Freelancing

The Amateur Infestation

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media 65 Comments

They’re everywhere. Haven’t you noticed?

Take one good look. Let’s start with your online shopping.

Who’s responsible for most reviews on Amazon.com?

Experts? Consumer advocates? Independent test laboratories?

No. Amateurs!

Who just gave your favorite movie two stars on Netflix? The movie critic of the New York Times?

No. Amateurs!

What kind of people put the “reality” in reality TV?

Amateurs!

Where would talent shows like “American Idol,” “The X Factor” and “The Voice” be without…

Amateurs!

Credentials are so yesterday. Experience is optional. If it breathes and has half a brain, 

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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Those Bloody Bottom Feeders

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion 51 Comments

“It’s not the crook we fear in modern business; rather, it’s the honest guy who doesn’t know what he is doing.” Owen Young

The lines have been drawn.

The time to mince words is over.

Every day, our community seems to get more polarized around the issue of low rates. Listen to the buzz. Look at the chatter. Do you think this bubble is about to burst?

Some people are past being polite. They’re frustrated and angry. I like that. If you’re pissed off at something, it means you give a damn and you want things to change.

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 Lowdown on Lowballing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Money Matters 70 Comments

You’ve probably heard the story of the priest who preached the same sermon every Sunday.

After a few weeks, some of the parishioners got tired of it and demanded an explanation.

“Do you really want to know why I’m repeating myself at every service?” asked the priest. The crowd nodded.

“I will continue to tell you the same thing over and over again, until you take it to heart and do something with it.

If you don’t change your behavior, I don’t see any reason for me to change my sermon.”

Well, I may be the son of a minister, but as a writer, I can certainly relate to this priest. When it comes to setting rates, I sometimes feel I’m talking to a sea of people with frighteningly short memories and no backbone.

Watch me as I go to my pulpit and address the crowd:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click here for the paperback version, and click here for a Kindle download.

Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek.

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Freelancing and Fresh Fish

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing 11 Comments

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”

 

One sunny day, a fishmonger put up the following sign:

TODAY: FRESH FISH

One of his first customers said to him: “What’s this sign I see? You only have fresh fish today?”

“Of course not,” said the fishmonger. “I have fresh fish every day. You’ve been coming here for the past eight years. You know that.”

“Then why did you write: Today: Fresh Fish? That’s confusing,” said the customer.

So the fishmonger erased the word TODAY.

An hour later another customer questioned him about the sign:

“Why does it say ‘Fresh Fish’? Isn’t your fish always fresh? Or have you been selling me unfresh fish all these years?”

“Of course not,” answered the fishmonger a bit annoyed. “Each day I go to the harbor at the crack of dawn and buy my fish straight from the men who caught it. It can’t get any fresher than that.”

“Then why did you write: Fresh Fish? That’s confusing,” said the customer.

So the fishmonger erased the word FRESH. “I don’t get these people,” he mumbled. “Wasn’t it obvious what I was trying to say?”

ASSUMPTIONS

Our life is filled with unspoken assumptions. The obvious does not need to be stated, does it? If we hold that to be true, we’re forgetting one thing:

What’s obvious to one person might not be obvious to another person.

Language in and of itself is vague, inadequate and ambiguous, and therefore up for interpretation. If you have any doubts about that, talk to theologians or lawyers. In both cases you often need divine intervention to get them to agree on anything, even if they speak the same language.

Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) is the developer of what he called “General Semantics.” Simply put, this refers to the study of how you and I react to our environment or an event, and how we derive meaning from it.

Korzybski coined the phrase “The map is not the territory,” meaning that a word is not what it defines (the territory), but merely a symbolic representation of it (the map). That’s why we don’t get wet from the word water.

Here’s the problem: if we don’t know what the territory looks like, how on earth can we know what the map refers to?

Take Nike’s famous trademark “Just do it.

Without knowing anything about it, would you have any idea what these three words stand for? For instance: what is “it”? And if we don’t know what “it” is, how are we supposed to know how to “do” “it”? It could mean a million things, and we’re supposed to “just” do them? Forget it!

