Spoon Feeding Blabbermouths

Let’s say you’ve made somewhat of a name for yourself in the VO-community.

Your weekly blog is doing really well, and colleagues want to be friends with you.

People you don’t know seem to value your opinion and start reaching out.

They write messages that begin with praise, and of course you’re flattered. At the same time you can sense where this is going. Inevitably, there will be a paragraph at the end of the email that goes like this:

“I admire your work and I respect your opinion. You must be very busy, but….
* What do you think of my demo?
* How much should I charge as a beginner?
* Which online casting service is the best?
* What microphone do you recommend?
* How do I get an agent? Can you introduce me to yours?
* Why is there a hum on my recording?
* How do I master my audio?
* I do tons of auditions but I never get hired. What am I doing wrong?

Any tips that could help me in my career are more than welcome!”

On one hand I’m happy that strangers trust me enough to ask for advice. On the other, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. I want to help, but I also have a business to run. Clients are waiting to hear back from me. There’s editing to be done. That guest post I’m writing isn’t finished yet, and on top of that I’m fighting a cold.

More importantly: Where does friendly advice end, and where does professional coaching begin?

Then there’s the issue of money. Even though my opinion is considered to be valuable, it is almost always assumed that my advice is free.

That bothers me.

NOT ALONE

As a voice talent, blogger and coach, I’m not the only one having to deal with this situation. Perhaps there’s something to learn from how other professionals approach this problem.

The following question was posted on a forum for IT professionals:

“Because I’m a programmer, people constantly ask me to fix their computer. How do you handle this situation? Do you make exceptions for relatives, friends and co-workers? Do you charge people for it?”

This is the answer that got the most votes:

“Here’s what you do:

• If it’s a Windows box say, “I only know how to fix Macs.”
• If it’s a Mac say, “I only know how to fix PC’s.”
• If it’s a Linux box say, “You’re a Linux user… fix it yourself!”

Here are a few other suggestions:

“Say you’ll fix their computer. Open their temporary internet files folder and then look totally shocked when you discover the obligatory hardcore porn images that are bound to be there. They probably will be too ashamed to ever ask you again.”

“I have an amazon.com wish list. I do genuinely like helping people, however I feel my time is worth something. Where accepting cash may not feel 100% appropriate, sending them my Amazon wish list has worked very well for me.”

“I give them a visiting card (made for this occasion) and I ask them to schedule an appointment to talk about the problem. End of the story.”

“My personal strategy is just to be very, very busy. Nine out of ten times they’ll find other help by the time I get around to it.”

“I tell them: “I am a programmer, not an administrator. You would not ask an architect to repair your roof, either. Of course, this works with almost everybody, except with my mom. Nowadays I just tell her to get a Mac.”

“My conditions are: First half hour is free, after that, it’s $100/hr. Reason: I like to help people but I don’t like it when I’m abused as free support. So if it really is “just a simple tiny thing,” then no problem, can do. But often “simply tiny problem” stands for “I have no idea what’s wrong; just fix it for me!” As soon as money is involved, they stop and start thinking if it’s really worth it.”

“I fixed her computer (the printer was unplugged!). Now, 4 years later, we’re married!”

Did any of these solutions strike a chord with you?

MY OWN ROLE

As I was trying to figure out how to best deal with requests from my fans, friends and followers, I realized one thing: I created this situation.

I always encourage my readers to respond. The opportunity to connect with people from all over the globe is one of the blessings of writing a blog. But some days it is a mixed blessing. With 38,266+ subscribers, I have to come up with a way to handle questions and comments effectively and efficiently.

Let’s start with blog comments. If you take the time to publicly respond to one of my articles, you deserve to be acknowledged. Quite often, your reaction will give me a chance to delve a bit deeper into what I’ve been writing about, or to clear up misunderstandings. The bottom line: if you care to comment, you can expect an answer.

As of this moment, there are 6,608 comments on this blog, and my guess is that half of them were penned by me in response to someone’s remarks. (the oldest article dates back to May 2009).

