Nethervoice

Do Less, Make More

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters7 Comments

Being busyWhat’s frustration number one for a freelancer?

Being busy without being productive. 

It’s a trap I have fallen into many times. I was working all day long, without much to show for it. That is, until something finally dawned upon me:

Busy people talk about how little time they have. Productive people make time for what’s important. 

The question is: how do you know what is important for your business?

On some days, everything seems important: answering emails, invoicing clients, making phone calls, updating the website, recording auditions, paying bills, designing marketing materials, researching new gear, keeping up with social media… The list is endless, especially when you’re a one-person band. It’s tempting to do it all, and to do it all by yourself. 

That’s mistake number one. Here’s how to fix it:

Focus on what you’re good at. Outsource the rest.

There’s a reason why a brain surgeon doesn’t do her own billing, a CEO doesn’t answer every call, and Tim Cook doesn’t design the next iPhone. People who run a successful business hire people who are smarter and more talented than they are, to take care of certain aspects of that business. These experts are able to do things better and quicker, leaving you with more time to focus on your strengths. That’s where the money is!

So, if you’re not a kick-ass web designer, hire someone who is, and have him/her teach you to maintain and update the site once it’s up and running. Or do you have time to become an SEO specialist? I didn’t think so!

If you stink at bookkeeping, get an office assistant to take care of the numbers, and let an accountant prepare your taxes. This ensures that you maximize your deductions, and you minimize the money going to the IRS. An office assistant can also take on other administrative tasks, such as dealing with unpaid invoices. That way, you don’t have to be the bad guy (or gal). 

If you’re struggling to create a logo or a catch phrase, hire a graphic designer and a copywriter. They specialize in making you look and sound much more professional than you’ll ever be able to do yourself. Clients will only see you as a professional if you present yourself like a pro.

If you’re recording a massive project (such as an audio book) on a tight deadline, pay someone to edit and master the audio for you. Why spend time on a $50 to $100 per hour job, if you could make between $350 and $500 per hour? 

If you’re thinking about how much all of this will cost, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Reinventing the wheel, learning on the fly, trying to do everything yourself… it will leave you frustrated and without energy to do what you do best. You know, the very things clients hire you to do. That is going to cost you!

If -on the other hand- you decide to outsource some or all of these things, you’ll be surprised how much time you will gain. Now, let’s see if I can save you some more!

AUDITION SELECTIVELY

In the beginning of my career I spent way too much time auditioning for jobs that were out of my range. Why? Because someone had told me that it was a numbers game. The more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would eventually land a job, they said. Doing auditions was a way to learn on the job, right?

Wrong!

Clients hire you because they trust you can do the job. They don’t want you to experiment on their dime. These days I am super selective. I know I don’t have a movie trailer voice, so I’m not even going to try to sound like one. I won’t audition for projects by companies or causes I cannot support (sorry fast food and tobacco industry). If you’re not offering a decent rate, you can find yourself a Craigslist talent, but please don’t waste my time. 

I also got smarter in the way I audition. Knowing that clients will often only listen to the first seconds, I am no longer recording three-minute scripts. Unless the client specifies otherwise, I’ll pick a few lines from the beginning with the company name, and I’ll include the payoff line at the end. Then I’m done. I know Michael J. Collins auditions this way, and he seems to be doing okay. 

One last thing about auditions: I no longer record ten takes before I’m satisfied. If I can’t produce a good read in a few tries, the job is probably not meant for me. 

THE HARDEST WORD

Apart from curbing my presence on social media, there’s one other thing that has saved me tons of time: I became better at saying a certain two-letter word. 

“Can you evaluate my demo for free?”

NO!

“Can you write a guest post for this blog with 12 subscribers?”

NO!

“Can you tell me how to break into the business?”

NO!

“Can you answer this question I am too lazy to research myself?”

NO!

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy helping others, but I don’t run a charity. I run a for-profit business. That means that in everything I do, I have to think about the Return On Investment. 

Making enough money gives me the opportunity to invest in ways that will save me money and grow my business, as well as the freedom to engage in activities that are important, but that won’t generate any money.

ONE MORE LESSON

When I look back at my career, I wasted so much time waiting for things to happen. I thought that if I put a few things in place; had the right equipment and a decent amount of talent, things would turn out okay. After all, a wise man had told me: “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

Tell that to the people who are going broke, lovingly living a dream.

A few hard years later, I realized that if I wanted to be successful, I had to become the prime instigator and number one delegator. I had to stop being busy, and start becoming productive.

It was quite the transformation, but you know what they say:

“Busy people talk about how they will change.

Productive people are making those changes.”

Are you?

VO ATLANTA 2019

If your VO business isn’t where you want it to be, and you wish to change that, come to VO Atlanta at the end of the month. On Saturday March 29th I’ll be leading a workshop (X-session) called Six Steps To Turning Your Business Around. It’s a practical, 3-hour, hands-on session during which I will challenge you to take a good look at six aspects of your voice-over career. What’s working, and what isn’t? Is one aspect sabotaging other areas? What aspect needs more work? At the end of the session you will walk out with a practical plan to take your business to the next level.

The day after I hope you will join me for a fun one-hour breakout session called Winning Mindsets To Take Charge Of Your Career. Great equipment and a good voice can only get you so far in this business. What you tell yourself is just as important as what you tell others. Find out what accomplished colleagues are doing differently between the ears that leads to their success.

If you cannot make it in person, join the conference live with VO Atlanta Virtual.

  • Enjoy watching presentations from the main-stage featuring industry experts
  • For the 1st time ever, watch select breakout sessions along with expert panel discussions
  • Exclusive Interviews with thought leaders from around the voiceover industry

 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Who’s Afraid of Voices dot com?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play8 Comments

David Ciccarelli has done it again. We can’t stop talking about his business meddling with our business.

Just look at how many times you see the Voices dot com (VDC) logo pop up whenever someone inadvertently creates a hyperlink to the Canadian website. Hurray, another field day of free publicity for the most pervasive and obnoxious company in voice-over land!

For those who don’t know what the buzz is all about (where were you?), here’s what happened.

On February 25th. Voices dot com announced they’re going to offer synthetic voices to their customers thanks to a partnership with VocaliD. That’s a Voice AI Company (artificial intelligence) in Massachusetts that creates customized digital voices to make sure not everyone who needs an artificial voice sounds like the late Stephen Hawking. These days, VocaliD is making voices for all sorts of things that talk.

Why this partnership? The idea is that new computer-generated voices are going to be based on recordings from VDC voice actors and then converted into synthetic speech engines. This way, a brand can select its own unique voice for their applications.

BIG SURPRISE

When the news just broke, voice-overs responded with shock, fear, and disbelief. Why would VDC be competing with itself by giving clients the option of picking a cheaper artificial voice over a real voice? Is VDC even allowed to use the samples in their voicebank without permission from the talent? Will this put voice actors out of business? Is this yet another nail in our coffin?

Here’s what I think.

First of all, no one should be surprised by this partnership deal. VDC-CEO David Ciccarelli has been consistently clear about his agenda. Like Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies, he wants one thing: world domination. He wants his company to be the number one resource for voices on the planet.

Remember that VDC wasn’t founded to make sure all these lovely voice actor people have something to do. Ciccarelli’s main purpose is to turn a profit and to make his company more valuable each and every year. In that respect, strategic alliances like the one with VocaliD make perfect sense. It opens up a brand new market.

