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VO Atlanta and the Meaning of Life

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal, Promotion 36 Comments

Gravy for the Brain, what kind of name is that?” asked my friend with a puzzled look on his face. We were both at the VO Atlanta conference, and I wasn’t paying any attention to him.

I was staring at an email from a new client I had been grooming for weeks. He finally reached out to me with a project, just as I was ready for four days of professional schmoozing. I love my job, but I didn’t want to go back to work. Not in Atlanta.

Normally I’d be up for a challenge because I always saw myself as the invincible superman. I could do it all: socialize into the wee hours of the night, get up first thing in the morning for some fitness training, attend a few workshops and presentations, and do it all over again after lunch. Then I would step into a studio and knock out a few scripts. No biggie.

But this time was different. My cardiologist had advised against going to Atlanta because I just started a new medication and he wanted to monitor me closely. However, I knew I had to be at this gathering. It was the goal I had set myself when I began my recovery about a year ago. I’d committed to leading a workshop and a Breakout session. This was going to be my moment to return to the VO community and be there for them after they had been there for me when I had my stroke.

The only way I could possibly handle the conference was by vigorously pacing myself. This included not doing this rush job for a new client. I had to heed the advice I give my students: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.” That decision cost me seven hundred dollars, but it gave me the space and the energy I needed to take care of myself. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.

So, I turned to my friend to address his question.

TOO MUCH INFO

“You’re right: it is a bit of an odd name, Gravy for the Brain. It doesn’t sound like a resource for voice talent, does it? Someone once told me the expression comes from the movie Conspiracy Theory but that doesn’t explain anything.

“I just looked it up in the Urban Dictionary,” said my friend pointing at his mobile. “It’s defined as the way your head feels after a long night of drinking and/or doing drugs.”  “I’ve got to tell you,” I said, “last year when I came back from VO Atlanta, it felt like I had gravy brain. Not because I had had too much to drink, but because I was in information overload. It took a while for me to process the experience. And here we are again, ready for more.”

Kay Bess

Keynote speaker Kay Bess

We walked to the Grand Salon for the conference opening and keynote speech by Kay Bess. “We distinguish ourselves, by being ourselves,” she said. Profound words that moved me deeply. I feel that being ourselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give this world. There’s only one problem. It does require that we have a sense of who we are, authentically speaking. I don’t know about you, but I’m still figuring that one out.

WHO AM I?

I sometimes wish we would come with an instruction manual we could give to friends, family, and colleagues. “Look, this is who I am. This is what floats my boat. Here’s how I rock and roll.” Instead, we’ve been given a lifetime to work things out, and if you believe in reincarnation, it’s several lifetimes.

I see becoming who we are meant to be as one of the great endeavors of our time on earth. It’s challenging because all of us play many roles in life. For instance, I am Paul the father, the husband, the patient, the son, and brother. I’m also the voice actor, the blogger, and punster. In different contexts I feel like a different person and act accordingly, so will the real authentic Paul please stand up?

On the subject of authenticity, here’s some free advice. If you’ve been to VO Atlanta, please don’t use anything you have learned in all the sessions you attended. Just don’t. Every other talent is already going to do that. If you wish to be authentic, do something out of the ordinary that no one else would possibly try.

Surprise the world. Be an original. Create. Don’t imitate. The field of people being and doing more of the same is growing by the day. That’s not your field. People who play it safe by taking the beaten path are blending in with the masses. You want to stand out, don’t you? As far as I could tell I was still the only person wearing clogs in Atlanta. Even though I didn’t socialize as much this year to conserve my energy, I think most people knew I was there. Total cost $19.99.

WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE?

A few more random observations, some positive, others not so much:

– When you stick your head into a workshop for five minutes and decide it’s not for you, please don’t mock your fellow-presenter in public. It’s unfair and unkind to judge someone based on a snippet of info taken out of context.

– On the other hand, calling the CEO of a competing and highly unethical Pay to Play “That Idiot from the North” is allowed. The man is fair game.

– If you’re a prominent member of a worldwide organization of voice talent that’s dedicated to ethical conduct and fair rates, why would you have a profile on Fiverr and be proud of it?

– Doing voice-overs is sexy! Next year we should have a few after-hour X-rated sessions for narrators of erotica. Pseudonyms required.

– If you’re looking for the guy who used a sharpie to draw a mustache on J. Michael Collins in one of the elevators, look no further.

– I wish Voice123 CEO and spin doctor Rolf Veldman would have taken part in the karaoke. I had the perfect song for him: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”

TEARS AND MORE TEARS

VO Atlanta 2019 was an emotional experience for me. If you were there, you know that my eyeballs were leaking regularly. A big thanks to all of you who told me how relieved you were that I’m not dead. I must say I’m with you on that one. Thank you to all of my Guardian Angels who kept an eye on me throughout the conference. You know who you are, and so does my eternally grateful wife.

A special thanks to those who were at my workshop. One of you signed up at the very last minute after talking to me in the corridor. How sweet is that? One last thank you to those who came to play with my Stinky Sock and gave me a standing ovation. It’s gone straight to my head, and now I am impossible to live with. What else is new?

SURPRISING BONUS

Well, did I tell you I got to stay in Atlanta for one more day? Here’s what happened. My flight to Lehigh Valley International Airport was overbooked, and Delta offered those willing to give up their seat a hotel room and an $800 gift certificate. So, days ago I had lost $700 because I didn’t do the voice-over job I told you about. I ended up having eight hundred bucks to spend at Amazon. Life is fair after all!

As you can tell, the conference is over, but I am not over the conference. It’s been my second best experience of the past twelve months. What’s the very best experience, you ask? For that we have to go back to the night of my stroke. I was flown to the hospital in a helicopter, and a doctor was looking at a CAT-scan of the inside of my skull.

Things were serious. If the stroke had wiped out most of my brain, I would probably not survive. I can remember briefly regaining consciousness on the stretcher. I could hear my wife ask the surgeon about my chances. I’ll never forget what the doctor said:

“I think your husband isn’t going to die. Luckily, most of his grey matter is intact. In other words:

He is too brainy for the grave.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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In Sickness and in Health

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 16 Comments
In the Intensive Care Unit

In the ICU

March 26th 2018 may not mean much to you, but it’s the day my life changed in many ways. It started like any other ordinary day, with me working in my studio. By the end of the afternoon I was rushed into a rumbling helicopter that flew me to the ER.

