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Those who are doing well don’t always know why they belong to the happy few. “You’ve got to have a lot of luck,” they say, and “be at the right moment at the right time.”
It’s a nice observation, but as a teacher that doesn’t help me much. Just as I can’t predict who’s going to win the Powerball, I cannot influence luck. And if I knew how to be at the right moment at the right time, I probably would be doing something else with my life right now.
What I can help people with as a coach, is preparedness. If you’re lucky to be at the right place at the right time and you’re not prepared, you’re not going to get very far. But preparedness alone is no guarantee that you’ll have a successful career as a creative freelancer.
Let’s say you’re talented, you’re well-trained, and you have the right equipment that gets the job done. Is that enough to start and grow a for-profit business? I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.
Looking at colleagues who are at the top of their game, I have identified three characteristics all of them have in common. Number one I call:
The difference between dreamers and achievers is that achievers attract jobs. This is anything but a passive process. People don’t become magnets overnight and without planning. You’ve got to have an extensive network in place that generates a continuous flow of leads from multiple sources. If you’re just starting out, this is where you have to spend most of your time, energy, and money.
How do you become a magnet? Think about what you can do to draw people to you. You’ve got to offer something special at a price that tells people you take your work seriously. You have to make sure your presentation is in line with your (desired) reputation. Then you need to connect with clients and colleagues to let them know that you exist.
Obviously, this is not something you can do in a few weeks or months. Every self-employed person can tell you that this will be your life from now on, until you decide to close up shop. This type of magnet is like a rechargeable battery. If you don’t charge it regularly, it will quickly lose its power.
Now, let’s assume your magnetic powers have the desired effect and job offers are rolling in. Should you jump on every opportunity? Here’s where the second factor comes in. I call this:
Beginners often make the same mistake. They go after every single job offer, if only “to gain experience.” I remember when I first became a member of an online casting site. As soon as I had posted my profile and the membership fee was paid, the auditions started coming in. In my naïve enthusiasm I applied for every job, thinking that the more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would be hired. I was wrong.
Being a successful freelancer is not a numbers game. It is about going after the opportunities that are right for you. In order to do that, you have to filter out the misfits. That’s where the colander comes in.
Runners know their strengths. Some of them run marathons. Others sprint. In my line of work, some voice actors are great at narrating audiobooks. Others excel in voicing short commercials. Only a handful of people in every profession are true all-rounders. Chances are that you’re not one of them. That’s why you have to do yourself a favor: know your strengths, and become picky. Very picky.
There’s one last factor that separates the wheat from the chaff. I call it:
No matter how good you are at attracting and selecting jobs, once you have landed a new project, you have one objective and one objective only: to make your client happy. That’s by no means an earth-shattering revelation, so why even mention it? Here’s why. So many people believe that if you do the very best you can, the client will be pleased with the result. That’s not necessarily true.
Your very best might not be good enough, and/or the client may have different expectations. That’s why it is so important to find out what those expectations are before you get to work. I often tell my clients: “Any text can be read in a million ways. The more specific you are about what you’d like to hear, the easier it is for me to give you the read you need.” And that’s where the clay comes in.
Clay is just potential. It can be molded into any shape, depending on the talent and skills of the potter. No matter what kind of freelance work you do, whether you’re a scriptwriter, an industrial designer or a voice-over, you’ve got to know your material and be a master molder. The better you are at understanding your client and at working the clay, the more successful you will be.
Mind you, this isn’t something you can pick up from reading a book, or by listening to a podcast. It will take talent, training, and time. It may take a few years before you break in and break even. But when you do, this is what you will discover:
Doing exceptional work almost always leads to more work, which brings us back to the concept of the magnet.
One last thing.
If your career isn’t where you want it to be at the moment, ask yourself:
“Where are my greatest challenges?
What needs more work?
Is it the magnet, the colander, or is it the way I handle the clay?”
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Please retweet.
He said it.
And I happen to agree with him.
My agent Erik has a YouTube Channel every voice talent should watch and subscribe to. It’s called The Outspoken. Erik uses this channel to answer questions, and to expose all the BS that’s going on in the voice-over world. Let me tell you: he’s got his job cut out for him!
A week or so ago, Erik posted a video with no-nonsense advice for voice-over newbies and coaches. To coaches he had this to say:
“I feel it’s irresponsible in today’s market to bring in and encourage new talent.”
And for newbies he dropped this bombshell:
“Your chances of making it big are close to… nil.”
That’s not the message most people want to hear, and yet they have to hear it again and again until it sinks into their stubborn skulls. And if you don’t take Erik’s word for it, listen to what one of your colleagues had to say. He just wrote me this email:
“Paul, I know that you’re a good source for the up and up on voiceovers and was just wondering: are voiceover actors getting obsolete? I have been doing this for well over nine years now; had my ups and downs, but lately it’s been on the downside. I was used to making thousands of dollars on the side doing this, but now it’s virtually nothing, so now I’m trying to reignite my IT career once again. It’s not something that I really like, but I do have a degree in it. I like doing voiceovers a lot more, but it is very slim pickens now. Just wondering if you knew anything going on in the voiceover industry that might be happening with voice talent.”
