working mom

My Wheels Are Turning….

Perhaps because I have been following The Budget Mom, and I have been spending a lot of time thinking about personal finances and where our money goes, it makes sense that in this time of reflection as a working mom I would also reassess what has worked well and been of value in by business and what I might have done or do differently. As a solopreneur, ever single dollar counts and at least in my perception has even more weight than it would in a large company, so for me my choices in my voiceover business matter a lot. I confess that I lay in bed at night thinking about them and praying that I have put myself on the right path so that I succeed for my children. I am passionate about my voice over work to be sure, but I also have a hunger to continue to build a thriving business and every choice matters.

The Demos

The very first choice most talents make is who to work with for their demo and which demo to do. I am EXTREMELY thankful and proud that Anne Ganguzza and I did such an amazing commercial demo. It is the rock solid foundation that my business has grown upon. It was worth every single penny and I am very glad that I invested in that. I feel the same way about my narration demo that I did with Bill DeWees. I also have booked A LOT with my eLearning demo that I  did with J. Michael Collins. I am extremely proud of all of my demos, but I have brought in substantially more work from these 3 demos than all others combined.

I watch these adorable videos that my friend Heather Foster posts on Facebook called things I’d tell my younger self. Well, I was in a big hurry to do a lot of demos and for better or for worse they sure helped me build a full and diverse website. But, had I realized where my bookings would fall, perhaps I could have saved myself some money early on and not rushed to do so many demos. It is hard to commit to that statement, because I have done quite a lot of telephony and IVR, and gotten some great clients like Whole Foods, from that demo (also produced by J. Michael Collins) but the majority of my bookings continue to be commercials.

Equipment Purchases

I am very happy with my studio. I am very thankful to have high end equipment in a well-treated booth.  I built my studio early in my career and made upgrades as I got big, steady contracts for consistent work. This made sense at the time and it still makes sense. I had lots of industry people make digs about spending money and I had to filter them out. In fact, I probably should have invested in my expensive microphone, my Neumann TLM 103, when I started, instead of spending $500 on a mid-range mic only to upgrade within a few years. I intended to succeed and I did, and my studio, which is acoustically treated to perfection and also has an amazing pre-amp, is a huge piece of the puzzle. I am very happy about these purchases and filtering out the nay-sayers was a good move on my part. If you want to succeed in voice over, that is often a piece of the puzzle.

My Website

Home-NEW

I am VERY pleased with my website and my website team, but I have made some mis-steps- not with them, on my own. In the beginning, I worked with the brilliant Anne Ganguzza to do my branding. She was fabulous and I am pleased with all she helped create. When Joe Davis and Karin Barth at Voiceactor Websites came into the picture, we made some great upgrades. I am happy with everything I have done with them and pleased with all I have invested.

At some point a few years ago I decided to create a separate entity for government bidding. I created a separate webpage for this. I regret spending the money on this page and not just adding another page to my current site.  I took a lot of advise from a government contracting mentor outside of voiceover, and his did not understand the voice over industry well enough. It is not in my best interest having two separate pages. It is often frustrating. I spent a lot of money and time on this and regret these choices.

I also made another mis-step with my main website. When I initially built my page, I first made it a scrolling page instead of a multipage site. Then when I wanted to add pages, I asked a random person to do it. It was a mess. I had to go back to Joe and Karin and ask them to fix everything. I felt terrible to have sidestepped them, which was years ago, and had to do a major website upgrade. It worked out in the end but I wish I had invested in a more elaborate website from the start. I had no idea how much work I would do.

Final Analysis

Don’t be short sited. Make choices that make your life easier. Work with kind people who are helpful. You can always spend money later, but if you are booking from something, you don’t need something else. Just keep doing what you are doing!

Why Leaving the Foam Booth is Worthwhile

As a full-time, working mom, working from home is a major perk. I realize often how lucky I am to have my home studio. Whether it’s a day where I can accommodate multiple client sessions and run to m kids’ school to watch a special presentation, or a day when I am feeling exhausted and want to stay in yoga pants and no one knows the difference, working from home is a pretty sweet gig. But I will also be the first to say that in order to be a successful solopreneur, I need to leave to comforts of the home office that I have worked so hard to build in order to broaden my professional network.  I have made amazing connections in both expected and unexpected places because I made the effort to leave the booth!

