nethervoice

How To Become A Superhero

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing 13 Comments

The SuperfreelancerOkay, I admit it.

Last week’s post entitled Ten Things Clients Don’t Care About was pretty harsh. Yet, I felt it needed to be said, and many readers agreed with me.

You see, here’s the thing. 

Too many freelancers are too focused on themselves, and it is costing them business.

The way I see it, successful solopreneurs have one job, and one job only: To be a Superhero.

A superhero doesn’t think about him- or herself. A superhero answers a call of someone in need, and uses special powers to save the day. And once the job is done, the hero leaves the scene to tackle another problem.

Now, the very best superheroes have at least one thing in common: They know when they are needed.

To bring it back to my story, some of you said the following: “In your last blog post you’ve told us what clients don’t care about. I get that. Now, why don’t you tell us what clients really want?”

That’s a great question, and every sales person who has ever lived has asked that question many times. In order to answer that question, we have to take a step back, and answer another question: What motivates people to buy things?

Even though you and I are likely to have different clients with different needs, there are three factors that always play a role in every purchase decision. You might be selling a service or a product. It doesn’t matter. All buyers are influenced by the same three things:

Price, Benefits, and Perceptions

The price is what the customer pays in exchange for benefits received. It’s something your client has to give up in order to get something from you. Ideally, those benefits should outweigh or at least equal the cost.

Benefits are the positive effects derived from using your solution or service. It’s the pleasure people experience after getting rid of their inner emptiness, frustration, or pain.

Smart sales people sell benefits. Stupid sales people slash prices. Any idiot can close a sale by cutting the price (and go broke in the process). It takes brains to sell benefits.

Perceptions are the result of how people evaluate the benefits and price, the (initial) impression they get from your business, as well as the total experience of using your product or service.

In the end, perceptions matter most. Allow me to demonstrate.

EVALUATING VALUE

Let’s assume you’ve studied the market and you decide to charge $250 per hour for your services. Is that too much or not enough? Does it even matter what you think?

Client A will never hire you because she thinks you’re too cheap, and cheap equals crap. Client B will hire someone else because she thinks you’re overpriced. Client C will happily hire you because she believes your price is just right.

Your fee is just a number in a certain context. It is always evaluated in relation to something else. That “something else” is a matter of interpretation or perception.

People do things for their reasons. Not for yours. Get this:

An anonymous donor paid $3.5 million at a charity auction to have lunch with Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world. Is that too much for a few hours of conversation and a meal?

Hedge fund manager Ted Weschler spent about $5.3 million to win both the 2010 and 2011 auctions. To him, it was money well spent. Buffet ended up hiring him to manage an investment portfolio.

Perceptions are personal value judgments, and therefore highly subjective. This begs the question:

Can perceptions be influenced? Can we manipulate a client into buying from us?

Even though I believe that lasting change comes from within and cannot be forced upon someone, the fact is: people are impressionable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be as open to social proof, and all advertising would be totally irrelevant.

Years of being a solopreneur have taught me that there are things you can do to get an interested client in your corner, as long as you play your cards right.

Here’s what I have learned:

1. First impressions are crucial

We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but psychologists will tell you that it takes us only a few seconds to form an opinion of someone or something. That’s why companies spend billions on packaging, and people spend millions on make-up, clothing, and cosmetic surgery.

If you can’t pique a consumer’s interest or instill a level of trust right from the start, he or she will move on to whatever catches the eye next. So, ask yourself:

What is the very first thing new customers see or experience when they stumble upon my product or service? Is it the landing page of my website? Is it a cover of a book or a brochure? Is it… me?

This first impression is the all-important hook. It sets the tone and tells prospective clients enough about your level of professionalism and style, or lack thereof. If anything, this is where you should spend most of your marketing money. To do it right…

2. Your message needs to be clear, convincing, congruent, and consistent

If you want to play the part, you have to dress the part, and embody the part. That might seem obvious, yet, so many business owners undermine their own credibility by sending out conflicting signals. A few examples:

A translation and proofreading service emailed me: “Your welcome to visit our website.” When I pointed this out to them, they blamed this slip of the pen on the intern.

If you don’t proofread your own material, why would my legal translation be safe in your hands?

The sign in the front yard said: “Quality lawn care at a price anyone can afford.” Meanwhile, weeds were growing everywhere, and most trees needed pruning.

The owner of the local health food store looked like she was terminally ill. She must be friends with that overweight director of the fitness center.

See what I mean? Actions speak louder than words. Remember the four Cs when you craft you core message. You have to be Clear, Convincing, Congruent, and Consistent.

3. You have to be responsive

What clients hate more than anything is to be ignored. It gives them the feeling that their business isn’t important to you, and you know what? I think they’re right. Time happens to be something we all have the same amount of. How we choose to spend that time, gives us an inside look into someone’s priorities and planning skills.

I’ve walked out of a fancy restaurant because the wait staff couldn’t be bothered to serve my table in a timely way. I don’t care if you’re known for the best food in town. If your service sucks, you’re screwed.

I read on your website’s Contact page that you’ll get back to me within 24 hours. I sent you a message three days ago and I have yet to hear from you. What other promises aren’t you going to keep? My project has a strict deadline. If you can’t meet your own, how can I be sure you’ll meet mine?

Being responsive also means: giving your client concise progress reports. It’s a way to reassure them that they’re in good hands. If you’re right on track, let your client know. If you’re experiencing an unexpected delay, you have to let your client know. Don’t wait until they send you an email wondering why they haven’t heard from you in days.

Communication is key, as long as you’re to the point. Anticipate and answer client’s questions. Be an open book. Stay in touch. Make it a breeze to do business with you. You want your clients to smile when they think of you. That will happen when you…

4. Go out of your way to be helpful

Not all inquiries lead to a sale. Sometimes what you have to offer is not what a client is looking for. In my case they might want to hire a female voice actor or someone with an older sound or a different accent. Does that mean that all my efforts were wasted? On the contrary.

If you cut off contact because you can’t make an immediate sale, you’re thinking about yourself and you’re thinking short term. Everything is marketing. Any contact with a client, no matter how brief, is a golden opportunity to start building a relationship. A healthy relationship is a two-way street and takes time to evolve. It’s about giving and receiving.

So, how do you give to a client who doesn’t need your services?

It’s simple: Be a resource.

If you’re not right for the job, recommend a few colleagues who are. I’m sure they won’t mind. Show your expertise. Build some goodwill. You’re sowing seeds, and who knows when they might bloom? There are always new projects in the pipeline that might be a better fit for you.

Here’s the thing about giving, though. Don’t just do it for future rewards. That’s not a gift. That’s a bribe. Do it because it’s a decent thing to do.

It’s all a matter of perception.

Even superheroes are aware of that!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

PPS The above article is a chapter from my book Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs. It’s available in paperback, and as a digital download. 

photo credit: A Is For Aquaman via photopin (license)


Ten Things Clients Don’t Care About

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Freelancing 27 Comments

Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneursIf you just said to yourself: “I think that title looks familiar,” I’ve got to give it to you.

You must have read my book Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs.

If you haven’t, please consider the story below as an introduction to some of the ideas you will find inside.

The basic premise of the book is that -even though I tend to write about voice-overs- most of what I have to say applies to anyone who’s running, or thinking of running a freelance business.

But don’t believe me. I’m the author. You can make up your own mind.

So, if you’re in the mood for some summer reading, here’s a little taste test!

 

Let me preface this chapter by saying that I feel very lucky. In the past 30+ years I was able to develop a strong relationship with a number of clients. The longer we go back, the fewer words we have to waste on what each side is expecting from the other.

It’s almost like a marriage. And very much like a marriage, a lasting business relationship needs commitment from each partner. It can be love at first sight and it can also end in a divorce, due to unspoken expectations and unfulfilled desires.

When I just started out as a freelancer, one of my more cynical mentors warned me against romanticizing the relationship with my clients. His mantra:

“Business is business and the rest is bullish*t.”

Today, these words resonate even stronger. In these fast and furious times, online matchmaking is getting more and more popular. And nobody seems to take it slow anymore. Making small talk is so yesterday.

“I need your demo now. Are you available this afternoon?”

Before you know it, you’re off into some dark room talking to yourself, and when you’re done recording, you dump the files into a dropbox.

As one of my friends put it: “I almost feel used.”

Well, isn’t that the whole idea? We offer our services. We deliver our services. We move on. End of story.

Let’s be honest. Most times, both parties aren’t that interested in getting to know each other before the deal is sealed.

How well do you really know your clients? How well do they know you?

Does it even matter?

In most cases it doesn’t, as long as the job gets done. That’s why it is time to take off those rose-colored glasses and get rid of your great expectations.