Well, a lot is happening, and it ain’t all good.
So many talented, hard-working people are having a tough time right now. Don’t think we’re the only group of flex workers that has trouble in this fickle gig economy, though. Freelance photographers, graphic designers, copywriters, event planners, fitness trainers, independent music teachers, -even therapists in private practice are struggling to find clients, and make ends meet. Some of them are ready to pull the plug. The question is:
How do you know it is time to hang up your hat?
Different people have different reasons. For some it’s purely financial. Others have trouble keeping up with the changing nature of their business. So, what are some of the reasons for wanting or needing to call it quits?
Here’s a quick checklist:
q You’re not booking enough jobs, and you’re running out of money.
q You have no bites on Pay-to-Plays, and agents aren’t interested.
q You don’t know how to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack.
q You can’t afford to invest in quality equipment and/or coaching, and you have no money to outsource the things you hate doing.
q You find it tough to market yourself, and to sell your services.
q You have a hard time motivating yourself. You’re bored doing the same thing over and over again. There’s no challenge, and no room to grow,
q You’re stressed out by the uncertainty that comes with so-called freelance freedom.
q You can’t organize or prioritize.
q You need a lot of hand-holding and spoon-feeding.
q You’re feeling isolated and lonely. You miss daily, in-person interaction with colleagues.
q You want to leave your work at work, but you can’t keep your personal life separate from your professional life, and your family is suffering.
q You’re working too much for too little.
q You want it all, and you want it NOW, but after three years things are not improving.
q You long for a job with regular hours & benefits, and a predictable income.
Here’s my rule of thumb. If you’ve checked off at least five boxes, you have some serious soul-searching to do. No one is forcing you to make this voice-over thing happen. But you’re the boss, and it’s up to you how long you want to keep going at it.
FACE THE FACTS
If I’m totally honest, I believe that some seventy to eighty percent of people calling themselves voice-over talent have no business being in this business. They’re not cut out for it. They have very few skills, and almost no talent. Their chances of making it big are close to nil. All they can do is compete on price, which will be their downfall.
Now, listen. If you’re part of this group, that doesn’t mean you’re a hopeless, horrible human being. You probably have other talents in other areas. As I said in my article 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become a Voice-Over…
“We have enough people talking into microphones. What this world needs is less talk and more action. We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution, people who know how to fight global warming, and first responders to natural disasters.
If you want to make a real difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the homeless, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.”
You may think that this sounds harsh, and that it doesn’t apply to you. After all, I don’t know you, and I don’t care about you. Well, that’s not necessarily so. I know too many naive hopefuls like you, who are being ripped off by unscrupulous characters and companies selling them a pipe dream that will never come true. I really don’t want you to fall for those expensive schemes. And get this…
If even pros with years of experience and an impressive portfolio have trouble booking jobs these days, you need to bring something very special to the table if you wish to compete at the highest level. You need to have a comfortable cash cushion to survive the first few years, and you must be strong and determined enough to withstand massive rejection.
If that’s you, then by all means: GO FOR IT! Prove Erik and me wrong!
You’ll become part of a select, supportive community of go-getters, risk takers, fast learners, and people who are sillier than the characters they’re paid to play. All of them have this in common:
At one point in their lives they made one of the most important decisions that propelled them to where they are now.
They decided to quit quitting.
If that’s something you know deep down you can do, you better fasten your seatbelt.
It’s going to be a crazy ride!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Subscribe, share and retweet!
- – How did you get started in the voice-over business?
- – What challenges did you encounter in your career, and how did you overcome them?
- – What advice do you have for beginners?
Well, I could write a book about that (and I did), but some time ago, my colleague Peter Kinney O’Connell asked me the following:
1. When did you know you wanted to be a voice-over talent; how did your career begin, and when did your passion for voice-over develop into something professional?
When I was six years old, my parents gave me a Philips cassette recorder. It didn’t take long before I discovered how to capture the sound of my own voice. That’s when it all began. In 1969.
I can still see myself sitting on the front porch with a copy of “King Arthur and the Black Knight.” It would become my very first audio book. Actually, it was more of a radio drama. Around me were all sorts of self-made instruments I used for sound effects. Every character had a different voice. Every voice had a different character.
The tape I made that day was used over and over again, and eventually it broke. What didn’t break was my love for painting pictures with sound.
Eleven years later I auditioned for my first job in Hilversum, the heart of Dutch broadcasting. A public network was recruiting a group of promising teens to start producing radio and television programs. Veterans would coach them in all aspects of the business. I just knew I had to be part of that program.
