Freelancing

Calling it Quits

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

There.

He said it.

And I happen to agree with him.

My agent Erik has a YouTube Channel every voice talent should watch and subscribe to. It’s called The Outspoken. Erik uses this channel to answer questions, and to expose all the BS that’s going on in the voice-over world. Let me tell you: he’s got his job cut out for him!

A week or so ago, Erik posted a video with no-nonsense advice for voice-over newbies and coaches. To coaches he had this to say:

“I feel it’s irresponsible in today’s market to bring in and encourage new talent.”

And for newbies he dropped this bombshell:

“Your chances of making it big are close to… nil.”

That’s not the message most people want to hear, and yet they have to hear it again and again until it sinks into their stubborn skulls. And if you don’t take Erik’s word for it, listen to what one of your colleagues had to say. He just wrote me this email:

“Paul, I know that you’re a good source for the up and up on voiceovers and was just wondering: are voiceover actors getting obsolete? I have been doing this for well over nine years now; had my ups and downs, but lately it’s been on the downside. I was used to making thousands of dollars on the side doing this, but now it’s virtually nothing, so now I’m trying to reignite my IT career once again. It’s not something that I really like, but I do have a degree in it. I like doing voiceovers a lot more, but it is very slim pickens now. Just wondering if you knew anything going on in the voiceover industry that might be happening with voice talent.”

Well, a lot is happening, and it ain’t all good.

So many talented, hard-working people are having a tough time right now. Don’t think we’re the only group of flex workers that has trouble in this fickle gig economy, though. Freelance photographers, graphic designers, copywriters, event planners, fitness trainers, independent music teachers, -even therapists in private practice are struggling to find clients, and make ends meet. Some of them are ready to pull the plug. The question is:

How do you know it is time to hang up your hat?

Different people have different reasons. For some it’s purely financial. Others have trouble keeping up with the changing nature of their business. So, what are some of the reasons for wanting or needing to call it quits?

Here’s a quick checklist:

You’re not booking enough jobs, and you’re running out of money.

You have no bites on Pay-to-Plays, and agents aren’t interested.

You don’t know how to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack.

You can’t afford to invest in quality equipment and/or coaching, and you have no money to outsource the things you hate doing.

You find it tough to market yourself, and to sell your services. 

You have a hard time motivating yourself. You’re bored doing the same thing over and over again. There’s no challenge, and no room to grow, 

You’re stressed out by the uncertainty that comes with so-called freelance freedom.

You can’t organize or prioritize.

You need a lot of hand-holding and spoon-feeding.

You’re feeling isolated and lonely. You miss daily, in-person interaction with colleagues.

You want to leave your work at work, but you can’t keep your personal life separate from your professional life, and your family is suffering.

You’re working too much for too little. 

You want it all, and you want it NOW, but after three years things are not improving. 

You long for a job with regular hours & benefits, and a predictable income.

Here’s my rule of thumb. If you’ve checked off at least five boxes, you have some serious soul-searching to do. No one is forcing you to make this voice-over thing happen. But you’re the boss, and it’s up to you how long you want to keep going at it.

FACE THE FACTS

If I’m totally honest, I believe that some seventy to eighty percent of people calling themselves voice-over talent have no business being in this business. They’re not cut out for it. They have very few skills, and almost no talent. Their chances of making it big are close to nil. All they can do is compete on price, which will be their downfall.

Now, listen. If you’re part of this group, that doesn’t mean you’re a hopeless, horrible human being. You probably have other talents in other areas. As I said in my article 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become a Voice-Over…

“We have enough people talking into microphones. What this world needs is less talk and more action. We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution, people who know how to fight global warming, and first responders to natural disasters.

If you want to make a real difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the homeless, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.”

UNKIND WORDS

You may think that this sounds harsh, and that it doesn’t apply to you. After all, I don’t know you, and I don’t care about you. Well, that’s not necessarily so. I know too many naive hopefuls like you, who are being ripped off by unscrupulous characters and companies selling them a pipe dream that will never come true. I really don’t want you to fall for those expensive schemes. And get this…

If even pros with years of experience and an impressive portfolio have trouble booking jobs these days, you need to bring something very special to the table if you wish to compete at the highest level. You need to have a comfortable cash cushion to survive the first few years, and you must be strong and determined enough to withstand massive rejection.

If that’s you, then by all means: GO FOR IT! Prove Erik and me wrong!

You’ll become part of a select, supportive community of go-getters, risk takers, fast learners, and people who are sillier than the characters they’re paid to play. All of them have this in common:

At one point in their lives they made one of the most important decisions that propelled them to where they are now.

They decided to quit quitting.

If that’s something you know deep down you can do, you better fasten your seatbelt.

It’s going to be a crazy ride!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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My Worst Client Ever

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 7 Comments

Nixon and ElvisElvis is alive!

How do I know?

Well, he lives in France, and he used to be my client.

Until I fired him.

You see, this French Elvis was a bad boy. Probably my worst client ever. He used to give me these scripts with way too much text, and not enough time to fit all the words in. Then he complained that I sounded rushed.

Elvis was one of those people who thought they had me on retainer. He would call me any day of the week at any hour, forgetting about the time difference between his part of the world and mine. Did he really forget, or did he just not care?

He always wanted things yesterday, and would pay whenever he felt like it. Most of the time he didn’t feel like it, and I’d have to remind him of the reminders I’d sent him. Then he got angry and said I should stop harassing him. I was the one who was causing problems, n’est pas?