SMART SPEAKERS

More and more devices and applications use artificial voices to communicate with their users. It’s much easier and cheaper to make a computer say anything you want for as long as you want. You don’t have to pay extra for retakes or have to hold the clammy hand of inexperienced talent. The public is already accustomed to interacting with these fake voices. Amazon alone has sold more than 100 million devices with Alexa on board.

Now, can VDC simply repurpose the recordings in their voicebank and have VocaliD use them to create synthetic voices without compensating voice talent? Read Article 6 in their Terms of Service:

“any (non-union) work submitted through their platform is subject to the following, “… the Talent assigns to [Voices Dot Com] all right, title and interest, absolutely, to the copyright and other intellectual property in or relating to the Talent’s Non-Union Work Product throughout the world, free of all licenses, mortgages, charges or other encumbrances, unless agreed otherwise by the parties in writing.”

In other words: once you’ve uploaded your audio to the VDC server, you no longer own your recording. VDC does. As WoVo president Peter Bishop put it:

“It is clear that any work submitted to Voices Dot Com can be reused in a manner which VDC deems appropriate, with no further consideration of the talent.”

VoiceOverXtra’s John Florian asked David Ciccarelli for a reaction. He said that the company’s archived recordings are off limits to VocaliD. His vice president of marketing, Alina Morkin, added:

“Voices found on files on our system, whether that’s from a demo file, an audition file, or any other file, will not be used to develop a new synthetic voice.”

To that I say: How do we know we can rely on VDC? What have they done lately to earn our trust? Why does VocaliD need to enter into a partnership with VDC? If they’re looking for fresh voices, there’s nothing preventing them from posting a job on the platform and take it from there. 

If you’re a VDC member and you find this new development as unconscionable as I do, you have a choice to make. Are you going to leave or are you staying? That’s where your power lies. Companies like VDC can only exist because their 500.000 purported users keep them afloat. The paying members are in fact enablers who support a business model that turns your voice into a commodity and takes away your rights to fair compensation.

Don’t you deserve better than that?

BUSINESS MODEL

I’m not saying it’s wrong for VDC to turn a profit. VDC is free to start partnerships all over the world. But what VDC is doing all over again, is selling out the very talent that helps them be in business in the first place. To that, I strongly object.

Let’s address the fear for a moment. Are you afraid that you won’t make any money without VDC? Perhaps you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one rotten basket. If you feel you must go Pay to Play, there are plenty of alternatives. Better still: find your own clients and make sure potential clients know where to find you.

Do you fear synthetic speech is going to put you out of business? I don’t see that happening, yet. It is and will be used for some of the jobs that are now handled by a human. The boring, repetitive jobs. But there’s plenty of fun stuff left that needs a personal touch.

But there’s another reason why I don’t think the synthetic VDC voices of VocaliD will soon be reading audio books to me or will feature in a national commercial. Why? Because frankly, they sound like… synthetic voices. I can’t imagine any major brand going for that. What do I mean?

Click here or click here to listen to some samples on the VocaliD website (be sure to scroll down).

Am I right?

NO BIG DEAL

In the world of AI voices, VocaliD is small potatoes. The real threat comes from the big guns. Companies like Microsoft and Google (click on their names for examples). Their AI voices sound more and more natural every year. Adobe’s VoCo text to speech synthesizer is described as “Photoshop for the voice.” Some of the demos I have seen are pretty scary.

Do I feel threatened by these developments?

In my experience, those driven by fear are often insecure about their own abilities, and perhaps need to up their game to play at the highest level.

What worries me more than the shenanigans of companies like Voices dot com, are the hordes of voice actors who are going along with it without blinking an eye.

Those are the voices that could really use some artificial intelligence!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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Promoting Yourself the Nethervoice Way

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media6 Comments

silouette of man with bull hornLast week I wrote about the fallacy of ME, ME, ME marketing. One of my readers emailed me and said:

“You’re very good at telling me what NOT to do. Please write about the best ways for me to promote my business.”

For that, I want to go back to an email conversation I had with one of my British colleagues.

Here’s what we talked about.

Q: Many people rely on just having a website and an internet presence on Twitter, Facebook or on a P2P site to do their marketing for them… does this work? And if not, why not?
 
Let’s take a step back and talk about what I believe marketing to be:
 
Any activity that helps you find clients and helps clients find you.
 
Marketing is about understanding your clients’ needs and connecting your product or service with customers who want it.
 
Effective marketing is a compelling, engaging conversation. It’s about building profitable relationships and creating an amazing experience around your brand, product, or service.
 
If you succeed in these three areas, your marketing works. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
 
Having an internet presence in and of itself is as useless as hanging up an expensive billboard in the middle of nowhere. In order to be effective, you have to make sure people find your needle in the online haystack.
 
It’s not enough to have an online profile on a P2P site or on Facebook. That only benefits the P2P and the world created by Mark Zuckerberg. You need to drive traffic to a site that you own and control.

Q: What is the most effective tool to market yourself? Blogging, Facebook, Tweeting?
 
My blog has proven to be my most effective instrument in my marketing toolbox, and I’ll tell you why. You can offer the best product nobody has ever heard of and never make a penny. In order for people to buy from you or hire you, they have to find you, get to know you, and learn to trust you. That’s exactly what my blog has done for me.
 
Today’s search engines have become much smarter. Quantity is no longer king. It’s about quality and engagement. Relevance and social interaction are now built into the algorithm that determines how your pages are ranked and thus found.
 
Most experts agree that one of the best ways to boost your SEO is to offer fresh and quality content. Most websites are pretty static. Once it’s up, not much changes. That’s why blogs are so effective. Every day or every week you get a chance to connect with your followers and attract new readers by sharing something of value.
 
Q: To be effective, how much time do you estimate it is necessary to spend on marketing?
 
It’s a running joke among freelancers that we spend 80% of our time finding the work and 20% doing the work. Marketing never stops. Look at the big brands. We know their logos and slogans by heart. Yet, they continue to bombard us with messages. Award-winning colleagues whom we think of as “established” never stop marketing.
 
B.L. Ochman, president of What’s Next said it best:
 
“Marketing is everything a company does, from how they answer the phone, how quickly and effectively they respond to email, to how they handle accounts payable, to how they treat their employees and customers. Done right, marketing integrates a great product or service with PR, sales, advertising, new media, personal contact. In other words, marketing is not a discipline or an activity – it is everything a company is – at least if the company wants to be successful.”

Q: Are there other ways to market yourself other than online?
 
Marketing is never an either/or. It’s doing this, that and a whole bunch of other things in order to influence perception. If marketing is not integrated into everything you do, you’re not doing it right and you’re not doing enough.
 
Q: If you have limited time/resources… how do you choose the best marketing tools for you?
 
The best form of marketing is delivering a stellar product or service. Clients are your best credentials. If you exceed their expectations, they will do part of the marketing for you. Remember: tooting your own horn is necessary but suspicious. What others have to say about you is perceived to be more credible than all the things you will ever say about yourself.
 
Q: How do you ensure that you are constantly reaching new people and not just preaching to the converted.
 
Ask yourself this question: What greater community am I a part of?
 
Most voice-over professionals are:
 
– Actors & artists

– Self-employed

– Underemployed

– Freelancers

– Solopreneurs

– Small business owners
 
As a narrator and voice actor, I’m also in touch with:
 
– Linguists & translators

– Sound engineers

– Bloggers

– Writers

– e-Learning specialists

– Advertisers & Social Media specialists

– People in the entertainment industry
 
Blogging is a form of content marketing. If I only were to write my blog for a relatively small group of voice-over colleagues, I would be preaching to the choir. That’s why I make sure to write content that appeals to all the groups mentioned above. That way, I widen my circle, instead of preaching to the choir.
 