Let’s move away from fishy advertising and “just do” a little experiment. Take this simple sentence:

“We only have a small budget.”

That’s plain English, isn’t it? But what does it really mean? Do we have enough information to know what the writer intended it to mean?

If you say “yes” to the question, please tell me what you think it means and what you are basing it on. If you say “no,” tell me what is missing.

I have a feeling that you’ve seen this sentence before. I will also go as far as to imagine that every day, freelancers like you and me allow these six words to influence the bids they put in, to win a project. Am I right?

In order to truly know what the client means by “We only have a small budget,” a lot of blanks need to be filled in. First of all: who is “we”? Is it a client? And if so, who is this client? Donald Trump? I bet you anything that what “the Donald,” considers to be small, will forever redefine your meaning of the word!

My voiceover agent sometimes sends me five hundred-dollar jobs and apologizes for the “small budget.” To some, five hundred dollars might be a huge step up from the hundred-dollar jobs they’ve been auditioning for, just to break into the business. But considering the fact that this client is a key retailer and that the job involves all major markets and a six-year buyout, five hundred bucks is very low pay.

It’s all relative, relatively speaking.

DEFINING MEANING

By giving you these examples, what did I just do?

I provided you with some context.

The meaning of words is not only determined by what you find in the dictionary. It is defined by the setting and circumstances in which they are used. In fact, dictionary editors define the meaning of words by studying the context in which they appear. They even come up with sentences in which a word is used to illustrate its meaning.

But let’s assume that little or no context is provided. What do we usually do to attempt to understand the words we read or hear?

We start making things up. Believe it or not, there’s a mindreader in all of us! To me, this is where things get really interesting. On what exactly do we base our uninformed guesses?

I remember the first time I drove on an American highway and saw a sign that said RAMP. I must confess that I had no idea what it meant (for first-time readers: I’m originally from The Netherlands).

In an attempt to understand its meaning, my mind started making associations based on my personal frame of reference. In Dutch, the word RAMP means DISASTER! Till this very day, I get uncomfortable whenever I see that sign.

Without a clear context and without the ability to ask any questions, we generally base our understanding on speculation, which in turn is based on our subjective experience. In other words: the way you interpret “we only have a small budget,” will tell us a lot about you and next to nothing about the person who wrote it. This gets us into trouble all the time.

As a service provider it is not supposed to be about us. It’s about what the client wants to see and needs to hear. But clients typically hand out maps and leave it to us to second-guess what their territory is supposed to look or sound like.

They’ll tell you:

“I don’t know how to describe to you what I want, but I know it when I hear it. As long as you try to sound warm but professional…. If you know what I mean.”

No I don’t know what you mean. How could I? We have never met. Sometimes I don’t even understand my wife, and I think that I know her better than most people.

MISUNDERSTANDING

Now, do you still wonder why you didn’t land that ‘warm and professional’ gig?

Could it be, because you were led by your own assumptions? Did you forget to ask critical questions, or were you unable or not allowed to contact the client and get some context?

Beginners often wonder: “If only I could get some feedback after the fact. That would give me some idea as to why my audition was rejected.”

I think it would be much more helpful to get some perspective before the fact; some sense of direction. Dump the vague and ambiguous verbiage. If you don’t tell us what you want, how are we supposed to give it to you? I know that words are inadequate ways of describing an experience, but can you at least try a little harder?

While you do that, let’s go back to the story.

TODAY: FRESH FISH

After erasing the first two words, the fishmonger stared at the sign that now read “FISH.”

That should do it, he thought.

No one can argue with that.

He was ready to go inside when a boy walked up to him. He had a ten-dollar bill in his hand.

“Sir, sir…” the boy said, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” said the fishmonger. “What can I help you with, young man?”

The boy looked at him with big, hopeful eyes.

“Sir, I just saw your sign and I was wondering: do you sell goldfish?”

The fishmonger made a gesture of utter exasperation.

