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How I Beat the Recession

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

RECESSION DEPRESSION

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

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

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

Here’s the thing:

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

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

SUBJECTIVE REALITY

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

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

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

How do you beat the recession?

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

INSIDE INFORMATION

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

In Holland we have a saying: 

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

Or in plain English:

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

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

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

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

CONVENIENT ASSUMPTIONS

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE-FICTION

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

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

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

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

THERE’S NO ONE LIKE ME

 I can already hear some people’s reaction:

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

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

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

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

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

GO YANKEES

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

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

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

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

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

RIDICULE AND MOCKERY

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

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

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

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

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

GETTING THERE

After less than a year I achieved a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

Roy answered:

“That’s not entirely true.

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

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

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The one word that saved my freelance career

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion 48 Comments

No, I’m not going to tell you what it is just yet.

Let me begin by asking you a simple question:

Do words have power?

When you think of it, aren’t they just letters, arranged in a certain order? Or are there words in our language that are so potent, that they have the potential to transform our life and our livelihood?

Now, before you think that I’ve gone all philosophical instead of practical, just  STOP for a moment and think about it.

In the past few days I’ve asked some of my friends about words they feel have had (and still have) a profound impact on their professional lives. Here are some of the words they came up with:

  • Faith
  • Fear
  • Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Luck
  • Love
  • Play
  • Passion

 

As for me, the one word that has been my guiding light in the past 25 years as a freelancer, is neither grand nor deep. Yet, I believe it to be one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. Without it, my career certainly wouldn’t be where it is today. It consists of two letters.

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

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How to become a celebrity

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 1 Comment

She was a world famous news anchor.

In Holland, that is.

With a population of only 16 million, it’s easy to be a celeb in the lowlands. In fact, one in five individuals is probably (in)famous for something.

You might have heard of André Rieu, Famke Janssen, Rutger Hauer and Paul Verhoeven. Big fish who eventually escaped the small Dutch pond.

On this particular morning, our beloved news anchor showed up to make some money on the side. A local charity thought that the appearance of a TV-personality would please the crowds and bring in some much needed cash for a homeless shelter. I was there to see the limo arrive thirty minutes late.

Strangely enough, I didn’t recognize the person stepping out of the town car. Dark glasses covered her sleepy eyes. Then I remembered that she had presented the late night news the day before. And without any make-up, she had suddenly aged about 25 years in 2.5 seconds.

As she was escorted onto the stage, the audience, made up in part of homeless people, got a good look at her pink Chanel outfit, Fendi handbag and high-end jewelry. Yes, it was clear that this woman was in desperate need of the extra cash she was about to make. Then again, I shouldn’t be so judgmental. Her vacation home had just been featured in one of the lifestyle magazines, and I’m sure the monthly mortgage payment was weighing heavily on her haute-coutured shoulders.

HERE IS YOUR HOST

All of this went through my mind, as I stepped up to the podium at a local synagogue to host a special concert. It was more than a concert, actually. It was an emotional reunion of two musical sisters. One of them had made her way to the United States and the other had chosen to stay behind in Russia. And now, for the first time in many years, the two performed together on one stage.

Paul Strikwerda emcee

the author hosting an event

Hosting is different. It’s a perfect opportunity to connect with a crowd and get immediate feedback. Let me tell you this: nothing is more frightening than the sound of a joke falling flat on its face. Nothing is more exciting than the sound of roaring laughter, after you’ve delivered a great punch line.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Now, before you conclude that being an emcee is all about me, let me stop you in your tracks. It’s not. Rule number one in the book of hosting is this: 

Never take the focus away from the event and the performers.

Be warm and welcoming; keep your remarks to the point and make them short and sweet. Find a happy medium between being entertaining and informative. If you manage to do that, you’re well on your way to making hundreds of new friends.

For those of you who’d like to give it a try, here are a few other pointers:

Do your homework.