Q: Is marketing yourself the same as bragging?
 
No, it’s not, although it often comes across like that. My advice may sound a bit like a contradiction in terms: If you want to highlight what you have to offer, don’t make it all about you. A blog or brochure is not a public diary about your personal trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
 
Here’s the challenge: you have to show people what you’re made of, but avoid the ME, ME, ME-stories. That book is usually very thin and gets very old.
 
Focus on your market. Find out what their frustrations are and offer practical tips, and remember this: Educate without lecturing. Come across as an expert, but not as a know-it-all.
 
Q: As soon as you have an online presence, you are vulnerable … how do you protect yourself from spam and junk?
 
Never put your email address on your website. It’s an open invitation to spam bots. Use a spam-protected contact form instead. Use an email program with a solid spam filter, or buy one. Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. Install anti-tracking software. I also check every new subscriber to my blog against a list of known spammers.
 
Q: How would you compare the impact of automated tweets, updates, responses, and postings etc. against individually composed postings?
 
Small businesses have a strong competitive advantage over huge corporations. They can deal with (potential) clients in a very direct and personal way. Because voice actors embody their product, that’s their unique selling point.
 
Mass emails, tweets, and newsletters can be deleted in seconds. Personal messages, letters, and faxes are harder to ignore.
 
Ultimately, effective marketing is directed at key individuals. Cater your message to their needs and you’ll be more successful. Remember: marketing is not a sales pitch. It is highlighting a service.
 
Q: In an overcrowded marketplace, how do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd?
 
I am going to brag now, but only because it’s based on feedback from my readers. The number one reason readers come back to my blog is that they find content that is relevant and helpful, told from a unique perspective.
 
If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view. I’m not telling my readers how great I am. I’m simply showing them how they can be more successful if they follow some of my suggestions. In other words: I am not asking them to buy something from me. I’m giving them something useful.
 
If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. I highly recommend finding a niche and emphasize your specialty in your marketing messages. In my case, I market myself as “The Ultimate European Voice.” I realize that sounds rather pretentious, but for someone living and working in the United States, my European-ness is one of my unique selling points.
 
More and more clients don’t necessarily want a British or North-American English speaker for a global campaign. Because of my more “neutral” English accent, international companies are interested in my services.
 
Q: For people who may not be technically minded … do you think it is worthwhile employing someone to do your internet marketing for you?
 
Technology is a tool that sometimes stands in the way of true communication. There has never been a generation in the history of this planet that has been more connected, yet millions and millions of people miss a real connection.
 
Technology enables us to send a mass email or newsletter to everyone in our database. It’s as sad and ineffective as cold calling. You’re playing a numbers game, thinking: The more people I send stuff to, the more likely it is that someone will respond.
 
I always get the best responses from personal contact. I have no marketing guru to run my “campaign”. The reason is simple.
 
No one is as motivated and dedicated to my business as I am. No one is willing to work as hard for my business as I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t ask for help.
 
We all have our strengths and I do feel that when I look at certain websites, some people should have used a web designer, a copywriter, or a professional photographer. First impressions are vital!
 
However, it does pay off to learn how to maintain your own site. Otherwise, you end up paying your webmaster (or mistress) for every small change or update.
 
Q: Talk a little about keeping the balance right … e.g. marketing versus actually doing the job. Is it possible to do too much marketing?
 
As I said earlier, doing your job to the very best of your ability is one of the best forms of marketing. If you approach it that way, there is no real separation between the two.
 
There is a risk of overdoing it, though. I’m not going to name any names, but one voice-over coach regularly plasters the internet with promos for seminars, classes, and the whole shebang. It’s overkill and it’s counterproductive.
 
If you yell too loudly and too frequently (especially if it is more of the same), it becomes annoying and people will start tuning you out.
 
Q: How do you think marketing will develop over the next five years? 
 
I’ll have to take out my crystal ball for that one. On one hand I see that marketing is becoming more and more mobile technology driven. YouTube is quickly becoming the number one search engine. Social proof is rapidly replacing expert advice.
 
If you wish to make a dent in the marketing universe, you need to learn to play the technological game, create visual content and attract, grow, and serve a considerable online following.
 
On the other hand, it is critically important to always remember that you’re talking to real people with real problems that need to be solved. It’s impossible to meet their needs with a mass email. Marketing can be the beginning of a connection, but it’s only a first step.
 
Let me put it this way. Creating an appealing window display is one thing, but no level of technology can force people to come inside, let alone become a (return) customer.
 
Q: Joining the dots … and creating a seamless approach to marketing – creating your own look, logos, fonts etc. Are they important?
 
Now we’re entering the realm of branding: the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.
 
With thousands of voice-over talent entering the market each year, differentiation is essential. Having a picture of a microphone on your website is anything but unique. What clients are looking and listening for is personality.
 
Things like a recognizable logo, a catchphrase, and a consistent color scheme have to reflect your personality and your niche.
 
I don’t have a logo per se, but I consistently use a picture of me, holding a bunch of orange tulips. On a subconscious level, people still associate tulips with Holland, and as a native Dutch speaker that’s a good thing. Orange also happens to be the Dutch national color. Then there’s the pun “tulips” and “two lips” which for a voice-over professional is a nice association.
 
Q: What is the most important thing you have learned about marketing?
 
Three things:
 
1. Marketing is like sowing seeds. You can’t force those seeds to come up overnight, grow into trees, and produce fruit. Marketing is an organic process that requires persistence, patience, and love for what you’re doing.
 
2. It is pointless to market a bad product because it won’t sell.
 
3. Even the sharpest tools in the shed get dull after prolonged use. Keep on learning to refine your skills.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Fallacy of ME, ME, ME Marketing

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Social Media4 Comments

selfie with microphoneQuestion on Quora:

“Is it okay to post pictures of yourself on Instagram? Would people think I’m too much into myself?”

Top answer:

“Since 99.99% of Instagram users have chosen to make evident how in love they are with themselves, you’ll fit right in.”

I had to think of that when one of my colleagues jokingly posted on Facebook that he was sick of seeing selfies of voice-overs in their studios. You know, these stereotypical posed pictures of smiling people in sweatshirts that always feature a microphone.

This led to a heated debate about narcissism and the perceived benefits of plastering your face all over the internet. Here’s what I want to know: are these selfies just a big ego trip, or an effective way to show your customers who you really are?

WHAT’S YOUR GOAL

Before I answer that question, let’s take a step back. Why would you as a small business owner use social media in the first place? It’s a time suck, a distraction, and as soon as you think you’ve figured it out, Zuckerberg and company change the algorithms.

For most freelancers, having a social media presence is part of their marketing strategy. The purpose of marketing is no mystery. It’s all about influence and perception. In a nutshell, here’s what effective marketing should do:

– Tells the world that you exist, and educates your audience about what you have to offer
– Helps your customers understand why your product or service is better than, or different from the competition
– Builds authority, credibility, and trust. It shows that you’re a pro running a reputable business
– Develops a relationship with your market: communicates with customers, and turns clients into fans
– Improves and reinforces brand awareness
– Grows your business by extending your reach and increasing your sales

Successful marketers influence how their product or service is perceived. They win people over by convincing them they have something special to offer that meets their needs. The ultimate goal is conversion: turning a prospect into a buyer.

How do selfies fit into this picture?

