Monthly Archives: March 2014

Super Villain Eats Puppy

super villain

If you write novels and are racking your brains for a new super villain, you may think leaders of the free and not-so-free world make poor templates for future sons and daughters of anarchy.

But you’d be wrong.

Vladimir Putin: President of Russia

vladimir putinNarcissistic, creepy, Turkish bath loving Putin is so pumped full of Botox his face hasn’t moved in years. Taking every opportunity to whip off his shirt and flex his ageing pectorals, he is the epitome of evil in a world gone mad.

Putin has all the qualities you need for a super villain – an ex-KGB man, he’s a consummate manipulator who likes nothing more than oiling himself down and smothering hapless victims before a log fire inside his heavily guarded Kremlin state room.

Strengths: Has a crumbling superpower, vast resources of dirty money, and a history of subjugation behind him. He also eats puppies.

Weaknesses: Fluffy kittens and surgical stockings.

Henchmen: Several hunky men in ski-masks.

David Cameron: Prime Minister of the UK

david cameronPermanently paranoid puppet Cameron was genetically engineered by the Royal Family with the single aim of restoring the monarchy to its former glory. Cameron has an inbred fear of poor people and has tasked super villain in waiting Duncan The Terminator Smith to deliver a sophisticated pogrom against those he sees as inferior.

Cameron was born and raised in the hallowed grounds of a public school under the sea but is generally despised as a leader because of his plastic face and nylon Primark sweaters that reveal his man boobs.

Strengths: Tea making and embroidery.

Weaknesses: Anyone Scottish or who owns a pit bull.

Henchmen: Fluffy headed, fetish porn icon Boris Johnson and evil Chancellor of Whipping and Bondage Osborne the Glum.

Kim Jong-Un: Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

kim jong unPodgy super villain Kim inherited power from his father but looks more like a troubled teen with a gun rather than a ruthless dictator. Kim’s power lies in keeping his minions standing, clapping and smiling. He does this by shooting anyone who sits down in his presence.

Individuality is frowned upon in North Korea and the mountains and sky have been painted grey. Flowers are banned and all the goats have been imprisoned for excessive bleating. Kim spends most of his time trying to find a hat that fits and shining his buttons.

Strengths: Has no idea what the rest of the world looks like but can bend straws with his mind.

Weaknesses: Short legs and over-sized genitals make him walk funny.

Henchmen: Anyone bland and still alive.

Angela Merkel: Chancellor of Germany

angela merkelWith a penchant for horse meat and frog eye kebabs, washed down with the odd stein of German lager, Merkel is really long lost country singer Conway Twitty in a body suit. Merkel’s cold and calculating politics keep a fragile Europe from descending into chaos but this belies a more playful side that includes colourful knitwear and Jager Bombing.

Often to be heard singing “It’s only make believe” in the bath, Merkel secretly fathered the demon love child of earth bound succubus Silvio Berlosconi which left her with excessive nose hair and the power to walk through walls.

Strengths: She holds the purse strings of Europe.

Weaknesses: She spent it all on string, which was the real cause of the world financial crisis.

Henchmen: Francoise ‘I-Did-It-My-Way’ Hollande (Elvis in a body suit) and Barack Obama (Third Elf Lord of the Hidden Veil in a body suit).

Serious super villain stuff

Whether you are going for comic book or more serious, your super villain antagonist should have all these characteristics:

  1. Your super villain should have a great power – either political, financial, emotional or something other worldly.
  2. Your super villain should appear unbeatable and possess an aura of invulnerability.
  3. They should be larger than life, colourful, in 3D, and unstoppable.
  4. They should have henchmen, the scarier and far removed from mainstream humanity the better.
  5. They should all do very nasty things on a regular basis.
  6. Your super villain should have a fatal flaw, hidden away for the moment, an ultimate weakness that will bring about their doom.
  7. Finally, your super villain should have a nemesis. Someone heroic but flawed who likes crumpets and Chardonnay.

Whatever you decide when you create your super villain make sure you “go big”. No one remembers a third rate villain and if you are too timid with their creation you could be setting your book back before it’s even begun.

Be bold. Be fearless. Set your super villain free.

Let The Feckless Goblin know in the comments section below what characteristics you think make a great super villain. Who’s your favourite? Who’s your least favourite? Which other famous people would make good super villains?

