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Right now I want to take a few minutes to talk about the pitfalls of a voice-over career. Now matter how many times you’ve dreamed about becoming the next Tom Kenny or Nancy Cartwright, you should never jump into the ocean if you don’t know how to swim. Too many hopefuls are drowning, and I don’t want you to be one of them.
Here’s what you need to know.
Most people tend to underestimate what it takes to become a full-time, for-profit voice-over. Why is that? Because the job of a true pro is to make it sound easy, spontaneous, and seamless. The best actors distinguish themselves by their ability to fool everyone into thinking that they’re not acting. Just because it sounds easy or looks easy, doesn’t mean it IS easy.
So, pitfall number one is underestimating the difficulty of having to be natural in an unnatural situation. It requires a special ability to sound authentic even if you don’t believe a word of what you’re saying, as well as the skill to sound sincere, conversational, and real, as someone else is putting weird words into your mouth. To be honest: most people can’t do it.
Pitfall number two is the technical aspect of this business. The number one reason most auditions get rejected is bad audio. You may have the perfect pipes for the job, but if you’re talking into a cheap microphone with a lot of self-noise, you lack basic microphone technique, and your recording space is not isolated and acoustically treated, you’re wasting your time.
That expensive demo you just recorded in this great recording studio is worth nothing if you have no way of producing clean and professional audio recorded in your home.
Let’s boil it down to one word: professionalism. It’s easy to do this as a hobby, but as soon as you advertise yourself as a voice-over professional, things get serious. That label creates expectations, and rightly so. Clients hate it when they need to hold your hand. That’s not what they’re paying you for.
As a pro you have to know how to run a freelance business with you being the CEO, the CFO, the head of marketing, advertising, and sales. You run the bookkeeping department, and you’re the audio engineer, as well as the featured talent. Plus, if you’re online, you’re running a global business!
Too many beginners are trying to figure things out on the fly, without any preparation or training. Why on earth would they do that? It’s asking for trouble.
The next pitfall is a big one: money. You’ve got to spend money to make money, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.
While it is possible to get started as a VO with a simple recording set-up, please remember that you’re competing with people who have been doing this for years. These are people with a soundproof studio, a really nice microphone and preamp, and a website that attracts clients. It all adds up. On top of that, you have to stay afloat financially, while you are building your business. Your bank wants you to continue to pay your mortgage, and you do want to keep your health insurance, don’t you?
Secondly, while the cost of living goes up every year, voice-over rates have been going down at a dramatic degree. If you want to do this for a living, you can’t rely on doing the odd job here and there, unless you have a partner who can help you out, financially. You need to make sure that you have a consistent flow of projects coming your way, and that’s easier said than done – even for voice-overs. My advice: have a cash cushion that will help you stay afloat for… a few years.
Lastly, too many newbies quote or accept a job, even when they have no idea what to charge. Can you imagine a baker or a florist running her store that way? Clients love getting a bargain, but do you really want to contribute to the problem of sliding rates?
This is another big one: time. We live in an impatient world. Very few people experience overnight success. You can’t buy your way into a voice-over career. It needs to be earned. Slowly. The people who are at the top of their game are not the people that just started doing voice-overs. Most of them have been at it for years.
VO is not a get rich quick – I can do this part-time scheme. The only people who can do this on the side are A-list actors who don’t depend on VO for a living. Ironically, they are the ones collecting all the awards.
Again, most people underestimate how long it may take before their voice can be the main source of revenue. For many, it will never happen. That’s not me being mean. That’s me warning you based on decades of experience, and on input from people like you.
Next on the list is increased competition. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re not the only one who thinks he can do a mean Morgan Freeman impression, or talk like a movie trailer man. We have plenty of those folks in our ranks, and the role of Morgan Freeman is already taken by… Morgan Freeman.
If you don’t have a specialty or a niche, it’s going to be tough to make your mark because you’re basically redundant. Technology has made it a lot cheaper an easier to get started. You don’t need to be close to a studio to do your work. That means that every frustrated teacher, every burned-out retail clerk, and every unemployed actor (which happens to be the majority) is now your competition.
But wait, there’s more. Much more!
If you want to hear a number other things you should look out for, I invite you to listen to Jamie Muffett’s VO School Podcast.
In the latest episode, agent Erik Sheppard and I talk candidly about the many schemes you shouldn’t fall for when starting in this business.
Please join us, and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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He said it.
And I happen to agree with him.
My agent Erik has a YouTube Channel every voice talent should watch and subscribe to. It’s called The Outspoken. Erik uses this channel to answer questions, and to expose all the BS that’s going on in the voice-over world. Let me tell you: he’s got his job cut out for him!