Here’s my top ten of things most clients don’t seem to care about anymore:

1. YOU

All you are is a solution to a problem; a means to an end. It’s your job to ensure that the benefits of hiring you outweigh how much you charge. Your client doesn’t have to care about you. It’s your work that matters.

2. YOUR PERSPECTIVE

What you perceive to be the benefits of your service is not important. The question is: Do you understand the needs of your clients, and can you meet those needs?

Your take on a script (or any other freelance assignment) may be interesting, but it’s often irrelevant. You’re the stylist. The client determines how she wants her hair cut, unless you have permission to be creative.

3. YEARS OF EXPERIENCE

The fact that you’ve been at it for a certain number of years doesn’t automatically mean you’re the right person for the part. Over the years, some people have become very good at being very bad. They’re stuck in a rut.

Years of experience entitles you to nothing. In fact, it can make you look like you’re old school. The quality of your experience qualifies you. Not the length.

4. ACCOLADES & OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS

An impressive resume tells a client what you have done for others, usually years ago. All he really wants to know is: What can you do for ME, today?

If you can’t make that clear, why should he hire you?

Experience can also backfire.

One of my friends specializes in medical narrations. In order to impress a possible new client, he quoted a fine endorsement from a pharmaceutical company he’d been working for, for years. It was his way of saying: “See… I have a proven track record. I can easily handle your project.”

The other party was not impressed. The email he got back effectively said:

“Since you’ve established yourself as the voice of brand X, it would be unwise for us to hire you. People would automatically associate your sound with our main competitor.”

5. YOUR COST OF DOING BUSINESS

Never justify your fee by bringing up how much you have invested in your dream. That’s the price you pay for being and staying in business. After all, you don’t care about your client’s business expenses either, do you?

6. YOUR HIGH-END EQUIPMENT

Clients won’t hire you because you happen to own a Steinway. They hire you because they like the way you play, or because you offer the best value for money.

You might impress your colleagues with a brand new Neumann U87 studio microphone. My last client hadn’t even heard of the brand.

7. TECHNICAL CHALLENGES

It’s lame to blame technology for your lack of preparation. In voice-overs, home studios have become the norm. Even if you record in a stuffy bedroom closet (and call it a ‘professional studio’), you’re the head of IT, audio engineering and data transmission. If you can’t handle that, don’t expect any sympathy from the client. He’ll find someone who can.

8. PERSONAL PROBLEMS

Leave them at the door. Clients are clients; not friends or family. You’re hired to do a job, no matter how horrible you might feel about your dead cat or a recent break-up. Put your life on the back burner and focus on the project. Cry when the job is done.

9. YOUR FRAGILE EGO

You are hired to make your client look good, and not to boost your ego. If you’re in need of praise, visit an evangelical church.

10. YOUR SUBLIME UNIQUENESS

Sure, nobody talks like you or walks like you. That doesn’t make you irreplaceable. Even if you’ve worked with a client for years, don’t be surprised if they ask you to re-audition.

One of the joys of being an independent contractor is that there’s no long-term contract with severance pay, should things come to a premature end.

You’re on your own.

Never take anything for granted. Complacency will be your downfall. Be ready to prove yourself, over and over and over again.

If you don’t take care of your career, nobody else will.

Business is business.

And the rest is…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


The Most Embarrassing Moment of my Voice-Over Career

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Studio 5 Comments

Crazy MinionThis week I decided to do something different.

Instead of telling you a story, or giving you some kind of Top Ten, I will answer three seemingly simple questions I get asked a lot.

I’ll start off with some career advice, then I’ll talk about gear, and I will finish with my most embarrassing moment in this business.

Why not save the best for last?

As a voice-over coach, I work with experienced people and absolute beginners. This is what many want to know:

How do I become a top-earning voice talent?

This is actually easy to answer:

By not becoming a full-time voice actor.

Just look at the evidence. I’m sure you’ve seen a few lists of the best paid voice-overs. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are usually on those lists. They are the creators of South Park, and they wrote The Book of Mormon musical. Matt and Trey are screenwriters, producers. directors…. and they do voices for the cartoons they created.

Seth MacFarlane, Harry Shearer, and Hank Azaria are also on that list. All three are multi-talented multimillionaires. Hank is a stage actor, director and comedian. Seth created Family Guy and co-created American Dad. He’s a writer, a producer, actor, and singer. Shearer hosts his own weekly radio show, and stars in many movies.

On July 10th, Minions will hit American movie theaters. The voices of these cute yellow fellows don’t come from a professional voice actor, but from French animator Pierre-Louis Padang Coffi. In the Despicable Me movies, fellow director Chris Renaud voiced a few minions too. 

So, if your goal is to make a ton of money doing voice-overs, the sure-fire road to success does not lead to the VO studio, but to a film set, a Broadway stage, or to a comedy club. There are exceptions, but the people for whom voice acting is just something they do on the side (among many other things), tend to be the highest earners.

My advice: Get famous doing something else first, and before you know it, the voice-over offers will start pouring in!

What Equipment do you recommend for the voice-over studio?

First off, even the best gear sounds crappy in a bad environment. I strongly urge you to spend most of your money on creating a semi-soundproof and acoustically treated recording space before you blow it all on a Neumann mic.

When it comes to selecting equipment, I find that a lot of people go for familiar brand names without looking any further, and they spend way too much money.

When in 2012 I introduced the voice-over community to one of my favorite microphones, many colleagues said: “Conneaut Audio Devices, what kind of brand name is that?” Yet, I still believe that their E100S model is one of the best values for money. Click here to find out why. 

It is probably time for me to change the headline of this review, because the CAD E100S (retailing for about $350) has earned quite a reputation. Whenever someone asks for microphone advice, you’ll always find a happy CAD convert chiming in on social media, and for very good reasons.

Now, it takes a good preamp to make a microphone shine. Audient might not be the first brand you think of when it comes to voice-over gear. Yet, this British company is known throughout the recording industry for their pristine preamps. If you’re looking for a pre with top-of-the-line AD/DA converters, a monitor controller, and lots of connectivity, the iD22 ($599) is an excellent choice. I use it in my voice-over studio, and you can click here to read my review.

Audient iD14

click to enlarge

A few months ago, the iD22 got a little brother: the iD14. It’s a compact, robust, portable plug and play solution. At $299, this stylish all-metal powerhouse is hard to beat in the studio and on the road.

What was the most embarrassing moment of your voice-over career?

Let me preframe my answer by saying that I firmly believe that people make decisions based on the information that is available at the deciding moment. This information is always insufficient, and it is colored by many factors such as our emotions. Looking back, some of the decisions you and I have made may seem silly or stupid now, but had we known better, we would have made better choices.

Here’s one decision I later came to regret.

Back in 2009 I was launching my voice-over career in the United States, and I signed up for voices.com. That turned out to be a pretty good move, because straight away I started booking a handful of lucrative jobs.

A few months later, Voices held a contest called “The Ultimate Success Story,” asking their members to write a few words about how well they did using the online voice casting service. The grand prize was a $500 gift certificate to pro audio retailer Sweetwater.

I think you can guess what happened next: my glowing testimonial turned out to be the top pick. Last time I checked, it is still used for promotional purposes.

Why was winning the grand prize so embarrassing?

Well, right after claiming my reward, my luck on Voices ran out, and after a few years I started to dislike the whole Pay-to-Play model. As I wrote in my book Making Money In Your PJs:

“In 2013 I had a five-star rating, 5445 listens on voices.com (more than any other Dutch talent), and I landed a total of… (are you ready?) TEN jobs, earning me a whopping $2,740.89. God only knows how many auditions I have had to submit before being selected.

This can only mean one of two things. Either, I stink at playing the Pay-to-Play game, or I’m a talentless, misguided soul who should be doing something useful with his life.”

That year I left voices.com, and I never looked back. I no longer believe that a site like Voices benefits my career or my community. As I wrote in my article Leaving Voices.com:

“Today, I’d rather work for agents who have an incentive to send me quality leads with decent rates. There are no upfront fees. When I get paid, they get paid. When they negotiate a better deal, they make more money too. That’s only fair. I only pay when I actually get to play.”

Every now and then I still run into people who have read my prize-winning endorsement. They also know of my overall disenchantment with online casting mills. And when they bring up my old testimonial, I get very uncomfortable.

It is the unfortunate price I pay for my Sweetwater shopping spree!

But don’t feel sorry for me.

I may not make as much as Trey, Matt, Hank or Harry, but I’m doing quite alright. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Happy Meal Minion Toys via photopin (license)


The Ministry of Silly Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Pay-to-Play, Personal 19 Comments

Lumberjack SongLast week it happened again.

