Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Leveraging Free To Work For You

We've talked before about how technology in general, and the Internet in particular, has democratized creative production.  Make no mistake, real talent, effort, and passion are needed to create and ultimately be successful.  But the tools needed to utilize these have never been so widely available, easy to use, or, perhaps best, free.

 It all starts at the beginning, when all you have is an idea, or the beginnings of a project.  Say you're drawing a comic: head on over to Digital Webbing to get an artist, inker, letterer, or whatever other puzzle piece you're missing.  Starting a different company?  You can find a ton of logo designers on the DeviantArt forums.  At a number of writing sites, like Absolute Write, you can get fellow readers and writers to read your work and give critiques, and offer these services yourself.  Sometimes you can get these things for free - people looking to simply expand their portfolio, do something for fun, etc - or sometimes you'll have to pay for the work.  The point is, though, that the platforms are free.  It's never been easier to find who you need, wherever they may be.

Once you're actually at the creation stage, there are a number of no-cost options available.  Sure, you can fork over money for programs like the Adobe suite or Microsoft Office.  And maybe that's what you'll end up needing.  But open source and free software is everywhere.  Get LibreOffice for your basic word processing program.  GIMP and Inkscape are great art programs.  Look at the amazing things people have done with Blender.  If there's something you want to do, chances are you can find a program that you can do it with for free.

While once upon a time getting your work out there required all sorts of fees, nowadays you can get away with low- or no-cost sites for selling your work to fans.  This is especially true with digital products; eBooks with Amazon or music with Bandcamp require no money to let you do your thing.  Their fees are taken out of the backend.  Even with physical products you don't necessarily need to pay.  Self-publish your print books with Lulu and, unless you opt for higher-level services, the cost is built into the cost of the books.  You can use Big Cartel to get a free storefront and choose to upgrade later if you decide you need more features.

A huge part of marketing, especially with smaller projects, is connecting with fans.  Why should people support your project over someone else's?  Because you make it fun and personal and engaging and they don't want to support a movie or an album or a book.  They want to support you.  Social networking sites are a great way to do this.  Leverage Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to let people see the real you.  And don't just give updates about whatever you're working on; share your thoughts, ask them questions, let them be your friends!  One of the old (disparaging) adages about self-publishing or vanity projects was that you'll only sell them to your friends and family; if you make everyone feel like they're a friend...well, that sounds like the start to a nice business model.

Here's the kicker: not everything will be free.  There are inherent costs to some things, especially people's time and talents.  Even then, if you need money, new platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, which are free and simply take a percentage of the final tally, can help you raise funds.  The point is, though, that there are free alternatives to nearly everything you need to make your dream a reality.  Barriers are falling down all the time, so don't make yourself the only barrier standing between you and your creation.

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