Sunday, July 3, 2016

Freelancing (and Freebies For Family)

One of the great perks of doing digital content creation is, it always seems like there's time for one more job. A three day weekend at the end of the month can mean an extra 15 billable hours from the comfort of my backyard patio in the shade.

Some of the work I've done in the past that I'm proud of are for local and even national companies. A short list:

You'll notice that last one. Tom Schiller shares a last name with me. This is what I'll label "The Family Freebie." My father is quite an accomplished artist who recently switched mediums. He went from a thirty year career as a working ceramicist, to being a struggling, unknown acrylic painter. He needed a simple website done quickly because he needed someplace to point gallery owners toward his work.

Tom Schiller is a painter from Kansas City who uses acrylics on canvas and sells artwork online.

Tom Schiller is, shall we say, "frugal" in his budgeting. But I wanted to make something for him that looked clean and professional, so why not Squarespace? I'm not a content management system snob. If it works, it works.

Five hours later, Tom Schiller Studios was online and I could afford a new pair of shoes. Win/Win.

If you're a fan of surrealism or cubism, I'd suggest you take a look at his work. He currently has a sizable collection of acrylic paintings for sale.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Work History 2013 - Present: KC Magazine and ThisIsKC

I think I'll call this post Local Lifestyle Coverage is Extremely Competitive, or "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog."

Kansas City has some pretty savvy cultural taste makers. If you enter the culture & lifestyle coverage field, you better understand your audience and how to network.

I like to think I'm a versatile writer, but leaving the daily world of truck driving content at CDL Life and moving directly to the world of affluent Kansas City women was challenging in a way I hadn't experienced yet. Topsy-turvy time, within just a few weeks. The job was creating an online presence and social engagement for three different metro-focused magazines, KC Magazine, KC Business, and Good Health KC. The amount of content going across the editorial desk of that operation dwarfed anything I had seen previously. The publishing house also had a much more ambitious plan in mind.

What kept me focused and productive was a very experienced and efficient managing editor. I was hired to help him create an engaging social presence, and expand the demographic. Their reader demo was a 30 - 55 year-old woman with good taste, spare cash and who was community-focused. My job was to expand that to 25 - 55 year-old women AND men who harbored an online shopping itch. They also wanted to double the size of their social media audience...without spending any money.

Tough crowd.

What I found was, it might not be easy, but the expectations were reasonable. After all was said and done, I was able to increase weekly readership by 15 percent and increase the social engagement across all channels by an average of 20 percent. Was I able to accomplish this on a purely organic model? Mostly, yes. I confess: I had to spend money. However, it wasn't like opening a spigot, but more like firing a water pistol - short bursts and tight focus from something created cheaply. The print side of the house ended up almost sinking the entire ship.

The singular problem at this company was that the management saw no problem between having the print editorial team compete with the digital team. They saw the magazine and the website as two distinct entities. This caused a multitude of problems. Here's a list.

  • Creating a magazine with one name and publishing all of the mag's content on a URL with a completely different name confused both readers and advertisers.
  • Editorial on the print side consistently prevented digital from publishing certain content in order to "save it" for magazine readers. Problem being, print readers were no longer the primary audience. Digital outperformed print by a ratio of about ten to one.
  • Print editorial competed with digital so much, that some editorial staff refused to participate in social media. 
  • Print editorial made recruiting freelance talent for content and photography very difficult by delaying payment to some contributors by as much as five months.

What I Learned: 
  • Social Media Ad Campaigns 
  • Strategic Editorial Revision for Web from Print 
  • Agenda Setting 
  • Website Development & UX 
  • Joomla 
  • eCommerce

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Work History 2011 - 2013: CDL Life

The transportation and truck driving industries in North America are huge. Billions of dollars go through them every year. Having said that, the industries aren't exactly riding the cutting edge of technology. They're just beginning to catch up to where a lot of companies were back in 2008.