In my dreams.

I got a phone call from a potential student who wanted to know how long it would take to break into the voice-over business.

He had no training, no equipment, no experience, and no patience. When I asked him how much he was willing to invest, it turned out he had no money either.

What a brilliant start!

“But I have a profile on voices.com,” he said proudly.

“How did you pull that off?” I wondered.

“I just recorded a few things on my friend’s computer so I would have some demos, and they accepted me straight away. They must think I have potential, right?”

“Listen carefully,” I said, “these people would accept a talking parrot for a new member as long as it presented a credit card that wasn’t expired. In fact, I believe I’ve heard a few of our feathered friends on that site, and they all sound very much like Gilbert Gottfried.”

“Oh, I can do a Gilbert Gottfried for you,” said my aspiring voice-over enthusiastically. “Just give me a few seconds to get into character.”

“Please don’t,” I begged, but it was too late. I had to hold the phone a mile away from my ear in order to avoid permanent hearing loss.

After one of the most painful minutes of my life listening to the sound of an Aflac duck being strangled, I had had enough, and shouted:

GILBERT, YOU’RE FIRED!”

“That’s so funny,” giggled the voice on the other end of the line. “Gottfried lost his job after making a tsunami joke. I must have sounded pretty convincing.”

“To tell you the truth, you sounded more like a dead parrot to me, my friend. Had you gone on for much longer, my neighbors would have reported me to the police for cruelty to animals. I’m sure they could hear every wretched noise you just made.”

“Speaking of dead parrots,” the aspiring student continued unabashed, “I can also do a mean John Cleese impression. And without skipping a beat he yelled:

‘Ello, Miss, I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.’

“Before you go any further, Mr. Cleese,” I interrupted, “I have an admission to make.”

‘ELLO POLLY!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing!’ the guy continued, but the moment he took a breath I seized the opportunity and said:

“You are extremely talented…”

The blissful silence that followed these glorious words lasted precisely two seconds.

“Do you really think so?” the impersonator whispered.

“Extremely talented…

at pissing people off, Pet Shop man,” I continued. “Let me give it to you plain and simple: 

If you go on like this, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression. Right now, your voice-over career is as dead in the water as Monty Python’s Norwegian Blue. It’s stone dead. It has ceased to be. It’s expired, and gone to meet its maker. Bereft of life. It’s kicked the bucket, and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible…”

“Alright, alright… I get it,” said the voice-over wannabe. “But you have to help me out here. I came to you for some coaching. Not to have an argument. I told you that at the beginning.”

“No you didn’t” I said.

“Yes I did,” he said.

“You did not!”

“I’m telling you I did!”

“You did not!”

“Oh this is futile,” he said.”

“At last we agree on something,” I replied. “From what I’ve heard so far, you’re as good at doing voice-overs as Basil Fawlty was at running a hotel.”

“Coming from you, that means a lot,” the guy said. “I appreciate your honesty. Will you be my coach?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I exclaimed. “I just insulted you, and you want to be my student? What are you? A masochist? I don’t think you’re cut out for this sort of work.”

“But for the past few months this has been my dream,” he stammered. “Right now I work at Holiday Hair, and I hate it. I have this terrible un-un-uncontrollable fear whenever I see hair. When I was a kid I used to hate the sight of hair being cut. My mother said I was a fool. She said the only way to cure it was to become a hairdresser. Guess what? It didn’t work.”

He let out a deep, sad sigh.

“Mr. Strikwerda, If I can’t do voice-overs, what else am I to do?”

I knew I couldn’t leave the guy hanging. He had a good sense of humor, and I wanted him to get something out of our conversation. What was I to do? All of a sudden I knew the perfect answer.

“Listen, I said… why don’t you…  why don’t you become a… LUMBERJACK!” 

“Leaping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia,” he continued.

“The giant redwood, the larch, the fir, the mighty scots pine…”

“If I ever want to get rid of this lad, I have to stop feeding him lines,” I said to myself. After taking a sip of water I got back into the conversation.

“You know my name. What’s yours?” I asked.

“Michael,” he said. “I was named after Michael Palin.” 

“How surprising,” I thought. 

“Well, Michael, I tell you what. Why don’t you take one of your demos, and send it to the Voice Arts™ Awards. If you win, I’ll give you five free coaching sessions. How does that sound?”

“Are you serious?” he asked. “That’s amazing! Thank you. Now I feel much more optimistic.”

“That’s the spirit!” I said. “You know what they say: ‘Always look on the bright side of life.'”

Michael laughed, and replied on cue:

“Nudge, nudge. Say no more!”

Paul Strikwerda (and Monty Pyton) ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Photo 02-07-14 11 21 31 via photopin (license)


How Vocal Coach Elissa Weinzimmer Lost Her Voice and Found Herself

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 13 Comments
Elissa Weinzimmer, vocal coach

Elissa Weinzimmer

Okay. I’m going to do the decent thing, and not start with how a simple sex toy could benefit your (voice) acting career.

That would be a cheesy way to pique your interest, and I’m not going there.

Besides, it’s just a small part of a much bigger story, and it has been covered before

Don’t worry. I’ll get to it eventually, but you have to be patient.

Instead, I’d like your mind to go somewhere else…

Imagine for a moment that you’re young, and your voice is your life. 

You love it so much that you want to make a living using that voice.

You take every opportunity to speak, sing and perform in public.

You dream of a career on stage, and you work very hard to make it a reality. 

And then, all of a sudden, you lose the one thing you trust and rely on most.

How would you feel?

This is not some sort of hypothetical scenario. This actually happened to vocal coach Elissa Weinzimmer. She told me her story, and today I’m going to share it with you. Here’s Elissa, recounting the events that took place some eight years ago.

“Simply put, I lost my voice in 2007. It was due to a combination of factors… I was really pushing to belt a solo in my a cappella group (USC Reverse Osmosis), and I was also drinking almost every day because I was trying to enjoy my remaining months in college (!). The drinking part was quite out of character, so it only lasted about a month before my body reacted. One morning I woke up, and felt like I had shards of glass in my throat. It hurt to swallow and speak. Later on that day, I spat up blood.

I rushed myself to the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist that week to have my vocal cords scoped, and I was told I had severe onset of acid reflux, and had experienced vocal “trauma” from overuse. I was put on vocal rest for a month… I had to walk around with a little notepad to communicate my thoughts. After that, I was sent to speech therapy. The whole experience was a major turning point for me. I stopped performing. I even stopped singing much in the car or the shower, places where I usually rocked out. Recently, I’ve started to call the seven years after losing my voice my silent years.”

When your voice is such a part of your identity, what did it do to you psychologically, when you could no longer rely on it?

“It was really emotional, of course. My confidence took a hit because I felt like I couldn’t rely on my voice. When I talk about it in yogi terms, I say that I spent years shutting down my fifth chakra, the center of energy in my throat. The fifth chakra is all about creativity and expression, so I felt stifled. Opening back up to my expressiveness has been a challenging but joyful process.”

How did losing your voice change a possible career path you had set out for yourself at that time? 

“Well, I’d spent most of my life believing that I was going to pursue a career in acting – that I was going to sing on Broadway. Interestingly enough though, a few months before I lost my voice I directed my first full length show, the musical Cabaret. So I was already intrigued and exhilarated by the idea of pursuing a career in directing. When I couldn’t rely on my voice anymore, it was a no-brainer that I would focus my efforts on directing instead. The idea to teach voice didn’t arise until a year or so later.”

Some people look at unfortunate events as blessings in disguise. Was losing your voice such a blessing, and in what way?

“Eight years later, I absolutely believe that it was a blessing. My story fits the archetype of the person who enters a healing or helping profession because of their own challenges. Losing my voice redirected my course in life, and I deeply love what I do now. So, in some ways I’m very grateful to have gone through the experience.”

What surprising things did you discover in the process of getting your voice back, and how has that changed you as a person, and as a professional?

“By the time I was ready to start reclaiming my voice I was already teaching voice to others quite a lot. It became clear to me that it was time to start walking the walk rather than just talking the talk. After all, it’s one thing to tell people to express themselves fully, and it’s entirely something else to be a model of that. I have to admit, a lot of my motivation for performing again was selfish – I needed to do it for me. Yet in pursuing my passion and my truth, I hope I offer a model that encourages other people to do the same in their own way. I believe the world will get really exciting when a critical mass of people start pursuing their true passions and desires, and I feel very strongly about being part of that movement.”

You have used a few methods to restore your voice, to strengthen your vocal folds, and to deal with vocal fatigue. One is called Fitzmaurice Voicework®. In a nutshell, what did you learn from using this technique that was new to you?

