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Are You Still Competing On Price?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Internet, Money Matters, Uncategorized6 Comments

Philipsburg Mall

In Philipsburg, NJ, the town across the river from where I live, a familiar ritual is taking place as we speak.

A shopping mall is closing.

Built in 1989, the Philipsburg Mall once featured one hundred stores and a four thousand-space parking lot. Today, this enclosed, 577,000-square-foot concrete structure is almost empty, and ready for the wrecking ball.

It’s part of what the experts have coined the “retail apocalypse.” Studies show roughly one in four malls across the USA are expected to close by 2022. This week, Macy’s announced the closure of twenty-eight locations. Pier 1 Imports said recently it would be closing nearly half of its stores.

Overall, 2019 was a terrible year for US retailers. Coresight Research announced 9,302 store closings, and that’s a 59% jump from 2018. In fact, it’s the highest number since they began tracking data in 2012.

AMAZONING

To explain this phenomenon, the same experts point to a trend they call the Amazoning of America. It’s the idea that malls and individual retailers are being pushed out of business by online giants like Amazon Prime and Alibaba.

Others are pointing to a changing economy where the middle class that used to shop at stores like Sears, Bon Ton, and Macy’s is struggling and is looking for cheaper alternatives.

The people who have trouble making ends meet now shop at the Dollar Store. After opening 900 stores in 2018, Dollar General opened 975 stores in 2019, making it the top retail company in terms of expansion. Discount chains like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Aldi and Five Below were in the top five for opening stores in 2019.

Yes folks, the U.S. economy is doing better than ever before!

To counter lower revenues and high rents, regular retailers purposely understaff their stores, and stock less or older merchandise, leading to a poor shopping experience. Good luck trying to get help in a department store these days.

With this in mind, it’s easy and convenient to point fingers at the economy and Amazon for the retail apocalypse. We don’t control Amazon, and we have no influence over something as abstract as “the economy.” If you can’t control it, you cannot change it.

Or can you?

BLAME BAZOS

Someone in my neighborhood was complaining about all the distribution centers being built in my region, the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. “They take up farmland, they lead to an increase in truck traffic damaging our roads, and they’re just plain ugly,” the man said. “I blame Jeff Bezos!”

But what if Bezos wouldn’t have as many customers? Would he still be renovating his $23 million Washington mansion with 11 bedrooms and 25 bathrooms? What would happen if all of us would start shopping locally again, instead of online? Would developers still be building all those distribution centers?

The way I see it, we as consumers have tremendous influence on our economy. The way we spend money is our superpower to bring about positive and negative change.

It is our behavior that is killing shopping malls, bankrupting family businesses, and is giving the Five Below’s of the world billion dollar profits while their cheap Chinese trinkets are polluting the planet with plastic.

We choose the behavior, and we are responsible for the consequences.

As long as people don’t get that and blame outside factors for unwanted changes, we won’t be able to solve the climate crisis, the increase in racism, gun violence, and a whole string of other worrisome developments in our society.

To bring it back to my line of work… many of my voice over colleagues are complaining about rates getting lower, and clients getting cheaper. They blame the free market for their woes.

“It’s what the marketplace dictates,” they say. “A job that used to pay $2500, now pays $250. I can’t change that. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

VALUE PROPOSITION

I strongly disagree. Getting paid $250 for a $2500 job is the result of your inability to make an appealing value proposition to your client, and your ineptitude to negotiate a decent deal. It reeks of desperation and a lack of professionalism.

Just as the success of Amazon (and all its consequences) is the result of millions of individual purchase decisions, the lowering of our rates is the result of thousands of freelancers deciding to settle for less. No one is forcing them, and yet it sends a clear signal to our clients:

“This is what I believe this job is worth. Why pay a penny more?”

Look, I get that there’s a market for the Dollar Store, but why not leave that market to the freakin’ freelancers you find on Fiverr? They obviously can’t compete on value, so they can only compete on price. Let them dabble as they babble pretending to be a pro.

In this new year I challenge you to decide who your clients are going to be. The cheapskates who are the most demanding and demeaning, or the ones who value and respect you professionally and financially? This means drawing a line in the sand by being clear about what you no longer wish to accept for yourself and your community of colleagues. 

It may also mean raising your standards as well as your rates, because clients with bigger budgets expect you to give them their money’s worth. This is where the small shop owner beats the strip mall and the online retailer.

A DIFFERENT TOWN

Across the bridge from Philipsburg, lies the town of Easton, PA. It’s where I live. Easton is a town that warmly welcomes entrepreneurs. We don’t have a retail apocalypse. We have a retail resurgence!