Right before he needed me for another lousy project, he’d make a payment, and play all nice again with that silly accent of his.

He was one of those annoying guys who loved the expression “my friend” as in:

“Paul, my friend, you will do this for me, right?”

“My friend, I have lots of projects for you, so you give me a good price, no?”

After I had given him a discount and handed in my first recording, I would not hear from him for a year. Then he’d call me up in the middle of the night with an urgent job, trying to pull the same stunt.

Elvis, you two-faced Frenchman, you were never my friend, and you never will be. You’ve sucked up so much of my time and energy, and I hated every minute of it. While I was too busy dealing with your cheap antics, I could have worked for good clients at a great rate. Why did I put up with you for so long? Why did I allow you to push my buttons?

The easy answer is that I’m too trusting. I believe that most people are essentially good, and well-intentioned. I also believed that if I treated people nicely, they would return the favor.

Yeah. Right.

The truth is that there are too many Elvises in this world, who can’t wait to take advantage of the naïve, the newbies, and the pushovers. They are a minority, but they always spoil it for the rest of us. Because of them, we need rules, regulations, and a spine made of steel.

People like Elvis will treat you like a servant, and not as an equal partner working on the same project.

They think everything you do is easy, and can be done quickly, and -most importantly- cheaply.

Instead of paying you extra for extra work, they expect you to record those five script changes for free. And should you push back, they respond:

“I totally get where you’re coming from, but can’t you make an exception for me? It will never happen again. I promise.”

Beware of a promise from an Elvis! It’s just as disingenuous as the words “Trust me,” or “Don’t worry.” When some bad guy on TV utters these words, you know there’s trouble on the way, don’t you? Trust me!

Some Elvises have mastered the art of giving vague instructions. Left at your own devices, you start guessing what the desired tone and tempo of the voice-over read might be, and you press record.

Later that day, the Elvis gets back to you telling you everything you did wrong, and how could you be so dumb and inexperienced? You really should have done it this way, or that way…. A real professional would have known!

Apparently, real professionals can read minds!

The thing is: you can’t give clients what they want if they don’t tell you what it is. Countless marriages fall apart over this principle, and so do professional relationships.

Other Elvises are essentially micro-managing know-it-alls, who know very little. The more they get involved, the more time it will take you to finish the project. “Just let me do my job, and I’ll let you do yours,” you think. But no, they’ve got to be in control of every stinkin’ detail, driving you crazy with their calls and emails.

Some Elvises are accomplished liars. They hire you to do a voice-over “for internal use only.” Before you know it, it’s all over the web, and when you try to get a hold of them to ask for more money, they’re MIA, laughing all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, your colleagues show little sympathy, because you should have joined the Union, as they have told you a million times.

Thanks a bunch, fellows!

While it may hurt, there is some truth to what they’re saying. They are telling you the same thing your parents told you when discussing the birds and the bees:

“When you’re ready to do it, make sure you have protection.”

Nobody forces you to be in bed with a bad client. Nobody will make you work without a written contract or a down payment. No one says you have to take the abuse, and dance when the client says “Dance!”

It’s one of the advantages of being your own boss. There are no more mediocre managers or power-hungry executives who tell you what to do.

You’re on your own, and you decide what you will or will not tolerate.

So, do yourself a huge favor. Leave all those disorganized, penny-pinching, impossible to please, disrespectful, I’ll pay you whenever, lying Elvises for what they are.

Better still: Send them to Fiverr and VoiceBunny (and a whole bunch of other predatory voice casting sites I won’t name).

Let them deal with the Elvises of this world. Likes attract, so maybe they’ll get along.

As an attorney instructor once put it:

“The bad clients you don’t take, will be the best money you never made.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS After reading this story, French colleagues told me Elvis declared bankruptcy, and his website has been suspended. You know what they say about karma, don’t you? Unfortunately, there are still people who never got paid. 

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What Are You Waiting For?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 6 Comments

A big break? 

A small miracle?

Are you waiting for that one person to tell you you’re the best, and you should really do this?

It’s the daily drama of the wannabe freelancer. Lots of good intentions. Hopes and dreams galore. Always looking for the key that magically opens all doors. 

And when those doors remain closed, be ready for the surprise, the indignation, and the excuses:

“They told me I had talent!”

“They said there would be lots of opportunities.”

“I’m just a beginner. You can’t expect me to know all these things.”

Every new job has a learning curve. That’s a given. But advertising yourself as a pro elicits expectations. Clients expect you to have professional equipment. Clients trust that you have the basic skills to do the job you just bid on. Is that too much to ask?

Yes, there are lots of opportunities, and lots of people are going after those opportunities. People with more experience, better gear, and a better understanding of how things work in this business. They are your competition. Can you compete on more than price?

I have no doubt that you are talented. But talent is nothing but potential. A diamond in the rough looks quite ugly, and needs serious cutting and polishing before it can be sold. Do you have the time, the means, and the patience to listen, learn, and improve?

Do you have enough drive, or do you like to be driven?

You see, this is not a superficial thing. To get to most diamonds, you need to dig deep. Diamonds don’t polish themselves, and doors don’t magically open. Only saints can claim small miracles, and that big break is highly overrated. Some wannabe’s go broke, waiting for that break.

