nethervoice

Turning Resistance Into Results

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 7 Comments

push upEvery January I see them walk in.

The men and women who told themselves: “I can do this!”

They’re sporting brand new workout clothes, and are wearing fancy gym sneakers that have yet to be broken in. Water bottles in hand, they flock to the eight o’ clock spinning class lead by Helga, a platinum blonde transplant from Germany. Her voice is as muscular as her thighs.

As the newbies adjust their exercise bikes, the regulars look at each other knowingly. We’ve seen this sad ritual many times. Give it a few weeks, and it will all be over. 

BAILING OUT

February has barely begun, and half of the new recruits have already given up. “It wasn’t really my thing” they tell their friends with a faint smile. “But at least I tried, and that’s worth something, right?”

Luckily for them, they only paid for a trial membership. It’s the ultimate cop-out for those who can’t or won’t commit. How do I know?

A few years ago, I belonged to this group of dropouts, and I’m not proud of it. But last year I made a courageous comeback, and today I feel like I’m part of the LA Fitness furniture. To me, a gym workout is the ultimate stress-busting, fat-burning, energy-boosting experience. Here’s something else I discovered along the way.

The microcosm of the gym is a powerful metaphor for the real world. In fact, there are lots of parallels between my professional life as a voice-over, and what’s happening on the gym floor. Do you think this is a stretch? Let’s talk about machines!

1. The best equipment does not guarantee results. It’s how you use it that matters.

People hurt themselves on the gym floor all the time, because they don’t know how to use the equipment. They start lifting, pushing or pulling, without adjusting the machines first.

Willful ignorance leads to lack of results and could be damaging.

This is true in so many contexts. Whether you’re a professional photographer, a graphic designer, or a musician, you need good tools to get the job done. But owning a million-dollar violin means nothing if you don’t know how to play it well. 

In our tiny voice-over bubble, we love to talk gear. Some colleagues seem to be forever searching for the Holy Grail of microphones or preamps. What they’re currently using is perfectly fine, but somehow they think that getting that shiny new mic will give them a tremendous leg up over the competition. 

In my opinion, it’s much wiser to spend your money on a coach who can help you get the most out of your equipment and your performance. But how do you know which coach is right for you? 

2. Effective coaches are role models who practice what they preach.

Let me ask you a question. While you’re at the gym, would you want to be guided by an overweight, uninterested, uninspiring coach? 

Of course not!

I’m sorry to say that many “personal trainers” at my gym just seem to phone their sessions in. There’s no enthusiasm. No encouragement. No pride in the work they do. They’re merely going through the motions, counting the hours until their shift is over. Some seem way too young and inexperienced. That’s probably because they are.

The word “mentor” means “wise advisor.” It comes from the Greek noun “mentos” meaning “intent, purpose, spirit, and passion.” A great coach or mentor embodies all these notions. Wise people are much more than an experienced source of information. They know how to apply that information with purpose and with passion. And they’re not afraid to give you a hard time and hold you accountable for your progress, or lack thereof! Here’s why:

3. Resistance makes you stronger.

Fans of the diving board know that they need the resistance it offers to jump to the right height. In the gym, resistance training increases muscle strength by making the muscles work against a weight or force.  

If you’ve ever tried to get into shape, you know that you sometimes get to a point where you run up against the limits of what you believe is possible. Your body cries out: “no more,” and your mind tells you to quit. Those moments are critical. During those times you need to push through what feels uncomfortable in order to gain strength and grow. Otherwise you’ll always remain in your comfort zone and coast.

Success doesn’t come naturally to those who are always playing it safe. 

Now, as you’re reading these words, something in your personal or professional life may seem to work against you. This leaves you with a choice. You can see these moments as threats, or as opportunities. Obstacles can become stepping stones, although you might not directly see it that way. Here’s some good news.

At certain times you don’t necessarily need to feel discomfort to know it’s time to up your game and go to a higher level. Here’s my rule of thumb (and I use this in the gym as well):

If it becomes too easy, it’s time for a new challenge, and time to raise the bar.

There’s one last thing I learned from going to the gym:

4. Use others as your inspiration, but never as the measure of your success.

It’s human nature to contrast and compare. When I first entered the gym, I was a bit intimidated by all these lean bodies pumping iron. I wondered how long it would take me to get into shape. I had no desire to look like a bodybuilder, but I wouldn’t mind a bit more muscular definition, and a lower number on the scale.