Find out what group of people you’ll be addressing. Don’t make references to “Gilligan’s Island” if your audience is under 25. And don’t mention Zac Efron, unless your audience is made up of yelling teenage girls. Stay away from politics. Get your facts right. Know the names of the performers and/or speakers, and know how to pronounce them correctly. Find out what they will be performing and dig up some short anecdotes or little known details. Have enough material in case you need fillers.

Arrive early. Dress for the occasion. Don’t wear a tux to a folk concert. Familiarize yourself with the location. Know where the emergency exits are. Introduce yourself to the staff, the sound technicians and the stage manager. Test the sound equipment. It usually does not work. Check the order of the program and find out about last-minute changes.

During the show:

Be the glue that holds the event together and the oil that keeps things moving. Briefly introduce yourself and engage your audience from the start. Set some ground rules (e.g. switch off cell phones). Be animated and avoid clichés such as “without further ado” or “give it up for…” Don’t play favorites. Introduce each performer with the same level of enthusiasm. Never, ever make fun of them.

Don’t be on stage during the performance, and please pay attention to the act or the speaker. You never know what you can use to build a bridge to the next performance. It also shows that you’re not just a talking head, but that you’re interested in what’s going on. Keep track of the time as well. It’s your job to make things start on time and end on time.

Be sure to publicly thank everybody at the end, and make some brief, final announcements. After the audience is on their way, thank everyone involved personally: the performers, the staff, anyone who made this happen.

THE BIG LET-DOWN

Let’s go back to the charity event for the homeless for a moment.

I have to be honest with you. Without sleep and without teleprompter, the celebrity news anchor was absolutely hopeless. The fact that she arrived in a limo and was dressed in designer clothes had not earned her much credit with the homeless.

She might have been good working the camera, but she certainly wasn’t working the audience. Her intros were taken straight from the program. Anyone could have done that. And as speaker after speaker tried to move the masses, she was sitting in the front row, sending text message after text message, looking utterly out of place.

When the event was finally over, she left through the back door, running away from the fans who had hoped to take a picture with her.

HAPPY ENDING

Luckily, my concert ended on a happier note. I think it was a C-sharp.

At the reception following the performance, I discovered another benefit of event hosting. My pro-bono appearance turned out to be tremendous free publicity for my services. All of a sudden I was on the local map! Some people even told me: “You should do this for a living!” But wait, it gets even better.

The videographer, who had been recording the entire performance, hired me on the spot for a movie he was shooting. You’ve heard me… a motion picture! Yes my friends, I am now world famous.

That is, in Easton, Pennsylvania.

My home town.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice.

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What makes people click?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion Comments Off on What makes people click?

 

On June 8th of 2009, something occurred that had never happened before in the history of mankind.

Hyères, the oldest and most southerly resort on the French Riviera, was the scene of an attempt to break the world record in Static Apnea. That’s the discipline in which a freediver holds his or her breath for as long as possible.

The old record of 10:12, set in 2008, was held by Tom Sietas of Germany.

The challenger, Frenchman Stéphan Mifsud, was determined to destroy it. Some called him a hero. Others thought he was a suicidal lunatic. Few believed that he could do it.

AIDA is the International Association for the Development of Freediving. Their website offers a lot of in-depth information about various disciplines, such as “free immersion,” “constant weight” and “dynamic with fins.” However, it does not answer one fundamental question:

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

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8 ways to boost your web traffic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Promotion 8 Comments

Having a website is not an accomplishment.

Bella the Hamster has one. Famous dead people do too.

I have even seen sites in loving memory of unfamous dead hamsters! Some of those websites get more visitors in a day, than you hope to have in a year.

Here’s my question:

If you have a business website and you’re not getting any traffic, what’s the point? You might as well give the money you’re sending to your Internet Service Provider to a worthy cause, such as the Don LaFontaine Voice-Over Lab.

