Build a Strong Foundation
Before embarking on your entertainment-related venture, you should be able to answer all of the following questions with eloquence and confidence:
- Who is my target audience?
- Does my target audience want my work?
- Am I sufficiently passionate about my work?
- Does my work leverage my unique skills and talents?
- In what ways is the premise of my work truly original?
- How will I use the originality of my work to gain a first-mover advantage?
- Would I be willing to consistently produce this work without recognition or pay for well over a year?
Knowing Your Target Audience
Understanding defining characteristics of your target audience is essential if you want to create (and properly promote, distribute, and market) successful material. The more concrete evidence you have that your target audience would love your work, the better. Run actual tests and experiments whenever possible. Conjecture and assumptions based on removed observations can't hold a candle to instances in which you have actually tested different samples of your work with online audiences to see what most sparks their interest.
Leveraging Passion, Talent, and Skills
In addition to asking yourself whether you are sufficiently passionate about your work, you must determine the true source of your passion. Are you passionate about singing because you think it will get you a lot of attention, or do you just love singing? Be wary about moving forward if your passion is not directly related to the work you're producing. Artists with a genuine love of their craft (rather than the perks it sometimes yields) bring across a sense of enthusiasm that audiences love- a sense that, if missing, typically turns people off.
Though passion may be essential, you will have all the more of a leg up if your work also leverages your unique talents and abilities. Pretty much every niche of the entertainment world is flooded with passionate people. To stand apart from the crowd, you will need every ounce of competitive advantage you can get. Unlike with passion, your unique skills and abilities need not be directly related to your work itself (such as drawing of cinematography). So long as you have a knack for some essential element of your professional success (be it networking, promotion, audience analysis, charisma, etc.), you'll have a leg up.
Gaining a First-Mover Advantage
Though all entertainment is derivative, new content that succeeds typically contributes something new to the world. This new element must strike a novel chord, reach a yet-untapped audience, or explore uncharted terrain in a manner that gives its creator a competitive advantage in his or her respective field.
Artists often come across ways to add a new twist to an existing form by:
- Thoroughly understanding the history of their work
- Being very familiar with the body of work that exists today
- Studying breakthrough developments, new media, and emerging trends in other niches (which might be applied to their own)
- Observing what fans and amateurs are doing with existing work (e.g. how they might be modifying it for new formats, subcultures, etc.)
- Taking creative risks (and being willing to occasionally fall flat)
Having Sufficient Intrinsic Motivation
Though passion, skill, and talent will go a long way, you are not likely to succeed if you lack sufficient determination and intrinsic motivation to get through weeks, months, and even years wrought with backbreaking work and little reward. Intrinsic motivation empowers you to work through failure and setbacks because, to a great extent, you never fail. If you are intrinsically motivated, you win so long as you can continue to produce the work you love.
If you aren't willing to do your work for free, just for the fun of it, you are far less likely to rack up the practice and experience it takes to build a significant reputation and fan base. If you have yet to find something you love to do that much, keep looking (and don't quit your day job).
Assemble a Stellar Team
Behind every successful entertainer is a talented and intelligent support group. Sometimes these groups are formal and structured- such as production crews and rock bands; sometimes they consist of a more fluid professional network. Before embarking on your career as an entertainer, determine the type of team you will need to succeed and make an earnest effort to build it.
Assembling a truly useful team should be regarded as a formal part of your job, just as important as tasks like content creation and fan relations. Meeting colleagues and potential partners requires time, dedication, and concerted effort. You will need to send out emails, attend events, and join groups whether you enjoy socializing or not.
Do not expect:
- Talented people to flock to you by chance
- People to "discover" you and offer contracts out of the blue
- Partners to reach out to you before you have achieved independent success
To build a stellar team, you must demonstrate strong leadership skills and concrete ability as an entertainer. Establish yourself as a visionary who can independently create value, and others will flock to you naturally, seeing you as someone who can elevate their own careers. If you do not offer something compelling to potential partners, building a team will be next to impossible.