Then I realized that these guys and gals were once just like me. Over time they developed a routine that worked for them, to get into the shape they wanted to be in. They made changes in their diet and lifestyle, and they had trainers who held them accountable.

Above all, they consistently kept coming, rain or shine. They used persistence and resistance in combination with the right equipment and the best mentors.

If they could do it, I could do it.

And I’ll tell you what:

If I can do it, you can do it!

There’s only one question:

How soon are you going to start?

Or will you be walking out the door within a month?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Interested in working out? My colleague Rick Lance has published a series of “Fitness Tips from a 32 Year Fitness Novice.”
photo credit: Zac Aynsley Natural Fitness Models 1 via photopin (license)


Voice-Over’s Seven Deadly Sins

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 25 Comments

I never knew this, but if you ask a bartender for The Seven Deadly Sins, he’ll give you a shot comprised of equal parts of the seven cheapest liquors available at the bar.

It’s like hiring a team of third-rate voice-overs from a lowball website to narrate a piece of pulp fiction. It’s guaranteed to turn your stomach. 

If you’re an old-school Catholic, The Seven Deadly Sins have a very different meaning. Dating back to the 4th century AD, it’s a classification of capital vices, also known as cardinal sins. They are: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride.

In one way or another, these sins are as old as mankind, and you’ll see manifestations of them in our professional community. So, let’s talk about them for a moment, starting with…

Lust

Originally, lust was equated to desire, as in the desire for fame, power or money. If that’s what you’re secretly after, I strongly advise you to choose a different career path. With a few exceptions, voice actors are the unknown, unseen, unsung heroes of video games, documentaries, audio books, and more. We’re not in the picture. Literally.

If you’ve been around the block for a few years you might disagree, because you happen to know lots of voice-overs. To the rest of the world this is totally irrelevant. Just stop a stranger in the street. Ask her to name one voice actor. Just one, and watch what happens. If you’re lucky she’ll call out the name of an A-list Hollywood celebrity, but that’s it. 

Big names make the big bucks, and you’ll see their names on billboards all over the world. The average VO Pro will forever be the anonymous disembodied voice, running from gig to gig, as unremarkable as can be.

There is a bright side. One of the best perks of this job is that we can keep our privacy!

Gluttony

This is a delicate one, because I know I’ll probably step on a few sensitive toes here. If we’d have a room full of on-screen actors and voice-overs, how would one tell the two apart? It’s easy. The voice-overs are more likely to be overweight.

I’ve written about this before, but weight gain is often the result of a sedentary life spent in a small space behind a microphone. Combine lack of movement with the overeating of unhealthy foods, and you have a recipe for disaster. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be an occupational hazard. Lifestyle and diet are based on choices, and choices can be changed. Consider this:

You’ll never be satisfied until you know what you’re truly hungry for.

Greed

If you believe that voice acting is a shortcut to making lots of money in a short amount of time, think again. To an outsider, being paid $250 for a 60-second narration might seem good money. What people don’t realize is that there’s a big difference between what voice-overs make and what they actually get to keep.

Some colleagues are lucky to have a steady stream of well-paying projects. Many others know that these two hundred and fifty dollars also have to pay for the time in between gigs. It also pays for all the expenses that come with being self-employed, for the rent, for utilities, and for all the other bills that never stop coming.

There’s one more thing I want to say about greed, and it has to do with the quality of our service:

People will never do their best work if money is their main motivator.

Sloth

I have seen quite a few people fail at VO, not because they’re untalented, but because they’re downright lazy. Technology has made it so easy to sign up for a voice casting site, and watch the auditions come in. And when  -after a month or two- the booking rate is still zero, guess who gets the blame?

Laziness is also about expecting others to give you the answers on a silver platter, and milking their network to get ahead. It’s a failure to do all the hard, boring, and unglamorous work that comes with running your own business. It’s about taking things for granted, and not being grateful.

Those who have made the move from a corporate job to being self-employed, know that you often have to work twice as hard and twice as long. When you’re the boss, you run all the risk, there are no paid benefits, and results are never guaranteed. Isn’t that fun?

Wrath

In the eyes of some, the multifarious VO-community is made up of a very helpful and altruistic group of people. However, if you’ve spent some time online, you know that we’re not all saints and angels. There are some very bitter, frustrated, and angry individuals who are trolling various groups. 