Intentions, hopes, and dreams are figments of the imagination. Clearly defined goals, a solid education, and a willingness to work harder than anyone else, are not. 

Here’s the real rub.

If you are waiting for someone or something, you’re doing it wrong. 

The key to being successfully self-employed lies in taking massive, positive action. Not because someone told you to. Not because you felt forced. 

You get out of bed because you have this burning desire to accomplish something meaningful, whatever it may be. 

Step by step.

Day by day.

So, stop whining. 

Stop waiting.

Start creating.

Your life.

Now. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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How To Attract and Keep New Clients

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Promotion 2 Comments

The SuperfreelancerOkay, I admit it.

I sometimes get annoyed by colleagues tooting their own horn really loud.

We may be living in the “Age of ME,” but it’s painful to see beginners and more experienced talent trying to construct some kind of image that’s supposed to persuade clients to hire them. Here’s the problem:

Too many freelancers are too focused on themselves, and it is costing them business.

The way I see it, successful solopreneurs have one job, and one job only: To be a Superhero.

A superhero doesn’t think about him- or herself. A superhero answers a call of someone in need, and uses special powers to save the day. Once the job is done, the hero leaves the scene to tackle another problem.

Now, the very best superheroes have at least one thing in common: they know when they are needed. Here’s what I want to know: How do they figure that out?

That’s a great question, and every sales person who has ever lived has asked that question many times. In order to answer that question, we have to take a step back, and answer another question: What motivates people to buy things?

Even though you and I are likely to have different clients with different needs, there are three factors that always play a role in every purchase decision. You might be selling a service or a product. It doesn’t matter. All buyers are influenced by the same three things:

Price, Benefits, and Perceptions

The price is what the customer pays in exchange for benefits received. It’s something your client has to give up in order to get something from you. Ideally, those benefits should outweigh or at least equal the cost.

Benefits are the positive effects derived from using your solution or service. It’s the pleasure people experience after getting rid of their inner emptiness, frustration, or pain.

Smart sales people sell benefits. Stupid sales people slash prices. Any idiot can close a sale by cutting the price (and go broke in the process). It takes brains to sell benefits.

Perceptions are the result of how people evaluate the benefits and price, the (initial) impression they get from your business, as well as the total experience of using your product or service.

In the end, perceptions matter most. Allow me to demonstrate.

EVALUATING VALUE

Let’s assume you’ve studied the market and you decide to charge $250 per hour for your services. Is that too much or not enough? Does it even matter what you think?

Client A will never hire you because she thinks you’re too cheap, and cheap equals crap. Client B will hire someone else because she thinks you’re overpriced. Client C will happily hire you because she believes your price is just right.

Your fee is just a number in a certain context. It is always evaluated in relation to something else. That “something else” is a matter of interpretation or perception.

People do things for their reasons. Not for yours. Get this:

An anonymous donor paid $3.5 million at a charity auction to have lunch with Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world. Is that too much for a few hours of conversation and a meal?

Hedge fund manager Ted Weschler spent about $5.3 million to win both the 2010 and 2011 auctions. To him, it was money well spent. Buffet ended up hiring him to manage an investment portfolio.

Perceptions are personal value judgments, and therefore highly subjective. This begs the question:

Can perceptions be influenced? Can we manipulate a client into buying from us?

Even though I believe that lasting change comes from within and cannot be forced upon someone, the fact is: people are impressionable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be as open to social proof, and all advertising would be totally irrelevant.

Years of being a solopreneur have taught me that there are things you can do to get an interested client in your corner, as long as you play your cards right.

Here’s what I have learned:

1. First impressions are crucial

We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but psychologists will tell you that it takes us only a few seconds to form an opinion of someone or something. That’s why companies spend billions on packaging, and people spend millions on make-up, clothing, and cosmetic surgery.

If you can’t pique a consumer’s interest or instill a level of trust right from the start, he or she will move on to whatever catches the eye next. So, ask yourself:

What is the very first thing new customers see or experience when they stumble upon my product or service? Is it the landing page of my website? Is it a cover of a book or a brochure? Is it… me?

This first impression is the all-important hook. It sets the tone and tells prospective clients enough about your level of professionalism and style, or lack thereof. If anything, this is where you should spend most of your marketing money. To do it right…

2. Your message needs to be clear, convincing, congruent, and consistent

If you want to play the part, you have to dress the part, and embody the part. That might seem obvious, yet, so many business owners undermine their own credibility by sending out conflicting signals. A few examples:

A translation and proofreading service emailed me: “Your welcome to visit our website.” When I pointed this out to them, they blamed this slip of the pen on the intern.

If you don’t proofread your own material, why would my legal translation be safe in your hands?

The sign in the front yard said: “Quality lawn care at a price anyone can afford.” Meanwhile, weeds were growing everywhere, and most trees needed pruning.

The owner of the local health food store looked like she was terminally ill. She must be friends with that overweight director of the fitness center.

See what I mean? Actions speak louder than words. Remember the four Cs when you craft you core message. You have to be Clear, Convincing, Congruent, and Consistent.

3. You have to be responsive

What clients hate more than anything is to be ignored. It gives them the feeling that their business isn’t important to you, and you know what? I think they’re right. Time happens to be something we all have the same amount of. How we choose to spend that time, gives us an inside look into someone’s priorities and planning skills.

I’ve walked out of a fancy restaurant because the wait staff couldn’t be bothered to serve my table in a timely way. I don’t care if you’re known for the best food in town. If your service sucks, you’re screwed.

