nethervoice

Those Silly Americans

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Personal, Promotion 12 Comments

The authorHere’s a question I get asked a lot:

“What’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over, living and working in the United States?”

Who wants to know?

Mostly European colleagues, who either think I’m totally nuts, or who secretly want to do what I did and move to this land of milk, honey, and doughnuts. Some of them have strange ideas about what my life on this side of the pond is like.

I sometimes have to explain to them that “No, I don’t live in a McMansion; there’s no giant gas guzzler parked in my garage, and I can’t call a Hollywood studio and put in a good word for you.” In fact, this American life I am leading is pretty ordinary and rather unspectacular.

I don’t know what my existence would have been like had I stayed in Holland, but in my experience, setting up shop in the States has as many advantages as disadvantages. My colleague Jamie Muffet just wrote a great piece on that very topic for Backstage, and he had me thinking. 

In this day and age where all of us are part of a huge global network, does it really matter where we do our job? It’s just as easy for me to plug into a studio in Amsterdam, as it is to reach a recording facility in New York or Johannesburg. Even agents who used to insist I make a personal appearance, don’t mind if I send them an mp3 audition. Times have changed.

Although technology has made it easy to have an international presence, there’s something I must admit. It took me a good number of years to find my way here in Pennsylvania, and at times I still struggle to make sense of my surroundings and the culture I live in. Personally, and professionally. For instance, I had a hard time trying to figure out how to position myself as a voice for hire.

CONFUSION

From a marketing perspective, it is important that clients have a clear concept of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a talent. When I first came here, people were mainly confused, and I don’t blame them. I spoke with a distinct British accent (the one I was taught in school), and most Americans thought I was from the UK. It was both a good and a bad thing.

It was good because casting directors who didn’t know any better, often hired me to play the part of a stuffy English professor. I even did a voice-over promoting a Beatles jukebox musical on Broadway. I tell you: it was fun being a fake!

There was a downside to having this posh accent. I felt that people were judging me all the time. They either thought I was highly intelligent, or a pompous ass. Of course neither is true. I can’t say it helped me define my professional identity as a native Dutch speaker. Then there was something else I stumbled upon.

IGNORANCE

Even though the United States is supposed to be this big melting pot, I’ve learned that Americans struggle with languages and accents. Many of them have never left the country, and they are rarely exposed to different tongues and twangs, the way Europeans are. Thanks to a brilliant educational system, their sense of geography tends to be off too.

A few weeks ago an agent asked me to audition for a documentary, and she was convinced my accent would be perfect. “You’re Dutch. You should nail this one,” she said. The minute I got the script I saw it was about an old ship… from Denmark. “Well, Dutch and Danish are pretty much the same, aren’t they?” the agent stated.

Not really. And Copenhagen is not the capital of the Netherlands.

Another thing I’ve had to explain over and over again, is the difference between Dutch and Flemish. Flemish is a kind of Dutch, spoken in a specific part of Belgium. It’s as different from Dutch as British English is from American English. That means you shouldn’t hire a Dutchman to voice a commercial meant for viewers in Belgium. But most people in the States don’t know that.

I used to get very annoyed with these ignorant Americans, but having lived here for over ten years, I’ve come to realize that many of them don’t know what they don’t know. Instead of holding it against them, I do my best to educate casting directors and agents, without sounding like a European know-it-all. And quite often they are very grateful for my advice.

Here’s another thing I learned the hard way.

SELF-PROMOTION

Coming from a Calvinistic country where any form of self-aggrandizement is frowned upon, I found out that in America modesty isn’t always an asset. In fact, people like talking about themselves. A lot. If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?

I had to learn to be comfortable with my accomplishments, and speak and write about them openly. In Holland I would have been accused of bragging. Here people say: “Don’t be shy. It’s okay. You have every reason to be proud.”

When talking to a potential client or an interested agent in the U.S., I make sure to sell myself as best as I can. When I’m dealing with someone in Europe, I like to tone it down considerably.

Another thing I realized was that Americans tend to be quite informal. Before you know it, you’re on a first-name basis talking about your family with someone you barely know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people who come across as friendly, want to be your friend. Give it a few weeks, and they might not even remember your name. Don’t take it personally. 

Things are gradually shifting in Europe, but unless a new client signs his or her emails with a first name, I err on the side of caution, and I’m much more formal.