Connections in expected places

I have blogged in the past about my conference adventures. From voice conferences like WoVo Con and VO Atlanta, to eLearning conferences like DevLearn, I have made very important connections at these conferences. At voice over conferences, I have met

Wonderful industry friends at WoVo Con, a night out with Uncle Roy in China Town the weekend of Sovas, an eLearning Guild conference in Orlando, and the WWRS in Burbank!

industry friends in person that I otherwise only know online from facebook or instagram. The bonds that form are amazing and so meaningful. These folks have become my daily support, my confidants, and my work family. These are the people I trust and confide in. The relationships would never be the same if we were not together in person. We also often refer business to each other, and again, we would not trust each other to share clients if we did not know each other so well, the way you do when you actually spend time together.

I have traveled pretty far for eLearning conferences like DevLearn and other eLearning guild conferences too. These conferences are different because you are putting yourself face to face with the companies who might need your services. Some of my most regular clients are from the smallest conferences I have gone to! The tricky thing about these conferences is that companies often send their sales team, and these are not people who cast voice talent, so as a voice over actor, you have to learn how to access the people that you can work with. You also have to learn the difference between the people who create content and the LMS providers, as they never need our services. It is also important to note that simply meeting these people at a conference and exchanging pleasantries in know way guarantees the connection. Instead, it takes months if not years of consistent follow up to build a rapport and maintain the connection that began at the conference.

Connections in Unexpected Places

I have also made wonderful connections for my business when I was not “on” or in “networking mode.” Once, at an ATD conference in Atlanta, I was totally exhausted. I did not know how I would get through the day in the massive venue with so many booths left to walk through in the expo center. I decided I needed a snack break. I had to take the escalator up four flights, which

This is what the first glimpse looked like. It was an enormous expo and several days there was both a great opportunity and exhausting all at once!

felt like an eternity, and I began chatting with a really nice lady from Boston who is now a client. She also needed a break and like me was desperate for a bottle of water, and being in that snack stand at that moment, seemed meant to be. We chatted and chatted and this instructional designer started venting about talents she had used in the past that had not worked out. The conversation flowed, and the opportunity was natural.  Sometimes it is these genuine, real chats that make the most impact and help people get to know you and then if there is a professional synergy it is that much better!

Recently, I was at the AI conference at NJIT in Newark. To be honest, even though I was only about four miles from my house, I was petrified to be in such a tough part of town and I was seriously questioning the logic in having a potentially great conference at such a venue. Well, there was another young man and woman who also had to walk from the parking garage to the main building around the same time. We just started walking together. I was relieved and started venting immediately. It turns out this woman was a talent agent from Denver and we had so much in common! That first chat has led to multiple phone calls. I am now on their talent roster for voiceover, promotional modeling, and on-camera work:

Laura

So, like my experience at ATD years ago, this wonderful connection came from a genuine, heart-felt conversation and there also happened to be true professional synergy. I did not start out trying to market myself, I just sought out human connection. This is why leaving the booth is so essential!

How Much Are You Working?

The possibilities are limited only by our imagination and determination, and not by physics.” ~ Mike Duke, PhD, NASA Geologist

THE question:

As a full-time, professional voice over actor, I get a lot of questions; but, the one I seem to get the most, is “So, how many hours would you say you work now?” Somehow saying that it’s a full time job has net been a clue. So, what I gather is that folks can’t imagine is how the work of a creative can fill an entire day, or perhaps weeks and years on end. Given the opportunity, I will happily, and enthusiastically elaborate and tell you what days are like for a working voiceover talent.

The Home Studio

Like most voice over actors, I have a professional home studio. This gives me the ability to accommodate clients in different time zones, not just in the Unites States, but abroad as well. I love getting started early, because I feel like I have gotten a lot done in a day. In truth a lot of my steady clients are on the West Coast, so I often go back down to record jobs that come in late after dinner as well.