A week or so ago, Erik posted a video with no-nonsense advice for voice-over newbies and coaches. To coaches he had this to say:
“I feel it’s irresponsible in today’s market to bring in and encourage new talent.”
And for newbies he dropped this bombshell:
“Your chances of making it big are close to… nil.”
That’s not the message most people want to hear, and yet they have to hear it again and again until it sinks into their stubborn skulls. And if you don’t take Erik’s word for it, listen to what one of your colleagues had to say. He just wrote me this email:
“Paul, I know that you’re a good source for the up and up on voiceovers and was just wondering: are voiceover actors getting obsolete? I have been doing this for well over nine years now; had my ups and downs, but lately it’s been on the downside. I was used to making thousands of dollars on the side doing this, but now it’s virtually nothing, so now I’m trying to reignite my IT career once again. It’s not something that I really like, but I do have a degree in it. I like doing voiceovers a lot more, but it is very slim pickens now. Just wondering if you knew anything going on in the voiceover industry that might be happening with voice talent.”
Well, a lot is happening, and it ain’t all good.
So many talented, hard-working people are having a tough time right now. Don’t think we’re the only group of flex workers that has trouble in this fickle gig economy, though. Freelance photographers, graphic designers, copywriters, event planners, fitness trainers, independent music teachers, -even therapists in private practice are struggling to find clients, and make ends meet. Some of them are ready to pull the plug. The question is:
How do you know it is time to hang up your hat?
Different people have different reasons. For some it’s purely financial. Others have trouble keeping up with the changing nature of their business. So, what are some of the reasons for wanting or needing to call it quits?
Here’s a quick checklist:
q You’re not booking enough jobs, and you’re running out of money.
q You have no bites on Pay-to-Plays, and agents aren’t interested.
q You don’t know how to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack.
q You can’t afford to invest in quality equipment and/or coaching, and you have no money to outsource the things you hate doing.
q You find it tough to market yourself, and to sell your services.
q You have a hard time motivating yourself. You’re bored doing the same thing over and over again. There’s no challenge, and no room to grow,
q You’re stressed out by the uncertainty that comes with so-called freelance freedom.
q You can’t organize or prioritize.
q You need a lot of hand-holding and spoon-feeding.
q You’re feeling isolated and lonely. You miss daily, in-person interaction with colleagues.
q You want to leave your work at work, but you can’t keep your personal life separate from your professional life, and your family is suffering.
q You’re working too much for too little.
q You want it all, and you want it NOW, but after three years things are not improving.
q You long for a job with regular hours & benefits, and a predictable income.
Here’s my rule of thumb. If you’ve checked off at least five boxes, you have some serious soul-searching to do. No one is forcing you to make this voice-over thing happen. But you’re the boss, and it’s up to you how long you want to keep going at it.
FACE THE FACTS
If I’m totally honest, I believe that some seventy to eighty percent of people calling themselves voice-over talent have no business being in this business. They’re not cut out for it. They have very few skills, and almost no talent. Their chances of making it big are close to nil. All they can do is compete on price, which will be their downfall.
Now, listen. If you’re part of this group, that doesn’t mean you’re a hopeless, horrible human being. You probably have other talents in other areas. As I said in my article 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become a Voice-Over…
“We have enough people talking into microphones. What this world needs is less talk and more action. We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution, people who know how to fight global warming, and first responders to natural disasters.
If you want to make a real difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the homeless, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.”
You may think that this sounds harsh, and that it doesn’t apply to you. After all, I don’t know you, and I don’t care about you. Well, that’s not necessarily so. I know too many naive hopefuls like you, who are being ripped off by unscrupulous characters and companies selling them a pipe dream that will never come true. I really don’t want you to fall for those expensive schemes. And get this…
If even pros with years of experience and an impressive portfolio have trouble booking jobs these days, you need to bring something very special to the table if you wish to compete at the highest level. You need to have a comfortable cash cushion to survive the first few years, and you must be strong and determined enough to withstand massive rejection.
If that’s you, then by all means: GO FOR IT! Prove Erik and me wrong!
You’ll become part of a select, supportive community of go-getters, risk takers, fast learners, and people who are sillier than the characters they’re paid to play. All of them have this in common:
At one point in their lives they made one of the most important decisions that propelled them to where they are now.
They decided to quit quitting.
If that’s something you know deep down you can do, you better fasten your seatbelt.
It’s going to be a crazy ride!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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I was eight or nine years old, so I wasn’t sure what the plant was producing. We did notice nasty clouds of yellow smoke coming from the chimney day and night. The stream behind the main building was smelly and bereft of life. My parents always warned me not to play there.
Then, a local journalist, suspicious of what was going on, went undercover for a year, and with the help of an environmental group, he discovered that this plant was dumping dangerous chemicals left and right to save money. That money, by the way, went straight into the coffers of the two brothers who owned the plant.
