Journalism & Media

One Girl. Many Voices. Perdita Lawton.

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media4 Comments
Perdita Lawton with "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for Voice-Overs and other Solopreneurs," by Paul Strikwerda

Perdita Lawton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you land jobs in this very competitive industry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks, Perdita!

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

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Confessions of a Self-Published Author

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media8 Comments
Debby Barnes with Making Money In Your PJs

Debby Barnes

“Brilliant.”

“Paul nails it!”

“Required reading.”

“Straight talk with heart.”

“Filled with wisdom and passion.”

“Be prepared to have your mind blown.”

“The book this industry has been waiting for.”

“Strikwerda’s writing is razor sharp and always engaging.”

These are just a few superlatives readers have used to describe my new book Making Money In Your PJs: freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs. I couldn’t be more thrilled! Seriously.

I’ve always believed that what other people have to say about your work is way more powerful than what you have to say about it yourself. I guess these quotes prove my point, and I want to thank every contributor for all the accolades bestowed upon me. And you know what?

You guys are sweet but crazy!

I rarely have bad days, but should I ever have one, all I need to do is go to Amazon.com, and read the rave reviews. Nothing is more gratifying or inspiring. And nothing goes to my head faster!

In fact, it would probably be better for my ego if someone were to give my book four stars instead of five. One person will do, if only to convince shoppers that I didn’t bribe my whole tribe to say nice things about me.

Here’s one thing you need to know: being a published author has some strange side-effects.

AUTHOR AGONY

People I’ve always wanted to connect with, suddenly seem to realize that I exist. They even want to be my Facebook friends! I’m flattered that they’re falling for my innocent scheme, and I intend to milk my new status for all it’s worth.

Fame is fickle. Today you’re the toast of the town. Tomorrow you’re yesterday’s news. So, if you’re anywhere near famous in the voice-over scene, please get in touch with me now, before I disappear into oblivion.

April Karys holding Making Money In Your PJs, freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs by Paul Strikwerda

April Karys

Some people believe that my book has made me an overnight millionaire, and want me to sponsor their event, or give away hundreds of copies. News flash: sales are going really well, but I have yet to break even. Publishing a book is much easier than selling it. You should try it some day.

There may be a sexy man on the cover, but Making Money In Your PJs ain’t no Fifty Shades of Grey. Otherwise I would have called it The Naked Voice Over, and Don Johnson’s daughter would be starring in the movie version. I do have one thing in common with E.L. James. We both like dishing out a heavy dose of tough love. I’m just not into spanking and handcuffs. In my book, SM still stands for Social Media.

SLEEPWEAR

There’s one last side-effect I can only blame myself for:

Everybody wants to know about my PJs.

“Are you wearing your PJs yet?”

“Do you go shopping in your PJs?”

“Where can I buy your PJs?”

It never stops.

Enough already!

As if you didn’t know, the title of my book is just a gimmick. I wanted something slightly more interesting than A Voice Actor’s Guide to a Freelance Career. Something catchy. Just don’t expect me to show up in my PJs at every social event. And no, my pajamas are not for sale. Yet.

Now, on to the big news.

THE CONTEST

A while ago, I launched a “Who-wants-to pick-Paul’s-brains-contest.” The idea was to invite readers to take a picture with a copy of my book which I could use for shameless self-promotion.

Well, I’m happy to say that we have three wonderful winners for three equally wonderful prizes.

Debby Barnes will get to grill me during a 45-minute ask-me-anything session. April Karys receives a signed copy of the paperback, and I will interview Perdita Lawton for this blog. Colleague Colin McLean receives an honorable mention because he’s honorable, and I’d like to mention him.

So, what’s the next stop on my book’s journey to conquer the hearts and minds of colleagues and fellow-freelancers?

I’m so glad you asked!

