Nethervoice Blog

How To Secure Return Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Promotion 13 Comments
Reserved for salesperson of the month

photo ©Paul Strikwerda

It must be hard to be Balloons the Clown.

For years, Balloons has been a fixture in my Borough.

He drives around in a silly red VW Beetle with a slogan prominently printed on the back:

“Honk if you like clowns.”

I’ll be honest: in all the years that our paths have crossed, I’ve never heard a single honk. That must be pretty depressing, if you’re a professional clown. But as one of my old teachers used to say:

“The meaning of our communication is the response we get.”

Here’s my question: Why would someone like Balloons even ask us to make some noise? My guess is that it has to do with the theme of last week’s blog post: reassurance. Perhaps this family entertainer is hoping for honks to confirm his presumed popularity.

Even though you probably don’t make a living walking around in huge shoes wearing a red nose, you and I, and Balloons, have something in common: we like to be reassured.

Our need for reassurance has to do with a deep human desire: the wish to be accepted. It’s this universal, comforting feeling that we matter, that we are safe, and that everything is going to be alright. It’s what lovers love, preachers preach, and what politicians promise. The person able to reassure us the most, gains our trust and gets our vote.

Clients are no different. They want to know that they are in good hands, and that their money is well spent. It is your job to convince them of that fact. As I suggested last week:

Selling is about reassuring. Before the sale, during the sale, and after the sale.

THE DO’S AND DON’TS

As the client is making up his mind, here are a few things that will make him feel confident that you’re the right person for the job. This is what you have to do:

  • Listen carefully
  • Read and follow instructions
  • Ask questions
  • Respond in a timely and personal way
  • Be clear about your policies
  • Demonstrate knowledge and experience
  • Use plain language, and avoid jargon when dealing with inexperienced buyers
  • Use correct spelling and grammar
  • Be as helpful as you can
  • Only take on jobs you know you can handle

 

“But isn’t this what you’re supposed to do as a professional?” you may ask. Well, you’d be surprised to learn that many so-called pros:

  • Make assumptions
  • Focus on themselves
  • Don’t follow basic instructions
  • Leave clients hanging
  • Have no studio policies
  • Try to impress by using language clients don’t understand
  • Send out poorly written emails
  • Do the minimum to get the job done
  • Bite off more than they can chew

 

By treating clients that way, these colleagues risk way more than losing one specific job.

Here’s my second lesson:

Selling is not about making a sale. It is about winning a client’s confidence, and building a relationship.

Your aim is never to make a quick buck. Your ultimate goal is to cultivate a long-term connection.

MORE WORK TO DO

Now, once the buyer has decided to hire you, don’t think that everything is A-Okay. Your job to reassure him or her is far from over. You still need to prove yourself. You might have the best testimonials and reputation in the world, but some clients just don’t care about the opinion of others. This is the question they want answered:

“What can you do for ME?”

There’s only one appropriate answer: you have to deliver a stellar product that is worth more than the price paid. Remember: you’re not just in the business of providing a voice-over (or other freelance service). You are in the business of adding value. That’s what you’re really selling. 

There’s one other thing you must do at this stage: you need to keep your client informed of your progress. This is especially important when you’re working on longer projects such as eLearning modules, and audio books. If you’re behind schedule, let your client know. If you’re on schedule, tell your client too.

Remember the online purchase I wrote about last week? Once I had bought my reading glasses, I couldn’t wait to get them. I was happy to receive immediate confirmation of my purchase, and I got a message once my readers were shipped. Thanks to a tracking number, I knew when the package would arrive at my doorstep. How reassuring!

But wait… there’s more. Let’s get back to your client. 

AFTER SALES

Let’s say everything went according to plan. Your customer is happy with his or her purchase, and you are ready to move on. But are you really done?

Absolutely not!

This was just the beginning of a relationship, and some clients may need additional assurance that they made a solid investment. That’s nothing new. One of my best buddies just bought a car, and he is showing it to all his friends. Of course he is proud of his new Subaru, but what he is secretly hoping for, is some kind of confirmation that he made the right choice. In other words: he wants reassurance after the purchase was made.

So, what can you do to give a client a warm and fuzzy feeling once the audio has been delivered? Well, show some gratitude! Send your client a thank you email, or -better still- a handwritten card. Let them know how much you enjoyed working with them The key thing is personalization. Avoid clichés such as “I look forward to working with you again,” or “if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.” If you have done your job and you did it well, they WILL get back in touch with you.

Secondly, make it painless to pay you. Some authors will tell you to invoice a client as soon as possible. I always wait a few days. Number one: I want to be sure that my recording is approved before I send the bill. Number two: I don’t want to give the impression that I’m all about money. Don’t wait too long either. Catch the client in the afterglow of their experience. That way they still remember what they’re paying you for.

Ask clients what their preferred payment method is. If your client prefers PayPal, use PayPal. If your client likes TransferWise, use TransferWise. And when the check clears and the money is in the bank, send another thank you note. Always reward desired behavior!

AND FINALLY

When I received my readers I noticed four things:

  1. They arrived ahead of schedule
  2. They fit like a glove
  3. I received a 10% off coupon for my next purchase
  4. I was encouraged to leave feedback

Numbers 1 – 3 once again reassured me that I had made a wise purchase from a trustworthy company. That put me in the right mood to do something with number 4. An hour after getting my new glasses, I posted a glowing online review. The very next day I received an email from the customer service manager, thanking me for my feedback. It wasn’t one of those automated messages, by the way. It was a personal note that referenced my positive comments.

