There is a small two-word phrase that carries much force. The utterance of these words could make you a hero in a child’s’ eyes. Saying these words to big macho men could melt their hearts. If you said this to your mom, she’d smile, knowing that she taught you well. Telling this phrase to your clients will let them know you appreciate their business.
Imagine a scenario where you work hard to get the business of a recognized client. You establish a professional relationship, and find that working with them is nothing short of amazing. They appreciate your creativeness and suggestions, then give you glowing praise for your finished audio. You work hard throughout the process and get paid exactly what you quoted.
You then move on to your next conquests. You’re feeling good about the growth your client list has experienced. You notice, however, that your business is not really growing much. Your revenue compared to last year is the same. No growth. Hmmm… You worked hard to get new clients, but what happened after project completion?
Did you forget about those clients you worked so hard to get? Did you say the magic phrase that pays? You know, Thank You! That’s right, THANK YOU. Most people like to be thanked, and your clients are people. Showing your gratitude for doing business with them will help keep you in mind for their next project.
There are a number of ways to say thank you. The easiest is to send a note card with a short, handwritten message telling your client how much you appreciated being hired to do the voiceover or narration for their project. Easy. It doesn’t have to be huge, one or two sentences will get your message across.
If writer’s block is getting in the way of sending a thank you card, check out any of the following four sites for inspiration.
A thank you card could be one of the first follow-ups you make with your client after completing a project. I recommend sending it about a week after they’ve received final audio.
Another way to express thanks is a note of appreciation to clients for their interest and consideration in using your voice in their projects. Maybe send this four to six months later, either e-mail or traditional USPO mail. Keep them thinking of you. Stamp out client neglect.
Thank you for reading my post. I appreciate it. The magic phrase is Thank You! Help spread the phrase.
© 2014 J. Christopher Dunn
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In a previous post, I detailed a method on how to work through the items in your e-mail inbox. If you missed it, the link below will take you to the article.
After spending time in your inbox, identify the one item you need to do today no matter what, and do it. This could be your most important or most difficult task. A project you need to finish.
Doing the most difficult thing in the morning will make the rest of your day breeze by with what seems like less effort. “Eat That Frog!” is the title of self-help guru Brian Tracy’s book, which details the strategy of taking care of the most important task before tackling the rest of your day.
Difficult could have multiple meanings. The task could be difficult because of complexity. On the other hand, a task that you don’t want to do and dread even the thought of, could be another meaning. Important tasks have a level of stress attached to them and with that, could become a difficult task to start. Whatever the hesitation, this is the thing you want to work on first. Maybe, think of it like when you were a youngster and were told that you had to eat your veggies before you could enjoy your dessert. Make sense?
My time for eating the frog is right after I finish processing my e-mail. I take 30-minutes and do everything I can to complete the task. Depending on how much of the task is left, and if completion is not necessary on the same day, I’ll do as much as I can and work on it again the following day. Some frogs are bigger than others.
My frogs will look different from yours but here are a few I swallowed this past week.
- Monday – Followup phone call to slow paying client
- Tuesday – Cold call to prospective client from a major corporation
- Wednesday – Pay studio bills
- Thursday – Compile business performance data for the month
- Friday – migrate archived work from the past 4-years to a new backup drive
Fortunately, these were on the small side and none hopped over to the following day. Each of them, however, had me feeling anxious and wanting to postpone the task.
Imagine completing that nasty list item first thing in the morning and how relaxed and less stressed you’ll feel the rest of the day. Your mind will be free to contemplate other, more enjoyable parts of your day. You’ll feel like a big helium balloon has lifted your creative spirit to a new height.
There are going to be things you just don’t want to do on any given day. Like these tasks, eating a frog doesn’t sound like much fun. Of course, the alternative is to ignore the frogs until they’ve managed to multiply and take over your life with their incessant croaking. You’re much better off to eat the frog before that happens.
© 2014 J. Christopher Dunn
Photo by bethcoll
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Do your business skills keep your clients form shopping elsewhere for their next voiceover need? Have you done the due diligence to develop your client relationships? Do you occasionally correspond with your clients to remind them about your services?
