nethervoice

Take a Sneak Peek

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Freelancing, Journalism & Media 3 Comments

Things are in full swing at Nethervoice Publishing!

My book Making Money In Your PJs will be available in a couple of weeks, and most people want to know what’s in it.

The following, taken from the introduction, will give you a quick overview.

From the outside, a voice-over career seems almost ideal. You talk into a microphone and you get paid. In Part One of this book, I’ll debunk the most prevalent myths that unscrupulous sales people use to try to sell you expensive voice-over trainings and demo-packages. You’ll also get a much better idea of whether or not a voice-over career is for you.

Part Two deals with self-guided learning, coaching, and voice acting. I’ll tell you what producers and agents are listening for when they’re evaluating auditions, and how you can learn to let a script speak to you. I will also reveal my number one trick to get rid of loud breaths and other mouth noises that can mess up your recordings.

In the next section chapter we get down to business. Most newcomers to voice-over will give up within a year because they don’t know anything about freelancing. Part Three prepares you for the road ahead by learning from other people’s failures and successes. That way, you don’t have to start from scratch. I’ll also talk about selecting the right gear and about home studios. If you are serious about voice acting, you’re going to need both.

Having a pleasant voice is nice if you want to become a voice-over, but it’s not essential. However, making sure that clients can find you is crucial for your career. In “Spreading the Word” (Part Four), you’ll learn how to market yourself through your website and social media, and by developing a personal brand. It’s the story of “telling, not selling” any freelancer can benefit from.

If you want to build a long-term career, you’ll need your colleagues just as much as you need your clients. In Part Five I’ll tell you how to separate the pros from the con artists, and I will introduce you to some of the colorful characters you’re bound to meet in this crazy business.

Whether or not you are going to make it as a pro, will depend as much on your ability to read scripts as on your ability to read clients. That’s what Part Six is about. I will show you what you need to know before you start bidding on projects, and I’ll share my experience with one of the most popular voice casting sites.

Part Seven is about money. It doesn’t matter what you do as a freelancer, but if you don’t learn how to manage your money, you are sabotaging your success. I will spend a good deal of time discussing what you’re worth so that you won’t ever sell yourself or your colleagues short. And if you’ve ever been short-changed by a client, the chapters on collecting money are a must-read.

Next up, I’ll talk about the secret ingredient that can make or break a freelance career: Attitude. Part Eight is called “The Inner Game.” Life as a solopreneur can be a roller coaster ride. Some months you’ll feel on top of the world. Other months you may feel like hanging up your hat. How do you deal with that, emotionally? Well, you’re about to find out.

Whether you’re trying to make it as a voice actor, a graphic designer or a writer, freelancing is a means to an end. No matter what we do, our working life affects our private life, and the other way around. In the last part of this book you’ll hear more about the things that move me personally and professionally. 

That’s all you’re going to see for now.

I’m working hard to get the PDF-version of the book ready, so I can send it to the first fifty commentators who responded last week. Thank you for your patience!

Meanwhile, you can follow the news about Making Money In Your PJs on a special Facebook page: www.facebook.com/moneyinyourpjs, as well as on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MoneyInYourPJs.

Stay in touch!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
photo credit: will_i_be via photopin cc


I’m Giving My Book Away

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 118 Comments

3D 1

Well, there you have it!

What do you think?

In a few weeks, my 300+ page book will be available in print and as an eBook. Later this year you can expect the release of the audio version, narrated by the author. He’s giving me a very special rate! 

Until then, you can keep track of the progress and the official release date on a new Facebook page which I’d love you to like:

The Facebook page of "Making Money In Your PJs" by Paul Strikwerda.

I’ll also be posting updates on a new Twitter account:

The Twitter account of  "Making Money In Your PJs" by Paul Strikwerda.

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

In the next week I am launching a website (www.makingmoneyinyourpjs.com), that will do several things:

- promote the book with previews and reviews;

- serve as a companion to the paperback edition with hyperlinks from the eBook;

- provide an easy way to learn more about the author and ways to get in touch with him.

But that’s not all. Eventually, this website will evolve into something much bigger and better. More about that at a later stage.

WOULD YOU LIKE A FREE COPY?

Do you want to be among the first to read my book?

To celebrate the release of Making Money In Your PJs, I am offering a free PDF copy to the first 50 people who leave a short comment in the comment section below. Just make sure you fill in your email address before you click “ADD COMMENT.” Otherwise I can’t reach you. Please do not leave your email in the comment box.

The PDF-version will be ready in seven to ten days, and I’ll send it to you via wetransfer.com.

Meanwhile, enjoy Making Money In Your PJs!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Looking for a graphic designer? Try crowdsourcing with 99designs. That’s where I found mine. Last week I wrote about the process.

Get a free $99 upgrade when you click on this link. It’s valid for the next two weeks. 


Warning: This Post is Rather Graphic!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Journalism & Media 15 Comments

Book loveIt’s time to let the cat out of the bag.

Many of you have asked for it, and it’s only fair that you are among the first to know.

This spring I’ll publish my first book!

I’ve already written a few guides: Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget, Boosting Your Business with a Blog, and a short paper called Selling more Real Estate with Videos and Voice-Overs. You can order them through my online shop.

My new book will become available in 10+ eBook stores, and you’ll be able to buy the paperback version on Amazon. Being a voice-over, I am also working on a spoken version. I just have to find a narrator who can do my work justice…

Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches to the manuscript. Proofreaders are making sure that this Dutchman’s English can pass the grammar and spelling test.

In the past week I’ve been working with a number of graphic designers to come up with an eye-catching cover. Today I’ll walk you through that process. Not because I expect you to be needing someone to design a book cover for you. I want to talk about it to give you an idea of what it’s like to be on “the other side.”

