Career

Defining the IT-Factor

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 19 Comments
A married man: George Clooney

A random married man

It’s not for sale, and yet it is one of the most sought after things in the world.

Movie stars have it. Some captains of industry exude it. Politicians who have lost it, are likely to lose the election.

What am I talking about?

Charisma!

Originally, the word charisma meant “grace” or “talent from G-d.” Later on it became the “gift of leadership, power of authority, or charm that can inspire, influence, and motivate others.”

Some believe charisma is elusive and exclusive. Either we’re blessed with it from birth, or we were born to be bland.

Others like Olivia Fox Cabane, are convinced it can be taught. Olivia is an executive “charisma coach,” and author of The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism

Cabane thinks charisma is the result of a set of specific behaviors, and not an innate or natural quality. She bases her opinion on behavioral psychology.

No matter where you stand, I think we can all agree that charismatic people have certain things in common that make them attractive to others. I’ll go one step further and claim that charisma is often an essential ingredient to success.

CHARISMA DEMYSTIFIED

In my world – the world of voice acting solopreneurs – charisma is a huge part of what attracts casting directors and other clients to certain talent. It’s the “IT-factor” that is so hard to define, but that everybody is talking about.

Charisma is like a bright light shining through a crystal. All of a sudden you can see a rainbow of colors, each color being a different attribute. To illustrate what I mean, I have broken charisma down into a number of qualities most inspirational people are known for. These people are…

1. Confident, but not cocky

Charismatic people know their stuff inside out, but they never try to impress. If anything, they want to be impressed. Some of the most influential, intelligent people I have met, are also the most humble people. They don’t seek approval from others. They’re completely comfortable with who they are.

Charismatic (voice) actors know what they’re doing. You can see it in their posture, and you can hear it in their performance. They’re open to feedback and willing to experiment. They don’t need outside adulation to feel good about themselves.

2. Focused on others, and not on self

Charismatic people have a gift to make others feel special. When you talk to them, you have their full attention. They are totally present. One question they often ask is: “If there’s one thing I could do for you, what would it be?”

Charismatic (voice) actors make their clients feel special, and they focus on bringing the script to life. When in session, they are totally in the moment. They’re service-oriented, ready to go the extra mile.

3. Eloquent storytellers

Charismatic people are usually great public speakers, and intriguing to watch. Face, voice, and gestures reveal the same message (see my story on congruence). They are enthusiastic, and their energy is contagious instead of draining.

Charismatic (voice) actors are great storytellers. Once they start, you can’t stop listening to them. They are expressive, and they use their voice like a musical instrument. They have the power to move you. When voicing games and cartoons, they’re definitely animated!

4. Interested and interesting

Charismatic people ask the best questions because they’re always open to learning something new. Their ongoing curiosity has made them interesting as well as wise.

Charismatic (voice) actors are active listeners. Their ears are always open, ready to pick up a new accent, and to discover a new character. Before they hit “record,” they need to know all about the content, the context, the characters and – of course – the client.

5. Authentic and engaging

You can say a lot about charismatic people, but you can’t accuse them of being fake. Self-assured and emotionally intelligent, they despise posturing. Even though they may be introverted in private, they are outgoing in public. They don’t mind being the center of attention, because it serves a greater purpose. It often comes with the job.

Charismatic (voice) actors are no copycats. They are originals. They may be good at doing certain impressions, but they are hired because of their unique timbre and talent. They are great networkers, because they’re not afraid to put themselves out there. They know that those who are too shy to ask, will never get what they want.

6. Optimistic and purposeful

Great leaders often embody optimism in testing times. They are persuasive and proactive; they seek solutions and overcome obstacles in unexpected ways. They smile a lot, and come across as assertive, yet warm. Without exception, they are driven to do exceptional things.

As a solopreneur operating in a saturated, uncertain market, you won’t survive without a positive mindset and a solid plan. You’re on a mission, and you won’t allow a negative mood to sabotage your success. You come in prepared, and you are confident that you’re exactly where you are meant to be. And when it is time to go, you make sure to leave on a good note because last impressions last.

CAN IT BE LEARNED?

I realize this recipe for charisma has many ingredients. Remember this. It’s not a technique. It is an attitude. Just like love, it can’t be forced and it shouldn’t be faked. If anything, charisma is the result of many unconscious processes that were developed over time.

I do believe that all of us are capable of these behaviors. As you may recall, I’m a reluctant extrovert. I really had to force myself to be more outgoing, and show my emotions. You should see me now. I even became a happy hugger! If I can do it, you can certainly do it. 

So, if you feel you’d like to give this charisma-thing a try, don’t attempt to display all these behaviors at once. Begin by becoming an active listener. Maintain eye contact, and make it about the other person. Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking to you. To quote Stephen Covey: “Understand before being understood.”

Find out what you can do to make others feel comfortable. Break the ice with a little humor. Discover how compliments give people wings. Stop complaining, and stop wanting to please everybody. Don’t make excuses, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Take responsibility for your own life, and please keep your ego in check.

READY FOR CHANGE

Charisma is not reserved to Hollywood royalty, or to tycoons or political power brokers. It can’t be bottled and it can’t be bought. You don’t even need an expensive coach to teach you to become more likable and appreciative. Deep down I already know you are charismatic. You just need to show it a bit more.

I guarantee you that when you start taking small steps in the right direction, you will notice a distinct difference. A difference in the way you feel about yourself, and in the way people respond to you.

Of all the things we have discussed about script delivery and performance in the past few weeks, this may very well have the greatest impact.

That’s why I want you to ask yourself:

“What can I do today, to become more charismatic?”

and DO IT…. gracefully and lovingly.

After all, you are tremendously talented.

Use your gifts warmly and wisely, and you will receive much in return!

That I can promise you.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

PPS This is part 7 in my series on performance and script delivery. You can read part 1 by clicking on this link, and part 2 by clicking on this link. Click here for part 3 and click here for part 4. You can read part 5 if you click here, and click here for part 6.

photo credit: pierrotsomepeople via photopin cc

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The Voice Arts™ Awards. The New Pay to Play?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion 31 Comments

Competitions.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with competitions.

I enjoy watching a great soccer game or a tennis match. I’m a fan of the Olympics. The rules of the game are known. There’s a clear finish line. Whoever scores the most points or clocks the fastest time, wins.

