The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay

making potteryAs a blogger, coach, and voice talent, I think a lot about why certain people make it in this business and why others don’t.

Those who are doing well don’t always know why they belong to the happy few. “You’ve got to have a lot of luck,” they say, and “be at the right moment at the right time.”

It’s a nice observation, but as a teacher that doesn’t help me much. Just as I can’t predict who’s going to win the Powerball, I cannot influence luck. And if I knew how to be at the right moment at the right time, I probably would be doing something else with my life right now. 

What I can help people with as a coach, is preparedness. If you’re lucky to be at the right place at the right time and you’re not prepared, you’re not going to get very far. But preparedness alone is no guarantee that you’ll have a successful career as a creative freelancer. 

Let’s say you’re talented, you’re well-trained, and you have the right equipment that gets the job done. Is that enough to start and grow a for-profit business? I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.

Looking at colleagues who are at the top of their game, I have identified three characteristics all of them have in common. Number one I call:

THE MAGNET

The difference between dreamers and achievers is that achievers attract jobs. This is anything but a passive process. People don’t become magnets overnight and without planning. You’ve got to have an extensive network in place that generates a continuous flow of leads from multiple sources. If you’re just starting out, this is where you have to spend most of your time, energy, and money.

How do you become a magnet? Think about what you can do to draw people to you. You’ve got to offer something special at a price that tells people you take your work seriously. You have to make sure your presentation is in line with your (desired) reputation. Then you need to connect with clients and colleagues to let them know that you exist.

Obviously, this is not something you can do in a few weeks or months. Every self-employed person can tell you that this will be your life from now on, until you decide to close up shop. This type of magnet is like a rechargeable battery. If you don’t charge it regularly, it will quickly lose its power.

Now, let’s assume your magnetic powers have the desired effect and job offers are rolling in. Should you jump on every opportunity? Here’s where the second factor comes in. I call this:

THE COLANDER

Beginners often make the same mistake. They go after every single job offer, if only “to gain experience.” I remember when I first became a member of an online casting site. As soon as I had posted my profile and the membership fee was paid, the auditions started coming in. In my naïve enthusiasm I applied for every job, thinking that the more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would be hired. I was wrong.

Being a successful freelancer is not a numbers game. It is about going after the opportunities that are right for you. In order to do that, you have to filter out the misfits. That’s where the colander comes in.

Runners know their strengths. Some of them run marathons. Others sprint. In my line of work, some voice actors are great at narrating audio books. Others excel in voicing short commercials. Only a handful of people in every profession are true all-rounders. Chances are that you’re not one of them. That’s why you have to do yourself a favor: know your strengths, and become picky. Very picky.

There’s one last factor that separates the wheat from the chaff. I call it:

THE CLAY

No matter how good you are at attracting and selecting jobs, once you have landed a new project, you have one objective and one objective only: to make your client happy. That’s by no means an earth-shattering revelation, so why even mention it? Here’s why. So many people believe that if you do the very best you can, the client will be pleased with the result. That’s not necessarily true.

Your very best might not be good enough, and/or the client may have different expectations. That’s why it is so important to find out what those expectations are before you get to work. I often tell my clients: “Any text can be read in a million ways. The more specific you are about what you’d like to hear, the easier it is for me to give you the read you need.” And that’s where the clay comes in.

Clay is just potential. It can be molded into any shape, depending on the talent and skills of the potter. No matter what kind of freelance work you do, whether you’re a script writer, an industrial designer or a voice-over, you’ve got to know your material and be a master molder. The better you are at understanding your client and at working the clay, the more successful you will be.

Mind you, this isn’t something you can pick up from reading a book, or by listening to a podcast. It will take talent, training, and time. It may take a few years before you break in and break even. But when you do, this is what you will discover:

Doing exceptional work almost always leads to more work, which brings us back to the concept of the magnet.

One last thing.

If your career isn’t where you want it to be at the moment, ask yourself: “Where are my greatest challenges? What needs more work?

Is it the magnet, the colander, or is it the way I handle the clay?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Shaping the Heart via photopin (license)

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, Promotion

14 Responses to The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay

  1. Paul Garner

    Thanks again, Paul, for great information! You’ve laid out the truth in a simple and understandable way that can help us to move upward or on.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re very welcome, Paul. Information is just information until people decide to do something with it. It took me a few years to figure things out, and I hope my stories will shorten people’s learning curves.

    [Reply]

  2. Kent Ingram

    Like so many did, Paul, I made most of the mistakes and had the same misinterpretations about the business of being a voice actor. And, like most of us, I had to learn the hard way! But, I have one advantage: I read your blogs! They’ve saved me a lot of headaches in the process. The advice is flawless and rational. The best thing, you don’t pull any punches and, sometimes, it has resulted in some very negative replies and personal attacks. You have my respect, though, for staying the course! Thanks, as always.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for that, Kent. It’s comments like yours that often keep me going!

    [Reply]

  3. Paul Payton

    As usual, Paul, wise and true. Thank you!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Paul!

    [Reply]

  4. John Kuehne

    It is always a treat to read your prose. I truly look forward to your articles and truthful wisdom.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for taking the time to read my musings, John!

    [Reply]

  5. Taylor Stonely

    Great article again, Paul! I love how you used common, every day objects to make a point about this industry. My biggest challenge is being the right magnet in a sea of magnets. Too often my ability to attract voice over jobs is lost because there are too many others competing at the same time. Not that I’m complaining about the competition, because that pushes me and everyone else to be better. It’s just so hard to find someone willing to give you a chance. But I’m not giving up!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The world of entertainment is filled with people who almost gave up, and who have become a household name. The trick is to find something that distinguishes you, but that doesn’t define you completely.

    [Reply]

  6. Debbie Grattan

    Paul, again you have written something so beautifully simple and elegant that cuts it to the core. Most folks inquiring about VO don’t want to hear the truth about operating a business, or the amount of time needed to actually start booking work, or making money. That’s why I will often refer them to YOUR blog! You tell it plain and simple, and most of the time, it’s not sugar coated! Happy 2016!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Happy New Year to you, Debbie. I cut down on sugar many years ago, and that’s probably why I refuse to sugarcoat things. My life is sweet without sugar!

    [Reply]

  7. Melanie Fraser

    Great advice – so true.

    Thank you!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re very welcome, Melanie. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog today.

    [Reply]

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