“It wasn’t what I expected. I encountered Fitzmaurice Voicework® in my theatre voice class when I was a senior at the University of Southern California. After I lost my voice I began to study the technique more deeply. Fitzmaurice is a beautiful and unique full body approach to making sound, but the exercises weren’t the thing that provided the biggest change for me. The huge change came from encountering a mindset shift inherent in that work: that instead of needing to have the best voice or a perfect voice, I could focus on having my voice.

I showed up at Fitzmaurice lessons wanting to get better and fix my voice. Of course that makes sense, I had spent my whole life up to that point trying to be a good singer and trying to make a good sound. But I learned that improving the voice is a paradox, because in order to get “better,” we have to uncover what’s already there. It’s not about adding stuff, it’s about peeling the extra junk away. In this new way of thinking I could let go of judging myself as good or bad/right or wrong, and I could instead ask myself: “What might this way of making sound be good for?” or “What might this way of breathing be right for?”

This paradigm shift changed everything for me. Once it sunk in, I was immediately committed to the idea of becoming a voice teacher, and sharing this way of thinking with others.”

You say the whole body is involved in creating sound. Many voice-overs lead very sedentary lives. They lock themselves up in a small, soundproof box, and sit all day, reading long scripts. What advice do you have for them?

“An ongoing struggle that I’ve had in my own vocal practice is to actually do my warm ups and take good care of myself. I will be the first to admit that that’s challenging! I have often felt like I’m not doing enough, and when I start working without warming up I feel guilty. However I’m lucky to be curious – fascinated in fact – with how the voice works and the connection between the voice and the body. At this point I’ve spent years experiencing and teaching warm ups and exercises. In the process I have come to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that having a vocal practice works. Doing vocal warm ups and keeping ourselves in shape makes a difference.

So, for those of us who are really committed to using our voices as an instrument, I suggest this:

Get curious about how your voice works. We would never hop on a motorcycle without first learning how it works, so why would we ever presume to use our voice every day if we don’t understand it? Pick up a book and read. Joanna Cazden’s “Everyday Voice Care” is a great place to start. Create accountability and support. Sign up for a class. Go to yoga or the gym regularly. Create a practice.

Professor David Ley

Professor David Ley (left)

In 2012 you moved to Edmonton, Canada, to earn an MFA in Theatre Voice Pedagogy at the University of Alberta. That’s where you met one of your mentors, professor David Ley. One of the things he has developed is called the “Vibrant Voice Technique.” Tell me about it, and in particular how this technique could be beneficial to voice actors.

“Vibrant Voice Technique is based on this outside-the-box idea that David had to use a vibrator for your voice. He had a client suffering from extreme vocal fatigue. She’d been to the Ear Nose and Throat doctor, and she’d been scoped, but there was no damage. That being said, she was having ongoing difficulty making sound due to muscle tension. She had trouble giving herself a manual throat massage to release the tension, so David thought to himself… “Hmm, what’s small and vibrates?” The subsequent lightbulb moment led to a trip to the “love shop” to purchase a pocket-sized vibrator, and sure enough it worked!

Essentially, with Vibrant Voice Technique we use external vibration to reduce muscular tension, and enhance resonance. The technique can be incredibly beneficial to voice actors because it makes vocal exercises quick, easy, and highly effective. You don’t have to have a long regimen of exercises that you feel guilty about not doing. Quite honestly, Vibrant Voice is a shortcut to staying in vocal shape. So for voice actors who deal with issues of duration and overuse it can be extremely helpful.”

You’ve taught this technique to stage actors, on-camera actors, and professional singers. What’s the response when they found out they’re about to use a sex toy?

“There’s this very funny moment that happens when I say to someone: “I teach people to use a vibrator for their voice.” Almost always it goes like this: a blank stare, followed by a slow smile, then a vigorous nod. Sure the idea is surprising, but it makes sense to most people as soon as they think about it! Obviously many media outlets have capitalized on the sex toy angle because it’s sensational. Yet we continue to teach and do what we’re doing because the technique really works.”

Right now you’re recommending a “sensual personal massager” made by a Swedish company, but you’re developing a custom-made voice vibrator, aren’t you? What’s the word on that?

“Yes, we are in the process of developing our own vibrator. Unfortunately, I can’t say too much about that at the moment. However, if anyone reading this is interested in getting involved with the fundraising or research process, they are welcome to email us! You can find our contact info at Vibrant Voice Technique.

Apart from being the managing director of Vibrant Voice Technique, you run your own business called “Voice Body Connection.” What do you offer, and who are your clients?

“Voice Body Connection is based in New York City where I live. The business is all about helping people tune into the connection between their voice and body (as the name suggests). My mission is to help performers and public speakers communicate with more confidence and ease. I work in many ways: I coach clients privately in person, and over the internet. I teach actors at a studio in New York called Anthony Meindl’s Actors Workshop. I also teach an online Speak With Confidence class for public speakers. I’d love to develop a class for voice-over actors too!

In whatever format I’m teaching, the work starts with examining and shifting our mindset about how we communicate, and progresses to techniques and practices to create sound with more expression and less effort.”

I’m particularly intrigued by something you offer called Yoga for the Voice.

“I think there are many voice teachers now who are playing with combining vocal exercises and yoga. In a lot of ways the practices are complementary. So, I certainly can’t claim to have invented Yoga for the Voice. However I love exploring the interplay of how we might make sound while we do yoga, or how we might carry yoga concepts into voice work. It’s an exciting area of exploration for me, and I think for my students too!”

You also prep people for auditions. What are some of the common mistakes you help people correct?

“Well, I think the greatest challenge for a performer is that we’re usually given a script, and that maps out our impulses for us. It is so easy, when we’re being told what our impulses should be, to plan and make logical decisions about how we’ll perform. However the real goal is to allow impulses to bubble up creatively from our right brain, the same way impromptu speech pours out of us. So, the biggest thing I find I spend my time doing when I’m coaching people for auditions or performance, is helping them find a way to marry their own impulses with the impulses that have been provided in the script.”

Quite a few voice actors suffer from vocal fatigue. They got into the business because they loved to read out loud, and because they could do “funny voices.” Not everyone has had professional voice training. What advice do you have for an audio book narrator who records five hours a day, or for a voice actor who has to scream his head off while recording video games or cartoons?

“So, you’ve just brought up two issues: the duration issue (length of time doing the work) and the use issue (are we using healthy practices?). In either case, I highly recommend a warm up and a cool down.

Now, we’re doing the warm up not just to go through the motions. We’re doing it because it’s an opportunity to let our voice know: “This is how I’d like you to behave as I move through my work.” It sets us up for success. After you’ve done a warm up you can do whatever you want within reason – you can scream, cry, and make crazy sounds.

At the end of your session, you want to reset by doing a cool down. You’ve done a lot of work and potentially used extreme effort, so you want to come back down to a more healthy, neutral resting place. The primary reason actors get into trouble with fatigue is because they carry their overuse or misuse into the rest of their day or into the bar that night. So the biggest piece of advice I can offer is: Warm up and cool down! Even thirty seconds of humming will do.

Elissa Weinzimmer, performing "Home."

Elissa, performing her show “Home.”

And finally, back to you. Helping all these performers, don’t you feel the pull of the stage? Will you be coaching in the background, or is there a chance we could see you perform in public again?

“The answer to both is yes! I love coaching. I love helping facilitate people’s art. However, now that I’ve broken the seal, so to speak, I’m back, and I’m going to continue performing!

What do you mean?

I recently sang a cabaret show for my 30th birthday! It was an incredible experience. The theme of the show was “Home.” I’ve been moving around a lot over the last couple years, so it’s about finding home wherever I am. But it’s also about coming home to my voice. You can read about my three performances on a special website I just created.

I don’t know what my next project will be, but I’m very much open to the possibility and opportunity to perform again.”

SPECIAL OFFER

Elissa is currently developing an online training on how the voice works, and she offers online voice coaching. She also teaches one-on-one sessions in Vibrant Voice Technique via Zoom (online), or in-person in New York City. Check out her website for details.

She’s kindly offering readers of this blog 10% off of any of her sessions when you mention Nethervoice. If you’re unsure how to properly use your voice, or if you’re suffering from vocal fatigue, one or more sessions could very well save your career. 

Thank you, Elissa!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be Sweet. Please retweet!


Are Clients Walking All Over You?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Personal 35 Comments

Angry manAs a freelancer, I’ve had to learn many lessons.

Some of these lessons came easy. Others were excruciating.