When it comes to artistic competitions, things are not so defined. I remember going to an exhibition of prize-winning painters. All artists had entered portraits. The first prize went to a painting that was almost abstract. The second prize (and audience favorite) was a portrait that was Dali-like in its photorealism. Apples and oranges were more alike than these two entries. So, why did the abstract painting win? Because the jury said so.

DARE TO COMPARE

At the heart of every competition is the obscure art of comparing. This motion picture is better than the other. This photo stands out from the rest. This actor outperformed his colleagues. This poem is so much denser than the other poem. The question remains: Based on what, and according to whom?

Most judges of competitions will certainly be looking and listening for technical excellence. But what sets a winner apart from a loser is more than flawless technique. It has to do with artistic mastery; with having an authentic creative voice. 

Great art, whether it be music, dance, or any other medium, merely uses technique to give us something splendid that may very well break all the rules. It may even set a new standard. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is a great example. Some musicians thought it could not be played. It caused a scandal when it was first performed. Now it’s considered to be one of the masterpieces of modern music.

JURY DUTY

At the time of creation, great innovative art defies definition, and it is often anti-establishment. Here’s the problem: jurors of competitions are usually distinguished members of the establishment. It is their job to use semi-objective criteria, and apply them to very subjective artistic statements. Good luck with that!

Here’s another thing I don’t like about competitions: they turn colleagues into competitors, and divide them into winners and losers. My ideal world is a world where people cooperate instead of compete; a world in which doing your very best is more important than being the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire people at the top of their game, but I prefer the artist who selflessly and tirelessly works under the radar to the attention-seeking loudmouth looking for acknowledgment and recognition.

I admire people who are in it for the music. Not for the applause.

A NEW AWARD

All of this was going through my mind when the unknown Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™) announced the establishment of the Voice Arts™ Awards. In its own words, this is an open competition honoring and acknowledging:

“voice actors, creative directors, copywriters, casting directors, talent agents, directors, producers, audio engineers, account executives, equipment manufacturers, podcasters, bloggers and others who create and sustain the highest levels of achievement within the voiceover industry.”

The following quote from their website reads like a mission statement:

“The purpose of the Voice Arts™ Awards is to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”

That’s quite a mouthful, but voice actors should be able to handle that comfortably.

If you have a few hours to spare, I invite you to browse through seventy(!) pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards, such as “NATIONAL TV INTERSTITIAL ELEMENT – FEMALE” and “AUDIO BOOK NARRATION – CHILDREN INFANT TO 5 – MALE.”

Even though it’s mentioned in the “About section” of the Awards, I could not find a category for equipment manufacturers or bloggers. I guess I’m out of luck!

PAY TO PLAY

The competition is open to individuals, companies, and students, as long as the entry is in English, and has first appeared in public between January 1, 2013 and June 15, 2014 (click here for details). The price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member is $310. If you’re an independent artist, you pay $210 per entry (there is an early bird discount, but the time for that has passed). SOVAS™ members may enter at a reduced rate.

SOVAS™ membership ranges from $125 per year (Basic Package) to a $5,000 Platinum Package. Five grand may seem a lot, but for that you’ll get a Voice Arts™ Awards statuette named and presented in your honor, and a Special Education Scholarship offered in your name (among other perks).

On a side note, the cost of the competition does not end there. Many competitions require that the nominees/winners attend the awards ceremony. I’d consider the cost of travel, meals, accommodations, and of work lost because you’re attending the event, as part of the expenses. A few of this year’s winners flew in from the United Kingdom.

Some of the Awards were presented during a Gala on November 9th, at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Early Bird tickets go for $225 each. The Sumner M. Redstone Theater seats 267. Let’s assume SOVAS™ sells 175 tickets. That alone should bring in almost forty thousand dollars.

Participants had until August 31st 2014 to send in their entries. Entry fees were non-refundable once the entries have been submitted. SOVAS™ rules state:

“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition. In this event, the participating companies will receive a credit towards future entry fees. No cash refund will be given.”

and…

“All submissions become the property of SOVAS™ to be used at their discretion, for the production of the ceremony and other uses.”

WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?

Even though I have my doubts about artistic competitions in general, I’m trying to keep an open mind about the Voice Arts™ Awards. Before I would even consider entering any kind of competition, I’d ask a few questions:

  1. Is the organization running the competition reputable?
  2. What’s the intention of the competition?
  3. Does it have the potential and credibility to raise the professional bar?
  4. Are the criteria by which people are judged fair and clear?
  5. Are the judges respectable, and are they known experts in their field?
  6. Does every entry receive a professional evaluation?
  7. Is the entry fee proportionate to the prize?
  8. Does the prize give a credit worth having?

The problem with the Voice Arts™ Awards is that for many questions it’s too early to tell, because this is the inaugural year. It’s never been done before, and I believe it’s too easy to pass judgement without giving them a fair chance. There’s a lot we don’t know, so let’s see what we do know.

FINDING ANSWERS

To start with question number one, SOVAS™ is run by five-time Emmy winner Steve Ulrich who is also the executive director of the Sports and Daytime Emmy Awards®. Producer Rudy Gaskins and his wife -voice-over celeb Joan Baker– are both on the board, as is the former head of the Promax/BDA awards program, Stephen McCarthy. Those people have a lot to lose, should these new awards turn out to be a flop. I think they’re smart enough not to let that happen.

Would the voice-over industry benefit from this competition? Would it make the invisibles of so many audio-visual productions visible? Would our profession finally get the respect many feel it deserves?

Do we really need a competition to get recognition?

Some people who know the industry really well, feel we do. It’s not enough to be outstanding. You need to stand out. And if there’s no podium, why not create one? Whether you like competitions or not, it’s a given that winning a prestigious prize has never hurt a career. The question is, will short-term recognition have a long-lasting effect? Could it increase your market value? And who’s paying attention? Are we just throwing a party for ourselves, or will these awards generate publicity outside of the small voice-over bubble?

A MATTER OF MONEY 

Let’s talk about the entry fees. Anyone will recognize that organizing these awards takes time and costs money. That money has to come from somewhere. Yet, I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier? Is it legitimate or exploitative? Is it to weed the amateurs out? Here’s the ultimate question:

Is the cost of entering worth the odds?

