working mom

Septembers Here…But is It Actually Easier?

Ah September. If you can actually remember what life was like pre-pandemic, September used to feel like a huge shift for us Juggling Momworking moms, with an audible sigh of relief heard from coast to coast. While having our kids home to spend time by the pool and doing crafts is a time of joy, for solopreneurs who have always run our small businesses from home, summer has always involved juggling lots of balls. This year, 2020, has presented a whole new set of challenges, and if your family is like mine, your kids are “back in school” without leaving your house. While I confess that I am enjoying the extra time I have with my teens, it does present a lot of challenges for those of us whose career depends on quiet in the recording booth. Doors slamming, thumping and thudding on the steps, random proclamations- these barely scrape the barrel of what the new normal is like. The quietude is gone and with it I have, you guessed it, more balls to juggle as both my children and my husband are now in the house. All day. Every day. So no, this September, being a working mom and small business owner it is not easier, but I do have some strategies for coping in order to ensure that my goals stay in clear focus.

Re-Establishing Work Routines and Mom Routines.

The school year is nine months long. It is extremely likely that school kids will be home through June. So, Re-establishing a daily routine and maintaining rhythm is really important. As a working mom, we always wear two hats, and we need to keep balance. If one shifts out of balance, it effects the other and life suddenly becomes uneasy. For me, aspects of my work routine include:

  • auditions
  • meditation
  • completing booked work
  • thank you notes
  • marketing/client outreach
  • invoicing

Aspects of my mom routine include:

  • cooking
  • laundry
  • grocery shopping
  • cleaning the house
  • dog responsibilities: walking, preparing and freezing kongs, etc.
  • homework help
  • amazon orders

Focusing On Wellness

In order to maintain the balance between my role as a mom and my life as a professional voice over actor, accountability in my professional career is extremely important. I have blogged before about my group, but one of our touch points is health and wellness. When we started reporting on this years ago, I did not realize that the relevance of this area would increase in Laura Schreiber Walking Two Dogsimportance. Who could have predicted a pandemic? Every day wellness is a priority, including: steaming, supplements, eating well, etc.

Walking is one of the goals I focus on in my healthy living strategy. I love walking with my dogs and we walk four to five miles a day. My beloved dogs count on the movement and frankly, as I work in a padded foam booth, I need to get out and breath the fresh air. The pandemic can be so isolating, but when we walk I talk to my husband and kids. We also run into neighbors on the street and it is such a wonderful mental break. Walking, then, provides both an emotional and a physical benefit. The walking is essential to my wellness.

Pilates is another focus of mine. After a difficult twin pregnancy, I have spent years rebuilding my core. I love that through the pilates I work on my breathing and that the workouts are total body workouts. I am learning to make connections and to listen to myself. Work as a voice over actor so much depends on connecting with people and connecting with scripts, so if I am connected with myself as a foundation of it all, I work better. At the start of every session, my instructor asks how I am feeling and for me to be aware of where my body is starting. I wish that I had people teach be to be aware of my physical state in this way when I was 12 years old. I think I would have treated myself very differently. In any event, I am thankful for this journey that I am on and pilates helps me very much.

Strategies to Support Success

As a momtrepreneur, I try to set a framework for me to thrive and to make good choices. Here are a few of the things that have helped me during the pandemic:

  • Metabolism Mojo with Betsy Markle @ https://www.facebook.com/groups/334541130558104: Betsy is a brilliant nutritionist that I happened to grow up with in Pennsylvania. She is now based in Florida and I look forward to every post, recipe, and Facebook Live. She has made our shelter in place better with her recipes. I also highly encourage you to watch her recent coffee video.
  • Daily Harvest: I am so thankful to have found this site of healthy food options. We buy the grain bowls for lunch and the smoothies as go to breakfast sides or snack options. They are delicious and having a full stock of healthy choices makes life easier.
  • Meal Plan Prep: As a devotee of the Budget Mom, I have been focussed throughout the pandemic on planning our dinners. This has enabled me to both stay within budget and to have food in the house that fits our needs and is ready. This has been a huge help. I often use this meal prep sheet that the Budget Mom shares.

Focus On Goals

“Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.” Ultimately all of this matters because working moms have goals. As a voice actor, I have spent years building my business. It isn’t about getting through September, it is about making life work so that I reach these goals for myself and for my family. If we can’t see the forest through the trees, we just won’t get where we have worked so hard to go. In the shadow of the passing of the great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we have a great torch to carry. She did it with such ease, and we must carry on for our children so that we can finish the work she set out to do.

