I Killed Dracula, and Lived to Write and Sing About It

The Dead EnglishSo, as I mentioned in the Facebook post below, I do a bit of acting and theater in the Buffalo, N.Y., area. Normally, I don’t post about it here, but then I wrote about it. So now it applies to this blog.

OpenLettersMonthly.com is an arts & literature review website with a crew that’s mostly found in the Boston, Mass., area. I’ve done some of my favorite writing work for them, which includes a personal experience piece on my favorite novel (W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage) and a piece on Internet radio that get me an interview with Pandora’s founder, Tim Westergren.

In this piece, commissioned by Open Letters Monthly and published yesterday, I talk about The Dead English, an original musical based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It premiered during October 2012 in Buffalo, with me playing Jonathan Harker.

Here’s a link to the piece at OpenLettersMonthly.com. If you really liked it and want to see some video, there’s a YouTube clip of me belting some high G’s for a rock anthem, with the longest hair I’ve ever sported in my life. Ask nicely, and you might just be rewarded 😉

Angsty Emo Harker!

Me as Angsty Emo Harker!

Advertisements
Posted in Acting, Culture Review, Feature Article | Leave a comment

Where Does Creative Writing Fit Into Business Plans?

Business Plan TemplateThe dreaded business plan. Business students and MBA holders often complete one as their final thesis, writing a tome that might be measured in inches rather than pages. Many people, especially those operating part-time as an independent contractor, don’t even worry about them. And it’s not always necessary to make money.

However, it’s an incredibly important tool for measuring success if you want to grow your operations. A well-written plan can even provide a foundation for marketing messages and help you build your network by sharing your vision with others confidently. According to Entrepreneur.com, many business owners miss out on these aspects of the business plan when putting theirs together.

So when do you need a business plan? The minute you’re looking for any outside investment, even bank financing to rent office space or purchase capital equipment, you should expect to write one out. A lot of businesses release a new business plan each year detailing any changes to long-term goals, market competition or financial status. Some companies, especially large multinationals with many subsidiary operations, need a few each year to describe new ventures or secure investment capital for mergers. If you have a business, and you have a clear vision of a “Point B” that you want your business to travel towards (from your current “Point A” position), you could benefit from a business plan. (Entrepreneurs may want to consider just devising a simple business model, a type of flowchart that visually represents your operations. This post from The Christian Science Monitor has more information.)

Writers love business plans. They’re lucrative for us. A thorough business plan might take from one to three months to complete fully, allowing for company interviews and collection of financial data. According to professional pay rates published in2013 Writer’s Market, a business plan can net a writer up to $15,000. One plan. On average, a writer charges about $4,100 to create a plan. At the low end, writers only make a few hundred dollars, but these are likely to be much less complicated to draw up as these smaller companies have fewer operations to describe.

Some automated software is trying to take this job away from writers, however. Enloop is an online service that lets users generate a business plan by inputting some financial data and product information. As this post from Mashable.com’s Launchpad series states, a user can obtain one business plan and a three-year financial forecast for free.

This service is geared for small and medium-sized businesses, certainly not the kind of conglomerate shelling out thousands for this work. But while a computer program can create the kind of dense legal language that underwriters are used to reading, can it adequately communicate the vision of a business owner and his overall message? Business communication can still be infectious in its enthusiasm, when done properly. I’d argue that this would require a more human touch.

If you’re a writer, have you ever written a business plan? If you’re a business owner, what do you think about having a plan? Has it helped you accomplish business goals in the past?

Posted in Business Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Telecommuting: A Tough Life

Broken ComputerAbout 90 to 95 percent of the income I’ve earned over the last four years has been earned through the computer that I’m currently using to type this post. At the current moment I keep an office in an empty room downstairs, but I used to be tucked away in my own bedroom for a few years.

This is freedom, right? No office tethers and the comforts of my home life close at hand. Being a freelance writer, I felt that working for myself from home would bring the advantage of flexibility. While this is true, there are plenty of downsides to working from home that can overshadow the benefits.

Working from home through the Internet is a growing trend. In June 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released a report stating that 24% of all fully employed Americans worked at least some hours each week at home. Studies on the impact of telecommuting, or telework, shows that it can improve employee retention, reduce employee absences and increase productivity. However, it’s far from a life of privilege. The U.S. BLS also reports that studies show that teleworking contributes to an overall increase of work hours, and many others have found that it can compound stress from relationships with others.

How many more hours do telecommuters work? About 5 to 7 extra hours per week, according to the state and local government trade publication Government Technology. Over the course of a year, this small amount can add up to an extra month of work compared to in-house employees.

Calendar

I’ve felt this pretty acutely in my time as a freelance writer. Technology’s great because it helps us stay connected. But frequent burnout becomes a problem when you never leave what is essentially your office. Working from my bedroom seemed like an obvious plus at first. It became a lot more lonely as time went on, however.

In my work, I consider myself a business owner of sorts (the IRS sure considers me one). Freelance writing has always been a career where you work remotely, but technology allows engineers or even teachers to work from geographically isolated areas. What’s great about it is that I get to pursue my dream – I come from a small town where there’s not a lot of work. But when you make the decision to work from home, you need to be aware that this will change your daily life in many unexpected ways.