To those of us who will never meet their customers in person: that’s how you do business, and stay in business! 

So, whether you’re selling a product or a service, do yourself a big favor and don’t clown around.

If you consistently show your customers that you genuinely care, they will be happy to honk their horns!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet. It’s so reassuring!


How To Sell Your Voice Online

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion 9 Comments

Dog with reading glassesExhausted from Black Friday?

Done with Cyber Monday? 

Or are you still shopping on Santa’s behalf?

I’m not one to stand in line for hours to get my hands on a doorbuster, but being the frugal Dutchman I am, I love a good deal. Most of those deals I find online, and I’m not the only one.

According to the website PracticalEcommerce, spending in actual stores fell 10 percent from last year on both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. Compared to 2014, online sales on Thanksgiving were up by 25%, by 14.3% on Black Friday, and by 16% on Cyber Monday. 

Here’s an interesting development: for the first time, mobile shopping trumped the desktop on Thanksgiving, with a 57% share. On Black Friday, 33.2% of all sales were mobile, and on Cyber Monday 27% of all shoppers used their smart phones and tablets to make a purchase.

This change does not only affect the big-box stores and supercenters. If you are selling your services online (like most voice-overs do), this affects you too. In what way?

  • If clients can’t easily find you online, you do not exist;
  • If your website is not optimized for smaller screens, you will lose business;
  • If your website doesn’t instill confidence, people will shop elsewhere.

 

CASE IN POINT

Let me tell you about one of my most recent online purchases, and what I learned from that experience. I didn’t buy a big-ticket item. It was a pair of reading glasses. You’ll be amazed how many businesses are trying to sell readers on the web. Like voice-overs, these readers come in all shapes and sizes, but they basically do the same thing. 

The big problem with buying glasses online, is that you can’t try them on. You can look at plenty of samples, but how do you know that a particular frame is the right fit? Voice-overs have the same challenge. You can present a prospect with many generic demos, but how does the client know that your take on the script will be a good fit?

Therein lies the first lesson:

Selling is about reassuring.

Prospective clients need to feel comfortable, before they’re ready to buy. Reassurance is actually critical in three phases of the sales process:

a. Before the sale

You have to convince the client that your product or service meets their specific needs, and that your asking price is worth paying; 

b. During the sale

A client needs to be reassured when buying your product, or when hiring you;

c. After the sale

You need to reassure the customer that he/she has made the right decision. That way, they’ll be thinking of you the next time they need a voice for a new project.

REASSURANCE

Let’s break this down a little bit by going back to my purchase. How did the online vendor manage to reassure me? Here’s how.

By listing the exact measurements of each frame, I could easily tell which pair of reading glasses would be a good fit for my rather big head, and which ones were not. All I had to do was pick a pair I liked, and look at the frame dimensions. 

Secondly, I needed some reassurance on the return policy. We’ve all ordered items that seemed great online, but when we tried them on, they looked ridiculous. So, I needed to be reassured that this vendor had a no-hassle return policy. 

The next thing the vendor had to do, was justify the price of the item. These days you can buy cheap readers at the grocery store. You can put them on there and then, and there are no shipping costs. So why even bother ordering them online?

Well, the vendor made two value propositions. Grocery store reading glasses can be boring and poorly made. These online readers were stylish and sturdy. On top of that, there were plenty of testimonials from satisfied customers telling me how great they looked, and how long these fashionable readers lasted. These reviews were very specific, and seemed genuine to me. Fake reviews are often generic and are suspect because of bad spelling and poor grammar.

Never underestimate the power of a testimonial. I’ve said it before and I will say it again:

Nothing you say about yourself will ever be as strong as what other people say about you.

Bottom line:

Once I was reassured, I was sold!

The question is: How could you apply this to the way you do business online? After all, you’re selling a service instead of special spectacles.

SELLING VOICES

Think of it this way: just as the vendor of reading glasses, you are offering a unique solution to a particular problem. How can a client determine whether or not you’ll be a good solution?

First of all, your website needs to impress, and your demos really have to shine. Secondly, you need to make it crystal clear that you can deliver a custom-demo based on a portion of the client’s script, within a matter of hours. This gives the client an opportunity to try on your voice. That’s reassurance number one.

Next, you have to let the client know what your retake policy is. Clients don’t want to be stuck with something they’re unhappy with. On the other hand, they can’t expect you to re-record ad infinitum at no cost to them. My approach is based on the three F’s: Fair, Firm and Flexible.

Fair: I’m not going to charge a client for my mistakes. Firm: I will charge a client if he wants me to record a new version of a script after the first version was approved and recorded. Flexible: I am willing to be more lenient toward an established client, especially if that client pays exceptionally well.

THE COST FACTOR

At this point we have to talk about price. Selling used to be all about people. In the online world, it is increasingly about price because there is no personal, face-to-face interaction. As I said in the beginning, more and more people are shopping online, which creates certain expectations. One of those expectations is that buyers will know how much they’re going to pay for what’s being offered.

Whether you like it or not, sooner or later you have to answer the question: How much is this going to cost me? May I suggest that you better answer that question sooner, before your shopper goes to a competitor who is open about rates.