The core of my very humble and altruistic promotional campaign can be summed up in one word:

Perdita Lawton with "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for Voice-Overs and other Solopreneurs," by Paul Strikwerda

Perdita Lawton

WOMAN

This -of course- stands for Word Of Mouth And Narration.

The voice-over community happens to be very good at spreading the word. Some people even get paid for it. At this point, word of mouth has been generating most of my sales, which is pretty exciting.

The other day I was contacted by a VO-coach whose name you’d immediately recognize. One of her students had mentioned my book, and now she wanted a copy. A studio organizing workshops for voice actors ordered a whole stack of books for their students. Voice-over meetup groups are reading and discussing Making Money In Your PJs together. Copies are reaching Spain, Brazil, the UK and the Netherlands. Yes, I am truly going global!

In a few weeks, I’ll finish up recording the audio version of the eBook, which has ten additional chapters

With all of that going on, here’s the big question:

Is Making Money In Your PJs really “the book this industry has been waiting for,” and “a refreshing mix of common sense, business acumen and great storytelling”?

Well, that’s up to you to decide. Don’t believe your colleagues or the author.

Take your business to the next level, and use these buttons to order your copy:

 

Happy reading!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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The EWABS Interview

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media, Studio2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

The segment starts at 30:10.

Enjoy the show!

CONTEST

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

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

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

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

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

PRIZES

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

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

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be Sweet. Please retweet!

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Out In Paperback!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media1 Comment

author Paul Strikwerda with a copy of "Making Money In Your PJs."Many of you have asked how soon my book Making Money In Your PJs, freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs will be available.

Well, I have good news for you!

You can now order the paperback version from Amazon.com and Amazon Europe. The Kindle version is also available by clicking here. If you own an iOS device such as an iPad, click here to download the book. 

UPDATE

A lot has happened since I announced the publication of the book at the end of April. At first I didn’t realize that writing a book and publishing it, was the easy part. Getting people to actually read it, is a different matter. First, they need to know that it exists.

Two weeks ago, I launched a new website where you can read three sample chapters for free. You’ll also find out what people like Dave Courvoisier (news anchor, blogger and voice actor), John Florian (VoiceOverXtra), and David Goldberg (CEO Edge Studio) think of my book. Here’s a screenshot of top of the site. Click on the image to access the site itself.

Making Money In Your PJs by Paul Strikwerda website

This one-page website is based on the FlatBook WordPress theme designed by Erik Taylor. Erik created something that is brilliantly simple and modern-looking. With limited knowledge and experience, I was able to customize the theme, and get the site up and running in no time. Whenever I ran into my own limitations, Erik was there to guide me at no additional cost, which was absolutely phenomenal. 

I also created a fifty-second animated trailer to tell people about the book, and to promote the website. I’m new at animation, but the website www.wideo.co made this process fun and affordable. Wideo is a young company, and the creators of the software personally responded to my questions and comments. You should give it a try!

No promotional campaign is complete without a presence in social media. You may have seen the Facebook page where I am building a community of select readers and fans:

Making Money In Your PJs on Facebook

You can also follow the latest developments on Twitter:

Making Money In Your PJs on Twitter

Every publicity campaign begins with a press release. As a reader of this blog, I’d like to share it with you first:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Making Money In Your PJs is the new book by author and veteran voice actor Paul Strikwerda. Subtitled “Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs,” it offers a unique look at what it takes to be and stay in business as a voice for hire or other type of creative freelancer.

Paul Strikwerda: “Audiobook sales reached $1.6 billion in 2013, and are steadily growing. That’s one of the reasons why voice acting is hot at the moment. Year after year, thousands of hopefuls are led to believe that they can build a lucrative career as a narrator using a cheap microphone, a computer, and an internet connection. Others invest a hefty sum in expensive studio equipment, coaching, and demos, only to get nowhere. Making Money In Your PJs takes a revealing look into this booming industry where many are invited and very few are chosen.”