What I learned at PlattForm Advertising was that trucking has a lot of appeal to a certain type of person. However, many potential drivers needed to know a lot about what they were getting into before they earned their CDLs. CDL certifications aren't that hard to get, when compared to college degrees. You move into a school, you learn what you can from a seasoned veteran of the industry, then you take a test and get into a truck. Once that happens, you need information.

There are a lot of sites that just have basic stuff designed to get you interested in a Commercial Drivers License program, like PlattForm was so adept at marketing. Not that many places on the Web gave people insight into the trucking industry and the kind of demands it placed on new drivers. That's where comes in.

I looked into fifteen sites that cover the trucking and transportation industries, and CDL Life was unique. They put more of an emphasis on community, rather than just industry information. They create content that appeals to every aspect of the trucker - what they think about during the work day, what their carriers are up to, what kind of music and movies they like, what kind of mobile apps benefit them and their families, how they can save money, what industry groups love to back them and their image, everything. They love drivers, all 4 million of them who bring about 99% of everything you buy to the stores you like. Who wouldn't want to write about that?

So based on previous stints at PlattForm and In10sity with trucking and transportation clients, I went ahead and accepted this new assignment. It came with a "Director of Content" title, which really meant advising a small team who could move fast. It was a job that demanded I learn as much about an industry as I could, while making sure a large reading audience wasn't bored.

What I learned:
  • Targeted audience marketing
  • Team management
  • Client-faced marketing
  • Consumer-faced marketing and PR
  • Video scripting
  • Budgeting

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Work History 2010 - 2012: In10sity Midwest

Corporate mergers can be difficult. It basically means that two teams of executives have to find some sort of compromise while devising a new business model, followed by a series of unsavory decisions regarding their staffs.

The first difficult merger I witnessed was while I was a content writer at PlattForm Advertising. They bought a small publishing company in the mid-2000s so they could start print publications directed at for-profit education corporations. Professional titles were altered, duties were shifted and toes were stepped on until they were bloody nubs.

Change is tough for professionals who are accustomed to certain game plans. This was much more evident to me after the small marketing agency I contributed to called SPIDERtel merged with In10sity Interactive. In10sity was different; they were hungry and they demanded results. The economy in 2010 was tough, yet every industry report published spoke of rising spending ceilings for online marketing; confusing, but invigorating to agencies willing to put in the hours. In10sity was game.
I took the plunge.

In10sity's business model was based on their content management system, InPower 2.0. The back end resembled your regular WordPress interface, with much more versatility. They were also dedicated to search engine marketing, mobile apps, digital marketing tools and paid placement. My duties at SPIDERtel became much more diverse once the In10sity client stable demanded a new level of performance. At In10sity, I continued to develop SEO strategies, but was able to get back to duties more attuned to creative writing and on-page SEO. We had a broad range of clients and an intimidating workload. My duties there lasted until late summer 2011.

So, to recap-
This is what I learned:

  • SEO
  • PPC
  • Google AdSense
  • Content management systems
  • On-page optimization
  • Corporate mergers are tough
  • Long hours

Work History 2010: SPIDERtel SEO

Around 2004, PlattForm Advertising figured they had better learn the real deal about optimizing their corporate and full-service client sites. There was much to be gained from providing SEO and PPC to private education corporations looking to boost profits and leads, while minimizing advertising costs. They hired a small, but talented firm from Overland Park, KS called SPIDERtel.

SPIDERtel had been on the ground with search engine optimization since the early years and they understood the importance of White Hat SEO. PlattForm got caught early on bending rules of search engine marketing which got them behind in the game, so they re-focused their business model by hiring the consulting firm and regained their profit margin by doing so.

By 2010, the assembly line structure of PlattForm's marketing initiatives had put a stale taste in my mouth and I wanted to add another skill set based around a more diverse client list. SEO was less creative, but it was something that made sense to learn. SPIDERtel made an offer and I took it. They were a small agency with some big clients and even bigger budgets. I dove in.

What I learned early on was that the fields of SEO and social media had a lot of talking heads which made for a loud noise floor. Everyone had advice, but it was tough to align yourself with people who were able to prove results. SPIDERtel was pretty good at getting results.

