Money Matters

Are Those Black Friday Deals Really Worth It?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Money Matters, Studio, Widgets 3 Comments

Black Friday at Best BuyAt this very moment, the retail powers that be, are working you left and right.

They’re preying on you, like a lion lures a lamb.

Unlike the lion (who will do his best to stay undetected until he makes his deadly move), retailers come at you in plain sight. They have no desire to rip you to pieces. They want you alive, so they can bleed you year after year.

Retailers won’t jump you either. Instead, they play a game of not so subtle seduction, with one or two pieces of masterful bait, the first one being (drum roll):

Low Prices.

Yes, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will soon be upon us, and credit card companies are already drooling over your looming debt increase.

We may all believe that we’re independent thinkers that cannot be manipulated, but psychologists know better. They know that one of the strongest human fears is the fear of missing out.

That’s why the time ticker at QVC and the Home Shopping Network is such an effective sales tool. It tells you how much time is left to get this incredible gadget you suddenly cannot live without. That’s why they throw in all these “but wait, there’s more” extras to sweeten the deal, but only if you BUY NOW.

Limited time offers and low prices are classic incentives to get weak and impressionable people to buy stuff. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the ultimate examples of these incentives, because they only come once a year, and some of the deals are truly incredible.

Supposedly.

You and I know that those heavily discounted doorbusters are meant to give you a shopping high, so you’ll buy more once you’re in the door. Besides, these deals will often come back in slower seasons.

If you’re still tempted to empty your wallet around Thanksgiving, I can’t stop you. But allow me to give you a few pointers, if I may. 

1. Distinguish between a WANT and a NEED

Every time you’re tempted to make a major purchase, ask yourself:

“Do I really need it right now, or is it just something I want?” “Is it a necessity, or a luxury?”

If you wish to experience sustained success as a for-profit freelancer, there’s one simple formula you must stick to:

Keep your revenue stream high, and your expenses low.

So, if you really, really want to buy this nice, new, shiny piece of equipment, ask yourself:

– Will it make me more professional, productive, and profitable?

– Will my clients experience an undeniable difference as a result of this purchase?

– Will this investment pay for itself within a reasonable period of time?

For instance, a few of my voice-over colleagues are already salivating over a new microphone this season. But a recording will only sound as good as the space it’s recorded in. So, rather than spending cash on a new mic, it’s often much wiser to invest in creating a better acoustic environment.

Most clients won’t hear the difference between a $300 microphone and a $1000 mic. They will hire you because you’re able to deliver clean and crisp audio, without the sound of the neighbor’s leaf blower in the background.

2. Choose High Quality over Low Price

If you must make an investment, do your research before you make that impulse buy. This means you have to overcome one of humanity’s eternal weaknesses: the need for immediate gratification when buying something that’s on sale. 

As a freelancer, competing on price is a losing strategy. You want people to pick you because of your added value, and that value is worth something. If you truly subscribe to this idea, you can’t just apply it to your own business. You have to “live it” in all areas of your life. So, stop buying things just because they’re cheap.

Only yesterday, I threw out all the heavy catalogues of the major pro audio retailers without even looking at them. Apart from being a waste of tropical rain forest, I have everything I need to run my business. I’ve carefully collected my equipment over time. I gave myself an opportunity to save up, to gather info, and to invest some of my profits in quality gear that will last for many years.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Buying cheap can be expensive. Buying quality saves you money in the long run, and a whole lot more.

3. Choose the Planet over Price

I already mentioned the catalogues I had to throw away. But that’s not the only thing that concerns me.

In the past few decades, there’s a growing tendency among manufacturers to make things that only last a few years, and cannot be fixed. As a result, we end up with landfills of trash, gradually leaking toxins into the environment. Nature’s resources are depleted, and people in low-wage countries are exploited as they make the shiny trinkets we end up throwing away.

This process will go on for two reasons. One: because the environmental and societal impact of a product is hardly ever a part of the price. Two: because people like you and me keep buying them.

I’m a strong believer in creating change through spending. If I want local businesses to grow; local farmers to go organic, and make a decent living, that’s where I’ll have to spend my money. If I want manufacturers to create products that are environmentally-friendly, that last, and can be repaired, I have to show them there’s a market for those products.

Now, if you believe that you alone can’t make a difference, talk to Tara Button. Tara is Founder and CEO of BuyMeOnce.com. She was so frustrated with our throw-away culture, that she went on a global quest to find things that are built to last, and that are made in an ethical, green way. Her website features kitchenware, furniture, clothes, shoes, beauty products, and other things. Yes, you’ll pay more upfront, but you’ll save money over time.

4. Don’t spend all your money on objects

If you’re still itching to spend (or borrow) Black Friday money, do you really have to spend it on “stuff”? How fulfilling is that, ultimately? Once the rush of owning something shiny is over, there’ll be a new void, waiting to be filled. And what void are you filling anyway, and for what reason? Do you want to impress your colleagues?

To borrow a phrase from a weight-loss coach:

“Until you know what you’re truly hungry for, you’ll never be satisfied.”

We’ve been shoving waste under the carpet for decades. Is that a legacy you can be proud of? You don’t have to agree with me, but I think mother earth would be better off if we’d shift from an economy of “more and more,” to an economy of “enough is enough.” 

As Thanksgiving is coming up, can we just stop for a moment, and be grateful for what we already have? Can we also spend some time giving, instead of getting? For so many charities, your (tax-deductible) donation is not a want, but a need.

If you insist on giving yourself a gift, why not buy a gym membership (and actually use it)? Why not enroll in a cooking class that teaches you to make healthy meals?

Treat your family to a trip abroad, allowing everyone to broaden their horizons, and to recharge those batteries that have been going non-stop.

Gift yourself to your community by volunteering! Science has proven that it is better to give than to receive. So, be selfish, and share your time and talent with those who need it. It will truly transform your life!

I’ll tell you one thing:

It will beat leaving Thanksgiving dinner early, so you can stand in line for Best Buy.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Lessons From Bridezilla and Buffet

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Personal 3 Comments

BridezillaAt the bank I once worked for as a trainer, they had a saying:

“If it’s about money, it’s never funny.”

Ain’t that the truth!

To that I added my own adage:

“Show me your bank account, and I’ll tell you how you lead your life.”

Bankers and accountants probably know more about you than your therapist. By analyzing the way you spend your money, they can tell whether or not you lead a healthy lifestyle, if you’re a good planner, and if you can resist instant gratification.

On blogs and networking sites, money is a popular theme. People want to know how much to charge, whether or not they should spend $399 on a membership of a particular casting site, and if it’s OK to discount services… the list is endless.

A while ago, I found myself caught up in a discussion about online freelance job sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com. These sites can connect you with prospective clients from all over the world, and help you find projects that are not listed on the familiar voice-over casting sites.

However, when I looked at the average bids some of our colleagues put in to get voice-over work, I was stunned. If you think that doing a job for $100 is stretching it, wait until you check out sites like guru.com. Your jaw will drop to your knees, and that’s not a good thing if you’re in the voice-over business.   

HARD TIMES

Some of the people I was debating were justifying these low rates by pointing at the current economic climate:

“Times are tough. We all have to tighten our belts and do more with less. The only way to still get work, is to put in a bid a client can’t refuse.”

Well, I wasn’t buying it. 

Are you? 

As I was paying a stack of medical bills, I had a realization. Did my doctors lower their rates because the economy still isn’t doing that great? Would a nurse take care of me at half price? Is a baker going to charge less for a loaf of bread, or would a plumber be willing to take a 40% pay cut? No way! If anything, their fees increase every year, if only to keep up with the rate of inflation. 

Then why do some of my colleagues feel the need to put themselves up for grabs in the bargain basement?

Remember: once you’re in there, it’s so hard to climb out. Forget how the economy is doing at a moment. If you subscribe to the notion that you often get what you pay for, why are you selling yourself and your colleagues short? What are you afraid of? Rejection by means of a certain two-letter word? 

THE HARDEST WORD

Top negotiator William Ury wrote a book called “The power of a positive No”. For some of us, that word is one of the hardest in the language, but it can also be very powerful. When we’re saying “No,” we’re asserting ourselves, and we’re affirming our boundaries, whether it’s in an intimate relationship, or in a business relationship.