Every month we celebrate the opening of new stores, businesses, and restaurants. People who are sick and tired of skyrocketing New York rents are coming to Easton. For what they’re paying for a tiny NYC apartment, they can buy a historic home or a penthouse overlooking the Delaware river.

The Easton Business Association is a free organization where all members help each other succeed. Together with the Easton Main Street Initiative, shop keepers, restaurant owners, and service providers come up with events that bring thousands of people to the downtown area. Every fourth Friday there’s Easton Out Loud with music, food, drinks, games, and activities for the whole family. 

You won’t find big box stores in downtown Easton. Instead, you’ll find flower shops, bakeries, gift shops, antique stores, vintage clothes shops, art galleries, independent book stores, cafés, pubs, restaurants, and breweries. And did I mention a fabulous Farmers’ Market?

Festivals such as Bacon Fest, Heritage Day, the Zucchini 500 races, and the Peace Candle Lighting bring huge crowds to Easton. All these events are sponsored by local companies and are run by an army of enthusiastic volunteers of all ages. 

In my town you will find unique things made by local artists and artisans you won’t be able to buy on Amazon or even Etsy. When I needed a set of walking poles, Adam (the owner of the Easton Outdoor Company), took over an hour to make sure I picked the right pair, and he taught me how to use them. That’s not an experience you can get online or even at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

COMMUNITY & CONNECTION

What Easton offers more than anything, is a sense of community and belonging that has disappeared from so many towns and cities. It comes from store owners who care about their business and their customers. From people who take pride in what they produce. From people who don’t see new stores as their competition, but as an opportunity to work together to attract more business. After all, visitors like having more choice.

Now, remember that all these stores exist and flourish in the age of Amazon. They don’t compete on price. They compete on giving the customer high-quality and often unique products, pies they can taste, flowers they can smell, and clothes they can try on. These shops offer stellar customer service, and an experience that makes you feel you’re among friends. These ingredients are the warm and fuzzies you’ll never get from a website, no matter how sophisticated or cheap it may be. 

So, in 2020 I want you to stop whining about sliding rates, and focus on how you are going to give your customers an experience they will always remember and are happy to pay for. Let me give you one hint:

You’ll never be able to distinguish yourself as long as you’re part of someone else’s store charging someone else’s prices.

Their roof. Their rules.

The shop owners at the dying Philipsburg Mall noticed that the Real Estate Investment Trust that owned the property treated them as commodities. They didn’t innovate and invest to bring back customers. Right now, the roof is leaking, repairs aren’t being made, and the parking lot is filled with potholes.

Some people believe the owners are driving the mall into functional obsolescence. The land under the mall, however, has value. 

It’s perfect for yet another ugly distribution center. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Grateful

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Uncategorized6 Comments

©nethervoiceIt’s easy 

Not to be grateful

For the things we take for granted

The unseen things we rely on:

Our health, our home, clean clothes and fresh water

The freedom to be who we are

To speak our minds and not be imprisoned for an opinion

To choose our path and not be persecuted.

When news channels dish out their daily dose of misery

It’s easy to overlook the happiness that surrounds us:

The laughter of children

The love of those who stay together till the very end

The beauty of creation

The magic of music

The thoughtfulness of strangers

The kindness of those who still say “please” and “thank you.”

It’s easy to feel entitled

Just because we were born

In the right place

At the right time

And never had to fight for food

Equal rights or education.

We are the lucky ones

The privileged people

Who have the luxury

To live our lives and almost forget

That we have so much to be thankful for.

 

Thanksgiving, 2013

Paul Strikwerda©nethervoice

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The Voice Over Working Agreement

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Uncategorized19 Comments

European Voice Talent Paul StrikwerdaLast week I answered some frequently asked questions about blogging.

Today, I’ll address something I get asked a lot by colleagues who are relatively new to the voice-over industry. They want to know if I have some sort of a working agreement in place with my clients.

The answer is Yes. It’s actually a mix between a working agreement and practical tips that are the result of over 25 years of experience.  

One of the first things I tell them is that I am a member of the World Voices Organization, and that I subscribe to the Best Practices for Voice Talent. I believe in this new organization, and I want my clients to know that I am committed to providing voice-over recordings that meet professional standards that are adopted and promoted by World Voices.

So, step into the shoes of my clients, as I take them by the hand and give them tips and guidelines for working with me.

A. HOME STUDIO & DIRECTION

By hiring a talent with a home studio, you save time and money. The studio fee is included in my quote; you’re not paying for an audio engineer or a director, and there are no travel costs to reimburse. I use professional, top-of-the-line equipment in an isolated, acoustically treated recording space. This allows me to deliver pristine, ready-to-use audio in a format of your choice.

