freelance success

The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MAGNET

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

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

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

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

THE COLANDER

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

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

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

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

THE CLAY

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

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

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

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

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

One last thing.

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

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Shaping the Heart via photopin (license)


Is Your Freelance Career Fueled by Fear?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 24 Comments

“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” – Benjamin Franklin

WARNING: do not read the following sentence.

Yes, this one!

Why did you read it when I asked you not to?

Don’t even think of reading the next line either.

Are you blind? You just did it again. What’s up with you?

Why is it so hard to follow simple instructions?

You’re a grown-up, aren’t you?

Kids are different. You go to the store and make them swear upon their teddy bear’s life not to touch anything. And what do they do? As soon as they get a chance, they start picking up stuff left and right. You tell them not to cross the road and before you know it, they run to the other side of the street. But that’s youthful spontaneity, isn’t it?

What about you? When you tell yourself not to do something, do you do it? Or rather: not do it?

Then why is it so hard not to hear that stupid tune that has totally taken over your brain?

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover


Call Off Black Friday

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 24 Comments

10-plus money-saving tips for the frugal freelancer!

My mother must have had a Master’s Degree in Money Management.

As a child, I hated it. At the supermarket checkout there was always some whiny kid in front of me, pointing at the strategically placed sweets.

“Mommy, I want a lollipop!” cried the boy.

The little brat was already digging into an open bag of greasy potato chips that had yet to be paid for.

“Mom, I want it now!”

As his mother was loading boxes of sugar-coated cereal onto the conveyor belt, the 3-year old monster turned up the volume to show the world who was in charge.

“Mom, give me that lollipop! You said I could have a lollipop!! I WANT IT!”

And sure enough, after thirty seconds of relentless begging, the little Prince’s wish was granted.

His mother turned to my Mom and said apologetically:

“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”

“Why don’t you give him an apple?” my Mom suggested.

“Oh no, that wouldn’t work,” said the monster’s Mom. “I’ve tried that once. It was a disaster. “Connor isn’t really into fruit. He might be allergic.”

“Well,” said my Mom, “he seems to like strawberries” as she pointed to the lollipop sticking out of Connor’s mouth. But she had spoken too early.

“I hate this lollipop,” yelled the boy. “Give me a cherry one!”

As the appropriately named Dum Dum landed on the floor, I had only one wish: I wanted to trade my Mom in for Connor’s mother. My Mother never bought me any lollipops, or that colored cereal with a surprise toy in the box. And if I happened to be hungry, she gave me a carrot or a celery stick. Disgusting!

A few years later, we ran into Connor again at Toyland. Not much had changed, apart from the fact that he had put on a few pounds. He was the first six-year old with a double chin I’d ever seen.

“Mom, I want that race car!” he yelled.

Connor and I were both drooling over the same shiny Matchbox® model. It was a piece of perfection.

“Mom, I want it now!”

Connor’s presence somehow gave me the courage to ask my mother if she’d buy me the car.

“How much money have you saved so far?” asked my Mom.

This year I had started earning an allowance by doing small chores around the house.

“Fifty cents,” I replied.

“And how much is this car?”

“One guilder.”

“You get 20 cents per week, so if you really want this car, why don’t you save up for it?”

“Mom, I knew you would say that!”

“Of course,” said my Mom. “Now, let’s get your sister a birthday present.”

At the checkout, Connor had already taken his brand new car out of the box and was ready to destroy it.

His mother turned around and said:

“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”

ACCOUNTABLE

The other day, I had a meeting with my accountant. He specializes in small businesses.

“Let me ask you a question,” he said when I came in.

What’s the difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer? If you had to boil it down to one thing, what would it be?”

“Well,” I said, “I can think of a few things. How about talent… connections… creativity?”

“Wrong,” said my accountant. “What do Jerry Lee Lewis, Tammy Wynette, Mickey Rooney and Lorraine Bracco have in common?”

“Brian,” I said, “You tell me. You’re the expert.”

He continued: “We’re talking about talented, well-connected and creative people. And at one point in their career, all of them had to file for bankruptcy.

Here’s my point, Paul: The difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer lies in these two words: Money Management. And where does money management start?

“Well, Brian, isn’t that where you come in?”

“Wrong again. Money management starts between your ears! It’s about the difference between instant gratification and impulse control. Didn’t your mother teach you that? You see, there’s no secret formula to financial stability:

  1. Spend less than you earn
  2. Pay off your debt
  3. Invest, save and share

“That’s a great philosophy, Brian” I replied. “But you know as well as I do that it doesn’t work like that in the real world. The kids that have never heard the word “no” became adults driven by a sense of entitlement.

We might moan and groan about the economy, but all we really want is a big fat turkey for Thanksgiving and a big flat screen TV on Black Friday. People demand the latest and the greatest, if only to keep up with the Joneses.

If life gets hard, put it on a card.

After all: You’re worth it. That’s what this country is all about: prescription drug addiction, emotional eating and retail therapy.”

MODERATION NATION

“It feels good to vent, doesn’t it?” said Brian. “So, what’s your answer to the I consume, therefore I am mindset? Should we call off Black Friday and fire Santa?”

“How about moderation?” I said. “How about redefining what makes us happy? Happiness cannot be found in the ever-increasing accumulation of stuff. Isn’t life supposed to be about who you are and what you have to give; not about how much you have and can keep for yourself?