If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, you might be guilty of client neglect. Or worse yet, your voiceover business could become a casualty of unhealthy professional relationships, with many of your clients falling through the cracks.
Feel Good Clients
Feel good about your clients and the relationship you develop with them. Clients are what feed your business growth and without them there would be very little kibble in the cat’s dish. Not only are they cutting a check for your resonate tones and script interpretation, they are buying your voiceover brand.
- They’re Only Human
Working with clients can be unsettling because professional boundaries are important to maintain. Should I try to be more amusing than (I think) I am? Should I be stiff, overly stuffy and business like? Maybe I ought to distance myself from my clients and just do the work?
For me, it’s easiest if I’m just myself and treat the people I work with as fellow humans. Clients seem to like that.
- Ask, Don’t Assume
While you’re building client relationships, keep in mind that it’s a give and take process. You are learning about your client’s business and their voiceover needs. Be an active listener.
Ask questions that will help you become more knowledgeable and better prepared once work begins. Don’t assume because it can make an ass out of u and me.
- No Butt Kissing
I know when I’m being unnecessarily flattered or too extensively complimented by somebody trying to gain my trust or approval… and I don’t like it. Your clients won’t like it either.
- Quality vs. Quantity
Would you rather be known as the talent who does amazing work and is well worth the asking price; or would you settle for being known as the talent who is super inexpensive?
Do not take every job that comes your way, even just starting out. Focus on how well you can complete a project, not how low you are willing to drop your price to get the job.
Harvard Business professor Michael Porter states you can hold a competitive advantage in only one of two areas: price or quality. Play to your strengths, develop impressive voice acting skills, run your studio like the business you’ve always imagined, and you’ll never be forced to compete on price again!
- Know when to Say No
Just because a client wants your voice, does not mean your talents and skills are a good fit for their project.
A few years back, I was asked to do an opener for a music show that was in development. The producer was hooked on the “sound” of my voice and after our initial conversation I felt the job was WAY out of my wheelhouse. They were looking for something I was not. However, I was too full of myself to pass on the gig so I moved forward with the session.
After my first attempt I received this reply, “…like YOUR voice but need Hiphop grit.” While adding grit in my second take (which was similar to adding cotton balls to chocolate cake) I knew I wasn’t right for the gig and should have been brave enough to say so up front. After a week of attempts and back-and-forth communication, the producer finally arrived at the same conclusion I knew seven days prior.
Fortunately, I’ve worked with the same producer on other projects since. I cannot be everything to all my clients. I know my strengths.
- Open to Direction
When you receive comments from a client, do you ever feel like you’ve failed? Creating spoken audio is a process. We hope that we have all the details up front and will utter the words as described. A client might come back with a list of things to change that are clearly non-script issues.
Your client wants to work with you and is listening for the best performance possible. When receiving feedback, take it with an open mind. Ask questions when necessary. Offer solutions not roadblocks. Above all, be professional.
Your client will appreciate working with a voice talent that is not wildly sensitive to criticism.
- Exceptional Delivery
You’ve probably heard or read the phrase, “Under-promise and over-deliver”. This is about making sure client expectations are clearly set and then exceeding them. It could be as simple as delivering audio files ahead of schedule, or providing two different takes of a script instead of one.
This will enhance your value in the eyes of your client and that’s a good thing.
- What’s Next?
Clients appreciate being kept in the loop and updated appropriately. Let them know the steps of your workflow and what will happen next in the creation process. Hold their hand and get them from one step to the next.
Do you send project confirmations for clients to approve? Include a “What’s Next” section that explains what happens after their approval.
Something along, “Once I get your approval, session time will be locked in for your project.” This does a couple of things. It clearly puts the process in their possession and it lets the client know what is dependent upon their approval.
- Not as it Appears
Since we primarily work remotely from our clients, it’s easy to misunderstand actions and intentions or what could be perceived as misbehavior. In most cases, it’s wise to give them some space to be human.
Are they slow to respond to your e-mail or calls? Is their invoice still unpaid? An unavoidable event could be the roadblock. Life happens, so give them an opportunity to respond and take care of whatever it is that’s bugging you.