Now, what do I do with questions that reach me outside of this blog? Well, I start by looking at three things:

1. Who’s asking?
2. What are they asking?
3. How are they asking?

You’d be surprised how many people contact me out of the blue without even introducing themselves. Maybe they have a feeling they already know me because they’ve been reading my blog for a while. Still, why can’t we treat an email as a regular conversation? I’d never walk up to someone new with a question without introducing myself first.

One of the keys that can make or break a career is your ability to build relationships. Don’t expect to get information without a establishing a relation. 

NO BABY TALK

Secondly, I refuse to answer basic questions. It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?

Babies need to be spoon-fed. They’re helpless. Wasn’t it E.M. Foster who said:

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”

In my experience, the answers people find for themselves tend to stick much better than those that have been handed to them on a silver platter.

What I will do, is encourage people to search my blog. With over 350 archived articles, it is likely they’ll find what they are looking for. If I happen to remember a specific story that might be relevant, I often include a link. It reduces my bounce rate

DEMO CRITIQUE

Almost half of those who get in touch, want me to critique their demos and/or website. If the request comes from a colleague I’m close to, I am happy to give feedback. I know they’d do the same for me. If the request comes out of nowhere from someone I don’t know, I will charge a fee for my time and expertise.

I tell my readers all the time how important it is that they value their time and their work. I practice what I preach. Besides, free advice is easily ignored. When people make an investment, they’re much more invested in what they’ve learned because they tend to find it more valuable. 

The decision to charge money turned out to be a huge time-saver. Nine out of ten people hoping to get free feedback will literally drop off the planet as soon as they are asked to pay. Are you surprised?

TASTE TEST

There’s a reason why you can get free samples at your ice cream store. It only makes sense to give a freebie if it increases the chances of making a sale.

The only time I will critique a demo free of charge is when someone’s seriously thinking of hiring me as their coach. Listening to their audio will give me an idea of where they’re coming from and whether or not I want to take them under my wings. At the same time, the person submitting the demo will get a better sense of whether or not I’d be a good fit.

And finally….

A lot of the questions I get, cannot and should not be answered in writing. It would be as silly as teaching someone how to play the Double Bass over the phone. Helping a person with things like script interpretation, diction, breathing and microphone technique, needs a closer, more direct connection. It requires involved interaction over a longer period of time.

THE INNER GAME

You may have noticed that I like to blog about the more psychological aspects of our business. I write about fear of failure, finding your strength, overcoming rejection and so on. Because of that focus, some people turn to me with deeper, more personal questions.

In order to be a successful voice talent, I think it’s just as important to deal with our inner voice, as it is to refine what comes out of our mouth. One affects the other. This very personal aspect is too sacred and too intimate to be dealt with in writing. The spoken word and even silence, can convey infinitely more than letters on a computer screen.

In matters of the soul and of the heart, it’s far more important to actively listen, than to come up with answers. In fact, my personal opinion is irrelevant.

As a coach I believe it’s vital to help people connect to their own wisdom, instead of making them dependent on someone else’s ideas.

How do I facilitate that process?

By asking questions.

You’ve heard me.

Nine out of ten times, I’d rather give you an earful, than a spoon. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: freeloosedirt via photopin cc

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."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters

33 Responses to Spoon Feeding Blabbermouths

  1. Suzy Jurcevic

    This nailed it: “Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?”

    The only exception I ever make to this is if it’s a young child or teenager who comes to me for advice, as one did recently. Even then, I gently nudge them towards the idea that they really need to be proactive about their own career as well.

    Once they’ve reached full adulthood, I think they should know better and do the work and research themselves, as so many of us have. It’s really the only way to succeed and progress in you career.

    Thanks always, Paul. Long-time reader here, first time commenter.

    [Reply]

  2. Ted Mcaleer

    Still good as gold! I always respected the fact you answered your blog posts. I also found I could apply the knowledge or wisdom by commenting. I sure do like the blog every week. Always enjoyable, Thanks for writing it. It has helped me immeasurably.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    After that very lively exchange on the ACX narrators and producers Facebook group, I just had to repost this, Ted. As a community, voice talents are very supportive and helpful. But sometimes we have to draw a line.

