Freelancing

The Most Important Question Of The Year

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

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

Here’s the most important one:

“How was business in 2016?”

Some of you might tell me:

“2016 was great. I had so much fun!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUSTAINED SUCCESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bottom line is always about the bottom line.

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

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

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

6. Manage your money.

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

Get Organized!

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

Here’s the thing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy invoicing!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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Are Those Black Friday Deals Really Worth It?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Money Matters, Studio, Widgets 5 Comments

Black Friday at Best BuyAt this very moment, the retail powers that be, are working you left and right.

They’re preying on you, like a lion lures a lamb.

Unlike the lion (who will do his best to stay undetected until he makes his deadly move), retailers come at you in plain sight. They have no desire to rip you to pieces. They want you alive, so they can bleed you year after year.

Retailers won’t jump you either. Instead, they play a game of not so subtle seduction, with one or two pieces of masterful bait, the first one being (drum roll):

Low Prices.

Yes, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will soon be upon us, and credit card companies are already drooling over your looming debt increase.

We may all believe that we’re independent thinkers that cannot be manipulated, but psychologists know better. They know that one of the strongest human fears is the fear of missing out.

That’s why the time ticker at QVC and the Home Shopping Network is such an effective sales tool. It tells you how much time is left to get this incredible gadget you suddenly cannot live without. That’s why they throw in all these “but wait, there’s more” extras to sweeten the deal, but only if you BUY NOW.

Limited time offers and low prices are classic incentives to get weak and impressionable people to buy stuff. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the ultimate examples of these incentives, because they only come once a year, and some of the deals are truly incredible.

Supposedly.

You and I know that those heavily discounted doorbusters are meant to give you a shopping high, so you’ll buy more once you’re in the door. Besides, these deals will often come back in slower seasons.

If you’re still tempted to empty your wallet around Thanksgiving, I can’t stop you. But allow me to give you a few pointers, if I may. 

1. Distinguish between a WANT and a NEED

Every time you’re tempted to make a major purchase, ask yourself:

“Do I really need it right now, or is it just something I want?” “Is it a necessity, or a luxury?”

If you wish to experience sustained success as a for-profit freelancer, there’s one simple formula you must stick to:

Keep your revenue stream high, and your expenses low.

So, if you really, really want to buy this nice, new, shiny piece of equipment, ask yourself:

– Will it make me more professional, productive, and profitable?

– Will my clients experience an undeniable difference as a result of this purchase?

– Will this investment pay for itself within a reasonable period of time?

For instance, a few of my voice-over colleagues are already salivating over a new microphone this season. But a recording will only sound as good as the space it’s recorded in. So, rather than spending cash on a new mic, it’s often much wiser to invest in creating a better acoustic environment.

Most clients won’t hear the difference between a $300 microphone and a $1000 mic. They will hire you because you’re able to deliver clean and crisp audio, without the sound of the neighbor’s leaf blower in the background.

2. Choose High Quality over Low Price

If you must make an investment, do your research before you make that impulse buy. This means you have to overcome one of humanity’s eternal weaknesses: the need for immediate gratification when buying something that’s on sale. 

As a freelancer, competing on price is a losing strategy. You want people to pick you because of your added value, and that value is worth something. If you truly subscribe to this idea, you can’t just apply it to your own business. You have to “live it” in all areas of your life. So, stop buying things just because they’re cheap.

Only yesterday, I threw out all the heavy catalogues of the major pro audio retailers without even looking at them. Apart from being a waste of tropical rain forest, I have everything I need to run my business. I’ve carefully collected my equipment over time. I gave myself an opportunity to save up, to gather info, and to invest some of my profits in quality gear that will last for many years.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Buying cheap can be expensive. Buying quality saves you money in the long run, and a whole lot more.

3. Choose the Planet over Price

I already mentioned the catalogues I had to throw away. But that’s not the only thing that concerns me.

In the past few decades, there’s a growing tendency among manufacturers to make things that only last a few years, and cannot be fixed. As a result, we end up with landfills of trash, gradually leaking toxins into the environment. Nature’s resources are depleted, and people in low-wage countries are exploited as they make the shiny trinkets we end up throwing away.

This process will go on for two reasons. One: because the environmental and societal impact of a product is hardly ever a part of the price. Two: because people like you and me keep buying them.

I’m a strong believer in creating change through spending. If I want local businesses to grow; local farmers to go organic, and make a decent living, that’s where I’ll have to spend my money. If I want manufacturers to create products that are environmentally-friendly, that last, and can be repaired, I have to show them there’s a market for those products.

Now, if you believe that you alone can’t make a difference, talk to Tara Button. Tara is Founder and CEO of BuyMeOnce.com. She was so frustrated with our throw-away culture, that she went on a global quest to find things that are built to last, and that are made in an ethical, green way. Her website features kitchenware, furniture, clothes, shoes, beauty products, and other things. Yes, you’ll pay more upfront, but you’ll save money over time.

4. Don’t spend all your money on objects

If you’re still itching to spend (or borrow) Black Friday money, do you really have to spend it on “stuff”? How fulfilling is that, ultimately? Once the rush of owning something shiny is over, there’ll be a new void, waiting to be filled. And what void are you filling anyway, and for what reason? Do you want to impress your colleagues?

To borrow a phrase from a weight-loss coach:

“Until you know what you’re truly hungry for, you’ll never be satisfied.”

We’ve been shoving waste under the carpet for decades. Is that a legacy you can be proud of? You don’t have to agree with me, but I think mother earth would be better off if we’d shift from an economy of “more and more,” to an economy of “enough is enough.” 

As Thanksgiving is coming up, can we just stop for a moment, and be grateful for what we already have? Can we also spend some time giving, instead of getting? For so many charities, your (tax-deductible) donation is not a want, but a need.

If you insist on giving yourself a gift, why not buy a gym membership (and actually use it)? Why not enroll in a cooking class that teaches you to make healthy meals?

Treat your family to a trip abroad, allowing everyone to broaden their horizons, and to recharge those batteries that have been going non-stop.

Gift yourself to your community by volunteering! Science has proven that it is better to give than to receive. So, be selfish, and share your time and talent with those who need it. It will truly transform your life!

I’ll tell you one thing:

It will beat leaving Thanksgiving dinner early, so you can stand in line for Best Buy.

And if that’s a family tradition you want to break with, you know there’s only one way to do it:

Go cold turkey!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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Secrets From Successful Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 11 Comments

Road to SuccessLast week, I shared the story of Rick, a voice actor and producer with over 30 years of experience. In spite of his talent and time in the business, Rick isn’t doing so well. What’s even worse: he has pretty much given up hope that things will change for the better.

His story struck a chord. Colleagues reacted privately and publicly, telling me that the voice-over Boulevard of Broken Dreams is a crowded place. Is it possible to get stuck there? Of course it is, but with the right mindset, skill set, and marketing strategy, your chances at success will improve dramatically.