TURNING THE TABLES

You see, normally I’m the one that gets hired. This time around I’m doing the hiring. It’s an intriguing perspective that has taught me a lot in a short period of time. I think it’s also interesting for you, because you may be looking for someone to design a new logo, stationery, business card or a website.

Let me make one assumption right off the bat: You’re running a for-profit business and you’d like to keep your expenses down. So, the first question you have to ask yourself is twofold:

How important is my professional image and how much is it worth to me?

If you’re hoping to attract well-paying clients who don’t yet know you, image is everything. First impressions speak volumes. You may be selling high-quality goods, but if your store looks disheveled, you don’t exactly exude trust. In a world where the competition is only a short click away, you have a few seconds to impress, so you’d better make an impact.

Second question: Are you going to hire a cheap amateur or a more expensive pro? Third: Would you consider hiring a talented family member or a friend?

GETTING TOO CLOSE

Let’s start with the last point. If family ties and friendships mean anything to you, please do not hire someone from your inner circles. Not even a friend of a friend or a second cousin twice removed. Keep those relationships clean. They are too precious to be muddled by money. You can’t afford to lose a friend with a fragile ego, just because you’re too cheap to pay a pro.

It may sound strange, but I find I can be more direct with a professional than with a friend. There’s no baggage and there are no sensitive toes to step on. Instead, there’s distance that allows both parties to focus on the project. It’s much easier to critique and possibly fire someone you don’t run into every Thanksgiving, Passover, or Easter.

The choice between hiring a talented amateur and a pro is not an issue for me. It would be hypocritical to pick a budget-friendly hobbyist over a professional. In my line of work I’d never recommend doing that. Why would I make a different choice when it comes to selecting a graphic designer? Quality work always pays for itself, many times over.

SEARCHING FOR TALENT

My next hurdle was finding the perfect professional to create that eye-catching book cover. I have never published a book before, and typing “graphic designer” into Bing gave me 109 million results. That was no help. So I asked around. After a week I had a few names and phone numbers, but none of those who were recommended specialized in eBook covers.

For unknown authors such as myself, it is absolutely critical to have a striking cover. Not only did I want to avoid the self-published look, the cover had to stand out in an ocean of postage-stamp-sized images in online eBook stores. It also seemed a good idea to work with more than one designer.

That’s why I turned to crowdsourcing. It allowed me to tap into a collective of artists, and ask for contributions from a vast online community.

CREATIVE COLLECTIVE

99designs.com is such a community. Whether you need a logo for your business, a website, an app, posters, flyers, product packaging, brochures, or book covers, 99designs.com can connect you to an international crowd of creatives.

It’s easy to get started. First you select what you need and then you launch a contest. It begins with writing a design brief, telling a bit about yourself, your project, and your target audience. You can also include ideas, images, sketches, and other documents that might be helpful. Once that’s done, you pick a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum package.

For $299 (bronze), you can expect about thirty designs. There’s a money-back guarantee should none of the designs meet your expectations. Once the contest is under way, you have seven days to pick a winner.

Just to be clear, only the winning designer gets paid, and 99designs takes a commission depending on which package is chosen and the level of support provided. 

THE CONTEST

In the first couple of days you hold a qualifying round that’s open to all designers. During that time you can rate the designs that come in, and you can give feedback to each contestant. Based on that, they can refine their design or come up with something new. You can also eliminate what you don’t like.

In the second round you pick a few finalists and you work with each of them to get closer to the design you want. At the end of the week, you crown a winner. After that, you can continue to work with that winner to tweak the end product to perfection.

I have to tell you that I loved every minute of this process. It took up a lot of time, but it was so worth it. I had been dreaming of a book for years, and now professionals from all over the world were inspired by the title and my description. It was fantastic to see how people transformed the same words into very different designs. Seeing my name and the title of the book on a 3-D mock cover gave me goose bumps. All of a sudden, an abstract idea became concrete!

LESSONS LEARNED

All in all, 17 designers presented me with 61 entries. That was way more than I expected at the bronze level. Here’s what I learned along the way.

1. The more specific you are in your brief, the greater the chance that you’ll get designs that are to your liking.

The first draft of my brief was purposely vague because I didn’t want to get in the way of someone’s creativity. A number of designs that were based on that brief were as original as they were hideous. But sometimes you have to see what you don’t like in order to find out what you do like. I bet many of our voice-over clients listening to auditions feel the same way.

As soon as I became more clear in my instructions, I received entries that had a lot of potential.

2. You have to be flexible and proactive to attract more designers.

My contest started as an open competition. This means that every designer could see what other colleagues had entered. Some were not comfortable with that and asked me to turn it into a blind contest. That way, no one could steal their ideas. As soon as I did that, some great new designers entered my contest.

I also decided to revoke the money-back guarantee. This meant that at the end of the process, I promised to pick a winner, no matter what. This made it more attractive for some contestants to take part. It showed them I was serious.

Lastly, I studied the online portfolios of hundreds of designers, and I sent invites to those that really spoke to me. This turned out to be the key to finding my winning designer!

3. The best designers base their entries on ideas from the client and not on their personal preferences.

I wanted to use the color scheme of my website for my book cover because it is part of my branding. A number of designers did their own thing and came up with very dark designs. That made it easy for me to rule them out. I also put in my brief that I wanted to avoid the stereotypical microphone on the cover of a book about voice-overs. In spite of that, some thirty percent of entries had microphones.

Some added tulips to their design. Now, if you’re already familiar with my site, that’s not a bad idea. However, I want to reach a new audience with my book. People do judge a book by its cover and there’s no natural connection between Dutch flowers, freelancing and voice-overs.