“Every day, I see aspiring voice-overs treat their new dream job as a hobby and fail miserably. It’s not as easy as it seems. People need more than pleasant pipes to make a living as a voice actor. They have to have business acumen in order to succeed. It’s the stuff nobody teaches you in voice-over school that can make or break a career. That’s precisely the focus of this book.”

Making Money In Your PJs covers topics such as:

  • Transforming a hobby into a profession
  • Successfully promoting a business online and offline
  • Turning potential customers into clients
  • Pricing services for profit
  • Getting paid on time, every time
  • What to do when business is slow
  • How to stand out from the competition


These are topics that not only voice actors need to address. They apply to practically anyone who is self-employed. Although this book is written from the perspective of a voice-over, any solopreneur will benefit from chapters on freelancing, marketing, handling clients, and money management.

Making Money In Your PJs is neither a “get-rich-quick by doing voice-overs guide,” nor a step-by-step course that will take the reader from voice-over novice to top talent in three days. Rather, it is a practical, personal, and often humorous account of what life is like behind the mic. It’s written with insight, intelligence, and a healthy dose of realism.

The sheer depth, breadth, and quality of the information on the pages of Making Money in Your PJs makes this book an obligatory resource in your library of voice-over and freelance success-building. 

About the author

Paul Strikwerda is a multilingual voice actor, coach, and writer with 30 years of experience. His weekly blog is one of the most influential in the voice-over industry. He’s an expert-contributor to Edge Studio, Internet Voice Coach, the International Freelancers Academy, and recordinghacks.com. Paul grew up in the Netherlands and now lives and works in the historic town of Easton, Pennsylvania. Previous books include Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget, and Boosting Your Business with a Blog

You may reach the author via the Contact Form on this website, to set up interviews and arrange speaking engagements.

The actual press release will have my full contact information, but I won’t share that on this blog. I receive well over fifty spam comments a day, and that’s why I’m not displaying every detail on this page.

WHAT’s NEXT?

So far, I’ve been doing most of the legwork myself, and that’s part of my job as an author. But as my campaign is warming up, I could certainly use some help in the word-of-mouth department. I’ve already experienced that voice actors tend to be very good at it (no surprise there), and that’s why I have a question for you.

If you are a fan of this blog, I hope you’ll help me spread the news about Making Money In Your Pjs. After all, the book wouldn’t be here, had you not asked for it! Follow the latest developments on Twitter and Facebook, and do tell your friends and colleagues about it.

The ultimate goal of Making Money In Your PJs is not to make me rich and famous, but to assist and inspire our community in becoming more professional. I wrote it to raise our morale, our standards, as well as our rates.

If this message resonates with you, put on your PJs, and start making some noise!

Thank you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet. 

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Take a Sneak Peek

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Freelancing, Journalism & Media3 Comments

Things are in full swing at Nethervoice Publishing!

My book Making Money In Your PJs will be available in a couple of weeks, and most people want to know what’s in it.

The following, taken from the introduction, will give you a quick overview.

From the outside, a voice-over career seems almost ideal. You talk into a microphone and you get paid. In Part One of this book, I’ll debunk the most prevalent myths that unscrupulous sales people use to try to sell you expensive voice-over trainings and demo-packages. You’ll also get a much better idea of whether or not a voice-over career is for you.

Part Two deals with self-guided learning, coaching, and voice acting. I’ll tell you what producers and agents are listening for when they’re evaluating auditions, and how you can learn to let a script speak to you. I will also reveal my number one trick to get rid of loud breaths and other mouth noises that can mess up your recordings.

In the next section chapter we get down to business. Most newcomers to voice-over will give up within a year because they don’t know anything about freelancing. Part Three prepares you for the road ahead by learning from other people’s failures and successes. That way, you don’t have to start from scratch. 

Having a pleasant voice is nice if you want to become a voice-over, but it’s not essential. However, making sure that clients can find you is crucial for your career. In “Spreading the Word” (Part Four), you’ll learn how to market yourself through your website and social media, and by developing a personal brand. It’s the story of “telling, not selling” any freelancer can benefit from.

