Welcome to two new clients: DealFlow and a confidential non-publisher

As you may have gathered, I’ve been rebuilding my freelance business since parting company with BoroughCon earlier this year. This past month has seen two big steps in that direction and I can talk — at least a little — about them now.

I’ll start with the one I shouldn’t say too much about, but it does stem from the BoroughCon work. No, I’m not launching another pop culture convention. But someone I met through that world has asked me to do for them what I initially did for BoroughCon: Write their business plan. My primary BoroughCon assignment was to craft a case to raise $100,000 in equity capital; it ended up bringing in, well, much more than that. Even so, we’re talking even bigger bucks with the current project, and I’ll let you know more once the the project is formally announced.

Meantime, I’m very happy to be doing straight-dope news reporting for DealFlow’s Alternative Finance Report. It’s the trade journal for online lenders — or marketplace lenders or peer-to-peer lenders. I’m working on my third story for editor Steve Evans, about new laws being proposed to either make it easier to sue these lenders or to make it harder. I’ve got another story in the can about how regular e-commerce traffic metrics don’t apply in this industry. Click here for my AFR debut story, explaining why there is not yet a credit default swap market for online loans.

I’m in talks with at least three other potential ongoing clients. Wish me luck! Or, alternately, put me to work for yourself. I’m really looking forward to telling an editor, “Sorry, I’m too busy now.”

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What I learned since last time

For the past year and change, it’s been my privilege to serve as content manager (and publicist and social media director and business plan author and programming director and chief information officer) for BoroughCon, a startup pop culture convention held last month in Queens.

It was a great idea, a great market opportunity, by far the most fun thing happening in New York over Memorial Day weekend but, ultimately, not an immediate commercial

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Fun at BoroughCon. Credit: Sing Sing Revolution

success. We don’t learn much from success, though, do we? It’s from our most humbling experiences that we gain wisdom. So, because I’m feeling downright solomonic right now, I’d like to present to you some things I now know and can put to work for new clients that I wish I could’ve put to work for myself and my teammates in recent months.

  • Respect the marketing cycle. It’s true. You can’t just open the cash register and expect customers. You have to begin by establishing awareness. You can only do this through repetition, which means it takes time. You must then build engagement; to make this happen, you have to do two things. The first is to post new content, daily to start, then even more frequently as you roll along.  The other is to give people a reason to respond to those stories. “Likes” and even “Loves” are useless. Comments, DMs and — most critically — shares are what count. (Contests and flash giveaways can help generate these more meaningful interactions.) Once you have that committed following, then you can move into sales mode (again, try flash sales).
  • You’re probably not doing everything you can to boost your signal. Opportunistic advertising buys are necessary but not sufficient. Organic reach is what you really want to see snowball. You’re probably already driving eyes to your website via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter which, again, are necessary Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 1.02.34 PMbut not sufficient. I’ve discovered that Reddit and StumbleUpon can be force multipliers and, depending on your target audience, you might also need a presence on Pinterest or Tumblr. (If I were writing this a couple months ago, I’d have gone on at some length about how important it is to be on Snapchat, but Instagram has been so successfulinScreen Shot 2017-06-28 at 12.50.44 PMhead-to-head competition that Snapchat is beginning to look more like a flavor-of-the-month.) And let’s not forget about direct email. I know everybody hates it; it’s been “yesterday’s technology” for more than a decade. Even so, a well-composed weekly newsletter can help you immensely. (‘The Nerd Yorker,’ BoroughCon’s Friday missive, had open and click-through rates as much as 10x industry standard.) As for the messaging apps that have supposedlysupplanted email, you shouldn’t ignore them either. WhatsApp, Kik and WeChat are the Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 1.44.25 PMones Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 12.55.31 PMthat come up most in conversation; the trick is that you have to find ways of getting your company, product or service talked about on them; this is where viral content gets incubated. By the way, they haven’t fully replaced the Dial-UpAge’s bulletin boards (a.k.a. forums), and you’ll need to at least identify and Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 1.50.47 PMScreen Shot 2017-06-28 at 1.08.21 PMmonitor the ones that directly discuss your business. You also need to make sure that those who would share in your success also give you a signal boost by creating original content, tapping their own social media following or providing you with inbound links. It’s also important to get exposure on podcasts and web series that your intended audience would be interested in — in BoroughCon’s case, Boldly Going Nowhere and Comic Frontline were prime examples.
  •  Don’t neglect the ground game. You already know that images drawScreen Shot 2017-06-28 at 1.24.55 PMexponentially more eyes than text, and streaming mediadraws the next exponent. But these images have to start somewhere. The best place is in-real-life engagement (like this video Hot 97’s Hip Hop Gamer hosting The Walking Dead’s Khary Payton). You can’t just hide behind your keyboard. You need friendly, outgoing people sharing the spaces where your intended audience gathers. So sponsor or run events like Meetups or user group gatherings. Rent booths at trade shows — even your competitors’ (better if you can exchange them for professional courtesy of course).boroughcon_press_releaseSend out a “street team” to represent you at sidewalk level. And consider backing up your onlinepresence with old media — again, employing a blend of paid and earned (such as this interview with the Queens Chronicle or this nod from Fox 5 News) attention.
  • Metrics don’t always mean what you want them to mean, and you better not delude yourself. At BoroughCon, we had impressed industry observers — including, but not limited to, ourselves — by how well visited our website was. Its Alexa rating improved at an astonishing rate through its first 11 months. There are a billion or so sites in the world and, by the time our event weekend came around, we were roughly the one-millionth most popular. That is, we were on the cusp of being in the top 1% of the top 1%. We compared that to more established pop culture conventions across the United States and our rating was roughly equal to those that attract 15,000 to 16,000 visitors in a weekend. When our advance sales fell far short of that, we figured that people were just waiting until the last minute. So we braced for a rush at the gate — which didn’t come. That’s how I learned the importance of challenging such wishful thinking early on, of having someone on the team whose job it is to argue vigorously against it. In BoroughCon’s case, I or one of my colleagues should have considered  that maybe our message wasn’t getting out sufficiently (I believe now that was the case), or we were sending the wrong message or that there simply wasn’t the demand we anticipated. In any event, one should not simply wait passively for the money truck to drive by.
  • There’s no substitute for direct sales. That marketing cycle you need  to respect culminates with sales. Alexa rankings, Facebook likes, Instagram followers, direct mail lists, and real-life encounters all meant nothing in their absence. I wish I knew how to convert these factors into actual revenue and I’m sure a lot of other people do know — but I simply ran up against the fact of that gap’s existence and the need to span it. If that bridge doesn’t build itself, then your organization needs to either develop a capacity for selling, hire a sales pro or engage a sales service. Maybe that means giving up anywhere from 30% to 50% of the ticket price, but that’s better than keeping 100% of $0.
  • Work your plan. We’ve all heard great quotes about this. “Plans are useless but planning is indispensable. (Eisenhower) “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.” (Woody Allen) “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” (Mike Tyson) So do set goals and quantify them. Estimate a budget with some degree of granularity. Determine your need for skills and provision your staff. But don’t write a novella-length treatise — as I did — describing all your key performance indicators, projected growth rates, project timelines, funding requirements and grids of responsible and accountable parties unless your organization intends to track these factors over time, compare variances between forecast and reality, then take corrective action while there’s still time.

