Freelancing

The Yin and Yang of Freelancing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 13 Comments

IMPOSSIBLE CLIENTS.

We know who you are!

You’re searching for a specialist who can handle almost anything.

Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

Does your family doctor make a great brain surgeon?

Can a novelist write irresistible advertising copy?

Yet, some clients are looking for a be-all, do-it-all freelancer with young, fresh ideas and years of experience.

Is that too much to ask?

Some psychologists say that the fact that we humans are able to hold two diametrically opposed ideas in our mind at the same time, is a true sign of intelligence. Part of me wants to believe that this is indeed correct. The other part thinks it’s

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How I Beat the Recession

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Promotion 17 Comments

RECESSION DEPRESSION

I don’t think it has made it into the DSM-IV yet (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Give it some time and the American Psychiatric Association might include it in the next edition (together with Orthorexia nervosa, a harmful obsession with health foods).

If your plate or glass always appears to be half empty, it’s tempting to feel hopeless and helpless about the current state of the nation. Of course your freelance career is down in the dumps. It’s the economy, stupid! It has nothing to do with you.

Here’s the thing:

If it has nothing to do with you, it means that you can’t turn it around.

You’re a victim of circumstance. Now go to your doctor and ask for a happy-pill. You might be depressed, but the least you can do is feel good about it.

SUBJECTIVE REALITY

Remember that no matter where you look, you’ll always find a way to filter your perception of reality to justify your outlook on the world. If you feel that this time of economic crisis is limiting your chances of landing freelance jobs, you’re right. If you feel that the current recession is creating brand new freelance opportunities, you’re right!

What you focus on most, is most likely to materialize. That’s the idea behind the self-fulfilling prophecy.

As a blogging freelancer, I get a lot of emails from colleagues who want to pick my brain. Here’s the number one question people ask me:

How do you beat the recession?

My first inclination is to ask them “What recession?” but that would be insensitive. Of course I know that millions of people are scrambling to get by. I used to be one of them. But feeling overpowered and helpless about it is not going to pull you out of your slump. If you’re giving in and giving up, it’s game over. But that would be too easy. I think you deserve better.

INSIDE INFORMATION

At the risk of sounding like a self-help guru, I do believe that one way to beat this recession is by working from the inside out. Before you do anything, I recommend you look at the way you are perceiving yourself right now.

In Holland we have a saying: 

“Als je voor een dubbeltje geboren bent, word je nooit een kwartje.”

Or in plain English:

“If you were born a dime, you’ll never become a quarter.”

It’s another way of saying: You need to know your place and stay there. Well, if that’s really how you feel, what impact could this have on the choices you make?

If you’re applying for a job, and deep-down inside you’re telling yourself “I don’t deserve this” or “I’ll never make it,” aren’t you setting yourself up for failure?

Other people grow up believing: “I can do anything I set my mind to” or “No matter what happens, I’ll always find a solution.” How do you think this impacts the way they lead their lives?

CONVENIENT ASSUMPTIONS

Here’s the remarkable thing about beliefs: it doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not. Yet, beliefs are a powerful driving force behind behavior. Beliefs can give us hope, strength and courage, or they can fence us in and bring us down.

A belief is not some innocent abstract concept without consequences. Some people are prepared to kill and die in the name of whatever they believe in. Americans wouldn’t be celebrating the Fourth of July, if it weren’t for a set  of certain powerful beliefs!

Proponents of mind-body medicine like Bernie Siegel, M.D., are convinced that our beliefs can heal or harm our body, and that our state of mind has a measurable impact on our immune system.

If you think that all of this is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, realize that this too, is a belief. Beliefs don’t have to make any sense. Beliefs don’t need to be scientifically sound. Beliefs give people a feeling of certainty. All that matters is that a belief is plausible. The powerful placebo effect is entirely based on this assumption.

SCIENCE-FICTION

Nevertheless, a group of medical students who firmly believed in a logical, analytical approach to medicine, wouldn’t have any of it. How could ordinary thoughts possibly influence biological functions and seemingly autonomous chemical-electrical responses? That’s just a bunch of New Age baloney!

One day, their professor walked in and said: “By a show of hands, how many of you believe that the mind is capable of influencing the body?” Not one single hand went up in the air. Mind over matter wasn’t science. It was science-fiction.