If you want to build a long-term career, you’ll need your colleagues just as much as you need your clients. In Part Five I’ll tell you how to separate the pros from the con artists, and I will introduce you to some of the colorful characters you’re bound to meet in this crazy business.

Whether or not you are going to make it as a pro, will depend as much on your ability to read scripts as on your ability to read clients. That’s what Part Six is about. I will show you what you need to know before you start bidding on projects, and I’ll share my experience with one of the most popular voice casting sites.

Part Seven is about money. It doesn’t matter what you do as a freelancer, but if you don’t learn how to manage your money, you are sabotaging your success. I will spend a good deal of time discussing what you’re worth so that you won’t ever sell yourself or your colleagues short. And if you’ve ever been short-changed by a client, the chapters on collecting money are a must-read.

Next up, I’ll talk about the secret ingredient that can make or break a freelance career: Attitude. Part Eight is called “The Inner Game.” Life as a solopreneur can be a roller coaster ride. Some months you’ll feel on top of the world. Other months you may feel like hanging up your hat. How do you deal with that, emotionally? Well, you’re about to find out.

Whether you’re trying to make it as a voice actor, a graphic designer or a writer, freelancing is a means to an end. No matter what we do, our working life affects our private life, and the other way around. In the last part of this book you’ll hear more about the things that move me personally and professionally. 

That’s all you’re going to see for now. 

Meanwhile, you can follow the news about Making Money In Your PJs on a special Facebook page: www.facebook.com/moneyinyourpjs, as well as on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MoneyInYourPJs.

The website for the book is now live and you can check it out at http://makingmoneyinyourpjs.com.

Stay in touch!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
photo credit: will_i_be via photopin cc

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I’m Giving My Book Away

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media124 Comments

3D 1

Well, there you have it!

What do you think?

In a few weeks, my 400+ page book will be available in print and as an eBook. Later this year you can expect the release of the audio version, narrated by the author. He’s giving me a very special rate! 

Until then, you can keep track of the progress and the official release date on a new Facebook page which I’d love you to like:

The Facebook page of "Making Money In Your PJs" by Paul Strikwerda.

I’ll also be posting updates on a new Twitter account:

The Twitter account of  "Making Money In Your PJs" by Paul Strikwerda.

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

In the next week I am launching a website (www.makingmoneyinyourpjs.com), that will do several things:

– promote the book with previews and reviews;

– serve as a companion to the paperback edition with hyperlinks from the eBook;

– provide an easy way to learn more about the author and ways to get in touch with him.

But that’s not all. Eventually, this website will evolve into something much bigger and better. More about that at a later stage.

WOULD YOU LIKE A FREE COPY?

Do you want to be among the first to read my book?

To celebrate the release of Making Money In Your PJs, I am offering a free PDF copy to the first 50 people who leave a short comment in the comment section below. Just make sure you fill in your email address before you click “ADD COMMENT.” Otherwise I can’t reach you. Please do not leave your email in the comment box.

The PDF-version will be ready in seven to ten days, and I’ll send it to you via wetransfer.com.

Meanwhile, enjoy Making Money In Your PJs!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Looking for a graphic designer? Try crowdsourcing with 99designs. That’s where I found mine. Last week I wrote about the process.

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Warning: This Post is Rather Graphic!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Freelancing, Journalism & Media16 Comments

Book loveIt’s time to let the cat out of the bag.

Many of you have asked for it, and it’s only fair that you are among the first to know.

This spring I’ll publish my first book!

I’ve already written a few guides: Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget, Boosting Your Business with a Blog, and a short paper called Selling more Real Estate with Videos and Voice-Overs. You can order them through my online shop.