If you’re a winner, it probably is. But as in any competition, many are invited, and few are chosen. Established artistic competitions often have cash prizes, and may offer scholarships. What does the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award get? No money, but a golden statuette (which you have to pay for yourself), a title, and a temporary platform. Is that enough?

In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley where I live, the Freddy© Awards are to high school musical theater what the Tony Awards® are to Broadway. Each show is rated by a number of evaluators, and every high school receives extensive feedback on all aspects of the production. This feedback is then used as a teaching tool at the drama departments.

In other words, even if you’re not nominated or a winner, you will be able to read your evaluation, and benefit from it. Wouldn’t it be great if the Voice Arts™ Awards would do the same? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is how it’s done:

“In each category, each judge shall rate each entry on three indices. These indices vary by category and are listed below. For each index, judges enter a score from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 is valued as “very poor quality” and 10.0 is valued as “perfection” in the personal standards of the judge.” 

CRITICAL VOICES

Answering critics in VoiceOverXtra, Rudy Gaskins is very pragmatic about the entry fee. He encourages voice-overs to look at it from a business point of view. Being nominated for, and/or winning an award is smart marketing, he says. Every business should have a marketing budget. That’s where the entry fee should come from.

He has a point, but aren’t there other ways to market your business that are less risky, and that may have a bigger and more concrete pay-off? You could build a better website. You could invest in a newsletter. You could hire a graphic designer to come up with a logo.

COMMUNITY SERVICE

Gaskins also argues that these awards are a way to build community. He writes:

“Awards are a meeting place. They’re a focal point that draws the attention of those most interested and involved in your industry or profession. They’re an opportunity to engage your professional community in discussions of topics and controversies, in reviewing standards or discovering trends. Awards tend to involve leaders and experts. Awards are the place to learn, to network and to enhance professionalism.”

The sceptic in me highly doubts that these awards will have that effect. As I said earlier, by nature, competitions are pitting people and productions against one another. Slick award shows like the Emmys and Oscars are nothing but highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. Thank goodness for the gift bags!

Is that really what the voice-over world needs? Would that give our profession the much desired gravitas? Would increased respect lead to higher rates and higher standards? Would an average client be more inclined to hire an award-winning voice actor, or would he perhaps think that he probably can’t afford such a high-profile professional?

SHOW SOME RESPECT

Gaskins also believes these awards are good for our confidence and self-respect: 

“When you enter an award, you are saying to yourself and your constituents that you believe in what you do. Get on the playing field and let the chips fall where they may. People respect those who stand up to be counted. The other choice is to go unnoticed.”

I don’t think it’s that black-and-white: either enter the competition, or go unnoticed. As a professional voice actor I enter competitions every day. I call it “auditioning.” Secondly, happy clients are my credentials, and my readers and students are my accolades. I don’t need a jury to tell me how well I’m doing, or to make me feel good about myself.

Still, what the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ is doing takes guts, and I’m willing to give this initiative the benefit of the doubt. On paper, the Voice Arts™ Awards certainly have potential, but the value of this prize has yet to prove itself. 

Ultimately, being a successful voice-over is not about winning or losing.

It’s about how well you play the game.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Read my follow-up story everyone is talking about. It’s called “Paying For Your Prize.”

UPDATE

It appears that those in charge of the awards took some of my 2014 feedback to heart. 

The 2017 early bird VAA entry fee for companies who are member of SOVAS™ was $129, and the regular fee was $150 per entry. For non-members it was $150 and $175. Independent artists who are member of SOVAS™ paid $99 and $119. Non-members paid $119 to $129 per entry. In 2014 (the inaugural year) the price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member was $310. Independent artists paid $210 per entry.

In 2015, the SOVAS™ J. Michael Collins Academic Scholarship was created to “educate and encourage emerging talent.”

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10 Simple Ways to Surprise Your Clients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go to the source and ask!

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

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

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

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

1. Communicate

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

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

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

2. Appreciate

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

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

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

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

3. Involve

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

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

4. Reward

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

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

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

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

5. Add value

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

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

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

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

6. Refer

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

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

7. Beat the deadline

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

8. Speak your client’s language

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

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

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

9. Send a card or make a call

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

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

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

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

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

10. Stay in touch

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

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

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

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

“Paul, what a nice surprise!”

One last but very important thing.

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

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

Your intention will determine your results.

That, my friends, should come as no surprise!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet!

photo credit: Jesse Draper via photopin cc

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One Girl. Many Voices. Perdita Lawton.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media 4 Comments
Perdita Lawton with "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for Voice-Overs and other Solopreneurs," by Paul Strikwerda

Perdita Lawton

To celebrate the release of Making Money In Your PJs, freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, I organized a  “Who-wants-to pick-Paul’s-brains contest.”

Today, I’m excited to introduce one of the winners. Her name is Perdita Lawton from the UK. She’s been a professional (voice) actor since June 2006. The photo she sent me immediately stood out, and I had to know the story behind the picture. Perdita:

“The picture was taken on my first scuba diving holiday in Malta. One of the dives was near the set of the 1980’s film Popeye starring Robin Williams. It was taken during a surface interval (to allow residual nitrogen to be absorbed). I thought it was a perfect setting, and time to read your book while taking a picture.”

When and how did you know that you wanted to become a (voice) actor? Who inspired you?

“I guess it was in training at drama school that I realised it was an equal option to theatre, television and film acting. My tutors often told me my vocal work was very strong, and a tutor and mentor Pal Aron (a professional actor) told me to get a demo done as it’s another string to an actors bow. Pal was an inspiration as well as the late Daws Butler, Nancy Cartwright, and Michael Winslow (Larvelle Jones in Police Academy). As a child I watched that series in awe of Michael’s talent!”

A lot of VO artists have a radio background. What’s yours? What kind of training did you have?

“My radio background was limited. I did a few weeks of work experience when I was 15 at a hospital radio station, and then a local radio station respectively. I really loved radio work but focused more on stage acting as I’d got the bug. I went to University where I studied English and Drama, and then I went to drama school. Vocal training involved accent, and general voice classes where you focus on breathing, pitch, tone, resonance, and projection for the stage.”

Do you have a niche, and if so, how would you describe it?

