Friday, February 22, 2013

Writing a Business Plan

I talk about my business plan a lot and let’s get real – for some folks, those words may sound a bit scary. Heck, I’m sure to some of you the word “business” sounds scary by itself! But the bottom line is this: if you’re looking to create a story which you hope will bring you money, you should consider building a business plan as soon as possible. And you’ll be happy to know, it’s easier than you think.

So what is a business plan? How long should it be? What should it contain? All of these questions can be answered with the old standby, “It depends…” but in a general sense:

A business plan is a written plan of intent for a business you aspire to create. Caveat: A business, by definition, is a source of income that can run which will be profitable, even if you’re not present. Now, that’s not to say if you’re self-employed, you shouldn’t have a business plan, because you absolutely should.

You may have heard of the three-point business plan. That's a common plan which succinctly as possible, illustrates the three major points of your business:
  • A description of the new business
  • Its consumer appeal
  • A plan to make it happen
These three points are excellent places to start and you absolutely should take a moment to consider them, if you do nothing else with your plan. These can often be answered on a single sheet of paper, which, if you're just starting out or only have the basic idea of what you want to do in mind, might be all you need.

Most business plans fall in the 3-5 page range, but if you’re starting small, you can get a leg up by asking yourself a few more questions to embellish your three points. It's also a good idea to be as specific as you can be even in the planning phase, so you can begin to test your plan and its specific market. Define these three things as well:

  •  Product Development: What kind of cool things are you planning on making with your business? If you’re a webcomic artist, a website with a webcomic is a good place to start. You can then move into eBooks, printed books, and maybe collectibles.
  • Revenue Targets: Where’s your money going to come from? What are you going to sell and to whom? One of my favorite quotes from Seth Godin goes here: “Don’t seek an audience for your product. Seek a product for your audience.”
  • Administration: What kind of backbone is it going to take to make it all happen? Will you need a web developer to create and maintain your website? Will you need a bookkeeper to keep track of your revenue streams?

Starting with those six points, you may begin to see a way by which you might want to attack the next year, beginning to form in your mind. List out the steps to accomplish the creation of your product, the selling of it and who is going to take care of each piece and how.  Some people break their first year into quarters, which I find to be pretty ridiculous, especially if you’re just starting out and things are likely to take longer (or shorter) amounts of time than expected. If you have a big event coming up which you need to motivate your business for, it might be best to revolve your first-year plan around that. These can be things like Kickstarter campaigns, convention appearances, or other “springboard” events which will help get your name out there.

If you come up with a business plan, even a short one, you’ll begin to feel like your project really has legs and it’ll be a great asset to motivate you. As we all know, and especially in the world of the digital storyteller, lack of motivation can be our biggest enemy. Don’t let it stop you. Write out your goals, work your plan, and follow through.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Share the Work

One of my favorite webcomics going right now is Axecop, the adventures of an axe-wielding cop, drawn by a man my age and written by his little brother who is still in grade school. It's a great story and a good example of an unlikely team coming together to make something wonderful.

When we're writing or drawing our comics, it's easy to not want to share the wealth in creating them, so to speak, but when we do, the end result can be fantastic. It's a great marketing technique, as well!

If you're struggling to get pages out or if you're just in need of a break from your regular update schedule, why not get an artist or writer to cover for you? You could employ a prolific creator or an up-and-comer for a single page or a whole story and, so long as the work gets done, the finished product might end up being one of the best things to happen to your particular series.

Working with others is an excellent idea because:
  • It gives you a break from writing or drawing and helps avoid burnout.
  • Your collaborator will likely want to share his or her work with their own audience, thus introducing new people to your comic.
  • Learning to collaborate is key in running a business, so it's good to practice this whenever you can.
  • It's mind-opening to see your story as interpreted by someone else and may help to combat writer or artist's block.

If you're having trouble handing over a full story to someone, then perhaps you can ask them to do a pin-up illustration or alternate cover for one of your comics, instead? Be prepared to pay them or at least do an art-trade in exchange.

As human beings, I truly believe we work best and become more successful, the more we share. It's just part of building our tribe. If you decide to share your comic work with someone else, guarantee you will get something great out of the experience, even at the smallest level.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Getting the Word Out

"Goodbye forever! You're all awesome deathmetal people!"

These were the last words of a fan known as RedHeadedDrummer on the day he left the Metalocalypse fandom. For a time, I was a huge part of this community, and loved every minute. We were weird, we were obnoxious, and we definitely weren't for everyone, as RedHeadedDrummer came to find out. I'd say one of our best traits was the ability to troll ourselves, whenever an actual troll came along to try and harass us. He'd show up, ply us with pornographic images of one character or another, and we of course, would respond by saturating our own forum with actual porn and other vulgar things. Ah, the good ol' days.

What made our fandom so special was the dedicated number of fans who stuck around it, despite the fact that, as I said, we weren't a crowd for just anyone. Word to the wise: If your efforts to appeal to a certain audience with your writing have paid off enough to give you even a handful of fans, so long as they are dedicated, each is worth his or her weight in gold and you should take care of them.

Since I covered taking care of your tribe in an earlier post that was written not too long ago, I'd like to touch on ways in which you can grow your tribe with this one.

