nethervoice

Don’t Ever Do This To A Client

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 4 Comments

mooningSometimes I think I’m in the wrong business.

Has that ever happened to you? 

Especially during a dry spell, I start looking around, and I see people with a different skill set and a different level of education making tons of money.

All the time.

How fair is that?

Take Tom, for instance. Tom runs a small construction company. A few years ago, Tom and his team did a great job renovating part of our house. His business was still young, and he went above and beyond to make our home more modern. Tom was everything an average contractor isn’t. He was polite, communicative, affordable, he showed up on time, and he delivered on his promises. 

After weeks and weeks of hard work in the scorching July sun, the job was done. Before Tom gave us the keys to our brand new front door, his crew did something surprising. They carefully cleaned up the mess they had made during the renovation. Even our front and back yards received a make-over. How about that!

Needless to say, we sang Tom’s praises to anyone in need of a contractor, and it worked. For the next few months I saw Tom’s truck everywhere, and his business was booming.

He deserved every bit of success, and I was happy for him and his family. If only I could emulate his accomplishments… But, I was in the wrong business. Tom built walls, replaced windows, and renovated kitchens. It was tangible, visible work. All I did was talk for a living. 

Fast forward a couple of years.

Recently we were ready for the second phase of home improvement, and in our mind only one guy had proven himself worthy of the job. So, I called Tom again, and asked him to come over to take a look at what needed to be done.

I didn’t hear back from him for weeks. He did not respond to my messages, and I was worried that he might have left our Borough. However, his truck was parked next to his house, and he was still in business. When he finally answered his phone there was no explanation or apology. He almost sounded like I was inconveniencing him. I didn’t like that.

It took a few more weeks before Tom finally came over, and luckily he brought his old, cheery self. He assessed the work that we wanted done, and promised to give us an estimate within a matter of days. You can probably guess what happened next -or rather- what didn’t happen.

I lost count of how many times I called his business to remind him that we needed that estimate. I tried to sound upbeat and hopeful as I “talked” to Tom after the beep, but some of my messages might have revealed my increased frustration. Weeks and weeks passed, and Tom never returned any of my calls. It was as if I didn’t exist. 

I wondered what would happen if I would run my business like that. It would probably be “game over” in no time. You know what it’s like when an agent sends you a voice-over job that is making the rounds everywhere. You know what you need to do when you’ve spotted the perfect opportunity on a voice casting site. You’ve got to record that audition straight away, or else your voice will be lost in a whirlpool of other talent.

That’s one thing I imagine Tom doesn’t have to worry about. There are only a handful of reputable contractors in my area. Apparently Tom’s so busy, he doesn’t need more work. He can afford to ignore me.

And that’s where Tom and I differ.

At times I am pretty swamped, and job offers keep coming in. When it rains, it usually pours. But no matter how busy I am, I always get back to every client in a matter of hours. Some of them want me to start as soon as possible, and that’s not always an option. In that case I refer them to a reputable colleague. But quite often things are not as urgent as they seem, and I can fit the client in at a later point during the week.

To me this is not an earth-shattering approach, but I might be wrong. Just today, two clients thanked me for quickly getting back to them, as if it was something unusual. Isn’t that weird? I tend to think that the way I conduct business is the way everyone does it. I put in long hours. Others put in long hours. I have high standards. Others have high standards. But here’s what I have noticed.

Some colleagues just don’t seem to care as much, or they stopped caring, for whatever reason. And that’s the thing clients hate the most. They don’t want to be treated as a routine client with a routine job. They don’t want to be ignored or taken for granted. 

Clients are just like real people. People want to be acknowledged. Respected. Appreciated. They want to be treated as if they’re the only client in the world at that moment in time. And if you can give them that feeling, you do more than just a job. You are in the business of building long-lasting relationships.

So Tom… if you are reading this blog, I don’t know what happened to you since you started your company, but I don’t like it one bit. No matter how good you are at what you do, I will no longer recommend you. I will not hire you. I will find someone else to do the job.

Perhaps I will finally hear from you after you have read this, and you’ll give me some kind of lame excuse like: “I’ve been too busy, but it’s just business. Nothing personal.”

Well, you’re wrong about that.

It is always personal.

As a contractor, you come into people’s homes and invade their privacy. You tear up their walls, and you demolish their bathrooms. You fix what’s broken, and you make people feel safe under their own roof again.

I’m a contractor too. A so-called independent contractor. My voice gets in between people’s ears. Sometimes I tell them what to do or what to buy. Other times I read them a good book. It’s safe to say that we have a rather intimate relationship.

I will never take that relationship for granted, not just because it is the lifeblood of my business. I honor that relationship because it is the right thing to do. It’s how I was raised.

Let me end by saying this:

I vow to never let my success prevent me from treating my clients with professionalism, respect, and gratitude.

Even if all I do is talk for a living, I do my very best to walk my talk.

I’ve been doing this for over three decades.

Clients keep on coming, and I thoroughly enjoy what I am doing.

So… perhaps I’m in the right business after all!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.


Filling In The Blanks

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 11 Comments

bartender“It’s too risky, too challenging, too expensive, and you’ll be very lonely”.

That’s what people told me when I announced that I was going to become self-employed. This was many, many moons ago.

I’m sure these folks meant well, but what struck me most was the fact that these self-appointed business coaches were all working in some nine to five job, making money for someone else. They had no clue what it would be like, to be one’s own boss. The idea alone probably terrified them. I say “probably” because I’m not sure.

What happened in these conversations was something that is universally human, and universally flawed: people projecting their own life experiences, values, beliefs, fears, and attitudes onto the life of someone else. Not hindered with practical experience or specific knowledge, they’ll tell you:

“I know precisely what you mean. I know exactly how you feel. I totally get it.”

The question is: Is that really true?