“I think a niche of mine is definitely character and animation voices, I especially enjoy doing eccentric and comedic characters. My range gets wider the more I practice and it seems to be scoring jobs in that market.”

What came first for you: voice acting or on-camera/stage acting?

“Professional stage and screen acting came first, then voice acting came due to circumstances. My late father invested money in some amazing equipment for me so I could set up my own studio in the house, while caring for him as I couldn’t commit to work away from home.”

Do you think on-camera/stage actors have a tendency to underestimate voice-over work? If so, why do you think that is?

“I think most drama schools teach vocal work, so for a lot of actors, the training is already there, and they appreciate how hard it is to convey a message and character just through the medium of voice without a physical form. They do however underestimate us being a ‘one man band’ as described in your book. They certainly underestimate the cost, marketing, business skills and technical knowledge required for a professional home set up (without paying a professional).”

How do you land jobs in this very competitive industry?

“I started getting jobs on a Pay-to-Play site. This got me a body of work built up which lead to an agent, and now I’ve got returning clients as well as new ones from the Pay-to-Play site. I’m also recently scoring some big auditions from my agent.”

Perdita Lawton headshotWhat project or projects are you most proud of and why?

“I’m actually very proud of what I did Tuesday. It’s the biggest step on the ladder so far. It’s an award-winning Polish animation that’s being dubbed into English, and I’ve voiced the lead female role along with a few smaller roles.

I spent the day with a great audio engineer directing me, and we had great fun doing so, the ‘Auntie Hen’ character I play is hilarious as are the storylines. Animation voice acting is similar to pantomime. You have to go as large as possible, and I really like that.”

What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge in your career, and how did you overcome it?

“My greatest obstacle was getting work initially. It’s the catch 22, that I’m sure many have experienced. Without experience you aren’t offered work which prevents you from getting experience. I overcame it by getting local experience voicing newspapers, and magazines for the blind. I also make my own clips when I have time, and post them on SoundCloud, social media and my website. It allows me to be creative, whilst keeping my tools sharp, and lets people see I’m active. The dating.com girls are probably my creative highlight.”

How do you approach your auditions, and how do you deal with not being selected?

“I approach auditions making sure I’ve done everything in my control to get the job: I’ve warmed up, stayed away from dairy products, and done my research on the production/company/writer or whatever may be useful to know. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I also never take rejection personally. What is for you will not pass by you, and just because you weren’t right for one voice over job doesn’t mean you won’t be right for another. The world is subjective, and it would be a boring place if we all liked the same thing!”

Tell me about your ambition. What would you really love to do, professionally speaking, and how are you working toward that goal?

“My voice acting ambition is to be England’s answer to Nancy Cartwright. I’m working towards that by getting my cartoon video seen by as many people as possible. It’s already attracted clients as well as making people laugh which is awesome.”

And lastly, back to Making Money In Your PJs. What has been your biggest take-away? Why should colleagues read it?

“There are several take-aways. It was so good, I re-read it to answer these questions to the best of my ability!

My primary light switch moment was about asking for a testimonial at the same time as agreeing to the job. I’ve been chasing after testimonials for ages with no joy. As soon as I’d read that chapter I had a job come through, and I put it in my terms of agreement, and they were happy to oblige.

Also customizing each and every demo, and not playing safe with demos too, knowing my worth and value, how to chase clients that haven’t paid and asking for a raise. I may get the Freelance Creed printed to keep in my studio.

Colleagues should read this because it’s seasoned advice from a professional, mixed with an amazingly positive attitude, and with tips that really work!”

Many thanks, Perdita!

You can follow Perdita on Twitter @LittleMissVO, and on her website at www.perditalawton.com.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

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Call Me Materialistic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Studio 9 Comments

Broken Piggy Bank“It’s only stuff, and stuff can be replaced.”

That’s what my mother said when I accidentally broke a piece of pottery that had belonged to her mother’s mother. I was five at the time.

It was a sweet thing to say, but I now know that not all things are “just things.” Some objects can never be replaced, and their sentimental value greatly exceeds their monetary value.

In this third installment of my Mind Your Own Business-series, I want to talk about the material aspect of our job. I’ve already addressed the physical and mental aspect. Next week, I’ll talk about the spiritual side of setting up shop.

PRO or PRETENDER

As much as I’d like to tell people that success is not defined by a number in a bank account, the primary purpose of any for-profit business is to make money and grow the bottom line. If that’s not happening, the IRS will happily inform you that you’re a hobbyist.

There are many hobbyists in my line of work: voice-overs. Many of them are posing as pros. How can you tell? They sound insecure or insincere. Proper enunciation is a problem. They work for bargain basement rates, and the quality of their recordings can be captured in one word: Crap.

My philosophy is simple. If you want a professional career, you need professional gear. You need tools that work with you and not against you.

Contrary to what some may want you to believe, a shoestring budget is not going to get you anywhere in this competitive climate. I’m not saying that top-of-the-line equipment will get you gigs, guaranteed. Combined with talent and experience, it will increase the likelihood of you landing jobs.

The knowledge that you own the right tools increases client confidence (and your confidence too). It makes you more marketable because it shows that you are serious.

KEEPING THINGS QUIET

Having a dedicated, soundproofed and acoustically treated recording space is almost a must, these days. Not only will it increase the quality of your audio, it will increase your productivity by leaps and bounds.

If I had a choice between buying an expensive microphone, or a recording booth such as a Studiobricks cabin, I’d choose the latter in a heartbeat. Even the best Neumann mic will make you sound like an amateur if you record in an echo chamber or next to a busy highway. A reasonably priced mic such as the sE Electronics X1, is going to sound much better if used in an appropriate space.

Not having a dedicated recording room, can be disastrous for your career.

One of my colleagues has pipes of gold. When his marriage broke down, he not only lost his home. He lost his home studio. Now he’s renting a small apartment in a busy neighborhood. Kids are crying. Cars are honking. People are yelling. Recording in a walk-in closet doesn’t cut it. Clients demand broadcast quality audio, and he can’t give it to them. He is desperate, and hasn’t booked a decent job in months.

SONIC SURGERY

You may remember the story of Patrice Devincentis. Patrice owns and operates Sonic Surgery, an audio production studio in Union Beach, N.J. Here she records, edits, mixes, and masters, working with musicians and voice-over talent. On October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy completely destroyed the studio she had built in her garage. Most of her recording gear and musical instruments were lost.

