Freelancing

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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Taken For A Ride

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 3 Comments

Stock tradersThis is the second part of a story about how to price your services as a freelancer.

Click here for part one.

The black SUV was slowly making its way through the worst winter storm on record.

“Anatoly, at your service,” said the driver as he reached out to shake Max’s hand. “But my friends call me Stoly. You know… like the vodka.”

“Pleased to meet you, Anatoly,” said Max. “Thanks for taking me to my presentation in this blizzard. I really appreciated it. One question, though: are you sure this is legal? I mean, don’t you need some sort of permit to drive people around like this?”

“What do you mean, permit?” replied Stoly. He sounded a bit agitated. “This is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Right now, I’m the only one brave enough to take you to your presentation in this snow storm. Do I need a permit? Give me a break! My parents didn’t leave the Red Square in order to deal with more red tape. All those rules and regulations are in place just so some pencil pusher can stick his nose into my business.”

Max had clearly hit a nerve. Anatoly went on with his rant:

“If there’s one thing responsible for the American Dream, it is the free market. We have a government for the people, by the people. I think it’s time for big government to start trusting those people to make the right decisions and not interfere in our lives. The entrepreneur is the backbone of the American economy. If we’d need a permit for every single thing we wanted to do, we’d never get anything done.”

Max remembered discussing the concept of a free market with his startup coach. The man was a genius. He could explain complicated concepts in simple terms. 

“Before we come to any conclusions,” said his mentor, “we really should identify what kind of market we are talking about, and what we mean by free. It’s so easy to speak in generalizations and pretend we understand one another. When we do, we usually don’t.

First of all, there is no such thing as a single market. Rather, it is made up of a great number of small markets, serving different segments of our economy.

Secondly, people talk about these markets all the time, as if they were solid, static entities we could take home and put on a shelf. In reality, these so-called markets are more like our health. They are the fluid result of many factors and influences, and they adapt and change constantly. They’re like living organisms. We are all part of those organisms, sometimes as buyers, and sometimes as sellers.

The cumulative result of millions of individual decisions is what makes these many markets move. Even one small decision has the potential to impact the whole. 

Now, some of these markets have become so complicated that humans alone can’t handle them anymore. Take the stock exchange. Most of today’s trading is no longer handled by shouting overachievers in weird blazers, but by computers. Does that make Wall street freer, or more dependent on whiz kids, software, and algorithms?”

Max said he had no idea.

“Let me ask you another question, Max.

Do you remember what happened on May 62010 at 2:45 PM?”

Max shook his head.

“I’ll tell you!

The United States stock market crashed when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged about 900 points in the biggest one-day point decline in history. It was called the Flash Crash, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) blamed it on a computer algorithm used by a trader to determine how to execute a trade.

Within 13 minutes, some $40 stocks were selling for a penny a share, until a market circuit-breaker paused trading. Regulators later undid those bizarre trades, calling them ‘erroneous.’

On June 10th, 2010, the SEC approved rules that require the exchanges to pause trading in certain individual stocks if the price moves 10 percent or more in a five-minute period.

Let me ask you, Max: is that still a free and independent market, or are we talking about intervention in order to prevent shares from becoming worthless, courtesy of a computer glitch?”

Once again, Max was silent, as his mentor went on.

“Now, think about what fuels our economy: crude oil. An important benchmark for crude oil prices is a weighted average of prices for petroleum blends produced by the OPEC countries. OPEC constantly tries to influence that price by increasing and decreasing production. We all know what happened in 1973 when oil ministers agreed to an embargo.

Again I ask you: is this the famous free market people are always touting, or are prices kept at an artificial level and used as weapons in an effort to influence political decisions and certain economies? Think about what’s happening right now. 

Led by Saudi Arabia, OPEC decided in 2014 to wage a price war with low-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere in a bid to defend market share. Since oil prices began collapsing, oil companies have sacked hundreds of thousands of workers, and slashed investment budgets.

But there are other factors that influence how much or how little we pay at the pump.

The yearly maintenance of refineries influences gas prices. A blast caused by a few individuals at a pipeline in Nigeria can cause the price of petrol to explode at your local gas station. We might long for energy independence all we want, but for now we’re as interdependent as never before.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: because we’re so connected, markets are never completely free. Contrary to what some republican presidential candidates want us to believe, we’re not living on an island.”

“I understand all of that,” said Max. “But when people talk about the free market, don’t they typically refer to a market free from government intervention?”

“Here’s my take on government intervention, Max:

Too much of it is called dictatorship, and not enough of it leads to anarchy. You pick.”

He continued:

“I can’t tell you how many times the argument it’s a free market has been used to defend or excuse the most appalling working conditions and low wages on this planet. Just because humans were born with free will and have the power to exploit one another, doesn’t mean they should. Sometimes the administration has to step in to prevent the greedy from taking advantage of the needy. Is that big government overstepping its boundaries, or a matter of society upholding basic human rights?

One could argue that the institution of federal minimum wage is a form of intervention in the labor market. It started when government tried to control the explosion of sweat shops in manufacturing industries. The sweatshop owners were thought to have unfair bargaining power over their workers, and a minimum wage was proposed as a means to make them pay fairly.

Some might say that sweatshops are a thing of the past. Well, on a different but related note, tell me: What’s one of America’s favorite non-alcoholic beverages?”

“It must be coffee,” answered Max.

“Correct,” said his coach. “A few years ago, Starbucks finally started selling Fair Trade coffee, and for a good reason. We don’t always realize that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what has been described as ‘sweatshops in the fields.’ Many small coffee farmers in Africa and South America receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into poverty and debt. To become Fair Trade certified, an importer must pay a minimum price per pound, allowing farmers and their families to make a living wage.

Laissez-faire economists might frown upon fair trade, but here’s the underlying question: whom is the market supposed to serve? Is this market some amoral, illusive, impersonal entity that cannot be influenced, or could the players in that market actually have an effect on how decent business is conducted?

Are people to serve the market (at any rate and at any cost), or do we want to have a market that serves the people? Should we intervene in that market by setting certain levels that are considered to be fair, humane, and reasonable, or should we leave the market alone?

Our economy is still recovering from the subprime mortgage crisis that was -in part- the result of an unregulated, greed-driven market that left so many homeless. Just because people were able to get a mortgage with no money down, doesn’t mean they should have.

Cars used to have no seat belts and smoking was allowed everywhere. Then the government stepped in to prevent intelligent people from doing stupid things. Yes it’s intervention, but for a good reason. 

My belief is that the ideal market -if we can even speak of such a thing- should serve the people. If a market leads to desperation exploitation, it becomes an issue of ethics, and adjustments should be made.

