My (Almost) $10,000 Mistake Taught Me
That Custom Demos Make A Difference
By 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 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.
THE ODD CHICK OUT
Calimero is the only black chick in a family of yellow chickens, and he still wears half of his egg shell on his head. It is as if he never really made it out of the nest.
Calimero is the archetypical 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 can understand why some freelancers can identify with him. Operating a small business in a big world is not easy. We might not wear an egg shell on our noggin, but we certainly wear many different hats.
Being self-employed can be invigorating, liberating - and terribly intimidating.
Some of us thrive under pressure. Others can't stand it and eventually chicken out.
WHEN SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
Personally, I believe small is beautiful. I love being my own boss.
And as a small business owner, I 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.
NO AUTOMATED RESPONSES
And when they send me an email, they won't get an automated response. They receive a personal message.
I don't outsource quality control and customer service. I am quality control and customer service. I don’t dictate 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.
THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON
One day, an audiobook 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.
Now, I could have left it at that, but something told me I should try to turn things around. Perhaps I could get a second chance to make a first impression.
THE SECOND ATTEMPT
I went online to find the book in question and picked a paragraph 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 published) 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.
BREAK AWAY FROM THE PACK
Of course, I don't win every job I audition for. Far from it, but I do know that customization can set 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 life blood of your business.
Why give them a hotel chain treatment, if you can give them a bed-and-breakfast experience? Being small in a big world can be a competitive advantage!
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: firstname.lastname@example.orgWeb: www.nethervoice.com
Double Dutch Blog: www.nethervoice.com/nethervoice
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