People are completely clueless, he thought.

Then he took a damp sponge and erased the word FISH.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Give Me a Break!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear 22 Comments

After much use, even the sharpest knives get dull. Paul Strikwerda

 

Can a voice-over pro ever take time off?

Do you have to be available 24/7?

Is it okay to shut down your business for a few weeks of Rest and Relaxation?

Will your Facebook fans unfriend you?

Will your Twitter followers desert you?

Will your voice-overworked agent ever talk to you again?

Let me answer these questions with a question:

What won’t happen if you don’t do it?

BALANCING ACT

I am a big believer in a balanced lifestyle. As a European living in the States (the number 1 “no vacation nation”), I see a lot of people around me who are absolutely addicted to their jobs. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected and become a burned-out, boss-pleasing slave laborer.

Have we forgotten our history?

On January 31st, 1865, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. It read:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

I guess the keyword is involuntary servitude.

We are free people, living in a free country who have earned the right to free themselves of any free time. Instead, we have chosen “voluntary servitude.”

Now, that’s what I call progress in a society built upon the principles of “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!”

But let’s put the cynicism and sarcasm aside for a moment. If you’re pursuing happiness as a full-time freelancer, you are in charge of your own destiny. You set your own hours. You determine your own rates. You’re the only one who can call it a day and shout from the roof tops:

Give me a break!

You’re self-employed. You embody your service. Literally. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. If you don’t guard your boundaries carefully, good people with the best of intentions will step on them and leave you depleted.

TRAPPED & TIRED

A few weeks ago, I was asked to do a presentation in front of hundreds of people. Prior to that, there was a reception and -of course- you can’t have a reception without background music. It’s a known fact that most musicians aren’t capable of staying in the background. No matter the crowd, they have to be LOUD.

I knew that if I were to schmooze prior to my presentation, I would have no voice left, even though my vocal cords are well-trained.

As they say: “If you schmooze, you lose.”

Besides, the next day I was going to New York for a recording session and my voice had to be in top-shape in order to sell well.

So, I was left with a choice. Either slip something into the drinks of the band that would have them running to the restroom in a matter of minutes… or hide myself from the crowd until it was time to go on stage.

The first option was obviously more entertaining, but I ended up hiding in the basement. Unfortunately, an overzealous janitor came down, turned off the lights and kicked the door shut, leaving me trapped.

This is where cell phones can save the day. I called the organizer of the event:

“Hi, it’s Paul.”

“Paul, where are you? We’ve looked all over for you!”

“I am trapped in the basement. It is dark in here. Rats are nibbling on my feet. Please rescue me!”

That day, instead of being a voice-over, I became a voice-under.

I think you get my point.

In order to give your all, you sometimes have to get away from it all. But avoid being locked up.

GO AWAY

Now, in an ideal world you would just pack your bags and go where no one can reach you. But what to do when you’re waiting for that all-important callback or that once-in-a-lifetime chance to audition for something you can’t afford to refuse?

In that case, you need to take some gear on the road and improvise. Rather than spending a few hours going over all the options, I suggest you read Harlan Hogan and Jeffrey Fischer’s classic Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and on the Road. It’s jam-packed with practical information and I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in a voice-over career.

Here’s what I take along on my travels:

  • a laptop
  • a microphone
  • a CEntrance MicPort Pro
  • earplug-sized headphones

A MicPort Pro is a nifty mini audio interface/preamplifier that plugs directly into your microphone. On the other side there’s a USB cable that plugs into your computer. In other words: this device can turn any microphone into a USB mic. It has phantom power, a headphone jack and two knobs for setting the record level and the headphone volume.

So… after all that subtle product placement, let’s get back to the original question:

Can you take off for a period of time without ruining your career?

Here’s an experiment you should do at home:

Fill up your watering can to the brim and start watering your plants. Keep on watering and watering and watering… until there’s no more water left.

I don’t have to tell you that -in order for those plants to grow- you need to water them regularly. An empty watering can is useless. The moral of the story:

You can’t give what you don’t have.

