Why your side-hustle sucks
A view from Ben Middleton

Why your side-hustle sucks

When did it become acceptable to treat what we do as just a means to make money, rather than create marvellous things that people love?

Bin men, Amazon warehouse workers and cremation technicians all require the same entry qualifications as the creative department. It’s fair to say most of us have landed on our feet here. But for a growing gang, the day job is no longer enough; they’ve got themselves a "side-hustle", and, by Trivago, they’re going to compromise the hell out of their work in its pursuit.

We creatives love to wang on about how we fought tooth and nail to get our foot in the door and work with incredible people on a quest to learn the ropes, create massive cultural impact and max out our mum’s pride-o-meter. So when did the dream die? When did all that "pain" and "effort" stop being worth the blood-spattered layout pad it was scrawled on? And when did it become acceptable to treat what we do as just a means to make money, rather than create marvellous things that (real) people love?

It baffles me that people are preoccupied with organic whisky-marmalade empires, shooting shorts about supermarket car-washers or knocking up websites for their pal’s hip-hop ballet club night, when so much of what’s being made is swilling around with the bin juice.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that outside interests aren’t a good thing; they’re a vital ingredient in what makes up a lively, creative mind. Idiosyncratic, diverse interests and passions make for unique, more exciting and fresh perspectives on lawn fertiliser (etc) after all. But when those interests become a distraction from the opportunities in front of us, we’re all in trouble. 

We should be proud to work in this business and proud of what we produce, but the side-hustle is too often used by people as a way of insulating themselves from the fact they work in it at all. Rather than try to balance out those precious moral principles, why not focus on making a better industry and better work, rather than that vegan dog-chew business that’ll never take off?

Disappointingly, a lot of this stems from people deciding a while ago that it wasn’t cool to be into advertising any more. It had lost its edge and its characters, becoming a homogenous, data-driven bland-fest. And if you’re in that camp, god help you and the agency you’re suffocating in, because it simply isn’t true.

Our industry is exhilarating. There is more potential for great work here in the next 10 minutes than the side-hustlers realise. So, next time you find yourself skidding off into the mental suburbs of the side-hustle, pull over and leg it back in the direction of the brilliance-to-be that’s sitting on your desk and make the bloody thing better. Properly focusing on that thing in front of us is the difference between Titanium Lions and Trivago. And too many mums see stuff like that bloody Trivago work.

One of the reasons cultural monsters like Jaws happen is because the creative behind it was fanatically single-minded in the making of it. Steven Spielberg wasn’t flitting about with five different films at once. He was totally focused on making the one in front of him utterly riveting. Which he did. At twenty-fucking-six.

Speak to any of the top creative bods in our industry and none of them claims simply to drop their pants and fart out award-winning nuggets of gold. They work their tails off, with a laser-like focus on the work in front of them, all in the relentless pursuit of unleashing something brilliant, fresh and exciting on the world.

To be clear, the pursuit of spectacular creative things beyond our industry is great; if you want to write the next great American novel, then go and do it, but do it next, rather than making compromised work while you chase that dream today.

They say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life. So if you’re working in this game, do it because you’re striving to make incredible things, you love it and you want to make your mum proud. If you’re one of the people who thinks the work’s not good enough, that we’re no longer cool and that’s why you’ve always got one eye on your inflatable umbrella company, instead of figuring out how to write a better headline, then you’re part of the problem, and you’re probably better off with the gang working down at the crematorium. 

Ben Middleton is chief creative officer at Creature