I also received a number of designs that would do well in the business section of Barnes & Noble. They made strong statement as covers, but they lacked a certain whimsicality and lightness which I had specifically asked for. 

4. Top designers are great communicators and are open to feedback.

On the first day of the contest I received an entry that really made me laugh. I absolutely loved it. However, the subtitle of my book was missing and I asked the designer to add it. In fact, I reached out to him/her twice. In seven days, I never heard a word. If someone is not responsive in the initial phase, how can I trust that this will change once we’re working together for real?

Nelly Murariu, the young artist who ended up being my top pick, describes herself as “a passionate self-taught graphic designer with a big heart and a desire to get better at what I do every day.” She was quick to answer my questions, even later in the day. I don’t know how she did it, because she lives in Bucharest, Romania! Her English was flawless and she has a great sense of humor. She made sure she understood what I really wanted, before making any changes.

At one point I suggested something that I thought would improve the look of the book. It was a bad idea. Nevertheless, Nelly adjusted her design accordingly. When she sent it back to me, I immediately saw that her initial concept made much more sense. To me, this proved that she knew how the mind of a client operates: If you show ‘em, you don’t have to tell ‘em. 

5. Winning designers go above and beyond.

Every time Nelly came back with an improved design, it was way better than what I had imagined. My instructions asked for a design that would work for an eBook, as well as for the print version. Nelly sent me 3-D renditions of the paperback, 2-D images of the front and back, as well as the eBook version. In other words: it was very clear what I was buying.

At one point I asked her if she could retouch the author picture on the back because my face looked a bit orange. It turned out that she had already fixed it. This girl read my mind! I felt a bit sorry for the other designers. Mind you, there were some very strong contenders, but every time a cover from another designer came in, I compared it to Nelly’s work.

Most importantly, Nelly made me feel like I was her only client and top priority.

She was so good that I ended up skipping the second phase of the contest where designers go head to head, and I crowned her the winner. You can find her on 99designs as “Nellista,” and you can contact her directly by clicking this link.

A COMPLETE SUCCESS?

To date, 99designs has a pool of 290,172 designers. In 2012 it opened its European headquarters in Berlin, and has launched localized versions of its services in German, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian. Since the start in 2008, the site has paid out $71,576,558 to the designer community through more than 288,987 contests. Impressive numbers, no doubt, but not every designer is happy with how the 99designs works or the commission it takes. It can be as high as 35 – 40%.

Imagine working hard to come up with two or three entries and walking away with absolutely nothing. Well, if you’ve ever auditioned for a voice-over job, you already know how that feels. The big difference is that when we audition, we usually only read a short sample script, whereas these designers are asked to come up with a complete logo, a brochure or a poster. It’s a great concept for clients like me, but it can get demotivating for designers.

Still, no one is forced to offer their services on 99designs. It’s a relatively easy way to get in touch with clients and possibly develop long-term relationships. I will certainly turn to Nelly for future projects, and I highly recommend her to anyone in need of a graphic designer.

For the next two weeks, you can get a free $99 upgrade through this link: http://99designs.refr.cc/W3F6SSR. This offer expires April 10th.

If you’re curious to find out what my book looks like, stay tuned. Next week I will reveal the title, and the cover Nelly designed for me.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be Sweet. Please retweet!
photo credit: Carlos Porto via photopin cc


Turning a Hobby into a Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 17 Comments

Baby pointing at beer.It often starts with a compliment:

“I just love your voice. I could listen to it for hours.”

“Wow, you take great pictures.”

“Your jewelry is absolutely amazing.”

“You’re a born writer.”

Followed by:

Have you ever thought of doing this professionally?

For a moment you are flattered, but you quickly dismiss the compliment and say:

“Thank you so much. It’s just something I like to do for fun.”

But after hearing the same comments from different people, your brain starts playing with the possibility. Someone planted a seed in your mind and it’s definitely growing! One day, you wake up in the middle of the night with this question:

“What if?”

“What if I were to turn my hobby into something I could do for a living? Why shouldn’t I get paid for something I love doing. What could be more fun than that?”

And that’s where the trouble begins.

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

Before you give up your day job and spend a ton of money on a fantasy, take one step back and ask yourself:

What do these “admirers” actually know about running this type of business?

Do they know what it takes to make money as a voice-over? Do they have any idea how much a photographer needs to invest before he can open a studio? Can they tell the difference between fine art jewelry and a design from a dabbler? How can they be sure you’re destined to win the Man Booker Prize a few years from now?

Advice from friends, family and other nitwits, no matter how well-intended and pleasing to the ear, is probably the worst advice you can get.

If you want to know if you have potential, go to a pro without a hidden agenda.

By that I mean: Find someone who’s not intent on selling something to a sucker. This world is filled with unscrupulous characters who will tell you what you want to hear in order to make a sale. You need someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear. Someone who has nothing to lose and nothing to gain by being brutally honest.

Once the verdict is in, you have to find another pro and then another, before making a decision that could change your life and the lives of those who are near and dear to you. And if those pros confirm what others have told you, it’s time to do some serious research to really understand what you are getting yourself into. There is a reason why so many startups fail. Twelve months from now you don’t want to be in over your head, heavily in debt and hating your hobby.

ONE STEP BACK

Before you take further action, there’s more homework to do. Ask yourself:

What is it about this hobby that I enjoy so much? What does it do for me?

Someone I know is a pretty successful home brewer. His Pale Ales have won several prizes, and for some reason his friends always want to meet at his house. At one point he thought of setting up shop and asked me if he should go for it. I told him:

“I can’t give you an answer because I know nothing about the market and very little about beer. Let me ask you a question instead:

What do you like so much about making your own brews?”

