The Ugly Truth

man covering his earsBeginning bloggers often ask me how to write a story that gets a lot of attention and traction.

They realize they have to cut through a lot of clutter to reach an audience suffering from information overload, and they don’t know how. 

In a way, blogging is a bit like a voice-over career. With thousands of hopefuls jumping like Shrek’s donkey shouting “Pick me, pick me!,” how do you make sure your voice is heard?

As far as blogging goes, there are a few tried-and-tested ways to grab people’s attention:

1. Have a strong headline;
2. Use numbered lists (like I’m doing right now);
3. Tap into problems your readers are experiencing, and offer practical solutions;
4. Be provocative as well as entertaining.

Stories that prove to be particularly popular are the ones claiming to reveal success secrets of those who have made it. Content aggregators can’t seem to get enough of articles like:

“6 Behaviors of the Most Successful People”
“4 Remarkable Insights to Inspire Social Media Success”
“8 Habits of Exceptionally Successful CEOs”
“11 Secrets of Irresistible People”

I don’t even have to read these stories to tell you what “secrets” they reveal:

• Be yourself, and believe in yourself

• Work hard and play hard

• Be proactive and stay focused

• Keep on learning

• Stay in shape, mentally and physically

• Be persistent and flexible

• Do what you love, and love what you do

• Don’t get comfortable, stay hungry

• Always exceed expectations

That’s all good, but there are a few things that are frequently overlooked. Here’s one aspect all successful people and organizations have in common:

They are open to feedback, and willing to change course when they’re moving in the wrong direction.

A GREAT TEAM

A management team is useless if it only consists of cheerleaders. Cheerleaders love everything you do, and they will only tell you what you want to hear. We can all use some positive reinforcement once in a while, but a great company builds on its strengths, and it works on its weaknesses.

It takes clever and fearless critics to point out those weaknesses. They have the guts to tell you what you don’t want to hear. For that, critics may get a bad rep, because they are often seen as unsupportive contrarians who only want to disrupt and destroy.

Some companies have developed a culture where any form of criticism is being suppressed, because it is seen as being disloyal. It turns out that those companies not only close themselves off from inside critique. They don’t want to hear it from the outside either. And once a business stops listening to those who use their products or services, it is pretty much doomed.

GOING UNDERCOVER

You’ve probably heard of the show Undercover Boss. It features CEOs of struggling companies. Most of these men and women seem to have one thing in common: they have lost touch with reality. They know something’s wrong with their business, but they can’t put a finger on it because the people they surround themselves with are just as clueless, or they are too afraid to speak up.

So, the boss goes undercover and works a few jobs on different levels to find out what’s going on, and to hear what people are really thinking. What they usually discover is that the employees they work with on the show, are very much aware of what’s wrong. Some of them even have good ideas about how to fix it.

The program always ends with the CEO revealing him or herself, and implementing some or all of the recommendations and suggestions he/she picked up in the field. But there’s more.

The people who spoke up (not knowing they were talking to their boss) are publicly praised and rewarded, instead of being punished for criticizing the company.

The moral of the story? Whether you’re a public organization, a publicly traded company, or you run your own business, feedback is necessary for your survival. Otherwise you’re operating in a vacuum. Even if the criticism is harsh, and feels like a personal attack, you are being given a gift. How you handle that gift is up to you.

FLYING SOLO

Now, if you’re a solopreneur like me, you can’t go undercover in your own business. You need some other system to get feedback. That’s where a coach or mentor comes in.

Being a coach myself, I often have to be the bearer of bad news. It’s no fun telling people what they don’t want to hear. Hopes are high and egos are fragile. Susceptible people love to believe that they are special, and that they have what it takes to be the next Mel Blanc or Tom Kenny.

When that’s clearly not the case, it’s easier for a student to blame the messenger, and find another coach who will take their money and tell them what they want to hear. It’s just as easy to sign up for a site that will validate their status as a “professional” voice artist, in spite of their lack of talent. But “easy” won’t get them anywhere, because easy is an illusion.

Here’s the ugly truth:

If recording voice-overs was easy, everybody would be doing it, and they all would make tons of money. Instead, it’s the companies and individuals that want you to believe that it’s easy, that are making the money.

But I digress. The topic was feedback.

VOICES on “VOICES”

Over the past few weeks, this blog sparked a wave of criticism directed toward voices.com, one of the many online casting services. Colleagues like Iona Frances, who would normally bite her tongue on this topic, felt compelled to respond, and she shared her experience, as did many others.