CBS MoneyWatch has published a list of ways work-at-home professionals can make their lives easier for themselves. Many are crucial, like setting work boundaries with friends and family members. You could take an impromptu break from noon to 2 P.M., but that may mean that you’re working until midnight that night. Often times, many people need to be reminded that you’re working, which is difficult when they need a hand or want to play XBox. Also, you may be tempted to think that working from home will give you more opportunities to care for your children. But some telecommuters get a babysitter or day care anyways because the demands of children can take too much time away from work while at home.

I’d add an extra one to this list: Get out. Seriously. Leave your house, if only for a walk. I lived for a month with a very close friend of mine in a different state; it sounded like it would be a great vacation. After three weeks of seeing nobody but him day after day, I began to get a little stir crazy. When you don’t leave the house for work, what do you leave the house for? Working some fresh air into my schedule has done wonders for myself.

Telecommuting is a way of work that we’re still adjusting to in America. If you don’t have an office or a place of work to travel to every day, many people are confused by what it is you actually do. When anyone asks me if I have a job anymore, I tell them I have eight. A slight exaggeration, but when you try to juggle so many business concerns at once, it’s definitely more than full-time when you’re handling anything more than two clients at once.

Texas FlagSome areas are welcoming the spread of telecommuters, especially as a means to reduce pollution. The city council of Austin, TX, for example, is developing an initiative to persuade private businesses to create more telecommuting positions to reduce traffic. The initiative will be in place by February 8, 2013, with the goal of inducing 10% of the city’s workforce to work one to two days per week at home.

Do you work from home? How are you enjoying it? How long have you worked from home? If you don’t, would you? Interested to hear your responses.

Posted in Telecommute | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Facebook Pages: A Business Venture

Facebook Pages: A Business Venture.

Posted in Social Media Marketing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Facebook Pages: A Business Venture

Admittedly, Facebook Page web design is a strange topic to lead off a blog on business writing. But Facebook’s simple user interface lets a user design an effective business webpage quickly. The result may be a little formulaic, but it’s clean and can be customized into a very effective marketing tool. For the most part, the technical knowledge required is minimal. A good copywriter is essential for any Facebook Page project, and a writer that isn’t afraid to take on some technical work can take on the entire project.

Simple to use and easy are two different things, and my experiences in building two different Facebook Pages have taught me that building a Page from scratch is just about a full-time job for at least half the work week. Custom options can utilize images, video and other high-quality content to engage an audience, but implementing even just a few of those features can be time consuming. The written copy involved may only total a few hundred words, but the messages must be carefully constructed to convey the brand correctly.

Facebook Pages can be broken down into a few crucial aspects to better understand their impact on a business or brand:

Likes

An effective Facebook Page is able to build a steady stream of ‘Likes’ over the course of time. These ‘Likes’ create the social network across which your content can be seen. Ideally, users will ‘Like’ a brand for its real-world presence, but inviting friends and sharing the Page on your personal profile are good ideas to get it front of people’s eyes.

See the entire Page at facebook.com/Tom.and.Steve.in.OfficeHours

This is a partial screenshot of one of the Facebook Pages that I’ve created. This Page is the Facebook home of “Office Hours,” a YouTube web series I’m starring in/producing. (And here you thought I wasn’t going to be able to feature my acting work without being self-serving. Well, not completely self-serving.)

Currently, I’m at 130 Likes. The Page has existed since early April, so that seems a little unsuccessful. But the Page began about the same time that “Office Hours” episodes began uploading to YouTube, so we weren’t bringing an established brand to Facebook. Starting a Facebook Page has been a smart idea for us because it’s become a place to build a community of fans. And with a production budget of $0, we weren’t getting billboard space.

Applications

It seems like every software platform these days comes with a bevy of applications to perform innumerable tasks. Mobile devices are commonly associated with apps, but Facebook supports a number of proprietary and third-party applications that go a long a way in organizing content and building fan participation.

You can do some quick Google searches online to find out about available Facebook apps, as the website doesn’t do a great job of suggesting any for you to use. Some apps that I’ve found intriguing:

  • Extended Info – Add an empty box of content that can be formatted with images, words and other content. Box title can also be customized. For instance, if your Page is for a restaurant, have a Daily Special box with pictures and prices. For a weekly stand-up comedy night, a Performer box with bios and headshots of next week’s performers.
  • YouTube – There are actually a couple of different YouTube apps that help you upload video content to your Page. The YouTube for Pages application lets a Page owner link his entire YouTube channel as a Page tab. For “Office Hours,” however, I might choose to use the Tabmaker YouTube app, which allows a user to select certain videos. There are more videos in my YouTube channel than the web series, so this would keep the content appropriate to the page.
  • Static FBML – Unless you feel like programming your own custom application (and some Page owners do), this is about as tech-savvy as it gets. FBML, or Facebook Markup Language, is a derivative form of HTML web code. Downloading the Static FBML app to your Page allows you to add clickable images or stylized fonts, among other forms of rich content.

