we might outsource that component instead.

It’s a balancing act, to marry up our available resources (like our time) with the jobs to be done (like writing posts), making sure this is aligned to our personal development goals (hello improved writing skills) and appropriate to the life stage of this project (hey, someday we might hire a developer!).

Which brings me to learning number four:

4. Be realistic. Be appropriate. But also be ambitious.

I’m the kind of person who usually has multiple personal projects on the go. I keep a list of project ideas, related Pinterest mood boards, and a Trello project board for anything that has graduated into something tangible. I thrive on being productive, both in my job and personal endeavours, but recently I’ve been thinking about the opportunity cost in selection of one project over another — in other words, what opportunity am I giving up by choosing something else?

I’ve learned that I need to be realistic about the time I have available, and how it can be used to maximise benefit. Is it better to half-ass 10 projects, or do an excellent job of one? The answer isn’t always to choose just one thing over another, but understanding what’s likely to be possible can help guide you towards the most appropriate choices.

Having said that, don’t underestimate what you can achieve: be ambitious! Dreaming beyond your current (or assumed) capabilities is one of the best ways to extend them. Get outside your wheelhouse. Set goals that stretch you. Figure out what you need to learn to get to the next level.

For example, we want Producing Paradise to become a community of like-minded people who can share ideas and help each other. We’ve never started a formal ‘online community’ of that level before, so we’re seeking to learn from other communities we’re involved in and setting up stepping stones to eventually achieve something bigger than what we can do on our own.

And here comes my final, but perhaps most important learning about starting a side project:

5. Stay true to yourself

One of my favourite aspects of this blog is that we get to be ourselves, unfiltered. We’re not tailoring our voice for the workplace, or our clients, or what we think people want to read. We’re doing things our own way, trying our darndest to stay true to ourselves, sound like ourselves, and share the process, warts and all.
We probably sound a little cheesy. I worry that my default tone can be patronising or overly formal. We’re definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee). But knowing we’re doing this for ourselves, and have already managed to bring this ‘producing blog thing’ into fruition is huge motivation to continue. Onwards and upwards. Pew pew pew.


Lil’s reflections

I’ve always had hustles, side projects, fingers in many pies. But Producing Paradise was a whole new board game for me, because for the first time, I wasn’t running solo. Hell, I had ~business partners~.

1. Collaboration is the name of the game

A successful team requires more input than a successful solo artist: more hours, more lateral thinking, more emotional investment. And for what, you say? So. Many. Goodies!

Starting a project with a crew is a completely different experience to going it alone. I didn’t know what I wanted from this project, and I don’t think anyone else did, unless we started talking. Literally just chewing the fat. Throwing around ideas. This kind of interaction is invaluable to my brain. I started levelling up just because I was around some smart people. No shit. I was inspired and encouraged to think outside my usual parametres, and I found that even a tiny nudge can lead you to a whole new world of ideas.

2. Honesty is the best policy

It’s hella easy to lie to yourself. I’m tired, I’m busy, I have a valid excuse. Not so when you’re in a team. If I was going to miss a deadline – which I have on this project, many times – that was fine, but I needed to be upfront and honest with myself about why. The reason was usually simple, but giving myself a minute to assess it, honestly, often gave me some personal insight which I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered.

3. Do it because you love it

We all agreed not to be hard on ourselves when we kicked off this project. Why? Because we wanted it to be a labour of love, not a chore. And  even though it might have taken us awhile to get to our current position, we’re still all having fun, learning, and genuinely wanting to be here.

4. Show the fuck up

I’m great at talking myself out of things. This project has taught me that sometimes (slash, most of the damn time), I just need to stick to my schedule. Book in it, and been there. I’ve never felt worse for just showing up. Maybe all I did was have a laugh with my partners, because we are lucky enough to be friends too. Or maybe I didn’t feel like writing, but as I sat down, I had a surge of inspiration. Give yourself some flex, some unfocused time, to let your brain wander. But if it’s important to you, put some time into it. Even if you don’t know what that time will look like quite yet.


Aimee’s reflections

Starting Producing Paradise has been a really eye opening experience. I wanted to touch on the notion of being able to move forward as a team rather than as an individual, about how setting deadlines but remaining flexible has been a realistic way of handling this side project, or about how simply just being honest with yourself can make all the difference in the success or failure of a side project. But I don’t need to, Jess and Lil have covered all these points in great detail above and I concur with every point they’ve made. Instead here’s some additional takeaways I’ve found as I reflect back on the journey so far:

1. Have a focus and keep it moving

One thing that I’ve found helpful throughout all stages of our project is to have clear plans, goals and targets at every step. When we first started chatting about what Producing Paradise could be, we had a never-ending list of ideas. It was important for us to break these down and prioritise, so that we could continue to push forward. This is something we do at all stages, whether it be a meeting agenda, a monthly post theme or a due date on a to do.

When the three of us have a project meeting, we really get chatting. We go into the meeting (wow, so formal!) with a curated list of items ordered by priority. This keeps us focused, and allows us to tick the most time sensitive items off our list. We of course have time to catch up on what our pets are doing, what we’re having for dinner and what episode we’re on of The Bold Type.

Another example is that we have regular post themes – our first being Producer 101 – this has been a great way for us to keep producing (💅🏼) posts regularly and remain focused. When we’re seeking inspiration, we look at what our theme is for the month. If we have a great post idea but haven’t written any for the months theme, we know to shelve it for a future date. Both of these tactics have been great at remaining focused and helping to keep things moving.

2. Celebrate all achievements

As Jess noted above, one of our intentions for Producing Paradise is for it to become a community of like-minded people who can share ideas and help each other. Only when I step back to write this post, I realise that in the process of starting Producing Paradise we’ve already got the makings of a community amongst the three of us. I’ve had the pleasure of working professionally with both Jess and Lil (at different times), though, it wasn’t until we started Producing Paradise and chatting about ‘career’ things that we started to regularly share inspiration with one another: podcasts, articles, tools and tips to name a few. In their presence I’ve grown, developed and learned a lot! I’ve gathered inspiration from them both, and I’ve been excited to share ideas with them too. This to me is the essence of what we set out to achieve with Producing Paradise: a community (even if it is just the three of us to begin with 👩‍👩‍👧).

3. It’s ok to not be in control

Working on a project with two other producer-types has taught me to chill, just a little. Anyone that knows me or has worked with me knows that, well, quite simply I like to be in control… I think it’s to do with my personality type, and something of which being a project manager feeds into. Jess and Lil are both organised as hell, are systematic with their decisions and love order. Working on Producing Paradise alongside them both has taught me that it’s ok to step back, to let someone else make decisions, lead a meeting, or simply update a due date on a to do (thanks Jess!). I don’t need to do it all, and making sure I am indeed stepping back allows me to grow and learn from the two amazing ladies that I’m getting to work alongside. I think there’s a lesson I can apply here to the rest of my life, but baby steps…


tl;dr

As you might’ve gathered by now, we’re figuring most things out as we go; holding onto what works, and dropping what doesn’t. This reflection post gave us a chance to stop and think about what we’ve learned so far, what’s going well, and what we’re appreciating the most… which seems to be each other 🤗💖





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Producing Paradise

Three ladies of digital producer ilk: Jess Allison, Aimee Cowie and Lilith Palmer.

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