As I was airlifted, the surgeon waiting for me called my wife to prepare her for three possible outcomes. These were the options: if there were to be enough time, they would remove the blood clot from my brain that had caused a stroke, and I would recover. To what extent, he couldn’t say. If not, there was a good chance the brain damage would leave me greatly impaired and dependent for the rest of my life. Option three was least attractive: me reaching my expiration date.

By the way, what happened to me was nothing special. On average, every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke. Stroke is now the third leading cause of death (behind heart disease and cancer) and a major cause of disability.

I lucked out. As you can tell, I’m still very much alive, and I plan to remain in that fascinating state for as long as I can. This gives me the opportunity to share some of my post-stroke observations with you. Perhaps it’s not what you expect from a blog about the world of voice-overs and freelancing. I get that. But please bear with me. One day, you or a loved one might have to deal with a similar situation. I feel it is part of my mission to tell my story. It’s one of the reasons I’m still alive.

SYMPATHY & SUPPORT

Once the news of my stroke broke, I experienced an incredible outpouring of sympathy and support, particularly on social media. The well wishes came from all over the planet. It was heartwarming and uplifting! If you ever want to find out how much people care, make sure you nearly die and tell the world about it! It will do wonders for your self-esteem!

The two things people told me over and over again were both very sweet and totally unrealistic:

Get Well Soon!

and

Speedy recovery!

We know a lot about the workings of the body and the mind, and there’s probably just as much that we don’t know. Good doctors have no problem admitting that. The not so good ones think they know it all. No doctor can predict how soon you will recover, or how much you will recover. In the case of strokes it greatly depends on which part of the brain is affected, and to what extent. The faster you find treatment, the better your chances.

Recovery from a stroke is more a matter of Getting Well S l o w l y. The first year is crucial, but recovery continues long after that thanks to the amazing plasticity of the brain. That’s the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells.

Especially during the first six months after I was out of the hospital, I could feel my grey matter making new connections, and boy did it tire me out! Saying I felt tired doesn’t do it justice. I felt utterly fatigued. What’s the difference? Simply put, fatigue is extreme exhaustion that surpasses feeling tired. It’s a total lack of motivation and energy. I spent most of my time in bed, sleeping the day away while my brain was reconnecting.

It took me a few months to be okay with my state of slumber. At first I felt terribly guilty that I wasn’t able to help out and be productive. I’ve always been such a go-getter, and now my biggest accomplishment of the day was a smooth bowel movement. Kicking and screaming, I learned to accept that I could not jumpstart myself into getting well again, and that it was okay and imperative to ask for help.

A NEW JOB

The next thing I discovered was this: recovery is not some passive process. It’s a day job. Apart from getting enough rest, my post-stroke life was (and still is) dominated by frequent doctor’s visits and therapy appointments. I had speech therapy, vision therapy, sessions with a neuro-psychologist, and lots of homework to be ready for even more sessions. I’ve been back to the ER four times now, and spent some time in the hospital over Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day (and I just missed Valentine’s Day another time!).

I’m not bringing this up so you’ll feel sorry for me. I just want to give you a glimpse of my life so you’ll understand why I went undercover for so long. As I’ve described in another blog post, after my stroke I lost the ability to emote and enunciate, which is kind of a problem for a voice actor like myself. My delivery was as flat as a pancake. On top of that, a tremor on one of my vocal folds made my voice hoarse and tired in no time. Forget long-form narration!

DEALING WITH LOSS

So, not only was I reevaluating my physical and psychological state, I also had to take a hard look at my career in voice-overs. My psychologist described it as a state of mourning. I was mourning the loss of my health, my sanity, and possibly my way of making a living. I had to do all of that with a damaged brain that was readjusting and prone to stimulus overload.

I clearly remember going into one of the many hospital waiting rooms, unable to deal with all the noise. Around me, people were making phone calls, kids were playing loud games on their tablets, and patients were comparing notes about doctors and treatments. At the reception desk calls were answered and people were signed in. A big tv hanging from the ceiling was informing us about the father who brutally murdered his beautiful wife and two adorable children. Trump was touting his wall. This cacophony sent my brain into overload and made me nauseous.

Even though I have been generally impressed with the extraordinary level of care I received, hospitals and doctors’ offices do very little to create an environment conducive to stress reduction, well-being, and healing. I’d prefer a spa-like atmosphere with soothing colors, greenery, soft lighting, essential oils, and meditative music. A sanctuary away from the constant distractions and hubbub of our 24/7 society.

FOCUS & RESPONSE

Now, for those who are dealing with the effects of a stroke, it is easy to get despondent and depressed, making a bad situation even worse. I must admit that I’ve not always been able to keep it together, but a few things helped me not to wallow in my fate. One of them is the belief that human beings are free to choose what we focus on, and how to respond to what is happening to us.

Instead of bemoaning all the things I had lost, I chose to be thankful for the many things that were unaffected. I started reading about people in similar situations who had made remarkable recoveries that could not always be explained by traditional medicine. What did they do to get there? What were they thinking, eating, and drinking?

I came across stories of self care and self love, stories of patience, and picking new priorities. I decided to give myself time to heal, and to spend it on things that made me happy. I began writing my blog again as a way to have a voice. I purposely stayed away from petty problems and draining interactions with people who thrive on negativity. Gradually, my level of energy and my vision improved, and I was able to express myself with more emotion.

SUPPORT NETWORK

my wife

To be honest: I never could have done this on my own. I have a whole team of doctors, nurses, technicians, and therapists to thank. Colleagues came by and friends stepped in making meals and driving me to appointments. But by far my best bedside advocate, designated driver, medication manager, cheerleader, and personal chef is my wife Pam. She is my solid rock, and the soft shoulder I lean on every single day.

When I’m forgetful, she remembers. When I am anxious, she calms me down. When I need to rest, she makes sure I’m not disturbed. She fills out the many forms, deals with my health insurance, and talks to my doctors. For my trip to VO Atlanta, she’s set up a support system to make sure I won’t overdo it. In short: she’s my guardian angel, and I’m so lucky we’re together in health and in sickness.

