Friday, January 24, 2014

The Lost Art Of Listening

When was the last time that you really listened to someone? Do you remember the last time that you had an extended conversation with someone over the phone? Whether personally or professionally, it seems as if technology has impaired our ability to communicate with each other.

Many people have adopted the mentality that whatever I need to hear from you, I can receive in a short text message, tweet or Facebook post. It seems as if our brains have grown accustomed to paying attention to short and sweet messages only, tuning out anything that is long and drawn out – even when it comes to the detailed instructions that are provided to us by our clients.

I personally know of quite a few voice talents that have lost jobs simply because of not paying attention to the instructions that were provided. One talent lost out because he was expecting to receive a phone call from the client instead of following the simple instruction to make the call himself.

Fortunately, this lost art of listening doesn't have to stay lost – you can find it again! You just need to make some slight adjustments to your attitude, approach and overall way of thinking when it comes to your work.

In the voiceover business, your ears are just as important as your voice. You have to pay attention to what a talent agent or a client is telling you. Especially when it comes to reading copy, delivering files or submitting a demo for representation.

Do Not Rush to Be “Artistic”

Jeffrey Umberger, of the Umberger Agency, believes that voice talents seem to get hung up on the “artistic” side of their work a little too soon and end up inadvertently shutting the door of opportunity by doing so. Remember, just because you can be considered a vocal artist doesn't mean that you have the right to use your client’s projects to express your “creative liberties.” You may feel that the script should be delivered differently when compared to the instructions provided by your client, which is why you might decide to take creative control when it comes to the actual recording. By doing so, though, you are forgetting that you are not the one that is calling the shots – that job belongs to your client.

Think about any other actor – such as the A-list actors and actresses in your favorite movies. What happens when they decide to take creative control and not follow the director’s instructions? They are replaced with another actor that can! Your target objective should be to professionally use your art to satisfy the needs and expectation of the Director (the client) and not the actor. You are not striving to achieve an Academy Award nomination for your performance – your job is to simply focus on providing the client with what they need.

The Long-Term Advantage of Building Rapport

Your clients hire you because they feel as if you are the best candidate that is qualified and capable of following their directions and meeting (or even exceeding) their expectations. That is why you got the job in the first place! By making the decision to change the play on the field against the coach’s instruction, you are basically begging to end up warming the bench.

The key is to work with the client. Prove that you can follow the instructions and meet their requirements so that you can build rapport along with a long-lasting relationship with that client. Once you have earned the trust and respect of your client, then you might be able to eventually have a little more breathing room when it comes to your creative input. However, you need to always make sure that your first priority is to actively listen to and follow their clear and concise instructions – no exceptions!

You Got a Golden Ticket

Focus on the details that are provided within the instructions provided to you, especially when it comes to the desired tone, delivery and overall client expectations for the project. If you are searching for an edge over the competition, focusing on even the smallest details that others may view as insignificant is an essential step towards achieving that goal. It will allow you to have a clear understanding of the client, the product and how you can quickly get your name added to their very short list of favorites to call for future projects and other opportunities.

The specific directions and instructions provided by your client should be viewed as the golden ticket of opportunity. Keep in mind that competition within this industry is very steep – the same instructions may have also been provided to many other potential candidates in the past or even the present. Your goal should be to provide them with exactly what they need so that they will not have to search for any new candidates in the future.

Does Selective Listening Make You a Rebel?

If you are not actively listening to your client, does this mean that you are simply trying to “rebel against the man” by resisting their instruction? Not necessarily! I mean, if that is the case, then you are clearly just in the wrong line of work and should seriously reconsider your decision. However, in most cases, it is simply due to the fact that your selective hearing is getting in the way.

Erik Sheppard of Voice Talent Productions believes that either you are very reluctant about freeing yourself from your comfort zone due to a lack of confidence in your abilities or you are overconfident and think that you know what is best for the project. Regardless of which side of this fence you stand, you will still come across as either ignoring the direction all together or not being capable of taking direction – two great ways to get yourself blacklisted by those clients!