Be selective when establishing team members- be they long-term partners or one-time cast members. Look for concrete accomplishments and consistent track records in addition to actively testing skills (e.g. through readings and test shootings). Work with people you have known for a long time and can confidently depend on to help you when work gets tough. Foster long-term relationships, even with those with whom you collaborate on short-term projects. Finally, seek out those who complement, rather than duplicate, your skills.
Build a Strong Reputation
Be Available across All Relevant Channels
We no longer live in an age in which entertainers can squeeze by using only one or two communication channels (e.g. just Facebook and Twitter, just in-person meetings and text messages, or just a personal website and YouTube channel). These days, a robust, well-managed, continuous, consistent, cross-platform digital (and often physical) identity is mandatory.
Make sure that through every channel relevant to your audience, you:
- Present the same name and image
- Present a consistent brand and tone
- Appear polished and savvy (all profiles must be complete, formatting must be perfect, and posts must be appropriate for the given medium)
- Appear genuinely engaged on each channel (content on Facebook should be different from content on Twitter or Google+)
- Can be contacted via at least two different methods (e.g. email or Twitter, phone or Facebook message, Skype or email, etc.)
If your work as an entertainer requires real-world appearances (even if those appearances are only occasional booth rentals at conventions), make sure that your physical presentation is in line with your online presentation. Bring forth an alluring, genuine personality with which people can connect. Be prepared to hand out business cards or collect contact information and send follow-up emails giving in-person contacts the option to keep tabs on your work through their favorite online channels.
Make Guest Appearances and Create Collaborative Work
Before you build a well-known brand of your own, leverage other well-known brands by pitching guest posts or appearances and proposing collaborative ventures. The more outlets on which you appear and artists with whom you collaborate, the better.
Guest appearances are best made after you have created a baseline amount of content. In your earliest days, you should focus almost entirely on creating incredible, stellar work. Promotion only makes sense once you have something to promote.
Once you have something to promote, guest appearances and collaborations should be regarded as a work-related task that is just as important as team and network building. In addition to introducing your brand to a wider audience, you will establish essential new connections (and thus contribute to your team building goals) and garner better promotion (marketing is far more effective when you aren't the one advertising your work).
Create Successful Content
Successful Content is Inherently Valuable
Inherently-valuable work evokes appreciation from those who are not already invested in your work or interested in buying something. Work that is self-indulgent or riddled with inside jokes does not typically provide inherent value (though many entertainers still create it).
It is important that your work carry inherent value because that is what spurs word-of-mouth promotion. You will only gain significant traction as an entertainer if you create work that effectively encourages others to promote your work for you. If you feel the need to beg other people to watch your work, and if nobody else shares it, you have a big problem.
Successful Content is Alluring
Alluring content is:
That Which is Succinct Succeeds
People online have very, very short attention spans- especially when their present goals are to be amused, distracted, and entertained. There is no room for rambling and fluff in your line of work. Cut to the chase or call "Cut!" on your career.
The Importance of Visuals
Strong visuals also play a more important role than ever. Even if your core work consists of pure audio, you must make a point of incorporating compelling visuals into your content. If, for example, you are a podcaster, be sure to design a powerful, icon-friendly image for your show and present it through a beautiful website. Though tantamount to gold in today's online world, visuals have always been important- just think about the time and work that has gone into musicians' album covers, performances, music videos, and promotional materials for decades. If visuals didn't matter, bands would not be shelling out thousands of dollars for photo shoots, art directors, and unique designs.
Successful Content is Regular and Consistent
As mentioned earlier, your behavior, content, personal brand, and tone should be consistent across platforms and over time. Should someone choose to follow you after coming across your best work only to receive a stream of vastly different or disappointingly mediocre content, you will likely lose his or her interest. Careful consistency should even extend to the manner in which you respond to and moderate comments on your work (for more guidance, see our tips on creating a comment moderation policy).