YOU OR THE CLIENT

We seem to have at least two schools of thought. I call them egocentric marketing and customer-centric marketing. An egocentric marketing campaign revolves around “Look at ME. Look at what I did. Look at what I’m doing.” It’s for people who mistake their own enthusiasm for what will motivate their potential customers.

Posting pictures of yourself and about yourself only works if you’re an interesting person leading an interesting life and if you already have a following that’s interested in you. Think of actors, musicians, models, celebrity chefs, politicians, and other public figures.

Let’s be honest: most of us aren’t that interesting, especially in a dimly lit studio with a big mike in front of our face. Unlike on-screen actors, voice actors don’t go on different sets in exotic locations. There’s no costume department clothing us, or makeup department carefully camouflaging our pimples. If we ever leave the house for work, it is to visit another dimly lit recording studio with more mikes, cables, and headphones.

Customer-centric marketing is based on the idea that if you wish to win people over, you have to stop talking about yourself and start listening. Based on what you hear, you provide content that addresses your customer’s fears, problems, and needs. It’s not about you. It’s about them. Customer-centric marketing is not only about increasing exposure. It’s about providing value for your viewers and followers.

WHO’S YOUR TARGET

The problem is that I don’t think many Instagrammers have identified a target audience before they start posting pictures. They don’t even have a business account. A personal account is used to post anything and everything. Snapshots from family trips, pictures of the pets, lunches, dinners, and the occasional picture of mama or papa doing voice-overs. All of this goes out to clients, colleagues, friends, family, and the one billion other people on Instagram.

There’s no distinction between the personal and the professional.

The question I asked myself before I became active on social media was this: Do I want to make my private life public, and if so, for what purpose?

Perhaps this is a generational thing. The younger generation has no trouble sharing their private lives publicly. The more views, the better. Self-esteem is linked to likes. A young colleague told me: “I want my clients to get to know me. If they see what I am like, they’ll remember me. If they remember me, there’s a greater chance that they will hire me.”

In contrast, I want to protect my privacy. The only time I open up about my personal life on this blog is to illustrate a point, or when I want to share something that I feel is relevant to many of my readers. That’s the reason you know about my stroke. I wanted to increase awareness through my experience.

My intended Instagram audience consists of colleagues and other freelancers. That’s why you won’t find any vacation photos, pics of alcoholic beverages, or silly selfies. Most of my posts are pictures with quotes from this blog. My goal is simple: to make people think. They don’t have to agree with me. I just want them to consider what’s written. It helps me be a trusted voice in an ongoing conversation.

I can hear you think: “That sounds very idealistic. Why would that be beneficial to your bottom line?”

Well, through these posts people get to know me and my ideas. And if they like what they see, they might go to my blog and sign up for coaching sessions. It gets me invites to interviews and podcasts, I’m asked to write guest posts, do presentations, and conduct workshops. It’s free publicity! People end up buying my book and start referring me to clients who need a European, neutral English voice.

There’s a lot that you can do when using social media to spread the word about your business. LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram give you an opportunity to highlight different aspects of what you have to offer. Different formats require a different approach.

What you do is up to you, but if you wish to make the switch from egocentric to customer-centric marketing, I leave you with the advice of one expert:

“It’s okay to be proud of your work, but turn your brags into benefits!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why I Want You To Fail

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Personal6 Comments

cellist“Failure” is one of the dirtiest words in the dictionary.

In a culture where the notion of “being successful” is forced upon us from an early age, failure is hardly an option. Winners never fail, and who doesn’t want to be a winner?

Helicopter parents pressure their offspring to always be the best, and go for the A plus and extra credits. Their over-scheduled kids are expected to be brilliant at whatever it is they do, from horseback riding to playing the violin, to selling the most girl scout cookies ever.

If children don’t come home with a trophy, a badge, or high honors, what’s the point? What will you put on Facebook? “Sarah did okay in math?” “Brian got a B minus in biology?” “Sandy can’t keep up with the rest of her class?”

Heaven forbid! How would that reflect on you as a parent?

Out of this thinking comes the idea that we have to make it easy for our kids to succeed. We want to build them up, and make them feel good about themselves. How do we do that? By giving them high praise for mediocre accomplishments.

“She took two bites of oatmeal today, isn’t that amazing?”

“He brushed his teeth all by himself. I am so proud of him!”

“The soccer coach gave him a prize, just for showing up every week.”

When you set the bar really low, it becomes almost impossible to fail, but what you’re really doing is reinforcing behavior that is below average. It might give some kids a false sense of confidence and entitlement, which could carry over into adulthood.

LIFE LESSONS

When I was a teenager, my French professor always gave us easy tests. Even the slowest of students would do well, and on paper it looked like this teacher was a genius. But during our school trip to Paris, no one was able to put more than two words of French together, and we got hopelessly lost in the subway.

At that point we realized that this great teacher wasn’t so great after all. The biggest shock came later that year however, during final exams. Compared to most other students in the country, we did miserably, even though our grades had been fabulous.

A cellist I know had accepted a new, young student who was rather full of himself. When he got to meet the parents, he understood why. Mom and Dad thought that their Daniel was destined to be the next Yo-Yo Ma or Mstislav Rostropovich. “Well, we’ll see about that,” said the cellist. Let’s begin our first lesson, and afterward I’ll tell you what I think.”

It turned out that the kid wasn’t very good, even though he played an expensive instrument. “It’s not the instrument. It’s how you play it,” said the cellist to the parents, but they wouldn’t listen, and neither would their son.

So, what did his new teacher do? He signed Daniel up for a regional competition. Even though the boy had several months to prepare, he thought he could wing it. His parents (who knew very little about music) were convinced he was doing really well. Filled with great expectations they took him to the competition.

BEING TESTED

You probably know what’s coming. Compared to other students, Daniel didn’t impress the judges that much, and he got low marks. When his parents found out, they were furious.

“You set our Daniel up for failure,” they said. “The boy is in tears. What kind of teacher are you?”

“Let me tell you something,” said the cellist. “Your son might think he failed. In my opinion he just didn’t get the result you were expecting, which, given his skills and attitude, was rather unrealistic to begin with. This is not an easy instrument to master. So far, you have been comparing your son to himself. This competition was an opportunity to compare him to other kids in his age group.”

He went on: “Parents and other family members are supposed to be supportive. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the people who are closest to us, aren’t necessarily the most knowledgeable or experienced. Most of them don’t know what they’re listening and looking for. So, if you want honest feedback, you need two things. Number one: make sure the test is tough enough. Number two: the evaluators have to be experts.”

THE RELEVANCE

Now, if you’re new to voice-overs and you’re reading this blog, you might be wondering why I am talking about learning French or a musical instrument. You’re trying to break into the business thinking you stand a good chance of making it. People have told you that you have a great voice, and why wouldn’t McDonalds hire you for one of their commercials? You’re auditioning left and right, but so far there’ve been no takers. What does that tell you?

First of all, if making money as a voice-over would be easy, anybody would do it, and the rates would be even lower. Something that comes easy, isn’t worth much. Secondly, do you even know if you’re good at this? Let me rephrase that: Is what you have to offer ultra competitive in a market that is pretty much saturated? How do you know? Are you able to recognize your limitations?

HEARING MYSELF

A few days ago I listened to some of the auditions I recorded in 2010. At that time I honestly thought I sounded pretty great, and I didn’t understand why clients wouldn’t hire me. Knowing what I know now, there is no way I would have hired myself back then.