- Worth Every Penny
Do you know what you are worth? How much does your time and skill cost? Do you have established rates? It’s wise to know what type of work you’ll be doing and how long it takes to complete it, and it’s even more crucial to know what to charge for your services and feel good about it.
Don’t short yourself thinking a prospect might look elsewhere. Know your worth and stick to it! Once the numbers are agreed upon, it will be difficult to negotiate for more later.
As a Reminder
You are in business for yourself. You are a freelance voiceover artist who makes money by reading other people’s words. It’s fun and you enjoy doing it. Be professional and treat your clients with a healthy dose of support, appreciation and gratitude.
© 2014 J. Christopher Dunn
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Whidbey Island is a beautiful place to live, and I can’t image a better location for my studio. The sunrises are typically inspiring and the sunsets are nothing short of visually spectacular.
Between those two times of day (and sometimes outside of those times) I’m reading mail, marketing my services, practicing, auditioning and working on projects. The day is full, and seems to zip by in a blink.
I find that following a schedule is a necessity to keep me on track so I cover all the elements of running my own business. My schedule is the perfect guide, yet flexible enough to allow me extra time when I need to focus on specific areas. My success and business growth depend on me paying attention to more than just what I do behind my mic.
In the upcoming months, I’ll write about each area mentioned above from the perspective of a voice artist. The information can be used by most freelancers, “solopreneurs” and collaborators.
This month’s post focuses on e-mail and some best practices for dealing with it.
Make your inbox work for you.
My day starts with a trip to my mail application’s inbox. From the last time I checked it the day before, until the moment I peek inside its bottomless depths again, I’ll have received between 75 to 100 pieces of e-mail.
I spend less than an hour “in the box” first thing every morning. I’ve set up my mail application to take care of sorting and filtering so I won’t have to. I want to open my e-mail and quickly work through chunks of messages at a time.
Most e-mail software allows you to configure inbox folders or rules with criteria to match incoming mail. Items which match folder criteria or rules are moved to that folder automatically.
Want to look at all of your social media alerts? Create a Social Media folder. Subscribe to professional services or lead alerts? Create a Prospects folder. Get the idea?
I use Mac Mail and have set up several Smart Folders that capture mail items which meet my specific criteria. I also have folders for each of my clients. This sorting method lets the computer work in the background to do the first step of my process.
Not all e-mail I receive requires my immediate attention. It ranges from pings from peers, quote and proposal requests from clients and prospects, new work from existing clients, social media alerts, newsletters and online magazines and junk.
With the help of my e-mail app, I run each of them through a triage process that helps me focus on what’s important to my studio’s financial progress first, informational second, and fun third.
Important to Survival
Mail that comes from my clients is the first thing I deal with. They are either contacting me with more work, following up about a project I recently finished or introducing me to somebody they’re referring. These are marked with the Respond flag for immediate attention.
After I make it through all my e-mail, these will be the items I act on first.
I don’t open inbox items in the order received, nor do I deal with them in real time. I work through my Smart Folders first, flagging when necessary.
Mac Mail gives me the ability to flag items into categories that I created.
- Respond - Items that need a reply and can be responded to without additional work.
- Action – These require me to do something before I respond or things that I need to do that don’t require a direct response to the sender.
- Work - Confirmed jobs waiting to be completed.
- Auditions | Proposals – My pool for potential new gigs.
- Add to Contacts - New prospects that I will add to my address book.
- Read | Listen – Interesting news letters or social media posts. Look for subject lines that grab your attention. Whatever you do, don’t open these items until you’ve made it through the others. They will derail your e-mail process.
- Keep – Items that I’ll refer to often and NEVER delete!
Each flag category gets its own folder where items of a particular flag are waiting for further action.
Next, I give the flagged items my full attention. The e-mails flagged with Respond, are first. Usually, these are handled with a one or two line reply.
Items marked with the Action flag are dealt with next. These items require me to do something else before I respond. Research…writing a document…locating audio from a prior job…are typical tasks.