I read on your website’s Contact page that you’ll get back to me within 24 hours. I sent you a message three days ago and I have yet to hear from you. What other promises aren’t you going to keep? My project has a strict deadline. If you can’t meet your own, how can I be sure you’ll meet mine?

Being responsive also means: giving your client concise progress reports. It’s a way to reassure them that they’re in good hands. If you’re right on track, let your client know. If you’re experiencing an unexpected delay, you have to let your client know. Don’t wait until they send you an email wondering why they haven’t heard from you in days.

Communication is key, as long as you’re to the point. Anticipate and answer client’s questions. Be an open book. Stay in touch. Make it a breeze to do business with you. You want your clients to smile when they think of you. That will happen when you…

4. Go out of your way to be helpful

Not all inquiries lead to a sale. Sometimes what you have to offer is not what a client is looking for. In my case they might want to hire a female voice actor or someone with an older sound or a different accent. Does that mean that all my efforts were wasted? On the contrary.

If you cut off contact because you can’t make an immediate sale, you’re thinking about yourself and you’re thinking short-term. Everything is marketing. Any contact with a client, no matter how brief, is a golden opportunity to start building a relationship. A healthy relationship is a two-way street and takes time to evolve. It’s about giving and receiving.

So, how do you give to a client who doesn’t need your services?

It’s simple: Be a resource.

If you’re not right for the job, recommend a few colleagues who are. I’m sure they won’t mind. Show your expertise. Build some goodwill. You’re sowing seeds, and who knows when they might bloom? There are always new projects in the pipeline that might be a better fit for you.

Here’s the thing about giving, though.

Don’t just do it for future rewards. That’s not a gift. That’s a bribe.

Do it because it’s a decent thing to do.

It’s all a matter of perception.

Even superheroes are aware of that!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS The above article is a chapter from my book Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs. It’s available in paperback, and as a digital download. 

photo credit: A Is For Aquaman via photopin (license)

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Feeding Your Soul

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal, Promotion 22 Comments
Columcille Megalyth Park

Photo credit ©Paul Strikwerda

A few weeks ago, I gave you my “formula” for being less busy, and more productive:

Focus on what you’re good at. Outsource the rest.

People who run a successful business hire people who are smarter and more talented than they are, to take care of certain aspects of that business. These experts are able to do things better and quicker, leaving you with more time to focus on your strengths. That’s where the money is!

This philosophy has served me very well, and yet it’s only part of the picture. Today I am going to reveal something to you I haven’t told anyone else. At first, it will sound like a contradiction in terms, but I assure you it is not. It is something essential that took me many, many years to learn, and quite frankly, I don’t think I’ve mastered it yet.

Because it is seemingly contradictory, it confused me to the core, and at first I fought it tooth and nail. But once I discovered the benefits of this strange strategy, I came to embrace it.

TRYING TOO HARD

It all began some ten years ago. I was trying very hard to build my business, working 60 to 70 hour weeks. The idea was that the more I would put into it, the more I would get out of it. That’s only fair, right? It’s the same perverse philosophy that’s behind the torture that is cold calling. The more numbers you dial, the greater the chance of success. That’s what they say, whoever “they” are.

Well, this might be working for some people, but it wasn’t working for me. All that knocking on doors and auditioning for anything under the sun left me exhausted, and disenchanted. Bottom line: I had run into the law of diminishing returns. The more I tried, the less I accomplished.

Have you ever been in a situation like that?

People around me said: “You’re working too hard. Take break. You can’t force success.”

Did I listen? No!

Every time I took a breather, I felt tremendously guilty because I could have and should have been using that time on something useful and productive.

DREAM ON

This voice-over business was supposed to be my dream job. Dream jobs don’t feel like work, and they give you energy, don’t they? It’s the ultimate freedom from the 9 to 5 rat race so many people get caught up in. It was my chance to prove to the world that I could be my own boss, living life on my own terms and turf.

If all of that were true, why didn’t it feel that way? Why was I waking up exhausted before the day had even begun? Why had I become an irritable, self-absorbed, sad sack of a husband who could only converse about finding new ways to get new clients?

“Oh, the first three years are always the hardest,” I told myself and my friends. “Eventually, it is going to get better, and it will all be worth it!” (insert fake smile)

But things didn’t get better, and I didn’t know how to turn it around…. until the day I walked into my local bookstore, and picked up a random paperback from the self-help section. The next thing I did was such a cliché: I closed my eyes, opened a page, and looked at the first thing that caught my eye. It was a quotation:

You can’t give what you don’t have.

I don’t remember the title of the book or who wrote it, but it felt like I had received a message from the universe that could not be ignored. If my business was a flower bed, I had been watering and watering it, until the can was empty, and could not be refilled. No water: no growth. It was crystal clear.

So, what was I to do? Give up? Sit on the couch and watch TV all day long? Play video games?

I looked at the next few lines in the book, and the author had clearly anticipated my question. This was her advice:

“Replenish yourself. Do something that feeds your soul. Something that has nothing to do with work.”

STEPPING OUT OF IT

I’ve always been a lover of the outdoors. That was one of the things that attracted me to America. Endless forests. Majestic mountain ranges. Roaring rivers. Hidden trails.

The day after my revelation I put on my hiking boots, and I disappeared into the woods. For hours. There and then I realized how much I had missed my conversation with nature. I had missed the fresh smell of pine trees, the sweet sound of bird song, and the quiet rustling of the leaves. Not once did I think about my flailing business.