I asked my commentators what kind of advice they had for Rick. Here’s what they had to say.

1. DON’T DWELL ON THE PAST

“The bottom line is this: get rid of all the negativity in your life, believe in yourself, and thank the powers that be for all the good fortune in your life. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow doesn’t exist, so that leaves today! Working on today is what I do very well!”

Shane Morris

“Be in the right mindset. We can often be our own worst enemy with what we unconsciously BELIEVE to be “true,” and can sabotage our own best efforts, because deep down, we really think we don’t deserve success, or some other faulty belief that we keep living out and finding evidence to support.”

Debbie Grattan

2. CHOOSE HAPPINESS OVER MONEY

“After working as a Part-time VO for 20 years, I only just went full time 3 years ago, and I am in the midst of my best year ever. I am tracking to make 30K this year. Still only a third of what I used to make as a multimedia developer. But I am much happier.

I realize I may not ever hit the “Big-Time,” but it doesn’t deter me from continuing in this industry because I am happy. I know the pitfalls, and in my opinion, they are less stressful and more rewarding than any company I worked for all my life. It’s not all peaches and cream. It’s perspective, and I appreciate honesty above all. Less surprises that way.”

John N. Gully

3. FIND YOUR NICHE

“If you can find a mid-sized market where you can be the “only” at something, I think you can have a real shot. I entered a mid-sized market when there was no one else who sounded like me. This mattered because there were tons of women with deep, sexy voices in the Philly market.

I was a recent college grad with a high-pitched, very young sounding voice. I even had engineers say to me “We finally have someone to call to play a high school or college student!” At that time, there was a lot of character parts in radio VO, and I played the daughter, the valley girl (that was a “thing” at the time), the high school or college student, etc. I wasn’t the best voice talent, but I did have acting skills and I was essentially the “only.”

Jeannie Stith

4. BE CLOSE & BE READY

“People will tell you that because of the internet, Source-Connect, ISDN, etc. you can do this from “wherever.” Don’t believe it. I mean, you can…sort of… but with limited success. I have had the success I’ve had because I can be at studios in Burbank/Los Angeles/Hollywood at the drop of a hat. It’s not because I’m better than anyone else – I’m sure I’m not.

I have a dear friend in Des Moines who works at a car dealership. He has an amazing home studio with everything you could ever need or want, and he’s a lot better than I am. He would beat me at every read. But, I book 200% more work than he does because of WHERE he is, and because opportunities come when he’s working his other job. I get auditions that need to be done in the next 4 hours and so does he. You can’t do those if you’re working another job. I get work, not because I beat guys on the read, but because I beat them to the punch.

Treat VO like a part-time job or a sideline, and that’s all it will ever be.”

Jon Armond

5. BE OPEN & EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS

“Stay up with the times. Just because you’ve been doing something for 30 years, if you’re working from an old paradigm, then perhaps you need to expand into a new way of thinking… not only with copywriting, but vocal delivery, music mix, and message.

Diversify. Don’t only focus on commercial work. How about being open to niches in narration, explainers, phone messaging, audio books, video games? The VO world has expanded so much from 30 years ago, with niches opening up that didn’t even exist before.”

6. OUTSOURCE

“Hire other professionals to help you in areas where you’re not an expert (website building, branding, marketing, SEO, social media management, blog writing, etc.) and also coaches, to keep fresh in your vocal delivery. Hire demo producers to cut new and cutting edge demos – they seem to constantly need to be refreshed.

Get copies of your work to upload onto many different playlists on YouTube, and then keyword those to attract potential clients. These are just a few practices that can make a big difference. Outsource, where you can, and this includes housekeeping, yard maintenance, etc.”

Debbie Grattan

I want to thank my colleagues for chiming in with these words of wisdom. They illustrate the final point I’d like to make:

7. DON’T REINVENT THE WHEEL: LEARN FROM THE BEST

As they say: “Experience is the slowest teacher,” particularly bad experience. Cut your learning curve by working with pros who are where you want to be. That way, you don’t have to make the mistakes they had to make.

Remember that even the best athletes work with coaches on a regular basis. The success of a single player is a team effort.

Surround yourself with people who support your goals, and who have the expertise to get you there.

Be patient. Be persistent. Be a Pro. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: ota_photos Road to Success via photopin (license)

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Voice-Overs: the Untold, Unsexy Story

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play 20 Comments

Standing at the gates of hellSomething strange is going on.

Whenever I try to warn people about the intricacies and pitfalls of the voice-over business, I get two types of reactions.

More experienced colleagues thank me for painting a realistic picture of a complicated industry.

Beginners criticize me for spitefully dashing their dreams.

To some, I am a hero for speaking my mind. To others I’m a villain who wants to curb his competition. There seems to be no middle ground. Just look at the reactions to my YouTube videoThe Troublesome Truth About A Voice-Over Career.” Even though I made it a few years ago, I still stand behind every word of it. One of the commentators said:

“Why would anyone seek out this negative party pooper? Don’t just offer the problems, offer the solutions, or at least direct people to where they can find the solutions. That might be on your website, but most people will never go there as all you’ve done with this post is attempt to suck the life out of their dreams.”

Another one said: 

“Why is this guy such a douche bag? Haha. This is a video about a VO actor that sadly didn’t “catch the big break” and made a rant video.”

Here’s a third response:

“Tough love. I appreciate it. Thank you for this, but it has me more determined than ever!”

And one more:

“A very honest and accurate summary of the voiceover business. As I tell folks, my job is not doing voiceovers. My job is finding voiceover clients.”

THE POWER OF PREJUDICE

Positive or not so positive, every response teaches us something about confirmation bias. It’s this very human flaw that makes us see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, and believe what we want to believe. It’s a way of filtering information that confirms our preconceptions. Quite often, it makes people immune to facts.

Advertisers create entire campaigns to play into people’s biases by offering simple solutions to complicated problems. Here’s a familiar example from a new website, using the persistent myth (bias) that every ignorant fool with vocal folds has a good chance of becoming a professional voice-over!

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-8-57-13-am

Yes folks: anyone with a camera can make money as a photographer. Anyone with a hammer can become a carpenter, and anyone with a piano can be a concert pianist. You just have to believe in yourself, and sign up for whatever training program they’re trying to sell you. Clients worldwide are waiting for you!

CUTTING THE CRAP

Well, let’s do a reality check, shall we? If you believe I have a hidden agenda and can’t be trusted, perhaps you’re willing to listen to an accomplished colleague of mine. He’s a writer, producer, and voice talent. A while ago he responded to one of my blog posts entitled What Clients Hate The Most.” His story is a tale I have heard many times since I started writing this blog.

It is honest. It is raw. It is painful.

Minutes after he posted his remarks, he asked me to delete them because of possible repercussions. Sharing setbacks could be bad for business, he said. I think he has a point. 