Being an independent contractor means that we have to have a good sense of what we’re worth. We have to have the guts to stand up for ourselves (and each other), and say “No” when faced with a bad deal. If we don’t, people will inevitably take advantage of us.

Let me rephrase that: If we don’t dare to say “No,” we are allowing others to take advantage of us. Or, as Dr. Phil puts it: “We teach people how to treat us.” Here’s an example.

BRIDEZILLA

You may know that I used to be a non-denominational wedding officiant. I could set my own fees, and every now and then a newly engaged couple would tell me that they were on a shoestring budget. Before I knew it, they were practically begging me to lower my rate.

In the beginning -when I didn’t know any better- I fell for it big time. I wanted to be liked, and I felt sorry for the couple as I remembered the times I had to nickel and dime. Guess what… I paid for my lack of backbone, until I had learned my lesson.

First of all, these couples turned out to be the most demanding couples I had ever worked with. I’d give them a finger, and they would want the entire hand. I’m all for underpromising and overdelivering, but within reason. If you’ve seen some of the Bridezilla shows on TV, you know that not every princess is as sweet as her Daddy believes her to be.

Secondly, these ‘shoestring weddings’ often turned out to be the most lavish events I’d ever been invited to. Apparently, other vendors had not fallen for the couple’s story of woe. As soon as I had learned my lesson, and I started charging fair fees, I would say to my couples: 

“You can’t expect a gourmet meal at a fast-food price.”

When I finally dared to put my foot down, something amazing happened: people began taking me seriously! Sure, I lost a few weddings due to price, but my limited time on earth was too valuable to have to deal with haggling Bridezillas.

Now, let’s move from the wonderful world of weddings to the business of investing.

THE SECRET TO MAKING BILLIONS

Author William Ury recalls a breakfast he once had with Warren Buffet, one of the most successful investors ever. Ury writes: “He confided in me that the secret to creating his fortune lay in his ability to say No.” Buffet said: 

“I sit there all day and look at investment proposals. I say No, No, No, No, No, No -until I see one that is exactly what I am looking for. And then I say Yes. All I have to do is say Yes a few times in my life and I’ve made my fortune.”

So, let’s learn from Buffet and promise each other to teach our clients how to treat us. 

Say NO to rates that insult your unique talent, your professionalism, your intelligence, and your experience.

Economists tell us that the only way to get out of an economic slump is to start spending again. 

If anything, we should start making more money, not less. 

For that to happen, you need to assert yourself. Or, as I like to put it:

“You sometimes have to put your foot down, in order to get a leg up!”

Take that, Bridezillas!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoiceHow 

photo credit: cheriejoyful Brides by CherieJPhotography via photopin (license)


What Were They Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media 20 Comments

Sale!No matter how much you love your job as a voice-over, there are always aspects of your work you don’t care for, or would rather have someone else do.

I, for instance, am not a numbers man, and I’m glad my office manager is keeping the books for my business. Very few colleagues I talk to, enjoy doing the unglamorous paperwork that is part and parcel of running a professional service. Yet, it needs to be done. 

But if there’s one thing many voice-overs are very uncomfortable with, it is this: selling themselves. They’d rather spend hours in a dark booth recording an obscure historic novel, than having to talk a client into hiring them.

If you’re experienced enough to have a couple of agents, they will do the talking for you. Quite often though, a potential client will approach you directly because they’ve been on your website. In that case you have to do the negotiations yourself. Inevitably, you have to answer the following client questions:

1. Why should I hire a professional voice? 

2. Why should I pay that much money, if all you’re going to do is talk?

In the end there are three ways to answer these questions. You can highlight the benefits of what you have to offer, or you can tell some horror stories of clients who went with a cheap, unprofessional voice… or you can use a combination of positives and negatives.

Now, for some clients that’s not enough. Maybe they’re new at hiring a VO, and they simply can’t imagine what effect a bad voice-over could have on a good script. Those people need to see, in order to believe.

One guy started talking to me about text-to-speech software, and how advanced things were getting in that area. His boss had suggested he buy some software, and use it for the next video, instead of a real voice. The TTS-software would pay for itself in no time, he told me. 

“Well,” I said, “I’m not sure your company could afford the kind of artificial voices that are developed and used by Google or Apple. But let me send you a link to a video that was uploaded as recently as last year. This is an affordable product you could buy right now. Take a look, and let me know if this is what you had in mind?” Here it is:

Some things just speak for themselves, don’t they? A few weeks later I spoke to a Head of Internal Training who wanted to “explore his options.” He was producing a tutorial, and he said:

“I’ll be honest with you. Keith from IT has a decent voice, and he said he’s willing to put this thing together for a six-pack and a pizza. That would save me a lot of money. Give me one reason why I should hire you.”

“I’d be happy to,” I said, and I sent him this educational YouTube masterpiece:

Let me share one of my other favorite tutorials. It’s not a corporate presentation, but if you’re interested in baking banana bread, this is a must-see (but you might want to turn the volume up a bit…).

Are you hungry yet? I admit it: I put that video in here just for fun, and because it’s rather bizarre. Don’t be fooled though. People put strange stuff on YouTube because they can monetize it. That’s why you’re forced to watch all those annoying ads. 

The most popular tutorials on YouTube have to be the ones of girls teaching you how to put on make-up. Why do I bring this up? A year or so ago I was approached by a cosmetics brand. Their creative team was coming up with a new campaign, and they had two directions they wanted to explore. One was a more sophisticated approach for which they had my voice and accent in mind.

“The other idea,” said the account manager, “is to let real people tell their story. After all, that’s what our clients can relate to. We want someone who sounds like the friend they never knew they always wanted. Someone who can demonstrate our product, rather than sell it in a commercial.”

“Do you mean someone like this?” I asked? (and you might want to turn your volume down again…)

Most potential clients I talk to aren’t the creative types. They’ve already decided they want to hire me based on my demos, but they want me to give them my “best price.” That’s client speak for: “I think your rates are ridiculous, so let’s see how desperate you are.”

Last week I had a very interesting experience. A woman I was talking to about a voice-over project did something crazy.

She used the F-word!

We were talking about what I would charge, and all of a sudden she said: “But what about all these guys on Fiverr?”

“What about them?” I asked.

“Well,” she continued, “if I were to go with one of them I’d pay a lot less. In the end it’s all about the bottom line, you know.”

“Listen,” I said. “This video you’re putting together is going to be on the world wide web forever, and I hope thousands and thousands of people are going to watch it. For many, this is how they will learn about what your family business has to offer.

In most cases, you’ll get one chance to make your pitch. One chance. People have become extremely critical and impatient. If they don’t like what they see and what they hear, they’ll have millions of other things to watch. So, it’s up to you how you want to present the company your grandfather built. If your video looks unprofessional or sounds unprofessional, your company looks unprofessional.

Do you honestly want to put the reputation of your business in the mouth of this Fiverr guy?”

I think she got the point. Now, let me be clear.

This blog post is not about bashing people who are trying to make a few bucks with a dynamic microphone, or who want to share their knowledge, passion, and whispery voice with the online community. I used the above examples to provide some perspective, and because these videos are in the public domain.

One thing I’m sure you’ve picked up on, is that voice-over narration is very different from giving a running commentary of whatever you’re doing, using the cheapest device in the house. It’s not as easy as it seems, and it’s not true that anyone can do it. 

The difference between a pro and an amateur is this: a pro makes it seem easy and effortless. Amateurs are often hard to understand, and clumsy. Their presentation distracts from the message. A professional voice allows the viewer or listener to focus on the message. 

SELLING YOURSELF

This blog post started as a story about selling, so let’s get back to that.

Some clients are sold on benefits. They need to know what good things will happen when they hire you. Other clients are motivated by fear. They want to avoid disaster. Sometimes it really helps to give those people a flavor of what’s in store for them, should they go cheap. My message to them is this:

Cheap is always more expensive. 

Some things in life are just too important to leave to hobbyists or stupid software.

If you need a builder, a car mechanic, or an electrician, would you go to someone who charges five dollars for his or her service?

Would you pick your OB/GYN based on whomever has the lowest rate?

Would you want to get your teeth fixed by an amateur dentist?