In the years that followed, that program became part of me. I produced and presented documentaries, talk shows, music specials, and radio plays. The microphone became my best friend. It was the beginning of a career in broadcasting that would take me to a number of national Dutch networks, the BBC, and Radio Netherlands International.
In 1999 I made a bold decision: I would leave Holland and start a new life in the New World. In a matter of months I was represented by Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia. My European accent seemed to be a welcome addition to their talent pool. It took me a number of years to build a client base that would sustain a full-time voice-over career, but eventually I became the Chief Artistic Officer of a company I named Nethervoice.
2. What is the one thing you know now that you wish someone had told you when you started out in voice-over?
If someone had warned me that this job could easily turn into an obsession, I still would have applied for it. It’s true though, but it might also have to do with my personality. When I’m passionate about something, I want to immerse myself in every aspect of it, and learn to do it well.
I realized early on that it takes more than a good voice to make a good living in this field. Success needs to be carefully planned. It’s like a flower bed that has to be protected, watered, and fertilized regularly (more about that in Jonathan Tilley’s “Voice Over Garden“).
Because I have a home studio, I’m always at work. It seems ideal, but for someone with an obsession it can be dangerous. It’s tempting to become a boring recording recluse who lives and breathes voice-overs. And you know me… When I don’t read and record, I write about it in my blog.
Life Coaches always advocate finding a balance between work and play. But what if your work is your play? At some point in the day, the headphones have to come off, and we must leave our soundproof studio. Without sunlight, there’s no growth. Our job is just a means to and end.
3. What do you see as the biggest professional or personal obstacle you face that impacts your voice-over business and how are you working to overcome it?
I wasn’t born to toot my own horn. The Calvinistic Dutch preach modesty and frown upon anything that may be perceived as vanity. Why? Because human talents are seen as a gift from God, so we shouldn’t take too much credit for our accomplishments. Many centuries have passed since the spirit of Calvin touched the Netherlands, yet, some of his principles are still present in our DNA, the Dutch National Attitude.
Looking back, I really believe that this mindset kept me from promoting myself properly. But there was something else. Coming from the relatively safe world of broadcasting, I never needed to market myself. I was hired by a network to do a number of jobs, and I left it to the PR people to sing my praises.
After I’d said goodbye to Holland, I had to learn that it was okay to be proud of what I had achieved, and use those achievements to attract business. To this day, I try to do this in a veiled way, by offering advice and entertainment in my blog. That’s where clients and colleagues get to know me as someone with a certain level of experience and pizzazz. Well, that’s the idea…
4. What personal trait or professional tool has helped you succeed the most in your career so far?
One thing that has helped me tremendously is a toolbox called Neuro-Linguistic Psychology. It’s a mix of positive attitudes, beliefs, and strategies to help people design and live the life they’ve always dreamt of.
At the basis of NLP is the process of modeling. I’m not talking about the catwalk in Milan, but about the study of exceptional people: business tycoons, sports icons, therapists, artists, et cetera.
The idea is that these people -in order to achieve something extraordinary- have set themselves up for success. They have carefully (and often unconsciously) conditioned themselves to accomplish amazing things. The question is: How did they do that?
NLP tries to break it down into bits and pieces: the ingredients of a recipe. Once the recipe is uncovered, it can be taught to almost anyone. The finest and fastest way to mastering something is to start teaching it. That’s why I eventually became an internationally certified trainer of NLP, and that’s the reason I started coaching voice talent.
5. In your development as a voice-over performer, what has been the one piece of performance advice that you felt has had the most impact on your actual voice over performance and why?
Here’s my answer:
Find something that defines you, but that does not limit you.
In other words: you want to box yourself in to emphasize what sets you apart, but you want that box to be big enough to attract a wide audience. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one.
In my case, I describe myself as a European Voice. Not British. Not American. Not even Dutch, even though that’s my native language. I tell my clients that I specialize in intelligent international narration. For that reason I get to do multilingual projects and jobs that require someone with a more global, neutral English accent.
WANT MORE ME?
A while ago, my old Radio Netherlands colleague Constantino De Miguel interviewed me about the voice-over business on Voice Over Plaza. If you want to take notes, get pen and paper ready!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
Last week, I shared the story of Rick, a voice actor and producer with over 30 years of experience. In spite of his talent and time in the business, Rick isn’t doing so well. What’s even worse: he has pretty much given up hope that things will change for the better.
His story struck a chord. Colleagues reacted privately and publicly, telling me that the voice-over Boulevard of Broken Dreams is a crowded place. Is it possible to get stuck there? Of course it is, but with the right mindset, skill set, and marketing strategy, your chances at success will improve dramatically.
I asked my commentators what kind of advice they had for Rick. Here’s what they had to say.
1. DON’T DWELL ON THE PAST
“The bottom line is this: get rid of all the negativity in your life, believe in yourself, and thank the powers that be for all the good fortune in your life. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow doesn’t exist, so that leaves today! Working on today is what I do very well!”
