Craig Rodney is passionate about photography. He has spent years growing one of South Africa’s biggest tourism accounts on Instagram and many more hours developing his own photography skills.
Craig is not a full-time photographer, and he doesn’t make any money off his ‘passion project’, what others might call a ‘side hustle’. As CEO of a communications agency, he says the best part about his passion project is that he doesn’t need to make money off it and is, therefore, not beholden to anyone but himself. The second-best part is that he didn’t need anyone’s permission to start it.
“I started the @southafrica Instagram account four years ago. Today, it’s bigger than the official tourism authority’s account, with more than 173,000 followers. I didn’t need permission to start the account. I didn’t need budget. The tools and technology I needed to launch my passion project were freely available.”
For Rodney, passion projects don’t necessarily have to make you a lot of money, but they should make you happy, and he believes everyone should have one.
You day job, however, should be something you’re good at, as this will give you the highest income return for the least amount of input. This then frees up time and money to work on a passion project and allows you to test and develop your skills, to make mistakes and to try again, without the risk of losing money.
“A passion project should feed your soul; it should be something you’re excited to work on at the end of a long day at the office,” he says.
In it for the long haul
But that’s not to say you should start a passion project with a view of leaving formal employment any time soon. Rather, it should be something you nurture over time to the point that it could support you financially and intellectually later in life.
People are living longer than ever before, thanks to technological and medical innovations. This means we’ll all have to support ourselves financially for a lot longer – and retiring at 55 is not really an option anymore.
“A 60- or 70-year-old is not going to be able to keep up with the 20-somethings in the corporate world, but they also can’t afford not to work. Someone who has nurtured a passion project will have that financial safety net later in life,” says Rodney.
Developments in technology and the free – or cost-effective – availability of digital tools means you have no excuse not to create something, says Rodney. “If you’re passionate about web development, don’t wait around for someone to ask for your services. Find an NGO and build a website for them for free. If you’re passionate about photography, get out there and take photographs, catalogue them and sell them online. It costs you nothing but time and commitment.”
“There are so many people online who are desperately looking for something cool, so if you’re passionate about something, just do it; don’t wait for an opportunity, make your own. The moment you know what you want to do, the rest becomes easier,” he says.
In Africa, side hustling has its roots in the informal economy, where people have little choice but to take up second jobs in order to survive. But the informal economy plays a vital role in that it provides goods and services to those who are beyond the reach of the formal economy, says development economist Anzetse Were. “The reach of formal businesses in Kenya is constrained by factors such as infrastructure, market size and propensity to spend.
As a result, Kenyans in remote areas and low-income earners are often left out of the formal sector net. But the informal sector can cost goods lower than formal enterprises because they do not bear the costs of formalisation, such as taxes. Thus, informal businesses are the first choice for the purchase of goods and services.”
Formalising the informal economy
It is for this reason that many economists are hesitant to impose regulations and red tape on the informal economy, saying this will stifle entrepreneurship.
“There should be a distinct effort by governments to improve the efficiency, productivity and profitability of the informal economy. As it is often the poorly skilled who find themselves stuck in the informal economy, they need to be supported to manage and scale their businesses,” says Were.
For Rodney, governments should make it legal to operate informally, at least until a business gets to a certain size. He adds that governments should focus on skills development and on helping the youth to understand what their opportunities are.
“Every single person has multiple skill sets. Anyone can build and create for whatever reason – for passion, for money, for networking,” says Rodney. “People in Africa have lots of problems so there are a lot of opportunities and the world is waiting for people with solutions. It just takes one person with a passion – no budget or permission – to unlock massive business opportunities.”