Connie Terwilliger – ISDN Voice Talent

December 29, 2013

A Plan for the Future

Filed under: Business, Marketing, Musings — connieterwilliger @ 11:51 am

I think I have mentioned it before, but I have never really planned anything significant in my life. It has been one foot in front of the other with common sense, curiosity and initiative forging a steady yet unexpected path.

Last year, my new year’s resolution was to start to plan. By that I didn’t mean a business plan or a marketing plan, though I am constantly reminded by my compadres, blogs, experts that I should probably do that – especially a marketing plan.

No, it meant planning to meet people for dinner, or the movies, or a dinner party. Yes, that basic people kind of planning. My usual MOO (method of operation) is to be hard a work doing whatever I do all day and suddenly look up at the clock and realize that it is about 4 PM and wouldn’t it be nice to go out to dinner with someone? The occasional spontaneous phone call at that point almost always yields apologies that plans had already been made, but let’s plan for next week sometime. To which I usually reply sure, but when it comes to closing that loop…well, you get the picture.

I don’t even plan my travel very much. I remember buying into a time share back in the day and struggling to actually plan to use my week. I always banked the time, because I simply didn’t live my life tied to a specific week in a specific place like that. I took a couple of trips with girlfriends to Mexican ports of call when the idea of going somewhere came up, but I felt more comfortable calling and asking where in the world can I go – next week. Had a great trip to Spain one year like that.

So with my grand plan in mind, I did make some progress in 2013 in thinking ahead a little bit. More dinners with friends. More lunch dates. Theater tickets, even movie passes.  A few dinner parties threw themselves together – but I will admit that they were last minute. As I recall FaffCamp was a last minute go. But FaffCon in San Antonio was not. That was something I planned to attend.

My business was not planned. It evolved. A little radio in college. An art degree. A job at a TV station doing graphics that grew to production. Graduate school to learn more about TV. A “quota” job as a director at a TV station. A security blanket job as a TV announcer, while I free-lanced as a producer/writer/talent/teacher. A real job at a really big company doing all the things I had learned to do since I was about 18. And then back out as a free-lancer slowly evolving into a full-time voice talent, with a little teaching on the side (and now some part-time work as an executive director for a professional association).

None of this was planned. But it didn’t happen by accident. My Masters degree certainly helped to open doors, but not to the job I really thought I wanted. But because I always seemed to be doing something interesting that paid money, a regular business plan just didn’t seem all that important. It was a gradual evolution. I also think I was in the right place at the right time with the right tools – on more than one occasion. Is this luck? Was it networking? Was it asking the right questions? Was it simply a different space and time? It certainly was building on past experiences.

In the class I teach – an introduction to voice acting at San Diego City College, I do emphasize that knowing their baseline abilities, their potential and where they fit in the business before starting to get into the business is paramount. Especially for those who are making a dramatic career change and starting from ground zero. And that includes an understanding of what it takes to actually make enough money for it to BE a business. Here a good business plan will help.

But my path was so different and seemed to keep me moving forward, so the occasional effort to write a business plan ended quickly with nothing accomplished, because nothing really needed to be accomplished. Perhaps I am delusional. I suppose that if my business plan had included getting a major market agent in order to take a swing at national commercials, I might be writing this blog from my vacation home in the tropics. Wait, I did have a major market agent in LA back in the 80’s, before the digital age. But that was back when I didn’t think I wanted to do voiceover work as a full-time gig, so my meandering took me down a different path. As the VO business emerged from this amalgamation, marketing plans met a slightly better fate.

2014 is already starting to plan itself – with “concrete” plans for April, May and June so far. And when we learn where FaffCon 7 is going to be, I will definitely be marking my calendar in order to be close to the first in line to sign up. Yet another marketing plan – or at least a more robust CRM plan – is still on my postcard from FaffCon 6, so as long as that is posted just above my monitor, I will probably give that another whack.

The day-to-day who to have lunch or dinner with still needs some work. It’s two days before New Year’s Eve and I am still figuring out what I am going to do and who I am going to do it with!


December 8, 2013

Never Assume – and you know why…

Filed under: Business, Musings — connieterwilliger @ 10:33 am

I don’t know about you, but when I get busy, and I start to tackle a new project that – on the surface – resembles so many of my other projects, I tend to slip into auto-pilot mode. I just KNOW what the producer wants. Well, maybe. Maybe not. Remember that old adage – “never assume – because it makes an ass out of you and me?” Slipping into what has been called Stage Four Learning can sometimes mean getting a project off on the wrong foot. Sometimes it can mean losing a client.