On Thursday I’ll be leaving for VO Atlanta. 800 participants are coming together to immerse themselves in all things voice-over. If you’re going, I can’t wait to meet you! You’re invited to attend my X-Session “Six Steps To Turning Your Business Around,” on Friday from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM, and my Breakout Session about “Winning Mindsets” aka the Stinky Sock Session on Saturday from 4:45 to 5:45 PM.

See you soon!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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What Were They Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media 9 Comments

Sale!No matter how much you love your job as a voice-over, there are always aspects of your work you don’t care for, or would rather have someone else do.

I, for instance, am not a numbers man, and I’m glad my office manager is keeping the books for my business. Very few colleagues I talk to enjoy doing the unglamorous paperwork that is part and parcel of running a professional service. Yet, it needs to be done. 

But if there’s one thing many voice-overs are very uncomfortable with, it is this: selling themselves. They’d rather spend hours in a dark booth recording an obscure historic novel, than having to talk a client into hiring them.

If you’re experienced enough to have a couple of agents, they will do the talking for you. Quite often though, a potential client will approach you directly because they’ve been on your website. In that case you have to do the negotiations yourself. Inevitably, you have to answer the following client questions:

1. Why should I hire a professional voice? 

2. Why should I pay that much money, if all you’re going to do is talk?

In the end there are three ways to answer these questions. You can highlight the benefits of what you have to offer, or you can tell some horror stories of clients who went with a cheap, unprofessional voice… or you can use a combination of positives and negatives.

Now, for some clients that’s not enough. Maybe they’re new at hiring a VO, and they simply can’t imagine what effect a bad voice-over could have on a good script. Those people need to see, in order to believe.

One guy started talking to me about text-to-speech software, and how advanced things were getting in that area. His boss had suggested he buy some software, and use it for the next video, instead of a real voice. The TTS-software would pay for itself in no time, he told me. 

“Well,” I said, “I’m not sure your company could afford the kind of artificial voices that are developed and used by Google or Apple. But let me send you a link to a video that was uploaded not so long ago. This is an affordable product you could buy right now. Take a look, and let me know if this is what you had in mind?” Here it is:

Some things just speak for themselves, don’t they? A few weeks later I spoke to a Head of Internal Training who wanted to “explore his options.” He was producing a tutorial, and he said:

“I’ll be honest with you. Keith from IT has a decent voice, and he said he’s willing to put this thing together for a six-pack and a pizza. That would save me a lot of money. Give me one reason why I should hire you.”

“I’d be happy to,” I said, and I sent him this educational YouTube masterpiece:

Let me share one of my other favorite tutorials. It’s not a corporate presentation, but if you’re interested in baking banana bread, this is a must-see (but you might want to turn the volume up a bit…).

Are you hungry yet? Don’t be fooled though. This is a so-called ASMR video (autonomous sensory meridian response) and there are currently about 5.2 million ASMR videos on YouTube. It’s the biggest YouTube trend you’ve never heard of.

The most popular tutorials on YouTube have to be the ones of girls teaching you how to put on make-up. Why do I bring this up? A year or so ago I was approached by a cosmetics brand. Their creative team was coming up with a new campaign, and they had two directions they wanted to explore. One was a more sophisticated approach for which they had my voice and accent in mind.

“The other idea,” said the account manager, “is to let real people tell their story. After all, that’s what our clients can relate to. We want someone who sounds like the friend they never knew they always wanted. Someone who can demonstrate our product, rather than sell it in a commercial.”

“Do you mean someone like this?” I asked? (and you might want to turn your volume down again…)

Most potential clients I talk to aren’t the creative types. They’ve already decided they want to hire me based on my demos, but they want me to give them my “best price.” That’s client speak for: “I think your rates are ridiculous, so let’s see how desperate you are.”

Last week I had a very interesting experience. A woman I was talking to about a voice-over project did something crazy.

She used the F-word!

We were talking about what I would charge, and all of a sudden she said: “But what about all these guys on Fiverr?”

“What about them?” I asked.

“Well,” she continued, “if I were to go with one of them I’d pay a lot less. In the end it’s all about the bottom line, you know.”

“Listen,” I said. “This video you’re putting together is going to be on the world wide web forever, and I hope thousands and thousands of people are going to watch it. For many, this is how they will learn about what your family business has to offer.

In most cases, you’ll get one chance to make your pitch. One chance. People have become extremely critical and impatient. If they don’t like what they see and what they hear, they’ll have millions of other things to watch. So, it’s up to you how you want to present the company your grandfather built. If your video looks unprofessional or sounds unprofessional, your company looks unprofessional.

Do you honestly want to put the reputation of your business in the mouth of this Fiverr guy?”

I think she got the point. Now, let me be clear.

This blog post is not about bashing people who are trying to make a few bucks with a dynamic microphone, or who want to share their knowledge, passion, and whispery voice with the online community. I used the above examples to provide some perspective, and because these videos are in the public domain.

One thing I’m sure you’ve picked up on, is that voice-over narration is very different from giving a running commentary of whatever you’re doing, using the cheapest device in the house. It’s not as easy as it seems, and it’s not true that anyone can do it. 

The difference between a pro and an amateur is this: a pro makes it seem easy and effortless. Amateurs are often hard to understand, and clumsy. Their presentation distracts from the message. A professional voice allows the viewer or listener to focus on the message. 

SELLING YOURSELF

This blog post started as a story about selling, so let’s get back to that.

Some clients are sold on benefits. They need to know what good things will happen when they hire you. Other clients are motivated by fear. They want to avoid disaster. Sometimes it really helps to give those people a flavor of what’s in store for them, should they go cheap. My message to them is this:

Cheap is always more expensive. 

Some things in life are just too important to leave to hobbyists or stupid software.

If you need a builder, a car mechanic, or an electrician, would you go to someone who charges five dollars for his or her service?

Would you pick your OB/GYN based on whomever has the lowest rate?

Would you want to get your teeth fixed by an amateur dentist?

Then why on earth would you trust a Bottom Dollar voice talent with your promotional message? Why would you allow a babbling dabbler to take a shot at your training course that took a fortune to develop? Do you want your employees to be distracted by Keith from IT, or do you want them to actually retain some information?

And to the creators of the Text to Speech video, the software tutorial, the banana bread lady, the make-up girl, and Mr. Fiverr I want to say this:

I’m not going to take away your right to post anything on YouTube you believe is worthwhile watching. But honestly:

What Were You Thinking?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Paula Satijn Bargain via photopin (license)

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Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 6 Comments

Road rageDo you remember the time you learned how to drive?

