freelancers

A Historic Year

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 3 Comments

For many reasons, 2016 was a year for the history books.

Where shall I begin? 

Let’s start with the economy, stupid! The on-demand gig economy, to be exact.

If as a self-employed person you ever feel isolated, remember this: You are not alone!

A GROWING NUMBER

The freelance workforce in the U.S.grew from 53.7 to 55 million people this year, now representing 35% of workers. In 2020, this number is expected to go up to a whopping 50%. In other words: you are part of the new normal. That’s a good thing, and a bad thing. 

Right now, freelancers contribute an estimated $1 trillion annually in freelance earnings to the U.S. economy. Unfortunately, flex workers don’t enjoy the same benefits and protections as non-freelancers. Employers have turned regular, full-time jobs, into part-time, freelance jobs. That way they don’t have to contribute to health care, pension plans, and other benefits.

Because the freelance workforce is mostly unorganized and unprotected, it’s easy for employers to do whatever they want. According to the Freelancers Union, over 70% of their members have been cheated out of payments that they’ve earned, and are stiffed an average of $6,390 every year.

On that topic there is some good news that made 2016 a historic year. It’s something that has been mostly overlooked in voice-over circles, perhaps because it’s relevant to the 1.3 million freelancers in New York City. However, this news could eventually be the beginning of change in the rest of the country. 

FREELANCE ISN’T FREE

In October, the NYC Council unanimously passed a bill helping freelancers get paid on time and in full. On November 16th, Mayor de Blasio signed it into law, and it’s called the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act.” NYC is the first city in the nation to provide protections against non-payment for freelancers and independent contractors. 

Here’s how it works:

  • The law, which will apply to contracts of $800 and up, requires any company that hires a freelance worker to execute a simple written contract (it could be as simple as an e-mail), describing the work to be completed, the rate and method of payment, the date when payment is due, and basic contact information for both parties.  

  • Payment in full is required within 30 days of the completion of services or of the payment due date under the contract, whichever is later. Companies who fail to pay would face penalties, including double damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties.

  • Under the law, companies would be prohibited from retaliation against freelancers who seek to exercise their rights under this bill.

According to council member Brad Lander who worked closely with the Freelancers Union to write this bill…

“The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs will act as a navigator for freelancers facing nonpayment. DCA will provide model written contracts in multiple languages, accept complaints from freelancers, issue a “Notice of Complaint” to hiring parties that don’t pay, and make it easier for an aggrieved freelancer to bring charges to court”

He continues:

“Just 5% of freelancers take delinquent clients to court, in large part due to the very high cost of hiring an attorney, and the unlikelihood for that lawyer to take the case “on spec.” Those freelancers that do bring deadbeat clients to court are often subject to retaliation – an especially big problem for freelancers that work through agencies, or on an ongoing retainer.”

“By passing this law, NYC is helping to address a big gap in state and federal laws for protecting workers. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act can serve as a model for cities across the country to take action to protect the growing number of “gig economy” workers.”

And that’s precisely what I hope will happen. This law needs to become the norm in our nation so freelancers like you and me are protected from non-paying clients.

THE STRIKE GOES ON

The last thing that made 2016 a historic year is this: unionized voice actors appearing in video games went on strike against 11 employers. The sticking points are twofold: working conditions and the compensation method. I could easily devote an entire blog post to dig deeper into the issues, but instead I encourage you to click on this link to get a better idea of what’s going on.

This is the first time I feel SAG-AFTRA is taking voice actors seriously. For years, the unions have treated us as second and third-rate citizens. Now that certain video games make even more money than some Hollywood blockbusters, we finally matter. However, video game voice actors make up a small percentage of all unionized voice talent, and I want SAG-AFTRA to care just as much about the compensation and working conditions of other members.

Whatever the outcome of the strike may be, the agreement reached will send a signal to the entire industry, and will impact both union and non-union talent. Why is that? Well, technology is changing rapidly. More people watch content online, and the internet knows no borders. Traditional media markets that were used to determine rates are rapidly disappearing, and our pay needs to be up to par with this changing landscape.

CROSSING THE LINE

The strike is also testing our solidarity as a professional group. Will newcomers take advantage of the situation, and cross the (virtual) picket line? You may find it shocking that some colleagues will act as scabs, but to me this is an indicator of another trend: the deliberate weakening of the position of voice-overs from within. Every day a symbolic picket line is crossed by voice-overs that are taking jobs for less because…

“Some money is better than no money”

“I’m just getting my feet wet”

“It’s only a hobby.”

“The client said she couldn’t afford to pay more.”

“I’m an idiot and I only care about myself.”

I hope 2017 will be the year in which union and non-union voice actors will take a stand, just like their video game voicing colleagues. I’m not suggesting we go on strike, but we can refuse to work for clients that don’t take our craft seriously. In fact, we don’t take our craft seriously every time we allow a client to take advantage of us, financially or otherwise.

There are 55 million independent workers in the U.S., and our numbers are rapidly growing.