If, on the other hand, you want to use your online presence to your advantage, you better roll up your sleeves and get to work! Unless you’re too busy auditioning for that $200 narration of a 300 page audio book.

is a digital marketing agency with specific expertise in social media and 12 offices worldwide. In 2008, Nilhan Jayasinghe, their VP, wrote a paper entitled; “Optimizing for users, not search engines. Building a sustainable brand in a connected world”.  He says:

“As search engines become more sophisticated, they will increasingly incorporate user data to validate their results. The numbers of people visiting a site; the time that users spend on a site; the depth of their engagement; whether they return over a period of time; how many people add it to their social bookmarking tools such as Digg; all will potentially be taken into account.”

If you’ve read my last blog, you already know that the new Google is going in that direction. And where Google goes, others follow. In my opinion, there are at least two things you must do to take advantage of this development. These are the things that will drive people to your website; keep them there and make them come back:

1. Start writing for people, not for search engines: offer fresh & relevant content.
2. Stop “telling & selling”. Instead, engage your visitors and begin a dialogue.

Here are a few ways to do it:

1. Offer FREE STUFFParadoxically, some companies are making lots of money by giving things away for free. It’s called the “freemium model” whereby some content is offered at no charge, while premium content is not. Seattle-based Big Fish Games distributes more online games than anyone else, at about 1 million a day. You can try almost any Big Fish game for free, but there are add-ons that players have to pay for.

Slide 1A few months ago, our colleague Peter O’Connell made his e-book “The Voice Over Entrance Exam” available at no charge. I’m pretty sure that this brought new visitors to his website. It did something else too: it established him as an expert. Here’s a third bonus: free resources get links. Isn’t that what I just did?

2. Contests & Awards are another way to drive people to your site. Videovoicebank.net organized a contest, and voice-overs were invited to share their professional horror stories. Not only did the Videovoicebank-team manage to engage their community; for days, visitors could enter their email address and vote for their favorite story. I wonder what they’ll do with those email addresses…

 

3. Provide a resource that will benefit your target-group and (of course) offer it for free. Veteran VO-artist Mahmoud Taji compiled a voice-over directory of casting websites for “the benefit of established and up-and-coming voice over talent who want to secure more voice over work through the Internet.” He asked everyone in the industry to help out, and this is just another example of how to get people involved. So far, Taji has a list of 239 sites, and you might add a few to the directory.

4. Quizzes and Games on your site are a fun way to make people come back and spend more time with you. British talent Emma Clarke is the voice you’ll hear for a majority of the London Underground lines. Her website is terrific and it has games, spoof audios and even an online “Emma flip book”.  One of my favorites is a fridge magnet game where you can move the words around to make your own sentences and phrases – and have Emma speak them for you.

5. Actress Amy Walker (above) became an overnight sensation when her YouTube video 21Accents went “viral.” “These days, it’s not unusual to see a search engine like Google pull up a YouTube video in its top 10 results,” says Linda Girard, co-founder of online marketing consulting firm Pure Visibility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The best way to maximize this trend is by uploading your video to various sites and attach good, searchable terms to the clips in order to get those high rankings.” (source)

6. Then there’s the old trick of offering limited Deals & Discounts. Bristol-based voice-over talent Alison Pitman once offered a promotion of 25% discount on all message on hold voice-over recordings. Particularly if you’re also offering individual coaching and voice-over classes, never miss an opportunity to throw in an early bird special or a web coupon. Irresistible offers turn browsers into buyers.

7. Develop an ongoing relationship with your visitors (colleagues and clients). Answer their emails. Follow up with them. Ask them for feedback. Use social networking sites to connect. Take an active part in your community, online and offline. Send email newsletters using a service like Constant Contact or Aweber. It’s all about building your brand and positive reinforcement.