“Be in the right mindset. We can often be our own worst enemy with what we unconsciously BELIEVE to be “true,” and can sabotage our own best efforts, because deep down, we really think we don’t deserve success, or some other faulty belief that we keep living out and finding evidence to support.”
2. CHOOSE HAPPINESS OVER MONEY
“After working as a Part-time VO for 20 years, I only just went full time 3 years ago, and I am in the midst of my best year ever. I am tracking to make 30K this year. Still only a third of what I used to make as a multimedia developer. But I am much happier.
I realize I may not ever hit the “Big-Time,” but it doesn’t deter me from continuing in this industry because I am happy. I know the pitfalls, and in my opinion, they are less stressful and more rewarding than any company I worked for all my life. It’s not all peaches and cream. It’s perspective, and I appreciate honesty above all. Less surprises that way.”
3. FIND YOUR NICHE
“If you can find a mid-sized market where you can be the “only” at something, I think you can have a real shot. I entered a mid-sized market when there was no one else who sounded like me. This mattered because there were tons of women with deep, sexy voices in the Philly market.
I was a recent college grad with a high-pitched, very young sounding voice. I even had engineers say to me “We finally have someone to call to play a high school or college student!” At that time, there was a lot of character parts in radio VO, and I played the daughter, the valley girl (that was a “thing” at the time), the high school or college student, etc. I wasn’t the best voice talent, but I did have acting skills and I was essentially the “only.”
4. BE CLOSE & BE READY
“People will tell you that because of the internet, Source-Connect, ISDN, etc. you can do this from “wherever.” Don’t believe it. I mean, you can…sort of… but with limited success. I have had the success I’ve had because I can be at studios in Burbank/Los Angeles/Hollywood at the drop of a hat. It’s not because I’m better than anyone else – I’m sure I’m not.
I have a dear friend in Des Moines who works at a car dealership. He has an amazing home studio with everything you could ever need or want, and he’s a lot better than I am. He would beat me at every read. But, I book 200% more work than he does because of WHERE he is, and because opportunities come when he’s working his other job. I get auditions that need to be done in the next 4 hours and so does he. You can’t do those if you’re working another job. I get work, not because I beat guys on the read, but because I beat them to the punch.
Treat VO like a part-time job or a sideline, and that’s all it will ever be.”
5. BE OPEN & EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS
“Stay up with the times. Just because you’ve been doing something for 30 years, if you’re working from an old paradigm, then perhaps you need to expand into a new way of thinking… not only with copywriting, but vocal delivery, music mix, and message.
Diversify. Don’t only focus on commercial work. How about being open to niches in narration, explainers, phone messaging, audio books, video games? The VO world has expanded so much from 30 years ago, with niches opening up that didn’t even exist before.”
“Hire other professionals to help you in areas where you’re not an expert (website building, branding, marketing, SEO, social media management, blog writing, etc.) and also coaches, to keep fresh in your vocal delivery. Hire demo producers to cut new and cutting edge demos – they seem to constantly need to be refreshed.
Get copies of your work to upload onto many different playlists on YouTube, and then keyword those to attract potential clients. These are just a few practices that can make a big difference. Outsource, where you can, and this includes housekeeping, yard maintenance, etc.”
I want to thank my colleagues for chiming in with these words of wisdom. They illustrate the final point I’d like to make:
7. DON’T REINVENT THE WHEEL: LEARN FROM THE BEST
As they say: “Experience is the slowest teacher,” particularly bad experience. Cut your learning curve by working with pros who are where you want to be. That way, you don’t have to make the mistakes they had to make.
Remember that even the best athletes work with coaches on a regular basis. The success of a single player is a team effort.
Surround yourself with people who support your goals, and who have the expertise to get you there.
Be patient. Be persistent. Be a Pro.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!
For one, I saw the number of subscribers to this blog grow to over 36 thousand. That’s insane!
It didn’t happen by accident. How did I do it? Well, if you read this article, you will get a good sense of my strategy.
Few things are more gratifying than knowing that you chose to take a few minutes each week to spend them in my company. Not only that, you have shared my stories with your friends and colleagues. You’ve discussed them online and offline, and you’ve reached out to me when one of my posts struck a chord. Thank you so much!
Now, we all lead busy lives, and I realize that throughout the year you might have missed a blog post here or there. That’s why -at the end of the year- I want to highlight a few stories that you may not have seen, or that have faded from your memory.
If anything, this past year has been very emotional for me. There were times that I didn’t feel like going into my studio to record, and when I did, it was challenging to say the least. I wrote about it in Feeling Like A Fake.
There were a few “firsts” in 2015. I believe I was the first voice-over who openly wrote about sex. If you’re curious about what I had to say, read The Confident Skills of a Sex God. I think I also was the first and perhaps the only VO who celebrated World Voice Day by writing two contributions.