Thanks to generous donations from readers of this blog, Patrice received some equipment to make a fresh start, but there was one big problem. Her entire home and studio needed to be elevated, and very little could be done until the property was deemed safe. This marked the beginning of a long and exhausting battle with authorities over inspections, permissions, and grants. 

Only last month, Patrice was finally taken off the waiting list; all the paperwork was completed and the elevation of her home is one step closer. Two years after the disaster, contractors may eventually come in, and begin their uplifting work. That is, if everything goes according to plan. Somehow, it never does.

ARE YOU PREPARED

Can you imagine being barely able to work for two years, due to some random force of nature, and a whole lot of New Jersey red tape? And don’t think it won’t happen to you. Superstorms don’t care where they hit or whose lives they ruin. 

If you believe that lighting won’t strike twice, read Mike Harrison’s story in VoiceOverXtra. He thought his computer and ISDN were safe, until the loudest crash of thunder he’d ever heard almost stopped his heart and his gear. And then it happened again!

I thought I was pretty well protected in my Pennsylvania basement booth, until water came into my studio. After close inspection, the culprit turned out to be a leaking 18-year-old hot water heater. Thankfully, it happened while I was working. Had I not been at home, I might have had serious damage to the tools I need to make a living.

Stories like these illustrate that a positive mindset and good health can only take you so far. All of us are vulnerable. Trouble happens when you least expect it. Hoping for the best is not enough. You have to prepare for the worst. So, let me ask you this:

Did you?

Is your equipment safe, and sufficiently insured?

Do you have a backup system in case of an emergency?

Have you invested enough to take on the competition?

It may only be “stuff,” but without it, all you have is a pipe dream. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet

photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via photopin cc

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The Stuff Between Your Ears

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 19 Comments

brainBefore I get to part two of my mini-series “Mind Your Own Business,” I want to give a shout-out to all my Faffcon friends.

They really embraced the main message of last week’s blog post, which was all about health. Inspired by my words on weight loss, some Faffers began challenging each other. A number of them have vowed to lose thirty pounds by Faffcon 7, which starts on September 18th. That’s tremendous!

Incidentally, this voice-over unconference will be held in Tuscon, AZ, and it’s sold out. I’m pretty sure that the risks of a sedentary lifestyle and ways to deal with that, will be the topic of at least one breakout session.

FOUR ASPECTS

Last week I mentioned four aspects that play a vital part in the way we live our lives, and the way we run our business. These aspects are Physical, Mental, Material and Spiritual.

Today I’d like to talk about what goes on between our ears. You can be in great physical health, and have extraordinary talent, but fail as a freelancer. I think it takes a special type of personality to run your own business. The best equipment is of no use if you don’t have the right mindset.

Allow me to share a number of attributes that I believe to be the trademark of any successful solopreneur. If you want to make it on your own, you have to be…

CREATIVE

I don’t necessarily mean “artistic” when I say “creative.” I’m thinking more in terms of the ability to create opportunities. Being your own boss means coming up with a concept for your business, and turning that idea into reality. No one will tell you what to do or how to do it. As the Chief Creative Officer, you have to take responsibility for every part of the process. It’s a daunting, never-ending task, and the outcome is by no means guaranteed. That’s why successful solopreneurs have to be…

OPTIMISTIC

Go to any bank for a loan, tell them you’re self-employed and wait for the reaction. I bet you’ll see some raised eyebrows. Freelancers are considered to be unstable which is often mistaken for being unreliable. If you don’t have a hopeful and positive outlook, you’re going to have a tough time dealing with rejection and uncertainty. Without optimism, it’s easy to give in to recession depression, and eventually hang up your hat. You’ve got to believe that your business has a future, and that clients will come. Even if other people don’t see potential, you have to have vision. You also have to be…

NURTURING

A business is like a flower bed. If you don’t give it the proper care and attention, it has no potential for growth. You cannot approach it as a hobby because it will bankrupt you. You’ve got to be “All in, all the time.” People who are transitioning from a corporate nine-to-five job are often not ready for that. Because a business can easily eat up all your time, it’s important that you nurture yourself too. You are the goose with the golden eggs. You can only take good care of business if you take good care of yourself. One way of doing that, is by being…

FLEXIBLE

The final measure of fitness is flexibility. It’s the ability to move muscles and joints through a whole range of motions. Psychologically speaking, the most flexible person will have the most choices and will be able to achieve more. Huge corporations find it almost impossible to change course. Flexible freelancers adapt, change and can bend without breaking. They also have to keep on…

INVESTING

Next week I’ll be talking about the material aspect every business has to deal with. Your product will only be as good as the tools you use to make it. You are one of those tools. That’s why it is essential to keep on investing in yourself. Sign up for trainings. Participate in meetup groups. Read the latest literature. Invest in building a supportive social network. A successful solopreneur never stops investing. He or she is also…

DISCIPLINED

The freedom of owning your own business can easily become a trap. With no one to hold you accountable, it is very tempting to spend a lot of time doing the things you like whenever you want. Those who run a successful business often start the day by doing the things they don’t like but that need to be done anyway. They delegate things they’re not good at, and that take up too much time. Being disciplined also applies to the way you manage your money. Successful solopreneurs have a strong work ethic and they…

EXCEL

In a saturated market, one of the best strategies for success is to excel in what you do. However, it is not enough to be good at what you do. You have to express yourself in ways in which you are heard. You’ve got to master marketing to reach customers and colleagues. They’ll be more open to your message if you have a clear…

NICHE

Find a specific area that defines you, but that does not limit you. Your niche is the raison d’être for your business (the reason your business exists). It’s the focus of your attention. If you’re not clear what your focus should be, you’re like a ship, drifting at sea. Clients will have a hard time differentiating what you have to offer from your competitors. You’ll have a hard time selling it to them (and to yourself). In essence, you need…

CONTROL

As a solopreneur, you control the course of your business. You control your professional standards, your services, your rates, the hours you’re willing to work, the flow of money, and the way you communicate. Are you ready for that responsibility? Not only that, is it something you would embrace and enjoy? All of this points to the last attribute I’d like to bring up. It’s having an…

ENTREPRENEUR MENTALITY

Some have described it as the “ability to see something in nothing.” It’s the urge to take matters into your own hands and to take calculated risks. It’s about being proactive, passionate, patient, and persistent. Entrepreneurs have to overcome obstacles, absorb losses, and gradually grow their business. If you don’t treat it like a true business, it will never be one.