FEELING LIKE A KING

So, what’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over in the United States? 

In the Netherlands we have a saying: “In the land of the blind, the guy with one eye is king.” As one of the very few native Dutch voice-overs in North-America, that’s often how I feel. I’m a small orange fish in a huge pond. In all the years I have lived here, my English accent has changed considerably. It’s no longer British, and it’s not entirely American either. As I explained to Jamie Muffet: 

“Demand for a Dutch narrator isn’t exactly overwhelming, and thanks to the Internet, my competition in Holland is only one click away. My real niche is in ‘neutral English’ voiceovers, meaning my accent is neither British nor American. It’s more of a European twang, and businesses wanting to increase their global appeal hire me because of my international sound.”

If that’s not shameless self-promotion, I don’t know what is…

On occasion I go back to the Netherlands to see friends and family. I walk around in this tiny country, and I comment on how everything is so close, and how small things are. It’s guaranteed to make my Dutch friends laugh out loud.

“Oh, Paul,” they say…

“stop being such a silly American!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet, Please retweet!


The Mistake You Don’t Want To Make

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 14 Comments

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

It’s a deceptively simple five-step process:

1. Decide what you want.

2. Know your reasons why.

3. Take massive action. 

4. Notice what’s working or not. 

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

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

LOUDER THAN WORDS

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

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

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

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

VALUES AND MOTIVES

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

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

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

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

“Why is X, Y or Z important to you?”

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

CARING FOR YOUR CAREER

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

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

I often see a failure to:

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

 

LIVE AND LEARN

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

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

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

If you fail to learn, you learn to fail.

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

Life does not reward intentions. It rewards action.

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

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

“To do or not to do,

that is the question!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Eline via photopin (license)


The Weight Of The World

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 22 Comments

AtlasParis. Ankara. Istanbul. Brussels.

On some days this beautiful planet is so full of hatred and hardship that I feel guilty writing about such trivial things as “work.”

It sure is fun to blog about freelancing, marketing, and microphone technique, but I have to ask: “To what avail?”

Does it lead to a deeper understanding of the human psyche?

Does it tell us why young, radicalized men stuff their luggage with glass and nails, before they blow themselves and innocent others to bits and pieces?

Does it explain why so many people still believe that violence is the only way forward to further a cause?

As a blogger, shouldn’t I be writing about those issues, instead of talking about home studios, auditions, and online casting companies? 

Whenever I ask myself these questions, I have to remind myself of where I came from.

Before leaving the Netherlands, I worked as one of those stone-faced newscasters informing the world of yet another tragedy. On air, I asked countless experts about the roots of evil, and I grilled politicians about their ideas on how to fix a broken world.

Day after day I reported on endless suffering and strife, and I was part of the sensationalist “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” gang, that determines what is newsworthy and what isn’t. On sunnier days I would be searching for that snippet of positive news we could end our program with, to remind the listeners that not all people are perverts, rapists, or suicidal religious radicals. 

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the excitement and the adrenaline of the newsroom. It gave me a steady income, a certain status, and a sense of purpose. A democracy can only function when people are able to make smart decisions based on hard facts, and I was in the business of providing those facts. My radio station also gave me a unique opportunity to hold the feet of the famous to the fire.

Yet, one day, it all fell apart when I noticed myself caring less and less about the horror stories I was covering. In the beginning I would blame my lack of response on the need to “stay professional,” meaning detached from the raw emotions that are part and parcel of every human tragedy. I was supposed to stay as neutral as our network professed to be, and not get emotionally involved. But it came at a price. 

I gradually developed a tendency to disassociate myself from all kinds of feelings. Positive and negative. That invisible screen I was using to shield myself from sadness in the newsroom, had become like a second skin. It protected me, and it numbed me at the same time.

Over time, I came to a frightening realization:

I had lost one of the very few things that separates humans from animals: the ability to empathize.

I’d seen this happen to veteran journalists who were trying to cope with the crazy demands of their job. Some became chain smokers, heavy drinkers, and lifelong cynics. Others filed for divorce. It was not a road I wanted to travel.

One day, after covering yet another disaster, I just knew I had reached my limit. Years of reporting had done nothing to change the world. If anything, the world had gotten worse. All I wanted was to get out of broadcasting, and do something useful with my life. Something exhilarating. Something inspiring. Something uplifting.