The news of the pollution shocked and surprised the community, but it turned out that many employees knew all along what was going on. They said management had told them the dumping was necessary to keep the plant competitive, and that mother nature could handle it.
How did the fathers of my friends respond? Very differently! One said that what this plant was doing was despicable, and he could no longer work for a factory that poisoned the environment for the sake of profit. So, he quit.
The other wasn’t happy about the pollution either, but said he needed to make a living. His family depended on his job, and he couldn’t afford to give it up. “Don’t make me feel guilty for staying,” he used to say to critics. “Do you want my family to starve? There’s no pride in poverty!”
While the father who quit went on to start his own business, the one who stayed died within a year. Doctors said his cancer was probably linked to the chemicals he had been dumping on a daily basis.
A UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE
This story of choices and the consequences of those choices is by no means unique. All over the world, at any hour of the day, good people do great work in bad organizations. They know the organization is bad, and yet they stay. Why? Because it pays the bills, and they have no other job lined up.
You see, the father who left the chemical plant had a small side business going on in his spare time. He had developed a line of biodegradable cleaning agents, and with the help of an investor he was able to launch his own brand which eventually became a household name.
I was reminded of this saga after reading some of the responses to my last blog post entitled A Deal With The Devil, about voices dot com acquiring Voicebank. In it, I think I’m pretty clear:
It is time to choose sides.
Either, you’re part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. So, if you want voices dot com to stop poisoning the voice-over well while it is grabbing a larger share of the market, you have to act, and you have to act now. It’s in your own interest, and in the interest of your community. That is, if you feel part of that community.
Perhaps there’s the rub.
To me the word collegial means “relating to, or involving shared responsibility, as among a group of colleagues.” It means standing up for common interests, and having each other’s backs. It refers to a friendly spirit of cooperation. As far as I’m concerned, we have a common goal:
To deliver the best service, to increase our standards, and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.
BROTHER AGAINST BROTHER
Clients love to have us fight among ourselves, especially about what we charge. They’re trying to drive a wedge between those who sell their talent for less, and those who refuse to devalue what we have to offer. It’s up to us to play that game or not.
No matter where we stand, all VO Pros are small business owners, and it’s a no-brainer that the higher our rates, the more we make. The more we make, the more we can share and grow. So, it’s in our best interest to do whatever we can as a group and as individuals to educate clients and newcomers, and charge a decent rate for decent work so you and I can make a good living.
People have asked me to explain what I mean by a “decent rate,” and “making a good living.” That’s a good question.
My definition of a making good living is going to sound rather technical. It’s to make enough money to cover a family’s needs, to achieve financial independence while maintaining housing and food security, and have enough resources for health care, child care, education, transportation, savings, taxes, charitable giving, vacations, investments, and provisions for retirement or home purchases that build wealth, and ensure long-term financial security. A decent rate is a rate that allows you to realize these goals.
Is that something you’re interested in?
MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS
You may believe it’s none of my business what you or other people charge, or to which Pay to Play you want to belong, but I believe it is everybody’s business, because we don’t operate in a vacuum. We’re all connected, whether we realize it or not. The movement of the markets is the result of many, many individual decisions.
Some readers thought it was incredibly rude of me to suggest that someone who’s okay with doing low-budget jobs, finds another line of work. Well, I think it is rude to resort to predatory pricing to undercut the competition by cheapening the value of our services. People who are willing to work for less than minimum wage or in some cases for free just to get exposure, should seriously consider another career before going broke trying to break into the business.
“But Paul, I can’t afford to leave voices dot com. I have to eat. My family has to eat.”
Well, I’ve been freelancing for most of my life, and I’ve discovered that it doesn’t have to be either/or: either we starve asking for a decent rate, or we eat while charging a rate that’s not so great. It’s a false dilemma. It’s also bad business as a freelancer to make yourself dependent on one or two sources of income. You’re supposed to be an independent contractor!
Every time someone gets hired for a reasonable rate, they prove that clients are willing to pay good money for good work. It’s a matter of identifying one’s strengths, and targeting clients looking for someone with those strengths. If you’re not doing so well financially speaking, you might be looking and booking in the wrong places. But if you’re good at what you do, you compete on much more than price. You compete on added value!
Remember what I tell my clients?
My added value is always higher than my rate.
YOU DESERVE MORE
There’s no pride in settling for less than you deserve. If you feel you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, hire a coach to help you improve and grow your business. That’s where you should spend your money. Don’t spend it on a hefty membership fee that gives you the privilege of auditioning for low-paying jobs that may go out to hundreds if not thousands of other “privileged” members.