Then why on earth would you trust a Bottom Dollar voice talent with your promotional message? Why would you allow a babbling dabbler to take a shot at your training course that took a fortune to develop? Do you want your employees to be distracted by Keith from IT, or do you want them to actually retain some information?

And to the creators of the Text to Speech video, the software tutorial, the banana bread lady, the make-up girl, and Mr. Fiverr I want to say this:

I’m not going to take away your right to post anything on YouTube you believe is worthwhile watching. But honestly:

What Were You Thinking?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Paula Satijn Bargain via photopin (license)


Stop Bashing Voices.com!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 30 Comments

ProtestThe history of the world is littered with intelligent people doing stupid things. 

Some of those people have interesting excuses:

“I continue to suck on this carcinogenic stick, even though it could kill me. It’s just so relaxing.”

“I won’t stop sexting, even if it ruins my marriage and my political career. I can’t live without the excitement.”

“My employer treats me like dirt, but I’ll stick it out because I have great benefits.”

The people who are saying these things are smart and have been around the block a few times. Yet, they choose to continue to behave in weird ways, almost as if they have no choice.

I had to think of these people after I heard of yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of Voices dot com (VDC), sticking it to voice talent. Under the heading Did Voices.com Just Take a 92.5% Commission?,  colleague Marc Scott reported that VDC had the audacity to post a $4000 job for a measly $300. How do we know? The VDC audition script for this national TV spot happened to be identical to a script that had already gone out to several agencies. 

Busted!

In its defense, “Voices” claimed the project they posted was cast in a different way, with multiple roles instead of one. Scott spoke to people who had received the original casting, and they disagreed. In their understanding, the client was offering $4000 per role. Not $300. 

In an email response to Scott, VDC went a step further in explaining the $3700 difference. Get this. They said their quote wasn’t even based on the client’s budget, but on their own rate sheet.

Well, no matter how you spin the story, offering three hundred bucks for a national TV spot is beyond pathetic, if not outright insulting. But that seems to be the way VDC treats the people who put the voice in “Voices.” 

If all of this comes as a shock to you, you’re either new to the voice-over business, or you have been ignoring the facts. It’s been a year since my two posts Voices.com Is Slapping Regular Members In The Face, and Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy? were published. These stories have been read thousands of times (20,337 & 21,547 respectively). Since then (and well before that), colleagues as well as VDC employees have been venting left and right.

In light of all this, here’s the question many VDC members are asking themselves:

“Should I cancel my membership?”

Here are some typical answers:

“I feel betrayed. However, they are a good source of income for me, and I can’t really afford to dump them out of hand.” 

“I hate what they’re doing, but sixty percent of my income comes from VDC. I’m not going to quit and lose all that money.”

“I guess I could leave VDC, but where would I go to find all those VO jobs?”

And that brings me back to the opening of this blog post: intelligent people doing stupid things. In this case, many are complaining about VDC, but they renew their membership anyway. Year after year. I find that hard to justify. 

As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. It’s that simple.

We know how VDC operates. We know that those who criticize VDC’s business practices are ignored and kicked out, but listen to this. If -after all that has been revealed- you still choose to collaborate with this Canadian company, you are an enabler who has no right to complain. 

Frankly, your outrage means nothing to me. It’s just lip service (and we all know that voice-overs specialize in lip service). It’s easy to protest if you don’t have to pay a price.

It doesn’t stop there, though.

People tend to reveal what’s important to them in the choices they make. So, if you choose to stay with “Voices” because you’re afraid to lose the income, you choose money over morals. It shows that your conscience is for sale. To me it also indicates that you don’t really seem to care about the long-term effect low rates are having on the industry. As long as you get paid your $200 for that ten-minute industrial, all is well. Money is money, right?

To those who fear they’ll have no career without “Voices,” I want to say this:

There is life after Voices dot com!

As a freelancer it’s bad business to make yourself dependent on one or two sources of income. “Voices” is not the only game in town. You have many options, and as a professional you should explore all avenues. Here’s the good news.

There are clients who are willing to pay $4000 for your voice. Why settle for $300? Why should a voice casting site that’s already making tons of money off memberships and escrow fees (that just went from 10 to 20%!), pocket the difference?

If you think you’re entitled to a fair share, and you feel you’re not getting it at Voices dot com (or at any other casting service for that matter), you have to do something about it. For your sake, and for the sake of your community. But let me be straight. 

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t moan about the middle man, and support him at the same time. You can’t complain about the quality of the water, and pour yourself a glass. 

If you want to be part of the solution, you can’t be part of the problem. 

Unfortunately, words alone are not going to bring about change.

Bad things happen when good people do nothing. 

But as long as you’re unwilling to take action, stop bashing Voices dot com!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Demonstration/Parade/Performance/Public Hearing – Hamburg 28.05.2016 beyond welcome: another planning is possible right to the city – never mind the papers – schwabinggrad ballett via photopin (license)


Right On The Money

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 9 Comments

This is the conclusion of a 3-part series on how to price your services as a freelancer. Click here for part 1 and click here for part 2. 

When Max walked into the warm conference room, he saw two files on the table. On one if them he recognized the name of a competitor. The other portfolio had his name on it. He knew instantaneously what he was up against.

Only a few weeks ago, he had lost a contract to this rival because their bid had been 30 percent lower. Had he just made a big mistake by coming out here in the midst of a dangerous winter storm?

“John Jarvis,” said the CEO, as he walked in. “You must be Max. I’m afraid it’s just me today. I live a few blocks from the office and practically no else dared to come out in this terrible weather.”

Jarvis sat down and took a sip of his coffee.

“Max, when I heard that you were on your way, I only had one thought: This guy must either be totally crazy or totally committed. But looking back on how you’ve handled this opportunity so far, you don’t strike me as insane. On the contrary. You hit all the marks of someone we’d like to work with. All of them, but one.

First of all, you clearly know the value of personal connections. Not once did I receive a generic email or an automated answer to a question. It was clear from the start that you were the go-to person that would not work for us but with us.

You made an effort to get to know your client and his problems first, before coming up with a solution. You learned our language and you translated your ideas into terms we could easily understand and relate to.

Third:  you consistently showed us that you could meet all deadlines and manage a project efficiently, even though we were only in the beginning stages. As you know, delays are usually costly. Not once did we have to send you a reminder. In fact, you were the one following up with us!

Now, as you can see, we’ve narrowed our choice down to two offers. Both companies were invited to present their proposals today. Only one showed up. I shouldn’t tell you this, but we’ve had to chase the CEO of the other company down to get his final plans here on time. It was his secretary who sent a response. This morning I found out why.

I’ll be honest with you Max. Your rival made us a very tempting offer that was 35% below your estimate. It was much more in line with current market prices for your type of services. We’re not talking peanuts here, but about a significant amount of money. So, here’s my decision.

Max held his breath. He knew that he had done everything he could to win this contract, but he had been down this road before. There was a lot at stake.

The CEO picked his rival’s folder up from the table; looked at it for a few seconds and threw it in the trash can.

“Congratulations Max. Welcome aboard!”

He went on:

“In this business we don’t really care too much about resumes and infomercials, but we certainly do our homework. I know some of the other people you’ve worked with in the past, and I‘ve seen what you have done for them. Every penny spent on you was a fraction of what came back as a result of your involvement. As they say:

Quality will be remembered long after price is forgotten.

And do you know what impressed me most of all, Max? Not only are you committed and conscientious, you know what you bring to the table and how valuable your services are. At the end of the day, it wasn’t just your competence that sold me Max. It was your confidence.”

His startup coach had been right. Max remembered the day his mentor took out a big black marker and wrote on the flip chart:

A fair price is a price you believe in… plus twenty percent.

“I know you, Max,” his coach said. “As an entrepreneur, your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.”

“And what might that be?” asked Max, puzzled.

“You’re not motivated by money,” answered the coach.

“Let’s face it. You’re creative. You’re an artist. You want to contribute. One of the reasons you’re so good at what you do is the fact that you’re absolutely fascinated by it. It’s a magnificent obsession. You want to be the best you can be in your field. It’s that powerful internal drive that gets you up in the morning.

You don’t do what you do just to pay the bills. You do what you do because it matters and it is meaningful. To you, the ultimate reward is in the result, not in the remuneration.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Max wanted to know.