Telling prospects how much something is going to cost, may be scary to you, but it is reassuring to those who are thinking of hiring you. It also weeds out the low-budget buyers. I know that it’s often impossible to break voice-over jobs down to the dime, but a ballpark figure or a price range will suffice. 

Lastly, like the vendor of reading glasses, you have to justify your rates. You have to answer the age-old questions: Why should I buy from you? What makes you so special? Those questions are easier asked than answered, and that’s probably why so many voice-over colleagues fail to come up with a solid value proposition. A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered. It’s the number one reason a potential client should buy from you. 

If you’re struggling with these questions, let me give you a hint: You’re probably not the best person to answer them. You’re too familiar with yourself, and you’re likely to make too many assumptions. What you need to do, is find out how other people see you, and how they perceive the benefits of what you have to offer. Next, you have to translate these benefits into headlines, paragraphs, visuals, and audio.  

If you need an example of what I mean, take a look at my home page. It’s by no means perfect, but I think it gets the point across. What do you think my value proposition is? Is it easy to understand? Keep in mind that for most of my clients, English is a second language. Do I address basic questions and concerns? Do you see a testimonial?

NEXT TIME

So far, all I have talked about is ways to reassure the online client before the sale is made. Why is this so important? Well, reassurance leads to trust, and -trust me- people will never buy from someone they don’t trust. 

Next week we’re going to dig even deeper, and look at ways you can reassure buyers during and even after the sale. It’s an aspect of selling that is often overlooked, but it is crucial if you want to get return business from happy customers.

Now, one thing I am often asked as a blogger is this: How do you come up with this stuff?

The answer is simple.

It is based on years of experience as a freelancer, first in the Netherlands, and now in the United States. 

And remember: this blog post started with a pair of glasses and a bad pun. Brought to you at no cost whatsoever.

Oh, the things I’m willing to do for my readers…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Dog Intelligence via photopin (license)


Giving Up

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

Letting GoThis year…

I stopped running after every audition,

Or hoping for that big break.

I gave up my relentless quest for clients,

and allowed clients to come to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I separated my personal from my professional life,

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

This year, I gave up the control

I never had in the first place,

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

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

And you know what?

Things turned out pretty okay.

My business survived.

I survived.

I feel less taxed, and more relaxed.

Here’s what I have learned:

Giving up is not so bad. 

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

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

It can all go. Really.

Life is lighter without it. 

You see…

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

It’s stuff other people left behind. Baggage. 

Thoughts. Habits. Beliefs. Even objects.

Things that no longer serve a purpose.

It weighs us down.

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

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

Take it from me:

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

There is much to gain from giving up.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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


Freelancing Isn’t Free

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

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.02.09 PMIsolation.

It’s a common feeling among freelancers.

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

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

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

You haven’t looked at the big picture yet.

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

THE NEW NORMAL

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

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

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

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

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

Then there’s this…

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

MANY DOGS AND FEW BONES

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

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

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

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

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

A NEW UNION?

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

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

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

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

A COMMON CAUSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

WE ARE THE FUTURE

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

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

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

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


The Message Very Few Want To Hear

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play 30 Comments

DisappointmentWhat if…

What if you advertise yourself as a pro, but you’re still learning on the job;

What if you wonder why you’re not booking, but you’re too cheap to hire a coach;

What if you’re too lazy to look things up, and count on your community to bail you out;

What if you think you can break into the business on a shoestring budget;

What if you’re convinced you can crush the competition by undercutting rates;

What if you feel that no one has your back, but you refuse to join WoVo;

What if “What’s in it for me?” is your motto, and you don’t care about your colleagues;

What if you expect to make money, but you don’t know how to run a business;

What if your Pay-to-Play acts unethically, yet you don’t raise your voice;

What if your client pays dirt, but you bend over backwards anyway;

What if you are totally exhausted, but you never take a break;

What if you love to complain, but you never contribute;

What if you don’t believe in yourself, yet you hope others will…

Well, I’m really sorry, but I cannot help you. You have to help yourself, and up your game if you want to become a pro.

Pros know what to do. That’s what they’re getting paid for;

Pros never stop learning. Even the best work with a coach;

Pros are proactive, and do their own homework;

Pros invest in quality, and are willing to pay for it;

Pros know what they’re worth, and charge accordingly;

Pros stick together, and belong to the World-Voices Organization;

Pros look at the bigger picture, and care about community;

Pros are business savvy, and price for profit;

Pros speak up when they’re treated with little respect;

Pros work with clients who recognize their value;

Pros take care of themselves, knowing they can’t give what they don’t have;

Pros aren’t whiners; they are winners;

Pros are poised, and self-assured.

Pros realize that talent entitles them to nothing. It challenges them to do everything. 

And above all, Pros know that success is the result of many small, intelligent steps, taken in the right direction.

Success can’t be rushed. It can’t be bought. It can’t be forced or faked.

It has to be learned.

It has to be earned. 

Every. Single. Day.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Disappointed via photopin (license)


The Ciccarelli Circus

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

So, here’s the deal.

We all know that the CEO of Voices.com David Ciccarelli is on a charm offensive. He tried to do damage control by talking to fellow-Canadian Graeme Spicer of the Edge Studio. I don’t think that worked out so well.