This was also my introduction to social media as an actual service package, rather than as something to annoy friends with after working hours. I learned that social media can be more about client and customer engagement than simply another medium to broadcast an agency's activity. I also learned that there are a lot of talented people in Kansas City that know how to make social media compelling and profitable.

In late 2010, mere months after I injected myself into SEO and PPC campaigns, SPIDERtel merged with an agency out of Knoxville that had big ideas and a lot of raw talent to move things into overdrive. They were called In10sity Interactive.

So to recap-
What I learned:
  • SEO
  • PPC
  • Google AdSense
  • Local business listings
  • Link building
  • Social media
  • Client Service
  • Corporate merger logistics
  • Long hours

Work History 2003 - 2010: PlattForm Advertising

The market crash of 2001 taught me a lot. It taught me that even though I had come a long way since my move to internet marketing, things could go horribly wrong at any moment. It didn't matter if you created great content, nor if your company was "cool." Things fall apart.

So in 2003, I went to interview at a rising agency in the Kansas City area who were doing gangbusters with an online affiliate network. They were called PlattForm and they were soon to be one of the largest privately-owned agencies in the country. On my first day of hire, PlattForm employed 83 people. By the time I left 7 years later, they had grown to over 300 (and they're still growing).

The early '00s were an exciting time for internet marketers who were beginning to understand the implications of Google, both as a business partner and a utility. So while my initial years at PlattForm were focused on creating content for the affiliate structure they had in place, my team also began aligning with new teams focused on search engine optimization and paid placement campaigns. The combined efforts of my content creation team and the SEO and PPC teams allowed PlattForm profits to balloon in a quick, violent lurch of productivity and exposure. Private education became big business online, leaving state-funded institutions in the dust as far as technology and enrollment until well into the mid-2000s.

To this day, PlattForm remains the biggest player in the marketing of private education institutions and continues to develop innovative revenue streams and profitable verticals in related industries.

So to recap -
What I learned:

  • Direct marketing skills
  • On-page SEO strategies
  • Search marketing skills
  • Team management
  • Niche marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Creative services
  • Client relations
  • Feature writing
  • Statistical research
  • Social media
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Video scripting

Work History 2000 - 2001: Start-ups and Shutdowns

So since Hallmark had taught me a very valuable lesson on why content management systems mean a LOT when it comes to user and manager experience on the Web, I found myself in demand.

Hallmark used the Broadvision content management system that was very expensive and kind of buggy, to say the least. Companies who bought the CMS needed people who weren't intimidated by this multi-thousand dollar behemoth on their network. So late in 2000, I received an email asking me if I would come down and interview at a small start up in Florida who had some ambitious plans and some interesting technology in mind for a product database and shopping portal.

Barpoint Technologies of Fort Lauderdale devised a Palm Pilot model that had a built-in barcode scanner that allowed users to do quick comparison shopping in stores coupled with an online database of sellers. You walk up to a product on the shelf, you scan the 10 digit product barcode and the Palm Pilot would launch an app (yep, a mobile app) that would tell you more about it and other vendors online and near the store who were selling it cheaper. It was way ahead of its time. So much so, that barely anyone used it.

I was called in to be a content creator for the shopping portal. I would write review articles linked to products that users could opt to read, and then click through to purchase based on what I wrote. There were thousands of products in our database. We barely made a dent in the shopping experience, but that didn't change the fact that people could still find better deals through this app and help themselves be better informed shoppers.

The last thing we did was create an online app that allowed people to scan barcodes of CDs and our site would upload sound files directly to the Palm Pilot so they could hear what they were buying. iTunes didn't launch until January of 2001, so our little tech-based outfit was slightly ahead of the curve. We just didn't have the capital. When the twin towers came down in September of that year, our funding evaporated and I returned home to Kansas City a bit jaded at the industry...for a while.

So to recap:
What I learned -
  • Mobile apps
  • Emerging technology
  • How perilous web start-ups could be
  • How long it took to drive to south Florida