I sure do!

In the beginning it was utterly overwhelming and scary. My hands and feet were supposed to do different things at the same time, and they vehemently refused. When I had to shift gears, I felt the urge to look at that darn stick shift, but my instructor insisted I keep my eyes on the road, and use the mirrors to monitor the dangerous world around me. 

How on earth was I supposed to peek at the dashboard; leave a safe space between my car and the one in front of me; keep a semi-intelligent conversation going, while figuring out where to go without getting everyone killed? 

As my hands were digging deep into the wheel, I couldn’t imagine ever drinking coffee while driving, or listening to a Shostakovich symphony on the freeway. And what would happen if I had to sneeze?

Mind you: at that point I was only doing fifteen miles per hour on a back road. 

“Give it some time,” said my overweight instructor as he wiped the pearly sweat from his impressive forehead. “Before you know it, everything will become second nature, and you’ll love being in the driver’s seat. Now, make sure not to cut off that cyclist on your right. I don’t think my insurance covers fatal accidents. Besides, I just washed the car.”

He paused for a moment, and said: “That was a joke.”

Then he took a long sip from his stainless steel flask. “Look,” he said proudly, “My wife had it engraved. Can you see what it says?” 

“Do not dangle that thing in front of me. I don’t want to see what it says,” I squeaked, barely avoiding a ditch. “I’m trying to focus!”

“It says: 

If everything comes your way, you are in the wrong lane. 

Isn’t that funny?” continued my instructor. “I love a woman with a sense of humor. You know, my first wife was way too serious. She got car sick all the time. That should have been a sign. It was a messy divorce, but it was worth every penny! Do you have any kids?”

At that point I firmly put my foot on the brake, stopping the car so abruptly that our bodies turned into crash test dummies. 

“Please take me home!” I cried. “My mind is in overdrive right now, and this is all I can take. I’m sure your new wife loves you very much, but giving you a flask for work? What was she thinking?”

“It’s just to take the edge off, Mr. Strikwerda. I think you should have a sip yourself. Believe me, you need it. Is it okay if I eat a bean burrito? I haven’t had lunch yet.”

Ten years and two driving instructors later, my mind took me back to this unsettling experience. The brain works in mysterious ways, especially when it consists of dark matter and black holes, like mine. 

I was at a fancy New York voice-over studio, surrounded by self-absorbed nitwits who all believed they were crucial to the success of the recording I was hired to do. It was some stupid script about a new type of air bag, designed for driverless cars (and instructors with engraved flasks). 

As five people argued over some last-minute script changes, I looked at the audio engineer. He nodded knowingly, and whispered in my headphones: 

“Just remember: your meter is running. My meter is running. The longer they take, the more we make.”

In the past, these types of situations would have been as stressful as learning how to drive a car. I didn’t like being in a different environment with different people. Too many things were going on at the same time. Lots of egos, and me feeling inadequate and insecure. My internal dialogue would almost paralyze me with its ugly voice:

“Are they talking about me? What if I make a mistake? What if they hate my take on the text? Why is my mouth so dry? Is it okay to take a bathroom break? And what about that horrendous tongue twister in the third line?”

That was then. This is now. Things have changed.

I’ve learned how to drive while drinking a tall Latte as I listen to the BBC. I even drove myself to New York. In rush hour, and I only got beeped at once. 

Call me Mr. Cool!

I leaned back in my chair, looking at the microphone. The folks on the other side of the studio window were still deliberating, and for some reason I had to think back to a radio interview I just heard on my way to the Big Apple. It was more of a conversation between two pianists, Gabriela Montero and Khatia Buniatishvili.

The interviewer asked:

“Could you describe the moment when the concert hall hushes, your fingers are poised above the keys… Take us inside your head. What are you thinking then?”

Khatia, who is from Georgia, answered:

“Actually, on stage I try not to think, because on stage there are things much more important than just human thinking that happen there. I’m totally forgetting my ego.”

“What about you, Gabriela?”

“I sit down, and I just want to be able to tell stories. That’s really the only thing that matters to me. I want to be able to convey in the deepest ways who we are, as a people; who we are, and what moves us. I want to move the public.”

Listening to these two professional performers, I felt a surprisingly close connection. As I was getting ready for my voice-over, I took a nice deep breath, and said to myself:

This script is my score, my voice is my instrument, and this studio is my stage.

The best thing I can do right now, is to stop thinking about myself. 

I’m a conduit. A storyteller, paid to move people with a message.

I have worked on my technique. I have analyzed the text. I have rehearsed it at home.

I am ready to let it go, and let it flow. 

I am in my comfort zone, and this is just as easy…

as driving a car.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Do Less, Make More

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 7 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’s 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 SELECTIVELY

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). 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 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?

VO ATLANTA 2019

If your VO business isn’t where you want it to be, and you wish to change that, come to VO Atlanta at the end of the month. On Saturday March 29th I’ll be leading a workshop (X-session) called Six Steps To Turning Your Business Around. It’s a practical, 3-hour, hands-on session during which I will challenge you to take a good look at six aspects of your voice-over career. What’s working, and what isn’t? Is one aspect sabotaging other areas? What aspect needs more work? At the end of the session you will walk out with a practical plan to take your business to the next level.

The day after I hope you will join me for a fun one-hour breakout session called Winning Mindsets To Take Charge Of Your Career. Great equipment and a good voice can only get you so far in this business. What you tell yourself is just as important as what you tell others. Find out what accomplished colleagues are doing differently between the ears that leads to their success.

If you cannot make it in person, join the conference live with VO Atlanta Virtual.

  • Enjoy watching presentations from the main-stage featuring industry experts
  • For the 1st time ever, watch select breakout sessions along with expert panel discussions
  • Exclusive Interviews with thought leaders from around the voiceover industry

 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Who’s Afraid of Voices dot com?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play 6 Comments

David Ciccarelli has done it again. We can’t stop talking about his business meddling with our business.

Just look at how many times you see the Voices dot com (VDC) logo pop up whenever someone inadvertently creates a hyperlink to the Canadian website. Hurray, another field day of free publicity for the most pervasive and obnoxious company in voice-over land!

For those who don’t know what the buzz is all about (where were you?), here’s what happened.