“Well, it’s what made Mark Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire in the history of mankind,” said his coach. “As far as we can tell, he wasn’t motivated by money when he came up with Facebook. Sir Richard Branson didn’t open up his record store to make millions. Steve Jobs co-founded Apple because he wanted to ‘make a dent in the universe’. Jobs once said:

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

The challenge is to channel that passion and turn it into a profitable product people want to buy.

Now, here’s another basic human need: the need for autonomy. Most people want to be able to direct their own destiny; make their own decisions and create their own future. In one word: they want to be FREE.

The most dissatisfied workers are the ones that are being told what to do. They have uninteresting, low-paying jobs and no hopes of ever escaping the rat race, other than winning the lottery.

In order to gain autonomy, having an interesting, purposeful job is not enough. Being able to contribute to something greater than yourself is nice but not enough. Without money -or with very little of it- we operate in survival mode, focused on taking care of our basic needs. Without money, we’re dependent, we struggle, and we’re stuck.

You might be the most promising painter of your generation, but you need money to buy canvas, brushes and paint. You need money to rent a studio and promote your art. You want to be able to take trainings and hone your skills. The better you become, the more you will require: more expensive canvas, better brushes and the highest quality paint… a bigger studio. Someone’s got to pay for that!

You might think it’s mundane, but one way we express how much we value things, is by putting a price on it. Rumor has it that super model Heidi Klum‘s legs are insured for $2.2 million, but one leg is insured for $200,000 less than the other because of a scar. 

What I’m trying to say is this: money is a means to a beginning. That beginning is called “autonomy.” As long as you lowball whatever it is you’re offering, you’re telling the world that you don’t believe that you’re worth a penny more. That’s not the road to independence. It’s a road to nowhere.

In 2008, Dara Torres became the first woman in history to swim in the Olympics past the age of 40 in her fifth Olympic games. On July 5th of that year, she qualified for the finals in the 50-meter freestyle breaking the American record. In the finals she broke that record for the ninth time, winning a silver medal, only one hundredth of a second behind the German girl who won the gold.

The hours and hours of resistance stretching and time in the pool played a huge part in this phenomenal achievement, but it didn’t win Dara the medal. She won because she believed she could do it

You might not operate this way, Max, but people tend to not value things that don’t cost them much. That alone should be reason enough never to devalue your talent.

If you want your business to grow, you’ve got to start thinking long-term. Today you might be offered a dream deal. But what about tomorrow and the day after tomorrow?

Not only do you need money to cover costs, you need it to invest, to expand, and to contribute. Passionate people have a tendency to be stuck in the now, absorbed in the moment. But even those who have reached the top will tell you that you need to think ahead if you want to stay ahead. If you want to manage your career, you have to learn how to manage your money.

“But what if a client can’t afford me?” asked Max.

“And how would you know they can’t afford you?” countered the coach.

“Well, because they’d tell me!”

“And you always believe what clients tell you?” asked the coach. “Oh please… The two oldest excuses in the book are not enough time and not enough money. Time is something all of us happen to have the same amount of. It’s how we choose to use our time that matters. Not having enough money is a comparative deletion: compared to what?

If you’re stuck in the middle of a snow storm and you absolutely need to be somewhere, are you going to nickel-and-dime the only driver who’s willing to take you to your destination? It boils down to this: what’s it worth to you? Does the added value or benefit outweigh the cost?

The more valuable your product or service and the greater the need for it, the more leverage you’ll have to name your price.

Listen to me Max. Never assume you know how much or how little a client can afford. You don’t. Do your homework instead. Ask questions. Make your offer as relevant as you can… not to you, but in the eyes of your client. Make it irresistible.

Think about all the objections they might throw at you. Be prepared to answer the most difficult question they could ever ask you. It may never come up, but if you have an answer to that question, you know you can handle anything else that comes your way. That’s how you prepare for negotiations!”

“Max, are you okay?” asked John Jarvis.

“For a moment it looked like you were lost in thought.”

“I guess I was processing what just happened,” said Max. “Thank you so much for choosing me. I couldn’t be happier!”

“Well, the feeling is mutual,” said Jarvis. If all of this works out -and I don’t see why it shouldn’t- we’re looking at long-term cooperation. And by the way, call me John.”

Max stood up from his chair.

“Can I ask you something, John?”

“Sure, Max. Shoot.”

“Just out of curiosity… you mentioned that my competitor didn’t hand in his plans on time, and he wasn’t here today. Any idea what happened?”

“I know what happened,” answered Jarvis.

“His secretary told me this morning that his company went under. Apparently, he had a tendency of over-promising and under-delivering. His work looked great on paper, but in reality, he couldn’t meet minimum quality standards. Because of his aggressive pricing, the money that was coming in wasn’t enough to keep the company afloat.”

Jarvis put on his winter coat and said:

“But let’s not worry about that, shall we? Let’s just say that Karma is alive and well in this country. More importantly, we need to get you home safely. I can’t afford to lose you at this stage of the game. We’re barely out of the gates. Let me call our driver. He’ll take you to a hotel near the airport. This storm is not going to last forever.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Max. “There should be someone waiting for me outside.”

“You mean that black SUV in the parking lot?” asked Jarvis.

“Yep, that’s my driver,” replied Max. “His name is Anatoly but his friends call him Stoly.”

“That’s not your driver, Max,” said Jarvis.

“What do you mean?” asked Max.

Jarvis smiled as he opened the door. He shook Max’s hand and said:

“Don’t give that man any tips. I paid him a fortune. Stoly works for me!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Taken For A Ride

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 3 Comments

Stock tradersThis is the second part of a story about how to price your services as a freelancer.

Click here for part one.

The black SUV was slowly making its way through the worst winter storm on record.

“Anatoly, at your service,” said the driver as he reached out to shake Max’s hand. “But my friends call me Stoly. You know… like the vodka.”

“Pleased to meet you, Anatoly,” said Max. “Thanks for taking me to my presentation in this blizzard. I really appreciated it. One question, though: are you sure this is legal? I mean, don’t you need some sort of permit to drive people around like this?”

“What do you mean, permit?” replied Stoly. He sounded a bit agitated. “This is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Right now, I’m the only one brave enough to take you to your presentation in this snow storm. Do I need a permit? Give me a break! My parents didn’t leave the Red Square in order to deal with more red tape. All those rules and regulations are in place just so some pencil pusher can stick his nose into my business.”

Max had clearly hit a nerve. Anatoly went on with his rant:

“If there’s one thing responsible for the American Dream, it is the free market. We have a government for the people, by the people. I think it’s time for big government to start trusting those people to make the right decisions and not interfere in our lives. The entrepreneur is the backbone of the American economy. If we’d need a permit for every single thing we wanted to do, we’d never get anything done.”

Max remembered discussing the concept of a free market with his startup coach. The man was a genius. He could explain complicated concepts in simple terms. 

“Before we come to any conclusions,” said his mentor, “we really should identify what kind of market we are talking about, and what we mean by free. It’s so easy to speak in generalizations and pretend we understand one another. When we do, we usually don’t.

First of all, there is no such thing as a single market. Rather, it is made up of a great number of small markets, serving different segments of our economy.

Secondly, people talk about these markets all the time, as if they were solid, static entities we could take home and put on a shelf. In reality, these so-called markets are more like our health. They are the fluid result of many factors and influences, and they adapt and change constantly. They’re like living organisms. We are all part of those organisms, sometimes as buyers, and sometimes as sellers.

The cumulative result of millions of individual decisions is what makes these many markets move. Even one small decision has the potential to impact the whole. 

Now, some of these markets have become so complicated that humans alone can’t handle them anymore. Take the stock exchange. Most of today’s trading is no longer handled by shouting overachievers in weird blazers, but by computers. Does that make Wall street freer, or more dependent on whiz kids, software, and algorithms?”

Max said he had no idea.

“Let me ask you another question, Max.

Do you remember what happened on May 62010 at 2:45 PM?”

Max shook his head.

“I’ll tell you!

The United States stock market crashed when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged about 900 points in the biggest one-day point decline in history. It was called the Flash Crash, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) blamed it on a computer algorithm used by a trader to determine how to execute a trade.

Within 13 minutes, some $40 stocks were selling for a penny a share, until a market circuit-breaker paused trading. Regulators later undid those bizarre trades, calling them ‘erroneous.’