Now, why is that so easy to understand when it comes to our plants, and why are we surprised that “We the People,” are so stressed, so drained and left without an ounce of creativity?

Take my advice and get lost! Recharge your batteries. Discover that you have significant others in your life who’d love to get to know you. It can’t be all work and no play… Your job is just a means to an end.

TAKING TIME OFF

Be sure to let your voice casting sites and agents know that you’ll be gone for a particular period of time. If you must, bring your gear, but promise yourself that you will only do what is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’ll get sucked into obsessive email checking, incessant instant messaging and frantic Facebooking.

Only use your cell phone when you’re stuck in a basement and someone’s thrown away the key.

When you come back from your well-deserved vacation, notice how refreshed, alert and full of energy you are.

People can see it in your face. They hear it in your voice.

Now you’re ready to wow the world again!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Taking Kickbacks?

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

On August 1, 2007, serial entrepreneur and Boston-based tax accountant Lewis Weinstein quietly launched the beta version of ReferralKey, an on-line referral management system.

Some called it “LinkedIn on steroids.” Others feel it’s just another version of the traditional inbound marketing strategy.

How does it work?

Once you create a ReferralKey online profile showcasing your amazing accomplishments, you can invite others to join your network and start exchanging leads. Does the following viral email look familiar?

Are you taking on new clients?

If you’re taking on new clients, I’d like to include you in my private referral network to send you business leads through Referral Key. Please accept my invitation below. Thanks!

Best,

Person’s Name
Name of Their Company
City, State

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but there was one problem. It didn’t take off. Weinstein told the Boston Globe that professionals using the site felt it just wasn’t helping them generate enough new business. Weinstein: “The common response was, ‘I thought you were gonna send me referrals.”

A wait-and-see approach never works and Weinstein discovered that something essential was missing from his system; something that drives all human behavior: an incentive.

TAKING THE BAIT

You see, the average ReferalKey member wasn’t just going to refer a colleague or a friend on the basis of his or her merits or the existing relationship. Before they were willing to make a recommendation, they needed one question answered:

“What’s in it for me?”

Weinstein’s answer:

Cash, Omaha Steaks, L.L.Bean or Callaway Golf gift cards.

ReferralKey was relaunched in April 2010, based on the following principle:

“Grow your business by offering rewards to other people who send you successful referrals.”

This winning idea turned boring, unresponsive professionals into bounty hunters, ready to stake their claim and claim their steak. I just received an email from a colleague offering me 10% of whatever she will make, if she lands a job based on my referral.

RefferalKey even lets you track referrals to “ensure your relationships are reciprocal.” Yes, my friend, if you rub my back, I’ll rub yours and just so you know, I do keep score!

Do you like it so far? If you’re having any doubts, you’re not alone.

Chris Reimer is Vice President of Social Media at brand developer Falk Harrison. He writes in his blog:

“The first time I got an email with the subject line “Are you taking on new clients?” Holy crap, I was excited! You bet I’m taking clients! (what a hook). Ten seconds later, I felt the shame of spam, deflated, and just a little pissed. After receiving 100 of these emails? No one likes spam.”

Kathryn Delany is a web designer and Search Engine Optimization and Marketing Specialist. She writes:

“I have been sucked into the vortex of the Referral Key saga. I usually am very cautious about these emails. However, the initial invitation came from a long trusted colleague so I signed up. Sadly I followed the instructions on importing my LinkedIn Contacts, little suspecting that this site hijacks the list before you can choose who you would like to invite to your circle. As it ‘imports’ your contacts it automatically sends out the invitation to everyone on it!”

Chris Reimer concludes:

“Stop joining services that blast out marketing messages Uzi-style as ReferralKey.com does. The bad taste you are leaving in people’s mouths is not worth it.”

A MORAL MAZE

Apart from receiving downright annoying emails, I have a more moral objection. There is a good reason why professionals like lawyers, realtors, accountants and therapists have adopted codes of conduct, specifically prohibiting them from taking payment for referrals. It is considered to be unethical.