Most of us do our best to look successful in the eyes of colleagues and clients. That’s why we share our latest and greatest accomplishments with our peeps. Colleagues refer colleagues with an impressive track record. Clients want to hire winners, not whiners. 

So, I shelved his message for months, but in some way it continued to haunt me. Here was a story from the trenches that deserved to be heard. I’m not saying it is representative of what every single voice talent goes through, but it tells a story you have to hear. This week he gave me permission to share it with you.

RICK’S RESPONSE

Hi Paul:

I’ve written and produced for thirty years. One of my pieces is used by Dan O’Day in one of his courses, specifically the use of music in a commercial. I am quite good at nuance and communicating just what the client wants in the way he wants it. I have top-shelf recording gear with a couple of the world’s finest mics and preamps, and my stuff sounds very, very good.

I’m a good editor with an instinct for timing, layering, choosing the right music when required, and knowing where to put it. My demo is as good as anything you’ll hear. I’m a nice person with good people skills, and an ability to empathize.

I was mentored by a writer who did “Where’s the Beef,” and “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut.” He told me 25 years ago, after working with him for many months, that I had reached a level where I should be making $75K. This was in 1981. I have read the books, gone to the seminars and webinars, written and produced 2000 commercials plus audio and video pieces for corporations and government agencies.

This year I will perhaps make $30K, only because I’m now on social security, and have a couple of new clients. All my clients are local. The average amount they spend per month on advertising is $700-$1000. I have sent out very well-designed and well-written post cards. I made hundreds of phone calls. My average income 15-20 years ago was $20-25K. For the last five it’s $15-18K.

I used to believe that if I learned my craft, had natural ability, never stopped learning, and worked diligently in making contacts and handling them well, I would succeed. I no longer believe that. 

I have lost clients to people who don’t write any better than radio stations, and don’t know how to schedule for effectiveness. 

I went with the two large pay-to-plays, and after 200 auditions and getting one inquiry that didn’t go, and after seeing people make it who sound like every dj you ever heard, I believe that success comes only when you (luckily) land that One Big VO gig or (luckily) get that One Big Client, and it all flows from there. 

For the people I know, that’s how it happened for all of them. I’m sure for many it’s different, but I haven’t seen or talked to anyone like that. I know there are more than enough people out there whom I could greatly help, whose messages are off-point and blandly produced, and who believe a commercial should “sound like a commercial” because that’s mostly what they hear.  They’re tossing their money in the street and don’t know it, and don’t know they don’t know. But I’ve never been able to find them. 

It’s an understatement to say I’m crushed. I know several talented people who just can’t make it, who will probably never make it. I am one of them, apparently. It’s a horror, Paul. I mean that quite seriously.

I am 66, sound like I’m 40, am still firing on all 8, and am writing and editing better than ever. But after three decades of not making enough to keep my family above the poverty line, I feel I am condemned to having small clients forever: Moms and Pops who, God bless them, believe they know more about advertising than I do, because people think “anybody can do advertising” and “all you need to do is get your name out there” and advertising is an afterthought; something they can give to Mikey the office assistant. You know what I mean. My few clients think I’m a genius, and I’m always naturally ‘up’ when talking with them or talking to a possible new client.

Because I love doing this, I have offered my services free to several organizations including charities. I have yet to get one callback.

VO guys and people who write and produce, have told me they spun their wheels for five years before getting the break that opened the Horn of Plenty to them, and they complain about “all that time” it took before it happened.

Really? Try starting in 1981 and still be nowhere.

Dante posted a sign outside the Gates of Hades saying “Abandon hope, you who enter here.”

Well, I know how that feels.

Rick*

THE TAKEAWAY

So, here’s a guy who is a triple threat. He was trained by the best. He has tons of experience, and he owns the right equipment. Yet, he’s struggling. I don’t know enough about Rick’s situation to tell you where and why things went wrong, and how they can be improved. I do know that Rick is not alone.

If sharing Rick’s story makes me a party pooper, or a douche bag, so be it. Frankly, I don’t care what you think, because throughout history people have always blamed the messenger. The question is:

What do YOU take away from Rick’s story?

Does it upset you? Does it make you more persistent to pursue your dreams? What does it tell you about breaking into voice-overs? 

I’ve had some time to think about Rick’s story, and here are my two cents.

If there’s a lesson in his narrative, it is this: The advertising/voice-over industry is not fair. In fact, life itself isn’t fair.

Studying hard, working hard, having the right chops, and owning the right equipment does not guarantee anything. Putting out nice brochures or postcards entitles you to… nothing. Being a nice guy doesn’t mean you’ll make enough to pay the bills.  

Uncertainty is the name of the game. There is no promise of work. There’s just potential, talent, and subjective selection. 

This is not a message many want to hear. It is a message most Pay-to-Plays, training companies, and demo mills want to suppress because it’s not sexy, and it doesn’t sell.

YOUR TURN

Now, Rick was brave enough to stick his neck out, and I would like him to walk away with something positive. That’s where you come in!

Ideally, I’d love it if you would use the comment section to answer some or all of the following questions:

• Is Rick’s experience unique, or do you recognize what he is going through?

• If you’ve been in a similar situation, what have you done to get out of it?

• What needs to happen in our industry to make it more likely that people like Rick can make a decent living?

The floor is yours.

Your input is much appreciated!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

*As you can imagine, Rick is not his real name. 

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Why Navel-Gazing Is Bad For Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

photographerI love being part of my sweet, supportive, and unpretentious voice-over community. It’s one of the many perks of the job.

When one of us lands the gig of a lifetime, all of us rejoice.

When one of us is down in the dumps, many of us reach out.

When one of us spots a scammer, we spread the news and warn our colleagues.

Most voice-overs I know, are sharing and caring people. We like hanging out with members of our invisible community, whether it’s in person, or online. While we may disagree on certain issues, we tend to have “warm exchanges,” instead of heated debates.

Spending time with our peeps is good fun, and often educational, but there’s a slight risk involved. The more time we spend inside our rosy VO-bubble, the greater our tendency to look inward. 

That inner focus may lead us to believe that the challenges we’re dealing with are unique to our profession. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is estimated that over one third of the U.S. workforce consists of freelancers. That’s over 54 million people, and those people have a lot in common!

So, when I am searching for answers and inspiration, I like to look outside of my small circle. Take freelance photographers, for instance. You may think that there are quite a few colorful characters among voice actors, and you’re right. But have you ever watched photographers on YouTube? Oh dear!

A DIFFERENT LENS

But let’s be serious for a moment.

Like voice-overs, many photographers operate as a one-person band. Like us, they tend to have studios. Just as the microphone is our professional ear that zooms in on sounds, the camera is the all-seeing eye that registers images.