The big question is: What will voices.com do with this feedback? I’m pretty sure the management has read the articles as well as the comments, and they can’t be too pleased. Countless colleagues have called Canada to cancel their membership, and have asked for a refund. Some have even contacted a lawyer.

If I were the CEO of “Voices,” I would listen, and listen carefully. This is an opportunity to learn and grow as a company. If the critique is valid, changes must be made. If the feedback is based on false assumptions, the company needs to set the record straight. What it cannot do, is to remain silent.

Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.

The worst thing “Voices” could do, is to give those who give them feedback, a hard time. But based on what I have heard, that’s exactly what’s been happening.

Instead of trying to regain the trust of members who each paid $399 or more for services they feel they’re not receiving, callers are getting an earful. That’s not how you treat the talent your site supposedly supports. Moreover, it only confirms the negative impression people had in the first place.

As for me, I have always retained a free membership that allowed me to monitor developments and changes at “Voices” from the inside. Rather than have other people tell me about sliding rates and managed projects, I could see for myself what was going on.

When I tried to log on yesterday, I made an interesting discovery: my account had been removed.

Without any warning or explanation.

Apparently, that’s how this company deals with those who dare to criticize it. You have been warned!

I have only one thing to say:

“Voices.com, thanks for the feedback.

Keep on doing what you’re doing, but know that we’re on to you!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs." goo.gl/ihVpMc

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play

14 Responses to The Ugly Truth

  1. Mark

    I’ve been a paid member at voices-dot-com for a number of years.

    I have a whole bunch of concerns.

    All those logos of the top brands on their home page and the claim that those brands use the site. I’ve *never* received an audition notice for any of those brands or other major brands.

    The intermediaries now being used to handle auditions only serve to confuse and complicate communication between clients and talents.

    The “voicematch” is a joke. I get 100% voicematch job notices which turn out to be completely wrong, by gender, voice age, and so on.

    Did you know you are not required to use Voices-dot-com’s Surepay system? Yeah, that’s stated deep down in the FAQs, In fact, you have to search FAQs to find it. But *nowhere else* is it stated that Surepay is an *option.* Indeed, when you enter your fee on the audition page form, another field automatically adds the Surepay fee! There’s no way to disable that Surepay fee. So the only way to (attempt) to not use Surepay, is to explain that to the client in the audition message!

    Voices.com offers different membership levels, then they add their voicematch system, which narrows the job opportunities down further, and then they make you communicate with their staff instead of directly with clients on some jobs. After your first nightmarish experience trying to get a job done by communicating with their intermediaries, you’ll never do it again. So avoiding dealing with those employees narrows job opportunities even further.

    And then there are the eye-opening revelations you wrote about. Now voices.com removes your account and cancels your membership without notice.

    Let me tell you a story. I’d been a paid member at eLance for several years. Then, one day, like you, without warning or explanation, I received an email from eLance informing me that they closed my account.

    Years of membership fees and all the surcharge money eLance received from the jobs that were awarded to me, and then they close accounts without warning and without explanation.

    So I wrote about the eLance sudden cancellation on SiteJabber, a business reviews website. In 2 years, that review has been read by 22,418 people.

    Voices.com is wrong to think the outrage is going to disappear. Once the reviews get online, the damage is done.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Mark. Gradually, a greater voices dot com picture is emerging, and it’s not a pretty one. My initial two stories about this company have now been viewed more than 20,000 times, and every day this number is growing. The question is: what will the tangible impact of these articles be? Will this company make much-needed changes, or will they continue doing what they are doing? My guess is that they have one main focus: their bottom line. “Voices” has borrowed money to expand, and they need to get out of debt one way or another. Once the company has accomplished that goal, I predict that the Ciccarelli’s will cash in when their company goes public. Meanwhile, the voice talent they depend on is paying the price.

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  2. Kent Ingram

    This is such despicable behavior by Voices.com! I let my membership lapse, after being on-board for over 2 years. They placed me on their “inactive” list, but I assume they also put me on their “free” member list. Without a doubt, this is the crappiest return on investment that exists out there, along with equally crappy business practices. Thanks for shining that light brightly, Paul! The cockroaches are fleeing for the nearest rock to crawl under!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The only reason a company like “Voices” can continue doing this, is because we let them, and because they think they can get away with it. Like many stories in the news cycle, they catch our attention for a while, and then they die down. My hope is that whenever newbies Google voices dot com, they will get passed the propaganda, and stumble on stories like the ones I have written.

