Freelancing

The Day I Almost Killed My Family

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 24 Comments

Yesterday, I had a frightening realization.

In my life, I have wasted way too much time on things I’m not good at and don’t enjoy doing. Things like gardening, ballroom dancing and trying to understand how computers work and what to do when they don’t.

Some things like yard work can’t be avoided, and part of me says it’s good to be outdoors and work with weedkiller every once in a while. 

Things like dancing the Tango I really should avoid, as all my former dance partners can attest to. It’s utterly unromantic to have someone like me call out the steps while on the dance floor, because his stressed-out brain has no idea what the heck his body is doing.

And don’t get me started on computers. My greatest achievement is replacing the memory of my Mac Mini. My darkest hour came when I nearly strangled my old Dell in desperation, because it refused to shut down and install an update Mr. Gates deemed critical. After a series of malfunctions, this was the last straw.

“I’ll teach you a lesson, you worthless piece of trash,” I cried with bloodshot eyes, as if as my miserable laptop was listening.

“I’ve had it with you. If you don’t restart right now, I swear I will go to the Apple store today and you and I are done! It’s OVER! Do you hear me? I don’t deserve this!”

Don’t ask me how, but it did the trick. Two minutes later that pathetic thing was up and running again, and it continued to make my life a living hell for another year. Why did I put up with it, you wonder?

Well, I know my strengths and I have two left hands when it comes to things of a technological nature. I also lack the motivation to change that. Call me strange, but that’s how I feel.

Most men seem to have this “I can fix it” mentality. Psychologists say it’s in our DNA. While women long for men to acknowledge their problems and really listen with an open mind and heart, men are prone to jump in prematurely and offer solutions. It’s pre-programmed. We can’t help ourselves, but we sure want to help others. It’s that Mars and Venus thing.

Well, I must have missed the boat in that area of evolution, because I am rather reluctant to activate that helper-gene in me. Perhaps it’s for the best because over the years I have learned to live with a horrible truth:

I am terrible at fixing things… but I’m great at making matters worse.

Case in point.

When I was five years old, my Dad drove a forest green Ford Cortina. It was his pride and joy. One day and for no particular reason, the exhaust started making menacing noises. Being the frugal man he was, my father decided to keep on driving, hoping the loud bangs would eventually go away.

They didn’t.

Mourners at a funeral could tell he was getting close to the church (my father is a minister), because the sound of explosions would get louder and louder. Thank goodness people didn’t have car alarms in those days. Otherwise, his ferocious Ford would have set them all off at once.

As a child I remember being frightened and embarrassed by the bangs, and that’s why I took it upon myself to secretly intervene.

What if I were to stuff that wretched exhaust with leaves? Wouldn’t that muffle the noise? It worked for Cuddles my Guinea pig, so why not for my Dad’s car?

And that’s exactly what I did. One glorious Fall morning I shoved all the leaves I could find into the exhaust pipe and did not tell a soul about it. This would be my surprise. My gift to my Dad: A quiet Cortina.

That afternoon, on our way to see “The Aristocats,” I nearly killed the car…. and my immediate family, including myself.

So you see, when I say I’m no good at fixing things but I am great at making matters worse, I absolutely mean it!

That day I should have learned a valuable lesson:

If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it. 

But I didn’t.

A few weeks later I tried to “repair” an outlet in my room by sticking both ends of an electrical wire in it. I nearly electrocuted myself and I left the whole house in the dark, including a congregation of praying church Elders who were meeting at our home. Good Lord!

When I was seven, I shaved off my five-year old sister’s eyebrows with my Mom’s ladyshave, just to see if I could improve her looks. It took me twenty seconds to realize my mistake, and I used a Sharpie® to bring her brows back, hoping my parents wouldn’t notice. I still remember the site of my poor little sister, looking very much like Mr. Spock. But it gets worse.

One time, when she wasn’t feeling well, I pretended to be a Druid and made her a concoction of apple juice and colorful berries I had picked from neighborhood bushes. I might have ended up an only child, had my mother not entered the room on time, ripping the deadly drink out of my sister’s hand. 

What can I say?

A few years and one or two close calls later, it finally dawned upon me that I better stay away from things I had no knowledge of.  A DIY-mentality can be detrimental, not only to the health and well-being of close friends and family, but to a freelance business. 

Now, that might not be a shocking revelation to you, yet, I find many self-starters to be deaf to that message, and blinded by their enthusiasm and inexperience.

Lacking the funds, the appropriate skills, knowledge and the right contacts, so many of them begin their entrepreneurial journey trying to do it all and fix everything…. and wonder why their business isn’t taking off within the year.

Sooner or later, all of us have to come to terms with our own limitations and fallibility. Or -to put it bluntly- our ignorance, arrogance and narrow-minded stupidity.