Both voice-overs and photographers edit in “post,” using software. And if you think VO’s go crazy for the greatest gear, you should spend some time reading reviews of the latest lenses, filters, and other accessories!

If you still believe that any comparison between VO’s and photographers is a bit contrived, listen to David Shaw. He writes:

“More gear won’t make you a better photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I love camera gear. New bodies, lenses, and accessories are fun and exciting, but they won’t magically make you better at photography. To be a better photographer you need to learn how to find images. The gear can help you capture them, but the finding part is up to you.

Whenever I’m thinking of buying a new piece of gear, I ask myself, “Is my current gear holding me back?” Sometimes the answer is yes. (…) More often though, the answer to whether my gear is holding me back is no. The actual reason I want a new piece of gear is that it is shiny. I may lust over new camera stuff, but if that gear won’t improve my photography in a very tangible way, I don’t buy it. Remember that good photography comes from your heart and your mind, not your wallet.”

YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED

Whenever I try to explain the value of my work as a voice-over pro to a potential client, or even to a lowballing colleague, I often use the metaphor of a photographer. Since everyone carries a camera (disguised as a phone), and we all take snapshots, most people can relate to that.

I’ll often tell a hesitant client:

“Imagine it’s your wedding day. One of the best and most important days of your life. Who is going to take the pictures you will one day share with your grandchildren? Uncle Arthur with his silly smart phone? Cousin Fred with his point-and-shoot, and unsteady hand? Or will you look for the cheapest hack on Craigslist? You’ll save a lot of money, and you will regret it every single day.”

And all of a sudden, people who know very little about hiring a voice-over, get it.

IT IS A GIFT

Now, another thing photographers and voice-overs have in common is this: people tend to underestimate what it takes to get to a certain level. An amateur can take pictures all day long, and doesn’t have to live up to a standard. He or she can learn on the job. Pros, on the other hand, are expected to know what they’re doing. It takes hard work to make something look effortless.

Once again, here’s David Shaw:

“A few times, I’ve been told by people looking at one of my images, “You have such a gift.” I know they are being kind, that they are offering a compliment, but I can’t help feeling insulted. I want to say, “It’s not a gift! I worked my ass off to make that image! That shot is the result of years of effort, of early mornings, and hours of travel, of study and practice, tens of thousands of failed and deleted shots, and thousands of dollars in equipment. Nothing about that image was given to me, I earned it.” Of course, I don’t say that. Instead, I smile as though they’ve just said the nicest thing, and say thanks. (…) So no, photography is not a knack – it’s work.”

That’s precisely why professional rates are based on experience, and not on time spent. What’s true in photography is true in voice-overs. Talent cannot be bought. It has to be cultivated. Patiently. It requires discipline. It requires commitment. It may take years before you see a decent return on investment. David Shaw agrees:

“With the exception of the very top people in the industry, we pros aren’t millionaires, or anywhere close. Out of our meagre incomes have to come our mortgage, food, computers, software fees, travel, and yes, camera equipment. When I made the transition to full-time freelancer, that new reality hit me like a falling piano. Science fiction writer John Scalzi once wrote that you shouldn’t consider leaving your day job until you are making TWICE your normal income with your writing (or in this case photography). It’s good advice.”

LOOKING BEYOND

So, if you’re searching for answers, inspiration, and a common cause, look outside of your familiar circles. Extend and expand your network, and reach out to fellow-freelancers. Find script writers, copywriters, cinematographers, graphic designers, art directors, authors, artists, photographers, et cetera. Learn from their struggles. Immerse yourself in new ideas. Stand with them, be stronger, and be ready to be surprised.

This the really exciting part:

One new connection will often lead to another, and another, and another.

A photographer I had been in contact with, was getting into video production. She wanted to produce virtual house tours for realtors, and she needed someone to do the voice-over narration. Guess who she turned to?

Had I stayed in my sweet, supportive, and navel-gazing community, she probably wouldn’t have found me. What she needed, was a personal connection. 

Here’s what you have to understand.

These things don’t just happen. You have to be the one who reaches out. Today.

Do you get the picture?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: ** RCB ** pictures the hard way via photopin (license)

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What Clients Hate The Most

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 19 Comments

SurpriseOkay, this may sound like a pop quiz, but are you a go-with-the-flow person, or do you like to plan everything out?

Do you like surprises, or do you prefer to know what will happen next?

How well do you handle uncertainty, and last-minute changes?

Personally, I think life would be unexciting without the unexpected. I like not knowing what I will get for my birthday. I love to give a chef free rein, as he creates a special dish for me. I purposefully seek out new ideas and uncharted avenues. It keeps the brain cells bouncing around in playful anticipation.

But forget personal preferences for a moment. Let’s talk about the lifeblood of your business: your clients.

If there’s one thing clients all over the world consistently hate, it’s not knowing what to expect.

That’s understandable.

In an uncertain and stressful world, clients want reliability, dependability, and predictability. If your work is inconsistent, you can’t be trusted to deliver a product or service a client can count on.

I’ve been going to the same restaurant for years, and the food was always outstanding. Always. Until a few months ago. The menu had changed. The wait staff wasn’t the same, and the open kitchen had disappeared. That evening, I had one of the worst meals ever, and now I hesitate to go back.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

So, let’s talk about inconsistency for a moment.

Since I’m continuing my series on script delivery, you may be inclined to connect (in)consistency to your (voice) acting performance. We’ll get to that later, because we have a bigger picture to discuss.

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this post, it is this:

Consistent delivery is about much more than the way you read your lines.

As a solopreneur, you’re judged by the way you deliver a total package. This starts with first impressions:

  • What does your website look like?
  • How do your demos sound?
  • What kind of equipment do you use?
  • How do you present yourself in person, via email, in social media, and over the phone?


If done right, all of these elements should send one consistent and congruent message:

Professional At Work

In a time where anyone can hang out a shingle and pretend to be a pro, it is easy to spot the inconsistencies that turn clients off. Do you want examples? Be my guest!

MIXED MESSAGES

On her website, one freelancer boasted about “years of experience.” Then I looked at her client list of… seven companies total. None of them were names you would recognize.

Another colleague thought that adding that amateur Polaroid snapshot to his website would really impress visitors. I hope his ideal clients are into Margaritaville, because that’s the logo I spotted in the picture’s background. 

Can it get any worse? Of course.

A few years ago I went to a recording session in Manhattan. The first thing I heard when I came in, was the sound of crying kids. One of the other talents had brought her two toddlers to the studio. The high-end client who had flown in for the session, was not amused.

One voice actor described himself on his website as detail-oriented. In the next paragraph I found not one but two spelling errors.

Sending mixed messages like that, undermines credibility. It kills trust.

DECEPTIVE DEMO

Here’s another inconsistency clients talk about all the time. They hire a voice-over based on a kick-ass demo. The talent gets the script and records the audio. But when the client receives the recording, it sounds nothing like the voice on the demo tracks.

