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“The goal doesn’t need to be quitting your job” – Inside a pencil-winning side hustle

The creative behind a family passion project turned business shares his secrets

Sonny Adorjan and Woody Adorjan won in the Side Hustle and Writing for Graphic Design categories in 2020 with their project Woodism. Woodism is a collaboration between Woody, a young autistic boy, and his art director dad, who has turned his touching phrases into a series of linocut designs for charity. The prints capture Woody’s unique way of seeing the world and aim to help disperse the myth that autistic people lack empathy. In a few short months, Woodism went viral. It was invited to exhibit at Top Drawer - the UK’s biggest trade show - as well as stocked in shops in the UK and abroad. Woodism has raised thousands for the charity Ambitious About Autism. And since winning the Side Hustle award, mentorship from Matt Dunn which has helped the farther-son duo to grow their project even more, landing them some great partnerships and PR.

Here, Sonny Adorjan tells us a few things he’s learned from growing his side hustle into a D&AD pencil-winning project, offering some useful insights along the way. 

Take the pressure off

“I think a lot of people's side hustle is what they want to do for their career, and so they have to make certain targets, and it becomes a more intense thing, whereas for us, it's been really lovely, I'm just collaborating with my son, I'm carving these things out of lino, and it's quite meditative, and people like them and they’re making money. Without putting too much pressure on it things happen so I haven’t been very gung-ho about it and have let it develop at a natural pace.”

The goal doesn’t need to be quitting your job

“I think a project like this has to be something you love and if you do spend all your time doing it it's because you're really passionate not because you're like, ‘I’ve got to get through this and hit this target’. I feel a bit more liberated than some other people with side hustles because for them they are working towards quitting their jobs and I feel liberated from that. I'm not I'm not trying to turn my side hustle into my main hustle.”

In fact it doesn’t have to have any relation to your work

“When I was at the creative agency AMV, they did this talent show once and it was amazing – all these people who were planners, account people, produces were the ones doing the talent. One was an amazing saxophonist, another one was an incredible dancer, and they all had these wonderful creative outlets. But the creatives didn't! For them, every day in their work they have to think of all this creative stuff, it was almost as if outside of that they needed a break from creativity, whereas the other people needed something creative to do. It was very interesting and I find that happens a bit – people that do side hustles are actually, not necessarily from the creative department.”

As your passion project grows you might have to navigate new and tricky territory - so seek out professional guidance

“There are a lot of stereotypes about autism, and it is a complete spectrum. So, in part I felt guilty about that, you know, look at us, we've got our autistic kid saying these beautiful quotes, and I know for other parents, they have kids that with autism that are non verbal, and so I wondered if it was okay go around showing off Woody's quotes when other people on the spectrum have got a different experience? But speaking to the charity Ambitious About Autism, they said it’s really good to promote people on the spectrum wherever they are. 

And, and of course, there's an extra part of it: Ambitious About Autism does a lot to help young people with Autism, but one of those things is to help people on the spectrum when they are older to get work, jobs and employment. To showcase his words, especially in a creative industry, is really positive. And that’s why D&AD was amazing for us, because it's good enough to be promoted and recognised by the top end of the industry so then that might also help the industry to see that diversity and neurodiversity can be a positive thing in their departments.”

Seek help with practicalities - but learn to master them yourself

“You have jump in and do it – make phone calls and find out. I always used to think I could just get someone to help me with the admin, but no one can really do it all for you. It’s your baby so you have got to understand things like margins or talk to other people who've done something similar. Don’t be shy, just reach out for advice. I think it's a really good idea, if you see something similar, to literally just email them and say, ‘I'm doing this thing,’ and so often people will come back to you and help out.”

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