Having been self-employed for most of my working life, I learned many lessons the hard way. Had I known what I know now, I could have saved myself valuable time and lots of money. For example:

1. The only shortcut to success is to learn from people who are where you want to be.

Trial and error are the worst and the slowest teachers. They keep you down. You can see so much more when you stand on someone’s shoulders.

I encourage you to find people who inspire you. Identify what makes them tick. Study their skills and strategies. Make them your own. Refine them. Perfect them and pass them on to others.

Those who wish to reinvent the wheel, usually end up going around in circles. 

2. No matter how hard you try, you can’t be your own coach.

You’ll either cut yourself way too much slack, or you’ll be overly critical and paralyze every effort to be productive. More importantly, your ignorance will stifle your growth.

You cannot teach yourself what you haven’t mastered yet.

3. Never trust the opinion of friends and family.

Sticking feathers up your butt doesn’t make you a chicken, but here’s the thing: They don’t know that.

Family and friends are there to support you no matter what. However, most of them know zilch about the business you wish to break in to (more on that in this article). Love them with all your heart, but please don’t listen to them. 

The quality of the feedback always depends on the quality of the source.

4. Focus on what you’re good at and enjoy doing. Outsource the rest.

You don’t save any time or money by trying to fix your computer or build that website. Unless you have a degree in IT or web design, you’re likely to lose time and money you don’t have. 

Why insist on doing your own books and taxes? If numbers were never your strength, you’ll overlook substantial deductions and make a mess of your administration. Some people were born to be bookkeepers. Let them deal with your finances. Strangely enough, it makes them happy when it all adds up!

5. Don’t sing your own praises.

A little bit of self-esteem can go a long way, but too much of it is a huge turn-off. Respect is earned. Let your work speak for itself. It may take a few years to build up a solid reputation, but you’re in it for the long run, aren’t you?

Give others credit, and realize that happy customers are your best credentials.

6. If you mess up, fess up.

Nobody is perfect and you are bound to make mistakes. Some people are quick to blame others for their failures and point to themselves when things go well. As the owner of your business, you must own up to your successes, as well as to your slip-ups.

You’ll never be able to better yourself if you don’t acknowledge that you still have a lot to learn. No one expects you to know it all, and if you surround yourself with experts, you don’t have to. 

Last but not least:

7. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.

When something’s not right, don’t wait until things escalate. If you’re in over your head, look for strong shoulders to lean on. You’d be surprised how many people will welcome the opportunity to help you… but you’ve got to ask!

And above all, don’t waste you’re time on things you’re not meant to do. You know what I am talking about.

These things will never make you happy. 

Stop trying to fix things you have no business fixing.

Believe me. Your family and friends will be eternally grateful!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

What happens when your recording studio is flooded? A nasty home emergency with a happy ending!

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My $10,000 mistake

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters, Promotion 32 Comments

I was in a rush. I wasn’t thinking.

And it almost cost me ten thousand dollars.

The lesson I learned that day has been one of the cornerstones of my success as a voice talent. Before I share that lesson with you, let me ask you this:

Have you heard of the Calimero complex?

It is named after an Italian/Japanese cartoon character named Calimero, and many freelancers seem to suffer from it.

Calimero is the only black chick in a family of yellow chickens, and he still wears half of his eggshell on his head. It is as if he never really made it out of the nest.

Calimero is the archetypical underdog. He often gets in trouble and believes the whole world is out to get him. When the show reaches a dramatic climax, Calimero usually utters the following catch phrase:

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

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The four keys to winning clients over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 20 Comments

Do you sometimes wonder why certain clients hire you and others don’t?

I think about that a lot.

Rather than making assumptions, I often ask them why they picked me over a colleague. That’s useful information to have, because it helps me fine-tune the way I run my freelance business and how I position myself in the marketplace.

So, what are clients really looking for?

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

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

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Want more clients? Go undercover!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 24 Comments

“Marketing is a sound. Those who hear the sound you make and resonate with it will follow.”    Bill Sanders, project management and process consultant at Roebling Strauss

Clients don’t grow on trees. We all know that.

We can’t expect them to find us if they don’t know we exist. In order for them to discover our needle in the online haystack, we have to make noise. Lots of noise. But what kind?

Some say the answer lies in Massive Marketing.

The truth is, most voice talents are pretty good at doing someone else’s marketing. That’s what they get paid for. But when it comes to tooting their own horn, a lot of them are as clueless as a hamster in outer space.

If marketing is not your forte, you’re not alone.

Recently, the online magazine VoiceOverXtra polled its readers and asked the following question:

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Raising money for your business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 2 Comments

So, you have this amazing idea for a new service, a movie, a video game or a CD. Your plans are in place. Your team is ready. What’s the one thing you need to make it happen?

