When is it OK to tell your client about your side project?

If you work for yourself and have a strong desire to dedicate your energy to a significant creative project, you might wonder what your clients think. Some people may question why it matters, but you are more conscientious than that. Perhaps your creative pursuits align with the services you provide, or maybe they don’t. However, if you don’t let your clients know about your side projects, you are hiding, not only from them but also from yourself.

Welcome to Morning Creative. I’m Mark Steadman, and I have an unstoppable passion for creating things. Now, let’s talk about Pomplamoose, a musical duo from California. They derived their name from the French word “pamplemousse,” which means grapefruit. They make alternative music and frequently cover songs. I discovered them through another podcast. The members of Pomplamoose are Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte. Jack Conte may sound familiar because he is also the co-founder and CEO of Patreon, the world’s largest platform for supporting creators. Well done, Jack.

Now, let me introduce myself. Hi, I’m Mark. In 2019, I wrote a children’s book. I also create music and have released a cover song in 2019. A couple of years ago, I even released a three-song EP. You can find music on my YouTube channel as well. I wrote my children’s book under a pseudonym, and until recently, I performed music under the name Barnard Star.

Over the years, I’ve kept various aspects of my creative work separate, especially during my time as a tech leader. I had a software platform for podcasters and a substantial customer base. I believed that my customers should not be burdened with my creative pursuits outside of that company. I want to emphasize the word “burdened” here because it carries a significant weight.

But why should expressing your creativity, something you believe in, be seen as a burden? If all you’re doing is sharing what you’ve created, without forcing it upon anyone, why would it be burdensome? The truth is, it wouldn’t, unless you feel like a burden yourself. That’s a topic for another day, but it’s worth reflecting on. If you feel like sharing your work would burden others, take a moment to consider what that says about you and your self-perception. I recommend reading “The Big Leap” by Gay Hendricks, as it may help challenge those negative thoughts.

Now, let’s talk about Jack Conte. Do you think he cares if Patreon customers see his music? I believe he does because he likely wants more people to discover it. He is not hiding his creative work from Patreon customers. In fact, it adds to his credibility as a creator. Being closely connected to the essence of being an independent creator is part of the Pomplamoose, Jack Conte, and Patreon mythos.

This principle also applies on a smaller scale. For example, imagine my stand-up course leader, whom I see every Monday, gets booked to record a live episode of a popular podcast. If he had to cancel one of our sessions for that opportunity, I would be thrilled. Not only would it be exciting to be taught by someone who appeared on a successful podcast, but I genuinely like him and want good things for him.

As I transitioned from the tech industry to consulting, I had the same thought about sharing my creative pursuits with clients. Initially, I thought my clients didn’t need to know about my side projects. I believed they didn’t have time for it and would not be interested. At the beginning, when the relationship is more service-oriented than personal, this may be true. However, being personable and open is part of who I am as a freelancer and consultant. I don’t just provide a closed-off, nine-to-five version of myself. As a result, my relationships with clients have become closer, and some have even turned into genuine friendships. And as we all know, friends share things with each other.

Even if your clients are not your friends, some may still take an interest in your personal endeavors. After all, your clients are also human beings who have their own interests. They may appreciate what you create, even if it is not directly related to their own needs.

Let’s address the concern about clients not liking the genre or relevance of your creative work. For example, I once mentioned to a client that I was involved in improv comedy. However, they expressed their dislike for improv, finding it cringeworthy. It was clear that they would not enjoy my improv performances, and that was perfectly fine. Just like not everyone liking Marmite, some clients may not resonate with certain types of creativity. It doesn’t mean they dislike you as a person; it simply means your creative work is not their cup of tea.

Now, what if your client is a large corporation? Well, surprise, surprise, big companies are made up of individual human beings. And as I mentioned before, humans have their own interests and preferences. The people you work with and serve within a big company may genuinely appreciate what you create, as they too have lives outside of work.

Let me recount an experience from 2008 when I was interviewing for a contracting position. During the interview, the interviewer brought up a video I had recorded, which he found on social media. It was a joke video, somewhat unprofessional and not something I would lead with in a professional setting. We had a conversation about it, and as we were leaving the building, he told me he found it quite funny. This incident reminded me that there is a line between our professional and personal lives. However, sometimes the person behind the job title might genuinely enjoy what you create.

So, do we need to draw a firm line between our professional relationships and our creative work? To some extent, yes. But how thick and well-defined should that line be? You might be surprised by how many people will support you on a personal level. As long as they know that you are still fulfilling your professional obligations and delivering the same high standard, they are more likely to appreciate and support your extracurricular activities. For freelancers who work directly with clients, this is especially important. However, even in larger companies, personal connections and interests can still play a role.

When we discuss letting people know about our creative endeavors, it is not about promotion or pushing our work onto others. It is about being open and not hiding who we are. We should be mindful of not crossing the line into pushing our work onto clients or colleagues who may not be interested. Most of us are aware of this boundary and respect it. However, we also don’t want to hide away. We want to ensure that we are not hiding.

So, if you find yourself hiding or feeling reluctant to share your creative work, take a moment to ask yourself why. Who are you hiding from, and why are you hiding? What would happen if you were caught? Are you actually doing anything wrong?

I recall a pastry chef from a television show who became interested in patisserie despite it not being his main job. He had to navigate the challenge of balancing his main responsibilities with his passion for pastry. It is something we need to be aware of. I have personally experienced this while working traditional jobs. There have been moments when someone looked over my shoulder, and I panicked because I was working on something unrelated to my job. However, as I mentioned earlier, you are conscientious and unlikely to let this become an issue. But it’s still something to keep in mind. Remember, you are not trying to take anything away from your client relationships. As long as you meet your obligations or have clear communication with your clients about your focus and priorities, your creative pursuits should complement, not hinder, your work.

Lastly, I want to emphasize that we are not talking about self-promotion here. It’s crucial to maintain the professional boundaries of your relationships. Pushing your work onto others without their consent is not what this is about. Instead, it’s about being open and ensuring that you are not hiding who you truly are.

So, if you ever find yourself hesitating to share your creative work, pause and reflect on why. Remember that many people, especially those who trust and appreciate you, will support you on a personal level. As long as you maintain professionalism and communicate your priorities, your clients may even become fans and advocates of your creative endeavors. So, stop hiding and share the incredible things you’re making with the world.

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