My new book will become available in 10+ eBook stores, and you’ll be able to buy the paperback version on Amazon. Being a voice-over, I am also working on a spoken version. I just have to find a narrator who can do my work justice…

Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches to the manuscript. Proofreaders are making sure that this Dutchman’s English can pass the grammar and spelling test.

In the past week I’ve been working with a number of graphic designers to come up with an eye-catching cover. Today I’ll walk you through that process. Not because I expect you to be needing someone to design a book cover for you. I want to talk about it to give you an idea of what it’s like to be on “the other side.”

TURNING THE TABLES

You see, normally I’m the one that gets hired. This time around I’m doing the hiring. It’s an intriguing perspective that has taught me a lot in a short period of time. I think it’s also interesting for you, because you may be looking for someone to design a new logo, stationery, business card or a website.

Let me make one assumption right off the bat: You’re running a for-profit business and you’d like to keep your expenses down. So, the first question you have to ask yourself is twofold:

How important is my professional image and how much is it worth to me?

If you’re hoping to attract well-paying clients who don’t yet know you, image is everything. First impressions speak volumes. You may be selling high-quality goods, but if your store looks disheveled, you don’t exactly exude trust. In a world where the competition is only a short click away, you have a few seconds to impress, so you’d better make an impact.

Second question: Are you going to hire a cheap amateur or a more expensive pro? Third: Would you consider hiring a talented family member or a friend?

GETTING TOO CLOSE

Let’s start with the last point. If family ties and friendships mean anything to you, please do not hire someone from your inner circles. Not even a friend of a friend or a second cousin twice removed. Keep those relationships clean. They are too precious to be muddled by money. You can’t afford to lose a friend with a fragile ego, just because you’re too cheap to pay a pro.

It may sound strange, but I find I can be more direct with a professional than with a friend. There’s no baggage and there are no sensitive toes to step on. Instead, there’s distance that allows both parties to focus on the project. It’s much easier to critique and possibly fire someone you don’t run into every Thanksgiving, Passover, or Easter.

The choice between hiring a talented amateur and a pro is not an issue for me. It would be hypocritical to pick a budget-friendly hobbyist over a professional. In my line of work I’d never recommend doing that. Why would I make a different choice when it comes to selecting a graphic designer? Quality work always pays for itself, many times over.

SEARCHING FOR TALENT

My next hurdle was finding the perfect professional to create that eye-catching book cover. I have never published a book before, and typing “graphic designer” into Bing gave me 109 million results. That was no help. So I asked around. After a week I had a few names and phone numbers, but none of those who were recommended specialized in eBook covers.

For unknown authors such as myself, it is absolutely critical to have a striking cover. Not only did I want to avoid the self-published look, the cover had to stand out in an ocean of postage-stamp-sized images in online eBook stores. It also seemed a good idea to work with more than one designer.

That’s why I turned to crowdsourcing. It allowed me to tap into a collective of artists, and ask for contributions from a vast online community.

CREATIVE COLLECTIVE

99designs.com is such a community. Whether you need a logo for your business, a website, an app, posters, flyers, product packaging, brochures, or book covers, 99designs.com can connect you to an international crowd of creatives.

It’s easy to get started. First you select what you need and then you launch a contest. It begins with writing a design brief, telling a bit about yourself, your project, and your target audience. You can also include ideas, images, sketches, and other documents that might be helpful. Once that’s done, you pick a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum package.

For $299 (bronze), you can expect about thirty designs. There’s a money-back guarantee should none of the designs meet your expectations. Once the contest is under way, you have seven days to pick a winner.

Just to be clear, only the winning designer gets paid, and 99designs takes a commission depending on which package is chosen and the level of support provided. 

THE CONTEST

In the first couple of days you hold a qualifying round that’s open to all designers. During that time you can rate the designs that come in, and you can give feedback to each contestant. Based on that, they can refine their design or come up with something new. You can also eliminate what you don’t like.

In the second round you pick a few finalists and you work with each of them to get closer to the design you want. At the end of the week, you crown a winner. After that, you can continue to work with that winner to tweak the end product to perfection.