The promised recording of the contentious interview was never released because (supposedly) the video version did not survive due to “technical problems.” Then Edge Studio and Mr. Spicer announced:

“We had every intention of releasing the recording of the event as originally stated. Unfortunately we are not in a position to post it at this time. I hope you understand our position, and that you will continue to support Edge Studio as we strive to advocate on behalf of voice actors.”

Some spoke of a falling out between “Edge” and “Voices.” Others suggested that possible legal action prevented Edge Studio from releasing the interview. Meanwhile, a SoundCloud copy of the interview has surfaced, and it is making the rounds on various VO Facebook groups.

Ciccarelli also did a webinar slash infomercial with Bill DeWees, in which DeWees solidified his reputation as Mr. Nice Guy. Some described the webinar as a “snooze fest”. Soon, the CEO of “Voices” will be on the Voice Over Cafe with Terry Daniel and company. I wonder: When will Ciccarelli be hosting Saturday Night Live?

But seriously, here’s the real question:

My blog post Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy? was published on September 3rd. Two months later Ciccarelli finally decides to tell us his side of the story. David, what were you waiting for? A Voice Arts™ Award for best Pay-to-Play?

VOICE TALENT HAS HAD ENOUGH

My guess is that he had hoped the turmoil would simply subside like it has always done. But he was wrong. This time, the voice-over community reacted like a ferocious pit bull. It just wouldn’t let go.

More and more people came forward with Voices dot com horror stories, and asked questions about the Ciccarelli way of doing business. Even voice-seeking clients started complaining, and experienced voice talent began to leave the site in droves.

Newsflash: Those with unpaid Voices-profiles are now asking to be removed from the site. Ouch! Something’s clearly wrong when people don’t even want your free service anymore. One of those talents is Mike Cooper. He told Voices dot com:

 “I see jobs for good money being intercepted by staff, with large percentages being creamed off the top – often without the client’s knowledge – and siphoned into the pockets of a company which I believe has become overly greedy. There is little or no transparency, and I no longer feel I want to be a part of that model.”

Connie Terwilliger was one of the original contributors to the Voiceover Experts podcasts on “Voices” back in 2007. This is what she asked Voices dot com to do:

“Please remove my two Voiceover Experts Podcasts from your library. I do not wish that my name be associated with Voices.com until such time that you recognize that your current business practices are simply not serving the professional voiceover community, nor helping the production community understand the value of the voiceover talent.

Frankly, you are acting as an “agent” and a casting director. Then you should act like one. Go ahead and charge a commission (the escrow fee) and even charge to coordinate large jobs (as long as you don’t undercut the rate to the talent in order to do so). 

However, since you are functioning as an agent, you should NOT be charging the talent a fee to be on the site.”

Connie’s podcasts have yet to be removed.

MONEY TALKS

Ciccarelli finally broke his silence, but don’t think for one minute that his recent interviews and articles were meant for you. The CEO of “Voices” needed to please two types of people: bankers and politicians.

Voices.com borrowed money, and received grants from the Canadian government to grow the business into a multinational. Lenders had to be reassured that everything was A-OK in London, Ontario. Politicians needed to know that their grant money was in the hands of a capable company, especially after the political landscape changed dramatically in October.

Susan Truppe, the conservative Canadian MP for London North Centre who handed “Voices” $900,000 in 2014, was badly beaten by a liberal candidate in the last election. Her successor, political scientist Peter Fragiskatos, might not be so generous. He actually wants small businesses to use crowdfunding to raise money and grow. Unfortunately, the crowd that is willing to fund “Voices” through membership fees seems to be shrinking day by day.

LOST LOVE

In anticipation of Ciccarelli’s appearances, colleagues have asked what I make of his campaign. To tell you the truth: it leaves me cold. My feelings for “Voices” are the same as my feelings for an ex-girlfriend. We had a good time for a while, but it’s over. We split up for a reason, and it’s pointless to try and change the other person when the relationship is dead. It’s hard enough when you’re together. 

Relationships that work have this in common: they are based on trust, and they meet the needs of both partners. Right now, it’s your turn to decide the following:

  1. Do I (still) trust Voices dot com, and
  2. Could a business relationship be mutually beneficial? 

I cannot answer those questions for you. What I can do, is give you information and opinion. In the past five years I have often blogged about Voices dot com, and I have written about them in my book. I think I’ve given “Voices” enough of my time, and part of me believes I could have spent that time in a more productive way. However, I must admit that it is thoroughly gratifying to see that more and more people are getting sick and tired of being milked by a greedy company that made double and triple dipping the new norm in online casting.

AMPLE AMBITION

A while ago, the website Success Harbor asked David Ciccarelli: “Where do you see “Voices” in the next 5 years, what is your ultimate goal?” This is part of his reply: 

“It comes down to this: we really do want to dominate the industry. Meaning, be that kind of dominant player for good but the one that everyone thinks voice-overs is synonymous with, like oh yeah, I go to voices.com for that. So that means speaking to every potential customer that’s out there, having every single voice talent that practices the art and craft of voice acting, they should be on the platform as well. It’s having that omnipresence is really what we’re aiming for.”

Right now, Ciccarelli is finding out that not everyone in the industry wants to help him achieve world domination.