After a year of trying, I was ready to call my efforts to become a VO Pro an epic fail. Yet, as you know, one of the reasons I write this blog is because I’m still in business. How did that happen?

It turned out that this year of trying was a big test. It tested my preparedness, my resolve, my talent, my nerves, and my ability to learn and grow from feedback. I needed at least a year of “failure” to work on my weaknesses, as well as on my strengths.

I also learned to reframe that word “failure.” I started looking at my situation in terms of results. Just because I wasn’t getting the results I had hoped for, didn’t mean I had failed, or that I was a failure. I began to ask myself questions like:

– What results did I get?

– What part of it was something I could  influence, and what part was beyond my control? 

– What did I learn from it that was positive and practical?

– What would I need to do to improve?

– Who could help me make those improvements? 

– How was this process helping me become the professional I want to be?

And finally, just as it can take many years to learn a foreign language or master an instrument, I knew that it would take me a while to get good at doing voice-overs, and running a freelance business. Every “failure” could bring me one step closer to success, as long as I used it as a chance to learn something new.

If you happen to be in the middle of that process, and things aren’t going so well, please remember what one of my teachers once told me:

“No matter where you are in life, never stop learning.

Quite often, the best students get the hardest test!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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VO Atlanta: a Waste of Money or a Wise Investment?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, International, Promotion, Social Media, VO Atlanta15 Comments

on stage at VO Atlanta 2018, click to enlarge

As general registration for VO Atlanta (March 26 – 29 2020) is now open, something predictable is happening. The people who are on the fence about going, start making the rounds on social media asking:

“Is it worth it?”

You’ll never hear those who have participated in previous years ask this question. For them, it’s a non-issue because they know from experience that they will receive much more than they have invested. That’s why they’re coming back again and again and again.

The question “Is it worth it,” is asked a lot on social media in different ways. “Is joining Pay to Play X worth the money?” “Should I buy microphone Y?” “Does Mr. Z produce good demos?” I’m always surprised by the number of people ready to answer these queries without knowing anything about the person who is asking, and knowing very little about the subject matter. Online, the deaf often lead the blind.

A MATTER OF VALUE

When someone asks me “Is it worth it” I want to know at least two things before I decide to chime in:

What do you mean by “it,”

and

How do you determine “worth?”

If I don’t get clarification on those two things, I’ll run the risk of answering the question from my experience and with my values in mind, which are bound to be different from the person asking the question. Bear in mind:

People don’t do things for my reasons or your reasons.

They do things for their reasons.

Once you find out what their reasons are, you can make a case based on what motivates them. Consequently, they’re more likely to resonate with what you have to say. Anyone working in sales should know this.

Going back to the questions behind the question “Is it worth it?” what does the first “it” actually mean? Obviously, “It” refers to VO Atlanta. It is a linguistic attempt to fit the entire conference experience into a two-letter word. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see that that’s impossible. A conference like VO Atlanta consists of multiple days loaded with content and social interaction. It’s pointless and unfair to boil that down to one meaningless word.

ACTIVE PARTICIPATION

Besides, everyone experiences the conference differently. It’s not a spectator sport. As in real life, what you get out of it is greatly determined by what you put into it. If you don’t put yourself out there professionally and personally, you’ll have a very different conference than when you do. In other words: YOU determine the return on investment.

Here’s my prediction. If your mindset is “I’ll wait and see. You come to me,” then you’re not going to get as much out of the conference compared to an actively involved participant. Some of the most valuable and memorable moments at VO Atlanta (and I’m talking about “worth” now) may come from unplanned, spontaneous meetings in the corridors of the hotel, or at the lunch table.

They may come when you gather all your courage to walk up to one of your VO idols and start a conversation. Before you know it, you end up sharing a meal as you informally talk about the biz. That’s what makes VO Atlanta so unique.

2019 keynote speaker Kay Bess

As a former journalist, I had to report on lots of conferences. From that, I learned two things. One: most of these gatherings are a snooze fest. Two: the speakers are unapproachable and leave as soon as they’ve collected their checks. Everyone who’s ever been to VO Atlanta will tell you that this event is the complete opposite. It is engrossing and entertaining, and all presenters are accessible during the entire conference.

There are no industry secrets and no oversized egos. Just people who want you to succeed.

What else would make VO Atlanta worthwhile? I won’t speak for you, but I’ll gladly share my thoughts and feelings.

IN IT TOGETHER

What many are looking for, is a sense of connection. We all do our work in isolation, in a small box, talking to imaginary people. We know that there are lots of other silly people who do the same thing, but they’re just a profile picture on Facebook or Instagram. Meeting these people in real life means truly connecting with an international voice-over family you never knew you always had. There’s an instant rapport with folks who really get you because they do what you do, and love it just as much.

As the grand hotel ballroom fills up with hundreds of talkative colleagues, you look at the gathering crowd, and it suddenly dawns upon you:

2018 keynote

I am not alone! This is my community! These are my people!

Here’s what happens: competitors become colleagues, and colleagues become friends. Friends become a support system you can count on in good times, and when times are not so good.

“That’s all nice, warm and fuzzy, but will it get me any work?” you ask. “My clients aren’t going to be at VO Atlanta.”

I can only speak for myself, but I get a lot of work through referrals from colleagues who know that I am the go-to person for Dutch and neutral English jobs. People don’t refer people they don’t know, so it’s important to make connections. A conference is an ideal setting to do just that.

LEARNING FROM FEEDBACK

You also get a chance to impress top coaches and casting directors with your audition. Normally, you’d probably have a hard time getting in the door with these folks because they have no time and they don’t know you. At VO Atlanta, meeting them is part of your ticket. Not only will they listen to you, but they’ll also give you feedback on your read, and if they like you, they might sign you.

Because the voice-over industry is not regulated, there is no requirement for continued education. Come to think of it, there’s no requirement for any education! As the number of professional VO’s increases each year, those who are best prepared, have a greater chance of actually making a living. The many panels, workshops, presentations, and X-sessions at VO Atlanta will give you a necessary edge in a crowded field. Rather than reinventing the wheel making beginner’s mistakes, you’ll save time and money by learning from the pros who made the same mistakes when they were starting out.

Do you need more reasons to come to Atlanta?

THE SECRET INGREDIENT

There’s one thing you won’t find in any of the promotional materials, online or otherwise, simply because it cannot be captured. It has to be experienced. I am talking about the energy at the conference. At times it’s electric and contagious.

I may be biased, but I think that voice-over people are among the least pretentious, kindest, and most giving people on the planet. In Atlanta, the sense that we’re all here to help and support one another is overwhelming. Together we’ll continue the fight for fair rates, we’ll call out unethical and greedy companies, and together we’ll strive to continuously raise the professional bar. Plus, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we like to laugh a lot!

To someone who has never been to this conference the following may sound overly dramatic, but at VO Atlanta I got a glimpse of what the world can be when people of all backgrounds, faiths, persuasions, languages, and traditions come together and cheer each other on. It is powerful in the most positive way, and this world needs more of it. When leaving last year’s conference, I couldn’t stop smiling!

To me, that positive energy was one of the greatest takeaways from the conference, and one of the many reasons why I will be coming back as a presenter and a participant.

WHY YOU SHOULD GO

Let’s face it. You’re working hard on building a VO career and you deserve a break. A BIG break, even. Do yourself a favor and get out of that musty studio of yours. Go south, see some daylight, and meet some real people. You may not read from the same script, but you’re already on the same page.

the author presents

Take part in the group challenge and record a commercial for a charity. You might even win some gear! Dress up under the disco ball, and dance like no one is watching. Laugh a lot and cry a little when a deserving colleague receives the Unicorn Award. You’ll come home with a new vision, feeling recharged and refreshed.