Out of all the things I picked up along the way, these two were perhaps the hardest:

1. How to deal with conflict.

2. How to stand up for myself.

I grew up in a very protective environment, and was taught never to raise my voice. The main philosophy in our house was this:

Most people have good intentions. If you treat them with kindness and understanding, they will treat you in a similar way.

So, when my best friend asked if he could borrow some money, I immediately gave it to him. I think I was eight years old at that time, and I had earned a few bucks by helping out around the house. “You’ll get it back tomorrow,” he said, and I totally believed him.

Of course he never returned a penny, and I couldn’t figure out why. Was it something I had said? Was it something I had done? You see, that was one of my patterns. Whenever something negative would happen to me, I started questioning myself.

This made it harder for me to confront my friend and ask for my money. Part of me didn’t want to risk losing him as my best buddy. Part of me was just too scared to challenge him. “Don’t cause conflicts,” said that little voice in the back of my head that sounded very much like my mother. “People might not like you when you start arguing with them.”

A LOSING STRATEGY

I have to tell you right now: this approach didn’t work for me as a child, and it didn’t work for me as an adult. It left me with no backbone, and it made me vulnerable. Yet, when I started my own business, I did everything I could to avoid conflict by becoming a people-pleaser.

If you’re offering a professional service like I do, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You want your clients to be happy, and their wish is your command, but there are limits. I found it very hard to say “No,” even when clients made unreasonable demands.

“Could you cancel all your plans and come to our studio for an audition tomorrow? Let’s make it nine o’ clock.”

The next day I cursed rush hour traffic on my way to New York for a cattle call in some obscure basement. I would spend half a day on the highway, and a small fortune in parking fees to audition for a $250 job. It was madness.

“Since you’re a Dutch native speaker, could you check the translation of the script we sent you, just to make sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be?”

Unable to refuse, I would spend the next two hours proofing and correcting a horrible script that had been translated by stupid software. All of this for a cheap client who never said “please,” or “thank you,” and who expected me to do this at the drop of a hat, and for free.

“If I don’t do it, I might lose the job,” I told myself in those days.

Five minutes later, the phone would ring. It was one of my late-paying clients.

“Paul, we’re having some cashflow problems. Is it okay if we pay you in about… six weeks?”

“I’d rather get paid in six weeks than not being paid at all,” I said to myself, and I told the client not to worry. I was going to be the easiest freelancer they would ever work with!

MR. DOORMAT

Looking back, I had all sorts of people walk over me, and I found it increasingly difficult to put on a professional smile, and be okay with being treated like a dirty disposable doormat. Even though I began to resent being disrespected, there were three things I forgot.

1. Ultimately, my ultra-accommodating behavior gave me something I wanted: a way to avoid conflict. I would be seen as the amiable hired helper who always went above and beyond. Who wouldn’t want to work with me?

2. I wasn’t a powerless victim of those who took advantage of me. I was an active participant in the process by allowing people to walk all over me.

3. By behaving the way I did, I created certain expectations. I taught my clients how to treat me.

At the time, I didn’t see it that way. I saw myself as the always accommodating Mr. Nice Guy, smiling on the outside, but suffering in silence on the inside. It was only a matter of time before the last drop landed in the bucket.

PUSHING MY BUTTONS

I had finished recording a technical script for a high-maintenance, unorganized client who always needed everything yesterday. Even though I was swamped, I managed to meet his deadline. Two days later I was getting ready to go to a wedding, when he called me with some drastic changes to the script.

“Don’t blame me,” he said. “I don’t control the people I work for.”

He basically expected me to drop everything and help him out, and here’s the worst part: he wanted me to do it at no charge.

Already in my tuxedo, my frustration finally reached a boiling point, and I snapped at this man with an indignation that had been building up for years. I’ll tell you: when I was done, I felt so relieved!

My client, on the other hand, was speechless. Once he composed himself, he just said a few words:

“I wouldn’t want you to miss that wedding. We’ll go over everything tomorrow, and I’ll make sure you get paid for your time.”

Just like that!

I was stunned.

I looked in the mirror and thought:

“So, that’s what happens when you put your foot down!”

I later apologized to the client for losing my temper, and I thanked him for teaching me a valuable lesson.

BOUNDARIES

This all happened quite some time ago. Eventually, I came to realize that I had to set some professional boundaries. Now, if you’re going through the same things I experienced, you might wonder:

How do you know where these boundaries are? They’re pretty much invisible.

It’s simple, really. You know where your boundaries are by the amount of BS you’re willing to put up with in your life.

As long as you’re okay, no lines are crossed. But if someone or something makes you angry or upset, it’s probably a sign that your boundaries have been violated. You’re likely to find out during some kind of crisis. That’s when you discover who you are, and what’s important to you.

Over the years I have developed very strong boundaries when it comes to rates, professional standards, and the terms and conditions under which I am willing to work with a client or a student.

I no longer drive to New York if a job pays less than $500. My agents know that, and they understand. Most of them will ask a producer if it’s okay for me to send an MP3 audition, instead of making me go to a cattle call. Usually, that’s no problem either.

If clients want me to translate or proof a script, they’ll have to pay me to do it, and payment is expected within 30 days after the invoice is received. I’m happy to record changes to the script after the initial, approved text was recorded, but not for free. 

NEW RESPECT

Did I lose a couple of clients because I refused to put up with their BS? Of course I did, but I was glad to get rid of them. Now here’s the kicker…

Because I was putting my foot down (ever so gently, of course), people started to respect me more.

As my self-confidence increased, their confidence in me increased as well. To my surprise I discovered that being clear about my boundaries lead to less conflict. 

My rate was no longer seen as expensive, but as a sign of professionalism. These days, many clients are willing to do a lot to accommodate me, instead of the other way around.

All in all I’d say that standing up for myself has made me feel better about myself in general, and it has brought more clients to my business.

However, there’s one thing that keeps on bugging me.

Not long ago, the childhood friend I told you about in the beginning, found me on Facebook, and now he wants to connect. It’s been more than forty years since we last spoke, and I’m curious to find out how he is doing. However, I’m reluctant to honor his request.

After all, the guy still owes me money!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: la colérica e inmediata respuesta gestual via photopin (license)


The Agony Of Ignorance

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 36 Comments

Rocking the mic?

Can you believe the stuff people put on t-shirts these days?

This morning, one of the guys who looks like he lives in the gym I go to, had this slogan printed all over his colossal chest:

“If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right.”

What kind of message is that? It’s along the same lines as “No pain, no gain.”

Do people actually believe that stuff?

You see, I have the exact opposite experience. When I’m doing things right, everything seems to flow naturally, and nothing is hard or painful. Granted, it has taken some hard work to get to that point, but when I’m in the zone, things are surprisingly easy.

If you happen to share that experience, take it as a sign that in certain areas of your life you may have reached a level of what experts refer to as “unconscious competence.” You’re not even aware that you’ve become pretty good at what you’re doing. It feels like driving a car. In the beginning it was frustratingly complicated. Now, you don’t even have to think about it. 

“So what do you find hard in your business?” one of my workout buddies wanted to know, as we were doing our exercise routine. “You’re a voice-over, right?” 

He was not the one wearing that silly t-shirt, by the way. 

“At the risk of sounding brash,” I said, “it’s not so much the work I find hard, but the people I have to deal with every now and then. Particularly the people who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe it’s my age, but there are at least three things I can’t stand:

Ignorance, pretentiousness, and a sense of entitlement. Especially if all these qualities reside within one person.”

“We must be working with the same people then,” laughed my friend, as he was programming his treadmill. “I’m a professional photographer, and you wouldn’t believe how many people think they can do what I do without having a clue.”

“That’s the trouble with ignorance,” I said. “People don’t know what they don’t know, but it doesn’t stop them, does it?”

“Agreed,” said my buddy, “but here’s what I don’t get. Everyone understands that playing the violin is not something you can learn overnight. However, every ambitious idiot with a camera believes he’s the next Annie Leibovitz. It ticks me off.”

I wanted to tell him that I saw the same thing in my line of work. Give a monkey a microphone, and he thinks he can be the next Tom Kenny. 

“Ignorance isn’t always bliss,” I said, as I increased the speed on my treadmill. “Usually, ignorance is a pain in the neck, and I find it very challenging to teach ignorant people who think they know it all. I mean, if they supposedly know what they are doing, why do they want me to be their coach? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I have no problem with beginners who come to me, and who are aware that they have a lot to learn,” said my photographer-friend. “Everything you teach them is new and exciting. I admire kids with an open mind. They remind me of the time I got started. That’s why I love being a mentor.”

He wiped the sweat from his forehead, and said: “Is it just me, or are today’s kids a bit full of themselves?”