I realize that I’m painting a picture with broad strokes, Max, and you’re free to disagree. So, why don’t we bring this discussion back to rates? After all, that was what we were talking about. Here’s my question:

Would you rather be paid a fair rate, or a market price?”

*          *          *          *           *

As Stoly skillfully maneuvered his car through the snow storm, Max noticed something disturbing. In some boroughs the streets were much more accessible than in others. How could that be?

Suddenly, bright headlights appeared out of nowhere, and they moved straight toward their SUV.

“What the heck is that?” screamed Stoly as he quickly turned the wheel.

“That, my friend, is government intervention,” said Max, as a huge snow plow drove right past them. “Why aren’t they out in full force in every neighborhood?”

“It’s been a long winter,” replied Stoly. “Some municipalities started running out of funds, especially those that paid the drivers by the hour. They found out that if they paid the snow crews per amount of snow removed, a lot more got done in less time. The folks that got paid per hour took their time. It’s human nature. Plus, some of the lowest bidders turned out to have the worst equipment, and it took them forever to get the streets plowed. You get what you pay for.”

“When I was young, the whole neighborhood came together to clear the streets and sidewalks,” said Max. “It was actually fun, and we got to know one another. Senior citizens and others who were too weak to plow didn’t have to worry about a thing.”

“How about now?” Stoly asked.

“I’m afraid it’s every man for himself,” said Max. “People clear their own little bit of sidewalk and make sure others don’t park in their spot. There’s an eighty-year old woman on our block who can hardly leave her house, let alone clear her walkway. One day, two teenagers knocked on her door, offering to take care of the snow for her.

She was so happy that these young gentlemen were ready to do a good deed. That was before they told her that it would cost her ten bucks. She said to me that she could barely afford her medication, let alone ten dollars every time there was snow on the ground. But hey, it’s a free market!

Meanwhile, her next door neighbor has one of those gas snow blowers. He was clearing his own sidewalk when she asked him if he’d be willing to lend a hand. He said that he’d get to it, once he had taken his wife to the nail salon. Then he forgot all about his neighbor’s sidewalk, so I took care of it.”

Stoly’s SUV slowly made its way through town, until it stopped in front of an office building.

“This should be it,” said Max as he gathered his stuff. “Will you wait for me? I do need to get back to the airport.”

“If you insist,” said Stoly.

“Great,” said Max. “Would it be okay if I pay you on the way back?”

“What do you think?” asked Stoly with a big grin on his face. “You pay me now, my friend . This is the US of A…

There are no free rides.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

PS Next week I’ll bring you the final installment. Click here for part 3.

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The Power Of Pricing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 23 Comments

Snow stormSNOW EVERYWHERE… and Max was in the thick of it.

His client was expecting him within the hour, and he was all dressed up but couldn’t go anywhere.

This was the account he had been grooming for months, and today was D-Day: Deal or No Deal. Snow or no snow. He had to get out of that airport.

“This is the worst snow storm we’ve seen in decades,” said the dispatcher. “No cab driver is going to go anywhere today. I’m afraid you’re on your own.” Max headed out anyway. Perhaps he could hitch a ride with one of the other passengers that was being picked up by brave friends or family members.

As the snow was coming down, visibility was at a minimum. All flights were canceled until further notice. Just as Max was about to head back inside, a black SUV came out of nowhere, and stopped at the pick-up spot. The driver rolled the window down:

“Need a ride?”

“How did you know?” said Max, as he hopped in. “I have to get to my presentation. Are you here to pick somebody up?”

“No one in particular,” said the driver. “But I’d be happy to take you.”

“Well, that’s awfully nice of you,” said Max. “Thank G-d for Good Samaritans.”

“Dream on,” said the driver. “It’s going to be one hundred dollars. Cash only.”

“You must be joking,” replied Max. “They said a cab would cost me no more than ten.”

“Well, why don’t you get a cab then?” asked the driver. “I’ll go and rescue some other grey suit in a hurry.”

“I’ll offer you 50,” tried Max.”

“Listen,” said the driver. “You look like a smart businessman. You and I, we don’t run charities. We’re both entrepreneurs. We see an opportunity. We jump on it. We take risks. Today I am risking my life and my car just so you can get to your meeting. That must be worth something, don’t you think?

“How about 60?”

“You don’t get it, do you?” said the driver. “My economics teacher taught me: ‘When something is scarce, it becomes more valuable.’ You have a major problem. I am offering you a solution. No one else will. If you want to stay, you’ve got to pay.”

“70?”

“Think of it this way,” sighed the driver. “This meeting you want me to take you to, must be important, right? Otherwise, why bother? Is there a lot of money at stake?”

“You got that right,” answered Max impatiently. “I’ve got one shot to seal a deal.”

“Well,” said the driver, “It’s none of my business, but what’s 100 bucks compared to the money you’ll bring in after that contract is signed?”

“Alright,” said Max as he took out the cash. “I get it. Now, drive!”

While the SUV was battling the elements, Max looked at his chauffeur and said: “I gotta give it to you, man. You know what you’re worth, and you’re not afraid to ask for it.

Some ten years ago, when Max started his freelance business, he had had such a hard time putting a price on the service he was providing. To help him focus, his startup coach had asked him a couple of simple questions:

  1. Do you consider yourself to be a pro?
  2. Do you want to run a for-profit business?
  3. Do you want that business to grow?
  4. What are the costs of running that business?
  5. What’s your break-even point?
  6. How much do you want to make?

In the past, Max had always treated his services as a hobby. That’s exactly what it was. There was no plan. No purpose. Just a passion. He spent hours and hours helping people and never worried about what to charge. That is, until he lost his day job, his benefits, and his security. Perhaps this was an opportunity to turn his hobby into a real business. That’s when things got serious and complicated.

“Here’s the good news,” smiled his coach. “You’ve got clients, don’t you? I mean, you’ve been helping friends all along. If you want to turn your hobby into a genuine profession, why not start close to home. You obviously offer something people want. You already have a market… Go for it!”

“Here’s the problem,” said Max. “I never really charged my friends anything. Most of them gave me pizza and a six-pack. I can already hear them say:

Why would we ever pay you if we can get you for free?

“Good point,” admitted the coach, and he went on: “My brother is a computer geek and he’s crazy about technology. But if he would do every single friend ‘a favor,’ he’d be fixing broken laptops all day and night and not make any money. Free pizza does not pay the mortgage. Besides, I don’t think he’d make the guys happy who repair computers for a living.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s not okay to help out a friend in need, but as soon as people found out that my brother knew how to fix a computer, everybody wanted to be ‘friends’ with him. He had to draw a clear line between real friends and those who were well below the rank of Facebook buddies. That’s what you have to do too, Max. No more giveaways. From now on, you run a business; not a charity.