They will gladly put a newbie in his or her place. These people always know better, and if you don’t bow to their eternal wisdom and status, they will publicly slap you on the wrist. But wrath takes on other forms as well. 

People get angry when they feel ripped off, either by cheapskate clients or by lowballing colleagues. They get upset when an (in their opinion) mediocre talent “steals” a job they’re not worthy of. Angry people tend to take things very personally, and that’s tricky in an industry where rejection is commonplace. Anger is often the basis for the next deadly sin:

Envy

I wish all of us could be happy for one another all the time. But some people aren’t wired that way. Another person’s success becomes a source for their misery. I remember losing a friend after I landed a job both of us were in the running for. I had no idea why he suddenly disappeared from my life. Years later he told me his jealousy got the better of him. 

Some psychologists believe that there are two kinds of envy: benign envy and malicious envy. Benign envy can be a driving force, motivating people to achieve something great. Malicious envy doesn’t only destroy relationships, it’s self-destructive as well.

The idea that we are always in competition with one another, and that the world is divided into winners and losers, can lead to envy. I always encourage my students to cultivate the lost art of admiration. Rather than being jealous of someone’s accomplishments, ask yourself:

“What has this person done to get to where he/she is now, and what can I learn from him or her?”

Pride

I think there’s nothing wrong with taking pride in what you do, and being proud of what you’ve accomplished. Pride turns poisonous as soon as you start believing that you’re better than others, or when you can’t appreciate other people’s achievements.

Pride often manifests itself as arrogance. The sad thing is that arrogance stunts growth and it creates distance. It’s tough to teach someone who thinks he knows better. Arrogant people tend to have little patience for those who are (supposedly) not at their level. They’re great at making other people feel inadequate and inferior.

Someone once said: “Pride leads to contempt; gratitude leads to compassion.”

Redemption

Let’s remember that as voice-overs, we’re in the service industry. Our success relies on the extent to which we understand the needs of our clients, and our ability to meet those needs. Professional pride can give us the confidence needed to get the job done. But we can’t allow pride to feed our ego, causing us to focus on ourselves, instead of on our customers. 

We can only grow as professionals once we realize that we don’t have to have all the answers, and we don’t have to be perfect. We need to stay open, appreciative, show some humility, and be eternally grateful for the talents we were born with.

Are you following me?

Good, and if -for some reason- you don’t agree with me, there’s only one thing I can do.

I’ll drag you to the nearest pub, and make you drink The Seven Deadly Sins.

That will teach you.

Cheers!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Nate and Megan via photopin (license)


Paul’s Pervasive Pet Peeves

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Social Media 24 Comments

young girl with mustacheI guess I only have myself to blame.

The new year has barely begun, and I already have a list of things I get worked up about.

Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not going to slam clients or berate online cattle call centers. This time I’m going to point my arrows at you, dear colleagues!

Well… at least some of you will have to suffer my undying intolerance for BS. As for the rest, I’m sure you’ll recognize my shortlist of major and minor annoyances.

Here’s pet peeve number one:

Automated requests to connect.

Let me get one thing straight. Although I can sound like one if you push me, I am not a robot. I am a human being with thoughts, feelings, and certain expectations. I am honored that you wish to add me to your network, but chances are that I don’t know you.

You don’t walk up to a stranger in the street and ask to be part of his circle of friends and colleagues, do you? So, why would it be okay to target me online with an impersonal message, without even introducing yourself? Are you that rude, or is it that you just don’t care?

Please tell me who you are, and give me at least one good reason why we should connect, and I’ll consider it.

Manners matter!

People wanting to pick my brain.

It often starts with an innocent question:

“Can I call you some time to talk about the business?” A few years ago, I would have said yes immediately, only to discover that I was about to do someone’s homework. A more honest question would have been:

“Paul, can I get a free coaching session? I have no money, no equipment, no training, and no brain.”

Mind you, I’m not opposed to helping those who are truly committed, but I’m not going to waste my time on lazy airheads who are simply “considering options.” How do I separate the two? It’s easy! The committed person has respect for my time, and is willing to pay for my expertise. End of story. I’m doing my very best to run a business. Not a charity.

And just so you know: I’m not going to evaluate your demo either. Unless you pay me, and only if you promise not to blame the messenger for destroying your dreams. 