My Breakthrough This Week When Walking my Dog

Some days I wake up with a burst of energy and ready to get to work. Other days I am less energetic, but regardless, the outcome is the same: I do my thang in the booth. I’ll explain. I am pretty regimented when it comes to sticking to my voice over routine, Laura walking her dogsand that routine enables me to balance both my mom tasks and my business tasks in a way that I am comfortable with. Most days follow the same pattern, with slight variation by day of the week. But some days, I am less “into it” than others. I was thinking it through the other morning and I thought this was a matter of inspiration. I was walking my dogs one day this week with my friend Melanie and she was telling me she felt the same way, that feeling when you just can’t get started. Melanie is a successful New York attorney who works extremely long days. While her career path is decidedly different than mine is as a working creative, this got my wheels turning. Both of us are working moms. Both of us work long days every day. And both of us build our household responsibilities into our professional goals. What, then, is the secret sauce? It came to me that while I often think of things only in terms of the presence and lack of inspiration, it is actually the ability to sustain the magic of the intersection of motivation and inspiration that makes success happen.

Common Challenges All Working Moms Face

So, let’s take a step back. It’s not just me as a voice actor who has a business to run that also has to think about how to feed my kids dinner at the end of a long work day. There are common challenges that every single working mom has to face regardless of our chosen profession and these challenges impact our work performance. Sure, these challenges vary depending on the age of our kids and the level of involvement of our life partner if we have one, but for the most part working moms still:

  • feed their families
  • manage household responsibilities including cleaning and home maintenance and repairs
  • have appointments like doctors visits
  • have errands like marketing, grocery shopping, household supplies, etc.
  • need to interact with school teachers

Just to list a few of these, and all of these responsibilities take time, energy, and emotional strength away from our professional responsibility. We can’t split ourselves in half. We have to be present for all of it, and there are only so many hours in the day.

Motivation vs. Inspiration

So, with so much on our plates as working moms, what keeps as working towards our end goals? Let’s consider the definitions of motivation and inspiration:

Definition of inspiration

 

Definition of motivationFor me, I could blog endlessly about my VO goals. I try to break them down and focus on immediate, short term, 6 month, 12 month, and long term goals. That is how I start to frame out the motivation. The inspiration has always been clear: it starts and ends with my children. They are my why. I was inspired to start my business for them. Everything I do is for them. Thinking of them and wanting them to be able to study abroad or open up their business helps me define solid financial goals that I am very motivated to reach. On a daily basis, I hold myself accountable with a google spreadsheet. On a weekly basis, I am accountable to my amazing VO Powerhouse Accountability Group. All of this is essential to spending time at this junction of motivation and inspiration and not floundering in between the two.

My Working Mom Interviews

A few years ago I also started doing a series of “Got Your Back” working mom interviews on YouTube. It occurred to me that I was just one of many and that maybe a lot of women had figured out this work life balance better than I had. I wanted to know what they struggled with and how they addressed those struggles to get it all done. These women were both inside the voiceover industry and beyond. One of them, Rebecca Gelman, has since evolved beyond her architecture business and now also owns an outdoor gear shop that boasts the largest collection of black bear collectables in our area which you can find at https://bigbeargearnj.com/. Talk about a gal who doesn’t waste a moment and somehow gets it all done, she is extremely motivated and Rebecca inspires me daily. All of the videos do! But if you are like me, you look to your tribe on those days when you are lacking, and, well, my tribe rocks.

 

What Needs to Line Up for me to Meet me Goals

Life as a full time voice actor is not as simple as being found and just sent bookings. Yes, it’s great when a repeat client does that, but if I were to sit back and rely on that every day my business would cease to exist. I recall hearing Dave Fennoy speak in 2016, and he talked about a time when he was so successful he stopped working to grow his business. Do you know what happened? He lost his business. He lost everything and Dave Fennoy, one of the biggest names in voice over, had to rebuild from the beginning. He told us at this conference that we needed to work every single day as if it were our first day. That is what I try to remember. I never sit back and count on the work pouring in. Every day matters and I will continue to work my hardest.

I will still also take care of myself too. I want to teach my children that is well. I will blow out my hair, put on some make up, do my nails, and do pilates. If I fall apart, how can I take care of the needs of so many others? Worse, what kind of example am I setting as a mother. So here I am, hanging out at this intersection I realized I love being at but only just named. And now that I’ve found it, I’m not going anywhere!!

The Scenario: Two Weekends in a Row

As a working mom, I try to only work on weekends under specific scenarios: if booked work comes in that the client specifically Laura Thinking about itneeds over the weekend, if I get a direct audition for the weekend, or if it is something like my blog which I generally do while my kids are asleep. Otherwise, the weekend is cherished family time. So, if a client tells me they need something over the weekend, I am generally pretty sympathetic that they have someone on the other side who needs something and has a deadline. It happens that both last weekend and this weekend I had bookings come in over the weekends. While I was delighted about both bookings, the one this weekend was much more pleasant.  I think the two bookings lend themselves very well to case studies on what makes an ideal voice over client to work with and what makes a client a little more challenging.