When I finally left the poisonous bubble that was the newsroom, it took me a while to adjust to a new reality. A reality that wasn’t nearly as violent as I had thought it would be. Slowly but surely I discovered a world filled with kindness and good people. It was as if someone had opened the dark blinds that had been filtering the light from the windows for such a long time.

I came to realize that the news I had covered for all those years focused on the exceptions; on the grotesque and the extraordinary. The thousands of planes that land safely every day will never be on CNN. It’s the plane that crashes that ends up making headlines. And if you add all those headlines up, it’s easy to get the impression that this world is rotten to the core. But it’s a deliberate distortion of reality, contrived to kick up the ratings. 

Reality is so much better and less sensational than the networks want you to believe. For most of us it is reassuringly unspectacular and ordinary. It revolves around friends, family…. and work. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to blog about work, even when evil forces are trying to fill this world with fear.

The question remains: how do we respond to those who want to scare us by causing panic, pain, and suffering?

How do we deal with the fact that -to quote Harold Kushner- bad stuff happens to good people?

All of us have to come to terms with this in our own time and in our own way. Life and death are mysterious teachers.

Let me leave you with what I think.

The only way we can learn to live with darkness, is to focus on the light, and to become a reflection of that light.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us were born with the ability to shine. 

Once we start taking that to heart, perhaps we can begin making this place a better world.

In Paris. In Ankara. In Istanbul. In Brussels.

Everywhere.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.  


The Turning Point

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play, Personal 23 Comments

Potentially, this could be my shortest blog post ever.

It’s the story of how I got from doing okay, to doing quite alright, professionally speaking. 

Almost every week I get emails from readers, asking me to reveal the big secret to my so-called success. 

Why “so-called success”?

Well, everything is perception, and perception is everything. 

Before I tell you about this secret, you should probably know a bit more about me. 

As a freelancer, I work in a highly competitive and increasingly crowded field: I’m a voice-over. I talk for a living. The other day I recorded an audio tour of a gorgeous area in the North of France. Today I’m pretending to be a medical doctor, telling physicians about the side effects of a new cancer drug. It’s a fun job with many pros and cons. 

As a player in the new gig economy I have a lot of freedom, no benefits, and very little protection. Weeks of underemployment are usually followed by a crazy busy period where I’m scrambling to finish every project I was hired to do on schedule. It’s feast or famine. 

A voice actor’s income can vary tremendously. Some twenty-second commercials bring in thousands of dollars, particularly if you’re an A-list celebrity, which I’m not. An hour of e-Learning or audio book narration may generate a few hundred bucks (before expenses and taxes). Most clients come and go. Very few stick around.

Although my work is not physically demanding, sitting still in a small, dark studio behind a microphone for hours and hours, isn’t exactly healthy. It’s also easy to feel socially isolated because my colleagues are all sitting in small, dark studios in different parts of the world. And I’ll be honest: at times the stress of being out of a job as soon as a project ends, can get to you. Work fluctuates, but bills keep coming. 

Even though I think I’m experienced and highly qualified, most of my days are dominated by the search for new clients, and by auditions. Every audition is a crapshoot. Like most of my colleagues, I try to read between the lines of vague specs and scripts, attempting to second-guess what the invisible client is hoping to hear. And most days I’m wrong, and someone else ends up getting the gig. 

Now, in spite of this sad story, I love what I do for a living, and I don’t think there’s anything else I’d rather do, career-wise. I’m not a good candidate for a 9 to 5 job. I can’t stand bosses who have risen to the level of their incompetence. I’ve had too many of them. I wouldn’t want to waste hours a day being stuck in rush hour traffic, just to make some corporation happy. I rejoice in the fact that I don’t have to go to endless staff meetings or mandated office parties. Been there. Done that. 

My accountant is also pleased because every year I make more money than the year before. There’s still no Lamborghini parked in my driveway, but I can live with that. And every time I book a new job, I realize that there are probably hundreds of hopefuls who are trying to figure out why the client picked that silly Dutch American with the European accent over them. 

I know… It baffles me too!

Taking all of that into account, how did I get from doing okay to doing quite alright?

Do I use a special microphone that turns my vocal folds into the Voice of G-d?

Are eager talent agents fighting to add me to their roster?

Am I friends with the movers and shakers of the voice-over industry?

I have to disappoint you. It has very little to do with all of the above. 