One of your jobs as an entrepreneur is to manage your client’s expectations. Let me give you an example. If you take on a project you know you can easily do in two days, tell your client you can get it done in three. Guess who’s going to look good when you hand it in 48 hours later?

That way you not only create the expectation that you can beat a deadline. You’re also showing your client that she’s a top priority, and that you really know your stuff. Meanwhile, you’ve allowed yourself an extra day should anything unexpected come up. Does that make sense?

Pricing is one of the most important tools for managing your client’s expectations, as well as your bottom line. Your price point sends a clear signal to your market:

This is what I am worth.

Like it or not, there is a clear link between perceived quality and price. Otherwise, every wine connoisseur would drink Beaujolais out of a box, and Pottery Barn would be out of business.

Remember this: Your fee structure will help you attract the kind of customers you want to be working with, and the type of jobs you are shooting for. At the same time it will weed out the folks that cannot or will not afford you; the ones that are most likely to give you a hard time anyway.

Here’s the deal, though: Your fee must be backed up by experience and expertise on one hand, and by a realistic sense of your value in the market place on the other.

Simply put: Be an expert and do your homework. Don’t just pull a rate out of a hat. That’s lazy and crazy. Find out what the competition is charging. Then ask yourself: “Do I want to charge more, less, or the same?”

“I can’t imagine it’s that simple,” said Max.

“It’s not,” answered his coach. “Smart pricing decisions require at least three elements:

  1. Facts about your own cost of doing business
  2. The client’s evaluation processes
  3. Competitive activity

I know you really care about your work, Max. To you, it’s much more than a way to pay the bills. You’re an artist and somehow, some artists (and clients) believe that there’s a clash between creativity and cash. Doing what you love should be enough of a reward.

I don’t think Andy Warhol or Keith Haring would agree with that. Being creative and being commercial can go hand in hand, and since you’re in business to make money, let me give you a simple formula:

Profit = sales volume x price – cost

Have you ever heard of Hermann Simon? He’s a German economics professor and one of the leading experts on pricing. Together with Robert Dolan, he wrote a book called Power pricing: how managing price transforms the bottom line. He calls volume, price, and cost “profit drivers.”

Simon says something very interesting:

“The customer’s willingness to pay is not determined by the costs of a product but by its performance and resulting value to this customer.”

In other words: when people get a haircut, they conveniently forget that they’re also paying for the rent the salon’s forking over every single month, or for the training the staff receives so they can make every teenage boy look like Justin Bieber.

Clients don’t care about your costs.

You should.

That’s why you have to figure out the answer to this question: How low can you afford to go? What is your Price Floor?

A Price Floor is a point below which a product or service should not be sold. In the long term, the price must obviously cover the full costs of a product. Otherwise the seller cannot make a profit and will not survive. Volume never makes up for selling below cost. 

Every year, tens of thousands of self-employed people file for bankruptcy because they made one big mistake: they followed a dream and forgot to run the numbers. They are what I like to call ‘under-estimators’. Literally.

Knowingly or unknowingly, they started selling below cost in an effort to drive out the competition or even out of ignorance. Some started giving their work away for free, hoping to get exposure and attract business. Last time I checked, my local baker was handing out free samples but never entire cakes. And between you and me: he doesn’t strike me as a marketing genius.”

“Speaking of prices… a friend of mine just bought a brand name watch at a price that was too good to be true,” said Max. “It turned out to be fake.”

“Were you surprised?” asked the coach.

“Not at all,” said Max. “You get what you pay for.”

“That’s right. In part, price is about perception. That’s probably why your friend wanted to buy that Rolex rip-off in the first place.

Professor Simon puts it this way:

“Price is the economic sacrifice a customer makes to acquire a product or a service. The customer always compares this sacrifice with his perception of the product’s value. (…)

“In essence, a customer buys a product or a service only, if its perceived value -measured in money terms- is greater than the price. If selecting from several alternatives, the customer prefers the one offering the highest net value, i.e. the greatest differential of perceived value over price.”

Go to any tattoo parlor and see for yourself how much pain people are willing to suffer in exchange for the pleasure derived from a name, permanently painted in the perforations of their delicate flesh. Years later, they spend a fortune burning out their ex-hubbie’s initials with a laser beam… turning the man in question into an ex-boyfriend, once removed… But I digress. We were talking about perceived value, weren’t we?”

“You’ve mentioned volume, price, and cost,” said Max. “How exactly does the market factor into this? Isn’t a certain price ultimately the result of the interaction between supply and demand? That’s not something I have any influence over, is it?”

“Great point,” smiled his coach. “First off…

*          *          *         *         *

THE BLACK SUV slowly made its way through the winter weather.

“Care for some hot cocoa?” asked the driver as he pointed at a thermos.

“Yes please!”said Max.

“And help yourself to a muffin too,” said the driver. “This might take a while.”

“Well, you certainly know how to treat your customers,” remarked Max.

The driver smiled. “Always exceed your client’s expectations. That’s my philosophy.”

“Will you pick me up when I am done?” asked Max.

“Of course,” said the driver.

“I love return business!”

Click here for part 2.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: It’s been DUMPING snow at Heavenly… via photopin (license)

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Paul’s Pervasive Pet Peeves

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Social Media 25 Comments

young girl with mustacheI guess I only have myself to blame.

The new year has barely begun, and I already have a list of things I get worked up about.

Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not going to slam clients or berate online cattle call centers. This time I’m going to point my arrows at you, dear colleagues!

Well… at least some of you will have to suffer my undying intolerance for BS. As for the rest, I’m sure you’ll recognize my shortlist of major and minor annoyances.

Here’s pet peeve number one:

Automated requests to connect.

Let me get one thing straight. Although I can sound like one if you push me, I am not a robot. I am a human being with thoughts, feelings, and certain expectations. I am honored that you wish to add me to your network, but chances are that I don’t know you.

You don’t walk up to a stranger in the street and ask to be part of his circle of friends and colleagues, do you? So, why would it be okay to target me online with an impersonal message, without even introducing yourself? Are you that rude, or is it that you just don’t care?

Please tell me who you are, and give me at least one good reason why we should connect, and I’ll consider it.

Manners matter!

People wanting to pick my brain.

It often starts with an innocent question:

“Can I call you some time to talk about the business?” A few years ago, I would have said yes immediately, only to discover that I was about to do someone’s homework. A more honest question would have been:

“Paul, can I get a free coaching session? I have no money, no equipment, no training, and no brain.”

Mind you, I’m not opposed to helping those who are truly committed, but I’m not going to waste my time on lazy airheads who are simply “considering options.” How do I separate the two? It’s easy! The committed person has respect for my time, and is willing to pay for my expertise. End of story. I’m doing my very best to run a business. Not a charity.