Look at the definition of bribery:

“An act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient”

RefferalKey says it is based on “trusted relationships,” but if you’re meeting a need with greed, what does that really say about your definition of “trust” and “relationship”?

Do you really think you can buy my opinion and influence my behavior by offering me a bounty? Is that how you think I operate? I almost feel insulted!

YOUR TRUE MOTIVES

If I were motivated by money, I probably wouldn’t even be in the voice-over business. Take it from me: You will never do your best work for the love of money. You do your best work when you hold yourself up to standards no one else can or will match. Your best work is always a labor of love and never the result of greed.

Here’s my bottom line: a referral needs to be earned, not bought.

I owe a huge part of my business success to referrals, and I am frequently asked to recommend colleagues. For those recommendations I get paid big time.

Before I tell you what I receive in return, you should know that I take my referrals very seriously. The fact that I will recommended a certain person, reveals as much about me as it does about the person in question.

One can usually judge someone by the company he or she keeps. When you pass the name of a colleague on to someone else, you put your reputation on the line. So, how do you go about it?

When you’re thinking of recommending someone, ask yourself the following question:

How do I know that someone else is good at their work?

Here are your options:

  1. See – I need visual evidence (e.g. I need to watch them do their work)
  2. Hear – I need to hear them (e.g. listen to their demo)
  3. Read – I need to read about them (e.g. a review, a report, a website)
  4. Do – I have to work with them to get a feel for how good they are

In certain circles, the answer to the question “How do I know that someone else is good at their work?” is called a “Convincer Strategy,” and most people come up with more than one answer.

The next question is:

How often does a person have to demonstrate that they’re good at what they do, before I am convinced?

  1. A number of times – e.g. Three or four times
  2. Automatic – I always give someone the benefit of the doubt
  3. Consistent – I’m never really convinced
  4. Period of time – It usually takes e.g. a week, a month… before I can tell if someone’s really good

The last thing you need to be aware of is your frame of reference:

  1. Internal – No matter what anyone says about her, only I can tell whether or not she’s any good
  2. External – A source I trust recommended her, and that’s good enough for me

It’s very common for people to have an internal frame of reference with an external check, or the other way around. If your frame of reference is completely internal, no one will ever be able to convince you of anything. If it’s completely external, your opinion will be totally dependent on what others have to say.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us have different ways of convincing ourselves. If my frame of reference is pretty much internal and a person needs to consistently demonstrate to me that he’s any good by working one-on-one with me, systems like RefferalKey are useless.

It will only work for people with a more external frame of reference who are convinced by reading about someone, and based on that, give the person the benefit of the doubt. How big of a group is that?

QUALITY REFERRALS

Should you decide to give RefferalKey a try, ask yourself how well you know the contacts you’re about to invite and how well they know you. In other words: what is the quality and the depth of the referrals this system generates? Is it worth the risk of pissing people off with automated impersonal email messages?

Referring people can be very rewarding. It’s an essential part of being in business and staying in business, as long as you do it for the right reasons. If you landed a gig as a result of my recommendation, I demand that you pay me back by doing the best job you could possibly do. As one of my teachers used to say:

“If you look good, I look good, so you better make me look good!”

Secondly, don’t send me any money or vouchers for Omaha Steaks. You booked the job because you’re the best and you deserve it. I don’t take any credit (or cash) for that.

Take your 10% and give it to a worthy cause. Pay it forward.

That’s the key to referrals!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Please refer someone else to this blog by retweeting and “liking” it on Facebook.

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The Awedition

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 12 Comments

“Not everything is what it seems to be,” said the King as he looked into the Court Jester’s mirror.”

Have you ever wondered what’s going on behind the closed doors of a casting agency?

What’s it like to be part of a nerve-wracking cattle call?

Would the casting director be one of those failed actors who has turned his bitterness for the business into a lifelong mission to humiliate terrified talent?