Here is a quick refresher on the Four Stages of Learning…

  1. Unconsciously incompetent
    You don’t understand how to do something – and probably don’t even realize that you don’t know how to do it. Relating this to voiceover work – you have been told you should be doing voiceover work, but you don’t know anything about the business, or about your own abilities and potential. You tend to ask questions that really can’t be answered. Your job at this stage. Listen. Listen. Listen.
  2. Consciously incompetent
    You still don’t know how to do something – but now, at this stage you recognize that you don’t know and you are starting to see what needs to be done to address the issue. It is at this stage where you can begin asking relevant questions and learn from your mistakes. At this stage you need to – Practice. Practice. Practice.
  3. Consciously competent
    At this stage you now know how to do something. But you actively think about the process – what steps to take and when. I personally spend a lot of time in this stage – especially when it comes to new auditions, or new clients with unusual requirements. (Or is it really this stage, or another stage of learning that acknowledges our experience and practice.) Here in this stage we need to think. Think. Think. Think.
  4. Unconsciously competent
    You now have had so much listening, practicing, thinking about something that you simply “do it.” Second nature. Auto-pilot. Chew gum and walk at the same time. In the voiceover world, I have called it Voiceover Zen. When driving a car, I call it stupid. Doing something over and over again the same way can lead to complacency – and mistakes. Complacency may lead to a failure to keep up-to-date on the changes in our business.

I don’t see these Stages of Learning as a ladder that stops at Stage 4.  In fact, some suggest that there is a Stage Five – something that could be called “Reflective Consciousness,” or “Enlightened Consciousness.” We have developed the ability to understand what we do in this unconscious state. Or we have developed the ability to help others understand and move through the stages of learning.

This diagram shows us constantly moving in and out of the various stages of competency. I like this matrix idea. It combines what we have learned through practice with what it took to get there and how life is filled with change that must be acknowledged. I have never been fond of moving through life in an unconscious state.  

I have also never been fond of the word “competent.” My whole upbringing was such that being competent wasn’t good enough. I needed to be better than just competent. In fact, there are two definitions of competency.

  1. having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully.
  2. adequate but not exceptional.

I liked the notion of a stage above competency. So Stage Four felt “better” to me. But I like this model of competency. I am not even the least bit upset with the word “mature.”

Competency Matrix

(Courtesy of Will Taylor, Chair, Department of Homeopathic Medicine, National College of Natural Medicine, Portland, Oregon, USA, March 2007. Please reference the diagram accordingly if you use it.)

The driving analogy is used a lot because nearly all of us can relate to it. On the freeway, I prefer that the drivers around me stay in some sort of conscious stage (either back to Stage Three or this “new” Stage Five) while at the wheel, but we all do it – zone out because we KNOW how to drive. But then we miss our exit and over correct, which causes someone else to surface from their auto-pilot trance and over correct. Doing anything well, but not thinking about it at all can have unintended consequences. 

Relating this to my business…jumping in the studio and cranking out a few paragraphs for a new client because I simply KNOW what the producer wants can mean one of two things – a hearty “that’s perfect” to a very disappointed “that’s not quite what I was expecting.” Better that I take one step back down the ladder (or up) or around the matrix and make sure that I know what the producer is expecting. 

There are a few regular projects I do that allow me to record in auto-pilot. The names, addresses and phone numbers of eye docs, dentists and lawyers for example. Plug the script into the recording software and play mental games in one part of my brain (“How many more names in CA, before FL?”), while another part reads, hears, corrects and finishes the project without a lot of conscious effort. But this is rare. Most of my work needs to incorporate all of the lessons learned along the way – reflective competence.

Don’t assume you know what to do simply because you have done it so much that it has become second nature. Especially when working with a new client. Their expectations and experiences could be vastly different than yours. So step away from that Unconscious Competency bubble for a moment and reflect on the big picture before hitting the record button.



December 1, 2013

I Have 3 Lawn Mowers and 5 Mics

Filed under: Business, Marketing, Musings, Negotiating, Recording, Technology — connieterwilliger @ 12:54 pm

Scattered in the storage area behind the garage are three (yes, I said 3) lawn mowers. Two gas mowers and an electric mower. None of them work. Well, one can be coaxed into mowing, if you know the secret sequence of events that involves lots of starter fluid sprayed in the spark plug socket and the carburetor in just the right order. Only one person knows how to do that.

I should probably get rid of all three of them and get one that works right the first time you yank on the starter.

I have two weed whackers. One is gas powered and I don’t think that one works. The battery operated whacker works, but not for very long on a charge. That one I got on Craig’s List.

I had a couple of loppers to cut the branches off the fig tree every year in August when the figs have turned to mush and are dropping off the tree faster than they can be picked. Can’t find any of them at the moment. Did have some yard guys working on landscaping a couple months ago, so perhaps the loppers are off lopping somewhere else.