I have to tell you that I loved every minute of this process. It took up a lot of time, but it was so worth it. I had been dreaming of a book for years, and now professionals from all over the world were inspired by the title and my description. It was fantastic to see how people transformed the same words into very different designs. Seeing my name and the title of the book on a 3-D mock cover gave me goose bumps. All of a sudden, an abstract idea became concrete!

LESSONS LEARNED

All in all, 17 designers presented me with 61 entries. That was way more than I expected at the bronze level. Here’s what I learned along the way.

1. The more specific you are in your brief, the greater the chance that you’ll get designs that are to your liking.

The first draft of my brief was purposely vague because I didn’t want to get in the way of someone’s creativity. A number of designs that were based on that brief were as original as they were hideous. But sometimes you have to see what you don’t like in order to find out what you do like. I bet many of our voice-over clients listening to auditions feel the same way.

As soon as I became more clear in my instructions, I received entries that had a lot of potential.

2. You have to be flexible and proactive to attract more designers.

My contest started as an open competition. This means that every designer could see what other colleagues had entered. Some were not comfortable with that and asked me to turn it into a blind contest. That way, no one could steal their ideas. As soon as I did that, some great new designers entered my contest.

I also decided to revoke the money-back guarantee. This meant that at the end of the process, I promised to pick a winner, no matter what. This made it more attractive for some contestants to take part. It showed them I was serious.

Lastly, I studied the online portfolios of hundreds of designers, and I sent invites to those that really spoke to me. This turned out to be the key to finding my winning designer!

3. The best designers base their entries on ideas from the client and not on their personal preferences.

I wanted to use the color scheme of my website for my book cover because it is part of my branding. A number of designers did their own thing and came up with very dark designs. That made it easy for me to rule them out. I also put in my brief that I wanted to avoid the stereotypical microphone on the cover of a book about voice-overs. In spite of that, some thirty percent of entries had microphones.

Some added tulips to their design. Now, if you’re already familiar with my site, that’s not a bad idea. However, I want to reach a new audience with my book. People do judge a book by its cover and there’s no natural connection between Dutch flowers, freelancing and voice-overs.

I also received a number of designs that would do well in the business section of Barnes & Noble. They made strong statement as covers, but they lacked a certain whimsicality and lightness which I had specifically asked for. 

4. Top designers are great communicators and are open to feedback.

On the first day of the contest I received an entry that really made me laugh. I absolutely loved it. However, the subtitle of my book was missing and I asked the designer to add it. In fact, I reached out to him/her twice. In seven days, I never heard a word. If someone is not responsive in the initial phase, how can I trust that this will change once we’re working together for real?

Nelly Murariu, the young artist who ended up being my top pick, describes herself as “a passionate self-taught graphic designer with a big heart and a desire to get better at what I do every day.” She was quick to answer my questions, even later in the day. I don’t know how she did it, because she lives in Bucharest, Romania! Her English was flawless and she has a great sense of humor. She made sure she understood what I really wanted, before making any changes.

At one point I suggested something that I thought would improve the look of the book. It was a bad idea. Nevertheless, Nelly adjusted her design accordingly. When she sent it back to me, I immediately saw that her initial concept made much more sense. To me, this proved that she knew how the mind of a client operates: If you show ’em, you don’t have to tell ’em. 

5. Winning designers go above and beyond.

Every time Nelly came back with an improved design, it was way better than what I had imagined. My instructions asked for a design that would work for an eBook, as well as for the print version. Nelly sent me 3-D renditions of the paperback, 2-D images of the front and back, as well as the eBook version. In other words: it was very clear what I was buying.

At one point I asked her if she could retouch the author picture on the back because my face looked a bit orange. It turned out that she had already fixed it. This girl read my mind! I felt a bit sorry for the other designers. Mind you, there were some very strong contenders, but every time a cover from another designer came in, I compared it to Nelly’s work.

