Ask TGD 002: From Passion Project to Day Job

Elizabeth,

We get asked this often. First, it’s important to mention that monetizing TGD was never the goal. It started as a passion project and a creative outlet, something we could collaborate on together. For the first two and a half years, our main financial support came from day jobs. Ryan ran a small design and creative studio in Michigan, and then took a full-time creative director position when we moved to New York; I had a full-time social work job, and then transitioned into copywriting. Because we had other sources of income, there was no pressure to quickly monetize TGD. Initially, it only required our time and skill sets, which we were both prepared to invest.

We’ve talked to others who have also experienced the unexpected joy of a side project turning into full-time opportunities, like Austin Kleon, who, when speaking about the evolution of his writing career, said, “Nothing was ever planned. It’s interesting looking back. All three of my day jobs have come from a side project.” We can relate.

And we love what designer and entrepreneur, Tina Roth Eisenberg, said about the power of side projects when we interviewed her: “Believe in side projects. Tattly was a side project; swissmiss was a side project; CreativeMornings was a side project; TeuxDeux was a side project. These are all things that turned into revenue streams for me and made it possible to not have clients. I would never hire anyone who doesn’t have side projects. To me, that shows that someone has ideas, self-initiative, and can make things happen.”

So how did we get here? Well, we launched TGD and carried out our vision for it. Week after week, we published interviews with people working in a variety of creative disciplines. We told the stories of those people, who candidly shared about their early years, “Aha!” moments, mentors, personal and professional risks, and the rewards and challenges of their work. Slowly, a growing community of readers embraced TGD.

But you really want to know about the money part, so let’s get to that. While we were prepared to continue publishing and keep our day jobs, we were also interested in exploring ways to bring in revenue because we wanted to make TGD more than a side project. In order to do that, TGD needed to be financially sustainable so that we could transition out of our day jobs. We’d had companies reach out about ads, which we thought about, but, ultimately, we decided not to include traditional advertisements or banner ads on the site.

But we did want to explore other ways to bring in revenue, and we wondered if any companies might be interested in being part of what we were doing via sponsorships. Six months in, we launched a tiered sponsorship model that allowed companies to back a weekly interview for six months, a year, or forever. Some weeks were sponsored, and some were not, but it was a good start; we used that model for the rest of 2012. The following year, in 2013, we offered weekly sponsorships at one price across the board. We were still working day jobs, but, thankfully, that revenue helped underwrite some of the time we were spending on TGD.

This last year, in January 2014, we announced a new partnership model, which helped us make the transition to focusing on TGD! We now have yearly partners who underwrite our content and are part of everything we do—thank you MailChimp, Typekit, and Media Temple for partnering with us! Additionally, we’ve continued to supplement the support we receive from partners by taking on limited freelance clients and working on our own projects, like our first printed issue.

It’s a process, and it takes time. Like Cameron Moll, founder of Authentic Jobs, said when we spoke to him: “I had a passion for web design and I started writing about it. Within two years, I had a well-trafficked site, job offers from notable companies, and I eventually had offers to speak at conferences and write books…The timing was good for me, but I was also consistent and didn’t give up. A lot of people ask me, ‘How can I do the same thing you’ve done?’ They’re expecting something overnight. If they write three or four blog posts and nothing happens, they give up. I tell people, ‘Look two years down the road. Have a passion, write about that passion for two years, and see where it goes.'”

In August, we celebrated three years of TGD, and we have ambitious plans for the next three years—and beyond! And yet, it’s difficult to predict where projects will lead or the opportunities they’ll bring. We have hopes and dreams for the future of TGD, but we’re also open to the unexpected. And as we continue to build this brand that we love, we’re embracing a mantra similar to Cameron’s: Be consistent, don’t give up, and see what happens. No matter your pursuit, we’d encourage you to do the same.

Cheers,
Tina (& Ryan, too)

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