And finally, all of these attributes will make very little difference if you lack one specific mental quality.

Take the first letter of each attribute, and you’ll know exactly what I mean!

What mindset has been instrumental in your success as a freelancer?

What has been your greatest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

Pass on the knowledge, and allow us to learn from your experience!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

PPS The Making Money In Your PJs Contest has been extended to Wednesday, June 18th!

photo credit: LukePDQ via photopin cc

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Mind Your Own Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 35 Comments

Honey, I don't think he can make you look like George Clooney, and he sure as heck can't make me look like Lady GaGa. I'm outa here...Have you been to the business section of your Barnes & Noble recently? I just came back from my local store and this is what I noticed:

The number of self-help books for small business owners is simply staggering!

Every day a new title seems to hit the market, promising to revolutionize the way we sell ourselves and our services.

Ben Horowitz wrote The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. Eric Ries is the author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. Shawn Anchor is the man behind The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.

How many of those types of books are on your shelves?

How many have you actually read?

How much of the wisdom presented on these pages do you still remember and apply?

When I had to answer these questions, I was shocked and slightly embarrassed. There are plenty of business books in my office that have been gathering dust since the day I bought them. Books I thought I couldn’t live without.

Looking back, one small book would probably have been sufficient. It would focus on four aspects all of us have to deal with on a daily basis. These aspects play a vital part in the way we lead our life, and the way we run our business. They are:

Physical

Mental

Material and

Spiritual

In the next four weeks, I’ll be writing about these aspects in more detail in a series I call “Mind Your Own Business.”

Before I start, I’d like to remind you that this blog is a reflection of my personal opinion. It is not my goal to convince you of anything, but I’d love to hear what you have to say and start a dialogue.

With that out of the way, let’s begin!

The Physical aspect I want to talk about first, refers to our body and our health. It’s about the “house” we live in, and the way we treat it. In that context I am about to say something you may not want to hear, but I’m going to say it anyway.

When I look at pictures of voice-over gatherings, I am alarmed by the number of overweight colleagues in our community. It’s not just our group of professionals, of course. Between 1980 and 2000, U.S. obesity rates have doubled among adults and children, and tripled among adolescents. Today, more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese.

As voice actors we talk a lot about clients, rates, audio equipment, and the projects we’re involved in. That’s all good, but I think the time has come to address the physical aspect of our job as well.

Gaining weight may be an occupational hazard for voice-overs, because many of us sit behind a mic all day, and choose to get very little exercise. And when we’re done working, we move to the couch and watch television. I’m speaking from experience here.

Some experts have said that sitting is the new smoking. It’s just as harmful to our health. Long periods of inactivity raise the risk of developing diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and obesity. If this is news to you, you have been living under a rock or you are in denial. 

If you’re an emotional eater like myself, and your food and beverage choices aren’t exactly healthy, it’s easy to gain a few extra pounds… year after year after year. I love to eat, and unfortunately I have reached an age where it doesn’t take much to gain weight, and it’s a lot harder to get rid of it.

Slowly but surely, I’ve come to the point where eating comfort food is making me uncomfortable. Clothes that used to fit me, no longer do. For the first time in my life, I started taking medication to bring my cholesterol level down. My bicycle-riding friends in the Netherlands joked that they could tell I live in the United States. It hurt, but they were right. 

I’ve been there before, and you may remember me blogging about it. Today I am recommitting myself to taking better care of my body. There’s so much I want to accomplish, and I want the energy back to be able to make it happen. I created this situation, and I can change it. 

That’s me, but what about you?

Are you seeing the results of a sedentary lifestyle? How is it impacting your work?

Do you think health is something our community should be talking about, or is it taboo?

Would it be beneficial to address ways to lead a healthy lifestyle at voice-over conferences and other other gatherings?

What have you done to get your health and ideal weight back, and what did this mean for your business?

Please share your experiences in the comment section below.

Even though I have often expressed strong opinions in this blog, know that my desire to discuss this topic does not come from a place of judgment or blame. We have a very supportive and understanding community, and I think we can help one another by caring and by sharing.

Thank you! 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

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The EWABS Interview

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 2 Comments

Paul Strikwerda, author of "Making Money In Your PJs."East-West Audio Body Shop or EWABS, is a weekly interactive online talk show modeled after NPR’s popular “Car Talk.”

Hosted by Dan Lenard on the East Coast and George Whittam on the West, the duo answers questions about home studios, and they give tech tips on gear, soundproofing, best recording practices, and more.

Every week they also interview guests from celebrity voice actors to agents. During the show the chat room is open where colleagues comment on the topics of the day, and pose questions to the featured experts.

Every Monday evening (6PT/9EST) EWABS goes live, and you can find an archive of 144 previous programs on YouTube.

This Monday I had a chance to sit down with Dan and George, and talk about my new book, my personal background, the state of the voice-over industry, and my voice-over studio. I also read part of my story “The Most Obnoxious Man in Voice-Overs.”

The segment starts at 30:10.

Enjoy the show!

CONTEST

To celebrate the release of my new book, I invite you to enter a picture of yourself reading a copy of “Making Money In Your PJs.” You can use the paperback edition or a digital version, as long as the cover of the book is visible in the picture.

I’ll leave it up to you to make sure your photo stands out, as long as you are using the real book, or your eReader with an upload of the book. Only one entry per person, please.

You can either post your picture on the Making Money In Your PJs-Facebook page (www.facebook.com/moneyinyourpjs), or you can tweet it to @MoneyInYourPJs. If you really feel inspired, post it on both platforms.

IMPORTANT: By sending me your picture, I will assume that you give me permission to share it with my social networks, and that it’s okay with you to post it on this blog as well. You will remain the proud owner of the photo.

You have until Wednesday, June 18th at 1:00 PM EST, to enter your photo. The three winners will be revealed on Thursday, June 19th.

PRIZES

The third prize -a signed paperback of the book- will go to someone who already owns the digital version.

If you’re the winner of the second prize, I will interview you for this blog, and your story will reach 11,000+ subscribers, as well as many other readers.