And just so you know: I’m not going to evaluate your demo either. Unless you pay me, and only if you promise not to blame the messenger for destroying your dreams. 

Here’s the next pet peeve:

People asking for the number of my agent.

Seriously? Beginners I barely know want me to open my virtual Rolodex, and give them a chance to pester my professional contacts. That is wrong on so many levels! First of all, a quick Google search using the term “voiceover agent” will bring up 450 thousand results in 0.55 seconds. If you really need a number, don’t ask me to spoon feed it to you. Unless you’re a toddler. 

More importantly, the real question behind the question “Can you give me the number of your agent,” is: “Could you introduce me to your agent and say a few nice things about me?” Here’s my take on that.

I’m not going to recommend people I hardly know because it could end up biting me in the behind. Secondly, being part of an agent’s roster is something that has to be earned. It cannot be phoned in. Here’s my advice: make a name for yourself first. If you’re any good, chances are that an agent will contact you.

The next request goes even further:

Peeps asking for work.

The other day it happened again. A mysterious self-proclaimed voice-over colleague who is active on a different continent approached me and asked: “I would appreciate if you can send me some jobs and we can work over the internet.” 

Here’s what I could have said:

“Well, if you give me a moment I’ll open the Nethervoice vault and grab you a few voice-over projects. Is five enough? I’m sure you’re up to the task, and my clients are gonna love you. By the way, these gigs come with a nice paycheck! Are you okay with that?”

Without the sarcasm, here’s what I really wanted to say:

“For starters, I’m a colleague. Not a contractor. People hire me. I don’t hire people. Secondly, this industry is based on talent, trust, and connections. If you’re hoping to work with someone, make sure you get to know that person first, and allow them to get to know you. In other words: make a real connection. Don’t lead with what’s in it for you.

This is a service industry, so, focus on how you can help the person you’re approaching. Demonstrate your talent, and earn their trust. If you follow those steps with me, and you’re good at what you do, I might recommend you to some of my clients. Eventually.”

Now, before I go, there’s one last thing I’d like to point out.

All these requests have one thing common. They are based on a sense of entitlement; on the expectation that valuable information, experience, and assistance can be had for free.

If that’s your philosophy, you shouldn’t even be thinking of starting your own business. Think of it this way:

If you don’t respect and value other people’s time, skills, and insights, why should they value yours?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: FE2014 (156) via photopin (license)

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Calling It As I See It

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

Paul StrikwerdaIn this blog I often take a critical look at the industry I’m a part of.

Some colleagues have told me that -from a marketing perspective- this is a stupid thing to do. 

Particularly in America, there is this culture of forced optimism, and fostering a positive image is seen as one of the keys to continued success.

In an environment where public perception can be instrumental in the making of a career, it’s important to come across as likable and easy-going. That’s why many voice-overs keep their money-making mouths shut about controversial issues. It’s not that they don’t have opinions. They just fear that if they would share those opinions with the rest of the world, it might tarnish their reputation as the “Good Girl” or as “Mr. Nice Guy.”

It’s common knowledge that you don’t burn bridges, or bite the hand that feeds you. That hand might come back to slap you in the face. Let me give you one example of how something small that is seen as “negative,” can ruin a relationship.

WHERE’S MY MONEY?

A talent from Germany emailed me about an American agent. Three months ago she had completed a job for this guy, and she was wondering when the check would arrive. Because I live and work in the States, she asked me if it was normal to have to wait that long to get paid, and what she could do about it. I told her to take it up with the agent, which she did. The agent promised to look into it.

A month later, my colleague (who, by the way, is one of the sweetest people on the planet), wrote another polite email about the payment, and the answer she received was something like this:

“Please don’t bother me about it. I’m still waiting for the client to pay me. When I get paid, you get paid. That’s how it works.”

My colleague didn’t like the tone of that message. In her mind, her agent had to earn his commission, not only by submitting her auditions, but by making sure she was getting paid within a reasonable period of time. So, after two more weeks had passed, she wrote another friendly reminder. The response:

“Stop pestering me. This is what happens with Non-Union work in the U.S. Everyone but you seems to understand that.”

Well, another month went by and still no check. You can predict what happened next. My colleague contacted the agent again, and he exploded. When the money finally arrived, the agent wrote angrily:

“This will be the last check you’ll ever receive from me. Goodbye.”

KEEPING MY BIG MOUTH OPEN

You may think that this is an extreme example, but it isn’t. Before I got a backbone, some clients treated me like a servant, with an attitude of “Remember: there are many voices we can choose from. You should be grateful that you even have work in this economy. If you don’t play by our rules, you don’t get to play at all.”

Maybe it’s because I’m European, but I’ve been taught to speak up in the face of disrespect and injustice, regardless of the consequences. I will never point fingers at someone or something just to push the envelope. That’s what bullies do. But when I see emperors wearing next to nothing, or I see certain companies engaging in unethical practices, I call them out… and deal with the consequences.

There’s no need to feel sorry for me, but I know that being outspoken may have increased my notoriety, and I’m sure it cost me a few jobs and speaking engagements. After all, who wants to hire a troublemaker? Why have someone known for stirring the pot, speak at a voice-over conference? It’s important to keep the sponsors happy!

“Thanks for writing what many are thinking but don’t dare to share in public,” is a comment I often get from those who send me an email. It’s ironic. People who talk for a living, are afraid to raise their voice. 

Luckily, I did notice a remarkable shift this year. Here’s what made 2015 different from previous years:

Voice-Overs have started to speak up!

At last.

POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS

Unionized video game voice actors threatened to go on strike if no understanding could be reached with big players such as Disney, Activision, and Warner Bros. Voice-overs want residuals or bonuses for blockbuster games that sell more than 2 million units. They also want limits on the number of consecutive hours they are expected to scream while dying a thousand horrible video game deaths.

2015 was also the year in which we saw a mass exodus from voices.com. People were finally fed up with a pay-to-play system that didn’t give them a fair shot at landing jobs, and with a company that seemed to be double and triple dipping while cheapening the marketplace with low rates.

At the same time, membership in the World Voices Organization (WoVo) grew to over 600 members, and their voice casting marketplace, voiceover.biz, positioned itself as a serious alternative for finding premium, vetted voice talent.

Together with global meetup group VO Peeps, WoVo hosted a series of roundtable discussions about rates. In the past, Non-Union rates had always been a tough issue to talk about publicly. This year, the elephant in the room was being discussed more than ever, and the awareness is growing that our fees need to be fair, and based on added value.

So, what do I make of all this?