In a time of increased global competition, the strength of a service is determined by the quality of what’s being offered. Voices dot com has to remember that the company is only as strong and valuable as the talent it has on tap. Without acrobats, contortionists, lion tamers, and clowns, a circus is just a tent. 

Ciccarelli will need to do a lot of juggling to convince people to pay in order to play under his roof. 

He’s certainly not going to charm his way back into my business. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Thanks to the inimitable Terry Daniel for the title suggestion.


Are You Suffering From Mike Fright?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Social Media 5 Comments

Candid MicrophoneWhile listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, I discovered an interesting fact.

Before legendary producer Allen Funt created Candid Camera, he experimented with a different show based on the same premise.

It was called The Candid Microphone, and it first aired on June 28th, 1947 on ABC Radio. Funt came up with the idea while producing radio shows for the armed forces at Camp Gruber.

One of the shows he worked on was called “The Gripe Booth.” Funt asked soldiers to come into his studio and talk about things that bothered them. Here’s what he found out.

During the pre-interview, most of his guests were at ease and happy to talk. But as soon as the red light went on (indicating that the recording had started), the soldiers became extremely nervous and tongue-tied. This phenomenon is called Mike Fright, and it doesn’t make for good radio.

Luckily, Funt found a way around it. He disconnected the red light, and started recording his guests secretly. He pretended to do a practice interview during which most soldiers were… themselves. And when it was time to do the real thing, he told them he already had what he needed. It was a great gimmick to get spontaneous reactions.

Funt knew he was onto something, and when the war was over, he pitched the idea to ABC, and The Candid Microphone was born.

FEAR THE MICROPHONE

It might not surprise you to hear that Mike Fright is a very common condition. Just as some people become very self-conscious as soon as they spot a camera, you’ll find that folks who are normally very eloquent, will freeze up when you put a microphone in front of their mouth.

It’s tough to be natural in an unnatural situation, even for professional communicators.

I’ve worked in radio since I was seventeen years old, and in that time I have seen veteran-broadcasters hyperventilate, and wipe the sweat of their foreheads before they were about to go on air. The live broadcasts were the worst, because there are no retakes when you go live.

Even though I believe the public doesn’t really mind that much when people mess up on air (who doesn’t like bloopers?), I’ve seen colleagues who were utterly devastated after they misspoke. I’ve often wondered why they would beat themselves up over something that’s entirely human, and here’s what I came up with:

Many of us want to be perceived as being perfect in public.

That’s why we select the best selfie, and use photo editing software before we post it on social media. We treat the world to the highlights of our life, and we don’t expose our darker side. We love sharing our successes, and we carefully hide our failures.

PRIVACY PROTECTION

I completely understand that, by the way. “The world” doesn’t need to know everything about us. We have to protect our privacy and our reputation. The way to do that, is to control and manipulate the message.

Cameras and microphones scare us because they create a situation we can’t predict or control (unless we call the shots). They have the power to expose the private, and make it public. That’s part of the success of a show like Candid Camera. People who don’t know they’re being filmed are much more fun to watch.

Audiences all over the world prefer spontaneous over studied. We want raw emotions instead of rehearsed responses (see last week’s post about authenticity). But there’s something we conveniently forget: in the media, there is no “reality.” At best (or at its worst -depending on your viewpoint), it is “enhanced reality.”

Allen Funt found out pretty quickly that reality in and of itself was pretty boring. That’s why he ended up putting normal people in abnormal situations to see how they would react. I’m sure it wasn’t all comedy gold, and much of the footage ended up on the editing floor.

THE VOICE-OVER STUDIO

In a way, our recording booth is part of the “enhanced reality.” It is an artificial setting that can be quite intimidating, especially to newcomers. Some of my students have admitted that they too are sometimes suffering from Mike Fright, especially during live recordings. Their perfectionism might be part of the problem. They want to do so well that they tense up, and become like the self-conscious soldiers in “The Gripe Booth.”

One of the techniques I use to relax my students, is taken straight out of Allen Funt’s book. As we prepare for the session, we go over the script a couple of times and have fun with it. Unadulterated fun.

What my students don’t know, is that everything is being recorded. In their perception, there is no microphone, there is no right or wrong, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. They’re “just” talking to me, and there is no pressure to perform.

That’s when the magic happens, because people start sounding like themselves. They’re by no means perfect, but perfection is never the goal. Perfection is a perverse illusion, anyway. 

WINNING AUDITIONS

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t want people to do their best. I just don’t want them to overdo it. 

One of the reasons why some people aren’t winning auditions is because they sound over rehearsed. They focus too much on the microphone, and they forget to have fun. I will often ask them to position the mike above their head, practically out of sight. That way, it doesn’t distract. It’s one of those small changes that can make a big difference.

Sometimes I go bit further.

A few weeks ago, I asked one of my students to print out a life-size picture of a human ear, and tape it to her microphone.

“Why should I do that?” she asked puzzled.

“To remind you that you’re always talking to a person,” I said. “Not to a mike. It might look a bit eerie, but you’ll get used to it. I promise.”

Soon after my request she said her Mike Fright was practically gone, and when I listened to one of her auditions, she sounded so much better!

To celebrate the achievement, I proposed to take a picture of her in the booth. “It has to be spontaneous,” I said. “So, I’m not going to tell you when I’m taking it.”

Even though she knew it was coming, my snapshot took her by surprise.

“Smile,” I joked.

