GOING PRO IN SL
How do you turn your Second Life into a real life career? Though she's written about creating SL machinima and solar eclipse simulcasts, this blog has been rather sparse of Aimee Weber lately-- but that's partly due to the copious commercial projects the avatar fashion designer and metaverse experience crafter has been developing in recent weeks. Most notably, she created the immersive Second Life space showcasing Warner Brothers' artist Regina Spektor, for Millions of Us, the new virtual world production company from former Linden staffer (and pal) Reuben Tapioca. Since so many Residents must be wondering how they too can convert their SL talents into their paying gig, I asked Aimee to offer advice on turning passion into profession. All that and an interview with LL Vice President Robin Linden on the subject, after the break.
The Next Step - Second Life Professionalism
by Aimee Weber
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Intro to Advanced Business in Second Life, my name is Aimee Weber and I will be your professor today. To attend this class, you should already have an impressive mastery of at least one prerequisite skill in SL including scripting, building, texturing, terraforming, or project management. I know many of you are quite the hotshots in one or more of these areas, but today we will address the time honored question of "How can my skillz pay the billz?"
Going professional in Second Life may seem like the start of a dream job. You get to tinker with the bleeding edge of 3D internet technology while at home, in your pajamas, and possibly drunk. But before you quit your day job, you're going to have to make some changes in your perspective on SL and how you present yourself to the virtual world.
Now I know from talking to many of you that these changes don't sit well with the fiercely libertarian nature of the Second Life demographic. You guys don't want to DANCE for the MAN, and that's fine. But try to stick with me here and maybe we can strike up enough compromise between being a free-wheeling beatnik and a corporate tool to get the bills paid.
Get some solid work experience
When a client is considering you for a project, they're taking a great risk in terms of money, time, and even reputation. It's therefore upon you to make them feel as comfortable and safe as possible choosing you for the job. Nothing accomplishes this like a proven history of achievement with a sea of happy customers in your wake. While your status as SL-Foo Grand Master Ninja will aid you greatly, you should focus on demonstrating a few other professional traits:
Finish Your Projects - This stream-of-consciousness we call a virtual world is littered with half-finished experiments and muses. While many are technically brilliant, they will likely give the impression that you're not a "follow-through" kinda person. Go ahead and take the extra steps to finish a project, document it, package it and maybe even market it. This tells employers that you're willing and able to stick with them from start to finish on a project.
Meet Your Deadlines - You would be shocked at how much a deadline can change your perspective on work in Second Life. SL can be fun when you have all the time in the world to tinker and experiment, but now people are adjusting their schedules around your promised delivery date. You'll need to learn to prioritize and if necessary, learn to let go of low-priority features. I know some of you want things to be just perfect, but a project that arrives a month late is far from perfect. You can still take breaks to play World of Warcraft, watch Doctor Who, or look for Butterflies Gone Wild websites, but now you must budget that time!
Get experience, no matter what - You ask the Zen Master how you can get a job without experience, and how you can get experience without a job? The Zen Master says, "work for free." While Midnight City was (and still is) a non-profit project for me, it has been invaluable in proving that I'm capable of managing a large scale project. Charitable organizations like Relay for Life can also provide high profile opportunities to spotlight your work and to get gleaming recommendations. Just remember, even though you're working for free, don't act as if you are working for free. The objective here is to get a reputable organization to vouch for your talent and professionalism, so make sure that's what they see!
Doing all the right things won't help you if nobody knows you're doing all the right things. Increase your visibility. Prospective employers are not looking for modesty, they need to know what you've done in the past and what you can do for them in the future.
Build a Portfolio - Prospective clients are prepared to pay you money to do work for them, so don't start your relationship by making them work to learn about you. You should have a nicely organized portfolio that includes descriptions, photos, testimonials, and client contacts from your past projects. If your work has appeared in the press, be sure to include links.
Get a website - I won't say that this is essential, but it's a tremendous help in creating the perception that you are a stable entity in the industry. Having the website could also increase your Google visibility associated with Second Life and may land you the occasional contract deal right off the street. If you can't afford a website, consider entering yourself and accomplishments on the Second Life Historical Wiki.
Network - Now I know many residents are self proclaimed recluses and the idea of networking feels unnatural, insincere, or downright painful to them. The truth is, the more people you can stay in contact with on a regular basis, the more opportunities will likely come your way. This is a fact of life. If attending the occasional virtual mixer feels like torture, consider hiring somebody a bit more boisterous who can act as your agent while you continue your monastic pursuits.
Operate as a Business
Now this part I hate with a capital 8. But if I can do it, you can do it ... and by that I mean if I HAVE to do it, you damn well had better do it! Seriously though, real world organizations have a standard process by which they get things done. You will always be in a stronger position if you can integrate yourself into their process rather than being a confusing exception in their corporate flow control. That means yummy paperwork!
Proposals - Can vary widely depending on the task at hand, but most will include a statement describing your client's problem, your solution to the problem, a breakdown of cost, your needs/requirements, and some amount of self-promotion describing why you are the best person for the job.
Invoices - Don't be taken off guard when a client requests an invoice! Microsoft Word and Excel provide templates for invoices, so take the time to familiarize yourself with them.
Presentations - You may be asked to give a telephone or live presentation and that means public speaking! Once again, if you're shy, consider teaming up with somebody who can do a good job wheeling and dealing in front of a crowd.
The Second Life Developer Directory
When real world corporations approach Linden Lab about projects, they are normally directed to the Second Life Developer Directory. This directory lists Second Life residents with a proven track record of professional success in SL.
But how does one get on this list? Linden Lab's Vice President, Robin Harper had this to say:
"I think the best way to get on the list is to send in your name and skill set, and a great portfolio -- pics, happy clients, etc. It also really helps to be able to show that you are able to work on a 'professional' level. That is: you are ready to manage things like deadlines, invoicing, milestones and progress reports."
When asked to elaborate on professionalism, Robin went on to say:
"You might find that you need to do RL presentations, so public speaking skills and salesmanship are also critical. I think setting expectations is part of being professional. People need to know what they're getting into, and you need to be realistic about what you can promise In the long run that makes everyone a lot happier!"
So ... you sure you wanna do this?
Nobody knows what will become of this budding new platform or if grooming a career in Second Life is a fruitful endeavor. If the phrase "get rich quick" finds its way into your thoughts about Second Life, I recommend you run away very fast. Second Life professionals work very long, hard hours and many have been doing this for years with only moderate payoffs. I'm not trying to discourage anybody. Instead, new residents looking for instant gratification in the world of Second Life business should try to maintain more reasonable goals.
However, If you have talent, patience, passion, and just a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder, there may be some great opportunities waiting for you in Second Life. I leave you with this quote from Robin:
"Second Life is getting a lot of visibility lately, as you know. If someone is serious about building a developer business, this is a great time to get involved."
View Aimee's studio site here.