Let’s say you’ve made somewhat of a name for yourself in the VO-community.
Your weekly blog is doing really well, and colleagues want to be friends with you.
People you don’t know seem to value your opinion and start reaching out.
They write messages that begin with praise, and of course you’re flattered. At the same time you can sense where this is going. Inevitably, there will be a paragraph at the end of the email that goes like this:
“I admire your work and I respect your opinion. You must be very busy, but….
* What do you think of my demo?
* How much should I charge as a beginner?
* Which online casting service is the best?
* What microphone do you recommend?
* How do I get an agent? Can you introduce me to yours?
* Why is there a hum on my recording?
* How do I master my audio?
* I do tons of auditions but I never get hired. What am I doing wrong?
Any tips that could help me in my career are more than welcome!”
On one hand I’m happy that strangers trust me enough to ask for advice. On the other, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. I want to help, but I also have a business to run. Clients are waiting to hear back from me. There’s editing to be done. That guest post I’m writing isn’t finished yet, and on top of that I’m fighting a cold.
More importantly: Where does friendly advice end, and where does professional coaching begin?
Then there’s the issue of money. Even though my opinion is considered to be valuable, it is almost always assumed that my advice is free.
That bothers me.
As a voice talent, blogger and coach, I’m not the only one having to deal with this situation. Perhaps there’s something to learn from how other professionals approach this problem.
The following question was posted on a forum for IT professionals:
“Because I’m a programmer, people constantly ask me to fix their computer. How do you handle this situation? Do you make exceptions for relatives, friends and co-workers? Do you charge people for it?”
This is the answer that got the most votes:
“Here’s what you do:
• If it’s a Windows box say, “I only know how to fix Macs.”
• If it’s a Mac say, “I only know how to fix PC’s.”
• If it’s a Linux box say, “You’re a Linux user… fix it yourself!”
Here are a few other suggestions:
“Say you’ll fix their computer. Open their temporary internet files folder and then look totally shocked when you discover the obligatory hardcore porn images that are bound to be there. They probably will be too ashamed to ever ask you again.”
“I have an amazon.com wish list. I do genuinely like helping people, however I feel my time is worth something. Where accepting cash may not feel 100% appropriate, sending them my Amazon wish list has worked very well for me.”
“I give them a visiting card (made for this occasion) and I ask them to schedule an appointment to talk about the problem. End of the story.”
“My personal strategy is just to be very, very busy. Nine out of ten times they’ll find other help by the time I get around to it.”
“I tell them: “I am a programmer, not an administrator. You would not ask an architect to repair your roof, either. Of course, this works with almost everybody, except with my mom. Nowadays I just tell her to get a Mac.”
“My conditions are: First half hour is free, after that, it’s $100/hr. Reason: I like to help people but I don’t like it when I’m abused as free support. So if it really is “just a simple tiny thing,” then no problem, can do. But often “simply tiny problem” stands for “I have no idea what’s wrong; just fix it for me!” As soon as money is involved, they stop and start thinking if it’s really worth it.”
“I fixed her computer (the printer was unplugged!). Now, 4 years later, we’re married!”
Did any of these solutions strike a chord with you?
MY OWN ROLE
As I was trying to figure out how to best deal with requests from my fans, friends and followers, I realized one thing: I created this situation.
I always encourage my readers to respond. The opportunity to connect with people from all over the globe is one of the blessings of writing a blog. But some days it is a mixed blessing. With 38,266+ subscribers, I have to come up with a way to handle questions and comments effectively and efficiently.
Let’s start with blog comments. If you take the time to publicly respond to one of my articles, you deserve to be acknowledged. Quite often, your reaction will give me a chance to delve a bit deeper into what I’ve been writing about, or to clear up misunderstandings. The bottom line: if you care to comment, you can expect an answer.
As of this moment, there are 6,608 comments on this blog, and my guess is that half of them were penned by me in response to someone’s remarks. (the oldest article dates back to May 2009).
Now, what do I do with questions that reach me outside of this blog? Well, I start by looking at three things:
1. Who’s asking?
2. What are they asking?
3. How are they asking?
You’d be surprised how many people contact me out of the blue without even introducing themselves. Maybe they have a feeling they already know me because they’ve been reading my blog for a while. Still, why can’t we treat an email as a regular conversation? I’d never walk up to someone new with a question without introducing myself first.
One of the keys that can make or break a career is your ability to build relationships. Don’t expect to get information without a establishing a relation.
NO BABY TALK
Secondly, I refuse to answer basic questions. It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?
Babies need to be spoon-fed. They’re helpless. Wasn’t it E.M. Foster who said:
“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”
In my experience, the answers people find for themselves tend to stick much better than those that have been handed to them on a silver platter.
What I will do, is encourage people to search my blog. With over 350 archived articles, it is likely they’ll find what they are looking for. If I happen to remember a specific story that might be relevant, I often include a link. It reduces my bounce rate.
Almost half of those who get in touch, want me to critique their demos and/or website. If the request comes from a colleague I’m close to, I am happy to give feedback. I know they’d do the same for me. If the request comes out of nowhere from someone I don’t know, I will charge a fee for my time and expertise.
I tell my readers all the time how important it is that they value their time and their work. I practice what I preach. Besides, free advice is easily ignored. When people make an investment, they’re much more invested in what they’ve learned because they tend to find it more valuable.
The decision to charge money turned out to be a huge time-saver. Nine out of ten people hoping to get free feedback will literally drop off the planet as soon as they are asked to pay. Are you surprised?
There’s a reason why you can get free samples at your ice cream store. It only makes sense to give a freebie if it increases the chances of making a sale.
The only time I will critique a demo free of charge is when someone’s seriously thinking of hiring me as their coach. Listening to their audio will give me an idea of where they’re coming from and whether or not I want to take them under my wings. At the same time, the person submitting the demo will get a better sense of whether or not I’d be a good fit.
A lot of the questions I get, cannot and should not be answered in writing. It would be as silly as teaching someone how to play the Double Bass over the phone. Helping a person with things like script interpretation, diction, breathing and microphone technique, needs a closer, more direct connection. It requires involved interaction over a longer period of time.
THE INNER GAME
You may have noticed that I like to blog about the more psychological aspects of our business. I write about fear of failure, finding your strength, overcoming rejection and so on. Because of that focus, some people turn to me with deeper, more personal questions.
In order to be a successful voice talent, I think it’s just as important to deal with our inner voice, as it is to refine what comes out of our mouth. One affects the other. This very personal aspect is too sacred and too intimate to be dealt with in writing. The spoken word and even silence, can convey infinitely more than letters on a computer screen.
In matters of the soul and of the heart, it’s far more important to actively listen, than to come up with answers. In fact, my personal opinion is irrelevant.
As a coach I believe it’s vital to help people connect to their own wisdom, instead of making them dependent on someone else’s ideas.
How do I facilitate that process?
By asking questions.
You’ve heard me.
Nine out of ten times, I’d rather give you an earful, than a spoon.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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