He opened one of his bottles and said:

“When I go down to the basement to play with my hops, I leave all the worries of work behind. There’s nobody looking over my shoulder. I take as much time as I like. I can pick the best ingredients and I never have to compromise quality. There’s no pressure to perform. If one of my brews doesn’t turn out right, who cares? I’ll just try again. I’m telling you, it’s the most relaxing feeling in the world.”

He took another sip of his beer and looked at me, knowingly.

“Thank you,” he said, after a short pause.

“For what?” I wondered.

He put the bottle down and smiled: “I think I just answered my own question. I love my hobby so much, I’d never do it for a living!”

“I’ll drink to that,” I said. “L’Chaim!”

THE NOT SO SECRET INGREDIENTS

Just as every beer is based on a recipe, there is a recipe for those who want to turn their hobby into a business. These are the three basic ingredients: (continued on page 2)


8 Ways to Increase Web Traffic – Guaranteed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion 15 Comments

pretty girl holding a megaphoneLast week I revealed that this blog had reached 5,000 subscribers. Since then, this number has increased by another thousand, and I haven’t seen any signs of a slowdown.

If you’re wondering how I got to this point and how you can get there too, stay tuned. But before I tell you what worked for me, I have a confession to make.

To me, blogging is not a numbers game. It never was and it never will be.

Having lots of subscribers is nice, but I see it as a side-effect and not as a goal. A bigger platform simply gives the author a bigger bullhorn, but it doesn’t make the message any better. In fact, there are thousands of blogs with tons of subscribers that are pumping out a constant stream of sponsored bullsh*t we could live without.

I sometimes compare playing the numbers game to the marketing strategy of a well-known fast food chain. Just because they’ve served billions of customers doesn’t mean their food is any good. I usually try to avoid those places.

SOCIAL PROOF

Having said that, big numbers seem to be an indication of social proof, but I know my readers are more intelligent than that. They realize that social proof is nothing but assumed influence, mostly based on shallow observations and hearsay.

So, while I am really happy that my readership is growing, I look for other indicators to find out if I’m on the right track with my blog and my website. 

It’s one thing to get people to visit your corner in cyberspace. Having them hang around for a while is something else. That’s why I always look at the average length of a visit

We live in a culture of impatient, overstimulated and easily distracted internet users. Most visitors spend about two minutes on my site. That may not seem very long, but the average time people spend on a webpage is between 10 to 20 seconds. One of my goals for this year is to increase the average length of a visit to my site. So, stay a while, will you?

Next, I look at the Bounce Rate. That’s the percentage of visits that go to only one page before leaving the site. Home pages are known to have the worst bounce rates with 70-90% of visitors going somewhere else. Blogs do slightly better with an average bounce rate of 40-60%. At the moment, my bounce rate is 1.58%. No complaints there. 

VISITORS & ENGAGEMENT

Another metric I track is the number of unique visitors to my website. Those are all the people who are visiting my site for the first time. Of course I love every single visit, but having a growing number of unique visitors means I manage to attract a new audience for my blog and for my services. In the right-hand margin (under the Facebook Like-box) you can see the number of unique visitors to my site in the last 31 days, as measured by Google Analytics (if you’re reading this on a computer)

Even though I’m quite happy with these numbers, there’s one thing I value even more. It’s the level of engagement. I know it’s a buzzword in the online marketing industry, but to me it’s crucial. One indicator of engagement is the average length of a visit. I also look at what type of response I elicit in the social media. How many “likes” does a particular post attract? How many times is a story shared and by whom?

What I particularly value are the responses to my blog posts. Those who care to comment go beyond just passively reading the words on the page. It takes time and energy to come up with a thoughtful remark. Mind you, just because you don’t see a lot of comments at the bottom of the page doesn’t mean that people have nothing to say. Some prefer to share their remarks on LinkedIn or on Facebook. Others send me an email or a tweet.

By the way, did you know that one of my voice-over colleagues was recently hired after a client read his comments on one of my blog posts?

Now, for the big question: How do you get all this traffic and interaction going?

(continued on page 2)


Five Thousand!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 20 Comments

5000 subscribers!It happened almost overnight and I can barely believe it.

You, my readers, have given me a gift for which I am incredibly grateful.

Every week, I take a a couple of hours to sit down and reflect on what’s happening in my world. And when I put my thoughts in writing and publish them in my blog, it touches your world.

When I first started in 2009, I had no idea who would be willing to listen or respond. But almost five years later, it is clear to me.

You are!

Every week you come back and you connect. You’ve added comments, you’ve sent me emails and you have reposted, retweeted and quoted this blog thousands of times. Every year, the ripple effect became a bit bigger. And now we’ve hit another milestone together.

As of today, this blog has 5,000 subscribers!

Now, in the world of blogging giants with millions of followers, 5,000 is a very, very modest number. To me, however, it is huge.

The voice-over community to which I belong is relatively small and scattered. But we talk a lot and we write a lot. Terrifically talented colleagues are sharing their insights and experiences like never before. It’s amazing to be a part of that community, and to be able to contribute to the ongoing dialogue in our midst.

Today, I’m not posting a long essay on the state of our industry or on the inner game of voice acting.

Today I just want to say thank you for the chance you are giving me, to let my words resonate in your world.

It’s a privilege and an opportunity I promise to never take for granted.

Gratefully yours,

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Asking for a Raise

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

The project was perfect.

It had my name written all over it.

Better still, I didn’t even have to submit a demo. It was mine!

There was only one problem: the budget. It was a bit low.

I asked myself: “Shall I do it anyway?” It would certainly be nice to add another prestigious brand name to my portfolio. And if they liked me, perhaps they’d hire me at a better rate next time.