UNDERSTANDING AND BEING UNDERSTOOD

When you hear a seemingly innocent phrase such as “I know how you must be feeling right now,” let me tell you what is actually going on. With a few simple words, your friend, colleague, or family member has become a mind reader, and has managed to shift the conversation away from you and onto them. Hence the prominent use of the pronoun “I.”

They have taken what you wanted to talk about, and used it as an opportunity to refocus the conversation. Perhaps not on purpose, but they did it nevertheless. 

By saying “I know exactly what you mean,” people are also comparing their personal situation to your unique circumstances, as if these two are equal. That is hardly ever the case. Even when situations seem very similar, they rarely are, and people respond to them in their own way. That’s what makes us so interesting, and at times unpredictable.

When people say things like “I know exactly how you feel,” most of us don’t make a big deal about it, unless it concerns something very personal, and there’s a need to be understood. Let me give you an example.

WALKING IN SOMEONE’S SHOES

You may know that my wife has multiple sclerosis. It’s a nasty disease which manifests itself in different ways on different days. One of the most common symptoms is fatigue. Fatigue is different from being tired. It is often described as an acute lack of energy; an unusual and utterly overwhelming whole-body tiredness not relieved by sleep, which prevents a person from functioning normally.

So, when my wife told one of her friends that she was exhausted, and the friend (who doesn’t have MS) responded by saying “I know exactly how you feel,” my wife said:

“Actually, I’m glad you don’t. I would not want to wish this on anybody.”

I remember going to an event where friends and family members were educated about multiple sclerosis. To give me a sense of what it might feel like to experience MS symptoms, a facilitator put weights on my legs which affected my sense of balance.

Blurred vision is another MS symptom, so they had me wear strange goggles that made the world around me look distorted. I could not read a simple text they asked me to read. Then I had to wear thick gloves, and I was instructed to unbutton my shirt, which was totally impossible.

I still remember the frustrating feeling of helplessness as I was wearing this weird outfit. The things I had come to rely upon: my sense of balance, my eyesight, and my sense of touch, were seriously affected. I needed the help of other people to get around and get things done, and I hated losing my independence. For a moment.

Luckily, after a while I could take all these gadgets off, but I tell you: I never looked at my wife in the same way. Never again would I tell her: “I know exactly how you feel.” Even after my limited MS symptom simulation I can’t say I know what it’s like to have an incurable chronic disease. And I hope I’ll never find out.

PERCEPTION AND PROJECTION

Now, this may be an extreme example, but extremes can make things clear. As a human being it is hard not to compare and project. We constantly have to make sense of the world around us, and we use our own experiences as a frame of reference. Based on that I have a few questions for you:

• How often are you aware that your perception is based on projection? 

• How often do you really know what a client means or a what friend feels?

• What would happen if you’d stop filling in the blanks based on your model of the world?

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a personal or in a professional relationship. If you are using your own experience to interpret the world, you are severely limiting yourself, and you’re not doing the other person justice. You’re not even focused on the other person because you’re too busy working things out in your own head.

Or as they say in the East: “You cannot pour tea into a cup that is already full.”

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE

When I give a voice-over student a script and ask him or her to read it as if they were hired to be the narrator, I can predict what is going to happen. The student just starts reading the text. A few paragraphs later I ask them:

“How did you know to read it the way you did? How did you choose the tone, the tempo, the volume, and the accent?”

And most of the time they tell me: “I thought it would sound good this way. That’s all.”

Then I ask:

“Is this what the client wanted?”

“I have no idea,” the student answers. “It’s just a guess. How was I supposed to know?”

“Well, did you ask?” is my response.

And then the coin drops.

You can’t give a client what s/he wants to hear, if you have no clue what it is. You might think you have some idea, but that perception is based on your projection. It’s like asking a bartender to fix you a drink, and he just starts mixing something. Unless you asked to be surprised, you might not like what you are getting, let alone pay for it.

“Am I making any sense?” I asked my student.

“Absolutely,” she said. And then she added:

“Believe me… I know exactly what you mean.”

“Believe me,” I answered.

“You absolutely don’t.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: via photopin (license)


How Dangerous Is Your Voice-Over Studio?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 25 Comments

Ear painVoice-over people are really weird.

Every day they spend a long time sitting in a small, soundproof room, staring at a screen, and talking to themselves.

If they’re good at what they do, they pretend to communicate with an illusive but unresponsive listener.  

Then they spend an eternity listening to themselves as they edit and sweeten the audio.

After hours and hours of sitting on their behinds, these voice-overs emerge out of the darkness, longing for fresh air and an adult beverage.

The next day they do it all over again, because it’s such a glamorous job!

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy this sequestered lifestyle tremendously, but it took me a few years before I got comfortable in my studio. In order to truly feel at home, happy, and safe in my claustrophobic recording cave, I had to add some items and make some adjustments to make life a lot healthier.

Tip: as is always the case, the text in blue is a link to an article or a product I recommend (links open in a new tab). And yes, as stated under “Disclosure” on the right-hand side of this blog, product links will take you to an online retailer. 

EYE PROTECTION

Let’s talk about CVS. No, I don’t mean the American chain of pharmacies. I’m talking about Computer Vision Syndrome (sometimes called DES: Digital Eye Strain). It’s the strain on the eyes that happens when you use a computer or digital device for prolonged periods of time. Common symptoms are eye fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, red, dry, or burning eyes, and even neck and shoulder pain. 

According to the Vision Council (the optical trade association) if you spend two or more hours in front of a digital screen, you’re likely to experience one or more symptoms of CVS. The blue light emitted from these screens seems to play a big role. Blue light or high-energy visible light, is a particularly intense light wave emitted in the 380-500nm range.

The question is: What can you do to protect your eyes from CVS?

One: Make sure the lighting in your studio is comfortable on the eyes. One way to do that is by using bias lighting (backlighting of a television or computer monitor). 