“Quite possibly,” I responded. “Parents are quick to praise, and hesitate to criticize, so as not to damage the delicate self-esteem of their offspring. I’m all for raising confident kids, as long as they know their strengths and their limitations. In my class they’d never get a trophy, just for showing up.”

I took a sip of water, and continued:

“Now, there’s another type of ignorance I’m allergic to.”

“What might that be?” asked my friend, as he was walking uphill on the exercise equipment. 

“It’s the lazy type of ignorance. You know… quasi-ignorant people who are looking for a big, fat, silver platter. I just got an email from someone who asked to pick my brain about casting sites and voice-over rates. I politely suggested she do a Google search first. 

“What was her response?” asked my friend.

“Oh, I never heard back from her,” I said. “But on Facebook she told all her fans that I was the most unhelpful person in the voice-over community. To be honest, she didn’t use the word “person,” but the term she used starts with a “p” and it rhymes with chick. 

“Some people think I’m rather obnoxious,” said my buddy, “just because I refuse to give them the answers they are fishing for. Of course I want to help, but I tell my kids: ‘You won’t learn anything as long as I spoon-feed it to you. The things you discover yourself tend to stick much better.’

I want my students to make an effort. I want them to fail, and I want them to overcome the biggest challenges. Otherwise they’ll attach no value to what they have learned, and they’ll have no respect for the business. 

There’s no gratification in arriving on the top of a mountain in a helicopter. But when you start at the bottom and climb your way up, the journey itself becomes meaningful. And when you’ve finally reached that peak, you feel on top of the world!”

“Are you sure you’re a photographer?” I asked. “That’s a darn good metaphor you just used. I might steal that one for my blog.”

“You go right ahead,” he said. “I used to do a bit of mountain climbing when I was younger. I have the pictures to prove it. And a few scars. But what about you? Are you a climber?”

“Oh no, I’m from The Netherlands,” I answered. “There are no mountains in our tiny Kingdom below sea level. Holland is as flat as a pancake.”

“In that case, I have the perfect exercise for you,” said my buddy, as he pointed to the StairMaster.

“I believe this baby has your name on it,” he smiled. “Come on! This thing is the perfect way to get nowhere fast. Try it.”

Reluctantly, I climbed onto the steps, and started my ascend into nothingness. 

“I hope it’s not a metaphor for my career,” I said, gasping for air. “This is really hard!”

“Well, you know what they say…” said the photographer with a big grin.

“If it’s hard, it means you must be doing it right!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: 50 of 52 via photopin (license)


A Quick Course In Blogging & How To Get Thousands Of Subscribers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 20 Comments

Paul Strikwerda = OutspokenThis week it finally happened.

My blog now has 35,000+ official subscribers!

To celebrate this milestone, I am going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about my blog, and about blogging.

Are you ready? Here we go!

Should every (freelance) business have a blog? 

That’s a tough one to answer. I can certainly tell you why I blog, and then you should decide for yourself if blogging could be beneficial to your business.

Here’s the thing.

You could own the best store in town, but if nobody knows who you are and where to find you, you’re not going to attract any customers. So, you need to do something to get people in the door. Once your customers have found you, you have to gain their trust. Nobody likes to do business with people they don’t trust. 

My blog does a number of things. It brings thousands of people to my website every month. That’s a big deal. It means that out of all the voice-overs sites they could have gone to, they go to Nethervoice.com, and they stay there for a while. 

Why do they do that? Because they find something of value that makes them come back again and again. That “something” happens to be my blog. And when they read that blog, they get to know me, and they learn about my take on the business I’m in. It’s a way for me to position myself in the voice-over market place as someone who knows a thing or two about my line of work. This builds trust.

I call this approach “under the radar marketing.” What do I mean by that? Well, I’m not putting up ads that say: 

“Better call Paul.

He’s the best!

If you need an international voice, Paul is your man!” 

People have become allergic to this kind of in your face, self-congratulatory marketing.

Instead, I write reviews, I give advice, and I tell stories. Most people hate ads, but they love a good story!

Does this approach work for everybody? Absolutely not. I happen to love writing. I’ve been doing it for most of my life. If you don’t like to write, then a blog is not for you. Perhaps you should do a weekly podcast. Others love making videos, or they put out a picture diary. 

The important thing is to do something that excites you, and that fits you. People can sense whether or not your heart is in it.

How do you become a successful blogger?

Before I answer that question, I’d have to answer another question. How do you define success? That’s not only important for blogging, but for any area in your life. Success is one of those tricky words. We think we know what we’re talking about, but we all have our own definition.

Personally, I like Deepak Chopra’s definition:

“Success is the continued expansion of happiness, and the progressive realization of worthy goals”

The next questions would then be: What makes you happy, and what are worthy goals? 

Money? Fame? Influence?

For some bloggers, success means having two hundred followers. Others want two hundred thousand. Some bloggers look at how much money their blog is making them. My blog makes me happy because it enables me to connect with people from all over the world. Clients and colleagues. And when they tell me: “What you’ve written really helped me today,” that is a success. That makes me happy. 

When people write to me and say: “I don’t agree with you, but you really made look at some things in a different way,” that too is a success. 

Now, if I would tell you that numbers don’t matter, I would be lying. I am proud that I now have over thirty-five thousand subscribers. For some bloggers that’s nothing, but I look at it in the context of our small voice-over community. 

If you believe that you have something that’s worthwhile sharing, you want to share it with as many people as possible. So, 35K is a nice start!

Now, back to the question. How do you become a successful blogger?

Three words: Content, Personality, and Promotion.

We all lead very busy lives. Every week I ask people to take a few minutes out of their day, and spend those minutes with me. They will only do that if they feel I have something to offer that is valuable and relevant.

My blog is a free service. It’s not a sales pitch, and I think my readers get that, and appreciate that. But there’s something else that I think makes it work. 

If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view.

Why do people watch the Daily Show with John Stewart? It’s not because he rehashes dry facts from the paper. It’s because he’s John Stewart.

Another reason why my blog has become a success is because I know a little bit about spreading my message. And thankfully, my readers are my best promoters. Without them, I would make as much noise as one hand clapping in a soundproof room. 

What should a blogger write about? 

If you don’t mind, I have to answer that question with a few more questions.

1. Who is your audience?

2. What are they interested in? What are they hungry for?

3. What do you have to offer that distinguishes you from other bloggers?

One of the things I like to do is to write about topics that are timely, and make them relatively timeless. News is outdated the moment it is published. Analysis lasts much longer.

If you want to give your content more staying power, I suggest you use specific examples to make a general point. For example…

Recently, I wrote about World Voice Day, an international event held every year on April 16th. I used it as an opportunity to write about vocal health. In the past I have written about the Voice Arts Awards. I used that story to talk about the pros and cons of competitions. I wrote about Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson who was fired after physically and verbally abusing a producer. I used his story to identify seven traits of successful colleagues, and the ways they treat the people they work with.

What things should you avoid as a blogger, and what are things you should absolutely do?

Here are a couple of dos and don’ts. Let’s start with a few don’ts.

1. Do not oversell yourself. People love to buy but they hate being sold. A blog is about offering value for free, and about creating a connection. Once people start trusting you, they will start trusting your product, especially if you happen to be your product.

If you wish to increase sales, don’t make it about selling.

2. If you want to highlight what you have to offer, don’t make it all about you. Show people what you’re made of, but avoid the ME, ME, ME-stories. Focus on your readers.

Here are a few do’s:

3. Educate without lecturing. Come across as an expert, but not as a know-it-all. The most compelling way to pack information is to make it fun and light. Make your blog conversational, as if you’re talking to one reader who is sitting across the table from you. Use stories to make a point. 

4. Always do your research. Make it easy for your readers to find and check your sources. If you want people to look at you as a reliable source of information, don’t spread rumors or make claims you cannot back up. It may take you years to get a decent following. It takes one stupid gaffe to lose your tribe.

Give your readers an opportunity to go one level deeper by giving them links to sources and resources. It will enhance your credibility.

5. Care about your readers, but don’t care about their opinions. If you feel like stirring the pot, then do it. Push that envelope. If you want to bring about change, you have to start pissing people off. Make a few folks uncomfortable. But be prepared to live with the consequences. 

I recently wrote a blog post about podcasting that didn’t go over so well with the podcasting community. People started calling me all kinds of nasty names, and I had to change my comments policy because of it.

A few weeks ago I rubbed a few readers the wrong way by giving them five reasons why they should never become a voice-over. With over 10 thousand views, it became the most widely read story I ever wrote. 

How much time does blogging take? 