On June 10th, 2010, the SEC approved rules that require the exchanges to pause trading in certain individual stocks if the price moves 10 percent or more in a five-minute period.

Let me ask you, Max: is that still a free and independent market, or are we talking about intervention in order to prevent shares from becoming worthless, courtesy of a computer glitch?”

Once again, Max was silent, as his mentor went on.

“Now, think about what fuels our economy: crude oil. An important benchmark for crude oil prices is a weighted average of prices for petroleum blends produced by the OPEC countries. OPEC constantly tries to influence that price by increasing and decreasing production. We all know what happened in 1973 when oil ministers agreed to an embargo.

Again I ask you: is this the famous free market people are always touting, or are prices kept at an artificial level and used as weapons in an effort to influence political decisions and certain economies? Think about what’s happening right now. 

Led by Saudi Arabia, OPEC decided in 2014 to wage a price war with low-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere in a bid to defend market share. Since oil prices began collapsing, oil companies have sacked hundreds of thousands of workers, and slashed investment budgets.

But there are other factors that influence how much or how little we pay at the pump.

The yearly maintenance of refineries influences gas prices. A blast caused by a few individuals at a pipeline in Nigeria can cause the price of petrol to explode at your local gas station. We might long for energy independence all we want, but for now we’re as interdependent as never before.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: because we’re so connected, markets are never completely free. Contrary to what some republican presidential candidates want us to believe, we’re not living on an island.”

“I understand all of that,” said Max. “But when people talk about the free market, don’t they typically refer to a market free from government intervention?”

“Here’s my take on government intervention, Max:

Too much of it is called dictatorship, and not enough of it leads to anarchy. You pick.”

He continued:

“I can’t tell you how many times the argument it’s a free market has been used to defend or excuse the most appalling working conditions and low wages on this planet. Just because humans were born with free will and have the power to exploit one another, doesn’t mean they should. Sometimes the administration has to step in to prevent the greedy from taking advantage of the needy. Is that big government overstepping its boundaries, or a matter of society upholding basic human rights?

One could argue that the institution of federal minimum wage is a form of intervention in the labor market. It started when government tried to control the explosion of sweat shops in manufacturing industries. The sweatshop owners were thought to have unfair bargaining power over their workers, and a minimum wage was proposed as a means to make them pay fairly.

Some might say that sweatshops are a thing of the past. Well, on a different but related note, tell me: What’s one of America’s favorite non-alcoholic beverages?”

“It must be coffee,” answered Max.

“Correct,” said his coach. “A few years ago, Starbucks finally started selling Fair Trade coffee, and for a good reason. We don’t always realize that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what has been described as ‘sweatshops in the fields.’ Many small coffee farmers in Africa and South America receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into poverty and debt. To become Fair Trade certified, an importer must pay a minimum price per pound, allowing farmers and their families to make a living wage.

Laissez-faire economists might frown upon fair trade, but here’s the underlying question: whom is the market supposed to serve? Is this market some amoral, illusive, impersonal entity that cannot be influenced, or could the players in that market actually have an effect on how decent business is conducted?

Are people to serve the market (at any rate and at any cost), or do we want to have a market that serves the people? Should we intervene in that market by setting certain levels that are considered to be fair, humane, and reasonable, or should we leave the market alone?

Our economy is still recovering from the subprime mortgage crisis that was -in part- the result of an unregulated, greed-driven market that left so many homeless. Just because people were able to get a mortgage with no money down, doesn’t mean they should have.

Cars used to have no seat belts and smoking was allowed everywhere. Then the government stepped in to prevent intelligent people from doing stupid things. Yes it’s intervention, but for a good reason. 

My belief is that the ideal market -if we can even speak of such a thing- should serve the people. If a market leads to desperation exploitation, it becomes an issue of ethics, and adjustments should be made.

I realize that I’m painting a picture with broad strokes, Max, and you’re free to disagree. So, why don’t we bring this discussion back to rates? After all, that was what we were talking about. Here’s my question:

Would you rather be paid a fair rate, or a market price?”

*          *          *          *           *

As Stoly skillfully maneuvered his car through the snow storm, Max noticed something disturbing. In some boroughs the streets were much more accessible than in others. How could that be?

Suddenly, bright headlights appeared out of nowhere, and they moved straight toward their SUV.

“What the heck is that?” screamed Stoly as he quickly turned the wheel.

“That, my friend, is government intervention,” said Max, as a huge snow plow drove right past them. “Why aren’t they out in full force in every neighborhood?”

“It’s been a long winter,” replied Stoly. “Some municipalities started running out of funds, especially those that paid the drivers by the hour. They found out that if they paid the snow crews per amount of snow removed, a lot more got done in less time. The folks that got paid per hour took their time. It’s human nature. Plus, some of the lowest bidders turned out to have the worst equipment, and it took them forever to get the streets plowed. You get what you pay for.”

“When I was young, the whole neighborhood came together to clear the streets and sidewalks,” said Max. “It was actually fun, and we got to know one another. Senior citizens and others who were too weak to plow didn’t have to worry about a thing.”

“How about now?” Stoly asked.

“I’m afraid it’s every man for himself,” said Max. “People clear their own little bit of sidewalk and make sure others don’t park in their spot. There’s an eighty-year old woman on our block who can hardly leave her house, let alone clear her walkway. One day, two teenagers knocked on her door, offering to take care of the snow for her.

She was so happy that these young gentlemen were ready to do a good deed. That was before they told her that it would cost her ten bucks. She said to me that she could barely afford her medication, let alone ten dollars every time there was snow on the ground. But hey, it’s a free market!

Meanwhile, her next door neighbor has one of those gas snow blowers. He was clearing his own sidewalk when she asked him if he’d be willing to lend a hand. He said that he’d get to it, once he had taken his wife to the nail salon. Then he forgot all about his neighbor’s sidewalk, so I took care of it.”

Stoly’s SUV slowly made its way through town, until it stopped in front of an office building.

“This should be it,” said Max as he gathered his stuff. “Will you wait for me? I do need to get back to the airport.”

“If you insist,” said Stoly.

“Great,” said Max. “Would it be okay if I pay you on the way back?”

“What do you think?” asked Stoly with a big grin on his face. “You pay me now, my friend . This is the US of A…

There are no free rides.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

PS Next week I’ll bring you the final installment. Click here for part 3.


The Power Of Pricing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 23 Comments

Snow stormSNOW EVERYWHERE… and Max was in the thick of it.

His client was expecting him within the hour, and he was all dressed up but couldn’t go anywhere.

This was the account he had been grooming for months, and today was D-Day: Deal or No Deal. Snow or no snow. He had to get out of that airport.

“This is the worst snow storm we’ve seen in decades,” said the dispatcher. “No cab driver is going to go anywhere today. I’m afraid you’re on your own.” Max headed out anyway. Perhaps he could hitch a ride with one of the other passengers that was being picked up by brave friends or family members.

As the snow was coming down, visibility was at a minimum. All flights were canceled until further notice. Just as Max was about to head back inside, a black SUV came out of nowhere, and stopped at the pick-up spot. The driver rolled the window down:

“Need a ride?”

“How did you know?” said Max, as he hopped in. “I have to get to my presentation. Are you here to pick somebody up?”

“No one in particular,” said the driver. “But I’d be happy to take you.”

“Well, that’s awfully nice of you,” said Max. “Thank G-d for Good Samaritans.”

“Dream on,” said the driver. “It’s going to be one hundred dollars. Cash only.”

“You must be joking,” replied Max. “They said a cab would cost me no more than ten.”

“Well, why don’t you get a cab then?” asked the driver. “I’ll go and rescue some other grey suit in a hurry.”

“I’ll offer you 50,” tried Max.”

“Listen,” said the driver. “You look like a smart businessman. You and I, we don’t run charities. We’re both entrepreneurs. We see an opportunity. We jump on it. We take risks. Today I am risking my life and my car just so you can get to your meeting. That must be worth something, don’t you think?

“How about 60?”

“You don’t get it, do you?” said the driver. “My economics teacher taught me: ‘When something is scarce, it becomes more valuable.’ You have a major problem. I am offering you a solution. No one else will. If you want to stay, you’ve got to pay.”

“70?”