Augmented Reality: The future of storytelling?

augmented reality
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Augmented reality has advertisers and marketing drones fawning over their lattes and popping mind enhancing drugs by the bucket load as they think of the implications. But is it just a gimmick used to sell a product, and give us poor consumers a moment or two of fun, or does it have wider and more intelligent uses?

Imagine the scene: Little Timmy, dressed in his Power Ranger pyjamas, has finished brushing his teeth and jumps excitedly onto his Thomas the Tank Engine duvet.

“Can I have a story, mommy? Can I?”

You pick up his latest toy and place it on the bed, hand your son a smartphone and leave him to it. Little Timmy points the phone at the toy at which point said toy comes to life and begins dancing across the bed sheets, singing songs and telling stories.

For those of you who don’t know, augmented reality is the power of your phone to alter or enhance the world around you. Starbuck’s famously did it with their Christmas coffee cups. Customers who bought the special cups only had to lift up their smartphone cameras to see a special animation dancing around their table top.

Developers are looking at using it to enhance our everyday experiences. Let’s say you are in the supermarket, shopping for the week’s food. You see a product, point your phone at it and augmented reality gives you details of what it contains, serving suggestions, calories, even what wine to drink with it.

Today is a special event. Your street is going to become a land of fantasy, filled with fighting gnomes and hobgoblins. You step into the sunshine, wearing a pair of special glasses and look at the car parked in front of your house. Out of the sunroof pops a great and powerful wizard. Behind him, over by the telephone pole, a little further down the street, monkey creatures peak back at you screeching horribly. In the sky above, prehistoric hawks swoop down.

Or imagine you visit Whitechapel and want to be entertained by the gruesome tale of Jack the Ripper. Instead of reading a guidebook, you let your smartphone drag you down those old streets, watching clever animations of the murders, and the killer, at first hand.

Augmented reality is in its infancy and we don’t quite know what it will bring. We oldies may see it as a quaint diversion to show off to our friends in the office, but there are some, like one CEO below, who think the future of this new technology will enhance our world, delight and educate us for years to come.

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People Per Hour: How to succeed as a freelance

People Per Hour

For those who don’t know, People Per Hour is a freelancing site that boasts around 4 million users, both employers and those hawking a variety of skills and services. I joined the site just before Christmas and thought I’d give you the benefit of my experience – particularly to those few on Twitter who contacted me recently and said they are yet to receive a job from the site.

There are two ways for freelancers to get work on the PPH site:

Bid on jobs

The first is to bid on jobs offered by employers. They post requests and freelancers say what they can offer and for how much. I’ve had little success going down this route (1 job in three months), but I have to admit that I haven’t tried terribly hard. The average number of bids appears to be around 15-30 which strikes me as bad odds, so I’ve opted for posting hourlies instead.

Post an hourly

An hourly highlights a service you offer as an individual freelancer. For instance, one of mine states: “I can write an engaging 500-600 word article or blog post for £10”. People visiting the site can choose to buy it and it’s the easiest way, I think, to get work. On PPH you can find a range of skills offered in this way from digital art, copywriting and web design to administrative and virtual PA services. This approach works for me and I’ve received longer term jobs following the purchase of a single hourly .

What does People Per Hour charge?

PPH charge 15% for the first £175 you earn in a month and after that 3.5% (both excluding VAT). Transfers of your hard earned money can receive a further 1.9% charge if it goes to PayPal but is free if it goes direct to your bank account.

You can choose to have your hourly featured (advertised) for 7 days or have your bid placed at the top of the queue for around £10.00. While some may baulk at this additional cost, it has worked for me.

Ratings on PPH

As with most freelancing sites, your work is rated 1-5 stars. Customer ratings add to your overall rating – PPH recently changed this to a Cert rating which, the higher you go, should mean you get more work (in other words, you become a trusted supplier). I’ve been there since December and I’m already on Cert 4 (out of 6).

How to increase your chances of success on People Per Hour

While this is not meant to be a promo for the site, I like People Per Hour because it’s simple to use and, so far, has been successful for me. That doesn’t mean work is going to drop like confetti into your lap – you have to put in the effort, and sometimes the money, to make it work for you.