Some stories come easier than others. On average I’d say I spend at least one day every week on my blog, but usually more. This includes prep time, writing, rewriting, and publishing. It also includes how long it takes me to respond to your comments, tweets, Facebook & LinkedIn messages, and emails. 

I also spend a considerable amount of time repurposing content. I turn some of my blog posts into booklets, and I turn quotes from my blog into pictures that I repost on social media. My book “Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for Voice-Overs and other Solopreneurs” is largely based on stories I wrote for this blog.

Can blogging really increase business? 

Absolutely, and this brings me back to the beginning. People don’t do business with someone they don’t know and can’t find. Years ago I was at a voice-over conference, and I did a presentation. At the beginning I asked people how they had heard about me. No one said:

“Because you’re on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+.”

Most of them said: “We know you because we read your blog every week.”

Now, you might say: “These people are your colleagues. Not your clients.” Well, I happen to get a lot of business through referrals from colleagues. But my blog is also read by agents, on-camera actors, producers, audio engineers, and other freelancers. 

What many people don’t realize is that I’m also a voice-over coach. Most of my students come to me because they’ve read my blog and/or my book.

So, in all modesty I can say that my blog did put me on the map. People visit my website because of it. They don’t go to a voice casting site or my Facebook page to find me. They come directly to me, and I can deal with them on my turf, and on my terms. To me, that’s huge!

How did your blog get over 35,000 subscribers?

Let me tell you: it didn’t happen overnight. It is the result of a lot of calculated small steps, and the support of my readers.

If you want to have that kind of success, the bigger question really is: Why would people come to your website? Why would they want to spend some of their limited time with you, week in, week out?

Here’s the answer:

You have to offer them something of value that is relevant to what they’re doing and thinking, and you have to present your content in a way that’s easy on the eyes. 

People also read blogs to find out where someone stands. My most opinionated pieces are the usually biggest hits. People like controversy, and a good rant. As a blogger I have made many friends, and a few enemies. 

In summary: content, relevance, value, personality, and a pleasant format is what brings people to a blog.

But there’s even more to it.

If I were to write for the VO-community only, I would never have gotten where I am today. If you wish to be successful, you have to widen your reach. How do you do that? Start by asking yourself:

What greater community am I a part of?

This is what I came up with:

– Actors & artists

– The self-employed

– The underemployed

– Freelancers

– Solopreneurs

– Small business owners

As a narrator and voice actor, I’m also in touch with:

– Linguists & translators

– Sound engineers

– Bloggers

– Writers

– e-Learning specialists

– Advertisers & Social Media specialists

– People in the entertainment industry

Looking at this list, I had an idea: What if I were to write a blog that would be of interest to all of these groups? That way, I could use the angle of the voice-over industry as an example of a much greater picture. This really brings us back to one of my most important content rules::

If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view.

Take fellow-freelancers for instance. They run into the same problems as I do as a voice-over professional:

• How do you put a price on your product?

• How do you handle challenging clients?

• How do you advertise your services?

• How do you overcome fear of failure?

• Where do you find new business?

Those are some of the things I write about every week.

Using Technology

Last but not least, you have to use technology to spread the word. My publishing platform is WordPress, and I let some of the WordPress plugins do part of the work for me.

A few tips: 

1. I optimize my blog for search engines, using the All in One SEO Pack plugin. This allows me to enter a title, a short description of the topic, and keywords to the blog. 

2. On the day my blog is posted to my website, I add it to relevant Facebook groups, such as Voice-Over Pros. I try not to post the blog to all groups at once.

3. I add it to relevant LinkedIn groups, to Google+, my Tumblr site. I add it to StumbleUpon and Reddit. Some of that is automated via the JetPack plugin. I usually write special Twitter links with shortened url’s. 

4. I make it easy for people to subscribe to my blog. Some bloggers offer an incentive to get people to subscribe. It’s usually a free book or link to a video. I don’t do that, but I’ve heard it works well. 

5. I encourage people to add my blog to Feedly, a content curator.

6. People can search for blog content by typing in keywords, or by category. 

7. I have a list of the most popular posts, and a list of the most recent posts.

8. I offer them related posts. That way they stay on my site a bit longer. For this I use the Related Posts by Zemanta plugin.

9. I encourage my readers to share my stories with friends and colleagues, and people do.

10. I reward interaction. I do my best to thank every commentator and people who share my content. I believe in the power of PR: positive reinforcement. First-time commentators get an automated thank you note, via the Thank Me Later plugin.

All these small steps combined create a nice wave of publicity, and it’s such a joy to ride that wave with you!

Thank you so much for your comments, and for your continued support.

It means more to me than I’ll ever be able to put into words.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet.


The Secret To Free Upgrades

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 8 Comments

smiling old manIt’s my ultimate dream…

To board a transatlantic flight, and get a complementary upgrade to first class.

Or to pay for a simple hotel room, and being handed the key to the penthouse suite. At no additional charge.

I love a good deal. Especially when I’m not paying for it!

And how about getting last-minute tickets to that sold-out play or musical? Wouldn’t it be great to run into someone who’s willing to sell you the best seats in the house at half-price because he can’t make it?

“Alright, that will never happen,” you respond, and I don’t blame you. 

Most airlines have instituted a zero-upgrade policy. Hotels will make you pay if you wish to stay in a nicer room, and that loud, sweaty guy in front of you will snag those cheap Broadway tickets for a show he doesn’t even like. 

Some things are just too good to be true, and they will never happen to you.

And yet, one of my friends seems to have the magic touch when it comes to upgrades. He’s in his seventies, and the other night he went to dinner and got a free dessert. Recently, he took a cruise to the Caribbean, and landed a spacious room with a view, even though he’d only paid for a small cabin.

He’s always getting deals and discounts, and I don’t know how he does it. Is he just lucky, or is he reaping the rewards of having been an amazing person in a past life?

Let’s forget reincarnation for a moment, and find out why my friend -let’s call him Ben- receives these complementary upgrades and discounts. I have a feeling it has to do with his mental make-up. His personality.

First of all, he’s the epitome of optimism. In Ben’s world, nothing is impossible. Ben doesn’t see obstacles. He spots opportunities. 

Secondly, he’s one of the most positive, altruistic souls I know. Ben is always complimenting people left and right because he sees the good in everyone.

And compliments make people fly.

Ben’s also a good listener. He’s the kind of person you’d tell the story of your life to, because Ben is genuinely interested, he doesn’t interrupt, and he doesn’t judge.

Ben doesn’t like to talk about himself. He wants to hear how you are doing. Ben doesn’t have a hidden agenda, or some intricate spiel. He happens to like people, and people like him.

And most importantly, he doesn’t care if you’re a captain of industry, or a burger flipper at the local greasy spoon. He will give you the same, warm Ben treatment, because that’s what you deserve.

You couldn’t find a nicer guy, even if you tried.

“But what about this saying Nice people finish last?” you may ask. “Isn’t there some truth to that? People walk all over doormats. They always have, and they always will.” 

I disagree. Nice people can be assertive. Sweet people can have a spine. A very sweet spine! Nice people do finish first.

Ben once told me:

“Most folks are willing to go the extra mile for you, but not if you’re a jerk. If you go all ballistic on a poor call center assistant, you know you’re going to be put on hold for a very long time. If you’re patronizing to a waiter, it may take a little longer for your food to arrive.

Being kind doesn’t cost a thing, but don’t expect any favors if you’re being disrespectful and rude.

Now, I know that’s not an earth shattering message, and yet I wish this world would choose kindness over conflict.”

Being a nice guy is not the only reason why my friend Ben enjoys his occasional perks and upgrades. When I asked him about it, he shared a very simple secret with me that has made all the difference. In fact, it is so simple and straightforward that most people don’t even think about it.

“My mother was a very wise woman,” said Ben. “And this is what she told me when I was five years old:

You’ll never get what you don’t ask for.

Here’s an example.

One of my grandsons is a freelancer. The other day he was complaining about a rate a client had offered him. It was on the low side, but he took the job anyway, because he needed the money.

Did you ask for more? I said.

“No,” he answered. “I didn’t want them to go to someone else. Besides, they said they had a limited budget.”

A month later he ran into a colleague who happened to work on a similar project for the same company. And get this: They were paying this man twice the amount he was making! 

My grandson became really angry. He called his project manager and yelled: “Why are you paying this guy two times what I’m making while we’re practically doing the same job? That’s not fair, is it?”

“Calm down, said the project manager. “It doesn’t have anything to do with fair, and I’ll tell you why. With us, you negotiate your own rate. That’s how we do it. Your colleague gave us a number, and we agreed. It’s as simple as that. You could have done the same thing. All you had to do was ask.”

