Now out in Paperback and as an eBook!
Being your own boss. It seems ideal, but are you cut out for it?
Advertising your business effectively without breaking the bank. Can it be done, and how?
Finding customers and making sure customers find you, hire you, and come back for more.
Charging a fair fee for what you offer is a must. This book will help you determine your rate.
Are you getting paid or are you being played? Find out how you can protect yourself from unscrupulous clients.
Being good at what you do, does not make you stand out. Learn how to distinguish yourself from the competition.
As I am finishing the last pages of Making Money In Your PJs, the United States is crawling out of the worst recession in seventy-five years. People have discovered that it’s easy to get fired and a lot harder to get hired.
Gone are the steady jobs with steady hours, steady paychecks and generous benefit packages. Instead, it’s every man or woman for him or herself. More and more people are flying solo by becoming a freelancer.
According to the United States Government Accountability Office, there are at least 42 million consultants, independent contractors, entrepreneurs, and freelancers working multiple gigs for multiple clients. That means that at last count (in 2005), almost one-third of the U.S. workforce was made up of independent workers. By 2020, this number will have gone up to forty percent.
Perhaps you’ve told yourself that the current economic crisis is the ideal opportunity to finally create the career you’ve always wanted.
Perhaps you’ve been dreaming of a life of freedom and flexibility from the comfort of your home.
Perhaps you feel this is the perfect time to become a VOP, a Voice-Over Professional!
Don’t let me stop you. It is an honorable profession and some voice talents are still making a six-figure income doing what they love.
I also want to caution you.
MAKING IT BIG
Here’s the thing. This world needs a lot more nurses, teachers, scientists, and IT specialists, and it doesn’t need too many folks who like to talk into microphones for a living. As synthesized speech is getting more and more sophisticated, robots – not people – will read to you what’s on your tablet, smartphone or monitor.
A-list screen actors turned voice-overs are making millions trying to sell you anything from cars and credit cards to peanuts. Most of them are more than happy to fit a feature-length animation into their busy schedule. Lesser gods and ordinary mortals are left to pick up the crumbs.
Does that mean that you shouldn’t even try to break into the voice-over business? It would be presumptuous to make that call for you. Show business is filled with daydreamers who were discouraged by family and friends. Yet, they’ve proven everybody wrong and made it big because they had tremendous talent and came prepared.
Thanks to the internet, the game has certainly changed. These days, one viral video can turn a homeless man with a golden voice into a national celebrity. You could be discovered by an insurance company and asked to quack like a duck for the rest of your life. A well-equipped home studio can connect you with clients on all continents.
There’s definitely work out there, but here’s the question: How is this book going to help you get it?
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Let me begin by telling you what this book is not.
This isn’t a memoir about the good old days of voice acting, filled with juicy tales of semi-famous people the author has worked with.
If you are looking for another “get-rich-quick by doing voice-overs guide,” you’re out of luck, too. First off, this isn’t a step-by-step course that will take you from voice-over novice to top talent in three days. Desperate people will believe anything, but you know that’s just a load of hogwash.
Secondly, Fred Astaire didn’t learn how to dance from a book, and Babe Ruth didn’t discover how to hit a home run from a brochure. No correspondence course, website, or taped seminar has ever produced a Yehudi Menuhin, a Stephen Sondheim, or a voice-over superstar for that matter.
Third: I’m not going to sell you anything or encourage you to sign up for webinars or coaching sessions. You’ve already invested in this book and that means a lot.
What I will do, is tell you about the stuff between the lines. You know, the things you wish they’d told you before you started reinventing the wheel. A lot of that stuff happens to be business-related and is highly practical. A lot of it has to do with what’s going on between your ears and it’s based on over thirty years of experience. It’s the stuff they usually don’t teach you in voice-over school.
So, is this just another book for (aspiring) voice actors?
In essence, it is a book for freelancers.
Whether you’re a copywriter, a graphic designer, a photographer, or you’re making money with your mouth, freelancers have a lot in common. Even though I’m writing from the perspective of a voice-over professional, much of what I’m about to share applies to anyone who is self-employed. Things such as:
– Should you turn your hobby into a profession
– How to promote your business
– How to turn potential customers into clients
– How to put a price on your services
– How to make sure you get paid
– What to do when business is slow
– How to stand out among colleagues
That being said, in one way voice-overs are different from other freelancers. Voice-overs are part of an ancient tribe. The tribe of storytellers. That’s why, rather than bombarding you with dry factoids, I often use stories and real world examples to get my points across.