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  3. Larry Wayne

    I agree with Rob. You, Paul, have a way of staying classy no matter what. Yours is one of the few blogs I take the time to read because I might actually learn something! As for “voices”, my ROA (return on auditions) with them is lower than auditioning for anyone else. When I have some spare time and see a job post from the last several hours that I think would fit me, I might go for it. Jobs won with them is still more than covering my yearly fee, so I am inclined to stay with them. But they are no longer my major source of income. My heart goes out to newbies struggling to get established. It is more of a jungle out there now than it was when I got in it decades ago.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you for a classy response, Larry. Everyone should keep track of their ROA like you do. The result might surprise them!

    [Reply]

  4. Rick

    Wow… I’m amazed that there has been no defensive response from Voices. Remaining silent is doing further damage. They may have exhausted their defenses. After all, we’re just mere talent, mostly individuals just trying to maintain our businesses up against a large corporation.
    How very American.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s quite telling, isn’t it? When CEO David Ciccarelli launched the new, more responsive voices dot com website, he said:

    “We make a lot of decisions based upon feedback from customers. We appreciate that. If you have known the team at Voices.com for any time, you know that we’re very responsive here, and we listen to you and implement the feedback and changes. Ultimately we want to do the right thing for you.”

    [Reply]

    Philip Banks Reply:

    ““We make a lot of decisions based upon feedback from customers …”

    He(the CEO)was careful to ensure that the identity of “the customer” was not revealed. I suspect that the customers and the Voice Overs are not the same people.

    My legal training has always taught me to listen to what people say and what they don’t say. Read what they write AND what they don’t write.

    [Reply]

    Scott Gentle Reply:

    As usual Phil, especially with this particular subject, your astute commentary brings much into the sunlight that would otherwise remain conveniently hidden.

    To wit – just have a look at their Terms Of Service page, both now, and in the Internet Archive.

    For many years their TOS page didn’t make the distinction between the two…it just used the generic term “client”, and explicitly said a “client” could be either the talent or the voice seeker.

    As of roughly a year ago, it finally refers to the differences between “Talent” and “Client” – which is interesting, as for most folks I know, “client” usually is interchangeable with “customer”.

    (If I’m not mistaken, this might have even been something that they seemed clueless about until someone brought it up in discussion group, most likely on LinkedIn, which mystifies me as it’s…uh…kinda basic logical thinking for legal verbiage on a site that sets up 3-way relationships. Which just opens up all sorts of comparisons to that other less-than-credible Canadian matchmaking site, Ashley Madison, but I digress…)

    Of course, tweaking the TOS isn’t exactly their forte. If you’re a LinkedIn user, if you dig around enough in one of their VO forums, you’ll see where a year or two ago I caught them quietly changing the verbiage on the TOS page to words more favorable to themselves – then conveniently forgetting to update the “Last Revised” line – after they were called out about another issue where they’d tripped up on their own semantics.

  5. Mike Harrison

    Voices.com’s response was childish, which confirmed what I’ve thought for decades anyway: too many corporations are like children who will do whatever they can get away with until caught and scolded. After that, they will go right on doing what they were doing. Why? Because they CAN (at least in their minds).

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Yep, I was thinking the same thing. They’re secretly hoping that this will die down soon. Some of my colleagues are urging me to move on because I’ve made my point and this is getting old. As long as impressionable people still sign up for a service that will not give them a fair chance at booking a decent job, this story will remain relevant.

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  6. Rob Marley

    I have to say that when news of your impromptu banishment from “the land of bilk and money” hit yesterday, I grabbed my popcorn and eagerly awaited your response. You have a way of staying classy no matter what, Paul and that is truly to be commended.

    It’s downright childish the way “they who shall not be named for fear of reprisal” has handled this situation, instead relying on their loyal followers to help push the multi-million-dollar corporation’s agenda. It’s sad that they didn’t see this as a great opportunity to open a dialog and address the issue head-on. But I guess actions really do speak louder than words.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for that, Rob. In times of crisis, a company shows its true colors. As Wayne Dyer once said:

    “When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out – because that’s what’s inside. When you are squeezed, what comes out is what is inside.”

    [Reply]

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