The first prize is a 45-minute Skype session with me, where you can literally ask me anything about voice-overs, freelancing and self-publishing.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Power of One

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media 10 Comments

Ten Thousand FansThursday, March 6th 2014 was a good day.

It was the day this blog reached 5,000 subscribers. But it didn’t stop there

In less than two months, that number doubled. I could barely believe it.

What did I do to make this happen? And more importantly, what can you do to get there too?

Well, I can tell you right off the bat that I don’t have some secret formula, or a shady deal with one of those companies that promise to take your website to the top of the major search engines. It’s just me and my virtual pen that seem to be on to something.

However, I’m not going to fall back on the predictable answer that attracting readers is all about content. There’s more to blogging than telling stories people like to hear. If writers could simply rely on the quality of their work to reach bestseller status, the world of literature would be a lot more interesting, don’t you think?

So, if we set content aside and we forget about that illusive magical box of SEO-tricks, what could possibly account for this wave of new visitors and subscribers?

SOCIAL SCIENCE

I think the answer may lie in sociodynamics, or the study of group behavior and interaction. The basic premise of this study is the fact that human beings are influenced by other human beings. Perhaps the growth of my subscribers could have to do with what I call the “Late Night Commercial-Effect.”

When I still had cable, those infomercials were one of my guilty pleasures. Although I never bought any Japanese steak knives or Diamonique jewelry from TV pitchmen, it’s a fact that millions of people do, so the home shopping networks must be doing something right. For one, they know about the workings of the human mind.

Here’s one tool I’m sure you’ve seen in action. No matter what’s being sold, there’s always this counter telling you how many people have bought whatever the featured product is, and when this exclusive deal is running out. This may seem like a silly little gimmick to you, but the payoff is huge.

QVC is available in 300 million homes worldwide through its programming in the U.S., UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, and a joint venture in China. In 2013 it shipped more than 169 million products to these markets, generating $8.6 billion in revenues. It was all started by one man in 1986: Joseph Segel. He based his company outside of Philadelphia in West Chester, and today he has 17,000 employees worldwide.

By the way, don’t think that all QVC orders come from late-night television watching shopaholics. Last year, over thirty percent of sales came from mobile platforms. In other words: QVC has learned to be where their customers are, and these customers can’t seem to get enough of it. QVC has well over one million Facebook fans around the world who blog, comment, “like,” and share 24/7.

TRUSTED SOURCES

Feedback from fellow-shoppers is driving sales like never before. It makes sense. When it comes to buying decisions, we all want to minimize risks and maximize the rewards of our investment. We find it easier to trust the opinion of people we can relate to. That’s why other shopping giants like Amazon.com use comments from customers to try to influence purchase decisions.

Acclaimed author Guy Kawasaki wrote “APE, How to Publish a Book.” It’s a step-by-step guide for those who want to self-publish. I have inhaled the info as I was preparing to market my book “Making Money In Your PJs.”

Kawasaki recommends pitching a book to thought leaders, bloggers, and online communities to generate publicity. He calls this process “Evangelizing.” One of the things he tells new authors is to turn to Amazon’s best reviewers. Five-star feedback from them is worth more than a positive review in the New York Times.

Compare this strategy to expensive book launch parties, advertising campaigns, and paying PR professionals to pimp your product. Leveraging the power of social proof is practically free! That’s why it’s such a good tool for the solopreneur. All you have to do is target the right people with the right connections, and word of mouth will do the rest.

Of course it’s not that simple. It took me four years before my readership reached critical mass. In order to get to this place (for my career in general and my blog in particular) I have used a few tools you might want to consider as well. The first I call “The Power of One.”

THE RIGHT QUESTION

It’s based on the idea that a consistent sequence of small efforts can, over time, bring about big changes.

Every morning, I start with a simple routine. I ask myself a question that isn’t necessarily new or revolutionary, but nevertheless transformational:

“What’s the ONE thing I can do today, that would have the greatest positive impact in the area of…”

I purposely limit it to one, to keep things manageable. I’d rather do one thing really well than a whole bunch of things half-heartedly. To me it’s also important to focus on the notion of having a positive impact. Everything we do and everything we don’t, has an effect. That’s a given. But the result of our actions isn’t always positive, unless we make a concerted effort to bring about good.

That one question alone has resulted in a cascade of small improvements in the way I run my business and my life. In the beginning, the changes were barely visible. But when I connect the dots backward and see where I am now in relation to four years ago, the transformation is dramatic. Here’s another tool.

A CUE FROM QVC

After having reached 5,000 subscribers, I made a small change to my blog that proved to be immensely effective. I added a Call to Action in the top right-hand corner. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It says:

“Join over 10,000+ subscribers!”

I made sure to update this number at least once day, if not more.

At first I thought this was a rather self-congratulatory act. I’ve been raised not to boast about my accomplishments. I still believe humility is a virtue, but I’ve also learned that it’s okay to be proud of my achievements. Without an advertising budget or the help of a PR guru, I embraced the principles of social proof.

My “Join over 10,000+ subscribers!” is the equivalent of QVC’s sales counter with one exception. As long as I still have things to talk about, what I have to offer will not run out.

I don’t believe this counter is totally responsible for the increase in subscribers, but it’s the one small thing I changed since March.

MAKING MONEY IN YOUR PJs

Because I was reaping the rewards of social proof on my blog, I applied some of these principles to my newest venture.

While creating a website for my upcoming book “Making Money In Your PJs,” I decided to prominently feature testimonials. I did not want to wait for comments to roll in, so I sent people whose opinion I respect an advance copy, and asked them for a quote.

Later on, I will ask those readers who received the first fifty copies as a gift for a testimonial too. It’s a small favor, considering they got a 500+ page book for free.

Social proof is not only something I use as a book seller or blog writer.

The other day I needed to buy something online. After reading the description from the merchant, I wasn’t one hundred percent convinced that I should spend my money on this product. That is, until I read one positive comment from someone I trusted. Before I knew it, my mind was made up and I let my credit card do the talking.

Sometimes that’s all it takes.

One person starting a hugely successful business.

One good review.

One small change to a website.

One good question at the beginning of the day.

I’m telling you:

Never underestimate the Power of One!