I’m sure I could think of more takeaways like these, but not all the lessons I learned were in the form of, well, lessons learned. Along the way, I also gained a lot of hands-on experience. Here’s a partial list of things I did at BoroughCon that I couldn’t do before. It involves a lot of applications I’d never used but had to master quickly, as well as specific leadership and investor relations capabilities:

  • Wrote a business plan that helped attract six digits worth of equity investment, enough to fund a startup through its first year
  • Used MailChimp to design and disseminate a weekly newsletter
  • Built an event phone app on Cvent CrowdCompass
  • Managed CMS developers who have a working knowledge of Joomla and Drupal as well as WordPress
  • Supervised the creation of an e-commerce portal using WooCommerce and Network Merchants Gateway
  • Used Market Samurai to research and generate keywords (and discovered that keyword research, while somewhat helpful, might not be as critical as SEO consultants would have us believe)
  • Analyzed web traffic and site visit data via SlimStats
  • Led a “street team” of volunteers who built awareness at cinemas and comics shops

Wow. That’s a lot of bullet points.

It’s been an education to say the least, and it shouldn’t be wasted. So how can I help you avoid the mistakes I made as I learned all this on the fly?

Welcome, new clients!

Just wanted to take a minute to thank a couple new customers!

First, greetings to LogicMonitor, a cloud management software company that has invited me to write for its blog. They’re backed up a little in the content pipeline, so I’ll post links to clips as soon as they’re live.

Also, welcome to Metropolitan Corporate Counsel. I’m writing for them as a subcontractor via Leverage Media, writing up the proceedings on their roundtables on selected topics in global risk. That’ll be happening bi-monthly through the year, and we already have one story in the can. Again, links as they happen.

In the next post, I hope to talk more about my expanded role at Tom’s IT Pro and provide links to that content as well.

Lastly, there’s one more agreed-in-principle market, and I’ll make that announcement as soon as the paperwork is done and I’ve filed my first story.

Love the direction this is going, but there’s still room for one or two more clients!

New clips, new clients

Lots to update today, so let’s get straight to it.