“Think of it this way,” sighed the driver. “This meeting you want me to take you to, must be important, right? Otherwise, why bother? Is there a lot of money at stake?”

“You got that right,” answered Max impatiently. “I’ve got one shot to seal a deal.”

“Well,” said the driver, “It’s none of my business, but what’s 100 bucks compared to the money you’ll bring in after that contract is signed?”

“Alright,” said Max as he took out the cash. “I get it. Now, drive!”

While the SUV was battling the elements, Max looked at his chauffeur and said: “I gotta give it to you, man. You know what you’re worth, and you’re not afraid to ask for it.

Some ten years ago, when Max started his freelance business, he had had such a hard time putting a price on the service he was providing. To help him focus, his startup coach had asked him a couple of simple questions:

  1. Do you consider yourself to be a pro?
  2. Do you want to run a for-profit business?
  3. Do you want that business to grow?
  4. What are the costs of running that business?
  5. What’s your break-even point?
  6. How much do you want to make?

In the past, Max had always treated his services as a hobby. That’s exactly what it was. There was no plan. No purpose. Just a passion. He spent hours and hours helping people and never worried about what to charge. That is, until he lost his day job, his benefits, and his security. Perhaps this was an opportunity to turn his hobby into a real business. That’s when things got serious and complicated.

“Here’s the good news,” smiled his coach. “You’ve got clients, don’t you? I mean, you’ve been helping friends all along. If you want to turn your hobby into a genuine profession, why not start close to home. You obviously offer something people want. You already have a market… Go for it!”

“Here’s the problem,” said Max. “I never really charged my friends anything. Most of them gave me pizza and a six-pack. I can already hear them say:

Why would we ever pay you if we can get you for free?

“Good point,” admitted the coach, and he went on: “My brother is a computer geek and he’s crazy about technology. But if he would do every single friend ‘a favor,’ he’d be fixing broken laptops all day and night and not make any money. Free pizza does not pay the mortgage. Besides, I don’t think he’d make the guys happy who repair computers for a living.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s not okay to help out a friend in need, but as soon as people found out that my brother knew how to fix a computer, everybody wanted to be ‘friends’ with him. He had to draw a clear line between real friends and those who were well below the rank of Facebook buddies. That’s what you have to do too, Max. No more giveaways. From now on, you run a business; not a charity.

One of your jobs as an entrepreneur is to manage your client’s expectations. Let me give you an example. If you take on a project you know you can easily do in two days, tell your client you can get it done in three. Guess who’s going to look good when you hand it in 48 hours later?

That way you not only create the expectation that you can beat a deadline. You’re also showing your client that she’s a top priority, and that you really know your stuff. Meanwhile, you’ve allowed yourself an extra day should anything unexpected come up. Does that make sense?

Pricing is one of the most important tools for managing your client’s expectations, as well as your bottom line. Your price point sends a clear signal to your market:

This is what I am worth.

Like it or not, there is a clear link between perceived quality and price. Otherwise, every wine connoisseur would drink Beaujolais out of a box, and Pottery Barn would be out of business.

Remember this: Your fee structure will help you attract the kind of customers you want to be working with, and the type of jobs you are shooting for. At the same time it will weed out the folks that cannot or will not afford you; the ones that are most likely to give you a hard time anyway.

Here’s the deal, though: Your fee must be backed up by experience and expertise on one hand, and by a realistic sense of your value in the market place on the other.

Simply put: Be an expert and do your homework. Don’t just pull a rate out of a hat. That’s lazy and crazy. Find out what the competition is charging. Then ask yourself: “Do I want to charge more, less, or the same?”

“I can’t imagine it’s that simple,” said Max.

“It’s not,” answered his coach. “Smart pricing decisions require at least three elements:

  1. Facts about your own cost of doing business
  2. The client’s evaluation processes
  3. Competitive activity

I know you really care about your work, Max. To you, it’s much more than a way to pay the bills. You’re an artist and somehow, some artists (and clients) believe that there’s a clash between creativity and cash. Doing what you love should be enough of a reward.

I don’t think Andy Warhol or Keith Haring would agree with that. Being creative and being commercial can go hand in hand, and since you’re in business to make money, let me give you a simple formula:

Profit = sales volume x price – cost

Have you ever heard of Hermann Simon? He’s a German economics professor and one of the leading experts on pricing. Together with Robert Dolan, he wrote a book called Power pricing: how managing price transforms the bottom line. He calls volume, price, and cost “profit drivers.”

Simon says something very interesting:

“The customer’s willingness to pay is not determined by the costs of a product but by its performance and resulting value to this customer.”

In other words: when people get a haircut, they conveniently forget that they’re also paying for the rent the salon’s forking over every single month, or for the training the staff receives so they can make every teenage boy look like Justin Bieber.

Clients don’t care about your costs.

You should.

That’s why you have to figure out the answer to this question: How low can you afford to go? What is your Price Floor?

A Price Floor is a point below which a product or service should not be sold. In the long term, the price must obviously cover the full costs of a product. Otherwise the seller cannot make a profit and will not survive. Volume never makes up for selling below cost. 

Every year, tens of thousands of self-employed people file for bankruptcy because they made one big mistake: they followed a dream and forgot to run the numbers. They are what I like to call ‘under-estimators’. Literally.

Knowingly or unknowingly, they started selling below cost in an effort to drive out the competition or even out of ignorance. Some started giving their work away for free, hoping to get exposure and attract business. Last time I checked, my local baker was handing out free samples but never entire cakes. And between you and me: he doesn’t strike me as a marketing genius.”

“Speaking of prices… a friend of mine just bought a brand name watch at a price that was too good to be true,” said Max. “It turned out to be fake.”

“Were you surprised?” asked the coach.

“Not at all,” said Max. “You get what you pay for.”

“That’s right. In part, price is about perception. That’s probably why your friend wanted to buy that Rolex rip-off in the first place.

Professor Simon puts it this way:

“Price is the economic sacrifice a customer makes to acquire a product or a service. The customer always compares this sacrifice with his perception of the product’s value. (…)

“In essence, a customer buys a product or a service only, if its perceived value -measured in money terms- is greater than the price. If selecting from several alternatives, the customer prefers the one offering the highest net value, i.e. the greatest differential of perceived value over price.”

Go to any tattoo parlor and see for yourself how much pain people are willing to suffer in exchange for the pleasure derived from a name, permanently painted in the perforations of their delicate flesh. Years later, they spend a fortune burning out their ex-hubbie’s initials with a laser beam… turning the man in question into an ex-boyfriend, once removed… But I digress. We were talking about perceived value, weren’t we?”

“You’ve mentioned volume, price, and cost,” said Max. “How exactly does the market factor into this? Isn’t a certain price ultimately the result of the interaction between supply and demand? That’s not something I have any influence over, is it?”

“Great point,” smiled his coach. “First off…

*          *          *         *         *

THE BLACK SUV slowly made its way through the winter weather.

“Care for some hot cocoa?” asked the driver as he pointed at a thermos.

“Yes please!”said Max.

“And help yourself to a muffin too,” said the driver. “This might take a while.”

“Well, you certainly know how to treat your customers,” remarked Max.

The driver smiled. “Always exceed your client’s expectations. That’s my philosophy.”

“Will you pick me up when I am done?” asked Max.

“Of course,” said the driver.

“I love return business!”

Click here for part 2.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: It’s been DUMPING snow at Heavenly… via photopin (license)


Calling It As I See It

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 40 Comments

Paul StrikwerdaIn this blog I often take a critical look at the industry I’m a part of.

Some colleagues have told me that -from a marketing perspective- this is a stupid thing to do. 

Particularly in America, there is this culture of forced optimism, and fostering a positive image is seen as one of the keys to continued success.

In an environment where public perception can be instrumental in the making of a career, it’s important to come across as likable and easy-going. That’s why many voice-overs keep their money-making mouths shut about controversial issues. It’s not that they don’t have opinions. They just fear that if they would share those opinions with the rest of the world, it might tarnish their reputation as the “Good Girl” or as “Mr. Nice Guy.”

It’s common knowledge that you don’t burn bridges, or bite the hand that feeds you. That hand might come back to slap you in the face. Let me give you one example of how something small that is seen as “negative,” can ruin a relationship.

WHERE’S MY MONEY?

