sign up for our

Home Shop Subscribe Advertise Articles Directories Classifieds Calendar FAQs Contact Us Login

Three Characteristics Of Successful
Voice Actors: What Keeps Them On Top?
January 23, 2018

By Paul Strikwerda
Voice Actor, Coach & Author

I think a lot about why certain people make it in this business and why others don't.

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.


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 ...


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 our 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 ...


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 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. He is also a voice over coach, author of the book, Making MONEY In Your PJs: Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, and writes an informative and entertaining blog.


Making MONEY In Your PJs:

Your Daily Resource For Voice-Over Success
Tell Us What YOU Think!
Please Note: Since we check for spam, there will be a slight delay in the actual posting of your comment.
Your Name:
Your Email Address (will not be published):
Your Comment:
Your Comment:
Security code:     
Comments (7)
2/11/2018 at 10:37 PM
Powerful information. This is how to run a VO business. Thx
1/29/2018 at 11:29 AM
I so agree with you. Understanding and connecting with the client has always been my main focus. It works... if you have a great voice too, of course.
1/28/2018 at 9:37 PM
Absolutely down to earth and realistic point of view. GREAT ARTICLE.

Paul Strikwerda
1/25/2018 at 4:19 PM
Thank you so much for your kind comments!
jennifer m dixon
1/24/2018 at 7:02 PM
So true. Masterful as usual ! Thank you, Paul. Cheers!
Conchita Congo
1/24/2018 at 8:22 AM
Thank you for this! Concise, yet packed with so much good advice. Helps me stay on track.
Dave Johnston
1/24/2018 at 7:39 AM
Greetings from the Heartland, Paul. Once again you nailed it. Thank you.
Back to Articles
For essential voice-over business strategies
Email alerts to new VoiceOverXtra articles
With Sean Daeley and Paul Stefano - check it out!
On Michael Langsner's Voice-Over Roadmap Podcast