Losing a client is an unfortunate reality of running a service-based business.
That’s exactly what happened to me in June after I landed what I thought was a dream client for my communications agency JL&Co.
(Spoiler: I was very, very wrong.)
We parted ways after just two weeks of working together, and I suddenly found myself with an abundance of free time for the summer.
As many entrepreneurs know, summer tends to be a slower time in the business world. I receive fewer inquiries than other times of the year and rarely start on new client projects between June and August.
With this knowledge in mind, I decided to transform my temporary setback into an opportunity.
Instead of seeking out new client work, I turned my attention to a few personal projects that I’ve pushed to the back burner because of my busy work schedule.
I called it “The Summer of Passion Projects.”
According to The Passion Co., passion projects are “creative side projects that are connected to your deeper meaning and they have tangible outcomes.”
Sounds fun, right? I bet you have a list of passion projects that you’d like to get to eventually, too.
You know what I’m talking about—those fun bonus projects that don’t directly relate to your job or business (or maybe they do!), but energize and excite you, nonetheless. Those projects that constantly get pushed to the bottom of your to-do list, but you tell yourself, “One day …”
Yeah, those projects.
Your passion project could be:
We all have passion project ideas up our sleeves—and truthfully, it would serve us well to make these passion projects more of a priority because of the fulfillment they give us, which often transfers into our work and other tasks.
A conversation with Crystal Richard, one of my business besties, inspired my personal “Summer of Passion Projects.”
In an Instagram post announcing the news, Crystal wrote:
Why am I grinning like seagull with a french fry? Because if you swim over to the @sandytoes_shop account, you will see that I just unveiled its brand new logo 🌊 And believe me when I say, this is just the first of many things I have planned for the shop this summer ☀️ 〰️ You see, I made some PRETTY big decisions over the last few months (another reason why I’m cartwheeling through life these days) 🤸🏼♀️ I knew it would be absolutely crazy of me to run my consulting biz at full capacity AND try to grow a little shop that truly began as a passion project. 〰️ But then I had a major realization – who owns both of these businesses? Me 🙋🏼This is why I chose this lifestyle – to have the flexibility and freedom to do all the things I love. So after some long chats and number crunching with my favorite accountant + partner in all of this (@dandaccountant) – I made the exciting decision not to sign any new clients until September. 〰️ Scaled back summer office hours means I get to spend the next three months creating amazing stories with a handful of incredible clients AND I get to bring more of my ideas for Sandy Toes to life. This also means more pop-up appearances at markets. And oh yeah, plenty of fried clams + beach days too ✌🏻 〰️ What does your perfect summer look like? Are you making it happen? 〰️ 〰️ 〰️ 〰️ #heartfollower #creativeentrepreneur #nbproud #workfromwherever #ladyboss #makewaves #newbrunswickcanada #glitterguide #myunicornlife #girlbosslife #girlboss #bossbabe #dowhatyoulove #create #publicist #ladiesgoneglobal #entrepreneurlife #theartofslowliving #femaleentrepreneur #contentcreator #livethelittlethings #savvybusinessowner #buildingmyempire #calledtobecreative #smallbusinessowner #creativeentrepreneur #moncton
I remember thinking how awesome it was that Crystal was giving herself the gift of an entire summer to cultivate the other parts of her life and business that she’s passionate about.
But here’s the truth: I was also totally jealous. I had just signed that big client and knew I wouldn’t have any extra time this summer to do anything but work.
Luckily, the universe had other plans for me.
As soon as I finished licking my wounds after losing said client, I discovered the hidden opportunity to consciously slow down and use this “bonus” time fruitfully to pursue the passion projects that make me happy.
Need more convincing to dedicate time to your own passion project? Here are four compelling reasons to get a jump-start on one now.
It can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day shuffle of your online business or your client work, and forget about what it was that got you excited about what you do in the first place.
When I started getting busier in my business, the first item removed from my to-do list was guest blogging for other websites like this one.
Even though I write in some capacity every single day, a few years into running my business, I realized something important: I missed writing for fun. Something was lacking—my passion and excitement.
I know I’m not alone.
“Poetry and personal essays are what made me pick up the pen in the first place. And as difficult as it is to draw from the same creative well I use for paid work to create probably-unpaid projects that may never even see their way off my hard drive, it’s vital that I do so,” says freelance writer Jamie Cattanach. “Every time I work on my creative writing—my heart-writing—I find myself energized, inspired, and ready to kick more ass on the stuff I’m doing for my clients. It keeps me happy, focused, and feeling like my work has purpose.”
When you make time for projects that excite you, that passion naturally spreads into the other work you’re doing. Plus, it leaves you happier—and isn’t that a win for everyone?
No doubt, you’re an expert in whatever it is that you do.
Maybe you’re a freelance writer telling compelling stories on the daily, or you rock at social media, helping brands shine online.
Or, like Crystal, you’re a public relations pro turned shop owner.
“I know it may seem crazy and trust me, it’s a lot of work, but owning and running two businesses, in completely different industries, as a solo founder, has helped me grow as an entrepreneur in ways I could never have imagined,” says Crystal. “When you do one thing and you do it well, the learning component slows. Yes, you should always be learning new skills, but there’s only so many new things you can learn about your industry.”
Crystal says that starting another company in an industry completely foreign to her has helped her acquire skills that may turn out to be beneficial in other ways and with other companies or clients. For example, as a PR pro, Crystal regularly helps brands share their stories online to raise awareness or sell their product or services, but now as a shop owner, she can see firsthand the impact a well-placed media mention or killer social media post can have on the bottom line.