Now, let’s be honest. If you feel that voices dot com rates are as fair as their business practices, I want you to explain why it would be beneficial to a freelancer to leave money on the table, and why it’s okay to play a part in the overall decline of voice-over rates. Explain to me why it is fine for a non transparent company like voices dot com to turn voice actors into a commodity, and keep most of the money for managing a job (whatever that means), and handling your payment. I dare you!
The people who decided to stay with “Voices,” have told me they are aware of what’s going on, and they don’t necessarily approve. If that’s the case, I challenge you to get a spine, raise your voice, and contact the CEO, David Ciccarelli. Tell him exactly how you feel, and give him a chance to respond. Companies can change course under pressure, and Ciccarelli knows that without voices, there is no voices dot com. Let’s see if the company you still trust, is trustworthy, and open to feedback.
Here’s what I’m wondering, though: Do you have the guts to speak your mind, or will you continue to whine about people who you think are trying to make you feel guilty (thereby making them the problem, and not voices dot com)?
BACK TO HOLLAND
Meanwhile, the chemical plant in the Netherlands I was talking about denied the allegations, and tried to discredit the journalist who had exposed their practices. The government launched an independent investigation, and did indeed find that the chemical company had been poisoning the environment for years, putting an entire community at risk.
The company was ordered to pay a huge fine, clean up the polluted property, and change their production process. The brothers who owned the plant said they could not afford to do that, and when the government forced them to, they declared bankruptcy. Hundreds of people lost their jobs.
Rumor has it that the two brothers moved to Switzerland, where they live a life of luxury.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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Yes, you desperately needed a facelift, and you needed more money to up your services. Your auditions had turned into cattle calls. But we trusted you. Our agents trusted you. And now you’ve betrayed us in the worst way by jumping into bed with the Ciccarelli’s.
Selling VoiceBank wasn’t really “selling.” It was selling out.
Don’t tell me you didn’t know what you were doing. You knew about their business model, screwing talent at every corner, cheapening our noble profession. But you were horny for money, and you took whatever you could get. And thanks to the kind folks at Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, I’m sure you got a pretty sum.
By taking the cash, you have shown your true nature, VoiceBank. Likes attract. You even admitted it in the press release:
“From early meetings,” said VoiceBank CEO Jeff Hixon, “it was clear to me that our companies had much in common, including a similar vision for the future.”
And what might that future be?
* Strengthening an unethical, greedy middle man who charges a hefty membership fee (which will probably increase), and takes a 40 – 50% “management fee”?
* Bypassing agents who negotiate fair terms & fees for the talent they represent? Putting them out of business, perhaps?
* Turning more and more union jobs into non-union jobs?
* Speeding up the race to the bottom?
* Turning unique voice talent into a commodity?
“(…) this relationship with Voices.com will be an invaluable benefit for both Voicebank.net and our customers.”
One category is clearly missing in this statement, and it is telling. Hixon forgot to mention voice talent. You know, the people who put the “voices” in VoiceBank and voices dot com (VDC). These voices are outraged, stunned, and disgusted. They also know that one can do a lot with 18 million dollars of Morgan Stanley money, but one cannot buy quality or integrity.
As a result of this acquisition, a hungry, hopeful mob of cheap, amateur talent will be released to clients and casting directors. Let’s see how much time a busy voice booker is willing to spend, listening to a never-ending stream of VDC crap auditions. Casting directors have already been bypassing VoiceBank, counting on agents to find the right voices. That’s not going to change now that the Canadians are in charge.
Let’s see how many agents will cut their ties with VoiceBank, and double their efforts to make the most of their network of connections. Here’s the thing: the value of VoiceBank lies in the agencies and their roster. Take away the agencies, and you take away the value of the acquisition. The exodus has already begun.
In fact, nine agencies have just formed the VO AGENT ALLIANCE, pledging Fairness, Integrity, Confidentiality, Professionalism and Diligence. The VO Agent Alliance is actively expanding, and ready to speak with other agencies willing to stand up for our industry. The nine agencies are In Both Ears, Go Voices, Voice Talent Productions, Play Talent, Umberger Agency, DeSanti Talents Agency, Rockstar Entertainment, The Actors Group, and ta-da! Voiceworks.
Let’s find out what SAG-AFTRA’s response will be. Perhaps this is their chance to show the voice acting community that -at last- it is taken seriously. Their reaction came on August 23rd, and it was lame and late:
“This new consolidation is of interest to SAG-AFTRA considering it could potentially impact members in the future. We will be in regular conversation on the subject with members, talent agents and casting directors, along with VDC and Voicebank. If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
What can you as voice-over do? Talk to your agent(s), and express your concerns and your support. Tell them you don’t want to have anything to do with the new and deteriorated VoiceBank. Ask them to pull out, and move on. If you subscribe to the weekly workouts, call to cancel, and tell VoiceBank why. Donate the money you save to WoVo and GVAA.