And remember to look for the guy in the yellow clogs!

See you there!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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The Myth of the Shortcut

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money MattersLeave a comment

“Seize the day,” “Carpe Diem,” “Maximize each moment.” 

In a society as hectic as ours, that seems to be sound advice. Especially at the beginning of a new year.

All of us are given a limited time on earth. The best thing is to use it wisely. Don’t worry too much about tomorrow. Get the most out of each day.

Go to any electronics expo, and you’ll find tons of smart gadgets designed to make us do more in less time. While some of these ingenious tools can be helpful, they are part of a trend that worries me:

Life is speeding up. People are getting less patient, and more stressed.

They are focused on the short term, instead of thinking ahead.

Why? Because we crave certainty, and it’s easier to predict what will happen in the next moment as opposed to years from now. Instant gratification has never been more popular, and has never been more destructive.

A few examples. 

Politics doesn’t think in decades anymore. Voters have short memories and demand quick results. Policies that lead to temporary gains are favored over measures that may take years to implement and bear fruit. Let’s drill for energy today, and we’ll worry about the environment later!

We’re not interested in diets or exercise that lead to gradual, lasting weight loss. No, we demand results by the end of the week. And if that scale doesn’t give us a number we’re happy with, we blame it on the method and move on to something else. But everybody knows that losing pounds is the easy part. Keeping them off is much more challenging. That requires long-term commitment.

Makeover shows on television tell us that people can change their lives in a matter of days. It takes us a week to build an Extreme Home, five days to turn a failing restaurant around, and 48 hours to learn what not to wear. After that, we’ll never be the same again! Well, a few weeks later our dream home is leaking, the bistro is going bankrupt, and that fashion-challenged girl dresses like a slob again. 

I’m sorry to break it to you, but quick fixes rarely lead to lasting change

Short-term thinking is a big problem in the “industry” I’m a part of: the wonderful world of freelancing, in particular, the voice-over industry.

THE MYTH OF THE SHORTCUT

Thanks to false advertising, unrealistic expectations, and an attitude of entitlement and impatience, some people still believe they can rise to the top in very little time. Just read this book, take that seminar, and buy some cheap gear. Before you know it, you’re in business! No experience necessary. 

And when these people finally come to me for coaching because they’re not getting anywhere, they are shocked when I present a long-term plan without guarantees. 

“That can’t be,” they say. “This takes too long, and it’s too expensive. I don’t have the time, and I don’t have the money. I thought this would be easy.”

I tell them: 

“If you’re in this for the long run, a few simple steps won’t get you anywhere. Would you throw some seeds into the soil and expect a few trees to magically pop up the next morning? And would you expect these trees to bear fruit the day after? It may very well be a couple of years before you book your first job.”

One person responded: “If it takes that long, you’re probably not a very good coach.”

I replied: “If that’s what you believe, you probably won’t be a very good student.”

THE ONLINE CASTING TRAP

Another example of short-term thinking is the way some people perceive the “membership” fee for online casting sites. They tell me: “If I book one nice job, this whole thing pays for itself.”

No, it doesn’t. It wouldn’t even be true if you only booked that one job. If you spend let’s say $399 on membership, and you make $399, what’s your profit? To see if that $399 would be a worthwhile investment, you’d have to look at an entire year of membership, and ask yourself:  “For all the time and money invested, how many dollars did I get in return?”

You’d have to add up all the money made through that Pay to Play in one year, and deduct the membership fee, taxes and other expenses. Then you divide your net profit by the total number of hours required to generate that income. By hours I mean all the time spent looking at jobs on that site, doing auditions, communicating with clients, and recording/editing the audio.

When you finally look at how much you’ve made per hour in a year, do you think this is still a good investment, or should you spend your time and money elsewhere? Of course no one ever takes the time to run the numbers. Perhaps they’re afraid of the answer.

A COMMON MISCONCEPTION

But don’t make the mistake that short-term thinking is just a problem for the newbie. I often encounter it when colleagues discuss the hot topic of pricing. People with a short-term view tend to charge lower rates than those who are in it for the long haul. 

“I’d rather make a hundred bucks now, than lose out on a job,” they say. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” A week later they complain that they can’t seem to make a living as a voice talent. 

No surprise there. 

Your rate is not just about money. It’s a sign of professionalism. It sends a signal to the client: “This is what I believe my time and talent are worth.”

It also sends a signal to the industry: “This is what I believe this job is worth.” 

By the way, it’s much easier to book a low-rate job than to land a well-paid gig. Any fool can undercut the competition (and go broke in the process).

Here’s the thing: If we devalue the work we do, don’t expect rates to rise. Low rates will become the new normal.

How do we turn this around?

Step one: realize that short-term actions have long-term consequences.

If you don’t think about the long-term consequences of your actions, your life becomes inconsequential.

A NEW FOCUS

If you wish to have sustained success as a freelancer, you have to start thinking long-term, and big picture.

You have to ask yourself:

“Where do I want to be, five years, ten years from now? How much do I need to minimally make in a year to get there? What do I have to invest? How much do I need to charge?” 

Of course you also have to factor in what people around you are charging, and what clients are willing to pay. But don’t let that limit you. Premium products command a premium price. If you think that’s just a slogan, tell me: who’d have thought people would be willing to pay over $1000 for a mobile phone?

Thinking big picture also means you have to consider the effect your actions may have on others, and on this planet (often for generations). You don’t live on an island. It’s not just about you. What you do or don’t do may not seem earth-shattering, but it makes a difference. A tidal wave consists of many small drops. 

So, here’s my humble request for 2019:

Accept that there are no shortcuts to success.

Slow down, practice patience, and embrace delayed gratification.

Dare to say no, instead of settling for low.

Trust me.

All of this will pay off in the long run!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? Part 3

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Personal12 Comments

Leap of FaithClick here for Part 1, and click here for Part 2.

One thing I am sure of.

Human beings have a hard time dealing with uncertainty.

From the moment we’re born till the moment we die, we have a need to know.

That’s why we spend a lifetime answering questions, such as:

  • Why am I here?
  • Is there a God?
  • Can I be happy?
  • Why does evil exist?
  • Is there an afterlife?
  • McDonald’s or Burger King?

Not knowing is often worse than knowing. That’s why TV shows take us from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, and millions tune in to find out who the next American Idol is going to be. We cannot live with the suspense of not knowing.

Where does this innate urge come from? I believe it has to do with control. Subconsciously, people assume that the things they know for sure, they can control. We cannot measure and control the things that are unknown.

Two friends of mine love going on vacations. Let’s call them Jack and John. Both have traveled the world in ways that couldn’t be more different. Jack’s a free spirit. He likes to improvise, and takes life one step at a time. Jack is the person who’d buy a ticket to Rome and a Lonely Planet guide to Italy, and he lets his gut feeling determine where and when he goes to explore the country.

John would absolutely hate that. He prefers to tour Italy with a group, knowing exactly where he ‘s going to be, and where he is going to stay from day to day to day. And if things wouldn’t go according to plan, he’d get very nervous and upset. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is his favorite saying.

Ask yourself: Are you a Jack, or are you a John?

That’s a question anyone should ask before deciding to become an independent contractor. It’s exactly the sort of thing that makes it so hard to be a professional voice-over. I’ll go one step further: the answer to that question is the number one reason why most people who are going freelance, fail.