“You’re on Candid Camera!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet.


The ONE Thing Every Client Is Listening For

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 24 Comments

Senator Bernie SandersFor once the pundits and the public agree.

Donald Trump has it, and so does Bernie Sanders.

But Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton definitely do not.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about what separates the pretenders from the real deal. It could determine the outcome of the presidential election, as well as the future of your career.

It is what clients are listening for when they make the decision to hire you or not. It’s something you cannot buy, and it’s almost impossible to fake.

What is it?

Authenticity.

Some dictionaries define it as “being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”

Authenticity is often linked to being truthful and sincere. Presidential candidates need to convey to the electorate that they genuinely care, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum.

If politicians pick positions just to score points, or if they flip-flop in the hopes of becoming more electable, people get extremely suspicious. Commentators say it’s one of Hillary Clinton’s stumbling blocks on the road to the White House. Some voters feel that she is distant, calculated, and disingenuous.

Sanders and Trump, on the other hand, are seen as principled, passionate, and authentic.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH

Authenticity also has to do with how well you hold up under external pressure. Some people prefer to conform to certain trends in society to live a more comfortable life. Others stand up for what they believe in, and fight for the truths they hold dear.

When I became a vegetarian in my mid teens, friends and classmates never wasted an opportunity to make fun of me. While I was asked to defend my choice over and over again, the meat eaters at the table never had to explain themselves. I still get comments from those who love beef and bacon about wearing leather shoes, and why that’s supposedly inconsistent with a vegetarian lifestyle.

Going against the grain is never easy, but at some point all of us need to answer this question:

Do I want to live a life of conviction, or a life of compromise?

The question is deceptively simple, but the answer is not. It depends on the context, and on one’s personality. In certain areas it is easier to give in and be flexible. But in other areas you and I are morally obliged to draw a line so we can stay true to ourselves.

SMOKE SCREENS

For instance, one of my voice-over colleagues was asked to do a cigarette commercial. The money was very good, and he could certainly use it to pay off some of his mounting credit card debt. Yet, as a staunch non-smoker, he had serious reservations about promoting an unhealthy product.

Colleagues told him not to worry. “Just because you’re lending them your voice doesn’t mean you are endorsing their brand,” they said. “Work is work. What you choose to do privately has nothing to do with it. Most people won’t even know that it’s your voice in the commercial.”

“But,” answered my colleague, “how could I possibly persuade others to buy tobacco products I so much despise? It would be one big lie.”

“Oh, come on,” said one of his closest friends. “You’re an actor. Actors lie. That’s what they do. And the best liars become millionaires and win Oscars. That is how the game is played.”

In the end my colleague decided not to take the job because it would feel hypocritical, as he put it, to help sell a product he hated, and that had killed his father and grandfather. But the story doesn’t end there.

Two days later he got an offer for an on-camera job. A new client wanted him to appear in a short video for a chain of health food stores.

“Any conflicts?” he asked.

“Well,” said the producer, “because the video is promoting a healthy lifestyle, they want to make sure that the actors they hire are not associated with campaigns endorsing alcohol and tobacco products. Are we good on that?”

“You bet,” said my colleague with a smile. “You bet!”

FINDING REPRESENTATION

There is another way in which the word “authentic” is often used in our business. One of my voice-over students wanted to know what she had to do in order to get an agent. What would a typical agent be looking and listening for?

“Definitively someone with an authentic sound,” I said.

“But what does that mean?” she asked. “How do I know I sound authentic?”

“Well,” I responded, “You’ve probably noticed that many people who are thinking of becoming a voice-over, believe they stand a chance because they’re good at impersonations. Others come to me doing an impression of what they think a voice actor should sound like. It’s usually a version of a stereotypical movie trailer voice. That’s not what agents want to hear. They’re not interested in a cliché.

Agents want to hear the real, unvarnished YOU. It’s the YOU only you can bring to the table.”

“But how do they know it’s me?” my student wanted to know. “They don’t know me.”

“Trust me, they know,” I said. “They know because when you’re authentic, you sound believable and honest. You’re not pretending to be someone else.

Most people try too hard to sound good. They overact. They over articulate. They fix the mix a million times until they sound unnatural. You now what I mean, don’t you?

Of course you need to be easily understood in order to do this job. Your plosives can’t pop, and you have to tame your sibilance. But that’s technique. Just as in music, a technically perfect performance can fail to move people because there’s no personality behind it. No heart. A true artist uses technique to support the creation of something magical and vulnerable. Something real.”

A SIMPLE REVELATION

“That’s easier said than done,” responded my student. “Where do I even begin? Since I started these coaching sessions I’ve become so self-conscious. I find it hard to read a script and not evaluate myself as I’m reading it. It’s very unhelpful, and I feel like a fake.”

“Wow,” I said. “If only you could hear yourself right now. That was phenomenal.”

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“This is the YOU I have been wanting to hear for quite a while now. This is the YOU I had hoped would come out.”

“But I wasn’t acting,” she said. “I was just talking to you.”

“Exactly,” I said. “You hit the nail on the head. You were not acting.

You’ve been trying way too hard for way too long. Relax! Take a deep breath. Soften the muscles in your face and in your neck. Smile for Pete’s sake. You’re taking this way too seriously.”