If you still have a profile on voices dot com (whether it’s free or not), ask to be removed immediately. If you seek a solution, you can’t be part of the problem. 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.
The bottom line is this:
Voices dot com may now own VoiceBank.net, but it does not own you or me.
As voice talent, we cannot control companies, clients, or colleagues. We can only control ourselves. I left VDC a long time ago, and I survived. I have never landed a job through VoiceBank, and I’m still here. I have quite a few amazing agents, but if I had to rely on them to make a living, I’d be out on the street.
At the end of the day, I am my best agent. No one will do more to further my career than the guy who stares back at me in the mirror. I know I don’t control the winds of change, but I know how to adjust my sales. And no, that’s not a typo.
Out in my neighborhood I just walked passed a majestic sunflower. It had taken months to grow from a small seed into a radiant explosion of yellow. But today, something had changed.
The giant flower became top-heavy; too full of itself, and now it is bending its small neck toward the ground.
It became a victim of its own weight.
In a day or two, it will all be over.
You can bank on that!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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The great rate debate is still going strong.
I’ve been writing about the erosion of voice-over rates for years, and every day, clients and colleagues are arguing privately and publicly about the value of our voices.
One thing is certain: that value keeps going down. Talk is getting cheaper and cheaper.
What’s going on?
Let’s begin with our clients. It’s so easy to blame clients for this downward trend, because they’re the ones paying us. However, I think it’s time to cut them some slack. So many of them are small players in a big, international market. Because that market is unregulated, and there are no universal prices, they have a hard time figuring out how much they can expect to pay for our services. That’s not really their fault.
A majority of voice-overs do not list their rates, hoping clients will contact them and ask for a quote. Those quotes may differ greatly because we need to take so many variables into account, and frankly, many of us don’t always know what to charge. Go to a VO Facebook group on any given day, and you’ll find someone asking for advice on price.
TURNING A PROFIT
Because I run my own business, I completely understand that my clients want to keep their costs low, and their revenue up. If you can get great service at a great price, why pay a penny more? I also understand that there’s a link between what you pay and what you get, no matter what industry you’re in. It’s foolish to expect top quality at a bargain-basement price, unless you’re benefitting from a liquidation sale.
These days, everyone’s online, and that complicates matters. It may seem that we’re all operating on a level playing field (the world wide web), which is not the case. It is anything but level, but try explaining that to an imaginary photographer in Latvia, who needs a few English voices for a website he’s launching. He’s offering $20 for 5 minutes of VO, which he believes is perfectly reasonable because he’s hired local talent at that price. He wants to know:
Why should I pay $250 for a 5-minute voice-over, if Olga in Riga is willing to do it for $20?
I told him: “Your job posting tells me that you’re looking for voice-overs with an authentic British accent. If Olga can pull that off, why not hire her? The reason you’re posting your job overseas is that ’20-dollar Olga’ has no idea what she’s doing. Her accent is clearly from Latvia, and not from London. And because it’s cold in the Baltics, she’s probably using a Snowball microphone, guaranteed to give that crap amateur sound the Fiverr crowd is so proud of. You pay for professionalism, or lack thereof.”
The photographer responds:
I understand that it might be hard for me to find a native British voice-over in my neck of the woods, but that still doesn’t explain the huge difference in rates. $250 for five minutes? I think people are just greedy.
I said: “Location makes a big difference. Let me give you an example. Why does a Big Mac cost $7.80 in Norway, and only $1.62 in India? Why doesn’t McDonalds charge the same price for the same product, regardless of the location? Because the price of a Big Mac is a reflection of its local production and delivery cost, the cost of advertising, and what the local market will bear.
The cost of living is much higher in Norway, and consequently, people make more. According to the CIA, the 2016 per capita income in Norway was $69,300 and in India it was $6,700. If I were a Norwegian voice-over artist and I would charge Indian prices, I wouldn’t be able to make a living. That has nothing to do with greed.
As a freelancer, you have to price for profit wherever you’re located, because that’s where you’re buying your Big Mac. It’s where you pay your bills, and your taxes. That’s why a UK talent charges more than someone in Latvia, or in India.
ONGOING ADDED VALUE
And let’s remember that a voice-over is not some hamburger you order at the drive-through. Every Big Mac should pretty much taste the same, no matter where you order it. It’s generic. Once it has been consumed, it has served its purpose.
Every voice is unique, and every voice-over artist brings special talents and experience to the table. Once recorded, that commercial, trailer, or eLearning course can be played again and again, adding value every time someone’s listening. That’s worth something.
