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CAREER
Are You A People-Pleaser, Afraid Of Losing
Jobs And Clients? Don't Be Their Doormat ...
June 23 2015

By Paul Strikwerda
Voice Actor

As a freelancer, Iíve had to learn many lessons. Some of these lessons came easy. Others were excruciating.

Out of all the things I picked up along the way, these two were perhaps the hardest:

1. How to deal with conflict.
2. How to stand up for myself.

I grew up in a very protective environment, and was taught never to raise my voice. The main philosophy in our house was this: Most people have good intentions. If you treat them with kindness and understanding, they will treat you in a similar way.

So, when my best friend asked if he could borrow some money, I immediately gave it to him. I think I was eight years old at that time, and I had earned a few bucks by helping out around the house.

"Youíll get it back tomorrow,Ē he said, and I totally believed him.

Of course he never returned a penny, and I couldnít figure out why. Was it something I had said? Was it something I had done?

You see, that was one of my patterns. Whenever something negative would happen to me, I started questioning myself. This made it harder for me to confront my friend and ask for my money. Part of me didnít want to risk losing him as my best buddy. Part of me was just too scared to challenge him.

"Donít cause conflicts,Ē said that little voice in the back of my head that sounded very much like my mother. "People might not like you when you start arguing with them.Ē

A LOSING STRATEGY


I have to tell you right now: this approach didnít work for me as a child, and it didnít work for me as an adult. It left me with no backbone, and it made me vulnerable.

Yet, when I started my own business, I did everything I could to avoid conflict by becoming a people-pleaser. If youíre offering a professional service like I do, thatís not necessarily a bad thing. You want your clients to be happy, and their wish is your command, but there are limits.

I found it very hard to say "No,Ē even when clients made unreasonable demands.
"Could you cancel all your plans and come to our studio for an audition tomorrow? Letís make it nine oí clock.Ē
The next day I cursed rush hour traffic on my way to New York for a cattle call in some obscure basement. I would spend half a day on the highway, and a small fortune in parking fees to audition for a $250 job. It was madness.
"Since youíre a Dutch native speaker, could you check the translation of the script we sent you, just to make sure everything is the way itís supposed to be?Ē
Unable to refuse, I would spend the next two hours proofing and correcting a horrible script that had been translated by stupid software. All of this for a cheap client who never said "please,Ē or "thank you,Ē and who expected me to do this at the drop of a hat, and for free.

"If I donít do it, I might lose the job,Ē I told myself in those days.

Five minutes later, the phone would ring. It was one of my late-paying clients.
"Paul, weíre having some cashflow problems. Is it okay if we pay you in about Ö six weeks?Ē
"Iíd rather get paid in six weeks than not being paid at all,Ē I said to myself, and I told the client not to worry. I was going to be the easiest freelancer they would ever work with!

I WAS MR. DOORMAT


Looking back, I had all sorts of people walk over me, and I found it increasingly difficult to put on a professional smile, and be okay with being treated like a dirty disposable doormat.

Even though I began to resent being disrespected, there were three things I forgot.
1. Ultimately, my ultra-accommodating behavior gave me something I wanted: a way to avoid conflict. I would be seen as the amiable hired helper who always went above and beyond. Who wouldnít want to work with me?

2. I wasnít a powerless victim of those who took advantage of me. I was an active participant in the process by allowing people to walk all over me.

3. By behaving the way I did, I created certain expectations. I taught my clients how to treat me.
At the time, I didnít see it that way. I saw myself as the always accommodating Mr. Nice Guy, smiling on the outside, but suffering in silence on the inside.

It was only a matter of time before the last drop landed in the bucket.

PUSHING MY BUTTONS

I had finished recording a technical script for a high-maintenance, unorganized client who always needed everything yesterday.

Even though I was swamped, I managed to meet his deadline. Two days later I was getting ready to go to a wedding, when he called me with some drastic changes to the script.
"Donít blame me,Ē he said. "I donít control the people I work for.Ē
He basically expected me to drop everything and help him out, and hereís the worst part: he wanted me to do it at no charge.

Already in my tuxedo, my frustration finally reached a boiling point, and I snapped at this man with an indignation that had been building up for years.

Iíll tell you: when I was done, I felt so relieved! My client, on the other hand, was speechless. Once he composed himself, he just said a few words:
"I wouldnít want you to miss that wedding. Weíll go over everything tomorrow, and Iíll make sure you get paid for your time.Ē
Just like that! I was stunned. I looked in the mirror and thought: "So, thatís what happens when you put your foot down!Ē

I later apologized to the client for losing my temper, and I thanked him for teaching me a valuable lesson.

WHAT GETS YOU MAD?

This all happened quite some time ago. Eventually, I came to realize that I had to set some professional boundaries.

Now, if youíre going through the same things I experienced, you might wonder: How do you know where these boundaries are?