I’m not making that up to rain on your parade. The Small Business Association (SBA) estimates that 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50% during the first five years, and 66% during the first 10. Those cold numbers camouflage dreams dashed, families in turmoil, and the burden of bankruptcy.

I’ll be very clear: those who eventually become successful at doing voice-overs, are great at handling uncertainty in an economic system that favors predictability.

So, what kind of uncertainty am I talking about?

For starters, you’ll never know where your work will be coming from, and which job you’ll land, and which job will go to a colleague. If you’re not selected, you’ll never know why.

When you audition, you won’t know what the client is looking for. Many clients will tell you: “I’ll know it when I hear it.” The job description is purposely vague: “Male/Female voice, Neutral English, Young Adult to Middle Age.”

You’ll never know how much the client has budgeted for the job you just auditioned for. They all plead poverty. These days you won’t even know how much a particular job is worth anymore, and what your bid should be. You’ll be bidding on jobs in many countries and many markets for all sorts of media. There will always be an idiot who will do more for less.

Once you’ve accepted the job, things don’t get any clearer. Nine out of ten times you’ll be recording by yourself without a director, so it’s up to you to read between the lines and interpret the script as best as you can. It’s a hit or miss process.

The whole thing feels like running a restaurant where you are the owner and chef. The client comes in and wants food. “What would you like?” you ask. “I’ll know it when I see it,” says the customer. “Go to the kitchen and work your magic. But make it quick.”

Half an hour later you proudly present your finished dish. The client smells the food, turns green, and waves the plate away saying: “That’s not what I ordered! I’m not paying for that.” Or worse, they’ll eat everything and disappear without leaving a check.”

You see, that’s another thing you’ll be uncertain about. As a voice-over, you run an international business that’s based on trust. The client trusts you to take care of the job. You trust the client to pay you for the job. On time and in full.

Good luck with that!

The Freelancers Union estimates that 7 out of 10 freelance workers face nonpayment, and freelancers are stiffed an average of $6000 annually.

Who is going to protect you? So far, New York is the only city in the United States to adopt the Freelancing Isn’t Free Act which extends unprecedented protections against nonpayment for millions of New York City’s freelance workers.

But what do you do when that client in Mumbai or Shenyang doesn’t respond to your payment requests? They wanted your audio files yesterday, you sent them, and now they’re MIA. You have no leverage. The only thing you can do is publicly shame them, and demand payment up front the next time you work with an unknown client.

Given the fact that you don’t know what you’ll be working on, when you’ll be working, how much you’ll be working, how much you’re getting paid, and when the money will be coming in, how do you know you’ll be able to pay the bills?

Try getting a mortgage on a freelance income, or any other loan for that matter. If you’re just getting started you need the money the most to pay for all that equipment, your demos, website, home studio, marketing materials, and coaching sessions. And you have nothing to show for it but good intentions.

No matter how much or how little is coming in, your insurance company expects you to pay your premium on time, your rent is due the first of the month, and your credit cards need to be paid, as well as your taxes. John would go crazy going from month to month.

You may be able to live with uncertainty, but what about your family?

Now, in the past I used to say that the only factor in this business you can count on and control, is YOU.

That sounds nice, but based on my experience, most people who try their hand at voice-overs lack the knowledge, the drive, and the discipline to run a business. They can handle it as a hobby, but that’s it. Let me give you an example. As a VO-coach I can quickly tell if someone has what it takes by the way they handle my assignments.

Those who need a lot of hand-holding don’t impress me. Those who don’t do their homework and make all sorts of excuses, tend not to do well. Those who say “Just tell me where I can find work,” are likely to fail.

Many are interested. Very few are committed.

Here’s the problem: as someone who is self-employed, no one will tell you what to do. No one will hold you accountable. No one cares if you sleep in, or waste your time surfing the web.

And then there’s this.

Until March of this year, I thought I was in control. I believed that I was the certainty my business was based on.

Then I had a stroke.

I woke up weak, exhausted, and without a voice. During many months of rehab I lost thousands of dollars in work I was unable to do. Some of my clients with whom I’d been working for years, found other talent and never came back.

Instead of building my business, I am rebuilding it, piece by piece. But if it weren’t for my amazing better half, my business probably would have gone bust.

At the end of the day, running a business is about risks and rewards.

Too often, newcomers focus on the rewards, and forget about the risks.

So, if you’re seriously thinking of becoming a voice-over, are you a Jack or a John?

I know you want the rewards, but are you certain you’re ready for the risks?

If so, you are in for a most rewarding career!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? Part 2

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media10 Comments

Click here for part 1

What do you think voice-overs do all day long?

Sit behind their microphones and record the most amazing scripts?

Make $5,000 for a twenty-second commercial?

Narrate yet another best-selling novel?

If you choose to believe Facebook, that’s what voice-overs do. They book, they record, and they cash in. Rinse and repeat.

Unfortunately, that’s a big fat lie, told to the world because no one wants to look like a loser on social media. We’re one happy family, everything is always great, and business is booming!

The truth is, some voice actors are doing really well, and many are not. Going into 2019, even the big names are asked to work for smaller budgets at full perpetual buyouts, while $249 seems to be the new normal for many non-union jobs. Jobs that would easily go for four or five times as much some years ago, perhaps even more.

If you’re just starting out, and your expectations are as great as your ambition, that’s probably not something you want to hear. But let’s be realistic for a moment.

Once you’ve told the world that you are now a professional voice-over, it stops being a hobby or a daydream. In fact, you’ve just opened up a business. Congratulations.

Are you ready to be a business owner?

Just to be clear: the IRS considers an activity to be a business if:

“that activity is carried on for profit if it makes a profit during at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year (…).”

As someone who has coached many beginning voice talents, I’ll be straight with you. Most of my students have no clue what it means to run a for-profit business in a market saturated with wannabes. That’s a huge part of what makes doing voice-overs so difficult!

Think about it. You may be a crazy talented chef in your state-of-the-art kitchen, but if you don’t know how to run a successful restaurant, you’re doomed to fail. If you don’t believe me, ask Gordon Ramsey!

Here’s where the comparison stops. A smart chef has a staff managing all business aspects of his establishment. That way, he can concentrate on the cooking. As a VO-pro you are on your own, wearing many, many hats. You’ve got to get customers in the door, set the tables, cook the food, clean up at the end of the day, and do the books.

On top of that, too many beginners don’t know what they don’t know. Between you and me, they just want to have fun talking into a microphone, and get paid for it.

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: most voice-overs spend way more time trying to get the work than doing the work, myself included (and I’ve been at it for over thirty years).

Like any business, you’ve got to attract customers. How do you do that when no one has ever heard of you (and no one cares to hear about you)? Have you thought about that?

Don’t tell me you’re going to sign up for a voice casting website, and expect them to get you work. That big unethical one in Canada claims to have a global network of over 200,000 voice-overs, and most of them speak English. By the time you open that casting email, you’re at the back of a long line of hopefuls who just received the same message. Chances are that the client won’t ever hear your carefully crafted custom demo. I mean, who’s got time to listen to over a hundred auditions?

And you pay for that “privilege”?

Don’t expect an agent to send you work either when you still have to prove yourself. The irony is: agents want you when you no longer need them. As soon as you have clearly demonstrated an ability to make them money, you become interesting. By that time you should already have a portfolio of returning clients giving your business a sustainable basis.

