The bottom line with efficiency is, well, the bottom line. How do you get the best value out of your work? There are a wealth of options when it comes to free or premium versions of the tools that make your life easier.
In part one of this post, we're going to take a look at some of the ways we were able to get things done better, faster, and cheaper, including
TheFilmSchool uses Google Drive and Dropbox for sharing files that need to be shared. Google Drive is free, of course, but tricky to organize and susceptible to files disappearing. That can be a huge headache and a real time waster when you spend half an hour searching for a file that isn't there anymore. The upside to Google Drive is that it is free. We are able to distribute key documents to interns through Google Drive and it doesn't cost a dime. Make sure to back up the important stuff though. For really important documents, Dropbox is worth the monthly fee.
Managing your own workflow is insanely important when it comes to efficiency. I have too much to do to be able to remember to do it all without help. Thank goodness for the nugget of extended cognition known as Basecamp.
I'm a huge fan of Basecamp, and most folks that have used it keep doing so. Basecamp lets me assign my interns tasks and get regular updates on their progress. I also use it to schedule my own workflow. I have run into trouble assigning an intern or myself a task that is just too overwhelming to consider finished at any given point, so remember to break tasks up into manageable chunks. There are different price points for Basecamp, all fairly reasonable depending on the volume of projects you have to manage.
Because Nate is in Chico and I don't know how to do everything (yet) remote training is a lot more efficient than a road trip. Skype used to be the go to resource for remote training, but these days a hangout on Google+ has the same features for zero dollars. Google+ for the win.
We'll be back with part two soon, folks. If you have a question about being more efficient, leave it in the comments.
Is event promotion tricky? The key is to use all the techniques at your disposal. In this post, we'll go over the usual suspects, but you never know when you'll need to reach into your reserves to manifest a miracle.
Just kidding. This is my job. Miracles are not allowed.
This is another lengthy essay here, folks, so read it in bite sized chunks if that suits your fancy better:
TheFilmSchool hosts several events through the year. We promote them all. Some are free events, and others are their bread and butter workshops, where the seats must be sold. Both present their challenges, but there's plenty of cross-over techniques between the two. We'll look at each in turn, but here's a quick checklist of something you'll need for any event:
Facebook event page
The difference between a poor event page on FB and a good one is night and day. The real value of this is using it as a platform to manage RSVP's and create some buzz about the event. A successful event page contains compelling copy, is updated periodically so the eyeballs who have already seen have reason to look at it again, and encourages folks to invite their friends.
Here's a pretty good event page. If I had it to do over again I would have put the sign up link above the fold.
A word of warning about Facebook event pages: you can never trust the RSVP counts. Not everyone who RSVP'd will show up, but some who never did will. My personal algorithm is to double the "maybe's" and halve the "yes's" for a decent attendance estimate. In the end, Facebook will never be enough.
Event page hosted on your site
A landing page that answers these questions:
Here's a decent landing page for a free event. Here's a better one for a sold event.
Every event listing you can scrounge
Event listings should be consistent, with clear directions to a sign up location/landing page.
Your own blog
Prepare content that is tailored for folks interested in your workshop, gather buzz around it, and direct traffic to your event landing page. Like this.
That'll get you going. Rule of thumb here: the earlier you get these going the better. Now let's look at a specific event:
Every first Tuesday of the month, TheFilmSchool hosts a different panel. Attendance is free, topics range from building your personal brand to poetry, and each night is guaranteed to hit a different interest group from the last. There are still some die-hard fans that make it out every month, and with good reason. I make it a point to personally thank these patrons each time, because hell, they make my job easier, and they understand the value of a free event.
Many folks don't. Many folks prefer to stay in unless they have a really good reason to come out. Getting the "irregulars" out is always a challenge.
Your marketing needs to include this, the illusive answer to the ever present question: "Why should I give a %&#@?"
Well, any event should benefit attendees in some way. If it doesn't fit that criteria then it isn't worth the price tag, even if the price is nothing but time. How will your event benefit the community?
In the case of TheFilmSchool, each event answers that question in a different way, so we need to tailor our efforts to suit each case.
For example, next month TheFilmSchool is stepping way out of the mold with a poetry slam. This is the first of this kind of event, so the first step is finding our audience. Who lives in Seattle and loves poetry?
Once you've gathered your lists it is time to get to work. Here's my checklist:
Once again, each target needs something a little different.