Don’t Become Too Distracted by the “Business”

At the end of the day, you are running a business. We enjoy what we do and have fun doing it, but it is also how we financially support ourselves and our families. However, it is important to not become too distracted by the needs of our business that we forget about our customers. Yes – you are a business owner, but that means very little if you don’t have any customers.

You need to treat your position more like the customer service representatives working on the sales floor and less like the upper management tucked away in their corner offices – completely isolated from the customers.

Focus on finding effective ways to please your customers. Make sure that they are able to come directly to you to get exactly what they need without any headaches, complications or exceptions!

Special thanks to good friends and agents, Jeffrey Umberger and Erik Sheppard for contributing some helpful nuggets!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Is Your Voice Worth More Than $15?

If your voice was a product on a shelf at the local department store, what amount would appear on the price tag? Think about the time, effort and hard work that you have put into developing that product from scratch just to get it to the point of where it is today. How much would you charge customers and clients interested in buying your product?

When you think about it from that perspective, it’s easy to feel offended by the mere thought of placing a $5 or $10 price tag on your talent, right? There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling that way either, even though there are many different lowball directories that will make you feel otherwise.

Now that we are two weeks into the New Year, you may not be very happy about the amount of new business you have been able to generate since the first. You could very well find yourself on the short end of the stick when it comes to bidding for different projects simply because lowball contractors and freelancers decided to submit bids that were a fraction of what was on your proposal.

What should you do now? The old saying that, “If you can’t beat ‘em…join ‘em” may quickly cross your mind, but should you pay attention to it?  NO!!

If you take your craft and career seriously, then you always have to remember you are worth so much more than the $10 and $15 jobs that seem to be popping up out of nowhere. You might be saying to yourself, “But, those are the only jobs that are available right now!” By thinking this way, you are clearly not able to see the forest for the trees. Believe me, I know what’s like to struggle to get as many jobs as you can when you are sitting on a big goose egg for the week or even the month – bills piling up, prospective clients bailing out and you're left wondering whether or not you should have gotten into this business in the first place. I went through this when I first got started in voiceovers. Take a deep breath and erase this level of thinking from your mind.

The key is to make sure that you focus on what is really important – the quality of the client instead of the quantity of the payment. When you’re not making very much money or closing very many jobs, you may start to think about joining such sites as Voice Garden and Internet Jock just to scrounge up as much work as possible. As is the case with any business, you need to focus on working smarter and not harder by focusing on high-quality clients.

There are always going to be clients that are simply looking to save a few bucks by getting whatever they need done as cheap as possible. As long as their basic needs are met and they don’t have to spend a lot of money to do so, they are happy. Even if they are not familiar with the average rates that professionals within our industry charge for our services, they will find themselves simply searching for the lowest bid amounts and hoping for the best. Those are low-quality clients that accept low-quality work as long as they get it done for low quality prices.

You need to be focusing on the type of client that is the exact opposite. The type of client that clearly understands the simple fact that quality work requires quality prices. Even if they have limited experience when it comes to this industry, they know that if they want it done right the first time around with no exceptions – they will have to pay for it. In comparison to the lowballing clients looking to save a few bucks, high-quality clients ARE OUT THERE and could be just around the corner. Keep in mind that one high-quality client can do a heck of a lot more for you in the long run than twenty low-quality clients.

When you're a new voice talent, it may come easy settling for these types of jobs for the long haul just because they seem easy to close. Professional anglers don’t use their best tools, equipment and boats to find goldfish just because they are available. Not only would they be wasting their time, money and resources, but they would look absolutely foolish doing so, wouldn't they? How do you think you look with all of your time, money and available resources chasing after the “goldfish” clients and jobs of this industry?

I look at some of these lowball VO directories like a kiosk in a shopping mall. Full of junk that true professional voice talents don't need. So, do yourself a favor and avoid them! Focus on revamping your marketing strategy in order to effectively target the “big fish!" This can be done much easier than you might think.

The key is to simply remember that your work is worth more than $10 – regardless of any rejection notices and emails from prospective clients that would rather keep their money and sacrifice quality than the other way around.

Think of your voice as a showroom-quality product that just hit the shelves today for the first time. Don’t place your brand new product on the clearance rack just so it can sell quicker for pennies. You could easily miss out on the high-quality sales opportunities that will slip right past you along the way.