The structure of this book suggests a specific order in which these stories should be read. That’s one way to do it. Although I have grouped my pieces around certain topics, most of them can be read separately and out of order.
The contents of this book are reflections of my personal interests and expertise. Most of what you’re about to read, started as a blog post. By definition, a blog doesn’t deal with undisputed scientific facts. It revolves around personal opinion. The opinions stated are subjective and mine, unless otherwise indicated. I tend to live by the advice I give to others, and I strongly encourage you to take away what you find useful. Don’t take my word for it, though. Try it out and see for yourself what makes sense.
PLEASE NOTE: The eBook edition has a number of bonus chapters.
© Paul Strikwerda
I was in a rush. I wasn’t thinking.
And it almost cost me ten thousand dollars.
The lesson I learned that day has been one of the cornerstones of my success as a freelancer and a voice talent. Before I share that lesson with you, let me ask you this:
Have you heard of the Calimero complex?
It is named after an Italian/Japanese cartoon character named Calimero, and many freelancers seem to suffer from it.
Calimero is the only black chick in a family of yellow chickens, and he still wears half of his eggshell on his head. It is as if he never really made it out of the nest.
Calimero is the archetypal underdog. He often gets in trouble and believes the whole world is out to get him. When the show reaches a dramatic climax, Calimero usually utters the following catch phrase:
“They are big and I am small and that’s not fair, oh no!”
That’s the Calimero complex.
I get why some freelancers can identify with him. Operating a small business in a big world is not easy. We might not wear an eggshell on our noggin, but we certainly wear many different hats.
ARE YOU INTIMIDATED?
Unlike bigger businesses, we don’t have huge marketing budgets, top-of-the line facilities or people to do the work we don’t like doing. As solopreneurs we do it all, and quite often we seem to be at an unfair disadvantage.
Being self-employed can be invigorating, liberating… and terribly intimidating.
Some of us thrive under pressure. Others cannot stand it and eventually chicken out.
Personally, I believe that small is beautiful. I love being my own boss. As a solopreneur I have worked with many corporations on extended contracts. I was glad I could join them, and most of the time I was even happier to leave.
Think of the endless bureaucracy, the boring bean counters, the silly pencil pushers, dirty office politics, and the untalented, uninspiring people being promoted to the level of incompetence, clocking in and counting the hours till the next coffee or lunch break. Not to mention the endless meetings that never lead to anything.
And have you ever wondered why big businesses spend so much money on advertising and PR? Why do you think they hire movie stars to voice commercials to convince us that their products are so special?
Because they’re not!
Name one big brand that is not bland.
GENERIC RULES THE WORLD
We live in a culture of more of the same. Generic companies produce generic products using automated processes, backed by generic quality control and careless customer service.
Some corporations may pretend they are passionate, but you know that’s only on paper. It’s not something you can fake. Intangible things like passion, imagination and originality cannot be imposed by means of corporate policy.
That’s exactly why I as a small business owner do not suffer from the Calimero complex. I’m not afraid of the big guys because I know I have something to offer that big businesses can never compete with, no matter how hard they try.
I’m not a chain, a franchise or a branch. I personify my product and there’s nothing generic about that.
I might not have offices on five continents, but I do business with people from all over the world.
I don’t build brands. I build relationships.
My customers don’t have to jump through a million hoops to speak to someone from management. My clients have direct access to the CEO. And when they send me an email, they won’t get an automated response. They receive a personal message, usually within the hour.
I don’t outsource quality control and customer service. I am quality control and customer service. I don’t dictate to clients what to do. I listen to what they need.
And most importantly: I don’t do more of the same. I customize. I localize. I personalize based on the unique requirements of the job. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way.
One day, an audio book publisher asked me to audition for a 1,200-page biography. He didn’t send me a demo script. He only told me what the book was about. His request came at the end of a very busy day and I was ready to leave my studio to meet a friend.
I usually answer these types of emails as soon as I can, and on my way out, I wrote the publisher that I was interested in the project and I attached a generic demo to my message.