I’ve placed a simple Himalayan Rock Salt Lamp behind my computer monitor. Not only does it emit a nice warm glow, some people believe a salt lamp generates negative ions neutralizing (bad) positive ions coming from electronic devices.

Noticing the benefits of bias lighting in my studio, I went ahead and attached a strip of LED lights to the back of our television. Not only did the contrast ratio of the HDTV improve, my eye fatigue was practically nonexistent after a night of Netflix.

Two: Another way to prevent eye strain is to reduce glare. It helps to use indirect or reflective studio lighting. Some people attach a blue light blocking screen protector to their computer monitor. I always wear tinted computer glasses with a special lens coating to reduce glare.

Three: Blink more often, and take frequent breaks. Taking five-minute “mini-breaks” throughout the work day actually makes people more productive. During your computer breaks, stand up, move about and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to reduce tension and muscle fatigue.

PREVENTING RSI

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a potentially disabling illness caused by prolonged repetitive hand movements, such as those involved in computer use. If you’ve just edited your latest audio book, you know what I’m talking about. Symptoms include intermittent shooting pains in the hands, wrists, forearms, and back.

Taking regular breaks is one way to prevent RSI. It helps to sit up straight, and to use a good chair. Don’t be a cheapskate when you buy one. You’ll be using it for many hours a day. For voice-overs it’s important to make sure the chair is quiet. Too many office chairs make squeaky noises that will make a guest appearance on your recordings.

The seat pan of the chair should be adjusted to tilt slightly forward to encourage a good posture when seated. Your forearms should be approximately horizontal when working, with your shoulders and upper arms relaxed. The seat height should be adjusted accordingly. I’ve also added a lumbar support pillow for extra comfort.

Many people develop RSI in their mouse hand. I use a gel wrist pad to keep my right wrist in a better position while using the mouse. I’ve also invested in an elbow rest (here’s another model) which has helped me tremendously.

It does make a difference what kind of mouse you use. I recommend choosing an ergonomic mouse with a track ball. It’s much easier to quickly move the cursor around, and there’s less strain on the hand. Some colleagues have switched to a track pad and are glad they did. 

By the way, did I tell you that I use two mice when editing my audio with Twisted Wave? The left-hand mouse moves the cursor on the screen, and the right-hand mouse highlights areas and makes the cuts. I used to use the Contour ShuttlePro V.2 for my left hand. It’s a neat, mouse-like controller with programmable buttons. However, using two mice and keyboard shortcuts works just as well for me.

BE KIND TO YOUR EARS

I absolutely adore my fluffy Beyerdynamic DT 880 studio headphones. They’re so comfortable, I don’t even notice that I’m wearing them… for hours in a row. And that’s not a good thing. When I do precision editing, I tend to turn the volume up to hear all the sonic details, and that can be risky.

Here’s the troubling thing: hearing loss is pretty sneaky. It’s usually something that happens gradually. How do you even notice your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be? Well, we have an app for that. Several to be precise. 

For Apple users there’s UHear and the Mimi Hearing Test. For Android users there’s the Hearing Test or the app Test Your Hearing (among other things). Click here to take an online hearing test. 

How can hearing loss be prevented?

For starters, I began using my Eris E5 studio monitors more and more. They usually provide enough clarity and detail for me to edit my audio. I also turned the smart phone volume down to a safer level (go to your settings and drop the volume limit to about 70%).

When I work out in the gym I prefer wearing earbuds. I have replaced the regular tips with memory foam tips that keep the earphones much better in place. They also block out the noise more effectively. That way I don’t have to turn my podcasts up so much. 

When I go to the movies, concerts, or shows, I always bring my Made in Holland Alpine Hearing Protection Earplugs. They’re on my key chain, so I don’t have to remember to take them with me.

Now, there are more things in your studio that are potentially dangerous. For instance, some people don’t respond well to the gases emitted by acoustic foam. Some get headaches or have trouble breathing. Switching to panels made of natural materials is one obvious solution. I could also have talked about vocal health in this overview of studio hazards. However, I’ve already covered that in my interview with vocal coach Elissa Weinzimmer

Let me leave you with one last thought.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

The issues I described in this post aren’t exactly sexy. In the voice-over community we’d much rather talk about gear, or about declining standards and rates. The thing is: most colleagues don’t even realize they are putting their health at risk when they are entering their home studio and office.

Computer Vision Syndrome, Repetitive Strain Injury, and hearing loss are slow processes that -when ignored- can cause permanent damage. They’re not unique to the voice-over world. Adults spend 8+ hours staring at screens every day. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), RSI affects some 1.8 million workers per year. Hearing loss among teens is about 30 percent higher than in the eighties and nineties.

The good news is that all of these problems can be prevented. So, the next time you’re looking to invest in your studio, perhaps you don’t need that new microphone or preamp. Perhaps you should get yourself a good chair, a nice pair of computer glasses, a salt lamp, and new monitors.

Take my advice and don’t wait until it’s too late. If you’re having any of the symptoms I’ve described, or you’re experiencing other problems, go and see your doctor. After all, this is just a blog and I’m not a medical professional.

If you have any other tips that have made your time in the studio less risky and more comfortable, please share them in the comment section below, and share this blog post with your friends and colleagues.

Thank you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet.Please retweet!


Is Your Client Driving You Crazy?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 2 Comments
David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy

After last week’s story about bad clients, one reader wanted to know:

“Have you ever fired a client, and why? I have one customer who is driving me nuts, but I can’t afford to lose his business.”

First of all, that’s a horrible position to be in. Many freelancers choose to run their own business because they don’t want to depend on someone or something else. Having big spenders as clients may seem fantastic, but if you’re not careful, you end up being in their pocket, and they start pulling all the shots. 

David Ogilvy, the famous advertising guru, took great care in selecting his clients. That concept alone was revolutionary. If you’re a service provider, don’t clients choose you? Isn’t that how the game is played? Not in Ogilvy’s world. 