    Thank you so much for being one of my loyal readers and top commentators. Did you know that the five most recent comments are shown in a side bar on my blog? Some readers actually click on these comments to learn more about the commentator. That’s how one of our colleagues got hired. A producer read his comment and offered him a job!

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  3. Pingback: My Best Year Ever | Nethervoice

  4. Greg Wilson

    Spot-on comments! I also get asked for free services, either as voice-over talent, or video production. I have done two weddings for the children of a couple, and my wife and I got taken to dinner. They probably spent a total of $75-80 on us…..after I had spent a total of probably 20 hours or more on EACH of the two weddings! My own lesson learned. I have, however, done the same for my two sisters in law, because they have been cutting my hair and my wife’s and son’s hair for the past 12 years, and that will probably continue for the next 12 years. That’s mutually beneficial.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hey Greg, sometimes we have to make an honest mistake to learn a valuable lesson. When bartering services, it’s important to create an equal exchange. Otherwise, one of the parties involved is not going to be happy. It sounds like you cut a good deal with the hairdressers!

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  5. Marc Scott

    I really appreciate this post, Paul. It’s particularly timely for me. More and more lately I find my inbox filling up with questions from other voice talent. Sometimes I even get phone calls from them!

    As a firefighter, it’s no surprise that I have a servants heart and genuinely want to help people. But when it comes to voice over, more and more I find myself questioning where my line is. Or, at this point, do I even have a line? I don’t think I do, and this post is making me think that now might be the time to create one before I let things get out of hand!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    With more and more people interested in voice-overs, it’s only going to get worse, Marc. You’ve got to put that fire out before it gets out of control! I could spend all day answering questions and comments, and not get any work done. After this last blog post, it’s surprisingly quiet this morning. I have no requests for free demo critiques in my inbox. What happened?

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  6. George Whittam

    Creating boundaries is what’s allowed me to find time in my life to marry and have a child, and yet it’s STILL a huge challenge to manage my time well enough to keep all three of us happy, let alone a 1001 clients. The challenge is not heading to “Snarksville” when people ask questions that could be answered on Google, for example. It takes a lot of restraint to avoid use of lmgtfy.com (although I admit I’ve used it a couple times). I, too, encourage folks to use the search box on my website for exactly the same reasons, as it’s a treasure trove of helpful information. I even search it myself from time to time!

    Giving back is a big reason why I blog, podcast, attend meetups, etc, but I always make it very easy for people to purchase customized advice when they need it. And the faster you need it, the more you might have to pay. You can take a taxi or an ambulance to the hospital, depending on the situation.

    P.S. Looking forward to seeing someone “literally drop off the planet” very soon! 😉

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    George, you’re doing the voice-over community (and beyond) a huge service by sharing your videos, blog posts, articles, interviews and webinars with us. It’s how you’ve made a name for yourself and the excellent service you’re offering. Sometimes I wonder how you manage to keep so many plates in the air and still have a life!

    I’m pretty sure you get more requests for (free) information than I do, and I hope you’re able to convert those who are interested into paying customers. I see on your website that the wait time on most appointments and virtual engineering services is one week or more. Be sure to take some time to recharge the batteries. I know it’s easier said than done, but you can’t give what you don’t have.

    We’ll meet in person this year. I’m sure of that and I’m looking forward to it!

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  7. Rick Lance

    Dave… I’ve been thinking I want to become a TV anchor like you. I know you’re a very busy talented man but… could you help me break in? Any advice?

    Thanks so much!

    All my best,
    Rick Lance

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Let’s find out what CourVo has to say!