  1. Write a good profile that gets straight to the point. While what you have done in the past may seem more important, try to concentrate on what you can provide. To use a time worn cliché: What are you bringing to the table?
  2. Have some samples. Provide customers with a selection of your work. Make sure it is of good quality and error free. If you are a writer put up 5 or 6 blog posts. If you’re a designer add jpegs of your work.
  3. Consider promoting your hourly. Yes, it’s an extra expense. No, it isn’t a con. When I first began it was tempting to sit there and just wait for the work to come rolling in. Unfortunately, no freelancing site works that way. I began to get work when I featured my hourly.
  4. If you land a job do it well and do it on time, no matter how small it is. Do I need to add anything to that? It’s obvious, right?
  5. Communicate. Some customers will give you all the details you need to complete a job, others may require a little prompting. Don’t try to use the force to complete a job, it rarely works. Ask for more details or clarification.
  6. Be customer focussed. If you get it wrong, offer to put it right and do so quickly. I have got it wrong once when a customer said what I’d written was too flippant for her audience. I swallowed my pride and rewrote completely and have since had 7 further jobs from the same customer.
  7. Be prepared to research and write on any subject. This week my brain hurts because I’ve had to write on currency transfers in China (which I know nothing about) and have just received an order for 4 blog posts on e-greeting cards (which I know even less about).
  8. Don’t sell yourself cheap. It may seem like a good idea to offer rock bottom prices to get yourself going. Resist the temptation – most people will equate low price with low quality work. Charge a reasonable price. If an employer expects you to work for peanuts then they are not worth your time.
  9. Be reliable. Here’s the good news: There are plenty of unreliable people out there, check some of the reviews on the site. If you provide a good service and bring it in on time and at the right price, customers will choose you again and again.
  10. Be patient. For the first couple of months I found the work patchy even after paying to feature my hourly. The work is now starting to build quite nicely. I have a good selection of 5 star reviews and a body of recent work with which to impress prospective clients. I’m not earning ga-zillions but I’m doing alright.

I’ll end this post with a gratuitous plug for PPH. If you click here you can go enrol and see if it works out for you. I wish you every success.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please take the time to leave a comment below on any aspect of freelancing. We’d be interested to hear what you have to say.

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Are you neglecting your business blog?

Are you neglecting your business blog?

With a wide range of social media and other marketing channels available these days, it’s only natural that running a business blog may be the last thing on your list of fun stuff to do. Unfortunately, most businesses, particularly SMEs, are missing a trick if they are not utilizing this simple and effective marketing tool.

Two big business blog mistakes

  1. Your blog has a couple of entries, written when you first put up the site, and has since been forgotten. It is currently of no value to your customers or anyone else.
  2. You update your blog with dull content that does not engage the reader. In other words, no one is interested in what you have to say. You might as well have written nothing.

Write regular, informative posts

  • First of all, search engines love new content. If you have a static website where you’ve put up product and service descriptions and see no reason to add to that for the moment, then a regular blog is a brilliant way of updating your site and keeping Google et al happy.
  • A business blog also invigorates your social media feeds. Instead of constantly pushing your product or service with Tweets and Facebook posts, you can direct fans and followers to another interesting article on your site. It provides a simple tool for starting a conversation,  building trust with consumers and is a great long term  strategy for improving conversions.
  • You can play around with long-tail keyword combinations which can help drive relevant search engine traffic to your site.

10 quick steps to a supercharged business blog

  1. Blog regularly – at least once or twice a week.
  2. Have a list of keywords and combinations that you want to exploit.
  3. Write interesting content. Take a closer look at your average consumer – what do they want to read? What relates to your product or service and makes a really interesting story?
  4. Here’s the tough part: Don’t try to sell in your blog posts.
  5. Become a respected source. If people trust what you say, they will trust what your business supplies.
  6. Don’t be afraid to link out. Links are the lifeblood of the internet; use a couple in your posts. Search engines love it.
  7. Use images. A page with just writing on can look visually unappealing, an image can add some life and improve your SEO.
  8. Mix up your business blog with videos, surveys, and competitions. Make it exciting for your visitors and they’ll want to return.
  9. Leave the comments section open. If someone posts a message, reply to it. People love to be noticed.
  10. Link your blog to Twitter, Facebook and any other social media you use. Get it all working together.