Ogilvy and his partner would turn down about sixty clients every year, and this was one of their rules:

“Never work for a client so big you can’t afford to lose them.”

They once turned down Ford because the iconic motor company would represent half of their total billing. 

So, to get back to my reader’s question: be selective in whom you want to work with, even if you’re just starting out. Don’t put all your eggs in one or two baskets. It makes you overly dependent, and very vulnerable. If that one big client pulls out, you’re toast. 

Have I ever fired a client? I sure have, and I’m happy I did. It wasn’t all about money. In fact, in many cases money had little to do with it. 

Here are a few clients I gladly gave the sack:

THE DICTATOR

Here’s the client who thinks he owns you twenty-four seven. He always knows best; he’s overly demanding, disrespectful, and never satisfied. These people are impossible to please. The more you try, the less you succeed.

Working for dictators made me hate myself and my job. I did everything I could to avoid contact with them because it was emotionally draining. No money in the world could make up for how lousy I felt working for these bullies. 

THE VIOLATOR

Some clients act as if the rules don’t apply to them. Even with a written agreement in place, they try to bend and break it as fast as they can: “Sorry, we can’t pay you within thirty days. We’ll cut a check as soon as the end-client pays us.” 

“Did the agreement say that we have to pay you even if we don’t use your recording? Well, that’s just too bad. We have switched gears, and don’t need your voice-over anymore.”

When you continue working for a client who is not paying your bill, you are sending the message that you are not worth the fee you charge. 

THE  CHEAPSKATE 

Stay away from clients with great ideas and no budget, and the ones that try to nickel-and-dime you from the get-go. I once fired a long-time client of mine that was locked into old rates. When I increased my fees across the board, she insisted I make an exception “for old times sake.” 

While it may seem like a “nice” gesture, deals like that hold your business back. Time spent on these small-budget clients prevents you from spending that time working for a client who respects your rate. Ogilvy was right when he said:

“Only work for clients who want you to make a profit.” 

THE UNETHICAL

When thinking of your clients, ask yourself these two questions:

“Do they sell a product or service I can be proud of?”

“Will I be able to do my very best work?”

Whether you’re a copywriter, a graphic designer, or a voice-over, you will be professionally associated with a product or service you helped promote. Your reputation is always on the line.

An advertising agency I had worked with in the past, asked me to voice a commercial for one of the world’s worst weed killers. I politely declined, and they understood. My voice is for hire, but my integrity is not for sale. 

It’s up to you where you draw the line, but I would never want to be involved in something illegal, or help sell something I’m morally against. 

THE UNPROFESSIONAL

Some clients are completely unorganized and in over their heads. One day they want one thing. The next day all has changed. It’s something you find out once you start working with them. As a freelancer, you’re used to juggling many plates, but you’re not getting paid to help your clients juggle theirs. 

Sometimes clients become overly friendly. They start calling at night with some lame excuse. It turns out: they just want to talk about a personal issue, or they start gossiping about a colleague they’ve worked with. Before you know it, they’ll be asking you favors because of the perceived friendship. 

Take my word: keep things clean, and have clear boundaries. It’s painful to have to fire these clients, because you know they’ll start gossiping about you to the next professional they cling to. But if you give in because you want to be nice, they’ll suck up your time and tire you out.

THE HIDDEN MESSAGE

All the clients I just described have a few things in common: They keep you from growing your business. They drag you away from your goals. They also appear on your path as your teachers.

People who don’t respect you, are giving you a chance to learn to respect yourself.

People who distract you, are showing you the importance of being focused.

People who don’t pay you, are testing what you think of the value of your work.

People who are trying to manipulate your feelings, are helping you grow a pair. 

Now, if you are bound by a contract I’m not suggesting you break your word and fire these clients. Rather than cutting them loose, you’ve got to cut your losses, fulfill your obligation, and learn from the situation.

But should these clients contact you again for a project, respectfully decline their offer. All they would do is take the fun out of your job. And as Ogilvy said:

“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.


Are You in Bed with a Bad Client?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 8 Comments

I’m not going to waste any time introducing today’s topic.

Here’s what I want you to do.

Read the statements below, and tell me if any of them sound familiar.

“I’ll put in a good word for you.”

“I will keep you in mind.”

“Next time we will definitely call you.”

“One of the best auditions of the day. Unfortunately…”

“I loved your take on the script, but the client had final say.”

“Don’t worry if you don’t get the job. It’s still great practice, isn’t it?”

“I wish we could pay you more but my hands are tied.”

“This may very well lead to more work.”

“You were this close to nailing it.”

“You’re so experienced. This will only take you ten minutes.”

“I will pay you as soon as I receive the files.”

“We don’t need a contract. We do this all the time.”

“If we decide to use it, you will get paid.”

“We have someone who is willing to do it at half your rate.”

“We’re a charity. Can you do this for free?”

“It’s such great exposure!”

“We ended up not using your work. Sorry.”

“Nice try, but it’s not what we wanted.”

“We got somebody internal to do it instead.”

“Apologies for not getting back to you earlier. We had to cancel the project.”

“We decided to go a different route with another talent.”

“We had to change the script drastically. You wouldn’t mind recording a new version for us, would you?”

“Trust us. Everything is going to be fine.”

Whether you’re a voice-over, a graphic designer, or a copywriter, I’m 99% sure that at some point in your freelance career some client from hell fed you a few of these lines. Combined with a certain tonality and body language, they all spell the same two-letter expletive:

B S

You just know that when people say “I will keep you in mind,” you will never hear from them again. Ever. The person who said “I wish we could pay you more,” is laughing all the way to the bank because he just saved his boss a boatload of money by hiring a wimp. And when someone says “Trust us. Everything is going to be fine,” he or she is waving a big fat red flag in your face.