On February 25th. Voices dot com announced they’re going to offer synthetic voices to their customers thanks to a partnership with VocaliD. That’s a Voice AI Company (artificial intelligence) in Massachusetts that creates customized digital voices to make sure not everyone who needs an artificial voice sounds like the late Stephen Hawking. These days, VocaliD is making voices for all sorts of things that talk.

Why this partnership? The idea is that new computer-generated voices are going to be based on recordings from VDC voice actors and then converted into synthetic speech engines. This way, a brand can select its own unique voice for their applications.

BIG SURPRISE

When the news just broke, voice-overs responded with shock, fear, and disbelief. Why would VDC be competing with itself by giving clients the option of picking a cheaper artificial voice over a real voice? Is VDC even allowed to use the samples in their voicebank without permission from the talent? Will this put voice actors out of business? Is this yet another nail in our coffin?

Here’s what I think.

First of all, no one should be surprised by this partnership deal. VDC-CEO David Ciccarelli has been consistently clear about his agenda. Like Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies, he wants one thing: world domination. He wants his company to be the number one resource for voices on the planet.

Remember that VDC wasn’t founded to make sure all these lovely voice actor people have something to do. Ciccarelli’s main purpose is to turn a profit and to make his company more valuable each and every year. In that respect, strategic alliances like the one with VocaliD make perfect sense. It opens up a brand new market.

SMART SPEAKERS

More and more devices and applications use artificial voices to communicate with their users. It’s much easier and cheaper to make a computer say anything you want for as long as you want. You don’t have to pay extra for retakes or have to hold the clammy hand of inexperienced talent. The public is already accustomed to interacting with these fake voices. Amazon alone has sold more than 100 million devices with Alexa on board.

Now, can VDC simply repurpose the recordings in their voicebank and have VocaliD use them to create synthetic voices without compensating voice talent? Read Article 6 in their Terms of Service:

“any (non-union) work submitted through their platform is subject to the following, “… the Talent assigns to [Voices Dot Com] all right, title and interest, absolutely, to the copyright and other intellectual property in or relating to the Talent’s Non-Union Work Product throughout the world, free of all licenses, mortgages, charges or other encumbrances, unless agreed otherwise by the parties in writing.”

In other words: once you’ve uploaded your audio to the VDC server, you no longer own your recording. VDC does. As WoVo president Peter Bishop put it:

“It is clear that any work submitted to Voices Dot Com can be reused in a manner which VDC deems appropriate, with no further consideration of the talent.”

VoiceOverXtra’s John Florian asked David Ciccarelli for a reaction. He said that the company’s archived recordings are off limits to VocaliD. His vice president of marketing, Alina Morkin, added:

“Voices found on files on our system, whether that’s from a demo file, an audition file, or any other file, will not be used to develop a new synthetic voice.”

To that I say: How do we know we can rely on VDC? What have they done lately to earn our trust? Why does VocaliD need to enter into a partnership with VDC? If they’re looking for fresh voices, there’s nothing preventing them from posting a job on the platform and take it from there. 

If you’re a VDC member and you find this new development as unconscionable as I do, you have a choice to make. Are you going to leave or are you staying? That’s where your power lies. Companies like VDC can only exist because their 500.000 purported users keep them afloat. The paying members are in fact enablers who support a business model that turns your voice into a commodity and takes away your rights to fair compensation.

Don’t you deserve better than that?

BUSINESS MODEL

I’m not saying it’s wrong for VDC to turn a profit. VDC is free to start partnerships all over the world. But what VDC is doing all over again, is selling out the very talent that helps them be in business in the first place. To that, I strongly object.

Let’s address the fear for a moment. Are you afraid that you won’t make any money without VDC? Perhaps you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one rotten basket. If you feel you must go Pay to Play, there are plenty of alternatives. Better still: find your own clients and make sure potential clients know where to find you.

Do you fear synthetic speech is going to put you out of business? I don’t see that happening, yet. It is and will be used for some of the jobs that are now handled by a human. The boring, repetitive jobs. But there’s plenty of fun stuff left that needs a personal touch.

But there’s another reason why I don’t think the synthetic VDC voices of VocaliD will soon be reading audio books to me or will feature in a national commercial. Why? Because frankly, they sound like… synthetic voices. I can’t imagine any major brand going for that. What do I mean?

Click here or click here to listen to some samples on the VocaliD website (be sure to scroll down).

Am I right?

NO BIG DEAL

In the world of AI voices, VocaliD is small potatoes. The real threat comes from the big guns. Companies like Microsoft and Google (click on their names for examples). Their AI voices sound more and more natural every year. Adobe’s VoCo text to speech synthesizer is described as “Photoshop for the voice.” Some of the demos I have seen are pretty scary.

Do I feel threatened by these developments?

In my experience, those driven by fear are often insecure about their own abilities, and perhaps need to up their game to play at the highest level.

What worries me more than the shenanigans of companies like Voices dot com, are the hordes of voice actors who are going along with it without blinking an eye.

Those are the voices that could really use some artificial intelligence!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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Promoting Yourself the Nethervoice Way

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 6 Comments

silouette of man with bull hornLast week I wrote about the fallacy of ME, ME, ME marketing. One of my readers emailed me and said:

“You’re very good at telling me what NOT to do. Please write about the best ways for me to promote my business.”

For that, I want to go back to an email conversation I had with one of my British colleagues.

Here’s what we talked about.

Q: Many people rely on just having a website and an internet presence on Twitter, Facebook or on a P2P site to do their marketing for them… does this work? And if not, why not?
 
Let’s take a step back and talk about what I believe marketing to be:
 
Any activity that helps you find clients and helps clients find you.
 
Marketing is about understanding your clients’ needs and connecting your product or service with customers who want it.
 
Effective marketing is a compelling, engaging conversation. It’s about building profitable relationships and creating an amazing experience around your brand, product, or service.
 
If you succeed in these three areas, your marketing works. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
 
Having an internet presence in and of itself is as useless as hanging up an expensive billboard in the middle of nowhere. In order to be effective, you have to make sure people find your needle in the online haystack.
 
It’s not enough to have an online profile on a P2P site or on Facebook. That only benefits the P2P and the world created by Mark Zuckerberg. You need to drive traffic to a site that you own and control.

Q: What is the most effective tool to market yourself? Blogging, Facebook, Tweeting?
 