Writing programs often have a mailing list, so the easiest course for them is to forward a press release tailored for their students.
Lit magazines might have a mailing list, and might have a Twitter or FB account. I like to provide targets like these with copy they can use to create a tweet or an FB post in seconds, plus a short email they can use for mailing lists.
The above applies to reading spaces, but since they may feel that this event competes with them in some way, your outreach must also include some benefit for them.
Which brings me to the greatest challenge of marketing events: How do you motivate people to talk about your event?
You talk about their events. Use all the tools at your disposal to scratch the backs of other organizations. There is an astonishing amount of pragmatism behind other organizations choice to promote or not promote an event. My solution with TheFilmSchool is to open my arms to promote every film/writing event, and actively encourage our community of film buffs/writers to pass their promotions along to us. It builds credibility for TheFilmSchool as a platform for the arts in Seattle, and builds bridges. That, my friends, is a twofer.
First Tuesday is a free event, and even then it can be tough to get new people out. Let's up the ante and look at what it takes to sell seats at an event.
The screenwriting bootcamp is a three week, ten hour a day intensive course. There's a demand for screenwriting know how in Seattle, no doubt about it, but selling a course that will interfere with getting paychecks is a truly monumental task. Sometimes you just have to pull out all the stops.
Often, TheFilmSchool allows for an early enrollment discount. This isn't a bad idea as long as you have plans to also get an early buzz going. Won't do you any good unless people know about the event early enough.
Additionally, discount are offered to those who have already taken the course. Another great discount to offer is for members of another film organization in town. The supposed competition we've talked about before. If they can offer their members a discount it builds credibility for them and builds bridges at the same time.
Other workshops we've promoted have used eventbrite or brown paper tickets to manage sales. These work well, but for TheFilmSchool we like to host our own ticket management system, similar to this: http://trinitronic.com/wordpress/wordpress-nice-paypal-button
Because TheFilmSchool is all about workshops, the initial investment pays off with each subsequent workshop. One-time event hosters may rather use eventbrite. Like I said, nothing wrong with it, but can get pricey in the long run.
The real challenge with paid events like these is showing the value of signing up as more than the value of, say, taking three weeks off work.
There are enough writers in Seattle for a screenwriting program to be practical, but few enough movie productions to keep it a challenge. As one group that sees the value in the bootcamp graduates, there goes one group that won't need it again. You must keep your finger to the pulse of your audience, and realize that the audience you had yesterday won't be the same as tomorrows.
Fortunately, those that have taken the course are also the most valuable weapon in your arsenal, because they are the source of the most effective and least quantifiable kind of marketing out there: word of mouth.
Word of mouth cuts both ways. Bad reviews over coffee will do more damage than you will ever know about. You can keep bad press off people's lips simply by providing an excellent experience for them.
Which brings us to the meat of the matter: Good marketing requires credibility. Do everything you can to build this, to build trust in your fan base, and deliver what you promise. Nothing I've outlined above will be effective without it.
If you have specific questions about how to get anything in this case study done, leave them in the comments.
TheFilmSchool is one of our long-standing NPO clients that is a continual delight and challenge to work with. Over a year ago the amount of course offerings doubled, increasing the marketing workload accordingly. Like everyone else though, budgets were tight.
Of course, this presented a problem. How do we do twice the work for the same cost?
The solution: Interns
This post covers a lot of ground, so if you like to read in bite sized chunks, here they are:
Make the benefit to your intern hires clear.
An internship can be just about the most valuable thing for a college student or recent graduate. The fact is anyone who is looking to develop professionaly usually has to start here.
It isn't a secret. Free training in the area of your professional interest, a few extra credits you can maneuver onto your transcript for no extra cost, and TheFilmSchool even throws in a scholarship to their program after 200 hours of work(about four to five months). Who can turn that down?
Suprisingly, many can. Not every intern we hired was interested in marketing, which comprises anywhere from %50 to %90 of their duties. They were there because they love film, and when they saw the sheer volume of press releases, social media campaigns, and newsletters they were tasked with, some shirked their duties and quietly fell off the face of the earth.
On the other hand, some got it. Some said "I enjoy this." For some, the experiece was life-changing. When you know in advance what the work is, it helps weed out the ones who won't want to be there a month down the line.
Make sure you know what the benefit for you is, too.