Last but not least, just because you’re paying $250, doesn’t mean the voice-over always gets $250. Some online casting companies like Canada-based voices dot com, pocket a considerable amount without telling you or the talent. If you want to talk about greed, talk about that!”
THE TROUBLE WITH COLLEAGUES
The Latvian photographer still doesn’t understand why he can’t hire a UK talent for $20. However, in my experience it’s much easier to talk sense into some clients, than to reason with certain colleagues (and I use the term colleagues loosely, because they’re acting anything but collegial). Most of my clients know how to run a for-profit business, but so many ‘colleagues’ seem to be clueless. They don’t know the difference between “selling,” and “selling out.”
Every time the issue of reasonable rates comes up, there are always voices saying:
“Who are you to tell me what I should charge? It’s a free country, and I can charge whatever I want!”
Yes, and I can sell my Subaru Outback any time for $300, but does that make any sense whatsoever? Why should I settle for a handout if the market value of my car is at least $3,000? How stupid do I have to be to practically give my car away to the lowest bidder?
By the way, this whole free country argument is a load of bull, used by imbeciles to defend all kinds of idiotic practices. Here’s the thing:
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must, or that it’s wise.
“But who cares if I sell my voice for five bucks? Mind your own business! I’m not telling you what to charge. My bottom line doesn’t affect yours.”
Is that really so? What would happen if half of all car owners would decide to sell their vehicles way below value? Tell me that has zero impact on the used car market!
If what’s happening at the bottom of the VO-market does not affect the rest, why aren’t voice-over fees at least keeping up with the rate of inflation? Why are rates across the board in a steady decline?
WE NEED EACH OTHER
In the grand scheme of things you may feel insignificant, and believe that your choices only influence your bottom line. But hundreds of these individual choices send a message, and thousands create a trend clever clients have picked up on.
To put it differently: if you really believe that one, individual decision has no impact on the overall outcome, then there’s no reason to live in a democracy. You might as well move to North-Korea. But since you’re still here, and (I hope) you vote, you must believe that you can make a difference.
Your choice of what to charge makes a difference. It impacts our professional community, and the families that depend on it.
You can either cheapen our profession and our community, or enrich it. You can build it up, or tear it down.
You can price like a predator, or like a professional.
Or are you afraid to charge a decent rate? Are you afraid the client will reject you?
Are you not convinced that what you have to offer can command a fair price?
If that’s the case, here’s a suggestion: perhaps you should find another job.
A certain Pay to Play call center in Canada might be hiring very soon.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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PPS Below you’ll find links to some of the other articles I’ve written about rates and pricing
Let’s say you’ve made somewhat of a name for yourself in the VO-community.
Your weekly blog is doing really well, and colleagues want to be friends with you.
People you don’t know seem to value your opinion and start reaching out.
They write messages that begin with praise, and of course you’re flattered. At the same time you can sense where this is going. Inevitably, there will be a paragraph at the end of the email that goes like this:
“I admire your work and I respect your opinion. You must be very busy, but….
* What do you think of my demo?
* How much should I charge as a beginner?
* Which online casting service is the best?
* What microphone do you recommend?
* How do I get an agent? Can you introduce me to yours?
* Why is there a hum on my recording?
* How do I master my audio?
* I do tons of auditions but I never get hired. What am I doing wrong?
Any tips that could help me in my career are more than welcome!”
On one hand I’m happy that strangers trust me enough to ask for advice. On the other, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. I want to help, but I also have a business to run. Clients are waiting to hear back from me. There’s editing to be done. That guest post I’m writing isn’t finished yet, and on top of that I’m fighting a cold.
More importantly: Where does friendly advice end, and where does professional coaching begin?
Then there’s the issue of money. Even though my opinion is considered to be valuable, it is almost always assumed that my advice is free.
That bothers me.
As a voice talent, blogger and coach, I’m not the only one having to deal with this situation. Perhaps there’s something to learn from how other professionals approach this problem.
The following question was posted on a forum for IT professionals:
“Because I’m a programmer, people constantly ask me to fix their computer. How do you handle this situation? Do you make exceptions for relatives, friends and co-workers? Do you charge people for it?”
This is the answer that got the most votes:
“Here’s what you do:
• If it’s a Windows box say, “I only know how to fix Macs.”
• If it’s a Mac say, “I only know how to fix PC’s.”
• If it’s a Linux box say, “You’re a Linux user… fix it yourself!”
Here are a few other suggestions:
“Say you’ll fix their computer. Open their temporary internet files folder and then look totally shocked when you discover the obligatory hardcore porn images that are bound to be there. They probably will be too ashamed to ever ask you again.”