As I was trying to capture what I was experiencing, I thought of something else that was missing in my life: writing!

From the moment my mother taught me how to write, I was always scribbling words on pieces of paper. As a teenager, I would never leave home without a small notebook. In the last few years, however, I had been too busy reading scripts other people had written, and I felt I didn’t have time to put my pen to paper.

When I came back from my walk, it was as if a load had lifted from my shoulders. I could breathe again, and I went to the attic to find my favorite journal which was still half empty, (or half full, depending on how you look at it). Without even thinking, words started flowing from an invisible source within me, as if someone had opened a faucet filled with feelings and ideas.

Then it dawned upon me. What if I were to use my passion for writing, and start a blog for my business? It was something so obvious that I had never thought of it before. It’s like suddenly seeing something that is right in front of you!

And that is how this blog was born.

BOOSTING BUSINESS

In all the years that I’ve been doing voice-overs, nothing has been more vital to the promotion of my business as this blog. Colleagues read it. Clients read it. You are reading it right now.

Here’s the irony and the contradiction: the idea came to me as I was doing my very best not to focus on my business. I was relaxed. I was in the moment. I was feeding my soul.

All of us get stuck from time to time. We get worked up. We feel frustrated. We might even lose faith.

The question is: What should we do about it?

Take my advice. Let it go, and find what feeds your soul. For some this might be through yoga, music, or meditation. Some people paint, or work in the garden. Others start jogging, or get on a bike. There is no right or wrong. Whatever floats your boat.

In a society that is obsessed with work, and where people pride themselves on how many hours they put in, this is a radical shift. To me, it did not feel normal. I had to work hard on not working so hard.

But the moments I chose to feed my soul, turned out to be the most fulfilling and eye-opening moments of my life. They proved to be the answer to the question:

“What for?”

Ultimately, our work is just a means to an end, but to what end?

FINDING MEANING

As I was hiking on that wooded trail, experiencing the serenity of solitude, and the beauty of creation, I realized:

“This is what it’s all about.”

I don’t mean withdrawing from the world, but rediscovering an essential part of that world that is so easily lost. The part that’s more about being, than about doing

Look at it this way: there’s always going to be something in your inbox. You’ll always find a reason to do more work to please more people. But you can’t give what you don’t have. If you don’t step away from your business from time to time, it will take everything you have, and then some.

Candles that are burned out, can’t spread any light.

Please make time to create moments that matter. These moments will give you the energy to carry on, and the inspiration to evolve, personally and professionally.

The other day, my wife and I went to Columcille Megalith Park, in Bangor, Pennsylvania. It’s a park rooted in Celtic spirituality, and inspired by the Isle of Iona off the coast of Scotland.

If you’re not in a position to leave your computer right now to go on a hike, take a few minutes to absorb the pictures I took, and listen to the music.

Then get back to what you were doing.

I can almost assure you that you won’t feel the same!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Wasting Your Time Going Nowhere Fast?

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

Being busyWhat’s frustration number one for a freelancer?

Being busy without being productive. 

It’s a trap I have fallen into many times. I was working all day long, without much to show for it. That is, until something finally dawned upon me:

Busy people talk about how little time they have. Productive people make time for what is important. 

The question is: how do you know what is important for your business?

On some days, everything seems important: answering emails, invoicing clients, making phone calls, updating the website, recording auditions, paying bills, designing marketing materials, researching new gear, keeping up with social media… The list is endless, especially when you’re a one-person band. It’s tempting to do it all, and to do it all by yourself. 

That’s mistake number one. Here’s how to fix it:

Focus on what you’re good at. Outsource the rest.

There’s a reason why a brain surgeon doesn’t do her own billing, a CEO doesn’t answer every call, and Tim Cook doesn’t design the next iPhone. People who run a successful business hire people who are smarter and more talented than they are, to take care of certain aspects of that business. These experts are able to do things better and quicker, leaving you with more time to focus on your strengths. That’s where the money is!

So, if you’re not a kick-ass web designer, hire someone who is, and have him/her teach you to maintain and update the site once it’s up and running. Or do you have time to become an SEO specialist? I didn’t think so!

If you stink at bookkeeping, get an office assistant to take care of the numbers, and let an accountant prepare your taxes. This ensures that you maximize your deductions, and you minimize the money going to the IRS. An office assistant can also take on other administrative tasks, such as dealing with unpaid invoices. That way, you don’t have to be the bad guy (or gal). 

If you’re struggling to create a logo or a catch phrase, hire a graphic designer and a copywriter. They specialize in making you look and sound much more professional than you’ll ever be able to do yourself. Clients will only see you as a professional if you present yourself like a pro.

If you’re recording a massive project (such as an audio book) on a tight deadline, pay someone to edit and master the audio for you. Why spend time on a $50 to $100 per hour job, if you could make between $350 and $500 per hour? 

If you’re thinking about how much all of this will cost, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Reinventing the wheel, learning on the fly, trying to do everything yourself… it will leave you frustrated and without energy to do what you do best. You know, the very things clients hire you to do. That is going to cost you!

If -on the other hand- you decide to outsource some or all of these things, you’ll be surprised how much time you will gain. Now, let’s see if I can save you some more!

AUDITION LESS. MAKE MORE. 