But if we don’t act now to protect our livelihood, voice-overs won’t be part of the increase.

And we only have ourselves to blame. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Shrieking Tree Anti-Torture Vigil – Week 18 via photopin (license)


10 Simple Ways to Surprise Your Clients

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Promotion 16 Comments

Surprise!“Clients don’t like surprises,” said one of my business mentors.

“In an unpredictable world, they need to know that they can depend on you. If you can live up to their expectations, you’re building a long-term relationship.”

Wise words from a wise man, and yet I only partially agree with him.

In order to live up to your client’s expectations, you first need to know what they are.

Many clients forget to tell you, and many freelancers don’t bother to ask. They just assume they know, and get burned in the end.

Thanks to the marvels of the internet, there’s often little or no direct contact between a client and a freelancer. You know how it goes. We respond to vague job postings with a vague budget, and simply hope for the best.

If we happen to land the job, we get straight to work so we can meet the deadline. But what to do when we’re not sure what to do?

Some freelancers will turn to their colleagues, and ask them for an uninformed opinion:

“Please help. Should I pronounce this strange name in this way or that way?”

“Do I read all the footnotes or shall I leave them out?”

“What kind of tone or accent would be best for this book?”

Sorry people, but you’re barking up the wrong tree! It doesn’t matter what your Facebook friends think you should do. Your client doesn’t care what you think either.

Go to the source and ask!

The only way to consistently satisfy your customers, is to meet and exceed their expectations. You’ve got to offer exceptional value that justifies your rate. That’s how you build your business.

Now to the first part of my mentor’s advice. The part about surprises.

I happen to think that clients are human, and humans like surprises. That is, as long as they are pleasant.

The first way to surprise your client has everything to do with what we just talked about:

1. Communicate

Unless it’s cut-and-dried, don’t just accept the job and get to work. Get in touch, and stay connected. Show some interest in the project you’re hired to do. Ask questions. Get details. Give updates. You’re not some speech-imitating computer program. You’re a real person, so show your client you care. 

You’d be surprised how much goodwill you create when you communicate. Time spent getting to know your client’s preferences will save you time in the end.

So, let me ask you this. If you could work with someone who is open, flexible, and communicative, or with someone who isn’t, who would you choose?

2. Appreciate

Even the most selfless individuals have an inner need for validation. We all want to know that what we do or have done, matters.

One way to surprise your clients, is to let them know how appreciative you are that they’ve entrusted their project to you. Find something specific you can compliment a client on. Perhaps they’ve provided you with a pronunciation guide. Perhaps you’re excited about the product you’re promoting. Maybe you fell in love with the story you’re about to read.

Your client cannot read your mind. They can’t see your excitement. You’ve got to tell them!

In a society where we usually point out what’s wrong, it is time for some positive reinforcement. Compliments don’t cost a dime, and they give people wings!

3. Involve

A percentage of my clients has never worked with a voice-over before, or they’ve had a bad experience. By telling them about how you work, you are putting their minds at ease. You are managing their expectations. An informed client has learned what he or she is paying you for, and is less likely to complain about an invoice.

Some clients have no idea to what extent they can be involved. I always let them know they can listen in, and direct me during the recording session. Believe it or not, some customers still act surprised when they find out how much input they can have. The more involved they are, the greater the chance that they’ll be happy with the end product.

4. Reward

On the topic of positive reinforcement, I like to reward returning- and extra generous customers by occasionally throwing in freebies. One of my long-term translation clients recently asked me to translate two or three words. Even though I minimally charge $30 regardless of the length of the text, I told them it was on the house.

Never nickel-and-dime a client with a big budget. 

Another return-client sent me a Dutch script that was translated from English. Even though they’re not paying me to proofread it, I always do. As usual, I found a few mistakes, and I suggested some changes. Free of charge. Mind you, I’m not operating a pro bono translation service. I just use my fine-toothed comb to make sure the end result won’t embarrass my client (and the person who’s reading the text).

Also think of rewarding clients who pay within ten days after invoice. Offer a percentage off the bill as an incentive. Reward clients by absorbing the fee for money transfer. Give them 20% off the next project just to say thank you for being loyal customers. It’s an investment in the relationship.

5. Add value

All of us have many talents, but clients won’t make use of them unless they know what we’re capable of. A female colleague recently surprised a client by telling him she also sang in a jazz band. The next day she was hired to record ten jingles.

Another colleague has extensive on-camera experience. After finishing a voice-over job, she told the producer she had to go to a photo shoot. That afternoon he looked at her online portfolio, and booked her for a TV commercial.

A VO-friend of mine can do many voices. One day he was recording a rather serious e-Learning script. During a break he started reading the text in some of his silly voices. The producer was standing outside, and thought some new actors had entered the studio. When he saw it was my friend, he was impressed. Two weeks later, my friend started his career in cartoons.

Some of my clients are actually surprised to learn that Dutch is my mother tongue, and that I can handle translations too. Every once in a while I translate a script, and record the same project in different languages.