Because you’re not physically present at the time of the recording, you cannot give me directions during the session. Please remember:

I can read your script but I cannot read your mind.

That’s why it is your responsibility to give me clear instructions ahead of time. More about that later. With those guidelines in hand, I will do my very best to interpret and read the script according to your wishes. If those instructions are missing, ambiguous or very broad, I will ask for clarification. If no (further) explanation is provided, I will assume that you have given me permission to interpret the script using my experience and expertise.

B. LIVE SESSIONS

You can choose to listen to a recording session in real-time and give directions via Skype or phone. It is the fastest way to get on the same page. My Skype ID is paulstrikwerda1. You may also call me at 732-322-5292 to communicate during a session.

Remember that I live and work close to New York City, which puts me on Eastern Standard Time. If you’re in Europe (Central European Time), you’re probably six hours ahead of me. By the time Europeans call it a day, I still have many hours left to finish your project so it’s ready for you first thing in the morning!

Important:

1. Please send your script at least 24 hours prior to the session. This will give me time to prepare.

2. If you opt to join me for a virtual session and have to cancel, please notify me 24 hours in advance. That way, I can accommodate other clients.

3. I am always happy to record another version of your script if my interpretation is not to your liking. However, if you did not provide clear instructions ahead of time and/or you changed your mind and chose not to direct me, this will be billed as a new project.

C. ANALYZING THE SCRIPT: TONE, TEMPO & ACCENT

Any text can be read in a thousand ways. The more specific you are about what you expect of me, the easier it will be to give you what you hope to hear. Here are a few ways in which you can get me on the right track:

1. Listen to my demos and pick a particular one you’d like me to match.

2. Ask me to record a short demo of your script to give you an idea of my approach. Based on that, you can give me feedback allowing me to fine-tune my performance.

3. If you’d like me to read in the style of e.g. Liev Schreiber narrating a documentary or John Cleese doing a commercial, please send me a link to a video on YouTube or Vimeo to give me an idea of what you’ll hope to hear.

Important: I am a voice actor and not a celebrity impersonator. Impersonation can be seen as a form of theft and it is illegal to impersonate a person without their permission with the intent to generate a profit.

4. If you have asked me to record a project that was produced in another language, please send me an audio sample of the original and I’ll do my best to match that, if that’s what you want.

5. Give me the backstory of a character and/or an image of a cartoon character you’d like me to voice. Tell me about age, family background, education, occupation, life experiences, accent, intentions et cetera.

D. PRONUNCIATION

I specialize in multilingual projects with an international angle. Correct pronunciation is one of the key factors determining the credibility of your message. Please help me get it right the first time. Here’s what you can do to help.

1. Provide a pronunciation guide in writing, or record an audio version of certain words, names or phrases. Alternatively, you could send me a link to a word on http://www.forvo.com or http://www.howjsay.com or use other online pronunciation resources. Remember; you can also coach me via Skype.

2. Sometimes, a script in one language contains words in another language. You need to make a choice as to how these words will be pronounced. Let me give you two examples.

– A Dutch script mentioned the name of an American company. Even though I could have pronounced the company name with a Dutch accent (as is common in the Netherlands), the client instructed me to pronounce it with an American accent.

– A Dutch e-Learning module about bikes featured many models and model numbers such as “Road Racer 315.” The client asked me to pronounce ‘Road Racer’ in English and the number in Dutch.

3. Please be explicit and write things such as numbers and abbreviations down the way you want them to be read. Examples:

– 120: one hundred and twenty or one hundred twenty?
– January fifth nineteen hundred and twelve or the fifth of January nineteen twelve?
– “In twenty twenty we will host the World Cup” or “In two thousand and twenty we will host the World Cup”?
 – “I’d like to say two things. 1. You are the best” or “I’d like to say two things. Number one: You are the best”?
– “5. The Fall of Rome” or “Chapter 5. The Fall of Rome”?

Tip: Never assume that I know how you want me to pronounce and/or read something.

In doubt, spell it out!

E. REVISIONS, CORRECTIONS AND RETAKES

Most scripts go through many drafts before they land on my desk. I will assume that the script you are giving me is the FINAL and OFFICIALLY APPROVED version. That’s what I will read and record. Once this recording is completed and received, payment is due within the time frame listed on the invoice.

Important: The recording of a script that was revised after the first, officially approved text was recorded, is regarded as a new project and will be billed accordingly.

Retakes that are the result of mistakes I made are always free.