Daily Tasks

The amount of booked work I have shapes my day. I typically record all booked work before doing anything else. If a big audition comes in, I will pause a job and record and submit that. While I record, I hydrate continually. I drink water all day long. I limit myself to one coffee a day. Once I am done recording actually bookings, my day is divided between auditions, client outreach emails, LinkIn follow ups, and general marketing tasks. I do try to do 20-40 auditions a day, and they come in from clients, Pay to Plays, and agents around the country. If a booking comes in mid-day, I stop what I am doing and record. For bigger jobs I typically have advance notice. For example, I did 20 videos on Thursday, but I new about them about 2 weeks in advance so that I could book out the day on my calendar. I do I lot of commercials and have a lot of RUSH work as well. I am always happy to do rush jobs. I understand when folks have deadlines, and I never mind getting audio right back to clients. Often when more booked work comes in, time on LinkedIn or for marketing takes a back seat. I tend to keep up with my client correspondence as that is very important to me!

Mom Life

It seems the more I get into a rhythm with my business, the less I feel in control of life at home. When my twins were small, they had all of my focus and attention. I was with them full time and I could spend all of my energy thinking about meals and school and their clothing. Now I worry a lot about their school work since they are in high school. But, our house is not as organized as it was. Our dinners are not planned. I often scramble to make lunches before taking them to the train in the morning. I am so so so thankful that the groceries can be delivered or I am not sure we would ever have any. 

Another issue is that because I am a small business owner, even when I am driving my kids to sports or taking them to the doctor, I am still thinking about my work and checking for client emails. I can’t ever completely detach because there is no one else to man the fort. Since I am the business, if I disconnect, it ends. I find it challenging to find the right balance between savoring this precious time with my children, which goes entirely too fast, and catching the momentum of my business which I have worked so hard to build.

I do remind myself that my kids are learning from see me running a business at home. They see me working not just at nights but on weekends. They hear client calls. They get to hear and see my actual work. This all cushions the blow. So the house may not be perfectly tidy when the family comes for a visit. And we may have to get takeout more than we had planned. And I may often forget to go back out and put the cover on the grill. 

My hope is that while friends that we meet for dinner may have natural questions about what it’s like to be a full-time working creative, my kids, the people who matter most to me in this world, will not have any questions because they see everything. I also try to talk to them about all of the issues that I grapple with and pose thought provoking questions.

So, I can tell you with certainty that a working voice talent has plenty to keep them busy! Odds are their more than 40 hour work week blows by and they have a hard time figuring out where the time has gone!

Where Am I Going With This….

Even though I work full time, as a mom of teenage twins, I am in the car A LOT. My SUV has a great sound system, and I confess I enjoy belting it out. The other night I had a realization though: unless my four year old niece is in the car, I am typically belting it out alone. And it is not that I am not playing great music, because I can assure you that it is always a party when I drive. I think it has more to do with the personalities of my husband and kids.

I asked  my son Jack why he didn’t want to belt it out? Perhaps the music should be even louder? His response: it’s just not him. He, and they, are just not wired up that way. In contrast, I can’t keep it in. I dance. I rap. I pour my heart and soul into it. ACDC. Snoop Dogg. Gladys Knight. Jonas Brothers. It doesn’t matter, I’m into it! So what on earth does this have to do with voiceovers? Well, people often ask me how I got into voice over or how I started booking work. It’s a tricky question. There are a lot of talented people who do what I do. There are also a lot of people who have had access to the training that I have had. They may even have the demos that I have. So, what sets us apart? Our schtick. Our unique personality and spark. The ability to put my dignity, airs, “whatever” in the metaphorical back seat and whoop it up for the clients, is essentially what I have been practicing for years. One of my beloved coaches, Fred Frees, used to tell me if I was going to “make it” I had to be fearless in front of the microphone. This singing in the car is exactly the same thing. When you have the reckless abandon to belt it out in front of everyone, odds are you will also be fearless in front of the mic.

Are there personality traits of Voice Over Actors?

So here’s an interesting question that I get. Just like in every field, all types come to voice over. I do find that the industry friends that I have are kind, supportive, and an overall super friendly bunch. We all have to wear our emotions on our sleeve, because if you can’t hear them, no one will hire us! So, I do find that in voice over people are typically willing to share, and that openness makes everything better.

Do We Actually Sing In Our Work?

Yes!  I have had to sing for Indie Video Games, Toys, and Commercial Jingles. I have also sung for mobile apps with Nursery rhymes.  Some people who have had a lot of musical training have singing demos. I do not, folks just ask me to do it and I send them my best. A lot of the voice over talents that work in animation sing a lot. As that has never been my bread and butter, I do not do that.

What If We Don’t Sing or Sing Terribly?