And finally…

Yes, it takes work to keep a blog going and you have to beat your brain for ideas  but, in the right hands, this can be a powerful tool that engages customers and attracts new ones to your brand. If you haven’t got the time to do it, hire and build a relationship with a professional blogger to research and write the content for you.

Whatever you do, don’t leave your business blog sitting gathering internet dust – it’s a waste of a valuable, and cheap, resource.

 

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On Becoming a Freelance Writer

Becoming a freelance writer

Every pen monkey has thought of setting up as a freelance writer at one time or another. You get the best of both worlds, don’t you? You love to write, why not become a literary gun for hire? It’s in your scribbler DNA. You can’t resist.

For some, it’s simply a thought that passes as easily as it came. Other, more deluded types, take a breath and dip their toes into the freelance waters, encounter little or no success and return to their fantasies of becoming the next Stephen King or J R Tolkien. A few hardy souls bite the bullet and decide to become fully fledged freelance writers.

They do! Yes, they do! (Sound of trumpets and general hurrah-ing).

So, here’s your first of several freelance writer hard truths: It generally sucks.

Strangely, I don’t mean that in an unkind way. What I mean is that it’s not all fun. You won’t be sitting with your favourite pen, waxing lyrical as you sip nice French claret and dig into a box of Thornton chocolates while dressed only in yesterday’s vest and pants.

Oh, wouldst that it were dear scribe. Then, we would all be doing it.

A freelance writer works hard

For those thinking of quitting the day job and giving it a try, be warned. You may currently work eight hours a day, five days a week and all for a set wage. You may hate your job, the travel each morning and evening, your evil boss, your pointless work mates, your work chair, and the stupid executive toy on the edge of your desk. But, listen my friend, you have a lovely set income flying into your bank account each month and you have a pretty good idea how and when you’re going to earn it.

As a full-time freelance writer you will be working longer hours, probably for less, and your pay packet is going to be highly uncertain, at least in the beginning. You will have to hunt for jobs and you will have to compete with other, equally skilled, writers for your share of the freelance pie. And, through all this, you will have to provide a consistently high standard of work.

Still haven’t put you off?

Okay, it’s a good idea. I agree. Should I mention tax returns now? No?

Besides, you’ve decided you’re going to keep the day job and simply freelance part-time.

Good for you! Just for you here are:

6 qualities a freelance writer needs

Commitment: If you are going to do it, commit to it. You will have deadlines, meet them. You have to spend time writing, do it. Do it all at 100%. Don’t sit and think: I’ll have a go at it later or I’ll crack through that tomorrow. It doesn’t wash in the wonderful world of self-employment. You are a freelance writer: Write!

Competence: Your writing has to meet the standard. You must have above average literary skills and that includes being able to edit your own work effectively. If you are still throwing in redundant adjectives and adverbs and your editing consists of a few flighty red ticks in the margin of a page, the freelance writer life is probably not for you. It’s a skill, not an art form. You need to produce good quality work, quickly.

Determination: Not the same as commitment but an ugly cousin twice removed. You have to get out there and find work each day, every day, seven days a week. You sit down each morning and say: “I need to earn some money.” Find it. Hunt it down with grim determination. Trap it. Kill it. Well, maybe not kill it. Maim it slightly. Chain it to the desk. Make sure it doesn’t get away.

Consistency: Your work must be of a uniformly high standard. No exceptions. If you’re lucky to get business from a freelancing site you will generally receive a customer rating of between 1 and 5 stars after you finish a job. Hard truth #2: For you, a 1 star rating is catastrophic. Your writing credibility immediately goes south and people think twice about hiring you. If you are consistently good you will consistently get 5 stars. If you are poor for just one second, you might do irreparable damage to your reputation.

SEO awareness: A number of your clients will want work that is SEO friendly. If you don’t know what that means, or why keywords are seen as important, then find out. It’s not difficult and you need to be able to incorporate it into your writing.

Adaptability: You need to be able to write across the board. In my short time as a freelance writer, I have put together articles on Chinese social media, storage spaces, car specs, features and benefit selling, dental hygiene, office cleaning, and football. Get yourself comfortable with researching your article, it comes with the job. There are only rare moments when someone asks you to write something you are completely familiar with.

Still interested?

In the next part of The Freelance Writer I’ll be talking about my own personal experience with freelancing platform People Per Hour and I hope you’ll join me for that. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on going freelance then please jot them down in the comments section below.