Most importantly, Nelly made me feel like I was her only client and top priority.

She was so good that I ended up skipping the second phase of the contest where designers go head to head, and I crowned her the winner. You can find her on 99designs as “Nellista,” and you can contact her directly by clicking this link.

A COMPLETE SUCCESS?

To date, 99designs has a pool of 290,172 designers. In 2012 it opened its European headquarters in Berlin, and has launched localized versions of its services in German, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian. Since the start in 2008, the site has paid out $71,576,558 to the designer community through more than 288,987 contests. Impressive numbers, no doubt, but not every designer is happy with how the 99designs works or the commission it takes. It can be as high as 35 – 40%.

Imagine working hard to come up with two or three entries and walking away with absolutely nothing. Well, if you’ve ever auditioned for a voice-over job, you already know how that feels. The big difference is that when we audition, we usually only read a short sample script, whereas these designers are asked to come up with a complete logo, a brochure or a poster. It’s a great concept for clients like me, but it can get demotivating for designers.

Still, no one is forced to offer their services on 99designs. It’s a relatively easy way to get in touch with clients and possibly develop long-term relationships. I will certainly turn to Nelly for future projects, and I highly recommend her to anyone in need of a graphic designer.

For the next two weeks, you can get a free $99 upgrade through this link: http://99designs.refr.cc/W3F6SSR. This offer expires April 10th.

If you’re curious to find out what my book looks like, stay tuned. Next week I will reveal the title, and the cover Nelly designed for me.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Carlos Porto via photopin cc

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8 Ways to Increase Web Traffic – Guaranteed

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion14 Comments

pretty girl holding a megaphoneLast week I revealed that this blog had reached 5,000 subscribers. Since then, this number has increased by another seven thousand, and I haven’t seen any signs of a slowdown.

If you’re wondering how I got to this point and how you can get there too, stay tuned. But before I tell you what worked for me, I have a confession to make.

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

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Looking Back

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media, Studio3 Comments
Nethervoice blog author Paul Strikwerda

blog author Paul Strikwerda

In my last post of the year, I always go back in time to highlight some of the articles you may have missed or would like to revisit.

December turned out to be Gear Month at Nethervoice, and in a way we’ve come full circle. My first contribution of 2013 was entitled “Confessions of a Hopeless Gearhead.”

If you’ve ever wondered why evaluating and selecting new gear is so subjective and challenging, you have to read this  article.

CLIENTS FROM HELL

No matter in what stage of your career you are, you and I have at least one thing in common: we’re always communicating with customers. How to effectively deal with clients has been a recurring theme on this blog.

If you believe the customer is always right, you’re wrong and I’ll tell you why in a story about lengthy translations, short videos and managing expectations. “Bring in the Natives” looks at the many reasons why ignorant clients and careless online casting sites don’t bother with quality control any more.

In “Rotten Carrots and Cool Clients” I will introduce you to Type A and Type B clients, and I’ll show you how you can tell the difference. Here’s the bottom line: stay away from one of them!

VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES & TIPS FOR BEGINNERS

January was the month I finally decided to open up about something I feel strongly about: violence in video games and the role voice actors play in the production of these games. In “It’s just a Game” I weigh some of the evidence on the links between violent games and violent behavior. 

Makers of violent video games may proclaim that all they do is provide innocent entertainment. I’m not buying it. You may not agree with my conclusions, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to consider what I have to say.

Another recurring theme is the position of newbies in the voice-over industry and ways in which beginners can increase their level of professionalism. In “Learning on the job” I expose one of the persistent myths that it’s totally okay to advertise yourself as a pro and treat your clients to trial-and-error sessions.

I even went as far as to share my entire voice-over working agreement with you, so you wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Success does not come easy in this profession, and certainly not overnight. My article “Failure is Always an Option” tells the story of a number of colleagues with great intentions who made bad decisions that killed their career. There are lessons to be learned from failure!