In the beginning of my career I spent way too much time auditioning for jobs that were out of my range. Why? Because someone had told me that it was a numbers game. The more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would eventually land a job, they said. Doing auditions was a way to learn on the job, right?

Wrong!

Clients hire you because they trust you can do the job. They don’t want you to experiment on their dime.These days I am super selective. I know I don’t have a movie trailer voice, so I’m not even going to try to sound like one. I won’t audition for projects by companies or causes I cannot support (sorry fast food and tobacco industry).

And if you’re not offering a decent rate, you can find yourself a Craigslist talent, but please don’t waste my time. 

I also got smarter in the way I audition. Knowing that clients will often only listen to the first seconds, I am no longer recording three-minute scripts. Unless the client specifies otherwise, I’ll pick a few lines from the beginning with the company name, and I’ll include the payoff line at the end. Then I’m done. I know Michael J. Collins auditions this way, and based on his fine dining pictures on Facebook he seems to be doing okay. 

One last thing about auditions: I no longer record ten takes before I’m satisfied. If I can’t produce a good read in a few tries, the job is probably not meant for me. 

THE HARDEST WORD

Apart from curbing my presence on social media, there’s one other thing that has saved me tons of time: I became better at saying a certain two-letter word. 

“Can you evaluate my demo for free?”

NO!

“Can you write a guest post for this blog with 12 subscribers?”

NO!

“Can you tell me how to break into the business?”

NO!

“Can you answer this question I am too lazy to research myself?”

NO!

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy helping others, but I don’t run a charity. I run a for-profit business. That means that in everything I do, I have to think about the Return On Investment. 

Making enough money gives me the opportunity to invest in ways that will save me money and grow my business, as well as the freedom to engage in activities that are important, but that won’t generate any money.

ONE MORE LESSON

When I look back at my career, I wasted so much time waiting for things to happen. I thought that if I put a few things in place; had the right equipment and a decent amount of talent, things would turn out okay. After all, a wise man had told me: “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

Tell that to the people who are going broke, lovingly living a dream.

A few hard years later, I realized that if I wanted to be successful, I had to become the prime instigator and number one delegator. I had to stop being busy, and start becoming productive.

It was quite the transformation, but you know what they say:

“Busy people talk about how they will change.

Productive people are making those changes.”

Are you?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Would You Survive The Shark Tank?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Money Matters 13 Comments

Three years ago, two aspiring voice-overs took the plunge, and opened up shop.

One was incredibly talented, undisciplined, and thought he always knew best. The other one wasn’t as good, but she was business-savvy, and listened to feedback.

36 months later, number one is now an Uber-driver, entertaining his clients with celebrity impressions. Number two is starting to make a living… as a voice talent.

What went wrong, and what went right? Was it a matter of luck, attitude, or preparation?

Simply put, it takes more than talent to make it as a freelancer, no matter what field you pick. Way more. Let’s explore.

INVESTING IN YOU

Here’s a question for you.

If I were an investor on Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den, and you came to me with a pitch to back your business, what would I be looking for?

Number one: I’d look for your ability to make me money. By the way: that happens to be the same reason why agents sign you, and clients hire you. 

Think about that for a minute.

You may believe that you’re doing what you’re doing to make money for yourself. If that’s the case, I have news for you.

Your clients don’t care whether or not you turn a profit. Your clients don’t want to know how much you spent on that new microphone or revamped website. All they are interested in, is this:

“Will your voice help me spread my message so I can make more money?”

Even if you happen to work with a non-profit, it’s always a matter of benefits and costs. The benefits of hiring you should outweigh how much your clients pay. If that’s the case, those clients will perceive you as an asset, and not as an expense.

MAKING YOUR PITCH

There’s a lot of psychology in selling, but it starts with this: in a competitive market you have to offer a competitive product. Something that’s different, or better than what’s already on the shelves. 

If you’re providing a service like voice-over narration, you better bring it from day one. Don’t jump into the ocean if you barely know how to swim. Amateurs learn on the job, and they get eaten alive. Professionals know what they’re doing, and they’re able to survive.

In the Shark Tank as well as in real life, you’d need to bring something to the table that’s rather unique; a brilliant solution to a common problem, sold at the right price. Yes, you heard me. As one of the investors, I would expect you to know what you’re worth and charge accordingly.

Mark my words: Those who sell themselves short, aren’t taken seriously.

You’d also have to demonstrate what sets you apart from the competition. You have to come up with a solid marketing plan, and convince me why I should trust you.

It’s also important that you present your plans compellingly and logically, particularly under pressure. The reason is simple. If you cannot sell yourself, how will you ever sell your service, especially if you are the embodiment of that service?

LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS

Lastly, you’d have to show me your books.

Some freelancers think this is the boring stuff, but to me, this is where things get interesting.

No matter what business you’re in, the way you manage your money is one of the most important predictors of success. You may have the most enchanting voice in the world, but if you don’t price for profit, and you spend more than you make without even knowing it, you may end up driving for Uber.

Your balance sheet needs to reflect a few other things as well:

  • a keen sense of organization,
  • an aptitude for making intelligent investments, and
  • an ability to control costs.

 

If it’s okay with you, I want to talk about the last two things I just mentioned: investing in your business, and controlling how much you spend. Today I’ll talk a bit about spending. Next week I’ll show you a few of my favorite ways to save. 