My blog has proven to be my most effective instrument in my marketing toolbox, and I’ll tell you why. You can offer the best product nobody has ever heard of and never make a penny. In order for people to buy from you or hire you, they have to find you, get to know you, and learn to trust you. That’s exactly what my blog has done for me.
 
Today’s search engines have become much smarter. Quantity is no longer king. It’s about quality and engagement. Relevance and social interaction are now built into the algorithm that determines how your pages are ranked and thus found.
 
Most experts agree that one of the best ways to boost your SEO is to offer fresh and quality content. Most websites are pretty static. Once it’s up, not much changes. That’s why blogs are so effective. Every day or every week you get a chance to connect with your followers and attract new readers by sharing something of value.
 
Q: To be effective, how much time do you estimate it is necessary to spend on marketing?
 
It’s a running joke among freelancers that we spend 80% of our time finding the work and 20% doing the work. Marketing never stops. Look at the big brands. We know their logos and slogans by heart. Yet, they continue to bombard us with messages. Award-winning colleagues whom we think of as “established” never stop marketing.
 
B.L. Ochman, president of What’s Next said it best:
 
“Marketing is everything a company does, from how they answer the phone, how quickly and effectively they respond to email, to how they handle accounts payable, to how they treat their employees and customers. Done right, marketing integrates a great product or service with PR, sales, advertising, new media, personal contact. In other words, marketing is not a discipline or an activity – it is everything a company is – at least if the company wants to be successful.”

Q: Are there other ways to market yourself other than online?
 
Marketing is never an either/or. It’s doing this, that and a whole bunch of other things in order to influence perception. If marketing is not integrated into everything you do, you’re not doing it right and you’re not doing enough.
 
Q: If you have limited time/resources… how do you choose the best marketing tools for you?
 
The best form of marketing is delivering a stellar product or service. Clients are your best credentials. If you exceed their expectations, they will do part of the marketing for you. Remember: tooting your own horn is necessary but suspicious. What others have to say about you is perceived to be more credible than all the things you will ever say about yourself.
 
Q: How do you ensure that you are constantly reaching new people and not just preaching to the converted.
 
Ask yourself this question: What greater community am I a part of?
 
Most voice-over professionals are:
 
– Actors & artists

– Self-employed

– Underemployed

– Freelancers

– Solopreneurs

– Small business owners
 
As a narrator and voice actor, I’m also in touch with:
 
– Linguists & translators

– Sound engineers

– Bloggers

– Writers

– e-Learning specialists

– Advertisers & Social Media specialists

– People in the entertainment industry
 
Blogging is a form of content marketing. If I only were to write my blog for a relatively small group of voice-over colleagues, I would be preaching to the choir. That’s why I make sure to write content that appeals to all the groups mentioned above. That way, I widen my circle, instead of preaching to the choir.
 
Q: Is marketing yourself the same as bragging?
 
No, it’s not, although it often comes across like that. My advice may sound a bit like a contradiction in terms: If you want to highlight what you have to offer, don’t make it all about you. A blog or brochure is not a public diary about your personal trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
 
Here’s the challenge: you have to show people what you’re made of, but avoid the ME, ME, ME-stories. That book is usually very thin and gets very old.
 
Focus on your market. Find out what their frustrations are and offer practical tips, and remember this: Educate without lecturing. Come across as an expert, but not as a know-it-all.
 
Q: As soon as you have an online presence, you are vulnerable … how do you protect yourself from spam and junk?
 
Never put your email address on your website. It’s an open invitation to spam bots. Use a spam-protected contact form instead. Use an email program with a solid spam filter, or buy one. Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. Install anti-tracking software. I also check every new subscriber to my blog against a list of known spammers.
 
Q: How would you compare the impact of automated tweets, updates, responses, and postings etc. against individually composed postings?
 
Small businesses have a strong competitive advantage over huge corporations. They can deal with (potential) clients in a very direct and personal way. Because voice actors embody their product, that’s their unique selling point.
 
Mass emails, tweets, and newsletters can be deleted in seconds. Personal messages, letters, and faxes are harder to ignore.
 
Ultimately, effective marketing is directed at key individuals. Cater your message to their needs and you’ll be more successful. Remember: marketing is not a sales pitch. It is highlighting a service.
 
Q: In an overcrowded marketplace, how do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd?
 
I am going to brag now, but only because it’s based on feedback from my readers. The number one reason readers come back to my blog is that they find content that is relevant and helpful, told from a unique perspective.
 
If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view. I’m not telling my readers how great I am. I’m simply showing them how they can be more successful if they follow some of my suggestions. In other words: I am not asking them to buy something from me. I’m giving them something useful.
 
If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. I highly recommend finding a niche and emphasize your specialty in your marketing messages. In my case, I market myself as “The Ultimate European Voice.” I realize that sounds rather pretentious, but for someone living and working in the United States, my European-ness is one of my unique selling points.
 
More and more clients don’t necessarily want a British or North-American English speaker for a global campaign. Because of my more “neutral” English accent, international companies are interested in my services.
 
Q: For people who may not be technically minded … do you think it is worthwhile employing someone to do your internet marketing for you?
 
Technology is a tool that sometimes stands in the way of true communication. There has never been a generation in the history of this planet that has been more connected, yet millions and millions of people miss a real connection.
 
Technology enables us to send a mass email or newsletter to everyone in our database. It’s as sad and ineffective as cold calling. You’re playing a numbers game, thinking: The more people I send stuff to, the more likely it is that someone will respond.
 
I always get the best responses from personal contact. I have no marketing guru to run my “campaign”. The reason is simple.
 
No one is as motivated and dedicated to my business as I am. No one is willing to work as hard for my business as I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t ask for help.
 
We all have our strengths and I do feel that when I look at certain websites, some people should have used a web designer, a copywriter, or a professional photographer. First impressions are vital!
 
However, it does pay off to learn how to maintain your own site. Otherwise, you end up paying your webmaster (or mistress) for every small change or update.
 
Q: Talk a little about keeping the balance right … e.g. marketing versus actually doing the job. Is it possible to do too much marketing?
 
As I said earlier, doing your job to the very best of your ability is one of the best forms of marketing. If you approach it that way, there is no real separation between the two.
 
There is a risk of overdoing it, though. I’m not going to name any names, but one voice-over coach regularly plasters the internet with promos for seminars, classes, and the whole shebang. It’s overkill and it’s counterproductive.
 