A talent from Germany emailed me about an American agent. Three months ago she had completed a job for this guy, and she was wondering when the check would arrive. Because I live and work in the States, she asked me if it was normal to have to wait that long to get paid, and what she could do about it. I told her to take it up with the agent, which she did. The agent promised to look into it.

A month later, my colleague (who, by the way, is one of the sweetest people on the planet), wrote another polite email about the payment, and the answer she received was something like this:

“Please don’t bother me about it. I’m still waiting for the client to pay me. When I get paid, you get paid. That’s how it works.”

My colleague didn’t like the tone of that message. In her mind, her agent had to earn his commission, not only by submitting her auditions, but by making sure she was getting paid within a reasonable period of time. So, after two more weeks had passed, she wrote another friendly reminder. The response:

“Stop pestering me. This is what happens with Non-Union work in the U.S. Everyone but you seems to understand that.”

Well, another month went by and still no check. You can predict what happened next. My colleague contacted the agent again, and he exploded. When the money finally arrived, the agent wrote angrily:

“This will be the last check you’ll ever receive from me. Goodbye.”

KEEPING MY BIG MOUTH OPEN

You may think that this is an extreme example, but it isn’t. Before I got a backbone, some clients treated me like a servant, with an attitude of “Remember: there are many voices we can choose from. You should be grateful that you even have work in this economy. If you don’t play by our rules, you don’t get to play at all.”

Maybe it’s because I’m European, but I’ve been taught to speak up in the face of disrespect and injustice, regardless of the consequences. I will never point fingers at someone or something just to push the envelope. That’s what bullies do. But when I see emperors wearing next to nothing, or I see certain companies engaging in unethical practices, I call them out… and deal with the consequences.

There’s no need to feel sorry for me, but I know that being outspoken may have increased my notoriety, and I’m sure it cost me a few jobs and speaking engagements. After all, who wants to hire a troublemaker? Why have someone known for stirring the pot, speak at a voice-over conference? It’s important to keep the sponsors happy!

“Thanks for writing what many are thinking but don’t dare to share in public,” is a comment I often get from those who send me an email. It’s ironic. People who talk for a living, are afraid to raise their voice. 

Luckily, I did notice a remarkable shift this year. Here’s what made 2015 different from previous years:

Voice-Overs have started to speak up!

At last.

POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS

Unionized video game voice actors threatened to go on strike if no understanding could be reached with big players such as Disney, Activision, and Warner Bros. Voice-overs want residuals or bonuses for blockbuster games that sell more than 2 million units. They also want limits on the number of consecutive hours they are expected to scream while dying a thousand horrible video game deaths.

2015 was also the year in which we saw a mass exodus from voices.com. People were finally fed up with a pay-to-play system that didn’t give them a fair shot at landing jobs, and with a company that seemed to be double and triple dipping while cheapening the marketplace with low rates.

At the same time, membership in the World Voices Organization (WoVo) grew to over 600 members, and their voice casting marketplace, voiceover.biz, positioned itself as a serious alternative for finding premium, vetted voice talent.

Together with global meetup group VO Peeps, WoVo hosted a series of roundtable discussions about rates. In the past, Non-Union rates had always been a tough issue to talk about publicly. This year, the elephant in the room was being discussed more than ever, and the awareness is growing that our fees need to be fair, and based on added value.

So, what do I make of all this?

It tells me that our profession is gradually getting away from its subservient yoke. We, who are used to treating our clients with respect, believe that respect is a two-way street. We also realize that it is pointless to fight our battles as individuals. We need to come together as a group, and find ways to impact the playing field, as well as increase our level of professionalism.

I will continue to do my part as a blogger, and ruffle feathers that need to be ruffled. I’ll no doubt step on some sensitive toes, and rub a few people the wrong way. Why? Because important players deserve to be challenged. False claims must be exposed. Newcomers need to be warned and educated.

My hope for 2016 is that you will join me in taking a good look at where we stand as voice-overs, and what we want to accomplish. Things won’t change if you keep quiet.

Don’t stand on the sidelines, and let others deal with the hot potatoes. Speak up! Participate. Be an engaged member of this community. 

It’s absolutely critical.

Happy Holidays!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


How To Secure Return Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Promotion 13 Comments
Reserved for salesperson of the month

photo ©Paul Strikwerda

It must be hard to be Balloons the Clown.

For years, Balloons has been a fixture in my Borough.

He drives around in a silly red VW Beetle with a slogan prominently printed on the back:

“Honk if you like clowns.”

I’ll be honest: in all the years that our paths have crossed, I’ve never heard a single honk. That must be pretty depressing, if you’re a professional clown. But as one of my old teachers used to say:

“The meaning of our communication is the response we get.”

Here’s my question: Why would someone like Balloons even ask us to make some noise? My guess is that it has to do with the theme of last week’s blog post: reassurance. Perhaps this family entertainer is hoping for honks to confirm his presumed popularity.

Even though you probably don’t make a living walking around in huge shoes wearing a red nose, you and I, and Balloons, have something in common: we like to be reassured.

Our need for reassurance has to do with a deep human desire: the wish to be accepted. It’s this universal, comforting feeling that we matter, that we are safe, and that everything is going to be alright. It’s what lovers love, preachers preach, and what politicians promise. The person able to reassure us the most, gains our trust and gets our vote.

Clients are no different. They want to know that they are in good hands, and that their money is well spent. It is your job to convince them of that fact. As I suggested last week:

Selling is about reassuring. Before the sale, during the sale, and after the sale.

THE DO’S AND DON’TS

As the client is making up his mind, here are a few things that will make him feel confident that you’re the right person for the job. This is what you have to do:

  • Listen carefully
  • Read and follow instructions
  • Ask questions
  • Respond in a timely and personal way
  • Be clear about your policies
  • Demonstrate knowledge and experience
  • Use plain language, and avoid jargon when dealing with inexperienced buyers
  • Use correct spelling and grammar
  • Be as helpful as you can
  • Only take on jobs you know you can handle

 

“But isn’t this what you’re supposed to do as a professional?” you may ask. Well, you’d be surprised to learn that many so-called pros:

  • Make assumptions
  • Focus on themselves
  • Don’t follow basic instructions
  • Leave clients hanging
  • Have no studio policies
  • Try to impress by using language clients don’t understand
  • Send out poorly written emails
  • Do the minimum to get the job done
  • Bite off more than they can chew

 

By treating clients that way, these colleagues risk way more than losing one specific job.

Here’s my second lesson:

Selling is not about making a sale. It is about winning a client’s confidence, and building a relationship.

Your aim is never to make a quick buck. Your ultimate goal is to cultivate a long-term connection.

MORE WORK TO DO

Now, once the buyer has decided to hire you, don’t think that everything is A-Okay. Your job to reassure him or her is far from over. You still need to prove yourself. You might have the best testimonials and reputation in the world, but some clients just don’t care about the opinion of others. This is the question they want answered:

“What can you do for ME?”

There’s only one appropriate answer: you have to deliver a stellar product that is worth more than the price paid. Remember: you’re not just in the business of providing a voice-over (or other freelance service). You are in the business of adding value. That’s what you’re really selling. 

There’s one other thing you must do at this stage: you need to keep your client informed of your progress. This is especially important when you’re working on longer projects such as eLearning modules, and audio books. If you’re behind schedule, let your client know. If you’re on schedule, tell your client too.

Remember the online purchase I wrote about last week? Once I had bought my reading glasses, I couldn’t wait to get them. I was happy to receive immediate confirmation of my purchase, and I got a message once my readers were shipped. Thanks to a tracking number, I knew when the package would arrive at my doorstep. How reassuring!

But wait… there’s more. Let’s get back to your client. 

AFTER SALES

Let’s say everything went according to plan. Your customer is happy with his or her purchase, and you are ready to move on. But are you really done?

Absolutely not!

This was just the beginning of a relationship, and some clients may need additional assurance that they made a solid investment. That’s nothing new. One of my best buddies just bought a car, and he is showing it to all his friends. Of course he is proud of his new Subaru, but what he is secretly hoping for, is some kind of confirmation that he made the right choice. In other words: he wants reassurance after the purchase was made.