8. Blogging benefits business. Internet marketing company Hubspot surveyed over 1500 small businesses. They found that those with blogs attracted:

  1. 55% more traffic
  2. 97% more inbound links
  3. 434% more indexed pages

Blogs are a very effective way to create valuable content; to connect, to interact and to build relationships based on trust. Nilhan Jayasinghe put it this way:

“The closer that Google and others get to reading real interaction, the better they will become at separating the sites that look relevant from the sites that are relevant. Inevitably, it will become ever more difficult to fake the quality of a web page.

Given that this is the case, by far the best way to rank highly for a given term is to offer what the search engines are getting progressively better at finding – content that is genuinely useful to those people searching for that term.”

How to come up with quality content is going to be the topic of my next installment! In the meantime, how did you manage to increase your web traffic? What worked for you and why? What was a waste of time and money?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS What makes people click? Click to find out!

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Mess up your demos!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion Comments Off on Mess up your demos!

Don’t ever think it won’t happen to you.

I guarantee you it will, and when it does, it will leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

A few years ago, a colleague of mine got a disturbing phone call. It was an old friend from high school:

“I didn’t know you were in the voice-over business,” he said. “I was listening to our latest radio promo at work, and I said to myself: I know that voice. And it finally dawned on me. It was you! Great job, man. You’re really good at what you do.”

THE SCAM

“Where exactly do you work?” my colleague asked, quite puzzled. It turned out to be some unknown up-and-coming ad agency. “That’s strange… it doesn’t ring a bell for me, and I practically have a photographic memory for every job I’ve ever done,” my colleague said. A day later, when going through a list of past auditions, he found the answer.

About a month ago, he had sent in a demo for an ad campaign to one of the online voice-over casting sites, and never heard anything back. Until now. Under normal circumstances people might say: You win some, you lose some. Isn’t that part of this business? That may be true, but a client can’t just use an audition recording without paying for it. And my colleague allowed it to happen.

Everybody knows not to walk around with your wallet sticking out of your purse. It’s an open invitation to pickpockets. But when it comes to our demos, some of us are doing just that. Perhaps I should repeat the advice my biology teacher once gave us, while covering a certain subject: Use protection!

You have two options to prevent shady producers from running off with your audio file: watermarking and -my personal favorite- messing things up.

DISTURBING SIGNAL

You’ve probably seen watermarks on pictures, rendering them practically unusable. The same can be done for audio files. Some recording software has this effect built in. Your demo will either have some weird buzz in the background or some noise under part of your read. You can also buy separate watermarking software or produce the sound effects yourself.

Imagine smashing up a couple of plates while recording your demo for that Greek restaurant commercial… Of course this can become quite distracting, and if I were you, I would want clients to pay attention to the brilliance of my performance, and not to some nasty tone or the sound of breaking china.

This brings me to option two, which is even more creative. I usually change a few things in the copy, such as an address or a phone number to make it unusable. I recently recorded an IVR-demo (Interactive Voice Response), and I purposely changed the numbers a little bit:

“For sales, press five hundred and sixty-six, for customer service, press one.

I believe I also said:

“If you don’t know your party’s extension, please dial it now”.

For some of you that might be stretching it. Alternatively, you can choose to leave out a word here and there, but whichever method you prefer, be sure to let the voice-seeker know that you did this on purpose. Otherwise he might think that you recently escaped from a clinic for frustrated voice-actors.

TAKE IT TO COURT

Eventually, my colleague called the ad agency that ran away with his demo. Much to his surprise, they immediately admitted using his audition.

“We played it so the team could hear the type of voice we were NOT looking for,” they said. “We assure you that this was for internal purposes only.”

Some ad agencies take the art of spinning to a whole new level! Whatever the reason, using material you did not pay for is still theft.

Eventually, my colleague called a lawyer to find out if he had a case. 

Here’s the good news: The lawyer was up for it. The bad news: His retainer was more than what my voice-over colleague had made in six months.

Sometimes it’s better to count your losses and smash-up a couple of plates.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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