Then the professor started reading one of the more notorious passages from Lady Chatterley’s Loverby D.H. Lawrence. Soon his audience started to blush. At the end of a few quite explicit paragraphs, he looked up at his students and asked the same question again. “How many of you believe that the mind is capable of influencing the body?” This time, they all raised their hands.

So, let me share one of my empowering beliefs with you. It goes like this:

THERE’S NO ONE LIKE ME

 I can already hear some people’s reaction:

“Well, duh… After all that build-up, is that the best you can do? Thank you Captain Obvious, superhero of platitudes! That’s not much of an eye-opener, is it? Of course there’s no one like you (and that’s probably a good thing).”

Well, once you get past the sarcasm and cynicism, consider the following.

Every day, thousands of people are waking up with a dream. Some want to become writers, news anchors or architects. Some want to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis or invent an environmentally friendly way to clean up oil spills.

By the time we enter our teens, most of us have learned that dreams are figments of the imagination and that in order to grow up, we must face “reality.” Isn’t it strange? We start out as this helpless but boundless human being filled with infinite possibilities .

Then the process of social conditioning and conforming sets in. If we wish to please our parents and other role-models, we better be compliant and allow ourselves to be conditioned in order to be worthy of their love, attention and affection. We learn to blend in and not to raise our voice. If we do well, we are rewarded. If we don’t fit the mould, we have to face the consequences. Heaven forbid that we should stand out from the crowd…

GO YANKEES

When my 8-year old daughter wanted to go to school in a Yankees-shirt while 98% of the kids were wearing Phillies-Jerseys, some parents thought I was nuts. Why would I expose my daughter to ridicule and make her stick out like a sore thumb? What kind of a parent does that?

Here’s the thing: my daughter didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy about the Phillies. She happened to root, root, root for the Yankees. And when she went to school, she soon found out that a few other kids were Yankees fans too. Yes, some classmates made fun of her and others ignored her. But she held her head up high and felt even stronger because she stood up for something she believed in. Months later, the Bronx Bombers defeated the Phillies to win the World Series.

What does that have to do with beating the recession? I’ll tell you!

If you want to be self-employed but you don’t believe in yourself, you are sabotaging your success even before you’re out of the gate. You have to be comfortable with who you are and with what you have to offer (comfortable, not cocky).

If you’re in the service industry, you are your product. If you’re producing a product, you will be identified with it. Whether you like it or not, you are your brand and you better embrace it.

RIDICULE AND MOCKERY

When I set out to become a full-time voice-over professional, I knew the odds were heavily against me. Some people said:

“Do you honestly believe that you’ll make it as an actor? Dream on! The restaurants of New York and LA are filled with thousands of hopeful waiters. All they do is wait and wait for an opportunity that never comes. These days, anyone with a mic and a laptop can claim to be the next Don LaFontaine. The market is saturated. The economy is bad. Why don’t you get a real job, my friend?”

Here’s why I didn’t: because I knew that there’s no one like me. Yes, there are tons of people who do what I do, but they don’t do it the way I do it. It’s just a matter of letting the rest of the world know what I have to offer.

Believe it or not, when I wrote this article, my business was less than twelve months ago. A year before that, I had no ‘corporate identity’ and there was no company website or a blog. I didn’t own expensive equipment and I had no big shot agents ready to represent me. All I had, was a bunch of excited neurons bouncing around in my brain forming thoughts about starting my own business.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I had a number of people who believed in me, and who were willing to lend me a very generous helping hand. But before they could believe in me, I had to believe in myself.

GETTING THERE

After less than a year I achieved a lot.

My writings are read and reposted by more people than I ever hoped for. I have built a terrific studio and have invested in top-of-the-line equipment. I am recording voice-overs in four languages for clients on all continents.

Now, this list of personal achievements is not  some vain attempt to show off. Rather, it’s my way of telling you what could happen if you refuse to give in to recession depression.

The skeptics will tell you “I will believe it when I see it”. I am telling you that you have to believe it before you will see it.

When Disney World opened its doors, Walt Disney was no longer alive. Before the opening ceremony, a reporter asked Walt’s brother Roy:

“Don’t you think it’s a shame that Walt Disney isn’t here to see it all?”

Roy answered:

“That’s not entirely true.

Because Walt saw it, we are seeing it today!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

PS My next article is  about freelance dilemmas. Is it better to be a generalist or a specialist?

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Open Letter to Voice-Seekers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 17 Comments

Dear voice-over shopper:

Thank you so much for getting in touch! Before we get down to business, may I ask you a question?