Here’s the next pet peeve:

People asking for the number of my agent.

Seriously? Beginners I barely know want me to open my virtual Rolodex, and give them a chance to pester my professional contacts. That is wrong on so many levels! First of all, a quick Google search using the term “voiceover agent” will bring up 450 thousand results in 0.55 seconds. If you really need a number, don’t ask me to spoon feed it to you. Unless you’re a toddler. 

More importantly, the real question behind the question “Can you give me the number of your agent,” is: “Could you introduce me to your agent and say a few nice things about me?” Here’s my take on that.

I’m not going to recommend people I hardly know because it could end up biting me in the behind. Secondly, being part of an agent’s roster is something that has to be earned. It cannot be phoned in. Here’s my advice: make a name for yourself first. If you’re any good, chances are that an agent will contact you.

The next request goes even further:

Peeps asking for work.

The other day it happened again. A mysterious self-proclaimed voice-over colleague who is active on a different continent approached me and asked: “I would appreciate if you can send me some jobs and we can work over the internet.” 

Here’s what I could have said:

“Well, if you give me a moment I’ll open the Nethervoice vault and grab you a few voice-over projects. Is five enough? I’m sure you’re up to the task, and my clients are gonna love you. By the way, these gigs come with a nice paycheck! Are you okay with that?”

Without the sarcasm, here’s what I really wanted to say:

“For starters, I’m a colleague. Not a contractor. People hire me. I don’t hire people. Secondly, this industry is based on talent, trust, and connections. If you’re hoping to work with someone, make sure you get to know that person first, and allow them to get to know you. In other words: make a real connection. Don’t lead with what’s in it for you.

This is a service industry, so, focus on how you can help the person you’re approaching. Demonstrate your talent, and earn their trust. If you follow those steps with me, and you’re good at what you do, I might recommend you to some of my clients. Eventually.”

Now, before I go, there’s one last thing I’d like to point out.

All these requests have one thing common. They are based on a sense of entitlement; on the expectation that valuable information, experience, and assistance can be had for free.

If that’s your philosophy, you shouldn’t even be thinking of starting your own business. Think of it this way:

If you don’t respect and value other people’s time, skills, and insights, why should they value yours?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: FE2014 (156) via photopin (license)


The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Promotion 14 Comments

making potteryAs a blogger, coach, and voice talent, I think a lot about why certain people make it in this business and why others don’t.

Those who are doing well don’t always know why they belong to the happy few. “You’ve got to have a lot of luck,” they say, and “be at the right moment at the right time.”

It’s a nice observation, but as a teacher that doesn’t help me much. Just as I can’t predict who’s going to win the Powerball, I cannot influence luck. And if I knew how to be at the right moment at the right time, I probably would be doing something else with my life right now. 

What I can help people with as a coach, is preparedness. If you’re lucky to be at the right place at the right time and you’re not prepared, you’re not going to get very far. But preparedness alone is no guarantee that you’ll have a successful career as a creative freelancer. 

Let’s say you’re talented, you’re well-trained, and you have the right equipment that gets the job done. Is that enough to start and grow a for-profit business? I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.

Looking at colleagues who are at the top of their game, I have identified three characteristics all of them have in common. Number one I call:

THE MAGNET

The difference between dreamers and achievers is that achievers attract jobs. This is anything but a passive process. People don’t become magnets overnight and without planning. You’ve got to have an extensive network in place that generates a continuous flow of leads from multiple sources. If you’re just starting out, this is where you have to spend most of your time, energy, and money.

How do you become a magnet? Think about what you can do to draw people to you. You’ve got to offer something special at a price that tells people you take your work seriously. You have to make sure your presentation is in line with your (desired) reputation. Then you need to connect with clients and colleagues to let them know that you exist.

Obviously, this is not something you can do in a few weeks or months. Every self-employed person can tell you that this will be your life from now on, until you decide to close up shop. This type of magnet is like a rechargeable battery. If you don’t charge it regularly, it will quickly lose its power.

Now, let’s assume your magnetic powers have the desired effect and job offers are rolling in. Should you jump on every opportunity? Here’s where the second factor comes in. I call this:

THE COLANDER

Beginners often make the same mistake. They go after every single job offer, if only “to gain experience.” I remember when I first became a member of an online casting site. As soon as I had posted my profile and the membership fee was paid, the auditions started coming in. In my naïve enthusiasm I applied for every job, thinking that the more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would be hired. I was wrong.