A few days went by before the publisher emailed me back. He said he’d continue his search for a narrator because my demo sounded “too commercial.” He needed an international storyteller. Not someone doing a sales pitch. He was right.
I could have left it at that, but my inner voice told me I should try to turn things around. Perhaps I could get a second chance and nail the audition.
I went online to find the book in question and picked a paragraph or two to read. This time I recorded a custom demo, showing off my multilingual narration skills.
That same day I received some great news. My new and improved audition was a big hit. The job was mine and I ended up recording (and getting paid for) over 32 hours of audio. A few months later, the same publisher asked me to narrate a second book.
THE MAGIC OF CUSTOMIZATION
These days, I hardly send out generic demos anymore. When no script is provided, I look at the subject matter and (if available) the name of the client. Then I go online and find a press release or an article about the product or service the client is associated with, and use that for my audition. This does two things.
It is my way of telling clients that I do my homework and that I’m willing to go the extra mile.
Secondly, clients get the opportunity to hear me say the name of their company and product and “try on” my voice in a context they can relate to. All of a sudden, a simple demo becomes relevant.
Of course I don’t win every job I audition for. Far from it, but I do know that customization sets me apart from the rest of the pack. It makes my entries more memorable and as such, it enhances my chances. And when I ask my clients why they picked me, the custom demo is often cited as the difference that made the difference.
It does take extra time and effort to do the research and record something special. But that’s an investment well worth making.
Customers are the lifeblood of your business. Why give them a hotel chain treatment, if you can give them a customized bed-and-breakfast experience?
Being small in a big world can be a competitive advantage.
Please tell that to Calimero!
© Paul Strikwerda
Clients don’t grow on trees. We all know that.
We can’t expect them to find us if they don’t know we exist. In order for them to discover our needle in the online haystack, we have to make noise. Lots of noise. But what kind?
Some say the answer lies in Massive Marketing.
The truth is, most voice talents are pretty good at doing someone else’s marketing. That’s what they get paid for. But when it comes to tooting their own horn, a lot of them are as clueless as a hamster in outer space.
If marketing is not your forte, you’re not alone.
Recently, the online magazine VoiceOverXtra polled its readers and asked the following question:
“As a newcomer to voice-over, what is your biggest challenge at this moment to starting or growing your VO income and career?”
A quarter of respondents answered: Marketing for jobs.
Because different people mean different things when using the same words, here’s my definition of marketing:
Any activity that helps you find clients and helps clients find you.
It’s 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.
That rather long interpretation might not be approved by the famous Harvard Business School, but it works for me.
Before we delve into that a bit deeper, let’s make one thing clear. It all starts with what you have to offer.
If your product or service sucks, no marketing campaign – no matter how brilliant – is going to help you make millions, or even a decent living.
Stinky flowers don’t attract a lot of bees.
Most manufacturers know that they should not bring a product to market that is not fully developed. Many budding voice-overs have yet to learn that lesson. They’ll pay a demo-factory good money to make them sound alright, until the client finds out that the Emperor has no clothes.
That’s not marketing. That’s misleading the customer by offering something you can’t deliver.
Marketing starts with creating the right product, letting the right people know you have it, and making it easy for others who don’t yet know you to find you. But there’s more to it than that.
As a seller, you still have to convince the interested party that you can be trusted and that the value of what you offer exceeds the asking price.
How do you do that?
For one thing, trust needs to be earned.
You need to give people the feeling that you understand their needs and that they’re in the right hands.
Every single interaction you have with a potential client is an opportunity to prove yourself. Every interaction is a marketing opportunity. That’s why I’m always marketing. In fact, I’m doing it right now!
Writing a book or a blog is a form of content marketing. It’s about offering relevant and valuable information to attract and engage a specific audience. Blogging is a way to establish yourself as a likable, knowledgeable, and trustworthy partner.
At this point I can already hear you say:
“But I’m not a client. Just a colleague. I don’t hire voices. You don’t need to market to me.”
Since a great part of my work is based on referrals from people like you, wouldn’t it be beneficial to let my fellow-professionals know I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to voice-overs?
People don’t refer people they don’t know and don’t like. This book and my blog are both opportunities for you to find out who I am and what makes me tick.
Secondly, my publications are read by lots of other people: graphic designers, copywriters, videographers, people in advertising, agents, and so on. Some of these people do hire voices or know someone who does.