6. Refer

No matter how talented you are, you’re not always a good fit. Surprise a client by recommending a few colleagues who could get the job done. You’ve just saved your client a ton of time, and you’re likely to make a colleague happy.

If you don’t know anyone, refer your client to your agent who does.

7. Beat the deadline

As long as quality doesn’t suffer, delight your client by sending in your work early. This will make the person you’re working with look good. And if that person looks good, you look good. Everybody wins.

8. Speak your client’s language

I mean this literally and figuratively. It’s important that you can explain what you’re doing in terms your clients can understand. Too often, I hear people use jargon, and they don’t even have a clue they’re using it.

Clients won’t always admit that they have no idea what you’re talking about. Look your client in the eye, and/or listen carefully. Are they still with you? Do they have questions? Don’t expect them to sign off on something they don’t yet understand.

If you’re dealing with a foreign client, find out how to say “thank you very much” in their language, or a simple word like “goodbye.” It doesn’t take much effort, and it’s always appreciated. Show your client that you’re not one of those people who expects the rest of the world to speak English. And -getting back to number 2- let your client know how much you appreciate the fact that they’re communicating with you in English.

9. Send a card or make a call

It’s so easy and convenient to send someone a quick email. But never underestimate the power of the personal touch.

Rather than sending a quick, obligatory thank you note, why not make a call? Why not send a card? Some colleagues have designed special cards for that purpose that includes info on how they can be reached.

I once came to a studio to record a voice-over, and I saw my own card on my producer’s cork board. I had sent that card over a year ago!

“Do these small gestures really matter?” you may ask.

The only actions that have no impact, are the ones you don’t take. 

10. Stay in touch

I know quite a few colleagues who go from job to job. Once the script has been recorded, and the invoice has been paid, they forget about it. They also forget about the client who hired them. Big mistake.

You don’t need an introduction to a client you’ve once worked with. As long as they were happy with your work, there’s an increased chance that they will hire you again. That is, if you manage to stay on their radar screen.

I’m not asking you to cyberstalk customers, or to bombard them with bi-weekly newsletters they never signed up for. Find an appropriate and relevant moment to connect. The key is to keep it personal, and to keep it short.

One of the producers I’ve worked with just won an award. I called her, and congratulated on her win. Her first words:

“Paul, what a nice surprise!”

One last but very important thing.

All these different ways to surprise your clients can backfire when used as manipulative tricks.

Whatever you decide to do, it has to be genuine. It has to be sincere. Don’t even try to fake it, because you will fail.

Your intention will determine your results.

That, my friends, should come as no surprise!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet!

photo credit: Jesse Draper via photopin cc


The Freelancer’s Creed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 19 Comments

Paul Strikwerda with tulipsTo my past, present and future clients:

I AM A FREELANCER and my added value will always be higher than my rate.

I am here to make your life easier; to solve a particular problem; work on a project and save you money by getting the job done more efficiently and more skillfully.

When you hire me, you can rely on my expertise, my experience and my enthusiasm.

Unlike so many people who go to work and go through the motions just to collect a paycheck, I became a freelancer to do what I’m good at; to do what I love… and I love what I do.

I need no time tracker, no hand-holding micro-managing supervisor or never-ending on-the-job training.

When your 9 to 5 crew leaves the building,

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.

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10 things clients don’t care about

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 56 Comments

Let me preface this post by saying that I feel very lucky.

In the past 25 years I was able to develop a strong relationship with a number of clients. The longer we go back, the fewer words we have to waste on what each side is expecting from the other.

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

Throughout the years I have heard colleagues complain about their clients:

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


Why Some Will Never Make It

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 78 Comments

I remember exactly where I was when it happened.

On my way to Las Vegas, I popped in a Tony Robbins tape from his Personal Power series.

Tony Robbins is a hugely successful motivational speaker, trainer and writer. If you have a million dollars, he’ll give you his private number and you may call him 365 days a year for a private coaching session.

People either love him or hate him. Those who hate him are usually put off by his hyped up, in your face presentation style. Those who love him are pumped up by his towering presence and contagious enthusiasm, whether it’s on CD, during a live seminar or on TV.

Robbins built his career on…

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.

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The secret to landing any freelance job

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 11 Comments

Is your freelance business going down the drain?

Are you sick and tired of rejection?

Have you had enough of wasting your time on auditions, bids and proposals that never lead to anything?

Perhaps it is time to make frustration your friend. Be sure to add a strong dose of disgust to the mix. According to success strategist Jim Rohn, disgust is one of the four emotions that can lead to life change. Rohn:

“The person who feels disgusted has reached a point of no return. He or she is ready to throw down the gauntlet at life and say, “I’ve had it!”

RESOLVE

Once your frustration has reached a boiling point, it is time to make up your mind. Are you throwing in the towel, or are you going to take massive action and turn your business around? If you pick the last option, the next question is: HOW?

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