LET’S GET PERSONAL

Every now and then I also give you an inside look into my personal life. I don’t do that because I’m a closet-narcissist (you can read about that in “Call me a Narcissist”).

It’s because I want to draw attention to a charity I feel passionate about: the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. In “Overcoming Obstacles and Giving Back” I tell the story of how my wife discovered she has MS and how she is dealing with this confusing and unpredictable disease.

Together, readers of this blog raised over $5000 for the MS Society, making us the number #5 fundraising team out of 58 in my area. I can’t thank you enough for your incredible generosity!

Speaking of my wife, in “The Wind beneath my Wings” I blogged about the importance of having a supportive partner in this field of work. A partner can be a dear friend but also a life partner. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, if it weren’t for my better half.

As a reluctant introvert, I tend to keep things inside. “The Emotional Dilemma” is a story about how my feelings are influencing my work for better or for worse, and how I am channeling these emotions as I’m interpreting scripts.

Many people have asked my about my background as a voice actor. “How it all began” will tell you more about the early days of my voice-over career.

TECH TALK

Of course no year goes by without me delving into some of the more technical issues that come with our job. In “Get the boom out of the room” I reveal some of my personal secrets to creating a dry recording space.

Factory Demos and Fatal First Impressions” deals with sure ways to kill any chance of winning an audition and what you can do about it.

2013 was in many ways a testing year.

Last week I reviewed Audient’s iD22, a top-notch  audio interface that is my number one pick for best new VO-gear of the year. I also tried out Microphone X from Aphex. It’s a unique USB mic with built-in analog processing.

My new Presonus Eris 5 studio monitors inspired me to write an article about gear selection, and I tried out several gadgets designed to turn a smart phone into a voice-over recording device.

I also reviewed CAD’s Acousti-Shield 32 and their Sessions MH510 studio headphones.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

Getting paid is always a hot topic in voice-over land. A few months ago, I wrote a series of stories on that topic, beginning with “When a client owes you” followed by “Give me my money!” If you’re still waiting for that check that was promised ages ago, and you’re wondering what you can do about it, I’m sure my tips will help you.

For those of you in Europe or with clients in that part of the world, I reported on the efforts of the EU to crack down on late payments. A new EU directive protects people like you and me against clients who demand you deliver your work yesterday and who pay whenever they feel like it.

Of course my blogging year wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two stories that turned out to be immensely popular because they dealt with one popular Pay to Play site in particular.

In “Leaving Voices.com” I told you about my falling out with this Canadian company (be sure to listen to the audio sample!). This article was widely discussed and quoted, and I added a follow-up with “As the Dust Settles.”

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to leave every online casting site that is not working in my best interest and in the best interest of our profession. I’d say that covers about ninety percent of them. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR ME

All in all it’s been a pretty productive year.

Many people have asked me how I manage to write a blog each week (plus guest posts), and to have a full-time voice-over career. Just read “Are You Talking To Me” for some answers, as well as tips for those thinking of starting a blog in 2014.

Of course there are many articles from 2013 that I did not mention in this overview, but I’ll leave it to you to explore more and pick your personal favorites.

If you’ve enjoyed my writing in the past twelve months, I’d like to ask you one small favor.

Please keep on sharing my stories with your friends and colleagues and stay in touch.

Your comments, friendship and collegiality continue to inspire me!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Talking To Me?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media7 Comments

young girl writingDialogue or Monologue?

That’s the question I ask when I read other people’s blogs.

Is the author talking to me or to him or herself?

Dialogue or Monologue? It’s a question I ask myself every time I’m writing a new blog post. Am I really talking to my readers, or am I involved in a narcissistic exercise?

Ideally, I want my stories to be the start of a conversation with you. That’s why the comment section is my favorite part of this blog. I love it when readers share their experiences and offer additional insights.

There are also comments that you never get to see.

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

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