The best way to learn and to grow is to try something new, and nothing helps you learn more effectively than a side project.
The Personal MBA started as a side project / experiment – I created everything you see on this website part-time while holding a full-time day job. The Personal MBA has provided (and continues to provide) an opportunity for me to learn how to build useful websites, discover what people find valuable, conduct research, spread ideas, teach people what I know, and sell my services and expertise. Over time, it grew into a business capable of supporting my family full-time – not bad for a project that started out with zero profit motive.
Learning happens naturally when you care about what you’re doing. When you have a side project, you naturally develop a strong desire to learn new things because you discover that you need to develop your skills in order to accomplish what you have in mind.
Even the setbacks in your side project provide priceless learning opportunities. For example, I mentioned in my interview with David McKelfresh that one of my most frustrating experiences was being unable to handle all of the visitors when the Personal MBA was featured by Lifehacker in July. While the experience wasn’t fun, I ultimately learned a lot about web server optimization and Linux system administration – skills I’m now using to improve other projects. Before the issue, I had little interest in learning these skills. Now, I’m using what I learned through that experience every day.
The subjects you can learn via side projects are endless. Having a potential business idea will help you learn about business planning and funding. Creating a new product will help you discover better ways to identify needs, market the benefits, and close sales. Having a website or blog will help you learn how to use HTML and CSS. Having a product idea will help you learn about licensing and negotiation. Having a business to manage will give you an incentive to learn about accounting, finance, policy, and legal topics. To begin, all you need is an idea and the desire to get started – the rest takes care of itself.
By publicly committing to a side project, wonderful things happen: (1) you’re far more likely to follow through, and (2) you start developing a network of individuals who support you because they’re interested in what you’re doing. To help this process along, I’ve created a dedicated forum in the Personal MBA Community devoted to discussing side projects.
I’m challenging you to commit to a side project that will stretch your comfort zone and encourage you to learn more this year than you have in the last 12 months. If business knowledge and growth is a priority for you this year, I encourage you to choose a business-related project, but your side project could be anything you want to learn more about.
To help, here are some tips on how to choose a side project:
Commit to your side project now in the Personal MBA Community forums, and reach out to help other Personal MBA Community members who are doing interesting things. I look forward to seeing what you’re working on this year!
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