If you yell too loudly and too frequently (especially if it is more of the same), it becomes annoying and people will start tuning you out.
 
Q: How do you think marketing will develop over the next five years? 
 
I’ll have to take out my crystal ball for that one. On one hand I see that marketing is becoming more and more mobile technology driven. YouTube is quickly becoming the number one search engine. Social proof is rapidly replacing expert advice.
 
If you wish to make a dent in the marketing universe, you need to learn to play the technological game, create visual content and attract, grow, and serve a considerable online following.
 
On the other hand, it is critically important to always remember that you’re talking to real people with real problems that need to be solved. It’s impossible to meet their needs with a mass email. Marketing can be the beginning of a connection, but it’s only a first step.
 
Let me put it this way. Creating an appealing window display is one thing, but no level of technology can force people to come inside, let alone become a (return) customer.
 
Q: Joining the dots … and creating a seamless approach to marketing – creating your own look, logos, fonts etc. Are they important?
 
Now we’re entering the realm of branding: the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.
 
With thousands of voice-over talent entering the market each year, differentiation is essential. Having a picture of a microphone on your website is anything but unique. What clients are looking and listening for is personality.
 
Things like a recognizable logo, a catchphrase, and a consistent color scheme have to reflect your personality and your niche.
 
I don’t have a logo per se, but I consistently use a picture of me, holding a bunch of orange tulips. On a subconscious level, people still associate tulips with Holland, and as a native Dutch speaker that’s a good thing. Orange also happens to be the Dutch national color. Then there’s the pun “tulips” and “two lips” which for a voice-over professional is a nice association.
 
Q: What is the most important thing you have learned about marketing?
 
Three things:
 
1. Marketing is like sowing seeds. You can’t force those seeds to come up overnight, grow into trees, and produce fruit. Marketing is an organic process that requires persistence, patience, and love for what you’re doing.
 
2. It is pointless to market a bad product because it won’t sell.
 
3. Even the sharpest tools in the shed get dull after prolonged use. Keep on learning to refine your skills.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Fallacy of ME, ME, ME Marketing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 4 Comments

selfie with microphoneQuestion on Quora:

“Is it okay to post pictures of yourself on Instagram? Would people think I’m too much into myself?”

Top answer:

“Since 99.99% of Instagram users have chosen to make evident how in love they are with themselves, you’ll fit right in.”

I had to think of that when one of my colleagues jokingly posted on Facebook that he was sick of seeing selfies of voice-overs in their studios. You know, these stereotypical posed pictures of smiling people in sweatshirts that always feature a microphone.

This led to a heated debate about narcissism and the perceived benefits of plastering your face all over the internet. Here’s what I want to know: are these selfies just a big ego trip, or an effective way to show your customers who you really are?

WHAT’S YOUR GOAL

Before I answer that question, let’s take a step back. Why would you as a small business owner use social media in the first place? It’s a time suck, a distraction, and as soon as you think you’ve figured it out, Zuckerberg and company change the algorithms.

For most freelancers, having a social media presence is part of their marketing strategy. The purpose of marketing is no mystery. It’s all about influence and perception. In a nutshell, here’s what effective marketing should do:

– Tells the world that you exist, and educates your audience about what you have to offer
– Helps your customers understand why your product or service is better than, or different from the competition
– Builds authority, credibility, and trust. It shows that you’re a pro running a reputable business
– Develops a relationship with your market: communicates with customers, and turns clients into fans
– Improves and reinforces brand awareness
– Grows your business by extending your reach and increasing your sales

Successful marketers influence how their product or service is perceived. They win people over by convincing them they have something special to offer that meets their needs. The ultimate goal is conversion: turning a prospect into a buyer.

How do selfies fit into this picture?

YOU OR THE CLIENT

We seem to have at least two schools of thought. I call them egocentric marketing and customer-centric marketing. An egocentric marketing campaign revolves around “Look at ME. Look at what I did. Look at what I’m doing.” It’s for people who mistake their own enthusiasm for what will motivate their potential customers.

Posting pictures of yourself and about yourself only works if you’re an interesting person leading an interesting life and if you already have a following that’s interested in you. Think of actors, musicians, models, celebrity chefs, politicians, and other public figures.

Let’s be honest: most of us aren’t that interesting, especially in a dimly lit studio with a big mike in front of our face. Unlike on-screen actors, voice actors don’t go on different sets in exotic locations. There’s no costume department clothing us, or makeup department carefully camouflaging our pimples. If we ever leave the house for work, it is to visit another dimly lit recording studio with more mikes, cables, and headphones.

Customer-centric marketing is based on the idea that if you wish to win people over, you have to stop talking about yourself and start listening. Based on what you hear, you provide content that addresses your customer’s fears, problems, and needs. It’s not about you. It’s about them. Customer-centric marketing is not only about increasing exposure. It’s about providing value for your viewers and followers.

WHO’S YOUR TARGET

The problem is that I don’t think many Instagrammers have identified a target audience before they start posting pictures. They don’t even have a business account. A personal account is used to post anything and everything. Snapshots from family trips, pictures of the pets, lunches, dinners, and the occasional picture of mama or papa doing voice-overs. All of this goes out to clients, colleagues, friends, family, and the one billion other people on Instagram.

There’s no distinction between the personal and the professional.

The question I asked myself before I became active on social media was this: Do I want to make my private life public, and if so, for what purpose?

Perhaps this is a generational thing. The younger generation has no trouble sharing their private lives publicly. The more views, the better. Self-esteem is linked to likes. A young colleague told me: “I want my clients to get to know me. If they see what I am like, they’ll remember me. If they remember me, there’s a greater chance that they will hire me.”

In contrast, I want to protect my privacy. The only time I open up about my personal life on this blog is to illustrate a point, or when I want to share something that I feel is relevant to many of my readers. That’s the reason you know about my stroke. I wanted to increase awareness through my experience.

My intended Instagram audience consists of colleagues and other freelancers. That’s why you won’t find any vacation photos, pics of alcoholic beverages, or silly selfies. Most of my posts are pictures with quotes from this blog. My goal is simple: to make people think. They don’t have to agree with me. I just want them to consider what’s written. It helps me be a trusted voice in an ongoing conversation.

I can hear you think: “That sounds very idealistic. Why would that be beneficial to your bottom line?”