Items with the Work flag set the schedule for the day or book blocks of studio time for later in the week. These have scripts attached or voice direction from the person who hired me.
When I’m not in a session or editing, I’m in the Auditions | Proposals folder working through those items. This is my pool of potential future work.
Items flagged as Add to Contacts and Read | Listen are self-explanatory and compared to the other flags, low priority.
It’s a Date
You’ll come across items that are date dependent. Take a moment now to add these items to your calendar.
While you’re in your schedule, take a look at what you’ve got scheduled for the day and the next seven days. It’s good to be aware of events that need special attention and preparation. Nobody likes a bad surprise.
Your Inbox Needs a Timeout
Your e-mail application works hard to make your inbox triage easier. Sometimes however, it gets in the way of your productivity.
If you are the type of person who needs to have e-mail opened all day, consider setting the duration your application rechecks for new mail to occur no more than once an hour.
However, a better option is shut it down completely and limit inbox checks to three times a day: morning, after lunch, and one of the last things you do when you’re winding up your work day.
The busier you are with your career, the more important it is to tame your e-mail demons. Don’t be afraid to give your inbox a timeout!
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There are a number of voiceover successes I’m very proud about from this past year. I don’t want to gush about anything specific, lest I trigger your sensitivity to bragging.
No, instead, I’m going to share a handful of things that made me smack my head in disbelief. These are my “Oh, yeah… I probably shouldn’t do that” moments, those little slices of time that remind me that I’m human, and not above making bonehead mistakes that make my peers say, “You did what!?”
- Using an iPad for script reading in place of paper is a smart, efficient move. Attempting to markup text with a pencil on an iPad is neither smart nor efficient.
- Listening to the always entertaining “NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour” while reviewing scripts will distract me from catching even the most obvious mistakes.
- Rehearsing an audition script while participating in a webinar is a fabulous way to multitask. Note to self: Make sure to mute the microphone when not interacting with the host or other participants. Nobody is interested to hear my practice runs broadcast across the web over the top of a live webinar.
- Listening to classical music empowers me to have uber-focus and smooths occasional pre-session jitters. Rocking out to AC/DC or Nazareth before a recording session is great for getting my pulse pounding; nerves rattling; and ends up being the opening act for multiple takes.
- Tis a bummer to record an award worthy session only to find out no sound was captured. Headphones are useful to verify that my audio gear is in record mode and not playback.
- High winds on Whidbey Island create a bellows effect in my house while recording and treats the diaphragm of my trusty Bluebird like a brown paper bag used for hyperventilation.
- Deep cleaning the house gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Vacuuming, de-cluttering and dusting. I like a clean house. The dusting part is great for setting histamines in motion, giving my voice a nasally, plugged up tone, suitable only for decongestant commercials.
- A thick, all cotton sweatshirt is not only necessary to keep me warm but also acts as an extra sound absorber in my booth, a former wine cellar. The same cannot be said for shirts made of corduroy.
- Contrary to the wishes of one overseas client, no matter how hard I try, I cannot sound “un-American”. My auditions sound like me, and I sound like my auditions.
- Comfortable shoes are important for long periods of standing behind the mic. Wearing shoes of various sole or heel heights from one day to the next causes my voice to take on inconsistent characteristics because mic proximity and sweet spot target became victims of my shoe fetish.
- Corks from wine bottles are useful in improving articulation for a lazy mouth. Wine that is aged in the bottle can be delicious. Wine aged on the cork is disgusting. A washed cork is a more agreeable experience.
- Staying hydrated is super important for me. It ensures that dry mouth is significantly reduced and all the parts inside my mouth are well lubed. My keyboard and mouse are not in need of the same attention. A water bottle left in their proximity is a setup for desktop disaster.
- Eating a yummy ham sandwich an hour before a patched session will make me drink 48 ounces of water during the session and cause SEVERE mouth noises. (Sorry Matt!)
- Chewing gum assists in getting rid of cotton mouth. However, while building well defined jaw muscles, it has an adverse affect on fluid mouth movement, making most speaking less articulate.