Consistency is also key when it comes to timing and publication. You are not likely to build a career off of a one-hit wonder. Persistence and consistency are crucial (and even most one-hit wonders consistently produced work before having one piece go big).
If regular publication plays a role in your work (e.g. if you are a video series producer, podcaster, or webcomic creator), you must regard weekly release dates as sacrosanct. Build up a sizable backlog of content to ensure you never miss a publication date, no matter how crazy your life may get.
An excellent means by which you can consistently create and publish content while also building up an arsenal of backups involves:
- Batching your work
- Producing more content than you consume
Batching involves setting aside certain time periods or days each week that are entirely devoted to one task. During these periods, nothing else is to be done. This combats distractions and enables you to really focus on your work. By scheduling these periods on a regular basis, you can almost guarantee that work will get done. Those who abhor strict schedules (but nonetheless manage to publish regularly and prolifically) still batch their work- they just tend to do so at random times.
Instead of setting content creation goals that enable you to replace supplies that dwindle each week or month, create more than you need. For example, if you release 12 new webcomics each month, make a point of producing 14 to 16. Having extra content isn't bad. Should you arrive at a point at which you have more excess content than you know what to do with (which is to say, you realize you could publish new, original content for months on end without creating anything new), consider weeding out the weakest work or making some of your content available exclusively as a perk to paying subscribers, those who purchase certain products, or those who donate certain amounts of money.
Successful Content is Genuine
We include passion as a key foundational component of your career with good reason. Online audiences can sniff out disingenuous content in no time flat, and content not backed by genuine enthusiasm lacks the elusive spark that gets audiences engaged with an entertainer's work.
In addition to letting a genuine love of your work shine through in the content you produce, do not shy away from sharing your personality with audiences- even if the entertainment you provide does not revolve around a personal brand. Fans who connect with you on a personal level are more likely to invest in, promote, and support your work.
Take a second to think of a song, comic, or show you like, but only know as a stand-alone thing. Now think of a song, comic, or show that is connected with a musician, artist, or actor/producer/director you know about. Wouldn't you, personally, be more likely to promote the entertainment created by a person whose background, struggles, likes, and dislikes you know and understand?
Successful Content is Pure
When you book a massage, it is because you want a massage. Not a henna tattoo. Not juicy gossip about your massage therapist's neighbor. Not the occasional playful foot tickle.
Entertainment is no different. People who come to your content come with specific needs. They may want to be distracted. They may want to feel like they're chatting or commiserating with a friend. They may want to laugh, cry, chortle, or feel smart. They may want to learn something specific or get help making a decision. Your job as an entertainer is to:
- Find out what your audience wants
- Create content that meets a specific audience need
- Cut out everything that does not directly contribute to that need
Because so much effort goes into content creation, removing irrelevant content can be difficult- but it must be done. If you create a podcast on the history of high heels, an aside you make about a personal addiction to brownies does not belong within that podcast and should be removed. If you produce a comedic short, cut straight to the sketch (and leave out the 45 second intro).
Though you are doing a great thing by providing valuable content to your fans, fans are also doing you a favor by lending them precious, irredeemable moments of their time. Treat their time and attention with utter respect, and you are likely to be given more in return.
Also remember that those consuming your content online are easily distracted (and likely to be doing two to three other things while also reviewing your work). If you cannot spark their attention, you'll have trouble driving people to your content from the get go. If you cannot sustain their attention, you'll have trouble gaining devoted fans and garnering word-of-mouth promotion.
Successful Content is Easy to Find
Though much of your traffic will be from loyal fans and social media channels, you have much to gain from creating content that is easily found via search engines. To review the basic elements of search-friendly content, see our introductory guide to SEO.
Successful Content is Carefully Researched, Analyzed, and Tested
While it is great to act on hunches and intuition, you should also make choices informed by personally and externally-collected data.
