Creative Business Diaries – Off the Record
Hi guys! Welcome to another interview in the Creative Business Diaries series. This week we have Thomas Neil, a 23-year-old freelance writer from Ayrshire, Scotland and the Editor at Off the Record. He likes Music, Books and Games so that’s what he tends to write about.
What do you create?
I create Journalistic content, which includes but isn’t limited to Articles, Reviews, Interviews and pieces of Creative Fiction.
Why do you create?
Firstly all I’ve ever wanted to do is write and Off the Record lets me do that but the main reason is that I get to support and promote other creatives. If I get to write and continue to create then I’m happy but if my writing helps a band or an author to promote their work and feel good about their own creative pursuits then I feel like what I’m doing is actually worthwhile.
When did you start creating?
I’ve been creating for years to some degree, I’ve previously had work published in New Hellfire Club, The Student Advertiser and Reviewsphere but my own site Off the Record has been in operation for about a year and a half, with the bulk of content and actual activity starting in January 2018.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to share their creations/start a business but doesn’t know where to start/is afraid of reactions?
The best advice I can give is just do it, people will always have their opinions but you can’t always live your life by what other people will think, and surprisingly especially if you’ve read the comments section of any page or site, people are a lot more supportive than you’d expect. So yeah If I could leave you with anything it follows your dreams because it’s better to have tried and failed than never have tried at all.
As for the actual logistics, the best things to do to ensure success or at least give yourself a better chance is to do as much research into the topic, the market or whatever so you are going into it prepared. If possible go for a niche area which isn’t already over-saturated, although if you have a genuine passion for something that loads of people already do or talk about then, by all means, do it. And lastly, make sure to be consistent, interact with your customer/audience base and be willing to invest a lot of time and potentially money into it, for the most part, success is earned not given so you really have to graft if you want to get somewhere.
The best example I can give is that a lot of people seem to think YouTubers and Internet personalities have an easy job but so much work goes on behind the scenes, all the scripting, editing, post-production, marketing and everything else all for a small amount of ad revenue. But the biggest and best channels and creators, create every single day and often on a tight budget with a small team, so even jobs that look easy and or appealing take a lot of work but if you want it then it is possible.
Favourite social media to promote/to find inspiration and what tips do you have to succeed on that network (if any)?
If I understand the question correctly my favourite social media platform to promote is Facebook because it allows for longer form content that Twitter, plus you can edit a post without having to delete and reupload, and you can post pictures just like Instagram but it isn’t only limited to that feature. It’s truly a versatile platform so I tend to focus my attention there, it’s why I have 600+ more followers on Facebook than on Twitter and Instagram. I guess that kinda goes back to what I was saying above, the more effort you put in the more you get back, I focus my attention on Facebook and as a result, I have a lot more likes and interactions. Some tips for success, would be to make sure and post regularly, try to mix up your content to keep people’s attention, interact with your audience and if someone comments on a post then make sure and reply to them, and if you have the money utilise Facebook’s boosting feature, it’s well worth it and lets your content be seen by lots of people who might be interested but otherwise wouldn’t see it because they aren’t inside your organic reach.
Who inspires you and why?
Okay, I love this question because honestly there are so many people that inspire me, I wont talk at length about the more personal ones, although I will say that my biggest inspiration is my partner, she’s truly been my rock and helped me to feel confident enough to get to where I am today and the supportive people at New Hellfire Club gave me a place to write when I was far less confident about my writing and honestly if they hadn’t done that then I don’t think I’d have ever made Off the Record in the first place. But in a broader sense I’m inspired by Philip DeFranco (An American YouTuber), Arin Hanson/Dan Avidan (The Game Grumps, a pair of YouTube Lets Players), the late Roger Ebert (An American Film Critic), Dean Koontz (A phenomenally talented Author), Michael Swaim (an Internet personality and Writer, formerly of Cracked) and last but not least Terry Crews (The American actor, currently on Brooklyn Nine Nine). Now on the face of it those selections might seem a little scattered and inconsistent but, firstly inspiration is very rarely consistent and secondly each of those people are intelligent, dedicated, creative people and each of them possess the gift of making engaging and largely entertaining content.
What are some of the disadvantages of the business you are in and how do you beat them?
I think the biggest disadvantage is that writing arts and entertainment content isn’t exactly original, I have to fight to be heard in a veritable sea of other people who are doing exactly the same thing. But it’s what I wanted to do and to beat that I need to be dedicated, I need to produce regular content to keep my audience engaged, and the content itself needs to do something original even if the idea to produce it isn’t itself, so basically you need to be able to generate unique and entertaining content consistently and I feel I’m doing okay, I mean I’m finally at the point where people come to me asking me to review things, where I have a reputation for producing, honest and uplifting content and I can bring on contributors to bolster my content and also to give someone else a chance to use my platform to share their content and reach a wider audience.
Another disadvantage is that Social Media which is an integral part of reaching my audience is changing, algorithms dictate who your content reaches and for the most part the platforms don’t tell creators what or why, so you just need to keep an eye on your reach and change it to match the requirements, and also being willing to pay to expand your reach never hurts.
Was there a moment when you wanted to quit? Why?
If I am being honest I am a fiercely unconfident person, so I doubt myself all the time, and as such there wasn’t a day that went by early on that I didn’t want to quit but I’ve gotten this far and built up an audience and I don’t want to let them down. I have people reaching out and I want to keep supporting them so slowly those doubts just kinda faded away because I have obligations and people that could really use my help.
How has your business evolved since you started it? Did it go in the direction you were expecting?
I think the biggest changes since I first started have been that I’ve just gotten better, when I first started things were a mess, my site was laggy and I had no idea how to market myself well, but through trial and error and thanks to a lot of forgiving people I’ve built up a system, improved my site and brought in some contributors to really build my brand and platform. Honestly, I could only have hoped two years ago that things would go this well, I can only thank everyone for all the support and promise that I’ll keep doing my best.
What makes you mad about the creators’ community and how would you change that?
My biggest and only real complaint is that people can be really demanding, especially back when it was just me running my site and even when I gave them clear expectations of when and how their content would appear on the site I would still get intrusive and sometimes rude messages, but I’ve learned through trial and error again to be as clear as possible, provide all of the information up front and maintain open lines of communication for relatively stress free interactions.
Chocolate or Pancakes?
I’ll have to go with Chocolate, I’ve never really been a fan of pancakes, don’t know why.
Sweet or Salty?
I prefer salty things, I don’t mind sweets but I’ll always take a savoury/salty thing over something sweet.
Wine or Beer?
I don’t drink that often, but when I do if I’m not having a Cider then I’ll go for a beer, my particular favourite is Tsingtao, a chinese beer that comes in a huge bottle and tastes super good.
Swimming or Skiing?
I’ve never been Skiing so I kind of have to say swimming, but I have terrible balance so I think I’d hate Skiing anyway and I actually do like swimming, so yeah I definitely prefer swimming.
Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings?
I think J. R. R. Tolkien is a phenomenally talented writer and I love The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Harry Potter, the lessons it taught me, the fact it is single handedly responsible for inspiring me to read and write, and the fact it’s just a wonderful and powerful series of books. So yeah I pick Harry Potter.
I was asked if I had any encouragement for the readers, I think other than what I’ve already said in my answers I think the most encouraging thing I can say is that regardless of what you create there is almost guaranteed to be someone who is interested in your content, so to quote Shia LaBeouf….”Just Do it”.
Also, I want to leave on another quote I heard recently and found to be super inspiring, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop” – Confucius