The first post entitled Your Voice Your Life, was about vocal health. If you care about your instrument, it is a must-read! The second was The Window to the Soul, and it’s about a new area of research: emotional analytics. It’s all based on the notion that what we say is not as important as how we say it.
Like last year, I continued to rub many readers the wrong way. In fact, posts in which I vent my frustration usually end up being the most popular.
In March I became the most hated man among podcasters, when I published The Problem with Podcasting. After receiving some very nasty and mostly anonymous comments, I was forced to change my comment policy. Here’s a summary:
I no longer accept anonymous comments, or comments by people using a fictitious online identity. I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind a made up character. Comments that are rude and disrespectful will be deleted immediately. You’ll find more about this in Poisonous Pens.
Another blog post that elicited some angry responses was 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice Over. It was unfortunate that the angriest commentators forgot to read the last line. Skimming the text is not the same as reading it. In The Agony of Ignorance, I reveal some other traits I cannot stand.
People often get upset because I tend to say things that are perceived as being harsh and confrontational. One of those posts was The Message Very Few Want To Hear. Between you and me: I never ask my readers to agree with me, and I’m not intent on winning a popularity contest. I must admit: sugarcoating is not my strength.
One of the main goals in writing this blog, is to enhance professionalism in my line of work. In The Secret to Sustained Success, I discuss short-term versus long-term thinking, and the effect it can have on a career. In To Discount Or Not To Discount, I share what Famous Dave’s delicious pickles tell us about pricing strategy.
Are Clients Walking All Over You deals with the importance of setting professional boundaries, and in Sending The Wrong Signals I reveal one of the worst things you can do in customer service, and how you can turn it around.
Many more experienced readers want to know how they can get to the proverbial “next level.” If that speaks to you, please read 4 Ways to Get From Good to Great. You might also want to know The One Thing Every Client Is Listening For. Don’t get ahead of yourself, though, because Perfectionism Is A Trap!
And then there’s my biggest story of 2015. All my posts about Voices.com went viral this year, and the first one was Voices.com is Slapping Members in the Face, followed by Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy. Number three is called The Ciccarelli Circus.
To me, one of the biggest trends of 2015 was the fact that people were finally fed up with a pay-to-play system that didn’t give them a fair shot at landing jobs, and with a company that seemed to be double and triple dipping while cheapening the marketplace with low rates. Read Calling It As I See It, for other trends.
But if there was one piece that summed up my state of mind in 2015, it has to be Giving Up. It’s a new philosophy that I will continue to live by in 2016.
What I won’t give up, is this blog. As long as there’s still music inside of me, I will keep on singing with my Nethervoice.
May the new year bring you health, happiness, inspiration, satisfaction, and continued success!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS In case you hadn’t noticed, the text in blue is a hyperlink, taking you to the actual blog post.
At the end of Uncle Roy’s 10th annual VO-BBQ, a young colleague walked up to me and said:
“I wanted to thank you.
You are the reason why I am a voice-over today.”
“How so?” I asked, pleasantly surprised.
He said: “When I watched your video The Troublesome Truth about a Voice-Over Career, I just knew I had to become a voice actor. Since then I have worked very hard to launch my career, and I couldn’t be happier doing what I love to do. So, thank you!”
“I’m so glad to hear that,” I said, “but really… all the credit goes to you. You made this happen. Not me. I just put a video on YouTube.”
When I thought about this encounter the next day, it made me smile. So many people have seen the video, and quite a few commentators accused me of trying to kill their dreams by listing all the reasons why a voice-over career might not be for them. How dare I?
Now, here’s a guy who had the opposite response. After watching my video, he became more determined than ever to make it as a professional voice talent! It just goes to show that the same information can elicit an entirely different reaction, depending on the person who’s processing it.
This confirms one of my favorite sayings:
The world we see is a mirror of who we are.
If you are a glass-is-half-empty kind of person, you will always find evidence to support that idea. If you believe that the glass is always half full, you’ll find example after example to underpin that view. Our perception is mostly projection.
I also had to smile because I do love it when open-minded, talented people take advice to heart, and run with it.
You see, it’s so easy to look at a video, listen to a podcast or quickly scan a blog post, and immediately move on to something else. That’s today’s society. We go from one stimulus to the next. There’s no percolation time, allowing info to sink in. That’s a shame, because processing more information faster doesn’t make us any wiser. I believe it makes us more shallow and stressed.
When we listen to someone making a point, we hardly ask ourselves the basic questions:
1. What is the speaker really saying? How much of it do I understand, and what is it that I don’t yet get?
2. What does this information mean to me? How is it relevant?
3. What should I do with it?
Why do we skip these questions?
For one, because many of us have lost the ability to be in the moment and truly listen. We’re so busy trying to come up with a response, that we don’t even hear what’s being said. Or, we assume we already know what the other person is going to say, and we respond to that. The better we know the person we’re talking to, the more frequently this happens.