Would the waiting area be filled with intimidating, cutthroat competitors, exchanging stories of horror and faded glory? Or is all of that just a caricature, perpetuated in Hollywood movies about the trials and tribulations of aspiring actors?

Well, you’re about to find out!

Being the famous blogger I am, I was recently granted unprecedented permission to record one of my auditions for the enjoyment and continued enlightenment of my readers. Nothing’s more fun than learning from other people’s most embarrassing moments, right?

So, for once you get to be a fly on the wall, as I enter a casting agency at an undisclosed location near New York.

For those of you who’d like to read along, you’ll see that I provided a copy of the script.

Anything to please my faithful fans!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Is Your Freelance Career Fueled by Fear?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 24 Comments

“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” – Benjamin Franklin

WARNING: do not read the following sentence.

Yes, this one!

Why did you read it when I asked you not to?

Don’t even think of reading the next line either.

Are you blind? You just did it again. What’s up with you?

Why is it so hard to follow simple instructions?

You’re a grown-up, aren’t you?

Kids are different. You go to the store and make them swear upon their teddy bear’s life not to touch anything. And what do they do? As soon as they get a chance, they start picking up stuff left and right. You tell them not to cross the road and before you know it, they run to the other side of the street. But that’s youthful spontaneity, isn’t it?

What about you? When you tell yourself not to do something, do you do it? Or rather: not do it?

Then why is it so hard not to hear that stupid tune that has totally taken over your brain?

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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Call Off Black Friday

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 24 Comments

10-plus money-saving tips for the frugal freelancer!

My mother must have had a Master’s Degree in Money Management.

As a child, I hated it. At the supermarket checkout there was always some whiny kid in front of me, pointing at the strategically placed sweets.

“Mommy, I want a lollipop!” cried the boy.

The little brat was already digging into an open bag of greasy potato chips that had yet to be paid for.

“Mom, I want it now!”

As his mother was loading boxes of sugar-coated cereal onto the conveyor belt, the 3-year old monster turned up the volume to show the world who was in charge.

“Mom, give me that lollipop! You said I could have a lollipop!! I WANT IT!”

And sure enough, after thirty seconds of relentless begging, the little Prince’s wish was granted.

His mother turned to my Mom and said apologetically:

“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”

“Why don’t you give him an apple?” my Mom suggested.

“Oh no, that wouldn’t work,” said the monster’s Mom. “I’ve tried that once. It was a disaster. “Connor isn’t really into fruit. He might be allergic.”

“Well,” said my Mom, “he seems to like strawberries” as she pointed to the lollipop sticking out of Connor’s mouth. But she had spoken too early.

“I hate this lollipop,” yelled the boy. “Give me a cherry one!”

As the appropriately named Dum Dum landed on the floor, I had only one wish: I wanted to trade my Mom in for Connor’s mother. My Mother never bought me any lollipops, or that colored cereal with a surprise toy in the box. And if I happened to be hungry, she gave me a carrot or a celery stick. Disgusting!

A few years later, we ran into Connor again at Toyland. Not much had changed, apart from the fact that he had put on a few pounds. He was the first six-year old with a double chin I’d ever seen.

“Mom, I want that race car!” he yelled.

Connor and I were both drooling over the same shiny Matchbox® model. It was a piece of perfection.

“Mom, I want it now!”

Connor’s presence somehow gave me the courage to ask my mother if she’d buy me the car.

“How much money have you saved so far?” asked my Mom.

This year I had started earning an allowance by doing small chores around the house.

“Fifty cents,” I replied.

“And how much is this car?”

“One guilder.”

“You get 20 cents per week, so if you really want this car, why don’t you save up for it?”

“Mom, I knew you would say that!”

“Of course,” said my Mom. “Now, let’s get your sister a birthday present.”

At the checkout, Connor had already taken his brand new car out of the box and was ready to destroy it.

His mother turned around and said:

“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”

ACCOUNTABLE

The other day, I had a meeting with my accountant. He specializes in small businesses.