Seconds later I knew I wasn’t making any sense. Big brands have big budgets. Even for voice-overs. And every sales person on earth knows that the first offer is never the best. It’s a test.

Assume I’d say yes to what they were offering right now. I’d set a precedent. Why would a client feel inclined to pay me more next time? 

If I really wanted this job, there was only one solution: I had to ask for a raise.

Now, if you ask the average American worker what they fear most, it is negotiating salary. Most people feel lucky to have a job or a job offer. They’d rather take what’s on the table, than risk losing everything.

If we are to believe recent polls, less than a third of respondents say they negotiate salary after receiving a job offer, and that number is going down every year. One-fifth of U.S. workers never even bring it up. Almost half of the people who were interviewed didn’t bother to ask for a raise during an annual performance review. What does that tell us? 

When it comes to asking for money, people are terrified and insecure. Women more so than men.

They’re also unprepared.

Let’s start with that.

The first lesson in “Asking for a raise 101” is to know what you’re worth. That means doing your homework. Some colleagues are more diligent than others. Take the folks who don’t have a clue how much they should charge. As a result they are practically asking for peanuts. 

I don’t believe that every lowballer bidding on a specific freelance job is purposely trying to undercut the competition. They’re offering to do it for less because they believe their rate is perfectly reasonable. They’ll tell you: “A hundred bucks for a two-minute voice-over is good money. It beats bagging groceries at the supermarket.”

What they forget is that they’re comparing apples and oranges. Voice-overs don’t bill for their time or for how many customers they can serve during an eight-hour shift. Voice-overs get paid for their expertise and their experience.

You cannot compare the salary of a steady job with benefits to the unpredictable position of a freelancer who has to build things like health insurance and a pension plan into his rate.

A freelance fee also has to pay for the many hours spent looking for work; it has to pay for marketing, for materials used, rent of work space, an internet connection, a smart phone, a laptop, continued education et cetera. Those are expenses employees with a nine to five job don’t have.

Uneducated and inexperienced freelancers can leave a lot of money on the table because they’re bidding blindly. They plug in a number without bothering to check how much others are asking for similar services. That, by the way, was how I knew that what this client with the perfect project was offering, was not enough.

Here’s the thing. If you’re going to ask a potential client to increase the budget, you need to know how much you want and why you want it. Don’t assume the client will understand. Tell him or her why you believe you deserve it. Make clear how much work is involved. If he’s offering a local rate for a nationwide commercial, explain that a greater reach comes with a different price tag. If the job requires hours of editing, let the client know that you have to build that into your fee.

Communication is crucial.

Providing your client with information is just one part of the negotiation process. How you present that information is even more important. If you’re just trying to get a few extra bucks out of the deal but you haven’t convinced yourself that you’re worth it, you won’t get anywhere. Clients aren’t stupid. They pick up on all the non-verbals.

If you’re not confident that you should be paid a certain amount, you will sound insecure. You’ll use words as “perhaps” and “maybe.” Your voice will quiver and go up at the end of a sentence as if you’re not really sure of yourself. You’ll cave after the first objection.

If, on the other hand, you feel strongly about your case, your voice needs to reflect confidence. You’re stating facts. You’re not opening the door to a discussion. Your fee is your fee. Period.

I’m not asking you to act like an arrogant jerk. I’m simply asking you to stand up for yourself. Be respectful and keep it businesslike.

What you’re actually doing is selling. You’re telling the client: Trust me! Buy me!

Would you rather buy from someone who sounds confident or from someone who doesn’t sound sure of what he or she is doing?

In my case, I didn’t need a confidence boost. After all, the client had contacted me, and of all the voices they could have picked, they wanted me to do the job. That put me in a stronger bargaining position. Still, there’s always the possibility that they could go shopping for a cheaper voice. That brings me to lesson number three:

Be prepared to walk away from a bad deal.

You’ve done your homework. You know what you’re worth and you’ve stated your case with confidence.

Be ready to be rejected.

Should that happen, don’t take it personally. It’s just money and you’ll get better job offers. Besides, if you get a sense that there’s a willingness to continue the negotiation, you can always try to meet in the middle. Know your bottom line and give them a new number. Don’t quit the game while you’re still playing. 

If you really feel that there’s no wiggle room, don’t waste your energy. Thank the client for contacting you and refer them to a colleague who you know charges even more than you do. That will give them something to think about.

Don’t be surprised if the client gets back in touch once they realize that your rate wasn’t so bad after all…

I didn’t have to go that far that to secure my perfect project. All I needed was a brief email exchange.

Based on the word count, I told my client how long it would take me to record his script. He was new to voice casting and had no idea it would take that many hours. After checking in with his supervisor, he accepted my quote and that was that.

Looking back, it didn’t take much and it didn’t take long for me to negotiate an amount I could live with. That doesn’t make me special. Anyone can do it, yet, not everyone will. It depends on your mindset. 

Realize this.

If you leave money on the table, it means your client isn’t paying for it.

You are!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!
photo credit: anicaps le forum via photopin cc


Spoon Feeding Blabbermouths

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 29 Comments

Let’s say you’ve made somewhat of a name for yourself in the VO-community.

Your weekly blog is doing really well and colleagues want to be friends with you.

People you don’t know seem to value your opinion and start reaching out.

They write messages that begin with praise, and of course you’re flattered. At the same time you can sense where this is going. Inevitably, there will be a paragraph at the end of the email that goes like this:

“I admire your work and I respect your opinion. You must be very busy, but….
- What do you think of my demo?
- How much should I charge as a beginner?
- Which online casting service is the best?
- What microphone do you recommend?
- How do I get an agent? Can you introduce me to yours?
- Why is there a hum on my recording?
- I do tons of auditions but I never get hired. What am I doing wrong?
Any tips that could help me in my career are more than welcome!”