Would you ever bid on a project without knowing the specifics?

Let’s assume you’re in the construction industry. A prospect sends you an email asking:

“How much for a building? Give me your best price!”

Could you honestly answer that question? Of course not. Yet, I receive emails every day, asking:

“How much for a voice-over? Give me your best price!”

… as if we’re talking about the cost of a Big Mac or a quart of milk. Even that differs depending on where you live.

If you were a builder who was asked to come up with an accurate estimate, you’d minimally need to know what purpose the construction would serve (commercial or residential); you’d have to know where it will be located, how big it needs to be, when it needs to be finished etcetera, etcetera.

Voice-over professionals are no different. They’re  independent contractors. They need to know what purpose their recording will serve, in what market it will play, how long the script is and how soon you need it (among other things).

Without specifics, any bid is based on pure guesswork and not on the particulars of your project.

“Then why” -you might ask- “are so many of your colleagues willing to plug in just about any number -no questions asked?”

I’ll answer that question with a question.

Would you trust a builder who’d name a price knowing hardly any details of the project? Or would you consider that to be… unprofessional?

STANDARDS, ANYBODY?

The voice-over industry is populated by seasoned pros, hopeful hobbyists and anything in between. With today’s technology, it’s so easy to plug a mic into a computer and hang up a sign saying:

“Voice for Hire. Will work for the experience.”

 

There are no requirements, no regulations and no standards.

What would happen if the construction industry would operate that way?

Some might argue that that’s an unfair comparison. When builders don’t follow regulations, people could get hurt. No one’s ever going to get harmed by an unprofessional voice-over artist, right?

Think again, and let’s zoom in on Medical Narrations. What would happen if the name of a medication would be mispronounced or if the narrator messes up the dosage? What would happen if a procedure would be read in such a way that it could be misconstrued?

These are extreme examples. I agree. How about something less serious: Audio Tours.

Imagine hundreds of tourists getting stranded on a hot summer’s day because the narrator had instructed them to go left instead of right. Among the group members are elderly people, pregnant women and folks with various medical conditions.

That’s not just a ‘small oversight on the part of an inexperienced narrator’.

That’s a lawsuit in the making!

THE REAL DEAL

Professionals do their homework. When a voice talent gets back to you with specific questions, that person is not trying to be a pain in the neck. It’s a sign of professionalism. It means that you’re not getting the cookie cutter treatment. It’s an indication that this person takes his or her job and your project seriously. Please remember:

Amateurs passively plug in guesstimates. Pros ask questions and give informed quotes.

There’s a reason why the word pro is part of ‘pro-active.’

Think of it this way: your voice-over project is a destination. If your end-client does not provide you with a clear description, how can you be sure that you’ll ever get there? Without the right information, you’re setting yourself up for failure, as well as the talent you’re hoping to hire.

Let’s assume the end-client asks for fruit and you come back with the juiciest orange ever to hang from a tree. It could have been a lucky guess. But what if your client says:

“Oh come on… I didn’t want a boring orange. I had an orange yesterday. You should have brought me an apple. A green apple. From Holland.”

THE BLAME GAME

Now, it’s easy to point the finger and blame your unspecific client. But blame is lame and disempowering. The ball was in your court. What did you do with it?

Not only are you now wasting your own time; you’ve just posted a vague project on a casting site and hundreds of voice-over talents are wasting their time recording a custom demo that’s nothing more than a shot in the dark.

Some of you might respond: “That’s just too bad. It’s part of the industry. It’s always been like that and it will never change. You win some. You lose some. And if you don’t like it, go do something else.”

That might be true, but does it really have to be that way? It’s the twenty-first century. Are we still running the industry based on these inefficient, expensive, last century old-school ideas?

IT ALL ADDS UP

Please consider this: how long will it take you to weed through all these shot-in-the-dark submissions? You might end up picking a very affordable talent, but -thinking of your hourly rate- how much did all that weeding just cost you and your company? Don’t you have better things to do than listen to auditions that totally miss the mark?

If you expect talent to be on target, give them a fair chance to hit the bull’s-eye.

Tell them what you’ll be listening for in as much detail as possible. If not for the sake of the voice talent, do it for your own sake. You’ll get much better results in less time.

Here are a few other tips. Don’t worry, they won’t cost you anything!