It tells me that our profession is gradually getting away from its subservient yoke. We, who are used to treating our clients with respect, believe that respect is a two-way street. We also realize that it is pointless to fight our battles as individuals. We need to come together as a group, and find ways to impact the playing field, as well as increase our level of professionalism.

I will continue to do my part as a blogger, and ruffle feathers that need to be ruffled. I’ll no doubt step on some sensitive toes, and rub a few people the wrong way. Why? Because important players deserve to be challenged. False claims must be exposed. Newcomers need to be warned and educated.

My hope for 2016 is that you will join me in taking a good look at where we stand as voice-overs, and what we want to accomplish. Things won’t change if you keep quiet.

Don’t stand on the sidelines, and let others deal with the hot potatoes. Speak up! Participate. Be an engaged member of this community. 

It’s absolutely critical.

Happy Holidays!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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How To Secure Return Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Promotion 13 Comments
Reserved for salesperson of the month

photo ©Paul Strikwerda

It must be hard to be Balloons the Clown.

For years, Balloons has been a fixture in my Borough.

He drives around in a silly red VW Beetle with a slogan prominently printed on the back:

“Honk if you like clowns.”

I’ll be honest: in all the years that our paths have crossed, I’ve never heard a single honk. That must be pretty depressing, if you’re a professional clown. But as one of my old teachers used to say:

“The meaning of our communication is the response we get.”

Here’s my question: Why would someone like Balloons even ask us to make some noise? My guess is that it has to do with the theme of last week’s blog post: reassurance. Perhaps this family entertainer is hoping for honks to confirm his presumed popularity.

Even though you probably don’t make a living walking around in huge shoes wearing a red nose, you and I, and Balloons, have something in common: we like to be reassured.

Our need for reassurance has to do with a deep human desire: the wish to be accepted. It’s this universal, comforting feeling that we matter, that we are safe, and that everything is going to be alright. It’s what lovers love, preachers preach, and what politicians promise. The person able to reassure us the most, gains our trust and gets our vote.

Clients are no different. They want to know that they are in good hands, and that their money is well spent. It is your job to convince them of that fact. As I suggested last week:

Selling is about reassuring. Before the sale, during the sale, and after the sale.

THE DO’S AND DON’TS

As the client is making up his mind, here are a few things that will make him feel confident that you’re the right person for the job. This is what you have to do:

  • Listen carefully
  • Read and follow instructions
  • Ask questions
  • Respond in a timely and personal way
  • Be clear about your policies
  • Demonstrate knowledge and experience
  • Use plain language, and avoid jargon when dealing with inexperienced buyers
  • Use correct spelling and grammar
  • Be as helpful as you can
  • Only take on jobs you know you can handle

 

“But isn’t this what you’re supposed to do as a professional?” you may ask. Well, you’d be surprised to learn that many so-called pros:

  • Make assumptions
  • Focus on themselves
  • Don’t follow basic instructions
  • Leave clients hanging
  • Have no studio policies
  • Try to impress by using language clients don’t understand
  • Send out poorly written emails
  • Do the minimum to get the job done
  • Bite off more than they can chew

 

By treating clients that way, these colleagues risk way more than losing one specific job.

Here’s my second lesson:

Selling is not about making a sale. It is about winning a client’s confidence, and building a relationship.

Your aim is never to make a quick buck. Your ultimate goal is to cultivate a long-term connection.

MORE WORK TO DO

Now, once the buyer has decided to hire you, don’t think that everything is A-Okay. Your job to reassure him or her is far from over. You still need to prove yourself. You might have the best testimonials and reputation in the world, but some clients just don’t care about the opinion of others. This is the question they want answered:

“What can you do for ME?”

There’s only one appropriate answer: you have to deliver a stellar product that is worth more than the price paid. Remember: you’re not just in the business of providing a voice-over (or other freelance service). You are in the business of adding value. That’s what you’re really selling. 

There’s one other thing you must do at this stage: you need to keep your client informed of your progress. This is especially important when you’re working on longer projects such as eLearning modules, and audio books. If you’re behind schedule, let your client know. If you’re on schedule, tell your client too.

Remember the online purchase I wrote about last week? Once I had bought my reading glasses, I couldn’t wait to get them. I was happy to receive immediate confirmation of my purchase, and I got a message once my readers were shipped. Thanks to a tracking number, I knew when the package would arrive at my doorstep. How reassuring!

But wait… there’s more. Let’s get back to your client. 

AFTER SALES

Let’s say everything went according to plan. Your customer is happy with his or her purchase, and you are ready to move on. But are you really done?

Absolutely not!

This was just the beginning of a relationship, and some clients may need additional assurance that they made a solid investment. That’s nothing new. One of my best buddies just bought a car, and he is showing it to all his friends. Of course he is proud of his new Subaru, but what he is secretly hoping for, is some kind of confirmation that he made the right choice. In other words: he wants reassurance after the purchase was made.

So, what can you do to give a client a warm and fuzzy feeling once the audio has been delivered? Well, show some gratitude! Send your client a thank you email, or -better still- a handwritten card. Let them know how much you enjoyed working with them The key thing is personalization. Avoid clichés such as “I look forward to working with you again,” or “if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.” If you have done your job and you did it well, they WILL get back in touch with you.

Secondly, make it painless to pay you. Some authors will tell you to invoice a client as soon as possible. I always wait a few days. Number one: I want to be sure that my recording is approved before I send the bill. Number two: I don’t want to give the impression that I’m all about money. Don’t wait too long either. Catch the client in the afterglow of their experience. That way they still remember what they’re paying you for.

Ask clients what their preferred payment method is. If your client prefers PayPal, use PayPal. If your client likes TransferWise, use TransferWise. And when the check clears and the money is in the bank, send another thank you note. Always reward desired behavior!

AND FINALLY

When I received my readers I noticed four things:

  1. They arrived ahead of schedule
  2. They fit like a glove
  3. I received a 10% off coupon for my next purchase
  4. I was encouraged to leave feedback

Numbers 1 – 3 once again reassured me that I had made a wise purchase from a trustworthy company. That put me in the right mood to do something with number 4. An hour after getting my new glasses, I posted a glowing online review. The very next day I received an email from the customer service manager, thanking me for my feedback. It wasn’t one of those automated messages, by the way. It was a personal note that referenced my positive comments.

To those of us who will never meet their customers in person: that’s how you do business, and stay in business! 

So, whether you’re selling a product or a service, do yourself a big favor and don’t clown around.

If you consistently show your customers that you genuinely care, they will be happy to honk their horns!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet. It’s so reassuring!

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Freelancing Isn’t Free

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Social Media 11 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.02.09 PMIsolation.

It’s a common feeling among freelancers.