My Mom kept a tight rein on the budget, and at times I was jealous of some of my classmates who could literally be a kid in the candy store. She didn’t always give me what I wanted, but I always got what I needed. Thanks to her, I became a frugal freelancer. She taught me one of the most important lessons:

A rich life has nothing to do with an expensive lifestyle.

We never went to Disney World®. We hiked on nature trails instead, and for years I told the world I wanted to be a forester, protecting plants and animals. We rarely went out to dinner. Instead, my mother taught me how to make delicious, nutritious meals from scratch. Our kitchen never had a microwave in it, and somehow, we survived.

At the time I thought it was so unfair: all the kids in the neighborhood had a VCR. Meanwhile, it took years before we got our first color TV. But my best childhood memories are of the whole family sitting around the table playing board games. I paused for a moment…

Be honest, Brian: Am I getting old?”

“Definitely,” my accountant said with a smile. “But as your financial advisor, I like the way you’re thinking. Now, tell me again: what was that website you were talking about the other day?”

“It’s called Freecycle.org. Freecycle is a worldwide network of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their towns. Not junk, but good stuff that would otherwise end up in landfills. A year ago, our stove decided it was time to retire and Freecycle came to the rescue.

Someone in the neighborhood was remodeling the kitchen and her practically new stove didn’t fit anymore. She put it on Freecycle and I picked it up. It didn’t cost me a penny. And if there’s stuff we have no use for, we put it on Freecycle too.

“Didn’t your TV set give up, last year?” asked Brian.

“You’re right, and guess how much I paid to replace it? Fourteen dollars and ninety-five cents. I found a TV at a local Goodwill store. The folks who dropped it off were going for one of these LCD-things. There’s nothing wrong with that old television. It’s just a bit… ginormous and you need five men to lift it. But the story gets even better…

Last month we cut the cable. I was getting tired of being forced to pay for all those networks we never watch. Cable companies are like a restaurant charging you for everything on the menu when you’re only eating a few items. Cutting cable alone saves us over $1300 a year. Now I can put that money into my new recording space.”

“Aren’t those prefab boxes expensive?” Brian wanted to know.

“You bet they are,” I said. “That’s why one of my friends is going to help me build a booth in the basement. And if we ever were to sell our home, the new owners will have the soundproof media room they always wanted.

SAVING GRACE

Spending money is just too easy. Saving money is a sport.

I spent hours and hours researching the web for the best materials and the best deals. I asked my social media friends for advice and I got quite an education. And at the end of the day, I believe that building something with my own bare hands is much more rewarding. I can also make sure that the materials I use are environmentally friendly.

I do the same thing when I am shopping for gear. Before buying brand new, I check out Sweetwater’s Trading Post, Craigslist and eBay first. A friend of mine just got a beautiful Blue Robbie preamp; retail price: $799. He picked it up for $500. It was barely a year old and the former owner had taken care of it as if it were his baby. My friend’s voice-over clients couldn’t hear the difference between brand new and “previously loved.” He recently bought a Mac Mini. Refurbished, same story.”

“Off course it’s not all about money,” said Brian. “My new-age therapist says that money is just an exchange of energy. She tells me I should move more. I spend my days behind a desk, staring at a screen. At the end of the day I just want to go home, be a slouch on the couch and… stare at a screen.”

“Do you know what you and I should do, Brian?” I said.

“What’s that?”

“I think both of us should become independently healthy.”

“Care for some carrots?” joked Brian.

“You’re funny! That’s what my Mom used to say.”

“Speaking of your Mom… how’s she doing?”

“She passed away on April 11, 2008.”

I took a deep breath. 

“My Mother really knew how to stretch a guilder. When she died, most of her belongings went to families in need and she made it very clear that she didn’t want to be buried. She donated her organs and the rest of her body to science. 

My Mom died on a Friday.

It was one of the darkest days of my life.

Not a day goes by, without me thinking of her, and wishing I could call that day off.”

SHORTLIST

 Now, before we get all teary-eyed and sentimental, let’s end with something practical. Here’s my shortlist of tips for the Frugal Freelancer my mother would definitely approve of:

1. THINK of the WHY before you buy. Separate the needs from the wants. Ask questions such as:

  • Is this something I simply would like to have, or do I absolutely need it NOW?
  • What would happen if I don’t buy it?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Sleep on it (especially when buying mattresses). Build in a minimum waiting period for bigger purchases 

2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK and use the internet for research and for finding deals


3. Invest in QUALITY that will last

  • Remember: refurbished products are tested and certified and offer big savings. I bought my Apple Time Capsule refurbished and it is doing its job without any problems. 

4. GO GREEN

  • Pick products that are good for the planet
  • Buy Energy Star products
  • Go paperless and recycle
  • Buy at a consignment or Goodwill store and use www.freecycle.org to get rid of good stuff you no longer need or to find things you’ve always wanted.

5. CUT the CABLE


6. BREW your own COFFEE and make your own MEALS

7. STAY HEALTHY

8. SELL YOUR SECOND CAR

9. REDISCOVER THE LIBRARY

10. BE ORGANIZED and keep track of your income and expenses

11. Add up all your savings and give at least 10% to a worthy cause, and

Live each day with an attitude of gratitude.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: please retweet.