Community

I think this deserves to be mentioned separate from Likes, because this speaks to a Page owner’s work after those Likes have been built. Now that you have a large network of people subscribed to your Page, you need to make sure that your audience feels like it’s in dialogue with the Page. That’s the entire social aspect of Facebook Pages for businesses right there. The tendency is to want to build the page to market to potential clients. Although that’s one way to use the Page, it shouldn’t be the main focus as people will tune out product pitches after a while.

To go back to the restaurant example: yes, if you’re a restaurant, indicate your prices. It’s important. Facebook Pages even has a price listing included with the main Info box near the top of most Pages. But share specials, or news about new menu offerings. Don’t push the roast beef sandwich that people can get everyday just because the meat’s getting close to expiration. Fans will come back to the Page if they’re being given access to useful content, such as a coupon or a discount code.

One really interesting case study included in the Facebook Pages Best Practices guide is the Page for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, an upscale chain of movie theaters that serve drinks during films. The company ran a promotion through their Facebook Page that gave a free pint glass and a chance for free tickets to anyone who “checked in” after arriving. Each check-in creates a story on a user’s News Feed that other people see. The campaign received nearly 5,200 check-ins. If each of those check-ins even only has 100 friends, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema reached a probable audience of 500,000 with almost no media buy, save for the pint glasses.

If you are any type of business, even a professional freelancer (almost especially a professional freelancer, who may find it difficult to purchase traditional advertising), you’re going to want a Facebook Page dedicated to your work. What should you pay for it? Depends on how in-depth you want the Page’s features to go. You’ll help yourself out a lot if you can research applications and other customizable features beforehand to have an idea of what applications are going to benefit your Page. Plan to spend about $200 on a Page developer for just a barebones page, and about $50 or so per added Page application.

If you’d like to discuss how to increase your Facebook business presence, click on the Contact Info tab above and drop me a line today!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Post – Raison D’Être

I’ve done poorly with blogs in the past because I’ve had problems defining their scope and breadth. I haven’t made any serious attempts in the past four years or so, largely because I haven’t felt a pressing need. I believe I’m an engaging writer, but working without an editor can lead to a lack of focus that will kill most projects.

Recently, I’ve been trying to stake my name as a writer by trade. Please allow me to explain how this ideal world works. My main pursuit outside of writing is theatrical performance, whether it’s stand-up, musical theater or film. Theater as a whole is my main passion, and I’ve learned that it’s crucial to maintain a substantial stream of secondary income while pursuing this career. Even better are the jobs where you aren’t strictly tied to a weekly schedule for retail or food service, which will definitely cause you to miss out on work.

Enter freelance writing. I’ve always harbored the ambition of becoming a top-flight writer with a Broadway play and a book on the New York Times’ Best Sellers List. But while artistic fulfillment is a great personal reward, it doesn’t feed you nearly as well as it should. I have realized, however, that there is always a need for great writing. So I’ve been chasing the jobs where my writing represents other people and businesses while I stay out of the spotlight.

I started freelancing while in college. Although I was putting in long nights and putting off a lot of fun things (my alma mater is known by many as a fantastic party school), I was finding a way to support myself that was more meaningful than grinding away in a service position. As long as I worked hard and met my deadlines, I found that I enjoyed controlling my own schedule rather than meeting a traditional workweek head-on.

Press releases. Grant proposals. Business contracts. Website copy. Proofreading. There are plenty of ways that a writer can market his talents to businesses. Aside from setting my own schedule, I freelance because I find the work invigorating. Where some might see insecurity, I see the freedom to take on projects of my own choosing, slipping between subject matter frequently and easily. I need to pay bills, sure, but I can do that and still leave time for more fulfilling projects. I have completed some pro bono projects for clients who couldn’t pay where the business response to my work has been payment enough.

I decided to make a freelance business writing career my goal since February of 2012. In that time, I have completed a curriculum document for educational theater, a few website copy jobs, brochures and press materials for a theater company and regularly paying work in online content creation. As of this moment, I freelance for a local newspaper, work as a story analyst and writer for an online media developer and create marketing materials for a NYC-based event concierge service. I am a working writer and it feels fantastic.

My hope is that this WordPress site will accomplish a few goals. First and foremost, I wouldn’t be working on this blog if I didn’t think that it might help my own business. I’m hoping that regular publication through this site will get my work noticed by companies that could use a writer. Secondly, I want this site to be educational. If I hope to draw business clients, I should post information that they’ll find useful. No matter what the writing job calls for, even projects of fiction, I’ve learned that if the information isn’t useful, you won’t gain many regular readers.

So this weekly blog will contain posts related to all facets of business writing and news on trends in business writing. When I run out of really useful things to talk about, I’ll post news about my own writing business. But every week you can count on at least one post pertaining to writing for businesses. So follow me, subscribe or bookmark the page, because I plan on coming back to this corner of the Internet often. And if you ever need a writer to clean up your latest proposal or draft an original PowerPoint presentation, drop me a line and let’s talk about how I can help you achieve your goals.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments