Category Archives: Tips & Strategies

Latest Project: Book Trailer

After weeks of content, you may have noticed that Imagine That! went strangely silent. What happened?

We got busy, that’s what! In April and May, things shifted into overdrive with the launch of an ambitious Kickstarter project and production on a book trailer for award-nominated author PJ Schnyder.

Today, we present our latest…

This is one option we offer for video production services, built with stock video and royalty-free music. We also offer voiceover options for the titles as well. The cost of this production came out to $850 which includes the purchase of ten stock video clips.

Imagine That! offers a wide variety of options to make the best video presentation for your needs. Whether it is a Kickstarter project, an upcoming event, or a book trailer like the one above, contact us to find out what we can accomplish within your budget.

Five Signs that an Interview Is Done

Take a few spins around the Internet and you will find a good amount of blogposts on what to do in an interview, what to do after an interview, what can sink an interview, and what questions to ask at an interview. There are a good amount of these posts online; but from my own job hunts since 2007, I collected a few experiences that serve as my own warnings for when interviews and opportunities are not as promising as what they first seemed.

Consider the following as sure-fire signs you need to find a graceful exit, stage left.

1. The job description and actual opportunity are two different things. Everyone has a job, and some recruiters are resorting to tactics that are not necessarily illegal but highly unethical. I once applied for a job advertized as a Social Media Specialist position with an emphasis on marketing. When the recruiter replied to my application, I was informed that the position involved Social Media through marketing, promising fantastic commissions depending on my enthusiasm for the position. When I asked “So this is more of a sales position instead of a Social Media position?” the recruiter responded with “Are you interested in a career change?”

This tactic is a great way of showing a recruiter’s higher up’s how well they are performing, receiving and reaching out to a wide variety of potential associates. All it costs these recruiters are copious amounts of your time.

2. The recruiter is dropping buzz words left and right. I was approached by yet another recruiter that was interested in talking with me about a Social Media opportunity. Here’s how he initially described it:

“The candidate will tap into the ROI of his or her various networks, maximizing the impressions brought about from a like, a share, a re-tweet, and what-not. The idea of this approach to promotion and marketing is to tap into the potential of networks already established — namely your friends, family, Twitter contacts, and such — are then bringing those relationships into a client’s network and cultivating those to become testimonials to our clients.”

I paused and the asked “So you want me to turn to my personal networks and promote the client to them? Basically, you want me to be a Social Media telemarketer?” He “backed up” and explained the position in a different way…through a new plethora of buzz words, doing very little to make the position appear appealing.

If you need a dictionary of buzzwords to describe a position, chances are the position in question may test the boundaries of ethics. So you might want to re-consider a job that relies on double-speak to explain its requirements and duties.

(And yes, the recruiter really used “what-not” in the job description.)

3. Wining, Dining, and Power Playing. I was thrilled when the CEO of a PR group reached out to me to arrange a lunch meeting over an opportunity for their Vice President of Social Media Strategy and Training. The meeting was at a very fashionable restaurant in downtown Washington D.C. The CEO, two additional VP’s, and I had a terrific lunch, but my warning of what was really going on came when I was told:

  • The VP currently holding this position was not on Facebook, Twitter, or any other Social Media initiatives, and did not care for Social Media on a whole.
  • The current VP had come to an agreement with his CEO and fellow executives that he could running his own business on the side, and that original arrangement apparently wasn’t working out as originally planned by the PR firm.

So what did this tell me? This told me that the current executive wasn’t performing up to snuff; so as a power play, the CEO reached out to a potential replacement, and then held the interview in open company with two executives I had not met previously.

I was a scare tactic. Trust me — this is a place you really don’t want to be.

4. You need to bring the interview back on topic. Repeatedly. It might surprise you how many times I have struggled to keep the interview on track. The first time, I was in an interview where the president of the company was more fascinated with my time as a professional actor than what I can do with social media. If you find yourself trying to steer an interview back to the topic at hand, the truth of the interview is tough to swallow: they’re just not that into you.

black_hole5. Your time is irrelevant, and therefore worthless. I was scheduled for an interview with two directors and a VP, but had no idea exactly what the pay range was for this position. In the opening twenty minutes, an interview with the hiring recruiter, I asked the pay range of the position, I was given “That’s not my place to say. That’s the VP’s.” If this was a large organization, I’d understand but I knew from the recruiter this was an organization of seven people. When the VP finally gave me an appropriate time to ask this question, over two hours had passed; and this is when I discovered the pay range was not even close to what I would be asking.

Two hours. Gone. Not including the commute in and out of D.C.

This was a detail that could have been addressed within the first half-hour, but instead I had to wait for two hours. If this is how a prospect values your time in an interview, you have a good idea how your time is valued in the workplace. It also gives a good indication of how mismanaged time is in the work environment as well. After all, this was time lost for the job prospect as well as yours.

Exactly why is this kind of shoddy treatment happening? It would be easy to say “Oh it’s the economy, and employers are calling the shots…” but a job market with a seemingly endless talent pool to draw from is no hall pass for unprofessional behavior. Your time and your talent are still worth something. After all, this is why you’re interviewing for a position in the first place, right? Never forget the interview works both ways. Make sure to ask questions and keep an eye out for details. While the interview is a chance for a job opportunity to screen you, this is your chance to get an impression of a company as well.

Tell Me Everything: Why Your LinkedIn Profile Should Be Complete

linkedin-logoWhile I impress the need to be safe and to be selective in what to share, there are some times when a complete profile and sharing is imperative. Such is the case with LinkedIn. I myself have been using LinkedIn for a while now, but watching the professional networking site evolve into a more social experience, I have set aside more time to not only interact with its members but also take advantage of its options and benefits.

And if you haven’t, one advantage you should be taking advantage of is LinkedIn’s impressive mobile app, a terrific extension to what you can accomplish with LinkedIn working completely for you.

Herein lies the secret of LinkedIn — making it work completely for you. Even though LinkedIn is free, there is still an investment of time. When I found myself aggressively applying LinkedIn in 2012 for a job hunt, I knew I needed to give my online resume a complete update and overhaul, something I hadn’t done since 2009. I spent close to three days in re-writing summaries, collecting locations and titles, and updating employment history. That was when I notice a new feature: the “Profile Completeness” progress bar, located in the upper-right corner of my profile. I was only at 70%. I (can still) remember in college spending a solid week on my print resume, so another day or two to work on that 30% would not be so bad.

I hit the “100% completion” mark by the end of the day.

While I did feel a sense of accomplishment, I wondered why LinkedIn was suddenly focused on Profile Completeness? Wasn’t my degree and work experience enough? On a basic level, yes, but the basics alone isn’t what LinkedIn is all about. LinkedIn is a rare opportunity for candidates to get their name and experience in front of a physical person, and that can be a real challenge as resumes face a cyber-gauntlet designed to weed out candidates based on keywords. LinkedIn has evolved into the online initial screening and this is why a completed profile is important:

  • Completing a profile shows that you can finish a task. Think about it: you’re applying for a job and yet you didn’t feel the need to complete your profile, a trait that is visible when potential recruiters click the “View Full Profile” option.
  • Completing your profile showcases your writing skills. A skill essential to success in the corporate arena is strong writing. Your profile’s “Summary” is a first impression through writing, as well as a chance to pepper your profile with keywords that can improve your profile’s chances of being earmarked for consideration.
  • A complete profile goes more into the person behind the portfolio. While the basic one (or in those rare cases, two) page resumes give the details of you on the job, the complete LinkedIn profile offers you the ability to share published bylines, recommendations of peers and superiors from specific jobs, and honors and distinctions earned in the workplace.

Go on and invest some time in your LinkedIn profile. Set out to create a complete digital first impression that will keep you in front of potential clientele and employers. LinkedIn — when done right — can be your most powerful and impressive platform on which to build upon it a successful career.

Keeping Things Simple when Planning

keep_it_simpleI am a busy guy. I’m a writer, a public speaker, a social media professional, and I’m a husband and father. Not necessarily in that order, mind you. Busy, busy, busy. On looking at my life in this nutshell, you have to wonder how I keep everything straight.

Rule out “day planner” as one of your options because, well, I have opinions about them.

It was in the early 2000’s when I purchased for myself this goal-tracking, life-prioritizing, project-planning, super-duper, all-encompassing, kill-a-velociraptor-sized organizer. (Serious investors in this day planner kit could get it in a leather-bound binder, but I opted out for the beginner’s level vinyl…although I did plan to level up in the future.) It had pre-formatted pages for specific tasks, elegant tabs that could be color coded, and even a set of strategies and instructions on getting the most out of it. I sat down one Saturday afternoon, with the kit’s instructions in front of me, and started planning out projects, prerogatives, and To Do lists.

When I was done mapping out the present day and upcoming week, I looked up at the clock. The sun had set. It was late. I had to go to bed.

“Well, that must have just been for the initial set-up,” you may think, but no. Oh no. It was recommended by this day planner’s “program that I haul this goal-tracking, life-prioritizing, project-planning, super-duper, all-encompassing, kill-a-velociraptor-sized binder everywhere I went. You know, just in case I suddenly got an idea, or needed a weapon when the zombie apocalypse happens (and, essentially, achieve my ongoing “living to see another day” goal).

But that really wasn’t the problem. The real problem came whenever an idea came to mind. Unlike that heady euphoria I enjoyed on new ideas or possibilities, I would be overcome with a sense of dread as this meant consulting THE ALL-MIGHTY PLANNER to see if I could fit any of them into my schedule. No, I could not merely “glance” at this calendar. No, I had to consult it, find out if I could fit this inspiration into my already-meticulously schedule, costing me even more time.

Here’s my issue with planners — they can easily devolve into timesinks. We can spend so much time organizing goals, projects, and To Do’s into particular categories, timetables, and spreadsheets, that we lose time in working on accomplishing goals, projects, and To-Do’s.

So how can you keep it all straight? Look at the tools you have on hand and keeping it simple.

For myself, the goal-tracking, life-prioritizing, project-planning, super-duper, all-encompassing, kill-a-velociraptor-sized organizer has been replaced by my iPhone and iCloud. If an event or an idea comes up, I access iCal and tap in a few details. Automatically iCal syncs not only with other Apple devices, but also with apps that are granted permission to access iCal (such as LinkedIn’s mobile app). Events can be assigned multiple alerts for multiple times, and these alerts are received across my Apple devices. iCal also allows you to send out notifications to other people, notifying them in an email of the event and any changes concerning it. All this from an app that is free on your devices.

iCal is a great way to keep it simple. Once you have outgrown it, set your sights on something more robust such as Evernote, a popular planner and organizer for students and professionals. Organization is essential in successful projects and careers, but make certain to keep your goal setting and day planning to the basics. By taking it easy and keeping things elementary in the beginning, you give yourself room to grow.

You can also make sure you’re getting things done, which is the whole point of being organized to begin with.

4 Things Independent Artists Should Consider when Pursuing a Career

inspirationIt doesn’t matter what the profession — public speaker, audio engineer, musician, writer, artist — there is a trend that if you want to be a professional creative, you’re better working independently. You are truly a working artist when you are free of agencies, publishers, or labels.

That is all well and good, but there is something to be said about being an artist and being a successful working artist. Sure, the battle cries of “Take control of your artistic career! Do it yourself!” and “Stick it to the Gatekeepers!” sound seductively empowering, but you might be destined for disaster if you don’t know what you are doing. Across a decade of writing, editing, and book layout, and reflecting on another lifetime where I was a professional actor, I’ve collected a few considerations for any artist — new or seasoned, corporately or independently creative — to keep in mind when it comes to managing a career.

1. Accept the fact that no matter how good you think you are, you need an objective critic. There are some authors I’ve met who have a real resentment when it comes to editors, and I can even think of one or two editors who have voiced their disdain for successful writers. I have always been a writer who respects the editor as well as the editorial process. Why? Because I know when I get to writing, I get attached to a story so objectivity is chucked out of the window. When you’re a creative you are human, making it difficult to take a harder, critical look at what your creativity hath wrought. Objectivity is not a curse or an unnecessary delay on your work. With the right critical point-of-view, your work becomes a diamond cut from a creative rough.

pennies

2. Giving Your Creative Work Away for Free (or Even for 99¢) Should Have a Plan behind It. So how often have you been asked to give a presentation in exchange for great exposure? How about creating a blog or website in exchange for compensation of equal value? And how about giving away your writing online for free in order to build an audience?  Back in 2005, I was one of the strongest supporters of free fiction. Now, over eight years later, I’m still a big advocate for giving ficiton away for free, provided there is a plan behind it.

Giving away free works has proven successful for writers like Scott Sigler and Cory Doctorow, but for whom else has this tactic worked? Even as author Chuck Wendig points out in his “Making Sense of 99 Cents” blogpost, it’s not the best strategy to price everything the same. Free can work as part of a larger plan, but remember when you are building a brand be it for a production or for yourself, you are placing a value on your creativity. Don’t short change yourself.

3. Some People Will Never Want to Pay for Your Work. In a recent episode of The Shared Desk, around 28:38, I made a really dumb remark: “A little bit of book piracy is okay.” I said this before receiving the Google Alert notifying me that The Case of The Singing Sword: A Billibub Baddings Mystery was being torrented. Not the podcast, mind you. A PDF of the print book.

So, to be clear here — a novel I am already giving away for free in audio was being pirated.

I also made that less-than-thought-out statement before I wrote this article on why I did not want people to pirate my book

The business model you set for yourself needs to include boundaries for your work and how you deal with Internet Entitlement.

4. Consider a Double Life for Your Career. My wife, author Philippa Ballantine, is insisting I use here her “Many streams make a river…” quote when talking about an artist’s income. In between developing creative works for a corporate setting, why not create your own brand as an independent artist?

Is it possible? With patience, time, and a strategy, yes.

Breaking into the mainstream can open doors that still remain closed to smaller to the independent; but being independent does offer a maverick freedom as well as valuable lessons in building a brand. I have been published in both mainstream (Wiley, Que, HarperCollins) and independent (Dragon Moon, and my own Imagine That! Studios) channels; and while it is extra time invested in the independent label, I’ve been able to leverage the independent work in order to promote the mainstream work.

The creative independent is not only possible, it is a reality; but there is a method to the madness. At the center of this methodology is patience and time. Financial success does not happen overnight. You invest time in researching your art, time to create, and time to produce. Be prepared to also spend time in finding out if your investment is indeed working. There’s no magic formula for success, but you will know when your investment is coming to fruition.

5 Things to Do after You Lose a Job

walking_the_railsAnyone remember when job creation and unemployment were the priorities of the election? Anyone remember the doom and gloom people projected following our last election? Anyone remember this New York Times article from last month reporting that unemployment was at its lowest rate since 2009? How about these numbers from the Department of Labor backing up this article?

Me neither.

What I do remember is the irony that when I was hired in 2009 by Intersections, the Recession was in full swing with the Unemployment Rate clocking in at 9.6%. And at the beginning of 2012, where a variety of news outlets from around the world were all noticing an economic turnaround at the beginning of 2012 and the rate of 8.5%, I got downsized.

I’ve learned a lot since that time, the reality being that if a company or non-profit needs to get out of the red and into the black, layoffs will happen. Each layoff is different. Some employers treat you with respect and regret, and others don’t blink at blind-siding you and getting you out of the door. It’s hard to predict how bad news like this will come, but I can say there are five things to keep in mind when a rug is yanked out from under you.

1. Don’t panic. Flipping out is easy to do when this news hits; and it’s not going to help anyone. If it does anything, it’s going to make you look like a chump. When I was let go by Intersections, I took a deep breath, and thought, “Go out with class.” When all the formalities were done, I looked the EVP in the eye and said, “It’s been a good run. Thank you.”

Keep it together. Keep it classy.

2. DO. NOT. MELTDOWN. THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA. This was particularly tempting when, with another employer, I was let go under suspicious circumstances. Knowing what I knew about budgets, clerical errors, and executives denied what they really wanted, I knew this whole affair was unethical. When I got home, I felt an urge to go off completely, drop names, and face the fallout; but with my fingers over the keyboard, I paused.

I thought about it. Really thought about it.

What would have sharing my anger and ire accomplished? Social Media still has yet to shake its bad reputation for being all about the meltdowns, as if Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are nothing more than the therapist’s couch online. Remember that when you go public on social networks, you are going public. How do you want to be remembered at your job and represented online?

Instead of the meltdown, I enjoyed a scotch and cigar on my patio, lit a fire in the firepit, and proceeded to Step 3.

3. Get organized. Whether it is the day of your release or the morning after, your priority should be to check, update, and review your LinkedIn page. Upgrading to a “Premium” account in order to get a few extra bells and whistles is a nice option, but not one I would deem a necessity. Another part of getting organized is to look over your accounts. Look up how much your spending, where you can make your dollar stretch, and what you will need to meet your financial obligations. Set up and maintain spreadsheets not only of your bills and money coming in and going out of your household, but also for the jobs you are applying. Track where you have sent your resume, what you’ve applied for, when, and from where you found the job opening. On your job tracking spreadsheet, you will also want to keep track of any responses so you have an idea of how well your resume is performing.

4. Keep it classy (and smart) when reaching out for references. At the time of downsizing, you have a window of opportunity — preferably within the first week of the layoff — in securing some terrific references. I reached out to the Intersections’ executives I dealt with directly and sent the following note:

I wanted to thank you for two-and-a-half terrific years with your company, Intersections. I’m looking back on my time with you all, and I’ve got nothing but positive experiences staring back at me. Intersections gave me a chance when no one else would, and Intersections stood by me through one of the darkest times of my life. Couple that with the opportunities and accomplishments I enjoyed while working there, all I can say is “thank you.” My only regret was that Intersections could not find a place for me.

Each version of this letter was different, personalized for each executive I approached. Within ten minutes I had my first reply. From the C.E.O. Two days later, I had his letter of recommendation.

However, as I stated earlier, every layoff is different. Even after being assured by an executive of another employer that I could turn to him for a positive, worthwhile reference, I considered days later that this was the same executive who had approved my dismissal with no reason in writing, after a solid 90-day review given in the previous month. Could I trust this executive?

Be smart and be savvy in whom you approach for references. In the case of circumstances that can only be described as “sketchy” it’s best to find references elsewhere.

namaste5. Enjoy some downtime for yourself. Yes, you have a workload ahead of you between updating resumes, collecting references, and planning for the job hunt ahead. You also need to make time for you. The night my Intersections layoff happened, I had plans with friends that my wife suggested I cancel. “No,” I told her. “I don’t want to hide. I want to be around friends.” All weekend, I did just that. Friends, neighbors, and, of course, family. Manage this newfound time you find yourself having by banking some quality memories with your family, or broadening your skillset. Your job hunt will be there, waiting for you once you get back from what you’ve set aside for yourself. Prepare yourself for your job hunt. Don’t obsess over it.

There will be some days that are going to be easier than others. By doing some footwork immediately afterward, though, you feel like you’re taking the right steps. If you find yourself in an unexpected, unwanted career change, maybe this blogpost will give you some tips in keeping your career on track.

And when in doubt, head back to Tip #5 and find some time with friends. Laughter makes everything — even getting laid off — a bit more tolerable.

 

Your Greatest Asset and Biggest Liability in Online Security: You

online_securityThink of the last time you were in a public place—an airport, a coffee shop, or standing in line at the grocery store—and a complete stranger begins having a conversation with someone on their mobile phone. Suddenly, the tenor of the phone calls changes with far too much volume and personal details being shared.

For an identity thief, this indiscretion is a welcomed opportunity.

From Above the Law, a blog covering the realities and business side of the legal profession, comes a story straight from the “Oh come on, you have GOT to be kidding me!” file involving a professional who should know something about the importance of sensitive data. On an Acela train between D.C. and New York, this managing partner of a prominent law firm called an up-and-coming lawyer to present them with a potential job offer. The terms of the offer were as follows:

  • Base compensation: $300K in the first year.
  • Additional compensation: $50K upon bringing in $1MM; 15 percent of anything over $1MM.
  • Equity: Possible equity in the partnership after one year.