To most people, reading a blog or a book doesn’t feel like they’re absorbing marketing information. Quite often, the writer is just telling a story. I call it Covert Marketing.
Now, Overt Marketing is all about pushing information down someone’s throat, whether they’re hungry for it or not, and whether or not we’ve established relationship.
Covert Marketing is making people aware of what you’re offering so they become hungry for your service.
Overt Marketing revolves around what you want to sell.
Covert Marketing is about what people want to buy.
Overt marketing is about you.
Covert marketing is about the customer.
Overt Marketing is giving people direct messages:
BUY MY SERVICE
SIGN UP TODAY
I AM THE BEST
Covert Marketing is suggestive and under the radar:
You answer a question posted on an online forum. You write a (relevant and semi-intelligent) Facebook comment. You write a blog sharing some of your expertise. You help out a colleague. You’re a guest speaker at a seminar.
Here’s a critical distinction.
At no point do you ask people to buy from you.
Overt Marketing is sending a mass mailing to all your contacts. It is a general message telling the world how great you are and what you have done for other clients.
Covert Marketing is targeted. It is relevant. It’s almost always personal. There is a connection. There is a reason why you are contacting someone.
Overt Marketing is you doing the talking (and we all know that voice-overs are good at that).
Covert Marketing starts with you doing a lot of listening and asking a lot of questions. You identify a need or a problem. You find out how valuable meeting that need or solving that problem would be for your contact. Only then can you connect what you have to offer to meeting the needs of your client.
Overt Marketing is a sales pitch. It’s about getting. It’s driven by the “What’s in it for me?” question.
Covert Marketing is about giving. It is about being of service. It is reciprocal.
If you want information, you need to give information.
If you want people to contact you, you need to contact people.
If you want people to refer you, you need to refer people.
Treat people the way you want to be treated.
In the end, Covert Marketing goes even further than that.
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.”
Now, that’s what I’m talking about when I say you’re in the business of creating amazing experiences for your clients.
Once you start doing that, something unexpected and delightful will happen.
You can stop marketing.
Your clients will do it for you.
You just keep on wowing them!
© Paul Strikwerda
Making Money In Your PJs is loaded with stories, examples and practical information, based on years of experience.
From the outside, a voice-over career seems almost ideal. You talk into a microphone and you get paid. In Part One of this book, author Paul Strikwerda debunks the most prevalent myths that unscrupulous sales people use to try to sell you expensive voice-over trainings and demo-packages. You’ll also get a much better idea of whether or not a freelance/voice-over career is for you.
Part Two deals with self-guided learning, coaching, and voice acting. The author tells you what producers and agents are listening for when they’re evaluating auditions, and how you can learn to let a script speak to you. He also reveals his number one trick to get rid of loud breaths and other mouth noises that can mess up your recordings.
Most newcomers to voice-over will give up within a year because they don’t know anything about freelancing. Part Three is called “It’s a Business,” and it prepares you for the long road ahead by learning from other people’s freelance failures and successes. You’ll also learn the one word that saved the author’s freelance career.
Having a pleasant voice is nice if you want to become a voice-over, but it’s not essential. Making sure that clients can find you is crucial for your career. In “Spreading the Word,” you’ll learn how to market yourself through your website and social media, and by developing a personal brand. It’s the story of “telling, not selling” any freelancer will benefit from.
If you want to build a long-term career, you’ll need your colleagues just as much as you need your clients. In this part of the book, the author tells you how to separate the pros from the con artists, and introduces you to some of the colorful characters you’re bound to meet in this crazy business.
Whether or not you are going to make it as a pro, will depend as much on your ability to read scripts as on your ability to read clients. That’s what Part Six is about. Paul Strikwerda shows you what you need to know before you start bidding on projects, and he shares his experience with one of the most popular voice casting sites.
It doesn’t matter what you do as a freelancer, but if you don’t learn how to manage your money, you are sabotaging your success. The author will help you to determine what you’re worth so that you won’t ever sell yourself or your colleagues short. And if you’ve ever been short-changed by a client, the chapters on collecting what you’re owed are a must-read.
In “The Inner Game,” the author talks about the secret ingredient that can make or break a freelance career: Attitude. Life as a solopreneur can be a roller coaster ride. Some months you’ll feel on top of the world. Other months you may feel like hanging up your hat. How do you deal with that, emotionally? Well, you’re about to find out!