Voice-overs (like me) especially, may feel separated from the rest of the world because they often work in small, dark spaces, talking to… themselves.

It’s easy to feel lost and lonely without a professional support system, and without colleagues to have water cooler conversations with. 

But if you ever feel small and insignificant as a voice-over, you’re making a mistake.

You haven’t looked at the big picture yet.

The fact is: you are one of many independent professionals.

THE NEW NORMAL

These days, freelancers account for one-third of the U.S. workforce. That’s nearly 54 million Americans, and this number is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2020. 

Evolving technology and changing business needs have made it easier to take part in what some call the “Gig-Based Economy.” This economy is driven by people who don’t rely on a single employer to make a living. Many of them do not freelance out of economic necessity, but out of choice. 

We all know the advantages of freelancing: freedom, flexibility, variety, and the joy of being our own boss. But there are serious downsides to running your own business. Let’s name a few.

Freelancers are running all the risks that used to be carried by employers, but without a safety net. They have no benefits. There’s no paid sick leave, no company health care or retirement plan. Forget about job security. 

Try getting a personal loan or a mortgage without a steady job. Try putting money away for a rainy day if you don’t know how much will be coming in each month. Can you afford to go on vacation? What if one of your biggest clients needs you, and you’re not available? 

Then there’s this…

Many freelancers say they spend as much as fifty percent of their time looking for work, and thirty to forty percent doing the work. This means they’re systematically underemployed.

MANY DOGS AND FEW BONES

An increase in freelancers also means that more people with the same skill set are fighting for a limited number of jobs. Companies love it because they’ll be able to get a great deal. And if they can’t hire the right person at the right price locally, they might just find what they’re looking for in a country where wages are cheaper and people are more desperate. 

Your nearest competitor is only one mouse click away, and she might be living on the other side of the globe where a five dollars per hour pay will go a long way. 

Because freelancers aren’t organized, they are economically vulnerable and unprotected. Richard Greenwald of Brooklyn College is the author of the forthcoming book The Death of 9–5He told PBS’ Paul Solman:

“If you’re working a nine-to-five job, and you don’t get paid, you can go to the Department of Labor, file a complaint and there’s a process for that. If you’re an independent contractor, and you don’t get paid, you have to go to small claims court, because it’s usually a small amount of money, which means you have to take time off of work, you have to sue, you have to represent yourself. One of the big complaints from freelancers is that there are huge delays in getting paid, and there are many clients who just don’t pay them. Our system is not set up to provide any security for them.”

One organization that wants to change that, is the Brooklyn-based Freelancers Union. In fact, November 19th was their Day Of Action to end nonpayment. Before I get to that, let me tell you a bit about this organization.

A NEW UNION?

The name Freelance Union is kind of a misnomer, because it’s more of an association promoting the interests of independent workers than a trade union. Membership is free, and will make you eligible to receive discounts on services like Freshbooks, Squarespace, Geico and other companies. 

The Freelancers Union offers tools like a Contract Creator; the Union gives advice on money and taxes, and you can even get Health, Dental, Term Life, Disability and Liability Insurance through the Union. 

If you’d like to start networking with other freelancers but don’t know how, try “Hives.” It’s an online community where people connect and support each other, and find fellow-freelancers to work with on their next project. 

Some of the best articles on what it’s like to survive and thrive in the Gig Economy, come from Freelancers Union contributors.  Reading those blogs may open your eyes to the fact that we have so much in common with other independent contractors. One of those things is getting paid, and it’s a huge problem.

A COMMON CAUSE

Almost 8 out of 10 freelancers struggle with nonpayment. The average freelancer loses over $6,000 in wages every year due to late and nonpayment. If you haven’t been stiffed yet, count yourself lucky!

Starting November 19th, the Freelancers Union began making some noise with a nationwide campaign aimed at putting an end to nonpayment through legislation that will strengthen protections for freelancers. The goal is to get freelancers paid on time and in full. So, if you happen to stumble across the hash tag #FreelanceIsntFree, you now know what that’s about.

Of course nothing significant will happen if people with the best of intentions sit still. If you’re interested in adding your voice, consider joining the Freelancers Union, and download their free Freelancing Isn’t Free Toolkit. 

If you happen to believe that Washington won’t listen to people like you and me, think again.

A report entitled Freelancing In America 2015, found that 86% of freelancers surveyed, are likely to vote in 2016. Sixty-two percent say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supported their interests as a freelancer. Overall, 63 percent of freelancers think the nation needs to start talking about empowering the freelance segment of the workforce. Freelancers are a significant political constituency, and politicians will have to start listening!

And let me end with some other good news from the report.

WE ARE THE FUTURE

More than half of freelance jobs are now found online, making it easier for most people to become a freelancer. The study also showed that the majority of freelancers who quit full-time jobs, now earn more money. Of those who earn more, 78 percent said that they made more money freelancing within a year or less of starting their business (source).

So, if you ever feel isolated, small and insignificant, it is time to change your perspective. Freelancers are driving the new economy, and they are a force to be reckoned with. Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director, had this to say:

“Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life – one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-5 rat race. This study shows that the flexibility and opportunity associated with freelancing is increasingly appealing and that is why we’ve seen such dramatic growth in the number of people choosing to freelance.”

Now let’s make sure we get paid in full and on time, every time!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Message Very Few Want To Hear

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play 30 Comments

DisappointmentWhat if…

What if you advertise yourself as a pro, but you’re still learning on the job;

What if you wonder why you’re not booking, but you’re too cheap to hire a coach;

What if you’re too lazy to look things up, and count on your community to bail you out;

What if you think you can break into the business on a shoestring budget;

What if you’re convinced you can crush the competition by undercutting rates;

What if you feel that no one has your back, but you refuse to join WoVo;

What if “What’s in it for me?” is your motto, and you don’t care about your colleagues;

What if you expect to make money, but you don’t know how to run a business;

What if your Pay-to-Play acts unethically, yet you don’t raise your voice;

What if your client pays dirt, but you bend over backwards anyway;

What if you are totally exhausted, but you never take a break;

What if you love to complain, but you never contribute;

What if you don’t believe in yourself, yet you hope others will…

Well, I’m really sorry, but I cannot help you. You have to help yourself, and up your game if you want to become a pro.

Pros know what to do. That’s what they’re getting paid for;

Pros never stop learning. Even the best work with a coach;

Pros are proactive, and do their own homework;

Pros invest in quality, and are willing to pay for it;

Pros know what they’re worth, and charge accordingly;

Pros stick together, and belong to the World-Voices Organization;

Pros look at the bigger picture, and care about community;

Pros are business savvy, and price for profit;

Pros speak up when they’re treated with little respect;

Pros work with clients who recognize their value;

Pros take care of themselves, knowing they can’t give what they don’t have;

Pros aren’t whiners; they are winners;

Pros are poised, and self-assured.

