How to Start? Full-time Indie Hacker vs Side Hustle

By Kevon Cheung in


February 20, 2021

Thanks to the launch of my Building in Public Definitive Guide, I've received a number of questions from readers.

One question is "What do you think about going full-time indie hacker vs side hustle? I know I want to run my own business in the future."

Here, I'd like to define Indie Hackers as anyone who codes or creates online independently.

I've tried both approaches, and the end goals are actually the same: I want to be my own boss. I want to have control over what I do, make a living, and live a happy life.

In late 2018, after I left the startup I was building for 4 years, I discovered the power of creating content online. Back then, YouTube videos were blowing up with so many new video creators.

I already knew that I love creating and if I could build an audience and become independent, that'd be my perfect life. So I started writing scripts, shooting, and editing videos.

I was full-time on it and spent 30-40 hours a week making one video. After 6 weeks, even though I had 6 well-crafted videos on YouTube, I decided to give up.

2 years later, which is now, I'm back to creating. I chose writing to be my primary medium because it is just more "me", but this time around I'm doing it part-time and using freelancing to fill in the temporary gap.

Let me compare the two experiences for you.

Pressure of having no income

Whether you're creating content or a product online, it takes a significant time in the early days before it takes off. It takes most creators a full year before there is presentable traction.

Back then, when I moved from a high-paying startup role to a full-time video creator, I started from $0. Because of that, I was giving myself pressure that I had to start making some money. If I couldn't do that, then maybe I wasn't qualified to be a full-time creator.

The immense pressure drove me to focus on the wrong things. Instead of creating content that could help people, I was more focused on growing the number of views and subscribers. I wanted the numbers to grow so bad that every day after I woke up, I was pushing myself to discover ways to monetize.

Now, I know that I have to take that pressure off me so that I could allow my curiosity and interests to lead me to create amazing things. And I choose to freelance to seek a balance.

This is also why some of the best creators out there started their projects as a side hustle when the pressure was low. Amazing things often happen when someone is having fun.

Sorry, but it takes time

You might wonder that if you go full-time, you're able to accelerate project growth and get there sooner. I'd like to say yes to that, but unfortunately, the answer is no.

Almost everything on and off the Internet takes time.

You need time to build relationships with the right people. You need time to curate the first 1,000 fans. You need time to wait for SEO to kick off. When you reach out to people, you need time to wait for their replies.

Back then doing it full-time, I only gave myself 6 weeks to prove myself. That wasn't enough time.

Now that I understand it takes time, I've given myself a slow start. It has been 3 months since I first started and I still haven't made a dollar, and I'm okay with it. Because my results from launching my guide showed me that I'm on the right track.

Can you see clearly?

When you have all the time in the world, you tend to do a lot of unimportant things.

When I was full-time, I did a lot to keep myself busy and productive. I was writing scripts, I was shooting videos, I was editing, I was distributing and promoting, etc. It was an intense one-man factory.

Other than the essentials of creating videos, I also spent too much time on irrelevant things like adding effects to my videos.

Now that I'm part-time with freelancing work to deliver to my clients, I have less time available. This means I must choose wisely where I spend my time. Instead of doing more, I spend time thinking and planning to make sure I am working on things that actually move the needle.

In a way, I'm a lot more productive because I'm doing it part-time.

Don't chase after an idea that is evolving

Whenever you have a fresh idea and start to explore it, you'll find the idea changing based on the new information and thoughts you have. You know that you have to make these adjustments to start getting your rewards (income).

When I was doing it full-time, I was desperate to evolve my idea. "How can my videos help me make money? What if I contact other creators to collaborate?" these questions popped into my head and I was spinning in circles.

Now, as pressure is off, I learn to slow down, sit back, listen to people, and think through what that information means to me. I am not in a hurry to finalize my idea, instead, I am taking baby steps to understand my strengths and values. This includes talking to people in my circles and listening carefully to my target audience.

You can't force an idea. But if you slow down and open your eyes and ears, you'll find it.

So, create the best environment to strive

Over the years, I've learned that the best way to move forward is to create and maintain an environment that I can stay true to myself, hence doing my best work.

Starting as a side hustle allows you to have the time, space, and creativity to do the right things.

Of course, there are people out there who can start from scratch, do it full-time, and be super successful, but you don't need to follow that. You have no idea what the behind the scenes is. Perhaps they started part-time but they didn't tell you. Don't pay attention to that.

Whatever you do, know that this is going to be a marathon, so you're better off training slowly and adding the mileage each week than forcing yourself to sprint right away.

And remember to build in public throughout your journey to maximize your potential. This is my free Building in Public guide to help you get started and my free email course, Making Twitter Friends, to help you build genuine relationships.

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