I’ll give you another example, said Ben.

My neighbor’s wife -a very nice lady- was moaning and groaning that her husband wasn’t romantic anymore. “We used to go out all the time, and we had so much fun,” she sighed. “These days he just sits on the couch, and watches TV.”

Have you asked him to take you out on a date, lately? I said.

“Of course not,” she replied. “It has to come from him. It has to be spontaneous. My husband is anything but spontaneous.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Ben. “She doesn’t understand the concept. If she wants things to chance, she’s got to take action. 

You’ll never get what you don’t ask for.

Frankly, it’s the only reason I got that marvelous room on my last cruise. When I got on board, I started talking to the purser. He was an older guy, like me. It turns out, we went to the same high school, but we were five years apart. We even had the same favorite teachers, and we hated the same ones too! Then he asked me what room I was in, and I told him. He said it was very close to the engine. That’s probably why it was so cheap.

Then I looked at him, and said: “I don’t suppose there’s anything you could do about that, is there?”

He glanced at his chart for a moment, and said: “Let me see what I can do.”

Next thing I know I was out on my very own balcony, smelling the fresh, salty air. The engine room was far away. One night I was even invited to dine at the captain’s table. When you’re my age, it doesn’t get any better than that!”

He took a deep breath.

“You know,” said Ben with a smile. “People think these things only happen in books or in movies, and that’s not true. They do happen in real life, as long as you believe they are possible. You’ve got to believe.

Sometimes all it takes is a smile, a little kindness, and an innocent question.

Tell me: Is that too much to ask?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: the old man and the sea : santa barbara (2006) via photopin (license)


Causing A Ruckus. Again.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion 45 Comments

Sweet watchdog.Oh dear, I think I stepped on some very sensitive toes, last week.

And I’m not at all sorry.

If you weren’t part of the now 8,500 strong group that has read last week’s story, click here to catch up on what you missed. It will take you to:

5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over.

Some of the folks who read it, kindly called me:

“Disheartening and rude.”

“Snarky, mean-spirited, and quite arrogant.”

“Negative, pompous and absolute.”

Another commentator wrote:

“Seems like a severe case of sour grapes and he/she really needs to seek out a career change…”

People know me so well, don’t they? They haven’t got the faintest idea whether I’m a man or a woman, but they sure know my deepest motivations, and darkest desires.

Listen up people. There are psychics among us, and they know exactly what drives us!

If you’ve read all the comments, you know there were other opinions:

“A little reality check is always a good thing. And, as Paul pointed out at the end, if you’re a fool and passionate about it, then you’ll love every lonely, frustrating, fabulous minute of it!”

“As one of the doe-eyed hopefuls making these same mistakes and assumptions, I respect his perspective.”

“Knowing these truths and being aware of the harsh realities of the business is what helped me survive and get work.”

IT COULD BE WORSE

Should you belong to the group that believes I was impudent and impertinent, you must read a blog post entitled:

Five Reasons You Won’t Make It As A Writer,” by John Hartness.

Here’s how it starts:

“I’ve decided to just embrace my role as the Simon Cowell of the writing world. I’m honestly tired of being nice and supportive to everyone who comes up to me with a half-baked idea or worse, a half-baked product, and asks what I think. Because they don’t want to know what I think. They want to hear how awesome they are. And most of the time they aren’t awesome. Most of the time I’d be better off trimming my toenails than reading their godawful attempts at a book or story, because at least that can get exciting if I trim a little too closely. So here goes – unexpurgated Hartness on why you’re not going to make it as a writer.”

And that’s only the beginning…

If, after reading that tirade you still believe I’m the rudest man in the voice-over universe, your skin is way too thin. That’s a serious problem, because -just as the life of a writer- the life of an average voice talent revolves around rejection. And if you’re not rejected enough, you’re not auditioning enough.

Now, is this me being negative and bitter again?

Hell no!

I’m not saying anything new. I’m merely stating a fact, and if you can’t handle that, you are being bitter. Not me.

RULES AND EXCEPTIONS

Here’s what most of my critics pointed out (and I paraphrase here):

While there is some truth to Paul’s five points, there are exceptions to his rules. Quite a few people are making a good living as a voice-over. Some are doing very useful work. It is possible to be social and productive as a VO.

To that I say: Big whoop!

I know a few actors who aren’t waiting tables in NYC or LA, but what does that prove?

Of course I’m generalizing. Anyone who has been in this industry for longer than a year recognizes that. But that doesn’t mean there’s no validity to my point of view. Here’s a quick recap:

– This world needs less talk, and more action.

– VO rates have been steadily eroding.

– Being a voice-over can be unhealthy, and lonely.

– Finding the work often takes more time than doing the work.

– It may take years before you make some serious money.

WHAT’S MY OBJECTIVE

Let’s be honest. Are these really the statements of some disenchanted, fearful soul, meant to scare newcomers off his lawn? Or am I simply restating a few arguments countless colleagues have made for many, many years?

If you have a problem with these conclusions, why shoot the messenger? Why not write to that online casting site you paid good money to, and ask them to raise the minimum rate, and to do some decent quality control? You’re an esteemed member. Shouldn’t you have a say in these matters?

And to commentator Scott Spaulding I’d like to say this:

You claim that there is money in voice-overs, and that’s fine. Your profile on Elance/Odesk tells me that your minimum hourly rate is $38. You voiced an animated infographic for $82! And you’re telling me that you’re “not working for beer money?”

Are you serious?

You wrote:

“(…) just because you work as a voice talent, doesn’t mean you don’t have any interaction with anyone. You can still pick up the phone and call a client directly to try to build a relationship that way. As well as cold-calling potential clients and try to build a report with someone other than through email.”

Yeah, let’s cold call a client to break the social isolation, and build a relationship. I’m sure that’ll go over really well. We all know how much people love to get a cold call. I haven’t had one in a while, and I really miss it.

WHO’S HYPOCRITICAL

I do have to commend you for your honesty, Scott. You said:

“I did find your comment about the voice conference speakers a little bit hypocritical though. You make a snarky remark about the VoiceVIP’s talking about themselves and plugging their own books at these conferences… when you’re doing the same thing on this blog! You have a link to your book on this page that says “Buy the book!” They’re using the conferences to help advertise and sell their book and you use this blog to help advertise and sell your book. You even plugged your book in one of your replies to someone who posted a comment.”

Are you saying that I shouldn’t promote my own work on my own website? What school of business did you go to? You’re on my turf, and the number one goal of this site is to generate an income. How is that hypocritical? You have samples of your work on your website, don’t you? 

There’a big difference between landing on my site, and going to a VO conference. The 5,000+ people who visit my site every month pay zero dollars. What do they get for that? Over 120 blog posts that many visitors find informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Unlike some VO-conferences, I’m not asking people to pay a hefty fee for my privilege to plug my products.

BEING PRODUCTIVE

Scott, I totally disagree with you on your definition of “productive.” You said:

“Whatever you’re doing that is helping build your VO business IS being productive. Whether it’s looking up places to contact, working on a new demo, emailing potential clients, looking up new marketing ideas… it’s all part of working towards your goal of getting business!”

Being busy does not equal being productive. 

In any business, input leads to output. Input can be anything used to produce a product or a service (such as writing newsletters and emails, producing demos, making calls). Productivity is measured by the result of those actions. It’s the output that matters.

When you’re delivering services at a more rapid rate than before, you’re being more productive. Not when you’re making more calls, or when you’re doing market research.

MY MOTIVATION

As an envelope-pushing, pot-stirring blogger I accept the fact that people will criticize and ridicule me. Different opinions and dialogue are welcome, as long as we can have a civilized discussion. 

I also realize that not everyone gets my tongue-in-cheek style. People tend to take the written word more literally, and snarcasm is not for everyone.

I never ask my readers to agree with anything I’m suggesting, but here’s the thing. I don’t provoke for the sake of provocation. The aim of last week’s piece was to provide a counterweight to all the propaganda from companies that are still trying to sell the same old story to a new, naive audience. If anything, I had expected a firm response from those companies. Instead, some colleagues accused me of dissuading newbies to join my club.

“If you don’t have anything positive to say, then perhaps you shouldn’t say it,” is their advice.

Sorry, but that’s not how I was raised.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I do more than complain and campaign. And when I spot things in my industry that seem unfair or downright wrong, I speak up. I don’t care if that makes a few people uncomfortable. As long as things are comfortable, nothing will change.

So, allow me to be that self-appointed watchdog. I may step on a few toes here and there, but my bark is worse than my bite.

You see… I told you so:

This industry is going to the dogs!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet. 

photo credit: Miss Olive via photopin (license)


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