How A Side Project Shapes You (Nine Years Of YATM)
The projects we help to shape and make, also change us.
You Are The Media has just hit the milestone of being active for nine years. I never would have thought that it would have built momentum from an idea to an initiative that keeps going.
Where we are today, YATM has not moved mountains, it doesn’t have a pop-up to ask people to join 34,765 like-minded peers, become a revered industry practice or become the blueprint for a business approach. It sits quietly, it builds and it welcomes people who want to join in.
Some figures for you as of October 2022:
436 weeks of YATM newsletters
39 live in-person events
16 live online events
1 deleted database (by mistake)
What I want to highlight here, is not to wallow in self-congratulation, but to show you how a side project can give you the ultimate freedom.
Nine years and I am still happy with what it has delivered personally and professionally. I don’t think this would have happened if I just pursued it under my own name (as a personal brand project) or championed my business.
Why It Matters
YATM started as a way to test the water with something new, whilst I also maintained my main business (a marketing consultancy).
A side project is a stand-alone entity where people don’t make judgements ie. entice people to buy from the main business but where you can practice new skills, deliver ideas you want to test and a creative space to take risks (that does not affect another business).
The reason YATM is still here is that if you truly believe in something, you have to stand next to the project and speak up for it, even when few are listening. When it started it was all about me, now I’m starting to move into the background a little bit more and let others bring their own magic.
Let me start with the challenges and then the joy.
The Challenges Of Having A Side Project
This is where I have sometimes struggled or recognised that it is not as easy as I thought it could be.
People who don’t know what YATM is?
If the side project was called ‘Marketing Know How’ or ‘Business Owners Prestige Club’ or ‘Social Media Compass Institute’ then people would make that association with the name and the discipline it represents. When you start something from zero and even years later, the majority of people will not know at first glance what it is. The overall promise for YATM is ‘the supportive marketing learning community’ but can be difficult when it is the name that you want people to buy into and not a person.
You can’t do it all yourself.
If you want to up the ante and start to widen the scope of the project, if it’s all on you, you’ll burn out. This is why many projects come to an end as it’s the balance between main work and side project that becomes problematic. If YATM was centred on video courses then perhaps different, you can take on a large bulk of the work. The longer YATM has been around the easier it is for people to trust in terms of longevity, so decisions become easier to commit to. However, when bringing higher ticket items such as a conference in 2018, I took too much on board and became ill.
Buy-in might not be as quick as you hope.
When you begin, the enthusiasm takes you to somewhere else and the possibilities are immense. In reality, growth can be a lot slower. Perhaps a database of under 3,000 people is quite underwhelming after 9 years (the database is cleaned every six months)? Even if you constantly work on the project, if you measure success by how large the audience is, then it could hamper your motivation if you want a sizeable return.
Distractions are everywhere.
Initiatives that don’t complement the overall goal are everywhere. I am a believer in making mini bets (active in different places at the same time), but when part of your side project takes up a lot of your time, it can become indulgent. For instance, the YATM Podcast (2018 to 2020) was a 50-minute show with two interviews each fortnight, that was edited but just took too long.
The Joy It Brings
Nine years hopefully shows you that sticking with a project can be worthwhile. Not just in terms of financial return. It is so much more than that.
This has probably been my biggest return. When you are a part of your audience you recognise that you don’t need to create some form of hierarchy or distance between yourself and others, you work on ideas together. Everything is easier to figure out when you realise everyone is in the same space. You never know where a conversation might go, when friendships take precedence.
Being truly independent.
YATM is accountable to no initiative, it does not represent the aspirations of a much bigger entity and it is self funded. This is why the project continues as it’s something that I enjoy with the opportunities and learning that it provides. It also means that it can stand the test of time, rather than drift into obscurity.
Freedom to choose.
If you make something with your own hands, you can choose who joins your team and you choose yourself. During the first half of YATM it was there as a platform to give me exposure ie. talk at my own conference or host my own podcast. It is this freedom that is liberating. You don’t have to wait for someone else to select if you are worthy, you make that decision in the platform you control.
Shaping new ideas.
A side project allows you to explore and perhaps do the things that you wouldn’t be able to do from the main business. A side project champions creativity. What started as an email, I started sending on a Thursday morning in 2013, has helped bring others from overseas to the UK, launched in different locations and delivered ideas such as group learning, working with education and playing board games together. Having a blank sheet of paper but a belief to push and encourage the creative muscle is empowering.
Never holding back.
Having an identity (You Are The Media) rather than a name (Mark Masters) has meant creating something that has no prior reputation or association with others (read this article on how to create an alias). Having the satisfaction of saying, “I made this,” means your work will become a continuous live lab, rather than being constrained by a company name.
Much of my own personal development is down to YATM. It has been the platform to practice, refine and be better. This has meant opportunities have opened up to travel, to speak, to teach and to have the proof to present how everything works (in terms of building an audience that isn’t 100% reliant on social media). I am a firm believer in being open in public, that way you become your own case study. Sharing your vision with others supports your own growth.
Seeing others develop by just being involved.
When a community forms, people begin to know each other and this is where bonds make the whole project worthwhile. It feels very rewarding seeing people working together. This could be as podcast guests or working on live projects. It becomes this continual circle that feeds each other both in terms of enthusiasm and connection. What also happens is that encouragement becomes a central theme where people are seen and an association feels good.
Continual skill building.
This isn’t about reaching a point and then feeling satisfied, a side project means continually pushing the needle. For instance, I record audio of my weekly writing and turn it into a podcast, to check if my writing sounds like me. I then produce a video to sum up the main points and have the video captioned (have a look below). Captioning means I have learned to be more succinct with my delivery. Continual skill development is a by-product of having a place to always come back to.
Nine years ago, the world was not as connected as it is today. The opportunity to invent something from your own hands and thoughts presents a fantastic way to build within and to present from. It also provides the leverage for others to see and step up with you.
The best thing is that after nine years of YATM it is starting to take on a life of its own. It is something I am thankful for. It serves as proof that you can make something worthwhile alongside your main job or business.
Having your own project that you can come back to and be responsible for can mark your career.
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