You can guess how this came about. The super slick demo was overproduced, and later doctored by a talented audio engineer. When it was time to do the real work, the voice talent went back to her boomy closet booth where she self-directed.

“I’m not going to pay for that,” said the angry producer. “This girl charges top-dollar for something I can’t use!”

That’s another inconsistency. In this case, the quality of the product did not match the price.

Here’s one more pet peeve of mine.

A talented voice actor offered a quick turnaround time. It took him over a week before he got back to me. Mind you, during that period he was all over Facebook. I’ll have to think a very long time before I ever recommend him.

NEW AND OLD

Now, before you tell me that this blog post is one of those “nice reminders for beginners,” you should know that I find these types of inconsistencies across the board. In fact, fresh talent seems a lot more willing to please, because they still have to make a name for themselves.

Some veteran voice actors, on the other hand, have become complacent. They believe that their reputation should speak for itself. Although a nice portfolio doesn’t hurt, many clients don’t want to know what you have done for others in the past. All they need to know is this:

“What can you do for me, today?”

Here’s the bottom line. If you advertise yourself as a pro, you have to present yourself as a pro on ALL levels.

There’s a reason why a fashion designer doesn’t dress like a slob. It is obvious why a fitness trainer is usually in good shape. It’s part of a consistent message. A message a client is more likely to remember and respond to.

And what about consistency when it comes to the delivery of your script?

Let’s continue that conversation next week, when I’ll also look at the big secret to audio book success!

How’s that for a surprising teaser?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS This is part 4 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.

PPS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: dawolf- via photopin cc

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If Only I had Known

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 17 Comments

Crystal Ball“Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?”

This question (and many of its variations), is really popular among those interviewing the rich and famous. It’s meant to elicit golden nuggets of priceless information, acquired over a long and illustrious career. It’s an old trick, and it still works.

As an interviewer I’ve probably used it dozens of times, and I could only get away with my lack of originality by editing myself out. I usually kept the answer until the end of the conversation. After a short musical interlude, the celebrity I was speaking with would “spontaneously” get philosophical, and come up with this profound life lesson that resonated long after the interview was over.

Mission accomplished!

Last week, the tables were turned when a young colleague asked me same question: “Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?”

At that moment one realizes that it’s much easier to ask than to answer, but I knew pretty quickly what I was going to say. It brought me back to the beginning of my American career, some sixteen years ago. Here’s what I came up with:

“I wish I would have listened to my heart, instead of to my mind, when I thought of becoming a voice-over.”

I realize that this is not an eye-opening, Zen-like insight, but I know I’m not the only one struggling with the battle between warm feelings and cold logic. 

At that time my analytical, practical mind came up with all these brilliant rationalizations as to why a VO-career would never work for me. This was at the beginning of a new millennium, and I had just arrived in the United States.

I had very little money, no contacts in the industry, and I didn’t know where to begin. How would I promote myself in a country with over 300 million people? Who would hire this nobody from Holland with his funny accent?

I felt overwhelmed, unprepared, and insecure.

Of course there was no Facebook or LinkedIn group where aspiring voice-overs could ask questions. There were no books about the business, and the concept of home studios did not exist. It was much easier to find a job waiting tables, and as someone who needed to make money, that’s exactly what I did.

My first job was at The Fish House in Lambertville, NJ, and even though I was a vegetarian, I knew how to sell sardines, swordfish, and Chilean sea bass. Because I didn’t know anybody, the so-called celebs who frequented this restaurant didn’t impress me.

One day, a colleague took me aside and said: “Do you know who you just served?”

I had no idea.

“The coach of the Eagles!” he replied enthusiastically. “You know… THE EAGLES!!”

I looked at him with a straight face, and said: “What Eagles?”

In hindsight I think coach Andy Reid appreciated that I treated him like a regular customer. He even laughed at one of my wine jokes. His wife Tammy wanted to know why the Jersey Chard she was drinking had such a distinctive yellow glow. I told her the vineyard was next to a nuclear power plant.

Fortunately she though it was funny. 

Meanwhile, I didn’t know that I had just taken the first step in becoming a real actor: I was waiting tables!

The restaurant was also where people began commenting on my voice, my accent, and my ability to speak several languages. To me it was kind of a party trick to help my tip jar, but kind customers asked: “No offense, but why are you a waiter? You should really do something with that voice of yours!”

Encouraged, I signed up for an open casting call at Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia. My heart told me that’s where I should go, but my mind was skeptical. Once again it came up with a million reasons as to why I wouldn’t make the cut. All those reasons made perfect sense, but they were all wrong. 

That day, voice casting director Joanne Joella signed me on the spot, and my American adventure in voice-overs officially began.

Well, not quite.

Even though I was booking some decent jobs here and there, my mind told me this wasn’t going to last, and that I really needed a serious position doing serious work. I was doing well on tips as a waiter, but recommending Jersey wine and pan-seared scallops did not make a career.

That’s how I ended up in a call center, surveying European hard- and software specialists by telephone. Of course these overworked, stressed out professionals had nothing better to do than talk to me, and they all loved telling me about their satisfaction with the latest network servers.

NOT.

This job had two amazing perks. One: Because we called businesses in Germany and in the Netherlands, I lived on European time, getting up at 2:00 AM, making my first call at 3:00 AM (9:00 AM in Amsterdam and Munich). Two: I had to use a script from which I was not allowed to deviate.

That was my second step in becoming a real actor: I got to use scripts!

A year or two into that pathetic call center job, something wonderful happened. All the interviewers were mercifully replaced by an automated voice response system that was much better at taking verbal abuse from German software specialists who were sick of revealing their satisfaction with product X on a scale of zero to ten, zero meaning completely dissatisfied, and ten meaning completely satisfied.

It was time for me to move up the ladder!

Did I listen to my heart this time, and would I be pursuing a full-time voice-over career?

No, my friends. My mind talked me into accepting a job as a customer service trainer at Wachovia Bank. As we all know, banks are a secure place to work. Some of them even offer benefits.

Yea for me!

Luckily, I knew nothing about the financial industry or balancing books, and I suffer from dyscalculia. That’s like being dyslexic but with numbers instead of words. It’s particularly useful when you have to stare at bank accounts all day long, and figure out why this infuriated client got slammed with five overdraft fees after buying a burger with money he didn’t have.

Here’s what I loved about this job. Since I was the lead trainer, I was in front of a class of sleepy, unmotivated students all day long. 

Looking back, Wachovia was my third step in becoming a real actor: I got to perform in front of a live audience!

By the way, if you can’t remember the name Wachovia, that’s perfectly understandable. Wachovia was eventually overrun by the Wells Fargo wagon, and they brought in their own training team to cultivate a new corporate culture.

Good for them. Great for me!