Language. Don’t just put “Spanish” if you really need a speaker from Chile. Otherwise you’ll get accents from wherever Spanish is spoken. (more on accents in this article)

Age. When you need a young and energetic sound and you’re not clueing us in, don’t be surprised to receive demos from mellow middle-aged matriarchs and serious sounding seniors (as well as from blogging voice-overs who love alliteration).

Budget. You say that you want to hire an experienced voice talent. Do you really think you’ll get one for a hundred bucks? Try this experiment: go to a jewelry store and shop for a 24 carat diamond. When you’ve picked out a nice rock, tell them you wish to get it at the price of a cubic zirconia. Let me know how that worked out for you.

I assume that you take pride in your work, just as we take pride in ours. Don’t devalue what we do. Believe me: it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Expertise. If you don’t want to pay a pro, why don’t you ask Sam in Receiving to record that power point presentation you’re about to give to potential investors. It’s only the future of your company that’s at stake.

Cindy the secretary has a nice voice too. Perhaps she’s willing to do that phone greeting that will be heard by thousands of customers every day. It’s not our job to determine how you want your company image to be perceived by the rest of the world.

Editing. If you expect a talent to deliver clean, edited audio, don’t assume that someone will throw that in for free. First of all, editing is a special skill and not every talent has mastered that skill.

Secondly, it takes an experienced editor at least twice as long to clean up the audio as the time needed to record it. People deserve to be compensated for their time and expertise. Aren’t you?

Payment. Don’t be surprised if we ask you to pay 50% upfront and the remainder upon receiving the recording. Some colleagues won’t record a word without getting paid in full first. You see, we haven’t established a relationship yet, and most of us have been burned in the past. Did that band you hired for the office party require money upfront? Did the hotel ask you for a deposit at the time you reserved that conference room?

Don’t take it personally. We run a voice-over business; not a collection agency. We give you our word (literally) that we’ll deliver the goods. In fact: we will WOW you! Please PayPal your down payment so we can get the ball rolling.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you happened to detect a slight sarcastic undertone in my writing, please know that I’m aware of that. It’s a bad habit and I’m working on it. Just not today.

Secondly: not all voice-seekers are created equal, and it’s not right to put all of you into the same category. You’ve got to make a living too and make your boss happy by hiring the best talent at a reasonable price.

I’m confident that we can meet in the middle, and I’m committed to making your product or service shine as if it were my own. You and I are in the same boat:

Happy customers are our best credentials.

Testimonials from satisfied clients are stories that can never be accurately reflected in the most detailed of rate sheets.

Quality will always be remembered long after the bill has been paid.

Now… let’s talk some business, shall we?!

Sincerely,

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Voice seekers are not the only ones trying to get more out of you for less. My next article is about Internet Casting Services taking it to the extreme.

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10 ways to spot a voice-over amateur

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear 54 Comments

“Dad,” said my almost eight year old daughter…

“What does baklava taste like?”

“It’s like a slice of heaven,” I answered.

“In that case… I don’t want it,” she replied.

“Why not?” I asked. “It’s sooo good!”

My daughter answered:

“I don’t want to…

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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How much $$ do you need to break even?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 5 Comments

7-7-2008

“It will look so good on your resume”
“This might lead to regular work”
“We’re a start-up business”
“It’s such a small project”
“This is an Indie film”
“It will only take a few minutes”
“You’re new and we want to give you a chance”
“Even if you don’t get the job, it’s still great practice”
“You’d be perfect for this… I wish we could afford you”

If you’ve been an active job-seeking member of the voice-over community for… about two weeks, I’m pretty sure these ‘teasers’ have been thrown out at you a few times. They’re getting old quickly, don’t you think? Or are you still falling for them? Be honest!

These days, clients are getting even more efficient by leaving these phrases out. Now it’s just:

“Manhattan-based attorney’s office in need of a male voice for their website. Budget $100.”

Are you kidding me? These attorneys won’t even pick up the phone for 100 bucks. So, why do they expect us to work for a hand-out? Is it perhaps because many of us call ourselves voice-over ARTISTS?

MISCONCEPTION ONE: Artists don’t work. They just enjoy their hobby.

My wife, a professional flutist, had just finished an exhausting wedding gig: a ninety minute Mass followed by a two-hour cocktail party. All in all she had had two breaks: one to rush from the church to the banquet hall, and a ten minute bathroom break during the reception.

When she came back to get a refreshment, some guests looked at her as if she was stealing from the buffet. One of them even walked up to her and whispered: “Aren’t you supposed to be playing?”