Tell me you’re not surprised. Please.

You see, while playing in the sandbox at kindergarten, you should have learned your lesson: not every kid is playing nice. And when these kids grow up, they’re even worse. Why? Because experience has taught them that they can get away with almost anything, and get rich while doing it (no, I’m not talking about the presidential race here).

These clients have two things in common. They were born with a silver tongue, and they’re masters at spotting and exploiting weakness.

Are you desperate to work? Your email will give you away. 

Are you too eager to please? Your voice will tell it all.

Are you just getting your feet wet? Your cheap rate speaks volumes.

Desperate doormat novices are easily manipulated. They’ll work just for the exposure. They’ll record a rewritten script for zero dollars. They’ll send the audio files, trusting that payment won’t be a problem.

Until they get burned, or they get smart.

One of my young colleagues just came to me with a sob story:

“I was so happy and proud that I booked my first big gig, and the client seemed so nice. He said he loved my voice, and he had total faith in me. I worked really hard to deliver the project on time, and I think I did a pretty good job.

Before I got started I asked the client: ‘Should we sign anything to make it official?’ I remember his exact words. He said: ‘Don’t you trust me? We do this all the time. There’s no need for a contract.’ When he said that, I felt kind of guilty. Why would I doubt him? He gave me a great opportunity, and I should be thankful.”

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“Six months ago,” my colleague answered.

“And did you get paid?”

“No,” said my colleague. “Once I had sent the audio files, the client disappeared. It’s a long story, but when I finally spoke to someone at the company he was working for, they said he got fired. No one knew anything about the project I had worked on. They said they didn’t owe me anything.”

Part of me wanted to feel sorry for my colleague, but the other part wanted to tell her:

“I know this totally sucks, but it’s not the client’s responsibility to teach you how to be a professional. You may feel that this guy took advantage of you, and he did. However, you allowed it to happen. You enabled that client to treat you poorly. 

This is no longer a hobby for you. You’re in business now, and you have to protect your business. The best way to do that, is to prevent problems from the outset. Don’t assume that everything will be alright, and that all people have the best and purest intentions. Clients run businesses too, and if they want to be successful, they must do two things:

  1. Minimize expenses
  2. Maximize profits

To them, you’re an expense. It’s not their fault if you don’t stand up for yourself and negotiate a decent fee. They’re not to blame if you’re okay with working without a contract. 

On one hand you are vulnerable. On the other hand you also have power. You have something the clients needs and wants. 

If anything, remember this:

A client cannot make you do anything you’re uncomfortable with. If you don’t like it, you renegotiate, or you walk away.

Before you do any work, both sides need to be clear about their expectations. Ideally, those expectations should be turned into a written agreement. Without such an agreement, you’ll have a hard time making a claim in court, should it come to that.

Before you sign on the dotted line, you have to fully understand what you are agreeing to. If you don’t, ask an expert to explain it to you.

One of the things you must be clear about, is payment. Let the client know that the work you have done is yours, until he pays for it. In other words: the right to use your work transfers upon full payment. Of course you need to define usage too. In case of voice-overs, are you talking about a full buyout, or is there a renewal fee?

Please understand that asking for a contract does not make you difficult to work with. A solid contract benefits both parties. Parties that are about to start an intimate relationship. A relationship that requires protection.”

Mike Monteiro from design firm Mule put it this way:

“Starting work without a contract, is like putting on a condom after taking a home pregnancy test. It is not going to help you at that point. You have lost any leverage you had.”

In summary: clients can make strange bedfellows.

Make sure you don’t end up feeling used. 

Watch the warning signs.

Listen to the language.

And don’t fall for all the two-letter expletives!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: CRASH via photopin (license)


The Cult of Kumbaya

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 21 Comments

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 7.59.01 PMNot long ago, Adam Aron, the CEO of America’s biggest movie theater chain, had a brilliant idea. 

To attract a younger audience, he wanted to make his AMC theaters smartphone-friendly. If it were up to him, texting would be allowed, and he told Variety why:

“You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”

Not everyone agreed. His remarks were immediately followed by a widespread backlash on social media. People complained left and right. Days later Aron responded:

“We have heard loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want. With your advice in hand, there will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres. Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future.”

I think Adam Aron is a smart guy. He had a bad idea. People protested. He listened, and he changed his mind. Good for him. Good for us. Unless you’re a millennial. 

CULTURE OF COMPLAINING

This story was just playing out as I was reading a short article by “Voice Whisperer™” Marice Tobias called “The Culture of Complaint: A black hole for Voice Talent and…the rest of us.

Tobias sets the tone in the first two paragraphs:

“Thanks to social media, attack television and brigades of haters running rampant across all platforms, complaining and criticizing has become the discourse du jour for this moment in time. It generates a lot of piling on and follow-up posts.

Problem is, running a continuous negative commentary is not only tedious and alienating, it can also cost you work and income while wearing the rest of us out!”

“Check your negativity at the door,” Tobias recommends. Clients don’t care for it. You only have so much energy. Use it to be in a more empowering, positive state of mind. 

DON’T BITE THE HAND

Part of me totally agrees with Tobias. We do seem to live in a culture of confrontation. Just look at social media or at the current political process. Civility, respect, and intelligent discourse are rare commodities. Facebook threads can easily escalate into shouting matches. Anonymous trolls push people’s buttons. The coarseness and narrow-mindedness of some exchanges is nauseating. 

The voice-over business is a people-business. Nobody wants to work with a jerk. Voice-overs are hired to read copy. Not to criticize it. The more positive interactions we have with our clients, the more likely it is that they will call us again. 

But that’s not all. 

The other part of me strongly believes that there’s a role for criticism. Constructive criticism, that is. Complaining for the sake of complaining is a waste of time and energy, but sometimes people have legitimate grievances and concerns. They’re not being negative. They just want things to change for the better. 