Sure, I use first-rate recording equipment. I have a number of great agents and a nice network of connections. But the thing that has made a real difference in my career is not something you can buy, and it has nothing to do with other people. So, what is it? 

It is a strong belief in the Law of Cause and Effect. The mechanism of action and reaction. Specifically, my preference to rather be at the cause-side of the equation, than at the effect. It boils down to this:

I see myself as the prime instigator of change in my life. Change through choice. 

I choose to be proactive (at cause) instead of reactive (at the effect). It’s the difference between sitting in the driver’s seat, and being a passenger. I like to hold the wheel and set the course. 

People who share this belief are go-getters. They take the initiative. They take responsibility. 

People who prefer to be passengers are usually more passive. They tend to be finger pointers and complainers, who often see themselves as victims. They’ll sue McDonald’s for making them fat, or for serving coffee that’s too hot.

Here’s a question you can ask to determine where someone stands: 

“Do you like to let things happen, or make them happen?”

Of course I know we’re not omnipotent, and that certain things are beyond our grasp and control. My attitude only applies to the things I feel I can actually influence, and the person I can influence the easiest is… me. 

I control what I put in my body, I control the size of my portions, and I decide how much I exercise. I don’t blame the fast food industry for my expanding waistline. To bring it back to my profession: I don’t blame online casting sites when my voice-over career isn’t where I want it to be. Instead I ask myself what I can do to increase my skill level, to promote my services, and to attract more clients. 

Being “at cause” means being accountable for taking or not taking the necessary steps to achieve a specific goal. 

That’s why as a voice-over coach I never guarantee results. I tell my students:

“As your mentor I don’t have magical powers that will result in you booking jobs. I will give you tools, but it is up to you to use those tools effectively and appropriately. You are responsible for your own results.”

On a superficial level my proactive philosophy may seem a no-brainer, but it’s not. It is a lot easier to blame and complain than to take fate into your own hands. 

Being “at cause” means sticking your neck out. Taking risks. Doing the hard work. Making tough decisions. Going against the grain. 

It’s not an easy way out. Quite often, it’s an uneasy way in. 

The moment I decided to take charge of my career and be “at cause,” was a turning point in my life. The effects of that decision have brought me to where I am today. From being a spectator, to being an instigator. From doing okay, to doing quite alright.

And you know what?

You can apply this principle in any area, whether personal or professional. 

Now, if you’re still with me, you have noticed that this wasn’t the shortest blog post ever, and I apologize. 

I guess I could have condensed my message into three words:

Just 

Be

Cause.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet!


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

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


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.


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)


Call Me Oscar

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 19 Comments

Oscar the GrouchCurmudgeon.

I just love the sound of that word, don’t you?

Curmudgeon.

Linguists believe it dates back to the 1570s, but no one can tell for certain where it came from.

If you’re like me, and English is your second or third language, you might not even know that curmudgeon is used to describe a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person. It’s the archetypal grouch: unpleasant, argumentative, stubborn, and unsociable.

A while ago I made a surprising discovery. I was talking to a colleague whom I had never met before, and near the end of our conversation she said to me:

“I can’t believe how nice you are. You’re not at all what I expected.”

“What did you expect?” I asked.

“Well, based on your blog I always thought you were this grumpy, super-serious, sourpuss kind of a guy. I mean, you’re always so critical of newbies, clients, and colleagues, and you don’t exactly mince words.”

“You thought I was a curmudgeon,” I interjected.

“Your words, not mine,” she said, “but to be honest, I had expected some cranky complainer. You’re not like that at all.”

Normally I don’t fall for flattery, but her comment made me smile. A little bit.

“In a previous life I used to teach self-help seminars,” I said, “and your observation reminds me of one of the main messages I impressed upon my students:

The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

It’s the idea that it doesn’t really matter what people write or say. The meaning comes from how listeners interpret and respond to what was written or said. Intentions -good or bad- are irrelevant.

My colleague looked puzzled.

“Let me give you an example,” I continued.

“Bono, the U2 frontman, was on a fact-finding mission in Africa. One of his hosts gave this long-winded, academic spiel on the origins of urban poverty and the rise of AIDS. At one point Bono had had enough. ‘Excuse me,’ he said. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

‘But I just explained it to you,’ said his host annoyed. ‘I was as clear as I could be. Perhaps this is going over your head. After all, you’re not an expert.’