“I think having a side hustle or creative outlet is so important, because it switches things up for you and makes way for you to be inspired in other ways, while still growing as an entrepreneur,” Crystal explains. “And if you get to add another revenue channel to the mix because of that passion project? Even better!”
Many people start passion projects to satisfy a creative itch that may be lacking in their day job or business.
“I started my blog because I was looking for a resource for women like me about something that was new to me: Philadelphia. Now that I’m full-force in love with my city, I don’t want to stop sharing the things that make it special for each new Philly lady looking to make the city her home,” explains Emily Tharp, who works full-time in marketing and social media for a finance firm and runs the blog Her Philly as a side hustle and passion project.
Running Her Philly gives Emily the chance to exercise her creativity in a way that allows her to speak to a very different audience than who she aims to reach in her day job.
“Making time for my blog while working a full-time job is definitely not easy, and I work on finding the perfect balance all the time,” Emily says. “But I do know the sense of accomplishment, pride and pure happiness I feel when I get content up or when I run into a thankful reader at a concert, or a restaurant, or even an Uber Pool (It’s happened!) and I want to continue to chase that feeling as much as possible.”
Let’s face it: The day-to-day running of an online business can sometimes get repetitive, so finding a creative outlet can serve as a welcome reprieve, giving you something new to be excited about outside of your primary job.
Best of all, passion projects can actually help our businesses, either directly or indirectly.
“While it’s tough to find time for things other than client work, it always feels good to share a new project with the world,” says freelance writer Susan Shain. “Passion projects have allowed me to stretch myself creatively and make products I’m proud of, as well as solve problems for my community and help build my brand.”
For example, Susan’s passion project, a website called WhereToPitch.com, has helped brand her as an experienced freelance writer and journalist, helping to grow her writing contacts and land more gigs. She also wrote an e-book, “The Ultimate Guide to Seasonal Jobs,” which has helped brand her as an expert in the areas of travel and seasonal jobs, two topics she frequently writes about.
Here’s another way to think about it: Passion projects help switch things up in our daily routines. When we shift gears to a passion project, we can more easily prevent burnout, which can become prevalent when you’re so often working with the same subject.
With my plate cleared for the next few months, I felt a renewed sense of freedom—the same excitement and possibility that drives me on a daily basis to run my communications agency, JL&Co.
Here are the projects I settled on, along with an update on their progress, a month and a half into the experiment.
I’ve put this project off for far too long (for many reasons), so I vowed to make this summer the one where I’d hire a designer and kick off the rebranding to turn my years-old blog into a site that more clearly explains who I am today.
Redesigning my website will certainly help to propel my business forward, as a refreshed site will likely help me land new clients. It’s also a project that takes me pretty far away from my day-to-day work doing PR for clients and writing blog posts and articles for freelance clients, which I personally find refreshing.
Status: In progress! I signed a contract with a designer just last week, and our work officially begins in early August, with a launch date in November.
I’m teaching a PR Writing undergraduate course this fall, and with more time on my hands this summer, I have the bandwidth to take my time diving into each chapter, developing a lesson plan, and crafting homework assignments.
While truly nothing can prepare you to enter the classroom again after years away from being a student, I welcome the challenge to step outside my comfort zone. Teaching an undergraduate class will allow me the chance to flex my creativity in a newway.
Status: Making progress, but slower than I’d prefer. I’m a few chapters into the textbook, but have many more to go before the semester begins in late August.
With a passion for personal branding, I agreed to lead a branding workshop for yoga teachers at the studio where I became a yoga instructor three years ago.
I love personal branding, but I preach it day in and day out to my clients, so it’s a topic I’ve grown a bit stale on. However, developing this workshop gives me the opportunity to get back to the basics, and enlighten a brand new audience (in this case, yoga teachers) about the topic. Working on the content for the presentation has certainly given me a level of energy and excitement about branding that I haven’t felt in a long time.
Status: Complete! I gave the workshop in late June and can’t wait to offer it again in the fall. I also plan to tweak and tailor the workshop for other groups.
Do yourself a favor: Add your passion project to this week’s to-do list, even setting aside just 15 minutes to give your project the jump-start it deserves. You don’t have to wait until you lose a client or for a holiday or summer break to embrace the project you’re enthused about.
The best time to start? Right now.
Once your passion project is in motion, the benefits will become clear. You’ll find yourself more energized and excited, you’ll add to your ever-growing skillset, and you might even help boost your business or career.
And believe me, I get it. As a busy entrepreneur with a to-do list a mile long, or a writer with a backlog of assignments, it can feel selfish to set aside time to pursue a project that fills you with joy. I count myself lucky that I have extra time in this particular season, but I know that even when my business picks back up in the fall, I’m going to continue to nurture these passion projects.
Know that when you carve out time for your passion project, you’re improving yourself—and bringing a better, more refreshed, and creative version of you to your business or your job. Plus, you’re making things happen for yourself, and really, nothing feels more satisfying than that.
Jessica Lawlor is the founder and CEO of Jessica Lawlor & Company (JL&Co), a specialty communications agency focused on content management and creation and public relations. She's an accomplished writer, speaker and personal branding expert in the Philadelphia area. Check out her blog, focusing on the ins and outs of running a business, productivity and stepping outside your comfort zone.