Don’t worry! Our job is not musicians. There was a spec on a job I was sent last week that specifically said that they wanted someone who was not perfectly on tune so that it sounded natural and not overly polished. I think a more commonly sought after skill is the ability to sing in character, which has a lot more to do with staying in character, and less to do with hitting each note perfectly. That being said, when I have sung for toy demos, I have to do scales and have to hit each note in the middle and it takes a lot of work and concentration for someone who did not grew up singing!

My Thoughts

I did not go into voiceover because I wanted to sing. To the contrary, the jobs that involve that component are typically my hardest.  The point of this is that the silly abandon that we have when playfully, often gleefully belting it out in the car whether we are alone or have an audience of 3, that is what we need to bring with us into the booth for every job. The ability to switch gears as quickly as a song changes on the radio is priceless. The ability to reinvent ourselves every two minutes is also priceless. All the professional training in the world cannot change the feeling that you have in your gut. I have been told by another coach that I “dive in” rather fast. I believe that, too, is one of my greatest assets! Whether it is a new station I am imaging for and each take on a line needs to be fresh, or a 15 second holiday spot, or an eLearning module, be the talent who is willing to shake things up and delight your client at every turn!

When  People Just show Up

As a full-time working mom, I have a pretty rigid routine from day to day. On Sunday mornings, I typically relish my quiet time with my kids, and although I am home alone with them because my husband is usually playing basketball, I am usually working. On a Sunday morning, I tend not to be in my recording studio, but instead tend to be comfortably seated at the kitchen island and I usually maximize my time between 9am and 12 pm writing my weekly blog post and working on that weeks marketing goals. So this Sunday, when my very loved and very welcome in-laws walked-in unexpectedly and unannounced at around 9:15 am, I had a quick choice. And really, it was no choice. I needed to abandon my work plan and go with the flow. The work would be there when I came back to it but my opportunity to make my family feel welcome and appreciated would be fleeting.

In order to understand this scenario, you need to understand a few key details. First, members of our immediate family, both on my side and on my husband’s, all have our garage code. So, they tend to just enter the house, much like on a sitcom. We often have no idea who is coming when or how long they are staying. They just show up. Luckily they all get along really well. Next, this may give you the mis-impression that I am in some way relaxed. Quite to the contrary, I am wrapped very tight. When my twins were born, my husband and I agreed that an open-door policy was more fair to all grandparents. We didn’t want them to miss out, and so all of this craziness, is the result of said policy. So, I have had to change my behavior and learn to “go with the flow” a bit. What does that mean. Well, according to zenhabits.com, “What is going with the flow? It’s rolling with the punches. It’s accepting change without getting angry or frustrated. It’s taking what life gives you, rather than trying to mold life to be exactly as you want it to be.” So yesterday, it meant holding off for a better time to write and just enjoying my family. And you know what, I did!

There is another issue at play. I think people get a vibe when they are greeted. Do you want the people you love most in the world to feel welcome and like there is a red carpet for them, or do you want them to be unsure if they should be there? I want my family to want to come over. According to hospitality.net, “the spirit of welcome is so important in creating a strong foundation for the guest experience. Each person, each point of contact, can add so much to the ‘welcoming’ experience for guests! A welcome goes beyond words, it creates a feeling of caring and gives a sense of pleasure. A sincere welcome reaches out and positively pulls guests in to the hospitality environment they have chosen and makes guests feel like they have made a good choice. A cordial and courteous welcome gives guest the feeling they have been invited to join the setting even though they chose to go on their own. The power of welcome is to affirm the guest made the right choice and is further welcome to enjoy.” I think we only get one shot at this feeling, and if I had excused myself to go do work, it just would have been all wrong.

It takes a Village so In turn we need to be part of the Village

When I think about how families connect, I often think about this video I once saw of a family singing Les Mis karaoke:

 

It’s amazing, right? I find this incredible because my family will come together to watch Seinfeld or a movie, and we really come together to eat, but this is well-beyond our skill set. But what I think we do best as a family is raise mensches, and I couldn’t do that alone. I think that the reason my kids are so sweet is because they have the attention not just of their parents, both of whom work, but of their grandparents, their aunts, and their uncles, and I think it does take a village. When that village is fragmented, the kids are the ones who suffer. When you wonder how these characters end up on Jerry Springer or Dr. Phil, maybe it was those moments of choice and instead of sticking together and just being together they chose wrong over and over again. My daughter has been watching a lot of Dr. Phil recently, and when I see clips where he admonishes family like this I gather that they made one mistake after another until they stopped supporting each other.

