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BUSINESS
10 Things Your Clients Don't Care
About (Hint: It's Not About You)
 
By Paul Strikwerda
Voice Actor

Let me preface this article by saying that I feel very lucky.
 
In the past 25 years I was able to develop a strong relationship with a number of clients.
 
The longer we go back, the fewer words we have to waste on what each side is expecting from the other.
 
IT TAKES COMMITMENT
 
It's almost like a marriage.
 
And very much like a marriage, a lasting business relationship needs commitment from each partner.
 
It can be love at first sight and it can also end in a divorce, due to unspoken expectations and unfulfilled desires.
 
RELATIONSHIP COMPLAINTS
 
Throughout the years I have heard colleagues complain about their clients:

"She doesn’t speak to me anymore."
"He dumped me in a heartbeat for some cheap actress. I thought that what we had was special."
 
And how about this one:

"All I ever wanted was a little bit of attention. Was that too much to ask?”
 
It usually is.
 
NO ROMANTICS ALLOWED
 
When I just started out as a freelancer, one of my more cynical mentors warned me against romanticizing the relationship with my clients.
 
His mantra: "Business is business and the rest is bullish*t."
 
Today, these words resonate even stronger.
 
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
 
In these fast and furious times, online matchmaking is getting more and more popular. And nobody seems to take it slow anymore.
 
Making small talk is so yesterday.
 
"I need your demo now."
"Are you available this afternoon?"
 
Before you know it, you’re off into some dark room talking to yourself, and when you're done recording, you dump the files into a drop box.
 
FEEL USED AND LOVE IT
 
As one of my friends put it: "I almost feel used."
 
Well, isn’t that the whole idea?
 
We offer our services. We deliver our services. We move on. End of story.
 
Let's be honest. Most times, both parties aren't that interested in getting to know each other before the deal is sealed.
 
DO YOU KNOW YOUR CLIENT?
 
How well do you really know your clients? How well do they know you?
 
Does it even matter?
 
In most cases it doesn't, as long as the job gets done.
 
That's why it is time to take off those rose-colored glasses and get rid of your great expectations.
 
WHAT CLIENTS DON'T CARE ABOUT
 
Here's my top 10 list of things most clients don't seem to care about anymore:
 
1. You
 
All you are is a solution to a problem - a means to an end. It's your job to ensure that the benefits of hiring you outweigh how much you charge.
 
Your client doesn't have to care about you. It's your work that matters.
 
2. Your Perspective
 
What you perceive to be the benefits of your service is not important. The question is: Do you understand and can you meet the needs of your clients?
 
Your take on a script - or any other freelance assignment - may be interesting, but it's often irrelevant. You're the stylist. The client determines how she wants her hair cut unless you have permission to be creative.
 
3. Years of Experience
 
The fact that you've been at it for a certain number of years doesn't automatically mean you're the right person for the part.
 
Over the years, some people have become very good at being very bad. They're stuck in a rut.
 
Years of experience entitles you to nothing. In fact, it can make you look like you're old school. The quality of your experience qualifies you, not the length.
 
4. Accolades and Other Accomplishments
 
An impressive resume tells a client what you have done for others, usually years ago.
 
All he really wants to know is: What can you do for me, today? If you can't make that clear, why should he hire you?
 
Experience can also backfire.
 
One of my friends specializes in medical narrations.
 
In order to impress a possible new client, he quoted a fine endorsement from a pharmaceutical company he'd been working for, for years.
 
It was his way of saying: "See. I have a proven track record. I can easily handle your project."
 
The other party was not impressed. The email he got back effectively said: "Since you've established yourself as the voice of brand X, it would be unwise for us to hire you. People would automatically associate your sound with our main competitor."
 
5. Your Cost of Doing Business
 
Never justify your fee by bringing up how much you have invested in your dream. That's the price you pay for being and staying in business.
 
After all, you don't care about your client's business expenses either, do you?
 
6. Your High-End Equipment
 
Clients won't hire you because you happen to own a Steinway.
 
They hire you because they like the way you play, or because you offer the best value for money.
 
You might impress your colleagues with a brand new Neumann U87 studio microphone. My last client hadn't even heard of the brand.
 