Being a successful freelancer is not a numbers game. It is about going after the opportunities that are right for you. In order to do that, you have to filter out the misfits. That’s where the colander comes in.

Runners know their strengths. Some of them run marathons. Others sprint. In my line of work, some voice actors are great at narrating audio books. Others excel in voicing short commercials. Only a handful of people in every profession are true all-rounders. Chances are that you’re not one of them. That’s why you have to do yourself a favor: know your strengths, and become picky. Very picky.

There’s one last factor that separates the wheat from the chaff. I call it:

THE CLAY

No matter how good you are at attracting and selecting jobs, once you have landed a new project, you have one objective and one objective only: to make your client happy. That’s by no means an earth-shattering revelation, so why even mention it? Here’s why. So many people believe that if you do the very best you can, the client will be pleased with the result. That’s not necessarily true.

Your very best might not be good enough, and/or the client may have different expectations. That’s why it is so important to find out what those expectations are before you get to work. I often tell my clients: “Any text can be read in a million ways. The more specific you are about what you’d like to hear, the easier it is for me to give you the read you need.” And that’s where the clay comes in.

Clay is just potential. It can be molded into any shape, depending on the talent and skills of the potter. No matter what kind of freelance work you do, whether you’re a script writer, an industrial designer or a voice-over, you’ve got to know your material and be a master molder. The better you are at understanding your client and at working the clay, the more successful you will be.

Mind you, this isn’t something you can pick up from reading a book, or by listening to a podcast. It will take talent, training, and time. It may take a few years before you break in and break even. But when you do, this is what you will discover:

Doing exceptional work almost always leads to more work, which brings us back to the concept of the magnet.

One last thing.

If your career isn’t where you want it to be at the moment, ask yourself: “Where are my greatest challenges? What needs more work?

Is it the magnet, the colander, or is it the way I handle the clay?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Shaping the Heart via photopin (license)


A Controversial Year

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 28 Comments

DSC07271I don’t know about you, but 2015 is a year I will not easily forget.

For one, I saw the number of subscribers to this blog grow to over 36 thousand. That’s insane!

It didn’t happen by accident. How did I do it? Well, if you read this article, you will get a good sense of my strategy. 

Few things are more gratifying than knowing that you chose to take a few minutes each week to spend them in my company. Not only that, you have shared my stories with your friends and colleagues. You’ve discussed them online and offline, and you’ve reached out to me when one of my posts struck a chord. Thank you so much!

Now, we all lead busy lives, and I realize that throughout the year you might have missed a blog post here or there. That’s why -at the end of the year- I want to highlight a few stories that you may not have seen, or that have faded from your memory.

If anything, this past year has been very emotional for me. There were times that I didn’t feel like going into my studio to record, and when I did, it was challenging to say the least. I wrote about it in Feeling Like A Fake

There were a few “firsts” in 2015. I believe I was the first voice-over who openly wrote about sex. If you’re curious about what I had to say, read The Confident Skills of a Sex God. I think I also was the first and perhaps the only VO who celebrated World Voice Day by writing two contributions.

The first post entitled Your Voice Your Life, was about vocal health. If you care about your instrument, it is a must-read! The second was The Window to the Soul, and it’s about a new area of research: emotional analytics. It’s all based on the notion that what we say is not as important as how we say it.

Like last year, I continued to rub many readers the wrong way. In fact, posts in which I vent my frustration usually end up being the most popular.

In March I became the most hated man among podcasters, when I published The Problem with Podcasting. After receiving some very nasty and mostly anonymous comments, I was forced to change my comment policy. Here’s a summary:

I no longer accept anonymous comments, or comments by people using a fictitious online identity. I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind a made up character. Comments that are rude and disrespectful will be deleted immediately. You’ll find more about this in Poisonous Pens.

Another blog post that elicited some angry responses was 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice Over. It was unfortunate that the angriest commentators forgot to read the last line. Skimming the text is not the same as reading it. In The Agony of Ignorance, I reveal some other traits I cannot stand.

People often get upset because I tend to say things that are perceived as being harsh and confrontational. One of those posts was The Message Very Few Want To Hear. Between you and me: I never ask my readers to agree with me, and I’m not intent on winning a popularity contest. I must admit: sugarcoating is not my strength.