What's your workload? How many hours of work do you need covered? What tasks can you safely entrust to interns, and provide the right training? Taking stock of your needs in advance helps you not end up with five unoccupied interns. An idle intern is a lost intern. Make sure you can keep them busy.
Barriers of entry aren't a bad idea. Intern applicants are required to fill out a form with some basic info, and email TheFilmSchool to submit their resume. Even a simple instruction like "Include the phrase 'I would love to be your intern' in the subject line" can be a good indicator of how good they are at following instructions. Ignore this warning at your peril.
Resume or No Resume
Because the mission of TheFilmSchool is to elevate the craft of storytelling, the first round of intern hires were told not to bring a resume with them. We wanted to hear them tell a story. We heard some good stories, but at the end of the day a good story told doesn't always get that blog post written.
While some of the interns from that round worked out fabulously, others didn't. These days we ask for a resume. The resume offers proof of endeavors seen through, which might be the most important skill any intern needs: Perseverance.
I still like to hear those stories, but a resume is a must.
On-boarding requires some work from you, so don't get cozy yet. Through our experience with TheFilmSchool, we've developed a checklist for on-boarding interns, which includes:
At first, the password thing didn't seem like such a big deal, but after answering countless -and I meant countless- email requests for lost passwords it has become a bit of a sticky wicket. I let interns know not to fear asking me for these things, but give them the resources they need so they don't have to. Life is that much better as a result.
After on boarding, you must invest more time in training them. The better you train them, the less you have to re-train them later.
Because TheFilmSchool is not our only client, it is not always possible to train interns in person. To that end, a good place to start with training might be to train them on using google hangouts and/or skype. These days the hangout is preferred for a variety of reasons. Failing that, never underestimate the power of a phone call.
For example, when an intern at TheFilmSchool fell behind in his tasks, no amount of pestering emails would get him back on track. After a few in person training sessions it became clear that he was working on the tasks, but never made it to the finish line because he was afraid of doing it wrong.
Hell of a problem to have. Yet, that's how it is sometimes. After reassuring him that getting it done slightly wrong is preferable to nothing at all, a weekly phone call to discuss the weeks work and find out what he needed to finish the job were sufficient. He never missed a deadline after that.
My dream is to set a day where I can get most of the interns in at the same time for a weekly meeting to recap the week's work and make plans for the next week. Dream pending.
Firing a volunteer
Sometimes, no matter what you do, things aren't going to work out. Maybe their schedule doesn't work, maybe they never answer their phone. Once you realize that it's time to let them go, how do you break the news?
TheFilmSchool has an elegant solution. Because they have a number of one day workshops, hours worked can be applied to those as complensation. Whether the intern wants to take them up on it is up to them.
In the end, you fire a volunteer like you'd fire anyone. Thank them for their time -and show them the door.
Rewarding your awesome interns
Well, shucks. Isn't college credit, skills learned, and a scholarship reward enough? No. A really great intern is something to be cherished and nurtured. Out of twelve interns we've hired so far, three have completed their internship and only one has actually cashed her hours in for the scholarship.
A few others haven't yet completed the internship, but are awesome nonetheless. How can you keep them motivated?
At first I thought that telling them the kind of money they can make with their newly learned skills would be motivating. I was wrong. Not only is it an empty promise, because I don't get to decide who hires them for future jobs, but it draws attention to the fact that they aren't getting paid for it now. Turns out that can have a negative effect on their performance.
The most successful reward for a job well done I've found so far is some good ol' fashioned gratitude. When someone is awesome, let them know. Too often, an intern's mistakes are immediately pointed out, but the good things go unrecognized. Hell, if you don't tell an intern specifically how they were awesome that day, how will they know to do it again in the future?
Gratitude folks. This can range to letters of recommendation after the internship is over to a simple and sincere thanks. They've earned it.
Every intern is a special snowflake... Okay, well let's not get sentimental about it, but don't forget that each one will have different abilities and needs. Some will ask you twenty questions a minute, some will not communicate their questions very well at all. Any of them could become a valuable asset to your team if you remember to:
And the last lesson learned: Keep recruiting. During the last holiday break we lost touch with all of the interns. Two weeks off is fine if you can spare it, but only half of those interns got back to work before halfway through January. The rest never did. That meant more work for us, more work for TheFilmSchool, and an terrifying start to the new year.
TheFilmSchool has four new interns now. So far they've all been great. If I can take my own advice, maybe they'll all make it to the end.