The sheer depth, breadth, and quality of the information on the pages of "Making Money in Your PJs" makes this book an obligatory resource in your library of voice-over success-building. Paul's logic builds compelling arguments for solving the chief challenges all voice actors face, no matter the level of expertise, and his deft writing style makes this book eminently readable.
Whether you want to get into the industry, are already in the field of voice overs or indeed are a solopreneur looking for valuable, pragmatic guidance on how to run a profitable business, this book will become your go-to for getting you closer to achieving your goals. Both encouraging and realistic, this manual is jam-packed with shrewd top tips, pertinent personal anecdotes and fascinating insights. This is an easily accessible, entertaining read which is seriously beneficial to your business.
As a former journalist for global media powerhouses like the BBC and Radio Netherlands, Paul's writing style is both polished and engaging, but where he truly shines is in his ability to get inside your head and answer the questions you didn't even know you wanted to ask. If you're a self-employed voice over artist, or a self-employed freelancer in any other creative industry, do yourself a favour and take a dose of Paul Strikwerda's medicine.
Paul Strikwerda gets triple A's - Awesome. Authentic, Accurate. A veteran voice actor with a journalist's background, Paul draws upon his experiences and wisdom to create a book that talks to us - not merely recites what to do, and what not to do, to succeed in voice-overs today. And he's not afraid to admit mistakes - like the "$10,000 Mistake" we can now avoid! Thanks, Paul, for enriching us.
Paul Strikwerda is one of the freshest and wisest voices in the entrepreneurial world today. This book is filled with humor, warmth, compassion, and, most importantly, large doses of priceless insight. Paul knows the human species and spirit very well, and he knows better than most how to survive in this crazy world of voiceover. For anyone looking to start their own business, you can’t afford not to read this book. Be prepared to have your mind blown.
Some of what Paul Strikwerda says in this book may ruffle your feathers, excite you, or scare you. And that's good, because you need to think hard about what is truly important to you when you start your own business. This book encourages you to examine your core values, determine what you are willing to do, and perhaps dispel some of your dearly held beliefs. It may help you determine if owning your own business is right for you. If you are already launched, this book an excellent resource for improving your business, client relationships, marketing, and so much more. If you are freelancing, this book is an essential resource!
Hold on to your hats! This is a textbook on how to do it the right way. If you are a freelancer, or have ever thought about starting and running almost any kind of small business, get a copy of this book. Paul's advice is stellar. He has an uncanny knack of explaining with clear examples and situations. My business is based upon these ideas. It's a voice-over business, and it works.
If you are an actor, voiceover artist, or for that matter, any type of creative freelance professional who is trying to network and market yourself, you need to read this book. While Paul's advice if fashioned from the perspective of his particular business (freelance voice acting), it really applies universally to all types of businesses where networking is vital.
With that wealth of information, seasoned with his cheerful, helpful personality, “Making Money In Your PJs” is an invaluable resource for not only those beginning or maintaining their voice-over career, but for anyone wanting to take the leap and join the ranks of millions of other solopreneurs. Great reading!
Reading this book is like having an intensive, rewarding chat with a mate who's an experienced voice actor and a successful freelancer. You trust their opinions because of their obvious familiarity with the industry and being a solopreneur, and because they relate it all back to their own experiences saying "but don't take my word for it - go out and find out for yourself!" I recommend this book to anyone considering a career in voice over or any creative enterprise and I will certainly be recommending this book to my voice over, voice demo and voice reel clients.
What a mine of information, and so clearly and entertainingly written – from the provocative title down to the calls for action. And you really made me think hard about my own online presence and question its contributions to my personal and professional goals.
Paul has been an inspiration and a mentor-of-sorts to me and a number of other voice actors. This book of his could be the difference between being successful and an also-ran. I intend to be among the former, not the latter!
Paul presents controversial issues surrounding the voice-over industry in a well-written style. A good read for anyone wanting to learn more about the business.
An entertaining and nugget-filled book about the voice-over business today. A must read if you are just starting out or considering getting into the business. And if you've been in for a while, it's got some great reminders, tips, ideas and thoughts. Opinion and experience-based, it's well written food for thought.
Making Money In Your PJs is available in multiple formats. An Audio Book read by the author is in the making.