‘Perhaps you should explain it better,’ answered Bono.

I looked at my colleague and said:

“The meaning of our communication is the response we get. This academic thought he was making himself perfectly clear, yet Bono’s response told him otherwise. Who was at fault here?

The way I see it, Bono was right. Now, let’s bring this back to you and me. I believe it is our responsibility to communicate a message in such a way that the other person will understand its true meaning. If that’s not the case, we need to explain ourselves in a different way until understanding is reached. 

Unfortunately, most of my teachers -whether in elementary or in high school- never got that concept. If a pupil didn’t comprehend something that was explained to them, they always blamed the “dumb” student.”

“And how is all of this connected to your blog?” asked my colleague.

“Perfect example,” I said. “Here I am… attempting to make a connection between my blog and your expectations of me as a person, and I fail miserably. So, let me try again.

Based on my blog, you thought I would be a certain way, correct? And as you admitted, I wasn’t like that at all. Is that your fault? Not really. Your initial impression was based on my writings. Your response was the meaning of my communication. So, I thank you for your feedback.”

I paused for a moment before I opened up.

“You know, I don’t really want to come across as the curmudgeon of the voice-over world. That’s not who I am. As you have noticed, I don’t take myself too seriously. I love most of my clients and colleagues, and I love what I do for a living. I also want to warn newbies before someone takes advantage of them. That’s one of the reasons why I started blogging.

I blog to provide an antidote to all those manipulative marketing messages telling gullible people what they want to hear. At least, that’s my intention.”

“Well, that comes across loud and clear,” said my colleague. “But perhaps you could sprinkle it with a bit of humor every now and then. Lighten up, and don’t be so preachy. I know your dad was a minister, but a blog is not a pulpit.”

“Amen to that,” I said. “Thank you again.” A few moments later, we parted ways.

Later that day I got a phone call.

“Hi, remember me?” asked my colleague. “I’ve been thinking about that conversation we had this morning, and I need to know something. Were you talking about yourself, or were you talking about me when you told that Bono story?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, earlier on I had told you about the difficulties I had communicating with a client. I didn’t feel he understood me, and I blamed him for purposely missing the points I was trying to make. After you and I talked I did my best to see things from his perspective. I modified my approach and my tone in the last message I sent him. He just emailed me back, and I think we’re finally getting somewhere. Am I on the right track?”

“I don’t think I have to answer that question,” I said. “You changed your communication, and you got a different response. Congratulations. You’re a fast learner!”

“And you’re a pretty good teacher,” she responded. Then she laughed.

“For a curmudgeon, that is…”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Oscar the Grouch via photopin (license)


Do Nice People Always Finish Last?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 6 Comments

smiling girl in a princess dress“Why do clients always think they can play me?” said one of my students. Let’s call her Ella.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, first they try to nickel and dime me, and then they expect me to record a major revision of a script for free. After going above and beyond to keep them happy, they wait months and months to pay me. I’m sick of it! Who do they think I am? Some kind of doormat?”

“If anything, you’re a goody two-shoes,” I said, “and that might be part of your problem.”

“How so?” my student wanted to know.

“I’ll get to that in a moment,” I responded. “First you have to acknowledge something I had to learn the hard way.”

“And what is that?”

“It’s the fact that it’s virtually impossible to change other people. You can only change yourself. So, if you want a different response from a client, you have to change the way you respond to them. That’s the way it works in any type of relationship. And when you act differently, your environment might start to treat you differently.”

“Can you give me an example?” Ella asked intrigued.

“Sure. Here’s one thing I noticed when we started working together,” I said. “You’re a very friendly person who will go out of her way to please people. You also have a tendency to become very informal very quickly.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a kind and open person. However, you can be friendly and business-like at the same time. There’s no need to share all kinds of personal details with someone you know professionally. You work together to get a job done. You don’t have to become best buddies. In fact, I think it’s often best to keep your personal life out of it.

Because you tend to be so informal with everybody, some clients might get the impression that you’re not very professional. It’s a lot easier to push people around who don’t seem to know what they’re doing. Do you know what I mean?”

“I totally get it,” Ella said. “I probably come across as someone who is very naive and inexperienced.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me, Ella, and part of this business is all about perceptions. If people perceive you to be weak in one area, they’ll take advantage of it.”

“So what do I do?” Ella asked.