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  8. LM

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but your post suggests that the “entitlement” syndrome prevails. May I add this: On more than a few occasions I’ve volunteered (not just offered) payment to experts who provided “gifts of time” (typically an hour). Whether what I sent was sufficient was never known; neither was there ever a rejection for “insufficient pay.” Most times it was money; other times it was a fruit basket in the mail. Point is, I knew their time and expertise had value and acted accordingly. Wishing you the best!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You are absolutely right. I do believe that a certain “entitlement syndrome” prevails. Because so much information is available for free these days, people are getting used to not having to pay for someone’s time and expertise. The strange thing is: nobody questions the fact that there’s a bill after a visit to the dentist or doctor. We all expect to pay an accountant for filing our taxes. Yet, when it comes to voice-over professionals, there seems to be a different standard. I don’t get that.

    Thank you so much for showing how much you value the information given to you by experts. I hope more people will follow in your footsteps!

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  9. Heather Henderson

    Great topic, Paul! I have a favorite standard answer: “How wonderful that you sing well in the shower [/love to read to your kids / hear people tell you that you have a good voice]. And I’m sure you can imagine the road from there to singing in a professional opera company . . . ” And then I just sit back and let them do the math. My second strategy (apropos of Ann’s comment above) is to send them a link to http://lmgtfy.com/

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Heather, I love the link! I’ll steal that one, if it’s okay with you. I also like your analogy of the singer. One of the problems I run into, is that so many people still think of voice-overs as a hobby instead of a profession. Professional musicians often have the same image problem. All the audience hears is beautiful music, without realizing how many years of practice have led up the the moment it reaches their ears.

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  10. David Tyler

    Bravo! I’ve been doing voice over for 30 years, 20 years ago as the internet began taking hold the emails requesting help or guidance started, which I did my best to graciously provide.

    I had always intended to put what I learned about VO into a book, but last year it was this one very insistent talent, coming to me every month with a new list of questions that was “the straw”.

    Rather than a book I decided to hold a live seminar here in Montreal in March. I personally invited him to join me and 20 other people for the full day seminar. I just got his email this morning. He can’t make it…

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi David, thanks for sharing your story. Even though I don’t know the circumstances, I’m not surprised your insistent “student” couldn’t make it. There’s a big difference between “being interested” and “being committed.” Charging money is a good way to separate one group from the other.

    Have a great seminar!

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  11. Ann M Richardson

    Paul, spot-on, as usual! When I’m asked generally how one gets started, my favorite response is “Google it!” I’m a firm believer in the “teach a man to fish” concept.
    Great blog, THANK YOU!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Ann, I totally agree with you. Google is a great fishing rod!

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  12. Melanie Haynes

    Great thoughts, as usual, Paul! In order to take care of some of the questions I began getting a long time ago, I created a page on my website, called “How To” which is now “For Talent” on my new site. It is actually a whole series of pages linked together addressing many newbie questions.

    Much of the information was also in my original blog. But instead of taking the time to actually read the pages or the blog thoroughly, of course, they email, and worse yet, call. I don’t mind the emails with the basic questions – usually a blanket “How do I get into voice overs?” – because I have an email that I can customize and send to them. It’s the calls that are time consuming and interrupt my busy day.

    I’ve taken to screening my studio calls, but when I’m expecting to hear from a client, I will pick up and “get caught”. I don’t want to be rude, so I’ll usually chat for a short while and keep directing them back to my website and blog, and ask them to send me an email so that I can respond with a list of coaches, etc. In that email, which is full of information, I state that if they need additional information they are welcome to book an hour of my time for $100. Don’t think I’ve ever had one take me up on it. 🙂

    I’ve left my studio number on my site for client purposes, but I may just need to resort to only using email and the contact form I have provided. Actually, I think it’s better for initial client contact to be made via email, as well. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for sharing how you are dealing with these inquiries, Melanie. I’ve just added a link to your “For Talent” page so people can access it easily. I agree with you and Terry that it makes sense to charge a consultation fee. It will weed the people out who aren’t really interested. Our time and experience is worth something and we deserve to be compensated for it.

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  13. Jen

    New to voice over and appreciating this article. Thank You Paul.