Well, through these posts people get to know me and my ideas. And if they like what they see, they might go to my blog and sign up for coaching sessions. It gets me invites to interviews and podcasts, I’m asked to write guest posts, do presentations, and conduct workshops. It’s free publicity! People end up buying my book and start referring me to clients who need a European, neutral English voice.

There’s a lot that you can do when using social media to spread the word about your business. LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram give you an opportunity to highlight different aspects of what you have to offer. Different formats require a different approach.

What you do is up to you, but if you wish to make the switch from egocentric to customer-centric marketing, I leave you with the advice of one expert:

“It’s okay to be proud of your work, but turn your brags into benefits!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Mind Your Own Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters Leave a comment

Gerald Griffith

Gerald Griffith, the charismatic creator of VO Atlanta, is a clever cookie. He wants to give the attendees of this conference what they want. How does he know what they want? It’s simple. He’s not afraid to ask. It’s an approach many small business owners (such as VO’s) could learn something from:

1. understand your clients, and
2. ensure that what you’re offering meets or exceeds their needs

Result: Happy, returning customers!

So, over the past seven years, Gerald has been polling his audience trying to find out what kinds of topics they’d be interested in. Doing so, he noticed an inexplicable trend. Gerald:

“The pattern is the same. There’s a lot of demand for tech and business, but those are the most poorly attended sessions.”

This year it’s no different. Griffith:

“When I review the current block of workshop bookings (same holds true for breakout sessions in past years), guess which ones DO NOT show up in the top three? Technology and Marketing.”

For this blog post, I’ll leave the tech talk to the experts, but business and marketing are definitely my cup of tea. Full disclosure: I’m a presenter and panelist in these areas. So, why would people indicate they want more of these sessions, and yet not show up for them? It doesn’t make sense, does it? What’s going on?

STRANGE BEHAVIOR

First off: polls are opinions, not behavior. People vote with their feet. It’s the problem every pollster has to face: human beings say the socially acceptable thing, and do another. But there’s more.

Advertisers realized a long time ago that most people decide with their heart, not with their head. Business-oriented sessions tend to appeal to the analytical, left side of the brain. Some attendees falsely believe business segments are boring and filled with dry, factual information. In contrast, a hands-on workshop about getting into character animation led by a brilliant man known for voicing a pig, has way more emotional pull.

Now, if you had a choice between work and play, which one would you choose? The truth is: most VO’s -me included- are more interested in the fun aspects of their job than in running the numbers. Bookkeeping is considered work. Making phone calls is work. Social Media can be a chore. We’d rather talk about microphones and gadgets than about our bottom line.

In my experience as a coach, many VO’s don’t want to face financial reality. They call themselves voice-over artists, not entrepreneurs. They prefer to stick their head in the sand while complaining about rates going down.

STRANGE IDEAS

What’s also keeping people from signing up for business sessions is a particular mindset, summarized in these two maxims:

“If you build it, they will come”

“Do what you love and the money will follow”

These two ideas are part of the reason why about one-fifth of business startups fail in the first year, and about half go bust within five years. Only about one-third make it to ten.

Let me ask you this. If you build it without telling the world about it, why would people come? They don’t know you exist. And if they do know you exist, why should they come to you and not to someone else with a pleasant voice?

What makes you so special?

Go ahead and build it, but there’s no guarantee that they will come! Now, what about passion? Is that enough to make the magic money fountains flow?

I know plenty of people who hate what they do, and yet they make a boatload of money. I also know people who love what they do, who are struggling to make ends meet. Investing in yourself by signing up for sessions that will help you improve your voice-over skills is not a bad idea. However, you can offer the best product in the world, but if you don’t know how to sell it, the money will not follow. And in VO, you are your product.

FAILING BUSINESSES

Take a few minutes and Google “reasons why small businesses fail.” You’ll find that most authors are in agreement. Small businesses don’t fail because new entrepreneurs aren’t creative, passionate, or skilled enough. It is because their owners do not run them like a business. A business needs to be properly funded. Many freelancers don’t spend enough money to put themselves out there, and they don’t make enough money to stay there.

Secondly, failing businesses are offering something no one is looking for because it’s already available, usually of better quality and at a lower price. If you’re thinking of starting your own business, you have to find your place in the market by providing something only very few can offer. That’s your niche.

As a voice talent, it’s not enough to say: “I am special because no one sounds like me.” Believe it or not, there are people who sort of sound like you with more money, more experience, better equipment, a quiet recording space, a nicer website, a harder working agent, better branding, greater marketing, and an amazing social media presence. Anything they’re not good at or don’t like to do, they hire experts for. Those who want to do it all by themselves end up working eighty hours a week wondering why they ever wanted to be their own boss.

If you don’t want to belong to that fifty percent of small businesses that close within five years, you have to stop treating your profession as a hobby, as something you do because it sparks joy only. Owning a small business is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting, as well as exhilarating.

Here’s the good news: learning how to run a freelance business is a rewarding journey, and in our community you’ll find excellent tour guides to show you around. Many of the best are coming to VO Atlanta from March 28 – 31.

THE EXPERTS

Learn from Marc Scott and Tracy Lindley about marketing, about sales and money management from Bachelor no more Tom Dheere, about branding from Gabrielle Nistico and Celia Siegel, about using Twitter from Heather Costa, and create an action plan with Natasha Marchewka. These are just a few of the presenters coming to the Hilton Atlanta Airport Hotel. Click here for a full list.

Paul Strikwerda presenting at VO Atlanta

The Stinky Sock Session

On Friday 3/29, I’ll be leading an X-Session from 1:30 to 4:30 PM called “Six Steps To Turning Your Business Around.” It’s not a lecture, but an interactive workshop open to no more than twelve people. The next day I’d love to meet you at my Breakout Session, “Winning Mindsets to Take Charge of Your Career” from 4:45 to 5:45 PM. Find out why people started calling this the “Stinky Sock” session you’ll never forget.

THE FUTURE

In this volatile, crazy voice-over business, many are called but few are chosen. When doing my presentations, I often look at my audience and wonder: who will be here next year, five years from now, and in ten years? Who will have given up, and who has staying power?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know this: having a remarkable voice and knowing how to use it is not enough. The ones enjoying sustained success are very likely to give you this piece of advice if you want to do well:

Mind your own business!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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