“Use your secret weapon,” I said. “Use your voice!

I have noticed that your voice has a tendency to go up at the end of most sentences. You might not even be aware of it, but it sounds like you’re not very certain of yourself. Everything ends in a question. It makes you sound insecure. And if you seem insecure, clients won’t trust you. We’ve got to work on that.”

“Perhaps I am insecure,” said Ella. “I don’t have a lot of experience, and I don’t want to lose a client because he doesn’t like me.”

“Thanks for bringing that up,” I said. “Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that you are rather inclined to take things personally. Is that true?”

Ella nodded.

“That’s going to be tough in this business. Very tough. In any given week you’ll hear a lot of no’s, and very few yeses. If you take every single no as a personal rejection, you’ll be absolutely miserable. And I don’t want that to happen. You’re too talented.

Unless you completely messed up, or the quality of your recording was abysmal, it is never about you. It is all about the subjective opinion of the person casting the job. Emphasis on subjective.

Now, back to using your voice.

If you end your sentences with a period instead of with a question mark, you’ll sound a lot more confident. Period. You might not feel entirely confident, but the client doesn’t know that. You also have to work on your breathing, but that’s for another day.

Secondly, keep things strictly business. Remember, you are the expert. That’s why they’re thinking of hiring you. They’re not looking for a new friend. 

Take charge of the conversation, and -if it is a new client- explain how you usually work. Let the client know they’re in good hands. And one more thing: stop apologizing all the time. You came in seven minutes ago, and you’ve already apologized ten times for things that weren’t even your fault. Why?

“I’m sorry,” said Ella…

And then she realized what she was doing. She blushed, and said: “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“I know you’re not doing it on purpose, but it’s not doing you any favors. Did you have a Catholic upbringing?”

“No, said Ella. “I’m Jewish.”

I laughed.

“Now, let’s get back to what we were talking about. I was giving you some advice, so here’s another thing I want you to consider: only take on a job you know you can handle. Be clear about your policies and procedures, and be firm about your rates. Never negotiate a rate after the fact. Get to an agreement before you go into the studio, and confirm things in writing ahead of time. Are you following me?”

“I’m listening,” said Ella, “and it all makes sense. I just don’t know if I can come across as someone who has been doing this for years. I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not. That’s not who I am.”

“I understand that” I said, “but here’s the good news:

In this business you get paid to pretend.

I just recorded a voice-over for a pharmaceutical company, and I played the part of a neurologist. The day before I worked on a guided tour for a museum, and I was cast as a historian. Who knows what they want me to be tomorrow? A mad scientist? A cartoon character? A Flying Dutchman? That’s the fun of this job! You can pretend to be anyone you want, and make some money too! The better you are at pretending, the more in-demand you’ll be as a voice-over.

If you can convince the client you mean business, you are in business.”

Ella looked at me, and I could see that my words had ignited a spark. 

“Ella, listen to me. You know that as soon as you get a script that reads like it’s been written for you, you’ll knock it out of the park, right? In other words: it’s not even a matter of being qualified or not. It’s a matter of you believing in yourself. Don’t you agree?

A wise teacher once said: You can pretend anything, and master it.

So, let’s start this coaching session by “pretending” you know the ropes, okay? We’ll do a mock conversation with a potential customer. I’ll be the obnoxious client, and you’ll be the brilliant voice talent. It is your job to convince me that you are the right person for the job. 

Are you game?”

Ella smiled.

“As in voice acting, you might need a few takes before you hit the nail on the head, but by the time we’re done, you’ll know how to respond like a pro, and you’ll never be played again.

How does that sound?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Wanderin’ free | Part of your world via photopin (license)


Turning Resistance Into Results

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 9 Comments

push upEvery January I see them walk in.

The men and women who told themselves: “I can do this!”

They’re sporting brand new workout clothes, and are wearing fancy gym sneakers that have yet to be broken in. Water bottles in hand, they flock to the eight o’ clock spinning class lead by Helga, a platinum blonde transplant from Germany. Her voice is as muscular as her thighs.

As the newbies adjust their exercise bikes, the regulars look at each other knowingly. We’ve seen this sad ritual many times. Give it a few weeks, and it will all be over. 

BAILING OUT

February has barely begun, and half of the new recruits have already given up. “It wasn’t really my thing” they tell their friends with a faint smile. “But at least I tried, and that’s worth something, right?”

