Are You Wasting Your Time Going Nowhere Fast?

Being busyWhat’s frustration number one for a freelancer?

Being busy without being productive. 

It’s a trap I have fallen into many times. I was working all day long, without much to show for it. That is, until something finally dawned upon me:

Busy people talk about how little time they have. Productive people make time for what is important. 

The question is: how do you know what is important for your business?

On some days, everything seems important: answering emails, invoicing clients, making phone calls, updating the website, recording auditions, paying bills, designing marketing materials, researching new gear, keeping up with social media… The list is endless, especially when you’re a one-person band. It’s tempting to do it all, and to do it all by yourself. 

That’s mistake number one. Here’s how to fix it:

Focus on what you’re good at. Outsource the rest.

There’s a reason why a brain surgeon doesn’t do her own billing, a CEO doesn’t answer every call, and Tim Cook doesn’t design the next iPhone. People who run a successful business hire people who are smarter and more talented than they are, to take care of certain aspects of that business. These experts are able to do things better and quicker, leaving you with more time to focus on your strengths. That’s where the money is!

So, if you’re not a kick-ass web designer, hire someone who is, and have him/her teach you to maintain and update the site once it’s up and running. Or do you have time to become an SEO specialist? I didn’t think so!

If you stink at bookkeeping, get an office assistant to take care of the numbers, and let an accountant prepare your taxes. This ensures that you maximize your deductions, and you minimize the money going to the IRS. An office assistant can also take on other administrative tasks, such as dealing with unpaid invoices. That way, you don’t have to be the bad guy (or gal). 

If you’re struggling to create a logo or a catch phrase, hire a graphic designer and a copywriter. They specialize in making you look and sound much more professional than you’ll ever be able to do yourself. Clients will only see you as a professional if you present yourself like a pro.

If you’re recording a massive project (such as an audio book) on a tight deadline, pay someone to edit and master the audio for you. Why spend time on a $50 to $100 per hour job, if you could make between $350 and $500 per hour? 

If you’re thinking about how much all of this will cost, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Reinventing the wheel, learning on the fly, trying to do everything yourself… it will leave you frustrated and without energy to do what you do best. You know, the very things clients hire you to do. That is going to cost you!

If -on the other hand- you decide to outsource some or all of these things, you’ll be surprised how much time you will gain. Now, let’s see if I can save you some more!

AUDITION LESS. MAKE MORE. 

In the beginning of my career I spent way too much time auditioning for jobs that were out of my range. Why? Because someone had told me that it was a numbers game. The more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would eventually land a job, they said. Doing auditions was a way to learn on the job, right?

Wrong!

Clients hire you because they trust you can do the job. They don’t want you to experiment on their dime.These days I am super selective. I know I don’t have a movie trailer voice, so I’m not even going to try to sound like one. I won’t audition for projects by companies or causes I cannot support (sorry fast food and tobacco industry).

And if you’re not offering a decent rate, you can find yourself a Craigslist talent, but please don’t waste my time. 

I also got smarter in the way I audition. Knowing that clients will often only listen to the first seconds, I am no longer recording three-minute scripts. Unless the client specifies otherwise, I’ll pick a few lines from the beginning with the company name, and I’ll include the payoff line at the end. Then I’m done. I know Michael J. Collins auditions this way, and based on his fine dining pictures on Facebook he seems to be doing okay. 

One last thing about auditions: I no longer record ten takes before I’m satisfied. If I can’t produce a good read in a few tries, the job is probably not meant for me. 

THE HARDEST WORD

Apart from curbing my presence on social media, there’s one other thing that has saved me tons of time: I became better at saying a certain two-letter word. 

“Can you evaluate my demo for free?”

NO!

“Can you write a guest post for this blog with 12 subscribers?”

NO!

“Can you tell me how to break into the business?”

NO!

“Can you answer this question I am too lazy to research myself?”

NO!

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy helping others, but I don’t run a charity. I run a for-profit business. That means that in everything I do, I have to think about the Return On Investment. 

Making enough money gives me the opportunity to invest in ways that will save me money and grow my business, as well as the freedom to engage in activities that are important, but that won’t generate any money.

ONE MORE LESSON

When I look back at my career, I wasted so much time waiting for things to happen. I thought that if I put a few things in place; had the right equipment and a decent amount of talent, things would turn out okay. After all, a wise man had told me: “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

Tell that to the people who are going broke, lovingly living a dream.

A few hard years later, I realized that if I wanted to be successful, I had to become the prime instigator and number one delegator. I had to stop being busy, and start becoming productive.