After three pointless, mind numbing, soul crushing, dream dashing jobs, I finally got the message:

“Follow Your Heart, you idiot! Become a full-time voice talent, and conquer the world.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

I strongly believe that living is learning, and that every job helped prepare me for the future I created for myself. Yet, when I look back at all those years of doing things for money while my heart wasn’t in it… When I think of how miserable I used to be, and how happy I am now… I often wonder:

If only I had known…

If only I would have taken the risk, and had followed my dreams from the get-go. Where would I be now?

Would I be a household name? Would obnoxious fans ask for my autograph at crazy comicons and conventions? Would agents fight to represent me? Would I be rich and famous?

Well, if that were me, I’m pretty sure that one day, a young reporter would knock on my door. After an in-depth, hour-long interview, he would pause and get ready for that very last killer-question:

“Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: you probably don’t wanna know via photopin (license)

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How Not To Be Like Jeremy Clarkson

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Social Media 26 Comments

Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May with Tony Harrison's Lancia Beta Coupe Stanford Hall 2008 Last Sunday, the BBC premiered the 23rd season of Top Gear with a new team of presenters. The program drew disappointing ratings in the UK and abroad. This had a lot to do with the absence of star presenter Jeremy Clarkson, who was forced to leave the show. More about that later.

Because Clarkson was such a dominating presence on Top Gear, he might have thought that the program wouldn’t stand a chance without him. Perhaps the critics and viewers proved him right. After all, there’s only one Jeremy Clarkson. This had me wondering…

Do you ever think you’re indispensable?

Do you believe your clients, your readers, or your viewers can’t live without you?

Unfortunately, the reality for most independent contractors is that they can be tossed out any time. The price of freelance freedom is often paid in uncertainty and stress.

In theory, this uncertainty should at least be partially compensated by a higher paycheck. But you know as well as I do that we have to fight for decent rates. 

Small fish in a big ocean don’t have a lot of leverage in the labor market, unless they operate as a school. But what about the big fish? How far are they allowed to go?

INFLATED EGOS

Some people, especially in the entertainment industry, seem to think they are untouchable, and they behave accordingly.

Like spoiled children.

Over the years they have gathered a loyal following, and have amassed a considerable fortune. Whenever they enter a room, people ooh and aah, and ask for autographs and selfies.

When these celebs say something that isn’t even remotely funny, people laugh hysterically. Some are suddenly seen as “thought leaders,” “trend setters,” or as the sexiest men/women alive.

Photographers will pray or pay for a pose and a smile. Companies fight for the opportunity to stuff backstage gift bags, hoping for a tweet of acknowledgment or better still: a product endorsement.

And so, the people who have everything they could possibly wish for, get even more without paying a dime. Those who aren’t as fortunate, can only hope, dream, and drool.

But fame is fickle, and recognition can be a double-edged sword.

The higher you climb, the lower you can fall. But if your cushion is elastic enough, you may be able to bounce back. Comfortably.

TOP GEAR

On March 25th, 2015, the BBC fired Jeremy Clarkson, one of the presenters of Top Gear. Top Gear is one of the most successful programs in the history of the Beeb, bringing in millions of pounds every year. The car show is one of the biggest factual TV shows in the world with an estimated audience of 350 million in 200 countries. People who don’t even care for cars (myself included) watch Top Gear religiously.

Clarkson’s sacking was self-induced. He was fired for physically and verbally attacking one of the producers because no hot food was provided after a day’s filming. Prior to that, he had been given a final warning because of earlier controversies. “This time,” said the BBC, “a line was crossed.” Clarkson was dismissed, in spite of the million+ people who had signed an online petition to reinstate him.

Yes, we’re all unique, but no one is irreplaceable, or above the law.

As Tony Hall, the BBC’s Director-General, said: “There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”

The question is: Who will have the last laugh?

Clarkson’s contract was up for renewal anyway, and as soon as he left, other networks in Great Britain started fighting over who could offer the man the most lucrative deal. In the end, Amazon Video won out. Like the Terminator, Clarkson (and fellow-presenters Richard Hammond & James May) will be back, making more money than ever.

THE TAKEAWAY

As much as I deplore what Clarkson did, I wondered if we could learn anything from what happened. Like Clarkson, you and I work with producers and directors all the time. Some of them are very nice people. Others are not. Some make unreasonable demands, crazy requests, and give you a hard time when asked if the check is finally in the mail.

There are some big egos in our business, and I’ve seen colleagues suck up to the people with power, and kick those who are lower on the ladder. Here’s something that happened to me while I was working at a radio station.

One day, a fellow-presenter lashed out at an assistant because he had given her a glass of water with what looked like a hair in it. The woman exploded, and left the assistant heavily hyperventilating in the hallway. But when the director of the station paid us a surprise visit right after the incident, my angry colleague was suddenly all smiles.

After we had taped our show, I took a good look at the infamous glass of water. A curly, red hair was indeed floating on the surface.

My explosive colleague happened to have curly, red hair.

SEVEN SIGNS

Most people I’ve worked with seem to have it together. Perhaps this is because invisible voices have a low profile. We don’t have millions of fans, or millions of dollars. 

Those I admire in my industry have certain things in common. They often thrive against the odds. They are loved by colleagues and clients alike. And if you wish to follow in their footsteps, I have a few recommendations for you.

My first suggestion is simple: Treat everyone around you with respect; not only the people in power. Even if some co-workers do their very best to push your buttons, you’re not a robot. You can’t control their behavior, but you can choose your response.

Secondly: Celebrate your achievements, and remember where you came from. You are where you are because people who probably didn’t know you, believed in you, and were kind to you.

You made tons of mistakes. We all do, but were they met with punishment or patience? And even if your teachers weren’t always tolerant, don’t use that as an excuse to give others the same treatment you so hated.

Third: Don’t ever take success for granted. It entitles you to nothing. It has to be earned, and treasured. Over and over again. And what good does it do you, if you make the people around you miserable? They’ll feed you what you want to hear, while spitting out the truth behind your back.

Fourth: Don’t mistake fame for importance, and money for value. Who gives a damn how many followers you have on social media, and how much you have stashed away in your Swiss bank account. Why should we even care about your credentials? All these things do not make you a good person.

You should take your work and your fans seriously, but please take yourself with a few grains of salt.

Fifth: If you end up -willingly or unwillingly- being a role model, know that it comes with responsibilities. You are in a privileged position to influence a great number of people who look up to you. Are you going to use that position, or abuse it?

Sixth: Don’t ever ask: “What’s in it for me?” The better question is: “What can I do today to improve the lives of others without getting anything in return?” It’s the result that matters. Not the reward.

Seven: Be humble, and be grateful. Every single day.

Success is hard to sustain. One moment you’re the flavor of the month. The next you’re yesterday’s news. Clients may seem ungrateful, but that doesn’t mean you should be. 