One of the main goals in writing this blog, is to enhance professionalism in my line of work. In The Secret to Sustained Success, I discuss short-term versus long-term thinking, and the effect it can have on a career. In To Discount Or Not To Discount, I share what Famous Dave’s delicious pickles tell us about pricing strategy.

Are Clients Walking All Over You deals with the importance of setting professional boundaries, and in Sending The Wrong Signals I reveal one of the worst things you can do in customer service, and how you can turn it around.

Many more experienced readers want to know how they can get to the proverbial “next level.” If that speaks to you, please read 4 Ways to Get From Good to Great. You might also want to know The One Thing Every Client Is Listening For. Don’t get ahead of yourself, though, because Perfectionism Is A Trap!

And then there’s my biggest story of 2015. All my posts about Voices.com went viral this year, and the first one was Voices.com is Slapping Members in the Face, followed by Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy. Number three is called The Ciccarelli Circus.

To me, one of the biggest trends of 2015 was the fact that 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. Read Calling It As I See It, for other trends.

But if there was one piece that summed up my state of mind in 2015, it has to be Giving Up. It’s a new philosophy that I will continue to live by in 2016.

What I won’t give up, is this blog. As long as there’s still music inside of me, I will keep on singing with my Nethervoice.

May the new year bring you health, happiness, inspiration, satisfaction, and continued success!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS In case you hadn’t noticed, the text in blue is a hyperlink, taking you to the actual blog post. 


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 12 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)


Giving Up

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal, Social Media 46 Comments

Letting GoThis year…

I stopped running after every audition,

Or hoping for that big break.

I gave up my relentless quest for clients,

and allowed clients to come to me.

I quit writing long emails to people asking me for the secret formula to overnight success;

I relinquished my desire to have a constant social media presence;

I said “no” to most requests for interviews, guest posts, and twitter chats;

I even took a few weeks off from blogging, just because I felt like it.

I stayed away from most voice-over gatherings, online and offline;

I did not drool over the latest and greatest gear (well, just a little bit);

I gave myself permission to not be available all the time.

Instead of in the studio, I began most of my days in the gym, gaining strength, and losing weight.

I separated my personal from my professional life,

and decided that who I am, is more than what I do.

This year, I gave up the control

I never had in the first place,

and I replaced most of my “shoulds” and “musts” 

with “I choose to,” and “I’m going for it.”

And you know what?

Things turned out pretty okay.

My business survived.

I survived.

I feel less taxed, and more relaxed.

Here’s what I have learned:

Giving up is not so bad. 

Sometimes the old has to go, in order to make room for the new.

The junk we leave in the attic, and the trinkets we hang on to in the basement,

It can all go. Really.

Life is lighter without it. 

You see…

Many of us walk around with old stuff that isn’t necessarily our stuff.

It’s stuff other people left behind. Baggage. 

Thoughts. Habits. Beliefs. Even objects.

Things that no longer serve a purpose.

It weighs us down.

And when all of it is gone, we can move on.

Because we have reclaimed a space in our lives that is waiting to be filled with excitement and anticipation.

Take it from me:

We sometimes need to lose part of who we were, in order to discover who we are. 

There is much to gain from giving up.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: ‘Letting Go’, United States, New York, Montauk via photopin (license)


Freelancing Isn’t Free

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Social Media 11 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.02.09 PMIsolation.

It’s a common feeling among freelancers.

Voice-overs (like me) especially, may feel separated from the rest of the world because they often work in small, dark spaces, talking to… themselves.

It’s easy to feel lost and lonely without a professional support system, and without colleagues to have water cooler conversations with. 

But if you ever feel small and insignificant as a voice-over, you’re making a mistake.

You haven’t looked at the big picture yet.

The fact is: you are one of many independent professionals.

THE NEW NORMAL

These days, freelancers account for one-third of the U.S. workforce. That’s nearly 54 million Americans, and this number is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2020. 

Evolving technology and changing business needs have made it easier to take part in what some call the “Gig-Based Economy.” This economy is driven by people who don’t rely on a single employer to make a living. Many of them do not freelance out of economic necessity, but out of choice. 

We all know the advantages of freelancing: freedom, flexibility, variety, and the joy of being our own boss. But there are serious downsides to running your own business. Let’s name a few.

Freelancers are running all the risks that used to be carried by employers, but without a safety net. They have no benefits. There’s no paid sick leave, no company health care or retirement plan. Forget about job security. 