It was quite the transformation, but you know what they say:

“Busy people talk about how they will change.

Productive people are making those changes.”

Are you?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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  3. As with most of your blogs, Paul, I agree with everything here. And certainly, as in any business, there is a ramp up period where a novice learns the ropes and develops his/her skills and knowledge to eventually make the transition to FT VO.

    With our current “instant gratification” society at- large, expectations in this regard often fall short in the real world. It takes time to build a business, and for many, lacking patience and tenacity, “success” simply isn’t fast enough to keep the focus where it needs to be. As the parent of teenagers, I witness this all the time. Add to this that you’ve chosen an extremely competitive endeavor that eats up and spits out it’s participants, and there are more casualties than winners.

    I read an article recently that talked about the fact that in this business, it’s winner take all. So for every job, there is ONE winner. There is no reward for runners up. And we know the odds are stacked against us from the start. And every day, we’re out competing for the next one. It can get exhausting.

    AND, certainly, there are a LOT more aspects of a VO business to maintain now than there were 30 years ago, when basically you had everything coming through an agent, the work was done by a select group in a couple of geographic areas, social media DID NOT EXIST, and the world wasn’t filled with competitors being able to shoot off an audition or work from their home, from anywhere in the world. So, of course, the business is forever changed, and for anyone wanting any measure of success (doing it more than just a P/T income or as a “hobby”) – you have to be good at a lot more things than just funny voices, or even acting/reading copy.

    I outsource a lot of the “back-end” work, but certainly I had to reach a good level of income before I could afford to do that. That’s the “breaking point” that many can never really get to. I equate it to finding a way to get your SAG card, by getting union work, when you’re not in the union. It’s a puzzle that you have to figure out. Same in the VO biz. There are a lot of plates to keep spinning, and for many with families that depend on the income, it’s a lot more than just a passion project.

    And with more new folks entering the ranks every day, with a mis-guided opinion of it being “fun, easy work, that ANYone can do from home and earn a great living” – we see rates diminishing, and “talent” reduced to a commodity for the lowest bidder.

    I agree that having the creative talent is essential to becoming an actor. Becoming a WORKING actor, and making a living at it….or a FINE living at it, requires more than just passion. It takes building a business mind, (if you’re not blessed with that) and/or enough income to outsource to experts who can assist with everything necessary to find and maintain the work.

    Finding and maintaining good resources for some of the “back-end” needs (SEO, website management, outbound marketing, social media, accounting, branding…even domestic help) is a job in itself. Once you find a good fit, it relieves some stress and you can focus on the “artist” side of it…which of course, is the fun part too.

    But now, you have PAYROLL to deal with as well, so the pressure to keep the income up is magnified as you must support your team.

    Personally, I made a decision early on that I wasn’t willing to be a “starving artist,” so I had to find ways to create a business that offered me the chance to use my creativity, but also paid the bills for me and a family of four.

    But I must say, even after surviving, and some would say thriving in the business all these years, it’s still a constant struggle to keep the plates spinning. I can see how it would be daunting to new people coming in.

    [Reply]

  4. One of your best, Paul! It’s past time for me to stop my helter-skelter approach to trying to be a jack of all trades. It’s exhausting & certainly not productive. This article helps me to clarify how to build the successful VO business I envision.
    Thank you.

    [Reply]

  5. Interesting article.

    Although my vo work is all union, I’m still for all intents and purposes a freelancer. All actors are. In the old days of theater we were called gypsies. Going from job to job, never knowing what or where our next job will be. Thus is the life of a voice actor, no matter what level career path one takes.

    I count myself fortunate that I do OK in vo, and have for 30 plus years. But I never went into this for the money, nor do I do it now for the money. Financial returns have never played a factor. It’s all about the work and the joy in the work. But I come from the actor’s perspective, not today’s generation that got into this to make a buck. The biggest problem there is those who began relying on vo to pay the bills prematurely. Granted, I did get to that point. But it took years. And I didn’t call myself a full-time working actor until I had 2 years worth of living expenses saved up. Those 2 years worth of savings was every dime I ever made in vo over the first 5 years I was pursuing it. I paid my bills with my day/night jobs. And there were indeed times that another day job might have been needed throughout the past 30 years. We’ve had strikes where things got tight. But I’ve always lived below my means. And by not doing this for the money guaranteed I would never take low ball offers just for the sake of working.