At the end of the engagement, the mother of the groom walked her out and said it had been “lovely”. She sighed: “I used to play the flute. It must be wonderful…. being able to play music all day long.”

When my wife discretely asked for the paycheck that should have been handed to her at the beginning of the day, the groom’s mother looked shocked. She said: “Are you telling me you’re actually getting paid for this?”

Some people just don’t get it, do they? Whether we’re musicians, writers, web designers or voice-over artists, the opportunity to do the things we’re passionate about, should be enough, don’t you think? Well, why don’t we ask Alex Rodriguez about that? Perhaps he’d be satisfied with getting the keys to the Big Apple and a fat World Series ring.

MISCONCEPTION TWO: All you need in this profession is a computer, a microphone and an Internet connection, and you’re in voice-over business. Small investment. Huge ROI (and you can even do it in your PJ’s!).

Well, well…haven’t we heard that one before? If it were that easy, tell me who is paying for your:

  • marketing
  • advertising
  • bookkeeping
  • hours spent finding work
  • taxes
  • overhead
  • continued education
  • attorney
  • sick days
  • paid holidays
  • vacation
  • union dues
  • health insurance
  • dental insurance
  • disability insurance
  • life insurance
  • business insurance
  • unemployment
  • retirement
  • invoices that never get paid
  • … and all other joys that come with running your own business?

 

BREAKING EVEN

Remember, all of the above (and more) has to come out of that job that you almost accepted for $100. Do you even know how much money you need to make in a year, just to break even? How about in a month? How much per week… per day? That’s just to cover costs. How about making a profit? How about saving a little for a rainy day or for college?

If all of this is a little overwhelming and intimidating, let me reassure you. This does not have to be your life! If you don’t have the drive now, do not waste any more time. If you’re not prepared to run your career as a for-profit business, you still have plenty of options… to name a few:

1. Stop posing as a pro and leave the market place to those who are willing to be professional. Stay an amateur instead. No pressure.
2. Get a ‘regular’ job with benefits

However, should you decide to become a professional solopreneur, start acting like one! Don’t do anything else before you take the next step: figure out what your basic minimum hourly rate must be, based on cost, billable hours, and the profit you’re comfortable with.

calculatorRUNNING THE NUMBERS

Of course it would be a little presumptuous to tell you what to do. Some people just don’t want to spoil their hopes and dreams by facing reality. These are the folks that purchased a house they can’t afford because they thought they could swing it. And now they’re paying for it.

Some people are more comfortable playing the victim or playing the blame-game. Others use excuses such as: “I was never any good with numbers”.

Sorry, but I’m not buying it!

If you’re not a numbers person, ask a friend to help you out; find a mentor, hire a pro… There are business coaches out there who’d love to have your voice on their AVR in exchange for their advice. It’s often better to have an impartial opinion from someone who is not in love with your dream. Have a business lunch with them, and bring your calculator and a note pad.

Third, make a small investment and get The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan. This was the first book about money matters that I actually enjoyed reading. It felt like I was getting advice from friends who knew exactly what situation I was in. Joe and Denise offer very practical, down-to-earth strategies in a language anyone can understand, and they’re actually very funny too!

FINE DINING

So…. next time a voice-seeker holds up one of those carrots I started this article with, imagine yourself walking into a restaurant and telling the waiter:

“I can’t really pay you full-price, but if your food is any good, I’ll be sure to spread the word.”

Please let me know how that worked out for you.

And if that did not go over so well, try going into Home Depot, hoping to get 75% off that professional pneumatic drill. 

“And why would we do that?” asks the manager.

And then you utter the magic words: 

“Well, it’s only for a small project….”

And finally, would you be willing to do me one last favor, please?

Once you’ve figured out your desired and minimum hourly rate, look at that $100 voice-over project again, that you were just considering. You know, the one that “will give you great exposure”.

Now look at your hourly rate again.

Get it?!

2-17-2008

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Many thanks to artist N.C. Winters for giving me permission to republish the comic strips. Find out more about the work of N.C. at the artist’s site and at Freelance Freedom.

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Paying the Price

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 8 Comments

Is there a hidden link between price and perception?

Do we get what we are paying for?

Are we more satisfied when we’ve paid top dollar?

On January 14th, 2008, a team a of scientists from the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University, published a paper called:

“Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness.”

It was the result of research I would have loved to be part of. The hypothesis was that…

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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