Money!

One way to get your hands on a chunk of startup cash is to pitch your idea to investors. A few years ago, Priscilla Groves and James Kennedy did just that. They went on the TV show Dragon’s Den, to raise cash for their budding business called “Piehole,” an online voice casting service.

Did they get the money they asked for? Find out for yourself:

Audio book publisher Karen Wolfer had a different idea. She used crowdfunding to pay for the spoken version of “Safe Harbor,” by Radclyffe. You can find her project on Kickstarter.com.

Since launching in April 2009, Kickstarter has successfully funded more than 20 thousand projects backed by 1.8 million people who raised over 200 million dollars.

The idea is simple. Once your project is approved, you post it on the site and you list how much you’d like to raise within a certain time frame. Visitors to the site can pledge a dollar amount and in return they receive a reward.

If the project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers’ credit cards are charged when time expires. If the project falls short, no one is charged.

SUCCESS STORIES

Winning projects don’t get to keep all the money raised. 3-5% goes to Amazon Payments for processing the donations and 5% goes to Kickstarter.

Video game developer Double Fine Productions surprised everybody in 2012. They were shooting for a 400 thousand dollar investment. Within 24 hours they had received over 1 million. An hour before it closed, the project had reached the 3 million dollar level.

Entrepreneur Eric Migicovsky outdid them. He created Pebble, a futuristic watch that syncs with Android or iPhone apps. Migicovsky raised over 10 million dollars!

Compared to them, Karen Wolfer was asking for a modest $4,700. Why did she decide to raise funds using Kickstarter? Karen Wolfer:

“With Kickstarter, the money is collected before the recording project is started. Fees can be paid for narrators, sound engineers and materials up front. And by involving fans of the story or of the narrator, it becomes a form of pre-advertising for the finished book. Social media is utilized in a big way, so buzz is created from the first stage of an audio book’s life.”

You need a minimum $4,700 for this project to get the green light. Is this your entire production budget, and if not, what does it cover?

“Yes, this is my entire production budget. It will cover travel expenses for the actresses (Diane Gaidry) we signed to do the book, her fees, the sound engineer fees, and a new pre-amp we need.”

How do you reach potential backers?

“Social media: Facebook, Twitter, emails. Lots of them!”

Your company, Dog Ear Audio specializes in lesbian literature. What has been the response, so far?

“Pretty darn good! There is a passionate fan base for these stories, and Dog Ear Audio is the only audio publisher serving this niche market. The biggest surprise so far is the dollar amounts being pledged. We’ve had more pledges over the $100 amount, than we’ve had of the expected $5 and $10 amounts. The biggest pledge was a whopping $500 from folks in the Australian Outback! That floored me. But it also showed me there is a hunger for these books.

All the money is coming from fans of the author our narrator, and of course, we also have fans of Dog Ear Audio’s other titles. They have been very loyal customers. We’ve had pledges from the aforementioned Outback of Australia, the UK, and all over the US. I wrote to my brother about donating, but have not heard back from him. If he doesn’t help, boy, is he in trouble.” 😉

What will happen if you don’t reach your goal on June 1st. Will “Safe Harbor” still be recorded?

“Lol…I won’t let that happen now that we are so close. There are still lots of people to meet and share our project with. It’s all a matter of finding those ‘friends’ and groups that this story would appeal to. It is very much like any sales campaign, only the sales work is done first. You get paid first, and then you create the product.

The great thing is, there are still sales to be made after the book is published through the normal sales pathways. But to further answer your question, yes, I would still record “Safe Harbor” because I believe in this project so much, and I know the fan base is there.”

Based on your experience with Kickstarter, will you be using it again?

“Absolutely. The site is so beautifully organized. It is easy to create your project, all the answers are there to help you with the process, and I love the energy the creators of Kickstarter put into all their communications. Someone has put a lot of thought into the entire process.

A huge side benefit to launching a project this way, is that you can measure the likely success rate of your book, or any project, before you invest considerable time and money into that work. I have seen some projects receive no money, so maybe that idea needs to be revamped or even abandoned. But the person now knows that there may not be a market for that idea without having invested a lot of their own money.

Or, it may be that person needs to hone up on their social media skills. That can make or break a project, too. And as you see with Kickstarter, if a project does not receive full funding, no money is collected from donors. It is safe for anyone pledging.

I understand that it helps if a person donates to other projects before they launch their own. It is a form of ‘payback karma’; you help me, I help you, not only in donations, but in advertising of a project. I have ‘liked’ other projects that are similar to mine, and they have done the same to me, so the social networking is wonderful. Sooooo, if anyone needs a place to start, I would greatly appreciate any help from this voice-over community toward our goal.