    I have taken classes and private coaching sessions. Social media seem to get me up close and personal with a lot of Peers/Seasoned Voice Over Actors with a wealth of knowledge.

    I get as much as I can from my training and coaching, social media is good to use as connections and job opportunities. When I meet someone in the biz I tend to ask about them and successes and nuggets or pearls of wisdom. Technical questions are left for workshops and paid class training.

    In my previous industry I have learned time is money….i always respect people’s time!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Jen, welcome to the club! Thank you for being respectful of people’s time and talent. This is a very generous and open community. I’m sure you fit right in! As you can see, I have 191 articles about our filed and I hope you’ll come back and explore some more. If you’ve found valuable info, please share it with others. That’s the greatest compliment you could pay me. Thanks!

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  14. Dane Reid

    Great article. I can imagine with a popular blog that it must be tough responding to everyone. My website guy always says “let me take a look at that and get back to you”. Then he responds in an email with a quote and the question “do you want me to proceed?” In my case I answer some questions but will let people know when its taking up my time. I also say that I dont listen to demos. When asked how I got started in voiceover, I take a long sigh and say “its a longgggggg story.” Sometimes people I know ask me for free VO work who I dont want to turn down so I oblige but take weeks to deliver unedited work. My point is that you have to develop systems in advance to deal with these situations. Mine are more psychological play. I never want to offend people plus to a degree, interest from strangers is sometimes flattering. I also always keep in mind all of the free advice and tutoring I recieved when I got started.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Dane, I fully realize that my “problem” is kind of a luxury to have. I’m really happy that so many readers are reaching out to me. I just need to make sure that I am clear about my boundaries while keeping an eye on my business. Paying clients always come first.

    I too think back to the time I got my start in voice-overs. Actually, it was in radio. At that time I received a lot of help, and my blog is a way to pay it forward. Here’s one critical difference: when I started my career, there was no internet (yes, I’m that old…). It was much harder to get information. These days, a simple Google search of the word “voiceover” will bring up over ten million results!

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  15. Terry Daniel

    I totally understand, Paul! Occasionally, I’ll do a twitter chat where people can ask me questions. Like you, I finally had to build a privacy fence. I’m all for helping and coaching passionate talents. In fact, I enjoy it but the random “20 question” email or FB message was becoming overwhelming and taking me away from important work.

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  16. Nicola Redman

    Thanks Paul, really useful. I’ve been getting a lot of ‘how do I get into the business’ questions lately. The initial response is now a stock document of tips I wrote for someone ages ago that I send out, but when there are a lot of follow up queries it can be hard! I have been helped a lot by people for free so want to give back as I progress in the field, but I also pay for specific coaching. Interesting article, thanks again.
    Nicola
    Northern Irish voice
    http://www.nicolaredman.com

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Nicola, I too believe in giving back. That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this blog. It’s my ongoing version of your stock document. I have another secret weapon in my arsenal: my YouTube video “The Troublesome Truth about a Voice-Over Career.” It’s been seen over 20 thousand times and I think it has given many hopefuls a different perspective.

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  17. Terry Daniel

    Great blog, Paul! Of course it is. It’s a Paul Strikwerda blog! And it’s the first time I’ve spelled your last name correctly without cheating and scrolling up!

    I get the same kinds of requests on a daily basis. Both on facebook and email. I don’t mind answering a question or two but more often than not, people will take advantage of you and your time. This is why I now charge a consultation fee. It sets boundaries and expectations. Otherwise, they keep coming back for more free information thus taking even more time away from you.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That’s a great solution, Terry. What my story is really about, is the very thing you mentioned: setting boundaries. In the past, I have happily allowed people to take advantage of me. I can’t change others. I can only change myself. That’s why I had to draw a line in the sand.

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  18. Lee Gordon

    Paul,

    When people come to me with voiceover questions, I do what any sensible person would do. I refer them to you. 😉

    Lee

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That explains a lot, Lee! 🙂 Can you send the next group to Terry Daniel, please?

    [Reply]

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