If you still don’t believe me, ask Hans Brinker.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Giving Up

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 18 Comments

two boys“What did you give up for Lent?” asked the boy in front of me.

He must have been seven or eight years old. His best buddy Paul, who was also waiting in line, answered:

 “Meat.”

Paul sighed and continued:

“Mom said we couldn’t eat meat because of what Jesus did for us. I don’t get it. I asked our priest if Jesus was a vegetarian. He said Jesus probably was more into fish because most of his friends were fishermen before they became the Cipels. I don’t even know what a Cipel is, do you?”

His friend Peter shrugged his shoulders and asked:

“Do you want to know what we gave up for Lent, Paul?”

“Tell me,” said Paul.

Peter looked annoyed and said:

“McDonalds.”

Paul was stunned. “Are you kidding me? McDonalds? For Lent?”

He paused for a moment to let the message sink in, and said:

“Well, I guess it makes sense.”

“How so?” asked Peter.

“I don’t think Jesus was much into fast food anyway,” said Paul. “They didn’t serve burgers and fries at the Last Supper.”

“Maybe not, but giving up Big Macs wasn’t a big deal for me,” said Peter.

“Why not?” Paul wanted to know. “I thought you loved McDonalds. You guys go there all the time.”

“That’s true, but we went to Burger King instead,” answered Peter.

THE UNPOPULAR OPTION

The notion of “giving up” isn’t very popular these days. Living in America, most of us grew up with the idea that you can and should have it all. That’s what the commercials tell us, and it’s the freedom our forefathers fought for, right?

The more things you own, the more successful you are perceived to be, especially in popular culture.

TV series are filled with pretty 20- and 30-somethings who seem to have risen through the ranks at lightning speed, and who drive their fancy cars to their fancy McMansions where a nanny is taking care of angelic twins. Even though we know it’s fake, we’re falling for it anyway.

Semi-documentaries take us inside the lives of celebrities, and show us what they have accumulated by topping the charts or dominating the box office for a number of years. Captains of industry eagerly show off their 30 foot yachts and Caribbean real estate to let us know how much they matter.

Our economy is entirely based on growth; on the more-and-more-and-more model. No politician likes to tell their constituents that it’s time to tighten the belt. Onward and upward we must go! Always.

REALITY CHECK

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like it when my business is growing, and I have nothing against those who are doing well, as long as they use their resources responsibly. I enjoy watching intelligent portraits of successful people, because there’s something to learn from those who accomplish more in a year than some of us will in a lifetime.

Intelligent television digs deeper.

At its best, it’s three-dimensional, and it strives to reveal an uncomfortable truth: the fact that behind every story of significant success, there is a story of silent sacrifice. A story of “giving up.” A story most people don’t want to see or hear.

It’s a distortion of reality that things come easy to those who have reached the top. In most cases, they had to pay a hefty price, and some are still paying it.

MAGICAL FINGERS

An old friend of mine is a professional pianist who specializes in historic keyboards. He teaches in Europe and has recorded groundbreaking albums. Every year, people come to the village in France where he lives to take part in a music festival he organizes.

When Arthur plays, the sounds from his fortepiano turn into musical poetry, and you hear Mozart the way Mozart would have sounded in Vienna around 1787. It’s as close as one can get to time travel.

Arthur’s effortless technique and unique interpretation of the score comes from years and years of studying and hours of practice a day. It is the result of a disciplined lifestyle, dedicated to excellence and artistry. Only those close to him, know how much he had to give up, in order to reach a level of musicianship very few will ever attain.

I see the same level of dedication in my own line of work: voice-overs. There are a few master-storytellers that grab us from the moment they open their mouths. It’s amazing.

Some people believe there’s nothing simpler than reading out loud into a microphone. Anyone can do it, right? 

READING YOUR OWN BOOK

Author Laura Caldwell had written a memoir called “The Long Way Home,” and thought she’d make the perfect narrator. She went to the Audible studios in New Jersey and read for ten hours a day for five full days. I’ll let her tell the story:

“Before, narrating a book sounded so genteel to me, sort of like reading to a room full of rapt, small children. The reality is that you sit in a dark editing booth, the only light in the room shining on the print of the book in front of you. Read one word off — say, “She walked in the store,” as opposed to “She walked into the store,” and the buzzer sounds from the attached booth. “Let’s try it again,” you’ll hear from the engineer in there.

When you have to start over and over because you seem to be mumbling, the engineer sends you down the hallway for some Throat Coat tea. But that’s about all the break you’ll get. Time in the booth is money. Male or female, the engineer’s voice becomes the one you fear. (You hear it in your dreams after. Really).

The process of narrating “Long Way Home” was not just exhausting. It was injurious of throat and the brain. But I was glad for it. It gave me a whole new set of information for actually producing my own books in the future.”

There is no success without sacrifice. Sometimes you even have to give up your health and well-being for the sake of the greater good.

DISTORTED DREAMS

In an impatient world, giving up time to reach a level of mastery makes a lot of people uncomfortable. They take a voice-over class or two, and expect that an agent will sign them on the spot. They open up a business and hope to turn a profit in the first quarter. It’s like planting a seed, thinking it will grow into a fruit-bearing tree overnight. How silly!

So, the next time you see someone you admire, don’t just look at his or her accomplishments. Ask yourself: What did this person have to give up in order to reach the top? Family time? Being there for births and birthdays? Missing out on a baby’s first steps or words? Did this person have to sacrifice sleep, safety, privacy, or a chance to say goodbye to a parent or partner?

To what extent did a commitment to a successful career impact the people around them? Did relationships suffer because of it? Did they end? 

Then ask yourself:

What am I willing to give up to fulfill my dreams, and what am I willing to invest?

What would make it worthwhile?

It is important that you find the answers to these questions.

There is no success without setbacks, and when times are tough, you probably will need to reconnect with what ultimately drives you.

And when you do that, be sure to focus on what you will gain by what you’re willing to forsake.

Two things I can guarantee.

It’s very likely that you’ll have to give up more than meat and McDonalds, and it’s going to take longer than Lent.

I sincerely hope it will bring you all the success you deserve.

And who knows, one day your achievements may inspire two rambunctious boys named Peter and Paul!

Paul Strikwerda © nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

PPS You can read Laura Caldwell’s full story by clicking here.

photo credit: Eiraq via photopin cc

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