The partner then proceeded to call his firm’s Human Resources department, and provided his associate:

  • The potential lawyer’s full name
  • Home address
  • Proper authorization to start a background check.

All these details were overheard by a full-to-capacity Acela express train.

Antivirus software packages and privacy settings applied on your social media outlets, but we as consumers and users of modern conveniences can still do better. We are the best line of defense against hackers and identity thieves. There is still plenty that we as digital immigrants can do:

  • Limit the amount of information shared on social networks. Use common sense. Think about what information you want to share, who you are sharing it with, and always assume that others outside of your protective network are going to see it too.   Then decide if you want to post it.
  • Avoid private discussions in public places. Again, there is no “private” in public places.  Voices carry; and when sharing PII during a phone call, your voice carries a lot more than just words.
  • Avoid sharing PII on public Wi-Fi networks. As seen in this editorial from CNN Money, many open networks are unsecure. Hackers can easily gain access to your computer this way and mine it for a variety of data. Avoid banking or other financial transactions when using public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Also keep your awareness up when surfing the Internet when in public places. Just as people can inadvertently listen in on a phone call, they can also watch your laptop screen from a distance.
  • Share with your friends and business associates what is and isn’t permissible to share in public. While you can do a lot to protect yourself online and in the real world, you should also advise your friends, family, and co-workers what you deem as “private.” If they don’t know, what may be perceived as a harmless photo on Facebook or a detail shared over the phone could cross a boundary or two.

When it comes to protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII), we all need to continue to be vigilant about monitoring and protecting our personal data, and sometimes the best way to be vigilant is to take a good, hard look at what we are making public knowledge. A little common sense and taking a moment to consider how much you are sharing with the public can go a long way in protecting yourself and your identity.

 

The Delights of a Digital Packrat

packratSomewhere around 7:30 a.m. on a morning where I had no plans other than to write, my phone rang. The voice on the other end was a client in need.

Sidenote: If a client calls you at 7:30 in the morning, something is wrong. Very wrong.

“A client isn’t satisfied with a class we began yesterday,” the client told me. “We need someone to go in and give a seminar on Social Media initiatives. Kind of a ‘speed dating’ approach to what’s out there. Can you do it?”

A seminar on Social Media. No background on the client. No preparation. No planning.

No problem.

You might be thinking “Woah, I could never do that!” My retort to that would be “Why not?” Think about it: The majority of planning and preparation a presentation happens the first time you give a talk. When you are called on again, you simply repeat your earlier performance, maybe with a touch more polish and finesse. Right? Later on, you’re asked to give that presentation of yours, a client may ask you “But, could you make the focus less on Topic A and lean more towards Topic B?” After some brush-up and a few deep dives into research, you then create a variation on your original theme — same subject matter, but different focus point for varying audiences.

My own log of presentations dates back three years. While that may deem me something of a “digital packrat,” it actually provides me an invaluable resource pool for building brand new presentations. For that unexpected wake-up call, my (sleep-riddled) mind sifted through numerous Keynote files on my laptop. I reviewed the following seminars I’d already successfully delivered:

  • Technology for the Technologically Challenged
  • What is Blogging?
  • What is Podcasting?

Ten minutes of editing and rearranging slides yielded the presentation Speak Geek to Me: Social Media in a Nutshell, a talk I have taken across the country and around the world.

My client told me en route that I would probably wrapping up no later than 3:00 p.m. I did not leave the client until 6:00 p.m. on account of the questions, the answers, and the strategies that came from my seminar. One of the students was so energized, she walked me to my car, still talking up the potential of Social Media in her workplace.

Safe to say, the talk was a hit.

When putting together presentations, keep this in mind: Success hinges on how ready you are, not just for today but for tomorrow. Thinking quickly is essential in providing a client solutions; but results happen when you act, and the ability to act and react even faster on your feet is not a talent but a skill that can be honed and mastered. Give yourself time to rehearse a presentation but plan out variations of that alpha seminar. Prepare two or three alternative versions of your talk, and keep them at the ready in a running log of  files. That way, when that call comes, you have a pool of resources to pull from.

Be prepared, because you never know when that wake-up call at 7:30 a.m. is Opportunity in need of your unique talents.