WHERE TO PUT YOUR MONEY

No matter what some people want you to believe, you cannot run a profitable voice-over business on a shoestring budget. It starts with getting the proper training. Clients pay you because they trust that you know what you’re doing. They don’t expect you to figure it out on the fly and on their dime.

Just as a carpenter needs quality tools to deliver quality work, you need to have equipment that says you’re taking this voice-over thing seriously. Otherwise, you’re nothing more than a hopeful hobbyist talking into a stupid snowball microphone. 

Now, if you’re just getting started, here’s something you probably don’t want to hear: without a dedicated, isolated, and acoustically treated recording space, you’re not going to make enough money to stay afloat.

When a client calls, or there’s an audition, you need to be able to jump into your booth and press “record.” Otherwise the client will go somewhere else, and you’ll be last in line for that audition. You really can’t afford to wait until your neighbor stops using his snow blower, or until that barking bulldog finally falls asleep.

An expensive microphone in a bad recording space won’t sound half as good as a cheaper microphone in a treated environment. I think you get the point. Looking back at my career, building a home studio was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. It has paid for itself many times over, and frankly, I wish I’d done it earlier.

THE INVISIBLE EQUALIZER

Another investment you should make, is an investment in something invaluable that cannot be bought or rented. You can’t taste it, or touch it. Yet, everyone is using it every day (some to greater effect than others).

I’m talking about Time.

The success or failure of your business greatly depends on how you spend your time. First of all, give yourself time to become good at what you want to do. Cultivate your craft. Don’t rush it. There’s a lot more to doing voice-overs than most people think. And just because it sounds easy, doesn’t mean it is. 

Time is all about goals and priorities. We usually get things done that are important to us. People tend to get their “musts,” but not their “shoulds.” 

In a past profession, I interviewed many people who were considered to be a success. Politicians, captains of industry, and entertainers. Most of them were incredibly busy, but they were really good at planning, or had someone else do the planning for them. That way, they made the most out of every day.

These people were just like you and me, but they didn’t spend hours checking Facebook, or watching soap operas. What struck me most was their tremendous power to prioritize, delegate, and focus. Whatever they were doing at a particular moment, had their full attention.

So, if you wish to learn from those who are where you want to be, don’t ask them about the moment they knew they wanted to be a voice-over.

Don’t ask them about the silliest thing that ever happened to them in a studio.

Ask them how they spend their time, and learn from it.

This will help you get ready for the Shark Tank that is your professional life.

Three years from now, it might make the difference between working a dream job, or driving a cab.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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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

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

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5 things you should stop doing in 2017

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Social Media, Studio 23 Comments

Are you a nail-biter, a chain-sitter, or an overeater?

We all have bad habits we want to get rid of in the new year.

Here are some of the things I have written about in the past, I wish colleagues would let go of in 2017. 

1. Spending money on new equipment while you’re still in a bad recording space.

Yes, I know Christmas is coming, and you’ve been eyeballing that new microphone for the past eleven months now. But will it stop the neighbor’s leaf blower from blowing, or the deep rumble of the school bus from making a guest appearance in your auditions? Will it magically tame the flutter echoes in your improvised booth, and make you sound like the next movie trailer man (or woman)?

Not in a million years!

The number one thing that held me back from being successful as a voice-over, was the absence of a dedicated and isolated recording space. Once I built my own booth, I had the freedom and confidence to go after every job I felt I was suitable for. This year, every single production I’ve been involved in began in my home studio. It has paid for itself many times over.

Treat the space first. Then treat yourself to some shiny new equipment. If you must. 

2. Expecting the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.

I’m a member of many social media groups dedicated to voice-overs. A majority of these groups are supposed to be for professional voice talent. Yet, every single day I see amateur questions that have been asked and answered hundreds of times, coming from people who are too lazy to do their homework. In the age of the Internet no one can claim ignorance, so:

Stop playing dumb, people! It’s embarrassing. 

It’s not that our community isn’t willing to share. If anything, the VO-universe is very giving to those who demonstrate relentless commitment and extraordinary talent. But I refuse to help people who want to pick my brain out of a false sense of entitlement, and a simplistic idea of what it takes to make it in this business.

So, dear colleagues: Stop giving free rides to those who don’t feel like learning how to drive. If you keep spoon-feeding a child, it will never learn how to eat by itself. 

3. Complaining without taking responsibility or action.

“The book I’m narrating is awful. The author is impossible to work with. The deadline for this project is unrealistic. They expect me to record a complete rewrite of the script for free…”

First of all: Stop whining!

Winners aren’t whiners. 

You’re a freelancer. You are free to work with anyone you want. Nobody is forcing you to read a crap novel about a topic no one’s interested in for a ridiculous royalty share. You don’t have to collaborate with a disrespectful writer who pretends to know more about voice-over narration than you do. If a deadline doesn’t work for you, then don’t agree to it. Never record a complete rewrite at no charge. Your time and your talent are valuable.

If you feel this particular pay-to-play you’re a “member” of, is greedy and unethical, don’t keep it in business by renewing your membership. Don’t tell me your livelihood depends on this one company. It’s bad business to put all your eggs in one (rotten) basket. If you want quality clients, start doing the legwork yourself. It’s part of being a pro!

4. Working for less than you deserve. 

No matter what freelance business you’re in, there’s a quick and easy way to get rid of clients that treat you like dirt, and pay you accordingly:

Price for profit and raise your rates!