Appreciate what you have right now, and realize that you couldn’t have done it without the help of others. No matter how hard you’ve worked for it, and how much you think you deserve it, feel confident without being cocky. Big egos don’t make amigos.

One last thought.

No one is irreplaceable, but at least for one project, one gig, or for one show, you were chosen. That means something. 

If you’re lucky, you can make it last.

If it doesn’t, enjoy the ride, but hopefully not in a Jeremy Clarkson sort of way.

Paul Strikwerda ©Nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Jeremy Clarkson and James May Top Gear presenters with my Lancia Beta Coupe Stanford Hall 2008 IMG_6342 via photopin (license)

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The Mistake You Don’t Want To Make

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 14 Comments

ThinkingIn his books and seminars, motivational speaker and coach Tony Robbins shares what he calls his Ultimate Success Formula.

It’s a deceptively simple five-step process:

1. Decide what you want.

2. Know your reasons why.

3. Take massive action. 

4. Notice what’s working or not. 

5. Change your approach until you achieve what your want.

I could easily write an entire blog post about setting specific goals, but today I want to talk about the third step of this formula: the necessity to take action.

LOUDER THAN WORDS

There’s a reason why Americans like using sports metaphors. Sports are all about energy and action. People bring their ‘A’ game, they step up to the plate, and knock it out of the park. I love that go-getter mentality, but as a coach and fellow-freelancer I think success is as much a result of the things we don’t do, as it is of the things we choose to do. 

Whether you take action or not, there will be consequences.

Comparing those who have made it in a highly competitive industry to those who have not, I see clear differences. Those who ultimately gave up, did that in part because they failed to act in crucial areas. Before I tell you what some of those areas are, I need to address the words “fail” and “failure,” because they are loaded. 

When I bluntly state that someone failed to do something, I merely mean they did not take a certain action. Consequently, they didn’t achieve a desired result. This does not make them a complete and utter failure as a human being.

VALUES AND MOTIVES

When people fail to do something we assumed to be of importance to them, it tells us two things. It tells us something about our personal values and work ethic, and it tells us something about the other person’s motivation.

Let’s say I give one of my students a certain task, and he or she keeps putting it off, or puts very little effort into it. In my experience this has little to do with a lack of time or laziness. Unless there’s an emergency, those who are truly dedicated will always find the time and the energy.

The real reason for the delay or the lack of enthusiasm has to do with motivation. Motivation is the fire that feeds the engine.

To find out what drives someone, here’s the question to ask: 

“Why is X, Y or Z important to you?”

If the “why” isn’t strong enough, people are more likely to slack off or give up. This often manifests itself in small things. Some people start showing a lack of attention to detail. Some will rush to get the job done. Others are easily distracted. Over time, this adds up, and it points to the fact that someone’s heart is not in it.

CARING FOR YOUR CAREER

I often compare a freelance career to tending a vegetable garden. A garden can’t be rushed. It needs to grow organically. If you don’t seed, water, or weed, you’ll never enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor. 

If you don’t take good care of your garden, that’s easy to see, but what clues tell me you’re struggling as a freelancer?

I often see a failure to:

  • take the initiative
  • get out of the mindset of a hobbyist
  • set clear and realistic goals
  • have enough seed money to fund and grow your business
  • invest in a professional work space, (continued) training, and quality equipment 
  • define what makes you stand out from the rest
  • focus on finances
  • set decent rates
  • find multiple pipelines to generate job leads
  • build a professional network
  • follow up and follow through
  • have a long-term strategy
  • update your website and portfolio
  • check your work before sending it out
  • be active in social media
  • promote and market your business professionally
  • take good care of your body
  • surround yourself with supportive, knowledgeable, and nurturing people
  • be there for those who support you
  • be appreciative
  • be accountable
  • be patient and persistent
  • be flexible and open to feedback
  • realize your life is more than your job
  • learn from the things that go well, and from the things that don’t go so well

 

LIVE AND LEARN

That very last point takes us to the fourth step of Robbins’ Ultimate Success Formula: “Notice what’s working or not.”

Like Robbins, I will ask my students: Are you getting closer to your goal, or farther away? Are you taking advantage of the feedback you’re getting? 

It’s okay to make mistakes, but if you don’t learn from them, you’re likely to repeat old patterns. 

If you fail to learn, you learn to fail.

Now, in spite of what some people may tell you, there is no secret code that will open the magical door to unlimited freelance success. Success depends on so many factors, and not all of those factors can be influenced by you. But remember this: 

Life does not reward intentions. It rewards action.

The daily decisions you make or fail to make, will propel your career forward, or move it backward.

So, the next time you’re presented with a serious opportunity, carefully weigh your options, and take a hint from William Shakespeare by asking yourself:

“To do or not to do,

that is the question!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Eline via photopin (license)

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Right On The Money

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

This is the conclusion of a 3-part series on how to price your services as a freelancer. Click here for part 1 and click here for part 2. 

When Max walked into the warm conference room, he saw two files on the table. On one if them he recognized the name of a competitor. The other portfolio had his name on it. He knew instantaneously what he was up against.

Only a few weeks ago, he had lost a contract to this rival because their bid had been 30 percent lower. Had he just made a big mistake by coming out here in the midst of a dangerous winter storm?

“John Jarvis,” said the CEO, as he walked in. “You must be Max. I’m afraid it’s just me today. I live a few blocks from the office and practically no else dared to come out in this terrible weather.”

Jarvis sat down and took a sip of his coffee.

“Max, when I heard that you were on your way, I only had one thought: This guy must either be totally crazy or totally committed. But looking back on how you’ve handled this opportunity so far, you don’t strike me as insane. On the contrary. You hit all the marks of someone we’d like to work with. All of them, but one.

First of all, you clearly know the value of personal connections. Not once did I receive a generic email or an automated answer to a question. It was clear from the start that you were the go-to person that would not work for us but with us.

You made an effort to get to know your client and his problems first, before coming up with a solution. You learned our language and you translated your ideas into terms we could easily understand and relate to.

Third:  you consistently showed us that you could meet all deadlines and manage a project efficiently, even though we were only in the beginning stages. As you know, delays are usually costly. Not once did we have to send you a reminder. In fact, you were the one following up with us!

Now, as you can see, we’ve narrowed our choice down to two offers. Both companies were invited to present their proposals today. Only one showed up. I shouldn’t tell you this, but we’ve had to chase the CEO of the other company down to get his final plans here on time. It was his secretary who sent a response. This morning I found out why.

I’ll be honest with you Max. Your rival made us a very tempting offer that was 35% below your estimate. It was much more in line with current market prices for your type of services. We’re not talking peanuts here, but about a significant amount of money. So, here’s my decision.

Max held his breath. He knew that he had done everything he could to win this contract, but he had been down this road before. There was a lot at stake.

The CEO picked his rival’s folder up from the table; looked at it for a few seconds and threw it in the trash can.

