Gerald Griffith, the charismatic creator of VO Atlanta, is a clever cookie. He wants to give the attendees of this conference what they want. How does he know what they want? It’s simple. He’s not afraid to ask. It’s an approach many small business owners (such as VO’s) could learn something from:
1. understand your clients, and
2. ensure that what you’re offering meets or exceeds their needs
Result: Happy, returning customers!
So, over the past eight years, Gerald has been polling his audience trying to find out what kinds of topics they’d be interested in. Doing so, he noticed an inexplicable trend. Gerald:
“The pattern is the same. There’s a lot of demand for tech and business, but those are the most poorly attended sessions.”
This year it’s no different. Griffith:
“When I review the current block of workshop bookings (same holds true for breakout sessions in past years), guess which ones DO NOT show up in the top three? Technology and Marketing.”
For this blog post, I’ll leave the tech talk to the experts, but business and marketing are definitely my cup of tea. Full disclosure: I’m a presenter and panelist in these areas. So, why would people indicate they want more of these sessions, and yet not show up for them? It doesn’t make sense, does it? What’s going on?
First off: polls are opinions, not behavior. People vote with their feet. It’s the problem every pollster has to face: human beings say the socially acceptable thing, and do another. But there’s more.
Advertisers realized a long time ago that most people decide with their heart, not with their head. Business-oriented sessions tend to appeal to the analytical, left side of the brain. Some attendees falsely believe business segments are boring and filled with dry, factual information. In contrast, a hands-on workshop about getting into character animation, led by a brilliant man known for voicing a pig, has way more emotional pull.
Now, if you had a choice between work and play, which one would you choose? The truth is: most VO’s -me included- are more interested in the fun aspects of their job than in running the numbers. Bookkeeping is considered work. Making phone calls is work. Social Media can be a chore. We’d rather talk about how fun it is to bring scripts to life.
In my experience as a coach, many VO’s don’t want to face financial reality. They call themselves voice-over artists, not entrepreneurs. They prefer to stick their head in the sand while complaining about rates going down.
What’s also keeping people from signing up for business sessions is a particular mindset, summarized in these two maxims:
“If you build it, they will come”
“Do what you love and the money will follow”
These two ideas are part of the reason why about one-fifth of business startups fail in the first year, and about half go bust within five years. Only about one-third make it to ten.
Let me ask you this. If you build it without telling the world about it, why would people come? They don’t know you exist. And if they do know you exist, why should they come to you and not to someone else with a pleasant voice?
What makes you so special?
Go ahead and build it, but there’s no guarantee that they will come! Now, what about passion? Isn’t that enough to make the magic money fountains flow?
I know plenty of people who hate what they do, and yet they make a boatload of money. I also know people who love what they do, who are struggling to make ends meet. Investing in yourself by signing up for sessions that will help you improve your voice-over skills is not a bad idea. However, you can offer the best product in the world, but if you don’t know how to sell it, the money will not follow. And in VO, you are your product.
Take a few minutes and Google “reasons why small businesses fail.” You’ll find that most authors are in agreement. Small businesses don’t fail because new entrepreneurs aren’t creative, passionate, or skilled enough. It is because their owners do not run them like a business. A business needs to be properly funded. Many freelancers don’t spend enough money to put themselves out there, and they don’t make enough money to stay there.
Secondly, failing businesses are offering something no one is looking for because it’s already available, usually of better quality and at a lower price. If you’re thinking of starting your own business, you have to find your place in the market by providing something only very few can offer. That’s your niche.
As a voice talent, it’s not enough to say: “I am special because no one sounds like me.” Believe it or not, there are people who sort of sound like you with more money, more experience, better equipment, a quiet recording space, a nicer website, a harder working agent, better branding, greater marketing, and an amazing social media presence. Anything they’re not good at or don’t like to do, they hire experts for. Those who want to do it all by themselves end up working eighty hours a week wondering why they ever wanted to be their own boss.
If you don’t want to belong to that fifty percent of small businesses that close within five years, you have to stop treating your profession as a hobby, as something you do because it sparks joy only. Owning a small business is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting, as well as exhilarating.
Here’s the good news: learning how to run a freelance business is a rewarding journey, and in our community you’ll find excellent tour guides to show you around. Many of the best are coming to VO Atlanta from March 26 – 29.
COME TO ME
On Friday 3/27, I’ll be leading a Breakout Session from 9:50 to 10:50 AM called “The Incredible Power of Words.” I might even bring a Stinky Sock! Here’s how I describe this experience:
“Even though we cannot do our jobs without them, it’s easy to minimize the impact our words have on the minds of the people who listen to us. In this session, you’ll hear compelling stories about how words can transform lives for better or for worse; how words can help and heal, and how we as professional storytellers can inspire our listeners and entice them to take action. And finally, I’ll talk about the things we say to ourselves, and how they can bring us down or lift us up. This session will leave no one untouched.”
The next day I’d love to meet you at my X-Session “Boosting your Business with a Blog” from 9:30 to 12:30 AM. It’s not a lecture, but an interactive workshop open to no more than twelve people. I’ll share the secrets that have made this blog one of the most popular in the business, and my website the most visited personal VO site on the web.
In this volatile, crazy voice-over business, many are called but few are chosen. When doing my presentations, I often look at my audience and wonder: who will be here next year, five years from now, and in ten years? Who will have given up, and who have staying power?
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know this: having a remarkable voice and knowing how to use it is not enough.
The colleagues enjoying sustained success are very likely to give you this piece of advice if you want to do well:
Mind your own business!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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