On one hand I’m happy that strangers trust me enough to ask for advice. On the other, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. I want to help, but I also have a business to run. Clients are waiting to hear back from me. There’s editing to be done. That guest post I’m writing isn’t finished yet and on top of that I’m fighting a cold.

More importantly: Where does friendly advice end and where does professional coaching begin?

Then there’s the issue of money. Even though my opinion is considered to be valuable, it is almost always assumed that my advice is free.

That bothers me.

NOT ALONE

As a voice talent, blogger and coach, I’m not the only one having to deal with this situation. Perhaps there’s something to learn from how other professionals approach this problem.

The following question was posted on a forum for IT professionals:

“Because I’m a programmer, people constantly ask me to fix their computer. How do you handle this situation? Do you make exceptions for relatives, friends and co-workers? Do you charge people for it?”

This is the answer that got the most votes:

“Here’s what you do:

• If it’s a Windows box say, “I only know how to fix Macs.”
• If it’s a Mac say, “I only know how to fix PC’s.”
• If it’s a Linux box say, “You’re a Linux user… fix it yourself!”

Here are a few other suggestions:

“Say you’ll fix their computer. Open their temporary internet files folder and then look totally shocked when you discover the obligatory hardcore porn images that are bound to be there. They probably will be too ashamed to ever ask you again.”

“I have an amazon.com wish list. I do genuinely like helping people, however I feel my time is worth something. Where accepting cash may not feel 100% appropriate, sending them my Amazon wish list has worked very well for me.”

“I give them a visiting card (made for this occasion) and I ask them to schedule an appointment to talk about the problem. End of the story.”

“My personal strategy is just to be very, very busy. Nine out of ten times they’ll find other help by the time I get around to it.”

“I tell them: “I am a programmer, not an administrator. You would not ask an architect to repair your roof, either. Of course, this works with almost everybody, except with my mom. Nowadays I just tell her to get a Mac.”

“My conditions are: First half hour is free, after that, it’s $100/hr. Reason: I like to help people but I don’t like it when I’m abused as free support. So if it really is “just a simple tiny thing,” then no problem, can do. But often “simply tiny problem” stands for “I have no idea what’s wrong; just fix it for me!” As soon as money is involved, they stop and start thinking if it’s really worth it.”

“I fixed her computer (the printer was unplugged!). Now, 4 years later, we’re married!”

Did any of these solutions strike a chord with you?

MY OWN ROLE

As I was trying to figure out how to best deal with requests from my fans, friends and followers, I realized one thing: I created this situation.

I always encourage my readers to respond. The opportunity to connect with people from all over the globe is one of the blessings of writing a blog. But some days it is a mixed blessing. With 4,600+ subscribers, I have to come up with a way to handle questions and comments effectively and efficiently.

Let’s start with blog comments. If you take the time to publicly respond to one of my articles, you deserve to be acknowledged. Quite often, your reaction will give me a chance to delve a bit deeper into what I’ve been writing about, or to clear up misunderstandings. The bottom line: if you care to comment, you can expect an answer.

As of this moment, there are almost 3,600 comments on this blog and my guess is that half of them were penned by me in response to someone’s remarks. (the oldest article dates back to May 2009).

Now, what do I do with questions that reach me outside of this blog? Well, I start by looking at three things:

1. Who’s asking?
2. What are they asking?
3. How are they asking?

You’d be surprised how many people contact me out of the blue without even introducing themselves. Maybe they have a feeling they already know me because they’ve been reading my blog for a while. Still, why can’t we treat an email as a regular conversation? I’d never walk up to someone new with a question without introducing myself first.

One of the keys that can make or break a career is your ability to build relationships. Don’t expect to get information without a establishing a relation. 

NO BABY TALK

Secondly, I refuse to answer basic questions. It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?

Babies need to be spoon-fed. They’re helpless. Wasn’t it E.M. Foster who said:

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”

In my experience, the answers people find for themselves tend to stick much better than those that have been handed to them on a silver platter.

What I will do, is encourage people to search my blog. With over 190 archived articles, it is likely they’ll find what they are looking for. If I happen to remember a specific story that might be relevant, I often include a link. It reduces my bounce rate

DEMO CRITIQUE

Almost half of those who get in touch, want me to critique their demos and/or website. If the request comes from a colleague I’m close to, I am happy to give feedback. I know they’d do the same for me. If the request comes out of nowhere from someone I don’t know, I will charge a fee for my time and expertise.

I tell my readers all the time how important it is that they value their time and their work. I practice what I preach. Besides, free advice is easily ignored. When people make an investment, they’re much more invested in what they’ve learned because they tend to find it more valuable. 

The decision to charge money turned out to be a huge time-saver. Nine out of ten people hoping to get free feedback will literally drop off the planet as soon as they are asked to pay. Are you surprised?

TASTE TEST

There’s a reason why you can get free samples at your ice cream store. It only makes sense to give a freebie if it increases the chances of making a sale.

The only time I will critique a demo free of charge is when someone’s seriously thinking of hiring me as their coach. Listening to their audio will give me an idea of where they’re coming from and whether or not I want to take them under my wings. At the same time, the person submitting the demo will get a better sense of whether or not I’d be a good fit.

And finally….

A lot of the questions I get, cannot and should not be answered in writing. It would be as silly as teaching someone how to play the Double Bass over the phone. Helping a person with things like script interpretation, diction, breathing and microphone technique, needs a closer, more direct connection. It requires involved interaction over a longer period of time.