“Let me ask you a question,” he said when I came in.

What’s the difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer? If you had to boil it down to one thing, what would it be?”

“Well,” I said, “I can think of a few things. How about talent… connections… creativity?”

“Wrong,” said my accountant. “What do Jerry Lee Lewis, Tammy Wynette, Mickey Rooney and Lorraine Bracco have in common?”

“Brian,” I said, “You tell me. You’re the expert.”

He continued: “We’re talking about talented, well-connected and creative people. And at one point in their career, all of them had to file for bankruptcy.

Here’s my point, Paul: The difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer lies in these two words: Money Management. And where does money management start?

“Well, Brian, isn’t that where you come in?”

“Wrong again. Money management starts between your ears! It’s about the difference between instant gratification and impulse control. Didn’t your mother teach you that? You see, there’s no secret formula to financial stability:

  1. Spend less than you earn
  2. Pay off your debt
  3. Invest, save and share

“That’s a great philosophy, Brian” I replied. “But you know as well as I do that it doesn’t work like that in the real world. The kids that have never heard the word “no” became adults driven by a sense of entitlement.

We might moan and groan about the economy, but all we really want is a big fat turkey for Thanksgiving and a big flat screen TV on Black Friday. People demand the latest and the greatest, if only to keep up with the Joneses.

If life gets hard, put it on a card.

After all: You’re worth it. That’s what this country is all about: prescription drug addiction, emotional eating and retail therapy.”

MODERATION NATION

“It feels good to vent, doesn’t it?” said Brian. “So, what’s your answer to the I consume, therefore I am mindset? Should we call off Black Friday and fire Santa?”

“How about moderation?” I said. “How about redefining what makes us happy? Happiness cannot be found in the ever-increasing accumulation of stuff. Isn’t life supposed to be about who you are and what you have to give; not about how much you have and can keep for yourself?

My Mom kept a tight rein on the budget, and at times I was jealous of some of my classmates who could literally be a kid in the candy store. She didn’t always give me what I wanted, but I always got what I needed. Thanks to her, I became a frugal freelancer. She taught me one of the most important lessons:

A rich life has nothing to do with an expensive lifestyle.

We never went to Disney World®. We hiked on nature trails instead, and for years I told the world I wanted to be a forester, protecting plants and animals. We rarely went out to dinner. Instead, my mother taught me how to make delicious, nutritious meals from scratch. Our kitchen never had a microwave in it, and somehow, we survived.

At the time I thought it was so unfair: all the kids in the neighborhood had a VCR. Meanwhile, it took years before we got our first color TV. But my best childhood memories are of the whole family sitting around the table playing board games. I paused for a moment…

Be honest, Brian: Am I getting old?”

“Definitely,” my accountant said with a smile. “But as your financial advisor, I like the way you’re thinking. Now, tell me again: what was that website you were talking about the other day?”

“It’s called Freecycle.org. Freecycle is a worldwide network of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their towns. Not junk, but good stuff that would otherwise end up in landfills. A year ago, our stove decided it was time to retire and Freecycle came to the rescue.

Someone in the neighborhood was remodeling the kitchen and her practically new stove didn’t fit anymore. She put it on Freecycle and I picked it up. It didn’t cost me a penny. And if there’s stuff we have no use for, we put it on Freecycle too.

“Didn’t your TV set give up, last year?” asked Brian.

“You’re right, and guess how much I paid to replace it? Fourteen dollars and ninety-five cents. I found a TV at a local Goodwill store. The folks who dropped it off were going for one of these LCD-things. There’s nothing wrong with that old television. It’s just a bit… ginormous and you need five men to lift it. But the story gets even better…

Last month we cut the cable. I was getting tired of being forced to pay for all those networks we never watch. Cable companies are like a restaurant charging you for everything on the menu when you’re only eating a few items. Cutting cable alone saves us over $1300 a year. Now I can put that money into my new recording space.”

“Aren’t those prefab boxes expensive?” Brian wanted to know.