ROSE-COLORED GLASSES

As a blogger I can relate to that. I see the world through a colored lens, and not all I see is perfect and positive. 

One of the worrying things I have observed is what I call “The Cult of Kumbaya.” It’s a tendency to approach the tough business of voice-overs with naïve optimism, believing that most players act out of altruism and integrity. 

It is constantly fed by commercial propaganda, trying to paint a pretty picture of an unforgiving industry:

“Work from home in your spare time,” says the website. “We need audio book narrators now!”

“Become a member,” the Pay-to-Plays say. “Upload your demos, and start making money with your voice today!” 

“Let me be your mentor,” the voice coach boasts. “Give me a few sessions, and I will teach you the tricks of the trade.” 

LA-LA LAND

Then there are voice actors who will tell you that everything is hunky-dory. Whenever I criticize voice casting sites on this blog, they tell me that these companies have “revolutionized the business, and have generated thousands of jobs.” 

When I call out colleagues who are willing to work for next to nothing, I am told to mind my own business because it is a free market. It will all even out in the end. 

When I express doubts about certain awards shows or expensive industry conferences, colleagues get angry because I should be supportive of my own tribe and embrace new initiatives. 

Here’s the problem with this type of uncritical thinking: it’s either/or.

Criticizing someone or something is equated with being negative and unsupportive. The unspoken assumption being that supportive, positive people don’t complain or criticize. They don’t foul their own nest. 

Forgive me, but that’s utter hogwash. 

Every coach knows that they will have to critique a performance in order to support a student. Every journalist has to expose injustice to bring about a more just society. Every parent has to correct their child’s behavior, so s/he will grow up to become a decent human being. 

Secondly, no matter how good something or someone is, there’s always room for improvement. But we can’t improve without quality feedback.

SIMILAR OR DIFFERENT

Now, this world is basically filled with two kinds of people. One part of the population sorts for similarities. The other for differences. You need both on your team. 

Let’s say you have a bucket of pebbles that are painted blue. The person sorting for similarities will say:

“Look, all those pebbles are the same color!”

The person sorting for differences will say:

“Every pebble has a different shape and size.”

Both approaches are correct and perfectly fine. We need people in this world who spot patterns, and who can see the big picture. We need people to tell us when things are right. 

We also need people who can spot exceptions, and who can focus on details that are different. We need people who can tell us when things are wrong.

FACE THE FEEDBACK

I can handle critics. I can even deal with complainers, because they will tell me that texting in a movie theater is a bad idea. I’d rather hear the honest truth than foolish flatter.

The people I have a hard time with are the whiners. The contrarians. The know-it-alls. Their negativity can be draining. 

So, whenever I encounter criticism, I ask myself a few questions before I react. 

1. How does this relate to me?

If it’s not important, why get all worked up?

2. Who or what is the source?

Do I trust the source? Is the source influential and reliable? Why start a discussion with someone who clearly doesn’t know what he/she is talking about?

3. What is the context?

Nothing is ever said in isolation. To understand where someone’s coming from, we usually need more information than a tweet or quick comment can give us.

4. Is this a real issue or a cheap personal attack?

Some commentators just have a chip own their shoulder. Unfortunately, it’s not a chocolate chip. 

5. What is the complaint or criticism an example of?

That’s a good way to move away from specific examples and elevate the discussion to a higher level.

6. Does the complainer offer a solution?

If that’s the case, you know they’re not just in it to moan and groan.

7. What can I learn from this that is useful and positive?

Even if the criticism seems over the top and unjustified, there might be a lesson to be learned. 

ANCIENT WISDOM

So… are complaints and negative comments a “Black hole for Voice Talent… and the rest of us”?

It depends.

A great critique is never a burden or an attack. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. It is a gift. And speaking of gifts…

One of Buddha’s followers once approached him, and asked:

“Master, do you see that nasty man over there? He is always badmouthing me. I feel horrible. Please do something about it. Make him stop.”

Buddha looked at his student, and said:

“If someone gives you a gift, and you decide not to accept it,

to whom does the gift belong?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Caro pointing finger via photopin (license)



Those Silly Americans

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Personal, Promotion 12 Comments

The authorHere’s a question I get asked a lot:

“What’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over, living and working in the United States?”

Who wants to know?

Mostly European colleagues, who either think I’m totally nuts, or who secretly want to do what I did and move to this land of milk, honey, and doughnuts. Some of them have strange ideas about what my life on this side of the pond is like.

I sometimes have to explain to them that “No, I don’t live in a McMansion; there’s no giant gas guzzler parked in my garage, and I can’t call a Hollywood studio and put in a good word for you.” In fact, this American life I am leading is pretty ordinary and rather unspectacular.

I don’t know what my existence would have been like had I stayed in Holland, but in my experience, setting up shop in the States has as many advantages as disadvantages. My colleague Jamie Muffet just wrote a great piece on that very topic for Backstage, and he had me thinking. 

In this day and age where all of us are part of a huge global network, does it really matter where we do our job? It’s just as easy for me to plug into a studio in Amsterdam, as it is to reach a recording facility in New York or Johannesburg. Even agents who used to insist I make a personal appearance, don’t mind if I send them an mp3 audition. Times have changed.

Although technology has made it easy to have an international presence, there’s something I must admit. It took me a good number of years to find my way here in Pennsylvania, and at times I still struggle to make sense of my surroundings and the culture I live in. Personally, and professionally. For instance, I had a hard time trying to figure out how to position myself as a voice for hire.

CONFUSION

From a marketing perspective, it is important that clients have a clear concept of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a talent. When I first came here, people were mainly confused, and I don’t blame them. I spoke with a distinct British accent (the one I was taught in school), and most Americans thought I was from the UK. It was both a good and a bad thing.

It was good because casting directors who didn’t know any better, often hired me to play the part of a stuffy English professor. I even did a voice-over promoting a Beatles jukebox musical on Broadway. I tell you: it was fun being a fake!