I don’t even want to admit how many hand pruners I had lying around the yard – rusting because I forget where I leave them. I can’t seem to find but one of them at the moment.  And my large slip-joint pliers have gone missing. But screwdrivers! I have a million of them. Of course, when you need the phillips head screwdriver, all you can find are flat head.

What does this have to do with the price of eggs? Or with voiceover work?

Wait – I’m thinking. I’m thinking.

Come to think of it, I also have a lot of mics – Two matching AKG 3000s, an AKG 1000, 2 matching ADK Hamburgs and an EV RE20. Not very expensive mics, but mics that I tried and liked. And then found something else I liked better that was still inside my $ threshold of pain. And just the other day, I was down at the audio store where I found most of my mics looking at yet another one because they are/were going out of business and had some good deals.

I guess it says something about how I approach my life and work. I’m curious to know how things work. I have a lot of interests. I make quick decisions – sometimes. (Sometimes I never make a decision.) I like to be in control. I’m a perfectionist, yet sometimes a random perfectionist. I am never nervous – when I am prepared. Scared silly – when I am not.

And I’m thrifty – sort of. When you end up with multiple “bargain” items that don’t necessarily function the way they were intended (or as they did at some point in time), thrifty turns into a waste of time and money. But when they do work, it means redundancy.

Back in 1996, I hand-coded my first website – before WYSIWYG interfaces were invented. I wanted to know how to do it. And the cost to have someone create a website was high because it was new, so I balked at forking over the cash and figured it out for myself. This was a good thing. I still retain basic html knowledge and can go in and fix balky WYSIWYG interfaces.

I am a frequent beta-tester of software and websites. The control and curiosity part of me surfaces here. This started back in the days of CP/MDOS and dot prompt computers that simply didn’t do what I wanted them to do. As a video scriptwriter at the time, I wanted to write two-column scripts and keep the left and right sides lined up. I sure knew what I wanted to do, but technology simply hadn’t caught up. And this desire hasn’t changed. We always want our toys to do more than they do. Actually, I think I have reached the limit on what I want my TV remote to do (and I’m getting close with the phone too!).

How does all this affect my work?

When it comes to the actual recording part of my job, my curiosity and perfectionism come into play. No matter the script, I can find something interesting to connect with. Even when reading endless lists of the names addresses and phone numbers of dentists, eye doctors and lawyers, I find a way to keep it fresh. Guessing how many more listings in AZ before it moves into CA. Trying to read the next prompt while I am finishing the current prompt without making a mistake.

And files don’t leave my computer without a thorough quality check – which results in minimum redos – but adds to the time I spend on each project. Depending on the project and how much of a perfectionist I am – could be a little, could be a lot. (Self-directing means second guessing. I make far fewer “mistakes” when I am in a directed session because I have an audience to “perform” to!)

Here is where my thrifty side shows its face. I spend a lot of time trying to find the least expensive solution. And because I am so connected on the internet, I have been able to find some truly great bargains over the years on technology that has improved my bottom line. Finding a used Musicam Prima through the precursor to the VO-BB for example. The upside to this is that I usually have backup when things get goofy.

Because of my interest in all things software or Internet related, I have been on the first wave as a Beta Tester. This has been helpful in getting software that actually helps streamline and improve my workflow. It has been helpful in reducing subscription costs to several casting websites.

My random perfectionism rears its head in this department. My marketing efforts in the past were much more organized and now – not so much. But it is always somewhere in the forefront of my mind. And far far away from sales – which is another subject entirely and not something I like to do.

A popular saying within my particular voiceover community is that “there is no math in voiceovers.” Well, that turns out not to be true. There is a lot of math. Quoting rates for example. Every project is different. There is no one size fits all here. So a standard rate card is difficult to establish. I have it on my list of things to do – at least something that is close. But no, every time someone comes to me directly, it takes time to come up with a rate. And everyone wants the quote figured in a different way, so even with a “rate” card, it has the ultimately be converted from cost per finished minute to cost per word to cost per project.

Keeping track of hours. Creating invoices. Depositing checks and or balancing the accounts. Taxes. Collections. All of this involves math.

Bottom Line

I muddle through. I have managed to cobble together a successful business – at times highly organized – other times – not so much. In going through the papers of first my aunt, then my father and now my mother, I see that I am not nearly as organized as I should be. But it seems to be working.

One of the lawn mowers made it’s way out to the alley last week and was adopted by an alley elf…so now I only have two lawn mowers. The electric mower is slowing being disassembled using one of my many many screwdrivers and the remaining pair of pliers and will be discretely disposed of in the trash over the next couple of weeks – leaving me with one mower – that works – sort of.

Perhaps I need to do a quick check of Craig’s List…


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