Keep in mind that my entire sermon here is based on working with clients direct. If you’re represented by a talent agent, the agent will negotiate the rates with the client and more often than not, they are really good rates!  Thank you, talent agents!  More about the agency game in a future blog.

So, I ask you again….what amount appears on your price tag?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Let's Rock the Mic in 2014!

The clock has been reset. The slate has been wiped clean. You are back at day one. Now what? Do you put the pedal to the medal and go for broke, hoping for the best? Sure…if you want to crash and burn before February.

Look at January 1st the same that you would the first of any month. Just because the holidays are over doesn't mean that the fun, vivacious and jolly spirit you had for the last three months needs to end right along with them. However, it can definitely be tough to get the ball rolling after the holidays. You have to go back to reality – away from the close friends, new friends and family members that you became so close to throughout the holiday season. Whether your holiday season didn't pan out the way that you planned or you weren't quite ready for it to come to an end, it is very easy to shut down emotionally and mentally at this time of the year. For those of us who live in the Midwest, the cold and snowy January weather really doesn’t help us to put any pep in our step either. What are you supposed to do? What is the best way to break through this awkward period and get us back on track?

For voice talents, keep yourself pumped up with water and Vitamin D, make sure that your studio AND your face are both well-lit and get back to work! Even if you don’t have any solid sales or meetings coming up, fill up your calendar anyway! Schedule time to catch up with a client that you already have or a prospect that you've had in your funnel since last year. This will help you to keep your mind busy, blood pumping and energy flowing.

Take a look back at your business plan and make sure that it POPS! No, I don't mean to make it colorful, bright and filled with pictures. I mean – make sure that it P.O.P.S – Predict, Organize, Present and Stay up-to-date. Let’s break this down a little further.

Think about where you were able to take your business back in 2013, but focus on where you want it to go in 2014. Get back to basics when it comes to studying the market, searching for potential opportunities for growth as well as improvement. Network with other voice talents in the industry today to pick their brains and use the Internet wisely as a resource for further research and reference. Keep in mind that everything is not going to go as planned, so you have to be fully prepared for the bumps and roadblocks ahead while remaining optimistic.

Before you become too focused on how big you want your business to grow in 2014, make sure that you can afford to get it there. Consider all of your expenses for the year and make sure that you will have enough capital and generated revenue to stay afloat. Keep in mind that clients may come and go but remaining under budget will keep your business open forever. Maintain balance by considering a 10 percent cushion hypothetically – reducing projected revenues by 10% and increasing them by 10%. Develop a detailed marketing plan that covers your complete strategy when it comes to maximizing exposure, reaching new customers and getting more work from your old ones. Make sure that your marketing plan covers the online and offline worlds. Having a Facebook brand page has been extremely effective for me. Make sure to get one going this year!  They show up not only in facebook searches but Google searches as well. Complement that brand page with an official website and traditional advertising methods (i.e. post-cards, business cards, etc.)

Whether you're marketing via snail mail or email, have some effective templates ready.  Keep them brief. Prospective clients do NOT want to hear your life story or how incredibly awesome you think your voice is. Your demos should speak for themselves. Have a game plan in place. When I first started doing voiceovers from home, I built a spread sheet of potential clients that I discovered from directories on the Internet and Linkedin!  Spend ample time putting something like that together before you make initial contact.  

A perfect plan today is not necessarily going to be a perfect plan tomorrow. Think about the different loops, twists and turns that your business had to endure throughout the roller-coaster of 2013. Do you honestly expect anything different just because the year changed? Take the time to study and update your business plan periodically throughout the year, measuring your progress and searching for new opportunities for growth. Never be afraid to make changes, especially if those changes can potentially lead to you taking your business to the next level.

Go back in time to 11:59 PM – December 31, 2013. You are filled with hope, ambition and drive. You are pumped, motivated and excited. You are clearly ready to take on the world, making your professional and personal life so much better in the year to come. You can’t wait for the final second of the night to pass so you can get to work. Keep that passionate drive! Do not allow the change of date to change your pace and focus.

HAPPY 2014!