She looked at me as if I’d said something inappropriate. Then I continued:

“I want you to stop the internal dialogue, so you can focus on the external dialogue. Can you do that for a minute or two?”

She nodded.

“Let’s take a look at the first few lines of the script we’ve been working on, and TALK to me. Pretend it’s just you and me having a conversation.”

THE REAL YOU

After a while my student stopped and said: ”I don’t think this is working. I feel like I’m just phoning it in without making any effort. I don’t think I sound good at all.”

“How you think you sound, and how you actually sound, are two different things,” I said. “You can’t hear yourself the way I’m hearing you. That’s the problem. Shall I play the audio back to you?”

When she listened to herself for a moment, her mouth fell open. Literally.

“This DOES sound like me,” she admitted. “I had no idea… This is pretty amazing!”

“Allow me to let you in on a little secret,” I said.

“Great (voice) acting has nothing to do with acting. It has more to do with being. If you want to do this type of work and do it well, you’ve got to be comfortable with yourself. If you’re not, people are going to pick up on that, just as they can tell when a politician is blowing smoke.”

“Oh, let’s not talk about politics,” said my student. “My authentic self doesn’t want to hear about that.”

“Fine by me,” I said. “I vote to continue this session at another time.”

“I’m not going to debate that,” my student replied.

“See you next week!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Bernie Sanders via photopin (license)


Please don’t let me be misunderstood

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 7 Comments

ReflectionA few days ago, something happened to me that had never happened before.

At the end of Uncle Roy’s 10th annual VO-BBQ, a young colleague walked up to me and said:

“I wanted to thank you.

You are the reason why I am a voice-over today.”

“How so?” I asked, pleasantly surprised.

He said: “When I watched your video The Troublesome Truth about a Voice-Over Career, I just knew I had to become a voice actor. Since then I have worked very hard to launch my career, and I couldn’t be happier doing what I love to do. So, thank you!”

“I’m so glad to hear that,” I said, “but really… all the credit goes to you. You made this happen. Not me. I just put a video on YouTube.”

When I thought about this encounter the next day, it made me smile. So many people have seen the video, and quite a few commentators accused me of trying to kill their dreams by listing all the reasons why a voice-over career might not be for them. How dare I?

Now, here’s a guy who had the opposite response. After watching my video, he became more determined than ever to make it as a professional voice talent! It just goes to show that the same information can elicit an entirely different reaction, depending on the person who’s processing it.

This confirms one of my favorite sayings:

The world we see is a mirror of who we are.

If you are a glass-is-half-empty kind of person, you will always find evidence to support that idea. If you believe that the glass is always half full, you’ll find example after example to underpin that view. Our perception is mostly projection.

I also had to smile because I do love it when open-minded, talented people take advice to heart, and run with it.

You see, it’s so easy to look at a video, listen to a podcast or quickly scan a blog post, and immediately move on to something else. That’s today’s society. We go from one stimulus to the next. There’s no percolation time, allowing info to sink in. That’s a shame, because processing more information faster doesn’t make us any wiser. I believe it makes us more shallow and stressed. 

When we listen to someone making a point, we hardly ask ourselves the basic questions:

1. What is the speaker really saying? How much of it do I understand, and what is it that I don’t yet get?
2. What does this information mean to me? How is it relevant?
3. What should I do with it?

Why do we skip these questions?

For one, because many of us have lost the ability to be in the moment and truly listen. We’re so busy trying to come up with a response, that we don’t even hear what’s being said. Or, we assume we already know what the other person is going to say, and we respond to that. The better we know the person we’re talking to, the more frequently this happens.

It’s a relationship killer, and I’m not only talking about intimate relationships.

Whether you’re a voice actor or you do some other kind of freelance work, your level of success is deeply linked to the level in which you understand and respond to your client’s needs. That’s why I find it very challenging to work with clients who give little or no instructions.

It’s impossible to live up to unknown expectations. This is true in our professional, as well as in our personal lives. And because we make assumptions instead of asking questions, we get in trouble. 

The other day I was convinced I knew what a client wanted me to do. My job was to dub a Dutch actor in English, and the director had sent me a video clip of the guy I was supposed to emulate. So, I sent the director a recording of me mimicking the Dutchman to the best of my abilities.

The next day I got a request to redo the dub. “I only sent you the video so you could get a sense of the tempo,” the director said. “I don’t want you to imitate the man. I want you to sound like yourself.” So, once again I had been mind reading someone else’s intentions, and had missed the mark.

Because of experiences like these, I can’t blame those who leave strange and unusual comments on my Troublesome Truth video, or on this blog for that matter. I have to accept that once I release words and images into cyberspace, they will take on a life of their own, and people will interpret them any way they want.

Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Like the time this young colleague thanked me for my video.

And I realize that what he did with my message says a lot about him, and very little about me.

Enough said.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: reflection via photopin (license)


A Friend Vanishes. Now what?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 18 Comments

Police officersAbout a week ago, my good friend Mark left his home early in the morning to go to work.

There was nothing unusual about that, except for one thing.

He never arrived.

That day, Mark did not come home either, and he did not respond to increasingly desperate text and voice messages from his wife Maggie.

Mark disappeared without a trace.

As you can imagine, Maggie was at her wit’s end when she asked my wife and me to help look for her husband. But where to begin? Whom to call? And what would we tell their 11-year old daughter?