So, what can you do to give a client a warm and fuzzy feeling once the audio has been delivered? Well, show some gratitude! Send your client a thank you email, or -better still- a handwritten card. Let them know how much you enjoyed working with them The key thing is personalization. Avoid clichés such as “I look forward to working with you again,” or “if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.” If you have done your job and you did it well, they WILL get back in touch with you.

Secondly, make it painless to pay you. Some authors will tell you to invoice a client as soon as possible. I always wait a few days. Number one: I want to be sure that my recording is approved before I send the bill. Number two: I don’t want to give the impression that I’m all about money. Don’t wait too long either. Catch the client in the afterglow of their experience. That way they still remember what they’re paying you for.

Ask clients what their preferred payment method is. If your client prefers PayPal, use PayPal. If your client likes TransferWise, use TransferWise. And when the check clears and the money is in the bank, send another thank you note. Always reward desired behavior!

AND FINALLY

When I received my readers I noticed four things:

  1. They arrived ahead of schedule
  2. They fit like a glove
  3. I received a 10% off coupon for my next purchase
  4. I was encouraged to leave feedback

Numbers 1 – 3 once again reassured me that I had made a wise purchase from a trustworthy company. That put me in the right mood to do something with number 4. An hour after getting my new glasses, I posted a glowing online review. The very next day I received an email from the customer service manager, thanking me for my feedback. It wasn’t one of those automated messages, by the way. It was a personal note that referenced my positive comments.

To those of us who will never meet their customers in person: that’s how you do business, and stay in business! 

So, whether you’re selling a product or a service, do yourself a big favor and don’t clown around.

If you consistently show your customers that you genuinely care, they will be happy to honk their horns!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet. It’s so reassuring!


How To Sell Your Voice Online

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion 9 Comments

Dog with reading glassesExhausted from Black Friday?

Done with Cyber Monday? 

Or are you still shopping on Santa’s behalf?

I’m not one to stand in line for hours to get my hands on a doorbuster, but being the frugal Dutchman I am, I love a good deal. Most of those deals I find online, and I’m not the only one.

According to the website PracticalEcommerce, spending in actual stores fell 10 percent from last year on both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. Compared to 2014, online sales on Thanksgiving were up by 25%, by 14.3% on Black Friday, and by 16% on Cyber Monday. 

Here’s an interesting development: for the first time, mobile shopping trumped the desktop on Thanksgiving, with a 57% share. On Black Friday, 33.2% of all sales were mobile, and on Cyber Monday 27% of all shoppers used their smart phones and tablets to make a purchase.

This change does not only affect the big-box stores and supercenters. If you are selling your services online (like most voice-overs do), this affects you too. In what way?

  • If clients can’t easily find you online, you do not exist;
  • If your website is not optimized for smaller screens, you will lose business;
  • If your website doesn’t instill confidence, people will shop elsewhere.

 

CASE IN POINT

Let me tell you about one of my most recent online purchases, and what I learned from that experience. I didn’t buy a big-ticket item. It was a pair of reading glasses. You’ll be amazed how many businesses are trying to sell readers on the web. Like voice-overs, these readers come in all shapes and sizes, but they basically do the same thing. 

The big problem with buying glasses online, is that you can’t try them on. You can look at plenty of samples, but how do you know that a particular frame is the right fit? Voice-overs have the same challenge. You can present a prospect with many generic demos, but how does the client know that your take on the script will be a good fit?

Therein lies the first lesson:

Selling is about reassuring.

Prospective clients need to feel comfortable, before they’re ready to buy. Reassurance is actually critical in three phases of the sales process:

a. Before the sale

You have to convince the client that your product or service meets their specific needs, and that your asking price is worth paying; 

b. During the sale

A client needs to be reassured when buying your product, or when hiring you;

c. After the sale

You need to reassure the customer that he/she has made the right decision. That way, they’ll be thinking of you the next time they need a voice for a new project.

REASSURANCE

Let’s break this down a little bit by going back to my purchase. How did the online vendor manage to reassure me? Here’s how.

By listing the exact measurements of each frame, I could easily tell which pair of reading glasses would be a good fit for my rather big head, and which ones were not. All I had to do was pick a pair I liked, and look at the frame dimensions. 

Secondly, I needed some reassurance on the return policy. We’ve all ordered items that seemed great online, but when we tried them on, they looked ridiculous. So, I needed to be reassured that this vendor had a no-hassle return policy. 

The next thing the vendor had to do, was justify the price of the item. These days you can buy cheap readers at the grocery store. You can put them on there and then, and there are no shipping costs. So why even bother ordering them online?

Well, the vendor made two value propositions. Grocery store reading glasses can be boring and poorly made. These online readers were stylish and sturdy. On top of that, there were plenty of testimonials from satisfied customers telling me how great they looked, and how long these fashionable readers lasted. These reviews were very specific, and seemed genuine to me. Fake reviews are often generic and are suspect because of bad spelling and poor grammar.

Never underestimate the power of a testimonial. I’ve said it before and I will say it again:

Nothing you say about yourself will ever be as strong as what other people say about you.

Bottom line:

Once I was reassured, I was sold!

The question is: How could you apply this to the way you do business online? After all, you’re selling a service instead of special spectacles.

SELLING VOICES

Think of it this way: just as the vendor of reading glasses, you are offering a unique solution to a particular problem. How can a client determine whether or not you’ll be a good solution?

First of all, your website needs to impress, and your demos really have to shine. Secondly, you need to make it crystal clear that you can deliver a custom-demo based on a portion of the client’s script, within a matter of hours. This gives the client an opportunity to try on your voice. That’s reassurance number one.

Next, you have to let the client know what your retake policy is. Clients don’t want to be stuck with something they’re unhappy with. On the other hand, they can’t expect you to re-record ad infinitum at no cost to them. My approach is based on the three F’s: Fair, Firm and Flexible.

Fair: I’m not going to charge a client for my mistakes. Firm: I will charge a client if he wants me to record a new version of a script after the first version was approved and recorded. Flexible: I am willing to be more lenient toward an established client, especially if that client pays exceptionally well.

THE COST FACTOR

At this point we have to talk about price. Selling used to be all about people. In the online world, it is increasingly about price because there is no personal, face-to-face interaction. As I said in the beginning, more and more people are shopping online, which creates certain expectations. One of those expectations is that buyers will know how much they’re going to pay for what’s being offered.

Whether you like it or not, sooner or later you have to answer the question: How much is this going to cost me? May I suggest that you better answer that question sooner, before your shopper goes to a competitor who is open about rates.

Telling prospects how much something is going to cost, may be scary to you, but it is reassuring to those who are thinking of hiring you. It also weeds out the low-budget buyers. I know that it’s often impossible to break voice-over jobs down to the dime, but a ballpark figure or a price range will suffice. 

Lastly, like the vendor of reading glasses, you have to justify your rates. You have to answer the age-old questions: Why should I buy from you? What makes you so special? Those questions are easier asked than answered, and that’s probably why so many voice-over colleagues fail to come up with a solid value proposition. A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered. It’s the number one reason a potential client should buy from you. 

If you’re struggling with these questions, let me give you a hint: You’re probably not the best person to answer them. You’re too familiar with yourself, and you’re likely to make too many assumptions. What you need to do, is find out how other people see you, and how they perceive the benefits of what you have to offer. Next, you have to translate these benefits into headlines, paragraphs, visuals, and audio.  

If you need an example of what I mean, take a look at my home page. It’s by no means perfect, but I think it gets the point across. What do you think my value proposition is? Is it easy to understand? Keep in mind that for most of my clients, English is a second language. Do I address basic questions and concerns? Do you see a testimonial?

NEXT TIME

So far, all I have talked about is ways to reassure the online client before the sale is made. Why is this so important? Well, reassurance leads to trust, and -trust me- people will never buy from someone they don’t trust. 

Next week we’re going to dig even deeper, and look at ways you can reassure buyers during and even after the sale. It’s an aspect of selling that is often overlooked, but it is crucial if you want to get return business from happy customers.

Now, one thing I am often asked as a blogger is this: How do you come up with this stuff?

The answer is simple.

It is based on years of experience as a freelancer, first in the Netherlands, and now in the United States. 

And remember: this blog post started with a pair of glasses and a bad pun. Brought to you at no cost whatsoever.

Oh, the things I’m willing to do for my readers…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Dog Intelligence via photopin (license)


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