There was a downside to having this posh accent. I felt that people were judging me all the time. They either thought I was highly intelligent, or a pompous ass. Of course neither is true. I can’t say it helped me define my professional identity as a native Dutch speaker. Then there was something else I stumbled upon.

IGNORANCE

Even though the United States is supposed to be this big melting pot, I’ve learned that Americans struggle with languages and accents. Many of them have never left the country, and they are rarely exposed to different tongues and twangs, the way Europeans are. Thanks to a brilliant educational system, their sense of geography tends to be off too.

A few weeks ago an agent asked me to audition for a documentary, and she was convinced my accent would be perfect. “You’re Dutch. You should nail this one,” she said. The minute I got the script I saw it was about an old ship… from Denmark. “Well, Dutch and Danish are pretty much the same, aren’t they?” the agent stated.

Not really. And Copenhagen is not the capital of the Netherlands.

Another thing I’ve had to explain over and over again, is the difference between Dutch and Flemish. Flemish is a kind of Dutch, spoken in a specific part of Belgium. It’s as different from Dutch as British English is from American English. That means you shouldn’t hire a Dutchman to voice a commercial meant for viewers in Belgium. But most people in the States don’t know that.

I used to get very annoyed with these ignorant Americans, but having lived here for over ten years, I’ve come to realize that many of them don’t know what they don’t know. Instead of holding it against them, I do my best to educate casting directors and agents, without sounding like a European know-it-all. And quite often they are very grateful for my advice.

Here’s another thing I learned the hard way.

SELF-PROMOTION

Coming from a Calvinistic country where any form of self-aggrandizement is frowned upon, I found out that in America modesty isn’t always an asset. In fact, people like talking about themselves. A lot. If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?

I had to learn to be comfortable with my accomplishments, and speak and write about them openly. In Holland I would have been accused of bragging. Here people say: “Don’t be shy. It’s okay. You have every reason to be proud.”

When talking to a potential client or an interested agent in the U.S., I make sure to sell myself as best as I can. When I’m dealing with someone in Europe, I like to tone it down considerably.

Another thing I realized was that Americans tend to be quite informal. Before you know it, you’re on a first-name basis talking about your family with someone you barely know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people who come across as friendly, want to be your friend. Give it a few weeks, and they might not even remember your name. Don’t take it personally. 

Things are gradually shifting in Europe, but unless a new client signs his or her emails with a first name, I err on the side of caution, and I’m much more formal.

FEELING LIKE A KING

So, what’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over in the United States? 

In the Netherlands we have a saying: “In the land of the blind, the guy with one eye is king.” As one of the very few native Dutch voice-overs in North-America, that’s often how I feel. I’m a small orange fish in a huge pond. In all the years I have lived here, my English accent has changed considerably. It’s no longer British, and it’s not entirely American either. As I explained to Jamie Muffet: 

“Demand for a Dutch narrator isn’t exactly overwhelming, and thanks to the Internet, my competition in Holland is only one click away. My real niche is in ‘neutral English’ voiceovers, meaning my accent is neither British nor American. It’s more of a European twang, and businesses wanting to increase their global appeal hire me because of my international sound.”

If that’s not shameless self-promotion, I don’t know what is…

On occasion I go back to the Netherlands to see friends and family. I walk around in this tiny country, and I comment on how everything is so close, and how small things are. It’s guaranteed to make my Dutch friends laugh out loud.

“Oh, Paul,” they say…

“stop being such a silly American!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet, Please retweet!


The Mistake You Don’t Want To Make

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 13 Comments

ThinkingIn his books and seminars, motivational speaker and coach Tony Robbins shares what he calls his Ultimate Success Formula.

It’s a deceptively simple five-step process:

1. Decide what you want.

2. Know your reasons why.

3. Take massive action. 

4. Notice what’s working or not. 

5. Change your approach until you achieve what your want.

I could easily write an entire blog post about setting specific goals, but today I want to talk about the third step of this formula: the necessity to take action.

LOUDER THAN WORDS

There’s a reason why Americans like using sports metaphors. Sports are all about energy and action. People bring their ‘A’ game, they step up to the plate, and knock it out of the park. I love that go-getter mentality, but as a coach and fellow-freelancer I think success is as much a result of the things we don’t do, as it is of the things we choose to do. 

Whether you take action or not, there will be consequences.

Comparing those who have made it in a highly competitive industry to those who have not, I see clear differences. Those who ultimately gave up, did that in part because they failed to act in crucial areas. Before I tell you what some of those areas are, I need to address the words “fail” and “failure,” because they are loaded. 

When I bluntly state that someone failed to do something, I merely mean they did not take a certain action. Consequently, they didn’t achieve a desired result. This does not make them a complete and utter failure as a human being.

VALUES AND MOTIVES

When people fail to do something we assumed to be of importance to them, it tells us two things. It tells us something about our personal values and work ethic, and it tells us something about the other person’s motivation.

Let’s say I give one of my students a certain task, and he or she keeps putting it off, or puts very little effort into it. In my experience this has little to do with a lack of time or laziness. Unless there’s an emergency, those who are truly dedicated will always find the time and the energy.

The real reason for the delay or the lack of enthusiasm has to do with motivation. Motivation is the fire that feeds the engine.

To find out what drives someone, here’s the question to ask: 

“Why is X, Y or Z important to you?”

If the “why” isn’t strong enough, people are more likely to slack off or give up. This often manifests itself in small things. Some people start showing a lack of attention to detail. Some will rush to get the job done. Others are easily distracted. Over time, this adds up, and it points to the fact that someone’s heart is not in it.

CARING FOR YOUR CAREER

I often compare a freelance career to tending a vegetable garden. A garden can’t be rushed. It needs to grow organically. If you don’t seed, water, or weed, you’ll never enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor. 