Luckily for them, they only paid for a trial membership. It’s the ultimate cop-out for those who can’t or won’t commit. How do I know?

A few years ago, I belonged to this group of dropouts, and I’m not proud of it. But last year I made a courageous comeback, and today I feel like I’m part of the LA Fitness furniture. To me, a gym workout is the ultimate stress-busting, fat-burning, energy-boosting experience. Here’s something else I discovered along the way.

The microcosm of the gym is a powerful metaphor for the real world. In fact, there are lots of parallels between my professional life as a voice-over, and what’s happening on the gym floor. Do you think this is a stretch? Let’s talk about machines!

1. The best equipment does not guarantee results. It’s how you use it that matters.

People hurt themselves on the gym floor all the time, because they don’t know how to use the equipment. They start lifting, pushing or pulling, without adjusting the machines first.

Willful ignorance leads to lack of results and could be damaging.

This is true in so many contexts. Whether you’re a professional photographer, a graphic designer, or a musician, you need good tools to get the job done. But owning a million-dollar violin means nothing if you don’t know how to play it well. 

In our tiny voice-over bubble, we love to talk gear. Some colleagues seem to be forever searching for the Holy Grail of microphones or preamps. What they’re currently using is perfectly fine, but somehow they think that getting that shiny new mic will give them a tremendous leg up over the competition. 

In my opinion, it’s much wiser to spend your money on a coach who can help you get the most out of your equipment and your performance. But how do you know which coach is right for you? 

2. Effective coaches are role models who practice what they preach.

Let me ask you a question. While you’re at the gym, would you want to be guided by an overweight, uninterested, uninspiring coach? 

Of course not!

I’m sorry to say that many “personal trainers” at my gym just seem to phone their sessions in. There’s no enthusiasm. No encouragement. No pride in the work they do. They’re merely going through the motions, counting the hours until their shift is over. Some seem way too young and inexperienced. That’s probably because they are.

The word “mentor” means “wise advisor.” It comes from the Greek noun “mentos” meaning “intent, purpose, spirit, and passion.” A great coach or mentor embodies all these notions. Wise people are much more than an experienced source of information. They know how to apply that information with purpose and with passion. And they’re not afraid to give you a hard time and hold you accountable for your progress, or lack thereof! Here’s why:

3. Resistance makes you stronger.

Fans of the diving board know that they need the resistance it offers to jump to the right height. In the gym, resistance training increases muscle strength by making the muscles work against a weight or force.  

If you’ve ever tried to get into shape, you know that you sometimes get to a point where you run up against the limits of what you believe is possible. Your body cries out: “no more,” and your mind tells you to quit. Those moments are critical. During those times you need to push through what feels uncomfortable in order to gain strength and grow. Otherwise you’ll always remain in your comfort zone and coast.

Success doesn’t come naturally to those who are always playing it safe. 

Now, as you’re reading these words, something in your personal or professional life may seem to work against you. This leaves you with a choice. You can see these moments as threats, or as opportunities. Obstacles can become stepping stones, although you might not directly see it that way. Here’s some good news.

At certain times you don’t necessarily need to feel discomfort to know it’s time to up your game and go to a higher level. Here’s my rule of thumb (and I use this in the gym as well):

If it becomes too easy, it’s time for a new challenge, and time to raise the bar.

There’s one last thing I learned from going to the gym:

4. Use others as your inspiration, but never as the measure of your success.

It’s human nature to contrast and compare. When I first entered the gym, I was a bit intimidated by all these lean bodies pumping iron. I wondered how long it would take me to get into shape. I had no desire to look like a bodybuilder, but I wouldn’t mind a bit more muscular definition, and a lower number on the scale.

Then I realized that these guys and gals were once just like me. Over time they developed a routine that worked for them, to get into the shape they wanted to be in. They made changes in their diet and lifestyle, and they had trainers who held them accountable.

Above all, they consistently kept coming, rain or shine. They used persistence and resistance in combination with the right equipment and the best mentors.

If they could do it, I could do it.

And I’ll tell you what:

If I can do it, you can do it!

There’s only one question:

How soon are you going to start?

Or will you be walking out the door within a month?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Interested in working out? My colleague Rick Lance has published a series of “Fitness Tips from a 32 Year Fitness Novice.”
photo credit: Zac Aynsley Natural Fitness Models 1 via photopin (license)