It’s a relationship killer, and I’m not only talking about intimate relationships.
Whether you’re a voice actor or you do some other kind of freelance work, your level of success is deeply linked to the level in which you understand and respond to your client’s needs. That’s why I find it very challenging to work with clients who give little or no instructions.
It’s impossible to live up to unknown expectations. This is true in our professional, as well as in our personal lives. And because we make assumptions instead of asking questions, we get in trouble.
The other day I was convinced I knew what a client wanted me to do. My job was to dub a Dutch actor in English, and the director had sent me a video clip of the guy I was supposed to emulate. So, I sent the director a recording of me mimicking the Dutchman to the best of my abilities.
The next day I got a request to redo the dub. “I only sent you the video so you could get a sense of the tempo,” the director said. “I don’t want you to imitate the man. I want you to sound like yourself.” So, once again I had been mind reading someone else’s intentions, and had missed the mark.
Because of experiences like these, I can’t blame those who leave strange and unusual comments on my Troublesome Truth video, or on this blog for that matter. I have to accept that once I release words and images into cyberspace, they will take on a life of their own, and people will interpret them any way they want.
Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Like the time this young colleague thanked me for my video.
And I realize that what he did with my message says a lot about him, and very little about me.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
Before you begin, please note that the following article was written in September 2015, long before Voices dot com bought VoiceBank. I think my story proves that past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior.
Beginning bloggers often ask me how to write a story that gets a lot of attention and traction.
They realize they have to cut through a lot of clutter to reach an audience suffering from information overload, and they don’t know how.
In a way, blogging is a bit like a voice-over career. With thousands of hopefuls jumping like Shrek’s donkey shouting “Pick me, pick me!,” how do you make sure your voice is heard?
As far as blogging goes, there are a few tried-and-tested ways to grab people’s attention:
1. Have a strong headline;
2. Use numbered lists (like I’m doing right now);
3. Tap into problems your readers are experiencing, and offer practical solutions;
4. Be provocative as well as entertaining.
Stories that prove to be particularly popular are the ones claiming to reveal success secrets of those who have made it. Content aggregators can’t seem to get enough of articles like:
“6 Behaviors of the Most Successful People”
“4 Remarkable Insights to Inspire Social Media Success”
“8 Habits of Exceptionally Successful CEOs”
“11 Secrets of Irresistible People”
I don’t even have to read these stories to tell you what “secrets” they reveal:
• Be yourself, and believe in yourself
• Work hard and play hard
• Be proactive and stay focused
• Keep on learning
• Stay in shape, mentally and physically
• Be persistent and flexible
• Do what you love, and love what you do
• Don’t get comfortable, stay hungry
• Always exceed expectations
That’s all good, but there are a few things that are frequently overlooked. Here’s one aspect all successful people and organizations have in common:
They are open to feedback, and willing to change course when they’re moving in the wrong direction.
A GREAT TEAM
A management team is useless if it only consists of cheerleaders. Cheerleaders love everything you do, and they will only tell you what you want to hear. We can all use some positive reinforcement once in a while, but a great company builds on its strengths, and it works on its weaknesses.
It takes clever and fearless critics to point out those weaknesses. They have the guts to tell you what you don’t want to hear. For that, critics may get a bad rep, because they are often seen as unsupportive contrarians who only want to disrupt and destroy.
Some companies have developed a culture where any form of criticism is being suppressed, because it is seen as being disloyal. It turns out that those companies not only close themselves off from inside critique. They don’t want to hear it from the outside either. And once a business stops listening to those who use their products or services, it is pretty much doomed.
You’ve probably heard of the show Undercover Boss. It features CEOs of struggling companies. Most of these men and women seem to have one thing in common: they have lost touch with reality. They know something’s wrong with their business, but they can’t put a finger on it because the people they surround themselves with are just as clueless, or they are too afraid to speak up.
So, the boss goes undercover and works a few jobs on different levels to find out what’s going on, and to hear what people are really thinking. What they usually discover is that the employees they work with on the show, are very much aware of what’s wrong. Some of them even have good ideas about how to fix it.
The program always ends with the CEO revealing him or herself, and implementing some or all of the recommendations and suggestions he/she picked up in the field. But there’s more.
The people who spoke up (not knowing they were talking to their boss) are publicly praised and rewarded, instead of being punished for criticizing the company.
The moral of the story? Whether you’re a public organization, a publicly traded company, or you run your own business, feedback is necessary for your survival. Otherwise you’re operating in a vacuum. Even if the criticism is harsh, and feels like a personal attack, you are being given a gift. How you handle that gift is up to you.
Now, if you’re a solopreneur like me, you can’t go undercover in your own business. You need some other system to get feedback. That’s where a coach or mentor comes in.