“I have an amazon.com wish list. I do genuinely like helping people, however I feel my time is worth something. Where accepting cash may not feel 100% appropriate, sending them my Amazon wish list has worked very well for me.”
“I give them a visiting card (made for this occasion) and I ask them to schedule an appointment to talk about the problem. End of the story.”
“My personal strategy is just to be very, very busy. Nine out of ten times they’ll find other help by the time I get around to it.”
“I tell them: “I am a programmer, not an administrator. You would not ask an architect to repair your roof, either. Of course, this works with almost everybody, except with my mom. Nowadays I just tell her to get a Mac.”
“My conditions are: First half hour is free, after that, it’s $100/hr. Reason: I like to help people but I don’t like it when I’m abused as free support. So if it really is “just a simple tiny thing,” then no problem, can do. But often “simply tiny problem” stands for “I have no idea what’s wrong; just fix it for me!” As soon as money is involved, they stop and start thinking if it’s really worth it.”
“I fixed her computer (the printer was unplugged!). Now, 4 years later, we’re married!”
Did any of these solutions strike a chord with you?
MY OWN ROLE
As I was trying to figure out how to best deal with requests from my fans, friends and followers, I realized one thing: I created this situation.
I always encourage my readers to respond. The opportunity to connect with people from all over the globe is one of the blessings of writing a blog. But some days it is a mixed blessing. With 38,266+ subscribers, I have to come up with a way to handle questions and comments effectively and efficiently.
Let’s start with blog comments. If you take the time to publicly respond to one of my articles, you deserve to be acknowledged. Quite often, your reaction will give me a chance to delve a bit deeper into what I’ve been writing about, or to clear up misunderstandings. The bottom line: if you care to comment, you can expect an answer.
As of this moment, there are 6,608 comments on this blog, and my guess is that half of them were penned by me in response to someone’s remarks. (the oldest article dates back to May 2009).
Now, what do I do with questions that reach me outside of this blog? Well, I start by looking at three things:
1. Who’s asking?
2. What are they asking?
3. How are they asking?
You’d be surprised how many people contact me out of the blue without even introducing themselves. Maybe they have a feeling they already know me because they’ve been reading my blog for a while. Still, why can’t we treat an email as a regular conversation? I’d never walk up to someone new with a question without introducing myself first.
One of the keys that can make or break a career is your ability to build relationships. Don’t expect to get information without a establishing a relation.
NO BABY TALK
Secondly, I refuse to answer basic questions. It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?
Babies need to be spoon-fed. They’re helpless. Wasn’t it E.M. Foster who said:
“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”
In my experience, the answers people find for themselves tend to stick much better than those that have been handed to them on a silver platter.
What I will do, is encourage people to search my blog. With over 350 archived articles, it is likely they’ll find what they are looking for. If I happen to remember a specific story that might be relevant, I often include a link. It reduces my bounce rate.
Almost half of those who get in touch, want me to critique their demos and/or website. If the request comes from a colleague I’m close to, I am happy to give feedback. I know they’d do the same for me. If the request comes out of nowhere from someone I don’t know, I will charge a fee for my time and expertise.
I tell my readers all the time how important it is that they value their time and their work. I practice what I preach. Besides, free advice is easily ignored. When people make an investment, they’re much more invested in what they’ve learned because they tend to find it more valuable.
The decision to charge money turned out to be a huge time-saver. Nine out of ten people hoping to get free feedback will literally drop off the planet as soon as they are asked to pay. Are you surprised?
There’s a reason why you can get free samples at your ice cream store. It only makes sense to give a freebie if it increases the chances of making a sale.
The only time I will critique a demo free of charge is when someone’s seriously thinking of hiring me as their coach. Listening to their audio will give me an idea of where they’re coming from and whether or not I want to take them under my wings. At the same time, the person submitting the demo will get a better sense of whether or not I’d be a good fit.
A lot of the questions I get, cannot and should not be answered in writing. It would be as silly as teaching someone how to play the Double Bass over the phone. Helping a person with things like script interpretation, diction, breathing and microphone technique, needs a closer, more direct connection. It requires involved interaction over a longer period of time.
THE INNER GAME
You may have noticed that I like to blog about the more psychological aspects of our business. I write about fear of failure, finding your strength, overcoming rejection and so on. Because of that focus, some people turn to me with deeper, more personal questions.
In order to be a successful voice talent, I think it’s just as important to deal with our inner voice, as it is to refine what comes out of our mouth. One affects the other. This very personal aspect is too sacred and too intimate to be dealt with in writing. The spoken word and even silence, can convey infinitely more than letters on a computer screen.
In matters of the soul and of the heart, it’s far more important to actively listen, than to come up with answers. In fact, my personal opinion is irrelevant.