Try getting a personal loan or a mortgage without a steady job. Try putting money away for a rainy day if you don’t know how much will be coming in each month. Can you afford to go on vacation? What if one of your biggest clients needs you, and you’re not available? 

Then there’s this…

Many freelancers say they spend as much as fifty percent of their time looking for work, and thirty to forty percent doing the work. This means they’re systematically underemployed.

MANY DOGS AND FEW BONES

An increase in freelancers also means that more people with the same skill set are fighting for a limited number of jobs. Companies love it because they’ll be able to get a great deal. And if they can’t hire the right person at the right price locally, they might just find what they’re looking for in a country where wages are cheaper and people are more desperate. 

Your nearest competitor is only one mouse click away, and she might be living on the other side of the globe where a five dollars per hour pay will go a long way. 

Because freelancers aren’t organized, they are economically vulnerable and unprotected. Richard Greenwald of Brooklyn College is the author of the forthcoming book The Death of 9–5He told PBS’ Paul Solman:

“If you’re working a nine-to-five job, and you don’t get paid, you can go to the Department of Labor, file a complaint and there’s a process for that. If you’re an independent contractor, and you don’t get paid, you have to go to small claims court, because it’s usually a small amount of money, which means you have to take time off of work, you have to sue, you have to represent yourself. One of the big complaints from freelancers is that there are huge delays in getting paid, and there are many clients who just don’t pay them. Our system is not set up to provide any security for them.”

One organization that wants to change that, is the Brooklyn-based Freelancers Union. In fact, November 19th was their Day Of Action to end nonpayment. Before I get to that, let me tell you a bit about this organization.

A NEW UNION?

The name Freelance Union is kind of a misnomer, because it’s more of an association promoting the interests of independent workers than a trade union. Membership is free, and will make you eligible to receive discounts on services like Freshbooks, Squarespace, Geico and other companies. 

The Freelancers Union offers tools like a Contract Creator; the Union gives advice on money and taxes, and you can even get Health, Dental, Term Life, Disability and Liability Insurance through the Union. 

If you’d like to start networking with other freelancers but don’t know how, try “Hives.” It’s an online community where people connect and support each other, and find fellow-freelancers to work with on their next project. 

Some of the best articles on what it’s like to survive and thrive in the Gig Economy, come from Freelancers Union contributors.  Reading those blogs may open your eyes to the fact that we have so much in common with other independent contractors. One of those things is getting paid, and it’s a huge problem.

A COMMON CAUSE

Almost 8 out of 10 freelancers struggle with nonpayment. The average freelancer loses over $6,000 in wages every year due to late and nonpayment. If you haven’t been stiffed yet, count yourself lucky!

Starting November 19th, the Freelancers Union began making some noise with a nationwide campaign aimed at putting an end to nonpayment through legislation that will strengthen protections for freelancers. The goal is to get freelancers paid on time and in full. So, if you happen to stumble across the hash tag #FreelanceIsntFree, you now know what that’s about.

Of course nothing significant will happen if people with the best of intentions sit still. If you’re interested in adding your voice, consider joining the Freelancers Union, and download their free Freelancing Isn’t Free Toolkit. 

If you happen to believe that Washington won’t listen to people like you and me, think again.

A report entitled Freelancing In America 2015, found that 86% of freelancers surveyed, are likely to vote in 2016. Sixty-two percent say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supported their interests as a freelancer. Overall, 63 percent of freelancers think the nation needs to start talking about empowering the freelance segment of the workforce. Freelancers are a significant political constituency, and politicians will have to start listening!

And let me end with some other good news from the report.

WE ARE THE FUTURE

More than half of freelance jobs are now found online, making it easier for most people to become a freelancer. The study also showed that the majority of freelancers who quit full-time jobs, now earn more money. Of those who earn more, 78 percent said that they made more money freelancing within a year or less of starting their business (source).

So, if you ever feel isolated, small and insignificant, it is time to change your perspective. Freelancers are driving the new economy, and they are a force to be reckoned with. Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director, had this to say:

“Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life – one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-5 rat race. This study shows that the flexibility and opportunity associated with freelancing is increasingly appealing and that is why we’ve seen such dramatic growth in the number of people choosing to freelance.”

Now let’s make sure we get paid in full and on time, every time!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


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