It’s not that complicated. Every time you accept a job for less, you send a signal to the market about your worth, and the worth of your colleagues. Clients aren’t stupid. They love getting more and more for less and less. We all do. But we also understand that there’s a link between value and price. Price is an important indicator of professionalism and quality. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When it comes to voice-over fees, you’re either part of the problem, or you’re part of the solution. As soon as you start competing on price and out of fear, you’re doing yourself and your community a huge disservice. As soon as you start competing confidently on added value, you’re teaching your clients about the worth of (y)our work. 

By the way, here’s something else you should stop doing in 2017:

5. Making assumptions about your clients.

So many colleagues tell me:

“If my quote is too high, I’m afraid the client won’t be able to afford me, and I’ll lose the job.”

Let me ask you this:

“How do you know what a client can or cannot afford? Did you talk to their accountant? Let’s say you didn’t get that job because of your higher bid, what did you lose?” You can’t lose something that wasn’t yours in the first place. Secondly, you’ve actually gained time to pursue or do a job at a respectable rate.”

This year I’ve said “no” to more offers than in any year of my entire career, and this is my best year on record. I’m not saying that to impress you. I’m saying that to empower you.

Don’t ever pretend to know what your client is thinking of, or hoping for. You’re not in the mind reading business. You’re in the script reading business.

Never assume. Always ask.

Having said that, I won’t assume what things you’d like to stop doing in 2017.

I don’t have to, because you’re going to tell me in the comment section.

Won’t you?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Most Important Question Of The Year

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Promotion 9 Comments

freelancer at workWe’re nearing the end of December, and I want to ask you a few innocent questions, if I may. Questions that may make a few freelancers slightly uncomfortable.

Here’s the most important one:

“How was business in 2016?”

Some of you might tell me:

“2016 was great. I had so much fun!”

“I feel blessed to do what I do and even get paid for it.”

“I booked more gigs than ever, and I learned a lot this year.”

Those are interesting points, yet from a business perspective they are almost irrelevant. Let’s unpack theses statements one by one.

I’m so glad you had fun (and I don’t mean that sarcastically), but that’s not how you measure success as an entrepreneur. I know quite a few starving artists who had tons of fun while losing boatloads of money. 

You may feel incredibly blessed, but how is that reflected in your books? Did your CPA congratulate you because your numbers are up this year?

It’s great that you landed more jobs, but if you’ve been doing more for less, are you really better off? I don’t know about you, but I became a freelancer so I could do less for more. That has nothing to do with being lazy. I wanted to have time to travel, to volunteer, to write, to coach, and to enjoy being with family and friends. 

Learning a lot is cool, but clients don’t pay you to learn on the job. They expect you to know the job. I’m sure you’re familiar with certain folks (perhaps intimately) who are very good at learning how NOT to do a job. That’s not a way to determine the well-being of a business, is it?

SUSTAINED SUCCESS

Let me share something with you I learned not by guessing, but from decades of experience:

People who are prone to making the above statements may be good at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re good at running a for-profit business. In fact, their comments tell me they don’t seem to have their priorities straight. 

If you wish to have sustained success in any competitive field, you need to be better than 90% of your colleagues in terms of talent and skills, AND you must run your business like a business (instead of some elevated hobby). You can’t have one without the other. 

This means that when I ask you “How was business in 2016?” you should be able to answer the following (and potentially uncomfortable) questions:

“Did you break even? Did you turn a profit, or are your (still) struggling to survive?”

Be honest. Don’t give me an answer that would look good on Facebook. It’s time to face the facts. To quote Dr. Phil: “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

The bottom line is always about the bottom line.

Now, if you’re not yet where you want to be: Welcome to the club! Trust me. Even the big names you look up to, are seldom where they want to be. It’s what drives them! They know business is unpredictable and volatile. But they also know the five factors that lead to success:

  1. Learn from the best. 
  2. Offer an outstanding product or service. 
  3. Make it easy for clients to find you.
  4. Make it easy to work with you.
  5. Make it easy to pay you.

I always tell my students not to reinvent the wheel. It’s a huge waste of time. There are no shortcuts to success, but it does help to model your business after those who are where you want to be. When you do that, you’ll notice a sixth factor that contributes to continued success:

6. Manage your money.

This is where many freelancers lose the game, because they’re not on top of their finances. I admit: it’s not a glamorous job, but it pays the bills. Literally. If this is something you’re interested in, you need to take the first step:

Get Organized!

If you’re like me, and you could use some help in that area, consider a service like Invoice2go.com. It was developed by someone like you: a small business owner. For $149.99 per year (The Enterprise Plan), you can list 100 clients, and send an unlimited number of customized invoices using your phone, tablet, or computer. Invoices will show a Pay Now button, allowing your customers to pay you online in multiple ways.

Here’s the thing:

Not only will you look much more professional, but when you make it easier for clients to pay you, they will pay you faster. 

Invoice2go also helps you keep track of your expenses. That way you’ll always know how much is coming in, and how much is going out.

Mind you, I’m not getting paid to toot their horn, but I was approached to contribute to an infographic they put together for small business owners. I think that’s a really cool thing! Invoice2go asked entrepreneurs with years of experience for their top advice for starting a small business.

Here’s the result. Let’s see if you can find my quote!

Invoice2go just launched a free invoice template generator, allowing you to create and send customized invoices in three simple steps. Here’s the link: 

http://blog.2go.com/invoice-template/

Happy invoicing!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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