Theyíre pretty much invisible. Itís simple, really. You know where your boundaries are by the amount of BS youíre willing to put up with in your life. As long as youíre okay, no lines are crossed.

But if someone or something makes you angry or upset, itís probably a sign that your boundaries have been violated. Youíre likely to find out during some kind of crisis. Thatís when you discover who you are, and whatís important to you.

MY PROFESSIONAL BOUNDARIES ...

Over the years I have developed very strong boundaries when it comes to rates, professional standards, and the terms and conditions under which I am willing to work with a client or a student. For instance:
  • I no longer drive to New York if a job pays less than $500. My agents know that, and they understand. Most of them will ask a producer if itís okay for me to send an MP3 audition, instead of making me go to a cattle call. Usually, thatís no problem either.
  • If clients want me to translate or proof a script, theyíll have to pay me to do it, and payment is expected within 30 days after the invoice is received.
  • Iím happy to record changes to the script after the initial, approved text was recorded, but not for free. 
GOT NEW RESPECT

Did I lose a couple of clients because I refused to put up with their BS? Of course I did, but I was glad to get rid of them.

Now hereís the kicker: Because I was putting my foot down (ever so gently, of course), people started to respect me more.

As my self-confidence increased, their confidence in me increased as well. To my surprise I discovered that being clear about my boundaries led to less conflict. My rate was no longer seen as expensive, but as a sign of professionalism.

These days, many clients are willing to do a lot to accommodate me, instead of the other way around. All in all, Iíd say that standing up for myself has made me feel better about myself in general, and it has brought more clients to my business.

BUT THERE'S THIS THING ...


However, thereís one thing that keeps on bugging me. Not long ago, the childhood friend I told you about in the beginning, found me on Facebook, and now he wants to connect.

Itís been more than 40 years since we last spoke, and Iím curious to find out how he is doing. However, Iím reluctant to honor his request.

After all, the guy still owes me money!
---------------
ABOUT PAUL
Paul Strikwerda is a 25-year veteran of the voice over industry whose Nethervoice service features German and Dutch voice overs, translation and evaluation services. Born in Holland, he has worked for Dutch national and international radio, the BBC and American Public Radio. Although 90% of his work is in English, Strikwerda also records in Dutch, German and French. Clients include Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and the Discovery Channel. And he is author of the new book, Making MONEY In Your PJs: Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, and publishes an informative and entertaining blog, Double Dutch.

Web: www.nethervoice.com
Double Dutch Blog: www.nethervoice.com/nethervoice

Making MONEY In Your PJs: http://makingmoneyinyourpjs.com

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Comments (5)
Ian Wright
6/28/2015 at 4:51 AM
Solid article and advice as usual, Paul. Thanks. Re your long lost UOMEMONEY 'friend', perhaps a Private 'tongue in cheek' Message is appropriate? Something like "Hi. Are you the same John Doe I lent $ (insert owed amount) to 40 years ago? If so, with interest you now owe me $ (insert accumulated debt). If your calculations agree with mine please confirm and I will PM you my bank details. On settlement I'm more than happy to restore our connection and friendship. If you're not the John Doe I remember, have we met or do we have mutual Facebook 'Friends' ? Regards, Paul".

Let's know how you go, Paul 😎 Best wishes, IAN in South Australia
Gary Terzza
6/28/2015 at 3:09 AM
Paul you strike a chord with so many voice actors. I constantly stress to my students the importance of displaying terms and conditions, or at the very least spelling out what they offer and what they expect the client's part of the bargain to be.

It is a balance of course. I like to provide initial free advice to beginners and many of those accepting my guidance subsequently sign up for my paid course. However, like everyone else, I don't like to be taken advantage of and sometimes I have had to say "enough is enough."

On one occasion a regular enquirer phoned me to ask for marketing advice on a public holiday. I wouldn't have minded too much, except this was our third telephone conversation and she confessed she had signed up with another coach!

My boundary was drawn in bold that day.




Jem Matzan
6/26/2015 at 2:19 PM
There's a middle ground here. You don't have to be a diva or a doormat in order to set limits and provide good service. The lesson you should learn from your friend is, "If you loan money to a friend, expect not to get it back." Don't loan it if you're not comfortable with it being a gift. In fact, save everyone the trouble and just make it a gift right off the bat. If it's too much, say you can't do it. Problem solved.

Avoiding conflict is good, but more often than not, the lesson learned from a conflict should involve how to avoid it in the future. What were the unrecognized signs and signals that this was going to go wrong?
Trey Thomas
6/24/2015 at 6:57 PM
Great read, Paul. Thanks for sharing.
Gene Tognacci
6/23/2015 at 10:34 AM
Very nice post, Paul. As a recovering people-pleaser, I share many of your experiences .. .right down to the neighbor kid who owes me money. There is wisdom in your insight that creating boundaries, creates respect. Thanks for sharing this and reminding us to stand tall.
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