First, congratulations to my editor at Tom’s IT Pro: first-time mommy Kasia Lorenc! She and her now four-month-old daughter are both happy and healthy, and here’s wishing then all the best.

TIP really missed her while she was gone — perhaps me most of all. She has always been a strong advocate of the business case stories. Here are the ones that ran since the last update in this space:

There are many more to come, as a couple got stuck in the queue while Kasia was away. But the follow-up feature she assigned me on Getting Your Money’s Worth Out of Unified Communication has also seen the light of day.

Additionally, I’ve continued to contribute to Ecolane’s blog, post-Cross Country Local:

Again, more to come.

Lastly, I’d like to welcome a couple new clients: LogicMonitor and Olark. Similar to Ecolane, these are technology companies that are commissioning me to write articles for their blogs and I look forward to collaborating with them. I’ll post links to the articles as they appear.

 

Mission Accomplished!

It took 59 days, 4,000 miles and 90 rides, but I am now the only person to ever cross America using only local transit, regional intercity bus routes and pre-arranged ride shares. No national carriers, no phone apps, no cabs, no hitchhiking — just a cross-country commute.

There will be a book in this. Meantime, I have a unique credential as a transit expert which I intend to leverage as an authoritative voice reporting on transit. Considering that the first stirring of bipartisanship in Washington was marked by passage of a $325 billion transportation act, I might be able to find a broader audience. Meantime, I invite you to view my clips on the subject. Full disclosure: In return for a grant, I have been writing blog entries for my corporate sponsor, Ecolane, a publisher of scheduling software for paratransit.

Meantime, I’ve been busy writing for Tom’s IT Pro. I finally got around to updating my IT business case clips on that page.

I’ve also been increasing my time spent on IT management consulting, but I still have some bandwidth if you can use my newly expanded skill set. I’m easy to get a hold of.

New clips — and an exciting new project!

First the housekeeping: Here are a couple new clips from Tom’s IT Pro:

Now the big news:

October 19, I will get on the A train in Far Rockaway and, 68 days later, get off publicly available transit at the Muni stop near Golden Gate Park. No Amtrak, no Greyhound, no Uber. Just local buses, commuter rail, vanshares, carpools, rural dial-a-ride service, casino motorcoaches, university motor pools, Native American tribal transit, trolleys, inclined planes, ferries, church buses, mall shuttles and, maybe, drunk lift services. Out of a 4,100-mile route, I’ll still have to hike a total of about 200 miles, or about 20 miles a week.

This can be done, even though nobody has ever thought of this before (no less attempted it). But I mapped out a route and a timetable for what I call the Cross-Country Local. I am currently in contact with markets which could host content as I stream, blog, tweet, snap and old-fashioned report from more than a hundred stops through 14 states.

The expedition will spin stories of varying lengths and formats:

  • Extemporaneous reports while in transit: Video stream, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat
  • Local heroes, characters and traditions, a la Kuralt: Finished videos, 1,000- to 2,000-word text with still photography
  • Raw, unedited interviews with heroes and characters: Video stream
  • News features about transit issues (e.g., ADA’s growing effect on transit, your tax dollars are paying for church buses, vanpool explosion/light rail implosion): 3,000- to 5,000-word think pieces with graphics
  • The trip, internalized: (personal reflections on why I chose to do this, who and what on the journey has affected me most and why) Blog posts, to form the shell of a literary non-fiction book at the end.

Until I find a home for this content, you can visit the Cross-Country Local page on Facebook and follow #xclocal on Twitter.

Clip watch

A couple more for posterity, courtesy of Tom’s IT Pro.

There’s another business case, this one about converged infrastructure. Also, there’s a think piece I enterprised about software asset management. Sounds like a dull topic, until you do the math (and nobody had until I wrote this feature).j Apparently, the world sets a quarter trillion dollars on fire every year because most companies fail to adequately manage software.

Bringing on a couple more clients in August, and might have an interesting long-form project. ‘Til then, enjoy the summer!

Clip Watch

These have been some intensely busy few weeks.

First of all, Tom’s IT Pro published a couple more in my series of articles on building business cases. The most recent topics are network virtualization and gigabit wifi. Also, the editors have accepted a query on a think piece that I hope to be able to tell you about next month.

I’ve also added another client who reinforces my claim to still be a financial writer. Proactive Advisor Magazine accepted my story on selecting turnkey asset management programs. I’ll let you know when it sees daylight.

And of course there is the consulting side of my business. I continue to help New York University develop business requirements for its IT service management platform. Along with that I’ve secured some side work advising a non-profit youth advocacy on how to track and manage its IT infrastructure projects, and developing project management training materials for a global (you’ve heard of it) bank.

Like I said, busy. But never too busy for you. Let’s have coffee and talk about how I can help you.