Every now and then I get them.
Emails from some voice over genius I’ve never heard of, offering me a coaching package.
Signing on the dotted line would give me access to a number of prerecorded training sessions that would lay the groundwork for “a lucrative and fulfilling career as a voice actor.” Imagine that!
But wait. There’s more…
If I’d sign up within the next 48 hours, I’d also get 50% off my first demo!
And it gets even better.
The email promised in CAPS that “RESULTS are GUARANTEED!”
It sounded just like an email from those shady troll farms promising to fix your SEO so your website will appear on the first page of any Google search. You know it’s a scam, yet impressionable people are falling for it as if it were a Trump University curriculum.
Don’t tell me aspiring voice overs are smarter than that. Just look at the sheer number of people with a voices dot com or VoiceBunny account. That should tell you enough.
GET RICH QUICK
My friends in the business urged me not to worry about these would-be VO coaches with their get-rich-quick training programs. They said these naive newbies will get what they pay for, and that’s their problem. There are plenty of other things in this world worth worrying about.
Yet… one day, someone who was interested in hiring me as a coach wanted to know if I was guaranteeing any results. Her reasoning was: if you’re a confident and competent coach, you stand behind your work. Other coaches are offering it, so why wouldn’t I?
The unspoken assumption behind her question was this. If I didn’t guarantee results, I probably wasn’t too sure of my ability to guide her and therefore not worth her time and money.
Here’s how I see it.
I AM TESTING YOU
What most of my future students don’t realize is that while they think they’re auditioning me as a possible coach, I am also taking them through a selection process that starts with the very first contact. I am testing them as much as they are testing me, and in my book most people don’t get past round one. I’ll explain.
One of the best indicators of a successful coaching relationship is mutual trust. If a potential student doesn’t believe I have what it takes to be an effective coach, I will be swimming against the tide from day one, and it will sabotage our chances for success. I purposefully say “our success” because -like a marriage- it takes two to tango.
As in any dance, one partner leads, and the other has to follow. So, if I sense a lot of resistance from the get-go, I have to deal with that first, before I can be effective. I work with a lot of experienced colleagues who bring quite a resume, and they often come with a mind that is less than open. They are proud of past accomplishments, and believe this entitles them to future success.
I tell them: “Past success may make it easier for you to get through the door of an agent’s office, but that’s usually where it stops.” One of my students had been THE voice of a well-known brand for over fifteen years, until he heard a colleague voicing a commercial for that very same brand. That’s how he found out the client had dropped him.
He called his contact at the brand and learned that his colleague was doing the same work at half the rate. He said to me: “I feel betrayed! Only last week I treated that colleague to a champagne brunch and he never mentioned a thing. Had I known the brand wanted to pay less, they could have called me first to negotiate. Forget loyalty!”
It’s a tough experience, but it goes to show that there are no guarantees in the voice over business.
That I can guarantee you.
Being happy and successful as a voice over professional as well as a VO coach, has to do with managing expectations. Both my clients and my students often come in with unrealistic expectations. If I don’t address these expectations upfront and put boundaries around them, they will come back to bite me in one way or another.
For instance, if one of my students or clients thinks she can call or text me at any point during the day or night and expect an answer straight away, I’ll end up having no downtime. Let’s say I give in once or twice, because “it’s only a quick question or a short retake,” I have established a pattern that it’s okay to contact me after hours.
Another unrealistic expectation is to expect that when it comes to coaching, results are guaranteed. The reason I don’t guarantee results is very simple.
I cannot control other people. I can only hope to control myself.
All of us were born with a little thing called free will, that’s been messing with mankind since Eve decided to listen to a snake.
No matter the circumstances, we have a choice how to react. We have a choice to wear a mask or not, to keep a distance of six feet, and to wash our hands. Every choice has consequences.
So, I may give one of my students some advice to help him move forward in his career. If he decides for whatever reason not to follow that advice, he won’t reap the rewards and he will stay stuck.
LEADING A HORSE TO THE WATER
The other day I strongly advised one of my students to get a new website. I told him to talk to Karin Barth or Joe Davis of voiceactorwebsites Three weeks later he still had not made the call and is stuck with a website that’s not mobile friendly and takes forever to load.