As a coach I believe it’s vital to help people connect to their own wisdom, instead of making them dependent on someone else’s ideas.
How do I facilitate that process?
By asking questions.
You’ve heard me.
Nine out of ten times, I’d rather give you an earful, than a spoon.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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What’s frustration number one for a freelancer?
Being busy without being productive.
It’s a trap I have fallen into many times. I was working all day long, without much to show for it. That is, until something finally dawned upon me:
Busy people talk about how little time they have. Productive people make time for what is important.
The question is: how do you know what is important for your business?
On some days, everything seems important: answering emails, invoicing clients, making phone calls, updating the website, recording auditions, paying bills, designing marketing materials, researching new gear, keeping up with social media… The list is endless, especially when you’re a one-person band. It’s tempting to do it all, and to do it all by yourself.
That’s mistake number one. Here’s how to fix it:
Focus on what you’re good at. Outsource the rest.
There’s a reason why a brain surgeon doesn’t do her own billing, a CEO doesn’t answer every call, and Tim Cook doesn’t design the next iPhone. People who run a successful business hire people who are smarter and more talented than they are, to take care of certain aspects of that business. These experts are able to do things better and quicker, leaving you with more time to focus on your strengths. That’s where the money is!
So, if you’re not a kick-ass web designer, hire someone who is, and have him/her teach you to maintain and update the site once it’s up and running. Or do you have time to become an SEO specialist? I didn’t think so!
If you stink at bookkeeping, get an office assistant to take care of the numbers, and let an accountant prepare your taxes. This ensures that you maximize your deductions, and you minimize the money going to the IRS. An office assistant can also take on other administrative tasks, such as dealing with unpaid invoices. That way, you don’t have to be the bad guy (or gal).
If you’re struggling to create a logo or a catch phrase, hire a graphic designer and a copywriter. They specialize in making you look and sound much more professional than you’ll ever be able to do yourself. Clients will only see you as a professional if you present yourself like a pro.
If you’re recording a massive project (such as an audio book) on a tight deadline, pay someone to edit and master the audio for you. Why spend time on a $50 to $100 per hour job, if you could make between $350 and $500 per hour?
If you’re thinking about how much all of this will cost, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Reinventing the wheel, learning on the fly, trying to do everything yourself… it will leave you frustrated and without energy to do what you do best. You know, the very things clients hire you to do. That is going to cost you!
If -on the other hand- you decide to outsource some or all of these things, you’ll be surprised how much time you will gain. Now, let’s see if I can save you some more!
AUDITION LESS. MAKE MORE.
In the beginning of my career I spent way too much time auditioning for jobs that were out of my range. Why? Because someone had told me that it was a numbers game. The more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would eventually land a job, they said. Doing auditions was a way to learn on the job, right?
Clients hire you because they trust you can do the job. They don’t want you to experiment on their dime.These days I am super selective. I know I don’t have a movie trailer voice, so I’m not even going to try to sound like one. I won’t audition for projects by companies or causes I cannot support (sorry fast food and tobacco industry).
And if you’re not offering a decent rate, you can find yourself a Craigslist talent, but please don’t waste my time.
I also got smarter in the way I audition. Knowing that clients will often only listen to the first seconds, I am no longer recording three-minute scripts. Unless the client specifies otherwise, I’ll pick a few lines from the beginning with the company name, and I’ll include the payoff line at the end. Then I’m done. I know Michael J. Collins auditions this way, and based on his fine dining pictures on Facebook he seems to be doing okay.
One last thing about auditions: I no longer record ten takes before I’m satisfied. If I can’t produce a good read in a few tries, the job is probably not meant for me.
THE HARDEST WORD
Apart from curbing my presence on social media, there’s one other thing that has saved me tons of time: I became better at saying a certain two-letter word.
“Can you evaluate my demo for free?”
“Can you write a guest post for this blog with 12 subscribers?”
“Can you tell me how to break into the business?”
“Can you answer this question I am too lazy to research myself?”
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy helping others, but I don’t run a charity. I run a for-profit business. That means that in everything I do, I have to think about the Return On Investment.
Making enough money gives me the opportunity to invest in ways that will save me money and grow my business, as well as the freedom to engage in activities that are important, but that won’t generate any money.
ONE MORE LESSON
When I look back at my career, I wasted so much time waiting for things to happen. I thought that if I put a few things in place; had the right equipment and a decent amount of talent, things would turn out okay. After all, a wise man had told me: “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”
Tell that to the people who are going broke, lovingly living a dream.
A few hard years later, I realized that if I wanted to be successful, I had to become the prime instigator and number one delegator. I had to stop being busy, and start becoming productive.
It was quite the transformation, but you know what they say:
“Busy people talk about how they will change.
Productive people are making those changes.”
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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