“Congratulations Max. Welcome aboard!”

He went on:

“In this business we don’t really care too much about resumes and infomercials, but we certainly do our homework. I know some of the other people you’ve worked with in the past, and I‘ve seen what you have done for them. Every penny spent on you was a fraction of what came back as a result of your involvement. As they say:

Quality will be remembered long after price is forgotten.

And do you know what impressed me most of all, Max? Not only are you committed and conscientious, you know what you bring to the table and how valuable your services are. At the end of the day, it wasn’t just your competence that sold me Max. It was your confidence.”

His startup coach had been right. Max remembered the day his mentor took out a big black marker and wrote on the flip chart:

A fair price is a price you believe in… plus twenty percent.

“I know you, Max,” his coach said. “As an entrepreneur, your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.”

“And what might that be?” asked Max, puzzled.

“You’re not motivated by money,” answered the coach.

“Let’s face it. You’re creative. You’re an artist. You want to contribute. One of the reasons you’re so good at what you do is the fact that you’re absolutely fascinated by it. It’s a magnificent obsession. You want to be the best you can be in your field. It’s that powerful internal drive that gets you up in the morning.

You don’t do what you do just to pay the bills. You do what you do because it matters and it is meaningful. To you, the ultimate reward is in the result, not in the remuneration.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Max wanted to know.

“Well, it’s what made Mark Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire in the history of mankind,” said his coach. “As far as we can tell, he wasn’t motivated by money when he came up with Facebook. Sir Richard Branson didn’t open up his record store to make millions. Steve Jobs co-founded Apple because he wanted to ‘make a dent in the universe’. Jobs once said:

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

The challenge is to channel that passion and turn it into a profitable product people want to buy.

Now, here’s another basic human need: the need for autonomy. Most people want to be able to direct their own destiny; make their own decisions and create their own future. In one word: they want to be FREE.

The most dissatisfied workers are the ones that are being told what to do. They have uninteresting, low-paying jobs and no hopes of ever escaping the rat race, other than winning the lottery.

In order to gain autonomy, having an interesting, purposeful job is not enough. Being able to contribute to something greater than yourself is nice but not enough. Without money -or with very little of it- we operate in survival mode, focused on taking care of our basic needs. Without money, we’re dependent, we struggle, and we’re stuck.

You might be the most promising painter of your generation, but you need money to buy canvas, brushes and paint. You need money to rent a studio and promote your art. You want to be able to take trainings and hone your skills. The better you become, the more you will require: more expensive canvas, better brushes and the highest quality paint… a bigger studio. Someone’s got to pay for that!

You might think it’s mundane, but one way we express how much we value things, is by putting a price on it. Rumor has it that super model Heidi Klum‘s legs are insured for $2.2 million, but one leg is insured for $200,000 less than the other because of a scar. 

What I’m trying to say is this: money is a means to a beginning. That beginning is called “autonomy.” As long as you lowball whatever it is you’re offering, you’re telling the world that you don’t believe that you’re worth a penny more. That’s not the road to independence. It’s a road to nowhere.

In 2008, Dara Torres became the first woman in history to swim in the Olympics past the age of 40 in her fifth Olympic games. On July 5th of that year, she qualified for the finals in the 50-meter freestyle breaking the American record. In the finals she broke that record for the ninth time, winning a silver medal, only one hundredth of a second behind the German girl who won the gold.

The hours and hours of resistance stretching and time in the pool played a huge part in this phenomenal achievement, but it didn’t win Dara the medal. She won because she believed she could do it

You might not operate this way, Max, but people tend to not value things that don’t cost them much. That alone should be reason enough never to devalue your talent.

If you want your business to grow, you’ve got to start thinking long-term. Today you might be offered a dream deal. But what about tomorrow and the day after tomorrow?

Not only do you need money to cover costs, you need it to invest, to expand, and to contribute. Passionate people have a tendency to be stuck in the now, absorbed in the moment. But even those who have reached the top will tell you that you need to think ahead if you want to stay ahead. If you want to manage your career, you have to learn how to manage your money.

“But what if a client can’t afford me?” asked Max.

“And how would you know they can’t afford you?” countered the coach.

“Well, because they’d tell me!”

“And you always believe what clients tell you?” asked the coach. “Oh please… The two oldest excuses in the book are not enough time and not enough money. Time is something all of us happen to have the same amount of. It’s how we choose to use our time that matters. Not having enough money is a comparative deletion: compared to what?

If you’re stuck in the middle of a snow storm and you absolutely need to be somewhere, are you going to nickel-and-dime the only driver who’s willing to take you to your destination? It boils down to this: what’s it worth to you? Does the added value or benefit outweigh the cost?

The more valuable your product or service and the greater the need for it, the more leverage you’ll have to name your price.

Listen to me Max. Never assume you know how much or how little a client can afford. You don’t. Do your homework instead. Ask questions. Make your offer as relevant as you can… not to you, but in the eyes of your client. Make it irresistible.

Think about all the objections they might throw at you. Be prepared to answer the most difficult question they could ever ask you. It may never come up, but if you have an answer to that question, you know you can handle anything else that comes your way. That’s how you prepare for negotiations!”

“Max, are you okay?” asked John Jarvis.

“For a moment it looked like you were lost in thought.”

“I guess I was processing what just happened,” said Max. “Thank you so much for choosing me. I couldn’t be happier!”

“Well, the feeling is mutual,” said Jarvis. If all of this works out -and I don’t see why it shouldn’t- we’re looking at long-term cooperation. And by the way, call me John.”

Max stood up from his chair.

“Can I ask you something, John?”

“Sure, Max. Shoot.”

“Just out of curiosity… you mentioned that my competitor didn’t hand in his plans on time, and he wasn’t here today. Any idea what happened?”

“I know what happened,” answered Jarvis.

“His secretary told me this morning that his company went under. Apparently, he had a tendency of over-promising and under-delivering. His work looked great on paper, but in reality, he couldn’t meet minimum quality standards. Because of his aggressive pricing, the money that was coming in wasn’t enough to keep the company afloat.”

Jarvis put on his winter coat and said:

“But let’s not worry about that, shall we? Let’s just say that Karma is alive and well in this country. More importantly, we need to get you home safely. I can’t afford to lose you at this stage of the game. We’re barely out of the gates. Let me call our driver. He’ll take you to a hotel near the airport. This storm is not going to last forever.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Max. “There should be someone waiting for me outside.”

“You mean that black SUV in the parking lot?” asked Jarvis.

“Yep, that’s my driver,” replied Max. “His name is Anatoly but his friends call him Stoly.”

“That’s not your driver, Max,” said Jarvis.

“What do you mean?” asked Max.

Jarvis smiled as he opened the door. He shook Max’s hand and said:

“Don’t give that man any tips. I paid him a fortune. Stoly works for me!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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