The Time Goes way to Fast

I feel like just yesterday my  twins were tiny babies coming home from the hospital. We were worried that the pot holes would hurt their heads because they were so small.  Now they will be driving in a month. I spend many hours every day alone in a padded foam booth. So, when family comes over unexpectedly, I have decided to look at it as a gift. I think sometimes it is life telling us to slow down and take it in. I do feel like hitting pause is ok. I am blogging 24 hours after I planned. I am not sure when I will work on my instagram posts. Will I get them done? Yes.

How did our day end up yesterday? We had a wonderful lunch as a family at our mall. We took my little niece with us too. We then went to Target and the grocery store. My family come out from NYC and we grilled for dinner. We were all together and it was wonderful. At the end of the day, it was more important to me that my family feel important and loved.

It happens to be a beautiful sunny day, so I may want to take my kids out for lunch, but I think that will be okay too.

It’s That Time of Year Again…

It’s hard to believe that it’s June and sunscreen and bug spray are repeat items on our weekly shopping list again. My twins’ final exams are over and summer vacation is in site. My kids are teenagers so we have a few exciting new times on our agenda. My daughter is going away for the first time to a summer program at a college and both kids are getting their driving permits, fingers crossed. As a full-time working mom who runs my own business, I want to make summer special for them while still meeting my professional goals and working full days. Like many women who work, I am juggling a lot of balls, but somehow when the whether is beautiful and the sun is shining I feel like I can do it all. Over the years of being a momtrepreneur, I have come up with the following tips to make our summers flow in a way that makes sense for everyone.

1. Plan Ahead

I am trying to keep a straight face as I write this part, but planning ahead is very helpful. Even in a business where many of my commercial bookings come in 12 hours or less in advance, planning ahead and having a schedule makes life a lot less stressful.  If I can look at my week and see when the kids have to be various places and what I have on my plate in terms of my bookings and my clients’ needs, I can best accommodate everyone without stress. As summer weeks tend to have a lot more variation in schedule than our weeks during the school year, planning ahead helps a lot with scheduling live or guided sessions, and with making sure that I leave ample time for editing. At the same time, if my kids need to be driven to activities, plans with friends, etc, I am ahead of the curve.

2.  Block Off Time Specifically for Summer Fun

Even though I have financial goals that must be met every month,  summer is the right time to take off for fun indulgences like days at the beach or catching a show in New York City. Since it is impossible to spend special days like this with my kids during the school year, I block chunks of time throughout the summer so that I make sure these days are available. In fact, our first special day is coming up this Friday. I have blocked half a day for my niece’s pre-school graduation. Does this mean that I will not meat my monthly minimum? Last year, I was able to meet my goals and actually surpassed them in both July and August. I find that I am extremely motivated by doing well for my children, so carving out this time in my schedule makes me even fresher when I step back into the booth.

3. Keep Kids Stimulated

A key to a successful summer is not just how well a mom organizers her time, but also how busy the kids are kept! I have found that when my kids are meaningfully engaged they are happy and fulfilled and everything goes more smoothly. For example, last summer my kids volunteered as counselors at a camp they went to for years. It was a really rewarding job and they very much enjoyed it. They came home tired but happy. I got my work done and they were busy. If you can make plans like that for your children, your summer will be a lot easier for everyone!

4. Put it All in Perspective

Summer is a time for hammocks and lemonade, for flip flops and coverups. Summer is not the time for harsh criticism and self-assessment. After a few years of juggling work and motherhood, I can tell you that it will all be ok. There might be some days where your kids have to wait for you. They may not be able to swim when they want. You may also miss a client call because you took your kids to the park or to see friends. It’s ok. We all expect so much of ourselves all the time. We make so many plans and so many promises. If all of it gets done, that’s wonderful. If most of it gets done, great. What I have learned is that I always get essential tasks done. Everything else is gravy.

The other thing I now realize is that your kids learn so much from how you, as a mom, handle these situations. I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to remember me smiling and laughing and enjoying them, and not as a crazy basket case. Just give them the summer that you really want, and no one ever fantasized about a summer at their desk!