Pros realize that talent entitles them to nothing. It challenges them to do everything. 

And above all, Pros know that success is the result of many small, intelligent steps, taken in the right direction.

Success can’t be rushed. It can’t be bought. It can’t be forced or faked.

It has to be learned.

It has to be earned. 

Every. Single. Day.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Disappointed via photopin (license)

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The Ugly Truth

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play 14 Comments

Before you begin, please note that the following article was written in September 2015, long before Voices dot com bought VoiceBank. I think my story proves that past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior. 

Beginning bloggers often ask me how to write a story that gets a lot of attention and traction.

They realize they have to cut through a lot of clutter to reach an audience suffering from information overload, and they don’t know how. 

In a way, blogging is a bit like a voice-over career. With thousands of hopefuls jumping like Shrek’s donkey shouting “Pick me, pick me!,” how do you make sure your voice is heard?

As far as blogging goes, there are a few tried-and-tested ways to grab people’s attention:

1. Have a strong headline;
2. Use numbered lists (like I’m doing right now);
3. Tap into problems your readers are experiencing, and offer practical solutions;
4. Be provocative as well as entertaining.

Stories that prove to be particularly popular are the ones claiming to reveal success secrets of those who have made it. Content aggregators can’t seem to get enough of articles like:

“6 Behaviors of the Most Successful People”
“4 Remarkable Insights to Inspire Social Media Success”
“8 Habits of Exceptionally Successful CEOs”
“11 Secrets of Irresistible People”

I don’t even have to read these stories to tell you what “secrets” they reveal:

• Be yourself, and believe in yourself

• Work hard and play hard

• Be proactive and stay focused

• Keep on learning

• Stay in shape, mentally and physically

• Be persistent and flexible

• Do what you love, and love what you do

• Don’t get comfortable, stay hungry

• Always exceed expectations

That’s all good, but there are a few things that are frequently overlooked. Here’s one aspect all successful people and organizations have in common:

They are open to feedback, and willing to change course when they’re moving in the wrong direction.

A GREAT TEAM

A management team is useless if it only consists of cheerleaders. Cheerleaders love everything you do, and they will only tell you what you want to hear. We can all use some positive reinforcement once in a while, but a great company builds on its strengths, and it works on its weaknesses.

It takes clever and fearless critics to point out those weaknesses. They have the guts to tell you what you don’t want to hear. For that, critics may get a bad rep, because they are often seen as unsupportive contrarians who only want to disrupt and destroy.

Some companies have developed a culture where any form of criticism is being suppressed, because it is seen as being disloyal. It turns out that those companies not only close themselves off from inside critique. They don’t want to hear it from the outside either. And once a business stops listening to those who use their products or services, it is pretty much doomed.

GOING UNDERCOVER

You’ve probably heard of the show Undercover Boss. It features CEOs of struggling companies. Most of these men and women seem to have one thing in common: they have lost touch with reality. They know something’s wrong with their business, but they can’t put a finger on it because the people they surround themselves with are just as clueless, or they are too afraid to speak up.

So, the boss goes undercover and works a few jobs on different levels to find out what’s going on, and to hear what people are really thinking. What they usually discover is that the employees they work with on the show, are very much aware of what’s wrong. Some of them even have good ideas about how to fix it.

The program always ends with the CEO revealing him or herself, and implementing some or all of the recommendations and suggestions he/she picked up in the field. But there’s more.

The people who spoke up (not knowing they were talking to their boss) are publicly praised and rewarded, instead of being punished for criticizing the company.

The moral of the story? Whether you’re a public organization, a publicly traded company, or you run your own business, feedback is necessary for your survival. Otherwise you’re operating in a vacuum. Even if the criticism is harsh, and feels like a personal attack, you are being given a gift. How you handle that gift is up to you.

FLYING SOLO

Now, if you’re a solopreneur like me, you can’t go undercover in your own business. You need some other system to get feedback. That’s where a coach or mentor comes in.

Being a coach myself, I often have to be the bearer of bad news. It’s no fun telling people what they don’t want to hear. Hopes are high and egos are fragile. Susceptible people love to believe that they are special, and that they have what it takes to be the next Mel Blanc or Tom Kenny.

When that’s clearly not the case, it’s easier for a student to blame the messenger, and find another coach who will take their money and tell them what they want to hear. It’s just as easy to sign up for a site that will validate their status as a “professional” voice artist, in spite of their lack of talent. But “easy” won’t get them anywhere, because easy is an illusion.

Here’s the ugly truth:

If recording voice-overs was easy, everybody would be doing it, and they all would make tons of money. Instead, it’s the companies and individuals that want you to believe that it’s easy, that are making the money.

But I digress. The topic was feedback.

VOICES on “VOICES”

Over the past few weeks, this blog sparked a wave of criticism directed toward voices.com (VDC), one of the many online casting services. Colleagues like Iona Frances, who would normally bite her tongue on this topic, felt compelled to respond, and she shared her experience, as did many others.

The big question is: What will voices.com do with this feedback? I’m pretty sure the management has read the articles as well as the comments, and they can’t be too pleased. Countless colleagues have called Canada to cancel their membership, and have asked for a refund. Some have even contacted a lawyer.

If I were the CEO of “Voices,” I would listen, and listen carefully. This is an opportunity to learn and grow as a company. If the critique is valid, changes must be made. If the feedback is based on false assumptions, the company needs to set the record straight. What it cannot do, is to remain silent.

Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.

The worst thing “Voices” could do, is to give those who give them feedback, a hard time. But based on what I have heard, that’s exactly what’s been happening. It’s easier for an elephant to fly in the sky using his ears, than for VDC users to cancel their membership. Even those who thought they had been removed from the VDC database years ago, found out that they’re still in the system!

Instead of trying to regain the trust of members who each paid $399 or more for services they feel they’re not receiving, VDC is giving callers an earful. That’s not how you treat the talent your site supposedly supports. Moreover, it only confirms the negative impression people had in the first place.

After a deluge of devastating one-star reviews in August 2017, the moderator of the VDC Facebook page removed the review option altogether, deleting all the comments. Why does the image of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand suddenly pop up? 

PERSONAL CONSEQUENCES

As for me, I have always retained a free membership that allowed me to monitor developments and changes at “Voices” from the inside. Rather than have other people tell me about sliding rates and managed projects, I could see for myself what was going on.

One day in September 2015 when I tried to log on in, I made an interesting discovery: my account had been removed.

Without any warning or explanation.

Apparently, that’s how this company deals with those who dare to criticize it. You have been warned!