THE INNER GAME

You may have noticed that I like to blog about the more psychological aspects of our business. I write about fear of failure, finding your strength, overcoming rejection and so on. Because of that focus, some people turn to me with deeper, more personal questions.

In order to be a successful voice talent, I think it’s just as important to deal with our inner voice, as it is to refine what comes out of our mouth. One affects the other. This very personal aspect is too sacred and too intimate to be dealt with in writing. The spoken word and even silence, can convey infinitely more than letters on a computer screen.

In matters of the soul and of the heart, it’s far more important to actively listen, than to come up with answers. In fact, my personal opinion is irrelevant.

As a coach I believe it’s vital to help people connect to their own wisdom, instead of making them dependent on someone else’s ideas.

How do I facilitate that process?

By asking questions.

You’ve heard me.

Sometimes, questions are the answer.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: freeloosedirt via photopin cc


Competitor or Colleague?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion 14 Comments

The Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

Since day one I have been glued to the television.

For me, that’s a strange thing to do.

I’m not a huge sports fan. I don’t support one particular team. Between you and me, I see sports coverage as the most important of very unimportant news.

I often wonder why millions of people get all psyched about a major sporting event, but seem to care very little about famine, global warming or the annihilation of yet another endangered species on our planet.

I don’t get why some folks are willing to fork over a fortune to buy tickets to a game, but aren’t willing to pay a few dollars more in taxes so their state can properly fund education or repair those bridges that are on the brink of collapse.

I don’t understand why people get all worked up about two teams chasing a round rubber object, but don’t bother to leave the house to vote.

I find it disturbing that music, drama and art teachers are always the first to be fired when schools need to cut jobs, but nobody dares to touch the athletic department.

Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m not fully integrated into American society yet. This is a country where baseball is called “The National Pastime” and where NFL stars are paid more to defend their team’s title than we pay servicemen and women to defend their nation.

How we spend our money as a society, reveals our priorities.

If you want to know what’s important to a country, you should also listen to its language. U.S. politicians talk about “leveling the playing field,” motivational speakers teach strategies for “winning the game of life,” and managers will ask us to “step up to the plate.”

Sport is part of the American spirit.

Enthusiasts tell us that it teaches healthy habits, strategic thinking and teamwork. Sport, they say, is a powerful metaphor for life. 

That may be, but is sport always healthy?

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, an international non-profit organization aimed at preventing unintentional childhood injury, every 25 seconds, a child athlete suffers a sports injury serious enough to send him or her to the emergency room (source). Twenty year-old American snowboarder Trevor Jacob recently admitted that his memory is already a little fuzzy as the result of at least 25 concussions.

And what does sport teach us about relationships?

When we talk about sports, we’re talking about competition. Competition is based on confrontation where being the best is often more important than doing one’s best. The aim is to overpower the other team or fellow-competitor(s), rather than to work together as teams toward a common goal. It’s a black-and-white world of us against the rest. A world of winners and losers.

America does not like losers.

These days, the world of professional sports is also a universe of sponsorships, mega-contracts, endorsements and merchandise. You may be thinking that you’re watching a fun game, but in reality it is a shameless vehicle for product promotion. At this point the ad agencies have conditioned us so well, that many viewers are more excited about the TV commercials than about the game itself.

As voice-overs we’re benefitting from this development because we often lend our voices to these commercials. Fifteen seconds of script can pay the bills for a whole month.

Many of us have embraced sports metaphors in our line of work. We talk about “winning or losing an audition” and we sign up for seminars to stay “ahead of the competition.” A bottle of “Entertainer’s Secret” is the performance enhancing drug of choice.

I think it’s a mistake to compare our job to what athletes do. First of all, most athletes are in much better shape! Secondly, we’re not running a race (although it sometimes may feel that way). We’re not competing for medals.

Yes, just like athletes we need training, quality equipment and experience. Our success demands sacrifice. But submitting an audition is not the same as entering a competition because we do not determine the outcome.

In some sports, the fastest competitor wins. It’s that simple. Winning an audition has little to do with being the best. It’s about being the best fit in the eyes and ears of whoever is casting the part.

As voice talents, we are not opponents. We’re colleagues. We have no title to defend or national reputation to uphold. Your success does not diminish my standing. As far as I’m concerned, we have a common goal:

To increase the standards in our profession and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.

In order to do that, we need to lead by example and we need to stick together.

Clients love to have us fight among ourselves, especially about rates. They’re trying to drive a wedge between those who sell their talent for less and those who refuse to devalue what they have to offer. It’s up to us to play that game or not.

One thing I know for sure.

As long as we see each other as a competitors with a price to beat, there’s only going to be one winner: the client.

Back to the Olympics.

By now you know I’m not that much into sports, but I do watch what’s happening in Sochi. Even though I don’t consider myself to be a chauvinist, I’m rooting for the guys and girls in orange: the Dutch team. But what really got me, was the story of Russian cross-country skier Anton Gafarov. After falling down, one of his skis was badly damaged and when he tried to get up, it snapped in half.

Just as he thought he’d be unable to finish the race, a man came up to him, holding a single ski. Without saying a word, he took Gafarov’s broken ski, and replaced it with the one he had brought. Gafarov was able to complete the race and was met with a rousing ovation. Later it turned out that the good Samaritan was none other than Canadian cross-country coach Justin Wadsworth.

Now, that’s a spirit I love in sports and I love seeing it in my profession too: people helping each other succeed.

We all have our hopes and dreams. Some dream of announcing the Oscars. Snowboard legend Shaun White dreamed of becoming the first American to ever win the same event at three straight Winter Olympics.

He didn’t make it. He left Russia in fourth place. 