    I do disagree with the section on the word no. Yes, I do teach for profit. But daily I answer questions, critique demos, participate in articles and blogs (such as this), etc., without taking a dime. It’s a way of giving back. And it comes from a promise I made to those who assisted me when I was starting out. From Daws Butler to Casey Kasem, the Don, etc., many, many mentors who helped and guided me over the years. Each one, in their own way, asked me to promise that if I ever get to the point in my career where I can assist the next generation to do so, every day. And, each of them also told me to never go into acting or vo for the money. It will never be enough if it’s all about the money. You act because you have to. And if there’s something else in life that gives you more satisfaction, something else you’d do for free because the pure joy of doing it trumps any financial returns, do it!!

    I do realize that the latter is a foreign language to most pursuing vo today. But this is really the first generation who got into vo acting for the money. Making a buck never came up in any workshop or class I ever took. I don’t think in 30 years of teaching I’ve ever spend a moment discussing how to make money at this. Hell, I don’t know where MY next job will be, so I haven’t a clue how to tell someone else how to make money at this. Class is about craft. I do talk marketing. But not from the standpoint of a guaranteed return. It’s all about the opportunity to get yourself out there so you can act, be it the audition or the job. My return is the joy in the work. And I get that same high at the mic be it an audition or a job. That was another bit of consistent advice I got when I was starting out. Get a high at the mic. It matters not where or how. Just get in front of that mic.

    [Reply]

  6. I’d love to outsource more work. I keep running into three problems:

    1. It’s too expensive. Like, “take a loss on this” expensive. Like, “you want more money for this than I’m making, and my portion of the work is harder and requires more skill.”

    2. It takes too much work to manage. I can’t just hand off work to someone, I have to make sure they’re on target for the deadline, make sure the billing is right, I have to find enough work for them to do if they’re on a use-it-or-lose-it retainer, and since my name’s on this I have to check it when it’s done to make sure this isn’t the project they decided to pretend to do right and hope I don’t notice.

    3. I just don’t trust them. Similar to item 2 above, if I’m going to save time and make more money focusing on what I do well, I can’t sacrifice all of that to an editor or marketer who delivers poor-quality work.

    [Reply]

    Jodi Krangle Reply:

    Hi Jem. I would suggest some answers to your points there.

    1. If they’re too expensive (especially for editing) I would suggest that you’re not charging nearly enough for your services. An audio editor can cost $25-$45 per hour. If you’re making $600 on a project, and it would take four hours of your time to edit your *own* work – I guarantee you, any good editor would take 2 hours or less. The time *you* would take, wouldn’t be the same amount someone with a lot of experience doing that sort of work, would take. And in the end, it’s worth 4 hours of your time to not have to do it.

    2. It’s a lot less time to email someone and ask how things are coming along and to have them bill you, as most consultants would do, than to do all the work yourself. You don’t need to have someone on a retainer unless that’s the route you feel you have to go (I’m not sure what service would require that, but you obviously have something in mind. Audio editing wouldn’t be one of those. Marketing… maybe?)

    3. This is something you need to get over or you’re forever doomed to simply do everything yourself. I know it’s hard to let go of some things – especially if you’re a perfectionist. 😉 But honestly – ask your colleagues for good consultants. They will generally point you in the direction of people who are good at what they do. At some point, you do have to let go a bit if you want to work more efficiently.

    Of course, as with anything, it’s entirely up to you. Good luck!

    [Reply]

    Jem Matzan Reply:

    The thing I most want to outsource right now is marketing (release announcements to email list, social media; giveaways; review requests). I talked to three different services, and all of them need a monthly use-it-or-lose-it retainer. Right off the bat, that’s too much work because now I have to keep track of the retainer and make sure the marketer has enough work each month.

    The audio editors I’ve evaluated aren’t doing work that I’m terribly impressed with. If you have some recommendations, though, definitely let me know – jem at creativeaudiobooks

    [Reply]

    Jodi Krangle Reply:

    Hi Jem. I see your difficulty. Marketing – especially as it pertains to social media – can be tricky. But in that case, you just have to make sure that your income can support it. Maybe you’re not quite ready for that just yet. It might be that it’s more useful to do it in the future. However, when it comes to voice over editors, I have a list a friend put together (who is a very talented voice actor himself) who knows his stuff – and this was assembled with much consultation among a great many of our mutual colleagues: http://www.marcscottcoaching.com/a-list-of-vetted-voice-over-editors/ . Try out folks from the list there and see how they work for you. Eventually, you’ll settle on someone you can trust and rely upon for job after job. Though I’d find at least two you can work with, just in case the first one is busy (as can happen). Hope this helps.