If you don’t take good care of your garden, that’s easy to see, but what clues tell me you’re struggling as a freelancer?

I often see a failure to:

  • take the initiative
  • get out of the mindset of a hobbyist
  • set clear and realistic goals
  • have enough seed money to fund and grow your business
  • invest in a professional work space, (continued) training, and quality equipment 
  • define what makes you stand out from the rest
  • focus on finances
  • set decent rates
  • find multiple pipelines to generate job leads
  • build a professional network
  • follow up and follow through
  • have a long-term strategy
  • update your website and portfolio
  • check your work before sending it out
  • be active in social media
  • promote and market your business professionally
  • take good care of your body
  • surround yourself with supportive, knowledgeable, and nurturing people
  • be there for those who support you
  • be appreciative
  • be accountable
  • be patient and persistent
  • be flexible and open to feedback
  • realize your life is more than your job
  • learn from the things that go well, and from the things that don’t go so well

 

LIVE AND LEARN

That very last point takes us to the fourth step of Robbins’ Ultimate Success Formula: “Notice what’s working or not.”

Like Robbins, I will ask my students: Are you getting closer to your goal, or farther away? Are you taking advantage of the feedback you’re getting? 

It’s okay to make mistakes, but if you don’t learn from them, you’re likely to repeat old patterns. 

If you fail to learn, you learn to fail.

Now, in spite of what some people may tell you, there is no secret code that will open the magical door to unlimited freelance success. Success depends on so many factors, and not all of those factors can be influenced by you. But remember this: 

Life does not reward intentions. It rewards action.

The daily decisions you make or fail to make, will propel your career forward, or move it backward.

So, the next time you’re presented with a serious opportunity, carefully weigh your options, and take a hint from William Shakespeare by asking yourself:

“To do or not to do,

that is the question!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Eline via photopin (license)


The Weight Of The World

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 21 Comments

AtlasParis. Ankara. Istanbul. Brussels.

On some days this beautiful planet is so full of hatred and hardship that I feel guilty writing about such trivial things as “work.”

It sure is fun to blog about freelancing, marketing, and microphone technique, but I have to ask: “To what avail?”

Does it lead to a deeper understanding of the human psyche?

Does it tell us why young, radicalized men stuff their luggage with glass and nails, before they blow themselves and innocent others to bits and pieces?

Does it explain why so many people still believe that violence is the only way forward to further a cause?

As a blogger, shouldn’t I be writing about those issues, instead of talking about home studios, auditions, and online casting companies? 

Whenever I ask myself these questions, I have to remind myself of where I came from.

Before leaving the Netherlands, I worked as one of those stone-faced newscasters informing the world of yet another tragedy. On air, I asked countless experts about the roots of evil, and I grilled politicians about their ideas on how to fix a broken world.

Day after day I reported on endless suffering and strife, and I was part of the sensationalist “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” gang, that determines what is newsworthy and what isn’t. On sunnier days I would be searching for that snippet of positive news we could end our program with, to remind the listeners that not all people are perverts, rapists, or suicidal religious radicals. 

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the excitement and the adrenaline of the newsroom. It gave me a steady income, a certain status, and a sense of purpose. A democracy can only function when people are able to make smart decisions based on hard facts, and I was in the business of providing those facts. My radio station also gave me a unique opportunity to hold the feet of the famous to the fire.

Yet, one day, it all fell apart when I noticed myself caring less and less about the horror stories I was covering. In the beginning I would blame my lack of response on the need to “stay professional,” meaning detached from the raw emotions that are part and parcel of every human tragedy. I was supposed to stay as neutral as our network professed to be, and not get emotionally involved. But it came at a price. 

I gradually developed a tendency to disassociate myself from all kinds of feelings. Positive and negative. That invisible screen I was using to shield myself from sadness in the newsroom, had become like a second skin. It protected me, and it numbed me at the same time.

Over time, I came to a frightening realization:

I had lost one of the very few things that separates humans from animals: the ability to empathize.

I’d seen this happen to veteran journalists who were trying to cope with the crazy demands of their job. Some became chain smokers, heavy drinkers, and lifelong cynics. Others filed for divorce. It was not a road I wanted to travel.

One day, after covering yet another disaster, I just knew I had reached my limit. Years of reporting had done nothing to change the world. If anything, the world had gotten worse. All I wanted was to get out of broadcasting, and do something useful with my life. Something exhilarating. Something inspiring. Something uplifting.

When I finally left the poisonous bubble that was the newsroom, it took me a while to adjust to a new reality. A reality that wasn’t nearly as violent as I had thought it would be. Slowly but surely I discovered a world filled with kindness and good people. It was as if someone had opened the dark blinds that had been filtering the light from the windows for such a long time.

I came to realize that the news I had covered for all those years focused on the exceptions; on the grotesque and the extraordinary. The thousands of planes that land safely every day will never be on CNN. It’s the plane that crashes that ends up making headlines. And if you add all those headlines up, it’s easy to get the impression that this world is rotten to the core. But it’s a deliberate distortion of reality, contrived to kick up the ratings. 

Reality is so much better and less sensational than the networks want you to believe. For most of us it is reassuringly unspectacular and ordinary. It revolves around friends, family…. and work. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to blog about work, even when evil forces are trying to fill this world with fear.

The question remains: how do we respond to those who want to scare us by causing panic, pain, and suffering?

How do we deal with the fact that -to quote Harold Kushner- bad stuff happens to good people?

All of us have to come to terms with this in our own time and in our own way. Life and death are mysterious teachers.

Let me leave you with what I think.

The only way we can learn to live with darkness, is to focus on the light, and to become a reflection of that light.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us were born with the ability to shine. 

Once we start taking that to heart, perhaps we can begin making this place a better world.

In Paris. In Ankara. In Istanbul. In Brussels.

Everywhere.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.  


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 29 30   Next »