- Altoids are a great substitute for gum chewing. Chewing one before entering the booth creates minty fresh breath. It also provides my tongue an opportunity for calisthenics as I attempt to remove the crushed Altoid bits from my teeth. Suck, don’t chew!
You know you have them. Don’t be afraid to share them. What were your “Oh, yeah… I probably shouldn’t do that” moments in 2013?
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Why voicemail should not be ignored.
People contacting me to work with them on their project sometimes make the initial connection by giving me a call. When I’m in a studio session with a client or away from my desk, my voicemail takes a message.
When a client (or prospect) calls you, how soon after do you return their call?
- Within a few hours
- The end of the day
- Sometime the following day
- When you get around to it
There are many talented people available for hire, so why provide an opportunity for a talent seeker to look elsewhere?
My response time and the effort I make to get back with potential clients is key in getting their business. If I wait too long, I can predict that my chances have been reduced. I don’t like that.
In my blog post, Eight Ideas to Help You Wade Through Inbox Muck, I explained steps to be less of a slave to your inbox. I mentioned that your clients should have multiple ways of contacting you, the most immediate being the phone.
I’ve come up with a method of working with phone calls that’s successful. It has been a learning process and I’m sure there is room for tweaking.
I’m surprised at the number of times when the person I called back was not expecting my call so soon. I know I’ve done the right thing when the person I’m calling back is surprised (and pleased) by the timeliness of my call.
Phone tag is not a legitimate sport.
- Leave a message indicating who you are, why you are calling, your call back number and e-mail address.
- Make sure to leave an exact time when you can be reached—a time when you know you will be available to take the call.
What Your Caller Receives
Set expectations with your voicemail. “I’m not available now, but will return your call by the end of today. If you prefer, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Pay Attention to Caller Details
When listening to a caller’s voicemail, take note of their name, business name, any details about their project and their call back instructions. Do not automatically grab their phone number from the caller ID history. Often they are calling from a trunk or office that supports multiple phones but displays only the main number for call ID purposes.
The Return Call – Attempt 1
I make it a point to call whoever has left a message soon. This doesn’t mean that I push other client responsibilities aside. It means that I’m aware of the call, I’ve made a note to return the call and decided the best time to do it. Don’t leave the person waiting.
The return call can be short. When you’re pressed for time, explain that you’d like to talk when they’ll have your full attention. Maybe later in the day, or during a time that you’ve set aside to do call backs. I schedule time for return and followup calls everyday. When I don’t have calls to make, the time is absorbed into another task.
If you return the call and you end up leaving voicemail, make sure to include a message with your callback number. Include a good time for them to contact you. Show them that you’re interested.
Let them know that you’ll call again, if you don’t hear from them, at a time that makes sense to call back. “If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll go ahead and give you another call at 10:00 AM tomorrow morning.”
The Return Call – Attempt 2
You’ve made your first try to contact the person who wants to work with you only to have left a message on their voicemail. They haven’t called you back either.
Make sure to call back at the time you mentioned in your message. If you didn’t leave a call back time, try to call them at approximately the same time they called you. Chances are they’re available.
When you get their voicemail again, leave a message indicating your interest in working with them and if you haven’t heard from them, you’ll call back the next day, in the morning. A good suggested time is 9:00 AM their time.
The Return Call – Attempt 3
This will be the third time you’ve tried to complete the connection with the person who’s interested in hiring you.
It’s been two days since their initial call and you’re starting to feel a bit frustrated. Don’t. During this call back, if you are left with another opportunity to leave voice mail, do what you’ve done in the previous attempts.
After the third try, wait until the following week, 5 business days, to try again. A number of things could be going on with the prospect and now you need to provide some breathing room.
Realistically, you know that the business moves so fast these days, that job is long gone. Probably so. But, maybe not. At least let the client know you are interested and follow up.
After all, there may be reasons why the gig got delayed. Also, focus on the positive. The caller did consider you for new work and you want to make sure they continue to do so.
The End Game
So, the following week, place two calls. One in the afternoon on one day. One in the morning on the second day.
Mondays are frantic for most people, so unless the caller requested that you return their call on Monday, I recommend waiting until Tuesday.