Hunt for reports created by information-loving companies like Sysomos that reveal how content within your medium, niche, or genre is actually consumed. Look for personal analyses published by creators about the performance of their work (you would be surprised by the number of entertainers who love analyzing traffic and sharing data). Carefully monitor your own traffic, downloads, sales, and viewership stats to understand what garners the most attention and what falls flat.
Use insights collected across public and private channels to optimize your work. Should you discover through a newly-published and well-researched report that certain media outlets are more likely to feature the type of content you create, make a point of reaching out to them. Should you find that videos you create within a certain category do far better in terms of traffic, shares, and attention than content posted in any other category, focus more on that high-performing segment. Should you find that a certain music distribution platform by far outperforms all of your other music sales platforms, find out how to better optimize your presence and audience engagement within that realm.
Don't be afraid to run experiments. Prove theories about potentially-powerful tactics by A/B testing them. You may, for example, think that podcasts on more gossipy subjects perform better than their purely didactic siblings (but have only a small backlog of content to analyze). Test that theory by running a mixture of both types of podcasts and comparing their performance over time.
Build a Profitable Career
Know How You'll Monetize
If you want to become a professional video producer, podcaster, comic creator, or musician, you will have to find a way to earn a living from the work you produce. Before you build a professional foundation, you should understand where your income will come from and how much money you will need to get started. Optimal strategies may vary significantly depending on whether your goal is to make money through a business related to your work, deals with record labels/producers/publishers, or merchandise sales.
Understand the Limits of Your Work
Understand how the type of entertainment you provide will limit your options. Some types of entertainment simply do not jive well with certain monetization models. For example, should you produce a podcast on getting organized and seek to monetize your work, you will have a hard time selling coaching services on home organization because home organization coaching is not something for which a large number of people are willing to pay. The service, though useful, does not have sufficient demand.
Instead of creating products and services simply because they are related to your work, offer things that your audience actively asks for. Listen carefully to your audience's requests, collaboratively create products with your fans, and only offer things that you know will sell. If you make a concerted effort to incorporate audience feedback into the design of a product, you might even be able to fund its creation (and even make an early profit) from advanced sales.
Ask for Donations in a Classy Manner
If you wish to support your work in part or in full from donations, ask for them tastefully. Any request for donations should, like the rest of your content, carry with it inherent value. Even if a viewer, visitor, or listener has no intention of giving you money, he or she should find your donation requests to be entertaining. If you are not capable of asking for donations in a witty and interesting manner, you probably don't deserve them.
Spend Time Carefully
Try to have a means of monitoring the performance of every product you sell and every promotional campaign you run. Doing so will enable you to monitor the ROI of different efforts, drop campaigns and products that don't perform, and invest in that which yields the greatest value.
Develop a Strong Relationship with Your Audience
Great entertainers love, understand, and respect their audiences, knowing that they would achieve nothing without their patronage and support.
Hang Out with Your Fans
Carefully determine where and how you think your fans would like to hear from you. Hang out online where they prefer to hang out. Share content the same way they do.
People on most social media channels aren't constantly promoting their products and services, so neither should you. Interact with them the same way they interact with each other. Share photos of your behind-the-scenes life. Share samples of your works-in-progress and ask for feedback just as you would when interacting with close friends.
Beyond interacting genuinely with fans online, go out of your way thank people for sharing your content. Make it clear that their endorsements and opinions matter. Chime in when people talk about you. Let your fans ask you questions via Twitter, Hangouts, open Q&A sessions on blogs, and AMAs on reddit.
Work with Your Fans
Actively seek feedback from your fans, viewers, listeners, and followers. Act on suggestions and give credit where credit is due (better still, actively go out of your way to say thanks to those who contribute helpful suggestions and content).
Above all, focus on giving your fans what they want. This typically involves investing more time in content creation than in anything else, as in most cases, your core offering is more important than small talk on a Facebook page. Do whatever it takes to maximize time spent producing what your fans want- even if this requires hiring others to help you with tasks like event booking, money management, and scheduling.
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