So, if you can’t rely on Pay to Plays or agents, what are you to do? Where do all these fantastic money-making voice-over jobs come from? Do you find them on Craigslist? Do they grow on trees?

Ultimately, finding work comes down to one person: YOU!

Here’s secret number two: it’s easier to have clients find you, than you having to find clients.

To get people’s attention, you’ve got to toot your own horn. That puts you not only in the business of providing voice-overs. You’re also in the business of self-promotion and marketing. Be honest: do you have expertise in those areas? Are you even comfortable telling people why they should hire you?

Let’s be more specific. Do you know how to design and maintain a kick-ass website that’s search engine optimized, and ready to withstand hackers? If not, do you know a reputable company that can build that site for you? Let’s assume you just spent thousands of dollars on coaching, professional demos, equipment, and a good recording space, how much money is left to get you an online presence? Include the money you pay to a company like SiteGround, to host your website.

Building a website is not just about finding an attractive template and some stock photographs. You need someone with serious copywriting skills to sell your services. Someone who can capture your essence and turn it into a brand. You also have to develop fresh content to give visitors a reason to come back to your website. How are you going to do that?

Then there’s your social media presence. Your brand new company has to be on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and whatever the next big thing is going to be. Each platform has its own rules, algorithms, and format. You’ll have to learn how to shoot and edit decent home videos, how to take striking pictures, and how to write compelling copy that makes you stand out above the crowd.

A word of warning. Once you get started, you’ll soon notice that social media is a monster that constantly needs to be fed with fresh, relevant, and unique content created by YOU. This takes time. Lots of time. If you’re lucky, your content gets picked up. More likely, it gets lost in an ocean of mindless, self-absorbed chatter crying “Look at ME. Look at ME!”

Those who are young and full of energy are used to living life online. Their self-esteem is linked to the number of likes each post receives. To them, creating a social media presence is no big deal. I have coached quite a few people for whom voice-overs is a second or third career. They’re in their fifties or sixties, and to them building a website and being active on social media is intimidating and often frustrating. It’s not what they signed up for when they dreamt of being an audio book narrator.

They want to try it the old-fashioned way: cold calling clients. It’s the most masochistic way to spend your day. With people being sick of unwanted solicitation and robocalls, good luck trying to get past the screener before you can read your script to some teenager who is in charge of promotions. These days, more and more people refuse to answer the phone if they don’t recognize the number. If you love listening to voicemail and pissing people off, go for it!

So, let’s quickly recap. Why is doing voice-overs so difficult?

Last week I told you it is hard to sound natural in an unnatural situation, and to act as if you’re not acting. You need much more than a great voice to make it.

Today we talked about running a business, finding work, and self-promotion.

Next week I’ll add another layer: dealing with constant uncertainty.

Be certain to check it out!

Click here for part 3.

Paul Strikwerda

PS Be sweet. Subscribe, Share, and Retweet!

PPS Bob Souer, one of the nicest people in the voice-over community, has had a tough year. He has asked for our help to turn a corner and move ahead. Through the years, Bob has supported many of us with his wisdom and insight. Now it is time we support him and his family. Please visit his GoFundMe page, and give what you can give. Thank you!

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Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? Part 1

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Studio11 Comments
Yuja Wang performing with the National Youth Orchestra of China at Carnegie Hall on July 22, 2017

Yuja Wang

“How do I become a voice-over?”

It’s the number one question I get from my readers.

Well, if you’re one of the many people who are thinking of becoming a voice-over, this three-part series is for you. Before you leave your day job, you need to hear from someone on the inside what life is like when you depend on your voice for a living.

I can tell you one thing right now: in spite of what you may have heard, it’s not what you think it is. Far from it. I’ve been doing this for over thirty years, so please trust that I know what I am talking about.

I have to warn you, though. You may hear me say a few things you don’t want to hear. Please keep an open mind. It’s not my job to either encourage or discourage you from following your dream. If there’s a fire burning inside of you, don’t let me put it out. Use this information to prepare yourself for what lies ahead.

So, why is doing voice-overs so hard?

Anything that seems easy, usually isn’t.

It sounds like no big deal, doesn’t it? Talking for a living. We all do it, incessantly. Human beings need to communicate, so, why not get paid for it? Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer J. Simpson is said to be worth over $60 million, just like Nancy Cartwright who voices Bart Simpson. All they do is blabber into a microphone.

Seeing them at work in the studio, voice acting looks like so much effortless fun, and that’s where you make your first mistake. What you see is the result of unique talent, and many, many years of training, hard work, and experience.

In a way it’s like watching Yuja Wang perform a Rachmaninov piano concerto. Her playing is so fast and fluent that it’s easy to forget that even at the peak of her career, she has to practice many hours a day to get to a point where it becomes seamless and second nature.

In our society, we tend to fixate on the end result, and ignore the long and arduous journey to success. Please keep in mind that those who do well as voice-overs are in it for the long haul, and they realize that instant gratification is an illusion sold to you by people who want your money.

Back to the musical metaphor.

The relationship of a musician to a score is like the relationship of an actor to a script. You’ve got to make the words your own, finding the right tone, melody, and rhythm.

Here’s a question for you: There’s a difference between playing the notes and making music.

Anyone can read, but can you actually make music?

Let me take that back. Not everyone can read. Most people think they can, but when you give them a few lines, their volume drops, they start stammering and become very self-conscious. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. You put emphasis on the wrong words. You mumble as your tongue dries up. What comes out of your mouth sounds stilted instead of spontaneous. And when I point that out, you tell me:

“Here’s the problem, Paul. This script… those are not my words. I would never say it that way. That’s why I’m having so much trouble.”

Well, there’s your challenge! At one point, Nancy Cartwright had to find her Bart Simpson, and Dan Castellaneta his Homer (as well as the many other characters they play). They were asked to say things they would never say in real life, and convince the rest of the world they meant every word of it.

That’s part of why voice acting is so difficult. You’re paid to sound authentic and sincere, even when you’re faking it and the script sucks. And take it from me that more than half of the scripts you’ll be asked to voice are written to be read, not spoken, with too many words and too little time.

Meanwhile, you and I are still working on that text I just gave you. Now let’s put you in front of a microphone, and we’ll add an audience to the mix. Let’s assume you’re in a recording studio and the client is listening to your session, together with the director and the sound engineer.

Are you ready for that? After all, people have told you that you have “such a great voice.” How would you handle your nerves? How would you deal with last-minute script changes? How would you respond to feedback that isn’t necessarily positive? Are you patient enough to work for two hours on a thirty-second script, laying down take after take? Will your voice hold up, even when asked to scream enthusiastically over and over again?

All of the above assumes that you have passed the first hurdle: the microphone. Most people become very self-conscious when someone points a camera at them. All of a sudden they don’t know where to put their hands or how to hold their head. The same thing happens with a microphone.

Once you’re aware that every sound you make is being recorded, the pressure is on. And when I say every sound, I mean every sound. Even the sounds you’re not aware of. Every breath, every lip smack, every pop, every click, every snap, bone crackle, and stomach rumble.

The microphone is like a merciless magnifying glass exposing all your imperfections.

These are just some of the things you have to confront as a voice-over professional. You have to…

Sound natural in an unnatural situation, and act as if you’re not acting.

To be honest, most people can’t do it, and they don’t need to because they have other talents and ambitions. Not every piano student wants to have a career like Yuja Wang, but those who do, better prepare themselves!

Next week I’ll talk about another aspect of what makes doing voice-overs so difficult:

It’s a freakin’ business!

Click here for part two.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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