Before going to Sochi, a reporter had asked White if he’d be alright with not ending up on the podium. Shaun didn’t miss a beat and said:

“The only time I’d be okay with losing, is when I know I put everything on the line.”

Remember that, the next time you “lose” an audition!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be Sweet. Please retweet.


What To Do When You Are Down

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 37 Comments

girl on obstacle courseWe’ve all had them.

Days, weeks… months perhaps, during which very little seems to go our way.

Clients stop calling. Agents have gone AWOL. Lots of auditions and hardly any bookings.

You’re busy but unproductive. You try to stay positive but it feels fake. Something’s not right.

Meanwhile, colleagues are telling the world how well they’re doing:

“Just booked another spot for a national brand!”

“Signed a long-term narration deal with a successful author!”

“I’m recording my first big video game!”

Rub it in, folks. Rub it in!

I’m happy you’re happy but can you please shut up about it?

One part of you is hopeful, though. You tell yourself: “If these guys are still getting work it means that there’s money to be made.” But another part of you wonders why those people were picked and why your career is going nowhere. What do they have that you don’t? They’re certainly not more experienced or more talented. It all boils down to this question:

“What’s wrong with you?”

Are you too old? Are you charging too much? Should you have bought better equipment? Does your website need an overhaul? Perhaps it’s time to call that famous coach and get a second opinion. But who’s going to pay for that? It was hard enough to come up with the money for this month’s rent.

The only reason I can describe this state so well is because I’ve been there. Several times. I felt like I was pushing and pushing to get my career moving and very little happened. Mind you, I wasn’t counting on an overnight miracle. I just wanted my business to grow steadily. I wanted to be one of the few that would beat the odds. Instead, the odds were beating me and it showed.

Gradually, I became depressed, distracted and disenchanted with what I was doing. Worse even, I began to resent the success others were having. One day, I heard the voice of a friend in a commercial I had auditioned for. He had done a good job, but he did not blow me away. The script was kind of dumb too.

Before I knew it, my internal dialogue took me on a dark path. My inner voice became rather sarcastic and whispered:

“Sure, it would have been nice to have booked that commercial, but when you think of it, the pay may be good but the job is trivial. That’s the thing with commercials. I mean, do we really need to sing the praises of yet another car or computer? Does mankind evolve when we’re all drinking more diabetes in a bottle and sell it as soda? How beautiful is America really, when a majority of the population is obese -something my voice could help promote?

Why should I encourage shallow consumerism whilst our planet is dying? Is that the most meaningful thing I could do with my life right now? Does this world need more voice-overs, or do we need more doctors, teachers, scientists and aid workers? I might as well give up and do something useful with my life.”

The point is this: I wasn’t feeling good about myself and my work and as a result I didn’t feel good about others and their work. But those are two very different things.

In times of crisis, I was looking for something we’re all longing for: a way to find meaning in who we are and what we do. If you don’t find enough meaning, it’s so much harder to bounce back and carry on.

In this process I was reminded of three things that are as simple as they are profound. Here’s number one:

It’s hard to find positive reasons for pursuing a certain path if you’re in an unresourceful state.

Knowingly and unknowingly, I had talked myself into a state of gloom and doom. One way of doing that was by asking myself a loaded question:

“What’s wrong with me?”

It’s a question that can only lead to a distorted view of reality. First of all, it put the blame of what’s happening entirely on me, which is unfair. There’s only so much in life we can influence and there’s very little we can control. The fact that a casting director prefers another voice doesn’t mean that you’re a miserable failure, does it?

Secondly, if we ask ourselves “What’s wrong with me,” our mind starts searching for answers, and I can guarantee you that you’ll get a laundry list of shitty reasons which will make you feel even worse.

You can never find what’s right by looking for what’s wrong.

To turn things around, you need to do at least two things. One: you have to get out of your “Woe is Me” state. Take a break. Literally. Go to a different place, physically and mentally. Go for a walk. Hit the gym. Listen to some great music. Do something healthy that makes you feel good. Take a time-out to change your state of mind.

Two: once you’re in a more resourceful mood, ask yourself a different, more positive question, such as:

“How can I turn this situation around? What’s a small, concrete thing I can do today that will help me and my business?”

Keep it simple and manageable. Massive success is often the result of a series of small steps in the right direction over a long period of time.

Now, the next thing I rediscovered in this process lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. It had to do with how I felt about myself. Here’s my realization:

Who we are and what we do are connected but they are not the same.

It’s so easy to confuse those two things because when someone asks what we do for a living, we’re inclined to say: “I am a voice-over, I am a teacher, a trainer et cetera.” It points to our identity. To me, my work is something I do. I “do” voice-overs. I write a blog…. among many other meaningful things.

If we believe that what we do professionally defines who we are as a person, any blow to our business is personal. The truth is, what we do professionally is only a small aspect of who we are and how we contribute to the world. There are many ways to make life worth living: first and foremost through our relationships with the ones we love and care about.

If we invest in these relationships and they are strong, we have a support system that can get us to the end of the tunnel, no matter how long or how dark it may be.

Strong relationships make us resilient. How? Because we don’t need to prove anything to those who are close. No matter how well or how poorly we do professionally, the ones who are near and dear will love us no matter what.

The third and last rediscovery is more of a personal belief. It’s a mindset that I find tremendously empowering. It goes like this:

“No matter the challenges, I will always find a way out.”

Sometimes a dry spell will last for days. Sometimes it takes a few weeks or even months to get back on track. Eventually, the tide will turn. As long as I don’t wallow in my misfortune and I take small steps to improve my situation every day, I will find a way out.

And you know what?

You will too.

You better believe it!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.
photo credit: ? via photopin cc


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