Being a coach myself, I often have to be the bearer of bad news. It’s no fun telling people what they don’t want to hear. Hopes are high and egos are fragile. Susceptible people love to believe that they are special, and that they have what it takes to be the next Mel Blanc or Tom Kenny.
When that’s clearly not the case, it’s easier for a student to blame the messenger, and find another coach who will take their money and tell them what they want to hear. It’s just as easy to sign up for a site that will validate their status as a “professional” voice artist, in spite of their lack of talent. But “easy” won’t get them anywhere, because easy is an illusion.
Here’s the ugly truth:
If recording voice-overs was easy, everybody would be doing it, and they all would make tons of money. Instead, it’s the companies and individuals that want you to believe that it’s easy, that are making the money.
But I digress. The topic was feedback.
VOICES on “VOICES”
Over the past few weeks, this blog sparked a wave of criticism directed toward voices.com (VDC), one of the many online casting services. Colleagues like Iona Frances, who would normally bite her tongue on this topic, felt compelled to respond, and she shared her experience, as did many others.
The big question is: What will voices.com do with this feedback? I’m pretty sure the management has read the articles as well as the comments, and they can’t be too pleased. Countless colleagues have called Canada to cancel their membership, and have asked for a refund. Some have even contacted a lawyer.
If I were the CEO of “Voices,” I would listen, and listen carefully. This is an opportunity to learn and grow as a company. If the critique is valid, changes must be made. If the feedback is based on false assumptions, the company needs to set the record straight. What it cannot do, is to remain silent.
Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.
The worst thing “Voices” could do, is to give those who give them feedback, a hard time. But based on what I have heard, that’s exactly what’s been happening. It’s easier for an elephant to fly in the sky using his ears, than for VDC users to cancel their membership. Even those who thought they had been removed from the VDC database years ago, found out that they’re still in the system!
Instead of trying to regain the trust of members who each paid $399 or more for services they feel they’re not receiving, VDC is giving callers an earful. That’s not how you treat the talent your site supposedly supports. Moreover, it only confirms the negative impression people had in the first place.
After a deluge of devastating one-star reviews in August 2017, the moderator of the VDC Facebook page removed the review option altogether, deleting all the comments. Why does the image of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand suddenly pop up?
As for me, I have always retained a free membership that allowed me to monitor developments and changes at “Voices” from the inside. Rather than have other people tell me about sliding rates and managed projects, I could see for myself what was going on.
One day in September 2015 when I tried to log on in, I made an interesting discovery: my account had been removed.
Without any warning or explanation.
Apparently, that’s how this company deals with those who dare to criticize it. You have been warned!
I have only one thing to say:
“Voices.com, thanks for the feedback.
Keep on doing what you’re doing, but know that we’re on to you.
WE HAVE HAD IT!”
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
Jake was a model employee. He’d been with the same company for 45 years, and never missed a day. At his retirement party, he received a farewell gift: a trip for two to Aruba. It was something Jake and his wife had always dreamt of.
A week later, they were on their way to the airport. While going through security, Jake suddenly collapsed, and died of a heart attack.
Jenny was a model athlete: tall, muscular, and motivated. From the age of fifteen she’d won practically every triathlon she took part in. At her Olympic qualifier she crushed the national competition. Two more weeks, and she would be on her way to represent her country.
Friends threw her a farewell pool party. That night, Jenny slipped over an ice cube, and landed on the edge of the pool. With a broken tibia, she could kiss her Olympic dreams goodbye. She never reached her old level again.
Folkert, my father, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Last year, one of his doctors told him he was in the final stages, and advised him to get his affairs in order. While I was visiting, we got a second opinion which was much more optimistic.
My father began a breakthrough treatment to which he responded remarkably well. Instead of a few months, he was given a number of years. Then he started experiencing new symptoms, completely unrelated to his cancer. On September 30th, he was diagnosed with ALS.
DO YOU HAVE THE ANSWER
What do you make of these stories? How do you respond? What can you possibly say to Folkert, Jenny, and to Jake’s wife?
Is there a satisfactory answer to the question why bad things happen to good people?
Some have tried to come up with something, as if knowing the answer would somehow soften the blow. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, I get very uncomfortable when people attempt to make a wrong right. On what authority are they speaking? What do they know that I don’t?
Please don’t tell me that “everything happens for a reason,” or that it’s “for the better.” Don’t tell me there is a G-d who orchestrates cruel things out of love for his unruly children. Don’t tell me that Jake, Jenny, and Folkert deserved their fate because of some colossal cosmic conspiracy we call karma.
It doesn’t help.
It only hurts.
Yet, in the back of most people’s minds is the belief that we reap what we sow. We get what we deserve. It’s at the heart of the American Dream. If you study, apply yourself, and work hard, you can go from foster care to self-made millionaire. That’s only fair, isn’t it? If you are a good person, good things will happen to you. Good boys get rewarded. Bad boys get punished.