The police were notified. A missing persons report was filed. Hospitals were called. Again and again. It felt like we were part of some television drama. Except, this wasn’t scripted, and we weren’t acting out scenes. This was raw and real, and our friend was probably in danger.

Once we realized that Mark wasn’t coming back any time soon, we used social media to alert as many friends, colleagues, and family members as possible. The day after Mark disappeared, police forces in several states, church groups, girl scouts, teachers, and the news media were searching for our friend.

As the hours went by, we hoped for the best, and feared the worst. The hardest part was not knowing what was going on, and when and how it would end. 

Looking back at this time, I learned a few things I want share with you.

EVERYTHING CHANGES

For one, the definition of what’s important in life completely changes when one of your best friends goes missing. All of a sudden, the little things that seemed so annoying, aren’t worth fussing about anymore. 

As we were working around the clock to potentially save Mark’s life, I was also struck by the fact that so many people are pursuing things that are utterly trivial. It is the luxury of the careless and carefree. Until the day Mark left, I took that luxury very much for granted. 

Third, responses to Mark’s disappearance fell into two categories. One group of people told us they were “hoping and praying.” The other group asked us: “What can we do to help?” Both responses we much needed, and much appreciated!

Following that, I discovered something else. Getting help is not always easy, but if you need it, you have to ask for it. Shamelessly. Of course Mark’s wife felt uncomfortable having to share her husband’s disappearance with the world. But as soon as we started reaching out, people we didn’t even know existed began organizing search parties.

Friends of friends just happened to know police officers in the area where one of Mark’s phones was located. One person was friends with a producer for Dateline NBC. Perhaps we could take the story national! People also started making meals for us, so we could focus on our search. After all, time was ticking.

LOOKING IN THE WRONG PLACES

I also learned that it was very easy to waste precious time taking the right action in the wrong direction. Here’s one example. 

By pinging one of Mark’s cell phones, it was possible to locate the tower origin of the last signal his phone received. This turned out to be a rather bad neighborhood of a town in New Jersey. That’s where the police hoped to find Mark and his car. When nothing turned up, we got extremely worried.

Later on we learned that Mark was nowhere near that town, but that somebody had probably stolen one of his phones, and had taken it to that location.

With almost no leads, and no signs of life, imagine our response every time the home phone rang. At times, the uncertainty was unbearable. But throughout this ordeal we kept on believing that our friend would eventually be found, and be reunited with his family. Pessimism was another luxury we couldn’t afford.

AN UNEXPECTED CALL

Mark disappeared on a Wednesday morning. Friday night his wife came back from picking up their daughter, when she noticed that someone had left a message on her phone from an unknown number. When she listened to it, she shrieked. It was Mark. He asked to be picked up at a shopping mall in the area. He was exhausted but alive.

An hour later, Mark was home again, hugging his wife and daughter.

What prompted him to disappear for a few days, only Mark knows. There were a few problems in his life that he didn’t know how to solve, and he needed time to clear his mind and sort things out. He now knows that what he did was an act of desperation, and that he needs professional help (which he is already getting). 

Once he was back, he also realized that no matter how bad things seemed, and how lonely he may have felt, he was never alone. He was surrounded by people ready to lend a helping hand. 

At this point you may wonder why I am sharing Mark’s story on a blog about freelancing and voice-overs.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

My first reason is personal. Because I love what I do so much, I have a tendency to be obsessed with my work. I spend long hours in a small studio recording in solitude, and when I’m done, I write about it on these pages. Sometimes I even think that what I do has some significance.

Surely, it is a lot of fun, and it pays a few bills, but in the grand scheme of things it’s just a means to an end. All the battles I’ve been fighting on this blog about rates, reputation, and professionalism… those battles could wait until a friend was found.

Professionally speaking, Mark’s story demonstrates that it’s easy to waste time and energy taking action in the wrong direction, hoping and praying for something that is never going to be. I think of the many people who have been talked into a voice-over career who just don’t have what it takes (apart from a credit card). They throw money at online casting sites, and spend hours and hours auditioning for jobs they’ll never get.

No matter how hard you work and how much you invest, you’re not going to find what you’re searching for, if you’re looking in the wrong places.

CONNECTIONS

And finally, I have to talk about the importance of a support system. Whether we realize it or not, all of us are connected in many unexpected ways. Even when things seem dark and hopeless, there are people you may not even know, who care and who can help. Whether you have a problem with your business or it’s something personal… all you need to do is reach out, and ask.

There is a reason why we’re not on this planet by ourselves. Of course that’s both a blessing and a curse.

A journalist once asked a famous theologian why G-d would allow so much evil to happen.

The theologian answered:

“G-d is not in the evil action. G-d is in the loving response.”

Well, the response to Mark’s disappearance was heartwarming, and it gave us hope and the strength to continue our search. But it did more than that.

Somewhere on his lonely journey, Mark felt that something was pulling him back home. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he knew that he had to return, and that everything would be okay.

Eventually.

You see, what happens to us is something we can’t always control.

The one thing we have control over, is how we respond.

If you were one of “our” responders, I want you to know that you have made a difference, and Mark, his family, and his friends will be eternally grateful for what you did.

You’ve made this place a better world!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: gay celebration dolores park — dyke rally, pre pink saturday party : sfpd, police officers, dolores park, san francisco (2013) via photopin (license)