I have only one thing to say:

“Voices.com, thanks for the feedback.

Keep on doing what you’re doing, but know that we’re on to you.

WE HAVE HAD IT!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Casting Pearls Before Swine

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 27 Comments

handing out adviceTo an ignorant outsider, the voice-over community I belong to may seem cutthroat.

Yet, if there’s one thing that makes it stand out among other freelance groups it is this:

Voice-overs love to share.

People with no or very little experience can expect a warm welcome, and a helping hand when they join an online VO-community.

Do you need advice on a microphone? You’ve got it!

Are you wondering how to soundproof your booth? We’ve got you covered!

I could easily spend all day answering questions from people I don’t know on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. However, those days are pretty much over. Why?

Because it is a thankless task that eats up time, and doesn’t build my business.

Perhaps I better explain myself.

LURING LURKERS

Here’s what I know about internet culture. Most online communities consist of lurkers. You know, the people who observe, and very rarely participate. These folks like to take, but never give. They want to play the game, but they never show their cards. Have they earned the right to pick my brain? I think not.

It also consists of lazy people who never learn; people who want you to do their homework. Sorry, but I’m not going to enable an attitude of entitlement. 

Can you imagine a teacher spoon-feeding her kids by giving them all the answers on a silver platter? I thought the purpose of education was to make children resourceful and independent. 

I’ve also noticed another trend: many members of online voice-over communities are simply not serious. How do I know? Just look at the basic questions people ask. If they had half a brain and a genuine interest in the subject matter, they would have figured it out for themselves. But no, they apparently need a pro to hold their hand. Poor babies!

“But Paul,” some people respond… “Don’t be so harsh. You were once a newbie. You had to start somewhere, didn’t you?”

Of course I did, but here’s the thing. When I embarked upon a career in radio, I had more questions than answers. I made it my mission to find as many answers on my own, before asking for help. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of a pro. I wanted them to know that I had done my homework.

So VO-newbies, if you want to earn my respect, do your research!

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

Thinking back to my start in radio, here’s what comes to mind: I was serious, I was committed, and I was willing to make an investment.

You see, that’s another thing that’s missing these days. This is the age of the free ride. Why pay for a song if you can download it at no cost? Why pay for Netflix if you can watch a pirated movie online? Why pay for expert advice if the experts are giving it away?

If we don’t value what we have to offer, we can’t expect others to find it valuable either. Those who are willing to make an investment, are usually invested in the process. Those who are not, have other priorities. 

“But Paul,” some people commented, “wouldn’t it be good for your business if people got to know you as someone who knows his stuff? You might even get some coaching clients out of it!”

Let me tell you something. In all the years that I have chimed in on Facebook or Google+, no one ever contacted me for coaching because they liked my answer to their question. Nine out of ten times I didn’t even receive a “thank you,” or other sign of acknowledgement. That’s why I call it a thankless task. People simply get what they need, and move on.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Some did ask about coaching, but as soon as I told them my rate ($125 per session), they said they were just “exploring options.” It is the epitome of not committing. 

Now, there’s another reason why I won’t be handing out free advice to every Tom, Dick, or Harry. I’ll explain by quoting a question I recently received from Mandy:

Paul, I read your article about your most embarrassing moment in your voice over career. You said that you used to use voices.com, but were only able to book a handful of jobs before leaving the site. I’m a voice actor as well and have been primarily using voices.com to find work. Now you said that you don’t really like the pay to play model and prefer to get work elsewhere. So my question is: what do you recommend for someone like me who is still new to voice acting? Are pay to play sites the only way for me to go being so new? I don’t have a demo or an agent so I don’t have people contacting me about jobs either. What options do I have? I haven’t really gotten much success with voices.com either, and voice acting is not my main source of income. I would very much like to learn and get better at voice acting too. Any knowledge or insight you can share would be great, thank you.

HERE’S MY ANSWER

Hello Mandy:

There are many ways in which I could respond to your comments and questions, but I have to say this first:

Without demos, industry contacts, experience, or an online presence, it’s virtually impossible to build a voice-over career, especially on the side, and especially in 2018.

I haven’t heard your work, so I can’t even tell whether or not you’re uniquely talented. This makes it really hard to give you advice. 

Some of my coaching colleagues might even question whether or not you’re serious about voice acting. They’re definitively not going to give you any recommendations on a silver platter. Their time and expertise are worth something.

I will say this, though.

The only way to get better in this field, is by taking trainings, and/or by working with a coach. Very much like driving a car, you can’t pick voice acting up from a book. You can’t teach it to yourself either, because you’re limited by your lack of knowledge. 

Overall I’d say that it is unwise to put yourself out there when you aren’t ready. No one opens a restaurant without knowing how to cook, right? 

The voice-over world has too many home cooks who all believe they’re the next best thing since sliced bread, and they don’t stand a chance against professional chefs. 

So, please don’t put the cart before the horse and expect to get work. Put in your time, make the necessary investments, learn the ropes, and build a solid home studio. Then we can talk about attracting clients.

Does that make sense?

This probably wasn’t what Mandy expected to hear, because she never responded. 

When it comes to a VO-career, there are too many people with their heads in the iCloud, and all of them believe they could be the next Don LaFontaine. Someone’s got to tell them that that’s never going to happen. Otherwise they’ll fall for all the propaganda from demo mills, unscrupulous VO-coaches, and greedy online casting sites.

UNDERSTAND FIRST

I do want to point out one more thing I tried to convey in my answer to Mandy: it’s rather pretentious to give advice to people you know very little about. You wouldn’t want a doctor to write you a prescription without having fully examined you, right? Yet, with the best of intentions, colleagues dish out advice left and right without knowing whom they are talking to. Stephen Covey was correct when he coined the phrase:

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

I see a lot of people trying to be understood, without really understanding what the issue is. Do you know what I mean?

One last thing.

If all of the above is true, -and I believe it is… why am I still blogging? Isn’t that handing out unsolicited advice to people I don’t even know?

I suppose it is, but you know what? I pick the topics. I usually ask the questions, and I come up with answers. And most of the time, I feel very much appreciated.

Before I started blogging, very few people had even heard of this Flying Dutchman and his voice-over business. Now I am one of the go-to people when companies ask for someone with a European accent. Clients come to me when they need a native Dutch speaker. In other words: this blog has helped me build my business.

If people seek me out for my expertise, they have to come to my site, and not to someone else’s online platform. The amount of traffic this blog generates is worth more than any online ad campaign could give me. And the many friends I have made along the way… that’s simply priceless!

The way I see it, everybody wins, and that is why I will keep on sharing on my turf and on my terms. 

And yes: you’re welcome!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Pondering Bob’s advice via photopin (license)

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