F. TRANSLATIONS

Even though you didn’t hire me as a proofreader, you are paying me for script preparation. Every week I receive scripts filled with errors due to poor translation. Because my name and professional reputation are closely associated with the projects I voice, I will not record scripts that contain grammatical errors and other mistakes made by an unqualified translator.

Tip: I’m happy to translate or retranslate a script from English into Dutch or Dutch into English for you. I charge $0.15 or 0.11 Euro per word with a minimum of $30.00 (22 Euro).

G. AUDIO FORMAT

Audio files can be recorded and saved in many formats. Prior to recording you have to let me know what your preferred audio format is, such as MP3, WAV, AIFF, FLAC et cetera. Add to that the required bit depth (e.g. 16 or 24 bits) and sample rate (e.g. 44,100 or 48,000 Hz). If you’re not sure, ask your audio engineer.

Unless otherwise instructed, I take it that you would like to receive clean, unprocessed audio.

H. EDITING, FILE SEPARATION & SYNCING

Some clients automatically assume that home studio talent will deliver fully edited, ready-to-use audio at no extra charge. Be aware that audio editing is very time-consuming and that it requires a special skill set. Producing one hour of finished audio may take three to four hours of editing! While you may think you’re paying the talent for one hour of work only, he or she might spend half a day in the studio to complete that hour.

Unless otherwise agreed, my quote includes an editing fee.

For some projects it may be necessary to have me separate, label and save many files individually. Bulk processing is not always possible. Please realize that this could take longer than the actual recording and that an additional fee may apply.

If you’d like me to sync my voice-over to a video, make sure your script is time-coded and that it lists a maximum time for each segment. Should a paragraph be broken up into sections that need to be synced up precisely, make sure those sections are time-coded as well.

Alternatively, you may send me the video and the script, and I will time-code it for you at an additional charge.

I. RECEIVING YOUR RECORDING

In general, large audio files cannot be sent via email. Please let me know how you’d like to receive those files and if you’d like those files to be compressed.

Some clients use Dropbox, others use an FTP solution. I often use www.wetransfer.com, a free file transfer service. Once the audio is uploaded, I will send you a quick email. You will also receive an email invitation from wetransfer.com to download these files.

Important: Technology is never 100% foolproof. If something did not go as planned, let me know ASAP. If you did not receive an invitation to download, please check your spam folder. If you did receive the files, kindly send me a quick email to confirm receipt.

J. USAGE OF THE AUDIO

My voice-over rates are based on a number of variables: the medium (radio, television, internet), the market (local, national, international), the length, the nature and the use of the audio. The recording you are about to receive may only be used for the purposes indicated in your request and for the length of time and market we agreed upon in advance, unless a buy-out fee has been negotiated. Should you wish to change the original purpose, time and market, you must inform me of your intentions and additional payment is required.

Important: As long as the invoice has not been paid in full, the intellectual property of the audio (not the script) remains with me.

K. COPIES OF FINISHED WORK & CREDITS

Once a job is finished, I will ask you for a copy of the finished work for my portfolio, unless releasing the work violates a confidentiality agreement signed by me or the producer/client. You agree that I may use all or a portion of the copy on my website or voice-over demo or demos, and reference the project on my resume, but only for promotional purposes of my voice-over services and subject to any confidentiality agreement that may be in place.

If credit is given to those participating in the project for which I was hired, such as the actor(s), editor, composer, producer, et cetera, credit should be given to me as voice talent, as well.

L. PAYMENT

Once the job is completed and the voice-over is approved, you will receive an invoice from my assistant via email. To make sure this invoice reaches the right person and can be processed without problems, let me know to whom the invoice should be sent and to which email address. Please include all the information you need so the invoice can be generated and processed, such as a project number, job code or purchase order number.

I always strive to meet or beat a project deadline so you can have the audio you ordered at the agreed time. In turn, I ask you to make sure the invoice gets paid by the date listed on the invoice, regardless of whether or not you have received payment for the voice-over from the client you are working for.

*                     *                    *                    *                     *

At this point I go over the rest of my payment policies with my clients.

As you can see, I pretty much tried to cover all the bases, but I have to tell you that this is a work in progress. Feel free to add anything I might have missed. The comment box at the bottom of this blog would be perfect for that.

One last thing. The document you just read is followed by a legal section where I formalize this working agreement in a way that would make attorneys very happy. The entire document can be accessed online. All I have to do is send a client a link to the web page.  

Coming up with all these “rules” and stipulations is not a part of my job I very much enjoy. Yet, it’s important to have these things in writing to avoid misunderstandings and possible problems down the road.

It’s part of my free and ongoing Client Education Program, brought to you by the friendly folks at Nethervoice.

Class dismissed!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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