“You bet they are,” I said. “That’s why one of my friends is going to help me build a booth in the basement. And if we ever were to sell our home, the new owners will have the soundproof media room they always wanted.

SAVING GRACE

Spending money is just too easy. Saving money is a sport.

I spent hours and hours researching the web for the best materials and the best deals. I asked my social media friends for advice and I got quite an education. And at the end of the day, I believe that building something with my own bare hands is much more rewarding. I can also make sure that the materials I use are environmentally friendly.

I do the same thing when I am shopping for gear. Before buying brand new, I check out Sweetwater’s Trading Post, Craigslist and eBay first. A friend of mine just got a beautiful Blue Robbie preamp; retail price: $799. He picked it up for $500. It was barely a year old and the former owner had taken care of it as if it were his baby. My friend’s voice-over clients couldn’t hear the difference between brand new and “previously loved.” He recently bought a Mac Mini. Refurbished, same story.”

“Off course it’s not all about money,” said Brian. “My new-age therapist says that money is just an exchange of energy. She tells me I should move more. I spend my days behind a desk, staring at a screen. At the end of the day I just want to go home, be a slouch on the couch and… stare at a screen.”

“Do you know what you and I should do, Brian?” I said.

“What’s that?”

“I think both of us should become independently healthy.”

“Care for some carrots?” joked Brian.

“You’re funny! That’s what my Mom used to say.”

“Speaking of your Mom… how’s she doing?”

“She passed away on April 11, 2008.”

I took a deep breath. 

“My Mother really knew how to stretch a guilder. When she died, most of her belongings went to families in need and she made it very clear that she didn’t want to be buried. She donated her organs and the rest of her body to science. 

My Mom died on a Friday.

It was one of the darkest days of my life.

Not a day goes by, without me thinking of her, and wishing I could call that day off.”

SHORTLIST

 Now, before we get all teary-eyed and sentimental, let’s end with something practical. Here’s my shortlist of tips for the Frugal Freelancer my mother would definitely approve of:

1. THINK of the WHY before you buy. Separate the needs from the wants. Ask questions such as:

  • Is this something I simply would like to have, or do I absolutely need it NOW?
  • What would happen if I don’t buy it?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Sleep on it (especially when buying mattresses). Build in a minimum waiting period for bigger purchases 

2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK and use the internet for research and for finding deals


3. Invest in QUALITY that will last

  • Remember: refurbished products are tested and certified and offer big savings. I bought my Apple Time Capsule refurbished and it is doing its job without any problems. 

4. GO GREEN

  • Pick products that are good for the planet
  • Buy Energy Star products
  • Go paperless and recycle
  • Buy at a consignment or Goodwill store and use www.freecycle.org to get rid of good stuff you no longer need or to find things you’ve always wanted.

5. CUT the CABLE


6. BREW your own COFFEE and make your own MEALS

7. STAY HEALTHY

8. SELL YOUR SECOND CAR

9. REDISCOVER THE LIBRARY

10. BE ORGANIZED and keep track of your income and expenses

11. Add up all your savings and give at least 10% to a worthy cause, and

Live each day with an attitude of gratitude.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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It’s the stupid economy!

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

If we blame the economy for all of our freelance failures, perhaps it’s only fair that we should credit the economy for all of our successes. After all: we’re hopelessly helpless.

It’s the economy, stupid!

In 2000, Cleanthi Peters sued Universal Studios for $15,000. Cleanthi claimed to have suffered “extreme fear, mental anguish, and emotional distress” after visiting Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights haunted house. She said it was too scary.

My European friend Philippe is eager to bring these type of examples up whenever he tells me that Americans live in a country of finger-pointers. I agree.

If we get lung cancer from smoking, we blame the tobacco industry. If we slip on a wet surface, it is the cleaning lady’s fault. If we burn our lips on a cup of fresh WaWa-Java, we sue the company that forgot to print a warning.

Heaven forbid we should take some credit for our own actions. Why should we? Blaming someone else could bring in big bucks!

So, what’s next?

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

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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