If you're just an artist or writer making comics or stories on the internet and you're not a salesperson by profession, the idea of selling your online work can probably seem a bit intimidating and/or silly. The reality is this: we all can be salespeople and if we believe in our work, then we all should be salespeople. One of my favorite coaches used to ask, "Ever go on a date? Then congratulations, you're a salesperson." The idea there of course, is that you pitched a proposal to someone (a date) and they accepted your terms. I truly believe that anyone can sell.

So how do you go about doing it? I'll cover three of the biggest areas I choose to utilize when promoting my webcomics:

  • Paid Advertisements
  • Forum Signatures
  • Word of Mouth

  • These three are powerful tools which can get you a huge boost of support for your project. Note that they go in order of most expensive to least but that their effect is quite the opposite. While paid ads cost the most and tend to generate a ton of initial hits to your website, the people who stick around will fall off quickly, thereafter. Meanwhile, word of mouth costs nothing and relies solely on another person's good word, and though it may only get you a few followers, they oftentimes end up as loyal customers.

    Most of my paid advertisements are run through sites like ProjectWonderful, which allows me to make banner ads that float about on other websites (most of them with online comics of their own) and I pay a few pennies each time someone clicks on one of those. It's an easy set-up and I find I can run a campaign, that is, an ad or series of ads displayed during a set amount of time, in one weekend for less than $10 which may garner me a few hundred new followers. Facebook is another great place to advertise, though it is a little more expensive. Google, too, though I find it to be a little too pricey for me, most days.

    Forum signatures are just that -- signatures or banners you place on each post that you make on a particular forum. If you're on a forum where people are discussing a topic which is similar to the things you write about, then there's no question you should have a signature with a link to your project. This also goes for artwork you may post on sites like DeviantArt, where the subject matter is related to your work in some way. Be creative with it -- use pictures if you can. Let people know that if they like what they're currently seeing, they're going to love what you have to offer!

    Word of mouth is probably the most elusive advertising to maintain, but one of the most effective. You may ask how one can get word of mouth out there when it is other people who are in charge of spreading word about your work. The most obvious, of course, is to ask people to spread the word! Another may be to do an art or writing trade with someone who enjoys what you do -- in turn, they might convert some of their followers into your followers. You may even consider hiring a prominent artist with lots of fans to do a pin-up piece of one of your characters and have them post it in one of their more popular galleries if you can.

    Whatever you decide to do, make sure your tribe is always in the back of your mind. People will come to you and some will eventually leave you, but the fans you have had from the beginning should hold a special place within your community. Do your research and advertise where you know there are people who will get along with your current tribe, engage them and make them happy to be one of your fans. You just might have a new flock of long-time readers waiting on the other side of a banner ad!

    Friday, February 1, 2013

    Getting a Story Out of an Idea

    If you're like me, then a million ideas for stories you'd like to write one day are apt to fly into your brain in the course of a single hour. Most likely, they get in there when you're knee-deep in another project,  or otherwise engaged in something else. But how do you pull those ideas into reality when you're so busy engaging the real world? And how can you get on the fast-track with writing a story when you may not be a writer by nature?

    I'm an artist, so when I find the time to sit down on a story I really want to tell, one of the first things I usually do is character sketches. Very serious, here: I literally sketch out the characters of the tale. The second thing I do is read. It might sound obvious or it might not: reading a story which is told in a way that you yourself want to tell a story, will simply help you to write better.

    People sometimes ask if doing any reading is necessary before they set out to become a fiction writer. This question has always confused me for one fundamental reason: How is it one knows they want to write when they do not engage in reading -- the end result of writing? It's akin to wanting to become a chef without ever having tasted food! Reading is the key to good writing, and whether you are a writer, an artist, or a welder by profession, reading is a must if you want to learn how to write better. Simple as that.

    Now, I'm a big reader so finding a book that interests me is no problem. If you're not, you might try to see if there's a movie or something more familiar which you really like, based on a book that you can read. I wouldn't say you can get away with just watching the movie here, either -- there is no substitute for reading when you're learning to write. Simple as that.

    So what else can you do to stir the writing muse from her slumber? Myself, not being the best writer off the bat, employed some of these tips which I pulled from books on how to write more effectively and through simple trial and error. And rest-assured, I'll get into more detail with each as this blog progesses. Some quick tips for writers include:

    • Work backwards through your story - If you're going to tell a tale, you simply must have a beginning and an ending. If you figure out how the thing will end first and work your way backwards to the beginning, you will likely have an easier time of it.

    • Plot out what you want to do in advance with snippets of info to expand on - Most of my stories start out as rough "sketches" of what I want to have happen. They begin as very broad lists of things to cover ("Character A is conflicted about staying at home or going on an adventure") and end up more detailed or fully written as I plot. Using this method, I can "carve away" at an epic tale more efficiently than I could, sitting down and writing it all out in one go.

    • Write from the hip and edit later - I tend to be long-winded when I write, and often get frustrated when I can't find the exact words right away. Often it is best for me to write out everything as I first see it in my head and come back to it later to filter out the unnecessary parts. Speaking of that...

    • Cut the parts that don't showcase characterization or move the story - If you leave all of the fluff in there, your audience will get bored.

    • Read books about writing - Another one that sounds obvious. Some I recommend are Simple and Direct by Jacques Barzun and On Writing by Stephen King.

    • Read a fiction book before you start writing - For the same reasons I said above.

    Showcasing ways to write better is one of my favorite things to write about. I guarantee that anyone can be a writer, even if it doesn't come naturally to them at first. Expect many more posts on this subject in the near future.