7. Technical Challenges
 
It's lame to blame technology for your lack of preparation.
 
In voice overs, home studios are steadily becoming the norm.
 
Even if you record in a stuffy bedroom closet - and call it a professional studio - you're the head of IT, audio engineering and data transmission.
 
If you can't handle that, don't expect any sympathy from the client. He'll find someone who can.
 
8. Personal Problems
 
Leave them at the door. Clients are clients, not friends or family.
 
You're hired to do a job, no matter how horrible you might feel about your dead cat or a recent break-up.
 
Put your life on the back burner and focus on the project. Cry when the job is over.
 
9. Your Fragile Ego
 
You are hired to make your client look good and not to boost your ego.
 
If you're in need of praise, visit an Evangelical church.
 
10. Your Sublime Uniqueness
 
 Sure, nobody talks like you or walks like you. That doesn't make you irreplaceable.
 
Even if you've been working with a client for years, don't be surprised if they ask you to re-audition.
 
THE JOYS OF INDEPENDENCE
 
One of the joys of being an independent contractor is that there's no long-term contract with severance pay, should things come to a premature end.
 
You're on your own.
 
Never take anything for granted. Complacency will be your downfall. Be ready to prove yourself, over and over and over again.
 
If you don't take care of your career, nobody else will.
 
Business is business. The rest is bullsh*t.

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. He also publishes an informative and entertaining blog, Double Dutch.  

Email: paul@nethervoice.com
Web: www.nethervoice.com

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Comments (10)
Paul Strikwerda
1/14/2012 at 7:33 AM
Many, many thanks for your kind words!

I prefer to do business based on relationships. In the summer, my vegetables come from a farmer I know personally. The tellers at the bank know who I am. My bookkeeper knows more about me than a psycho-analyst ever will. And - as I say in the opening lines - I have strong relationships with some of my clients.

They are the exceptions.

In this fast-paced world, more and more clients contact me at the eleventh hour. They want my fully-edited audio yesterday and they pay me after I send them two reminders. They're interested in what I can deliver and not in what's keeping me up at night.

Sometimes I wish it were otherwise. Most of the time though, I don't need to know what's keeping them up at night either. We're not friends. I have something they want, and they have something I want. That we exchange. Then we move on.
Jay Lloyd
1/12/2012 at 1:35 PM
Absolutely PERFECTLY said, Paul! The sooner VO artists recognize these points, the faster they will be on their way to success. Both sides have their "ax to grind." Recognize that it's THEIR ax that's important...not YOURS. You just have to chop wood.
Ken Budka
1/12/2012 at 12:16 PM
Thanks Paul - humbling reminders.
Jim Conlan
1/12/2012 at 10:41 AM
Although I strongly agree with practically everything on Paul's top 10 list, I disagree with his take on relationships. I don't know how it is in New York, and I don't care. But in most of the rest of the country, people do business with people. My clients may need something in a hurry, but they never forget that they're dealing with a person. At least here in Houston there's time to put your feet up and jaw a bit. The wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am approach doesn't cut it here.
Roy Wells
1/12/2012 at 9:43 AM
Nobody in the VO game shoots straighter than Paul.
jennifer m dixon
1/12/2012 at 9:38 AM
Very well said!
So important to keep perspective.Thanks again Paul
Joel Richards
1/12/2012 at 9:20 AM
Nice article. I would add that while personal problems and technical difficulties are not the client's problem they are sometimes inevitable. That is why you should always deliver what you promised when you promised (or before) so that when that unforeseen problem does come up you don't seem flaky and loose the client's trust.

Don't make exceptions. Exceptions make themselves.
Erik Sheppard
1/12/2012 at 9:02 AM
Absolutely spot on. Really good stuff Sir.
Dana Abram
1/12/2012 at 1:44 AM
Absolutely brilliant!
Kent Ingram
1/12/2012 at 1:18 AM
What a great article, Paul! I found your points absolutely right on target. I was a graphic artist in my former career and we had frequent customer, or client, contact. My job was to make them happy with our product, but some of it was getting them comfortable with my personality. In doing voice-over jobs, I found the same thing to be true. However, clients valued punctuality, the ability to take direction and the "team player" attitude above all else. Thanks so much for this very valuable advice!
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