When it comes to new projects (for me, a new blog or a website), you could say that I’m commitment phobic. For a long time I was more interested in the ideas behind a new project than the execution, leading to a long trail of half-finished projects — and some that never made it out of my notebook.
I found my mind wandering as I was trying to sleep a few days ago and hit upon a project idea that excited me. I could run it alongside Skelliewag. It would only be a hobby thing — nothing serious. My neurons started firing as I began to plan what I’d do when I woke up (ensuring it would be another hour or so before I finally drifted off).
One moderating influence I’m grateful for — in hindsight — was being unable to get online the next day. When I finally sat down to think about this new project, I noticed that something had changed since I started working with this blog.
Instead of leaping into the process of choosing a domain name and making the project a reality, I started to ask myself some hard questions. They’re not fun to answer — particularly when you’re feeling inspired and excited — but they have the potential to save you a lot of time and, potentially, a lot of money.
(A note: I’m deliberately avoiding specifics about my idea so you might be better able to see yourself in the process. My apologies to the curious!)
1. What are my end goals with the project?
If you don’t know where you want the journey to end, you can’t do anything except wander around in circles. The first step in starting any new project is to work out where you want to end up. You can then start to reverse-engineer everything else from that point.
I decided that my goals for the project — the point where I’d be satisfied with it — were to build an active niche forum with a blog off-shoot. I would be catering to a really small niche, so grand aspirations didn’t figure into it.
This question is probably the easiest of the five, because it allows you to stay firmly in that comfortable realm where you’re thinking about the end product in ignorance of the ‘How‘ question. What’s involved in getting there?
The Honeymoon didn’t last for long!
2. What will I have to do to reach those goals?
Like any strong structure, worthy goals tend to have more than one foundation. I split my goals into two:
- Build a thriving forum to serve a very small niche.
- Create a blog offshoot to convert blog readers into forum members (and vice versa).
As I considered both these necessary steps, some difficulties began to spring up immediately.
- I don’t know how to promote a forum — though I could probably learn.
- The niche I’m targeting is already partially served by a few different forums. How could I move them to leave — or participate in more than one forum?
- There’s little opportunity for off-blog promotion because there are very few active sites in the niche. In other words, there’s nowhere to guest post or comment *gulp*.
- I’ll have to create blog content on a topic I’m not an expert on.
- I’ll have to moderate the forums, or get others to do so. In my previous experiences being a forum admin, this hasn’t been fun!
While none of these challenges are insurmountable, they did start to cause me some worry. Which was a good thing. It meant that I was starting to take the ‘How’ question into account.
At this stage, it’s important to break up your goals into the separate chunks required to achieve them. Then comes the difficult task of identifying the necessary steps you’ll need to take — and the potential problems with each step.
Photo by striatic (CC license).
3. Do I have enough ideas and inspiration?
Ideas are the fuel behind any new project. While two or three good ideas can be enough to get you excited, a successful project requires a lot of good ideas over an extended period of time.
I’ve started many projects only to find that I ran out of steam after a month or so. I wasn’t inspired and the content started to bore me. The finished product I had in mind seemed far removed from the regular drudge of creating the content required to get there.
It’s not quite enough to be passionate about something. You also need to be passionate about writing about it. That’s an ugly sentence, but it’s the truth. There are a lot of topics I’m passionate about — topics I thought would make the perfect subject of a blog or website — only to find that my passion didn’t extend quite so far as to enjoy writing about it semi-daily.
The process for answering this question is simple, but it’s a step many of us (myself included) have been reluctant to take. Essentially, you need to start before you start.
- You should be able to brainstorm 20-30 ideas for content. If you can’t make it, that’s a warning sign.
- You should aim to write five or so content items for the project before you start thinking about a name. If you can’t make it, that’s a warning sign. If you make it but didn’t enjoy it, that’s another sign you might be running into trouble.
4. Do I have enough time?
This is one question which seems to be a recurring theme in most of our lives.
The short of it is this: if you’re not juggling any other projects, you can make enough time. You may just have to pace yourself. If your goals are attached to a time-frame, then you run into a problem.
If you’re adding the new project on top of an existing one, this question becomes even more important. If you’re dedicating all your available web time to your existing blog or website, then you’re either going to have to make more time or redistribute the time between the two sites.
Between Skelliewag and freelancing, I simply couldn’t make more time without stealing it from one of my other projects. At the moment, I’m not willing to do that.
5. Will it impact on my other projects?
An offshoot of the previous question, and the final one you need to consider. A new project often requires you to sacrifice some part of your old project — unless you take time from elsewhere.
Unless you spend large swathes of time doing absolutely nothing, something will have to be sacrificed. This is another oft-overlooked factor in the ‘Eureka!’ moment behind a new project idea. You need to be sure the project will be worth the sacrifice, whether it’s less time with the Playstation or less time working on your magnum opus.
Wrapping up loose ends
I hope this list of hard questions will be useful to those of you flirting with the idea of starting a new project or running two (or more) projects at the same time. It might also be a resource you return to if the desire strikes in future.
It’ll also be interesting to see whether any of you feel this list could be applied to projects in other fields — from a new business venture to a new novel.
To wrap up my personal story, the new project I’ve been thinking about is on hold indefinitely. (Much like Lynne Spears’ parenting book). Before I start, I need to figure out how to make it work without taking time away from the things that are most important to me.
With Leo Babauta, J. D. Roth and Maki (who each work harder than me already) all starting new projects alongside their existing ones, I can only think: if they can do it, I have no excuse not to try. But first, I need to take the time to think before acting on impulse.
It’s taken me seven years to develop the ability to do that. If you find it hard, you’re not alone.