But what about all those bad boys who end up on top? The higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more selfish, cutthroat executives you’ll encounter. They didn’t get there by playing nice. In certain circles, success knows no mercy. It’s either eat or be eaten. Sharks in fancy suits walk all over gentle Mr. Goody two-shoes, the docile doormat.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR CAREER
A few days ago I had a serious conversation with one of my voice-over students. In the last twelve months, she had invested a nice chunk of change in her studio. She bought a great new mic, a lovely preamp, and even a new computer.
I believe in her, and more importantly, she believes in herself.
When we started our session, she sounded peeved.
“Paul,” she said, “Over the past couple of years I have worked my butt off. You know that. I promised myself to give this voice-over thing a good shot. When I listen back to some of my early recordings, I can tell that I have grown. And when I listen to what else is out there, I know I have something to offer. You said so yourself. But get this…
The other day I told one of my voice-over friends that I was going to audition for that commercial we talked about. I really poured everything you’ve taught me into that audition, and I sounded pretty good, if I say so myself. Guess who got the job? My friend! The one who has zero personality and zero experience. She even let me listen to her audition, and it was mediocre at best.
Be honest with me, Paul. Did I just waste years of my life? Should I sell my equipment? What good did all of that training do if I get beaten by a newbie? It’s so frustrating, and it makes me mad! How long do I have to wait for my big break?”
THE MYTH OF OVERNIGHT SUCCESS
When I heard her question, I had to think of actress Jenna Fischer. You probably know her as Pam from the American version of The Office. She always wanted to be an actor, and she eventually moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream. She fully expected to be working in movies within a year of coming to LA. It didn’t happen that way.
Jenna worked as a temp, she took acting and improv classes, and she borrowed money to make ends meet. At one point she had to wear a pair of shoes with a hole in them because she couldn’t afford anything else. It took her more than six long years before she finally got “discovered.”
Jenna Fischer is a perfect example of the adage that it can take years to become an overnight success. She knows from experience that the (voice) acting business is without guarantees, no matter how talented and motivated you are. When asked about it, she had this to say:
“This business is not fair. It is not like other businesses where if you show up, and work above and beyond everyone’s expectations, you are pretty much guaranteed to move up the ladder. I don’t know why it works out for some and not for others. And when you move here (Hollywood, P.S.) you have no idea which camp you are going to fall into.”
JUST BE FAIR
“Fair” is an interesting concept. Most dictionaries define it as “in accordance with the rules.” Most rules civil societies live by, are practical, logical, and even reasonable. They’re an example of cause-effect thinking: If A, then B. Without rules, life would be chaotic.
Most of us have unwritten rules that guide our hopes and expectations. To name a few: “If I train hard, and do my very best, I will be successful.” Or “If I live a healthy life, I will live a long life.”
Here’s the problem: those rules aren’t always reasonable, and they are rarely absolute. They only seem that way. What makes sense, and what seems right from our limited perspective, doesn’t necessarily happen. Kind, innocent people die young. Selfish bastards live to be a hundred. No explanation given.
Secondly: Most people don’t play by our rules. They might not even be aware of them. Perhaps they’re playing a different game altogether, and we don’t even see it. Many decisions that affect us, have nothing to do with us.
Third: Life isn’t logical. It’s not a matter of “If A, then B.” Usually, it’s: “If A, then D or Z.” People are emotional beings, and what they do isn’t cold and calculated. We forget. We make mistakes. We act impulsively, and break all the rules.
Last but not least: Even though we often think we are, we’re never one hundred percent in control. If we’re physically and mentally healthy, we can control our actions to a great extent, but we cannot control the outcome. Life consists of too many variables. Even perfectionists have to admit that…. at some point.
So, where does this leave us?
Are we hopeless and helpless leaves in the winds of chance? Should we stop trying to accomplish things, simply because the outcome is uncertain, and likely to be unfair?
I’ll tell you what I think we should do.
We should begin by skipping the question “Why.” “Why me, why this, why now?”
Asking “Why” is asking for a logical, reasonable explanation which you won’t always get. I hate to break it to you, but your rules, conscious or unconscious, don’t apply all the time.
My student did everything she could to win that audition. There was nothing she could have done to change the preference of the client.
Jenny missed the Olympics because she accidentally stepped on that ice cube. It wasn’t part of some devious celestial plan.
Jake had earned that dream vacation, but he died at the airport because his heart stopped working. Period.
My father did nothing to deserve ALS. There wasn’t anything he could have done to prevent it from affecting him. The question “fair or not fair” isn’t going to change his condition. He has to learn to live with ALS, and he’ll eventually die with it.
One last thing, if I may.
Most people tend to contemplate the issue of fairness when they believe they’ve been wronged, tricked, or were denied something they felt entitled to. That’s when they will ask the question “Why?”
When things go really well, and life smiles upon us, we hardly ever ask the question “Why me, why this, why now?”
We take our good fortune for granted.
Think about it.
Is that really fair?
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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