Then follow the second call on Thursday. Skip Wednesday and Friday. Some people typically work an abbreviated day on Friday.
A week later, if you haven’t heard from them (I know what you’re saying, “They don’t want to talk!!”) give it one last try on Wednesday. Middle of the week, in the morning. Leave one final message indicating that you’d like to discuss their voiceover needs and that you would like to help them out any way you can. “If the project is still open, please let me know how I can help. Don’t hesitate to call and let me know either way.”
Every call is a potential gig. Will they call back after the initial call? Probably not. And even when they say they will, it’s up to you to followup when they don’t.
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Goldilocks was a criminal. She busted into the Bear’s home and ransacked it. She ate their food, sat her keister in all their chairs, and sleep-tested all their beds to find one that was just right for her power nap. Goldie needed the rest so that she would have enough strength to take on the three little pigs. A wolf you say? Pfft! It was Goldie.
If Goldie had problems with staying on task, she would have spent most of her time stuffing her face and never moved on to the chairs, toothbrushes (more on those in a moment) and beds. There wouldn’t have been much of a story. We would have never found out what was “just right!” Or, was she the task master we think her to be? Perhaps she had an app on her iPhone that alerted her to move to the next evil dead while at the Bear’s house. I believe this to be the case.
Goldilocks was probably using 30/30 by Binary Hammer; a beautifully designed, easy to use time management app for iDevices. If I’m right, she created a list of what she needed to accomplish during her visit. Her list probably looked something like this…
- Verify the Bears have left home
- Break into Bear’s home
- Sample all porridge
- Brush teeth (she tried all three brushes and found the one that was, you got it, “just right.” This is not in the story but I’m sure it happened. Who doesn’t brush their teeth after eating pasty, gloppy porridge?)
- Sit in chairs
- Take power nap
- Steal as much as I can carry (Another task not mentioned in the story as we know it.)
- Leave for Three Little Pigs
She gave each list item a unique color and icon for fast visual recognition and a timer. When the duration hit its end point, an alert sounded for her to go to the next task. 30/30 also provided the total amount of time needed to complete all items on her list. Unfortunately, she underestimated the amount of time needed to nap before the Bears arrived back home and failed to wake in time. Tough break.
Since I like to feel organized and occasionally get stuck on one task for way too long, I was inspired by Goldie to get my tasks together and organized so I could breeze through my day with newfound efficiency. 30/30 easily helps me out with time management needs. I wanted something simple to use that even a fairy tale character could figure out. I tried out more than I can count, from simple timers to multi-field schedule alerts. Some offered too little while others were too much. Then I found one that was just right. If Goldilocks had this little app, and I’m almost positive she did, she could have set it to be awakened to leave at just the right time instead of getting busted for greedy nap time.
According to the 30/30 website, the original idea behind the app was based on the method of working on a single task, without distractions, for 30-minutes. At the end of 30-minutes, you move to another next task -maybe take a break.
The 30/30 developers understood that it wasn’t realistic to work only 30-minutes on a single task and then take a break for a balanced work day. The app is designed with easy adjustments in mind and each task can be considerably longer than 30-minutes.
My Voiceover Day is the name of my 30/30 list and it’s divided like this:
- Check e-mail
- Business Tasks
- Warmup and Practice
Each item on my list is given a duration. I have defaults for each one and can easily change the order and values. It’s flexible and that’s a good thing.
In the top, left corner of the screen, 30/30 displays the total amount of time for all items in the list. Once the timer for the list item begins, it displays the time when all list items are due to complete.
When I have a heavy day of projects, I can increase the duration for the project item. Do I need more time at lunch for an extra helping of goodness? Yes, so I’ll increase my allotted time for a 2-hour feast. Should I want to move my marketing and business time to after lunch, it’s a simple drag and drop to rearrange my list.
Goldie used 30/30 for evildoing and was prompted to move from her porridge binge on to destroying Baby Bear’s chair, and then to the bedroom to rumple everyone’s sheets and steal some shut eye. Good for her! I use it for moving my business day along to make sure the important stuff gets my attention. How will you use 30/30?