One last detail. We are donating a percentage of any monies collected to the Safe Harbor Prison Dog rescue in Lansing KS. There are more details on this on our Kickstarter page. Again, it is in the spirit of paying it forward, and sharing the abundance that is out there.”

RISKS & RETURNS

Karen reached her goal three weeks before the deadline plus and extra $1,000. It doesn’t always work out that way. In 2011, 46% of the projects posted on Kickstarter were successful. In 2010 the success rate was 43%.

Let’s assume a project reaches its minimum limit. Who will hold the fundraiser accountable to live up to his or her promises? Kickstarter writes:

“It is the responsibility of the project creator to fulfill the promises of their project. Kickstarter reviews projects to ensure they do not violate the Project Guidelines, however Kickstarter does not investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project. (…) At the end of the day, use your internet street smarts.

Pledges to Kickstarter projects are generally not tax-deductible and if you live outside of the United States, the site will tell you that you might “experience a problem trying to pledge.”

Then there’s the fact that the success of a Kickstarter campaign heavily depends on word of mouth. It’s the number of backers that determines what gets funded and not necessarily the quality of what’s being offered. It’s a popularity contest.

If we would leave it to public opinion, the paintings of Thomas Kinkade would now be in the Museum of Modern Art. Indie artists looking for funding might think twice about seeking support for their work on Kickstarter.

Last but not least, funding Kickstarter projects is not an investment. You might get a T-shirt out of it, or some public recognition from an author, but that’s it.

What if Eric Migicovsky’s Pebble watch becomes a huge hit? We know that Kickstarter and Amazon together take about ten percent of his 10 million dollars raised.

If you have pledged $99, all you get is a watch. Okay, it’s a very cool watch, but still…

Would you back or post a project on Kickstarter?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Seven Reasons to Hate Home Studios

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Studio 33 Comments

Just like desktop publishing changed the printing business, home studios have forever transformed the world of voice-overs.

If you enjoy hanging out in a stuffy, cramped, dark claustrophobic enclosure all day long, having a home studio is heaven.

Most clients seem to love it. They no longer have to hire an audio engineer and a director and pay for studio time. Theoretically, hiring voice talent with a home studio may save a lot of money, but it can come at a price.

Let me tell you about the downside of home recording.

1. $$$

At some point in your voice-over career you want to get rid of the egg crates and the moving blankets hanging from a pvc frame, and move into a real recording space. You have two choices: Prefab or DIY.

Even the cheapest Whisper Room™ will cost you more than three grand and this does not include shipping (these booths weigh as much as an elephant). The standard, single wall models usually don’t offer enough isolation. Double wall is your best and more expensive bet.

Most booths sound boxy and you will need bass traps to tame the “boominess.” Imagine putting these huge babies in your 3.5′ x 3.5′ space. If you enjoy breathing fresh air, add another $500 for a ventilation system.

Ka-ching!

Of course you can always build your own recording cave. This is not a project you can do on a Sunday afternoon. It might take many months and eat up all your spare time, energy and extra cash.

I designed and built my own booth, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of a contractor-friend. Thanks to him, I was able to keep the costs down. I couldn’t be happier with the result, but if I ever move, my studio stays and I’ll have to start from scratch.

2. More $$$

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Are You Still Hiding Your Rates?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 29 Comments

Whether you’re a voice-over artist, a photographer or a freelance copywriter, sooner or later you’ll have to answer this question:

Is it wise to put your rates on your website?

I used to be vehemently against it, but I have changed my mind. To give you an idea why, let’s explore both sides of the argument.

Business writer and voice-over professional Maxine Dunn describes herself as a savvy solopreneur. Does she think it’s a good idea to post rates? Maxine:

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What Some Clients Won’t Tell You

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 40 Comments

If you don’t know what your clients want and need, you’ll never be able to give it to them. Paul Strikwerda

Throughout my career I have really tried to educate potential clients. Yet, almost every day I get the same old question:

“How much do you charge for a 2 minute voice-over?”

As if we’re talking about a pound of sugar or a gallon of milk.

I really can’t answer that question, but if you think you can I’d like to know:

What are you basing your answer on?

In the absence of specifics most people start making things up.

Take it from me: Do not assume you know what your clients want.

Ever.

Amateurs make assumptions. Professionals…

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10 things clients don’t care about

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 56 Comments

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

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

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

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

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Finding your Value as a Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

Etymology is the study of the origin of words. If you love language the way I do, you probably love looking into its history. Delving into the deeper meaning of the things that come out of our mouths is as revealing as it is rewarding.

Take the word competition.

To most people it is synonymous with rivalry or a fight to outdo another; a race that can only have one winner and lots of losers. It’s Darwin’s theory in a nutshell.

It wasn’t always understood like that.

The word competition comes from the latin verb…

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