If you can’t guarantee that you will follow my suggestions, I can’t guarantee that you will benefit from my coaching.
But there are other reasons why I don’t make promises. Not only are some students not willing to do what it takes. They don’t have what it takes. The good news is that these people are easier to spot and turn down. I think it’s unethical to take money from someone whose enthusiasm clearly supersedes his talent.
There are at least four or five other reasons why I don’t guarantee results, and I’ll go over them quickly.
PROBLEMS BEHIND THE PROBLEM
Especially with more experienced talent, I don’t have to teach them how to interpret copy and use their voice. The problem they need my help with is usually a symptom of an underlying problem. Let’s say they’re not nailing as many auditions anymore.
Not booking jobs, not being able to provide for your family, has an effect on someone’s self-esteem. Fear of failure can be a huge obstacle to success. That needs to be addressed first, before I can work on any other level. Not every student is willing to go that deep, especially if they come in, expecting a quick fix.
Some students blame the outside world for their woes. Here’s the deal. As long as you’re convinced that your troubles are caused by things outside of yourself, you don’t have to work on yourself to make things better.
Other students have problems with accountability. They rebel against me as the authority figure; the guy who is telling them what to do. They’re no different from my wife’s flute and piano students. She tells them:
“If you choose not to practice, don’t expect any progress.”
JACK OF ALL TRADES
As I’m sure you know, being good at VO doesn’t depend on just one skill. You need many skills when it comes to running a successful freelance business, and most of them have nothing to do with talking into a microphone. As a coach I have my limitations, and I cannot help you turn your career around if your main challenge isn’t in my field of expertise.
The career of one of my clients was in the dumps because he wasn’t good at managing his money. Asking me for help in that area would be just as bad as asking Betsy DeVos to fix the American educational system.
I purposely describe myself as a “Visibility Coach,” who is primarily focused on helping his students stand out in an ocean of voice over talent. I’m not an acting coach, dialect coach, remote recording specialist, or someone with a magic wand that will bring you long-term contracts with prestigious, big-budget clients. Greater visibility may lead these clients to you, but I work on the cause, not the effect.
Plus, neither you nor me controls the market, or the selection process.
Here’s one last reason I don’t guarantee results.
LASTING CHANGE TAKES TIME
People’s growth takes place on different timelines.
The benefit of coaching isn’t always immediate. In a time of instant gratification and very little patience, that’s a hard sell. In my experience, profound change may take a while to materialize. Old patterns need to be unlearned and substituted by new ones, and it usually takes time before new behavior becomes second nature. That’s perfectly normal.
Not long ago, one of my old students got in touch to tell me something. During our sessions I had suggested she should be softer on herself and less critical. I had advised her to take some improv classes to loosen up a little, and be more spontaneous.
After much procrastination she signed up for those classes, and had had the first couple of sessions. She said:
“I finally realized what you were asking me to do and why. It took a few months before the penny finally dropped. Now I can’t thank you enough!”
True change is a gradual process, and takes place on many levels. I can’t always predict where, when, and how it will happen because I can inspire and encourage, but it’s up to my students to do the work and follow through.
I can’t guarantee what I don’t control.
Before I begin working with someone, all my students have to sign a three-page coaching agreement. In it, I say:
“My role as your coach is to employ my expertise as a mentor, supporter, sounding board, and champion of all your efforts. It is also to hold you accountable for action steps you have agreed to make.”
I will fulfill that role to the best of my ability. That I can guarantee you!
But if you ever get an email from a self-styled voice over coach guaranteeing results, I would take it with a huge clump of sodium!
Joshua Alexander says
I love you for all your posts, Mr. Paul. Great stuff as usual! And this is why I love you: “I think it’s unethical to take money from someone whose enthusiasm clearly supersedes his talent.” So well worded in an industry with such hyper untrained wanna-be’s jockeying for position! Keep up the great work with your truth-telling. You’ll continue to inspire me – I guarantee it!
Paul Strikwerda says
Happy to inspire! It literally means: “to breathe life into.” That’s what we do with our voice over scripts. All of us inspire!