Client A

Earlier in the month a client I have worked with before reached out to me with a small budget for a local TV and Media campaign.  After a lot of back and forth, we came to a price we could both live with. It took quite a while for the scripts to come in. Of course I When you really want to say somethingfinally heard from them Friday evening. I confirmed receipt of the script and asked Client A if Monday by midday was okay and they said it was needed over the weekend. Normally I would add either a “RUSH” fee or a weekend fee, but we had negotiated and the budget was low so I could not do that here. The other snag was that the client only sent one script. We had negotiated a bulk rate assuming that I was recording at once, and sending everything piecemeal was not a great start.

Client A is in a different time zone. The client is quite slow to respond to questions I have or to give any feedback when audio is sent. I sent all audio Saturday and did not hear anything back until Thursday. Typically when I deliver finished audio I invoice, but as this was just one of four deliverables, I could not invoice for the first TV spot until the entire slow moving project is complete.

Client B

My experience with Client B has been very different than my experience with Client A. I met Client B when I presented at an eLearning conference in June online. We had a follow up Zoom and the work that came in on Friday evening was also a long time coming. Like Client A, Client B also sent this booking in the evening on Friday. Also like client A, Client B was in a different time zone but in the other direction, so their workday would start before ours on Monday. In this case, Client B did not specify that they needed the work by Monday. In contrast, I was excited to get the ball rolling.

Like Client A, Client B sent clear specs and a sample. Unlike Client A, Client B, was very easy to communicate with. They answered all questions promptly and were extremely clear and direct. Client B is an international client who also needed copy writing services. Again, the ease of communication made this go extremely smoothly. I invoiced when I delivered the finished audio as I typically do and Client B paid within an hour of delivery. They also sent three follow up emails the team reviewed the files that I sent. I felt as though I were in Italy listening with them. It was great to be part of the team like that.

What Made All the Difference?

As I think about it, working on Saturday was not the problem. Subtle contrasts between Client A and Client B made the experiences quite different. I made this chart to help make the nuances more clear. Please see below:

Client A Client B
Asked for work on weekend    X   X
Sent Sample     X    X
Sent Specific Specs    X    X
Easy to Correspond With      X
Needed Copy Writing To    X
Gave Specific and Timely Feedback      X
Self Directed     X    X
Paid Promptly     X
Overall Felt Like were on the Same Team      X

It is much easier to work with responsive people. It is also much easier to work when you feel that your work is valued. Everyone works at their own pace, and as the voice over actor, I cannot control the pace at which the scripts are sent to me. Even though I ask that revisions come in within 48 hours in my terms at the start, I try to work with all clients, even if they pace the projects differently. While it does not feel good to have it dragged out, when I saw the first cut of the first commercial, it turned out great. The client was really nice and was working with a large team.  I understand that the client cannot always control pace.

So, in the final analysis, what steps can I come up with as a business owner to have more interactions be like those with client B?

  • Be clear about my terms at the start.
  • Always maintain a professional demeanor.
  • Maintain industry standard rates and never devalue myself.

When those are in balance I am doing my part to protect my interests, and I have to have hope that the clients will do their part as well. If all is in balance, then yes, it is worth making the effort to accommodate clients over the weekend!

What this Week Was Like

This week was one of those weeks that all moms dread. Jack, the younger of my twins, had to have emergency GI surgery that involved an over night hospital stay. He had a rare intestinal problem that he was born with but was not an issue until now, at age 17. The suffering that led up to the surgery was great, and the surgery was pretty major. In truth the surgery was a bit of a relief as it made all of us feel that Jack was now on a path to wellness, including Jack.

Last week I blogged about how I was distracted because of the surgery and it effected me in a live session. Well, in truth our role both as mother and wife and as solopreneur and small business owner does not stop. Even if we set time aside to be present when our kids are convalescing, no one else will run our business or our home in our place. My husband is amazing in every way. We coordinate about every thing. Those industry friends who have met Harlan know that he is always happy to help. But any working mom will tell you but we all have our roles and when something comes up in life to change our routine, it often just means that our routine as a working mom is temporarily more challenging. When I saw the feature image posted, it really resonated with me. Sometimes those of us who succeed in voice over are the do so because we have tremendous ambition, so under normal circumstances the idea of letting go of any thing is absurd. When you have a member of your family who is sick or recovering, this is essential to maintaining what you have worked so hard to build.

Our Job Doesn’t Stop

The Struggle has meaningWhen Jack went in the hospital I went back and forth about whether or not to put an “out of office” reply on my email or to continue responding to clients email by email. The day of his procedure, I had two voice over bookings come in that could wait until the next day, so I waited. I was fortunate that the bookings were both from long-standing clients that I felt comfortable telling I needed to delay recording. While in the hospital, I was able to do busy work tasks like web site updates that I had already made lists about and organized. I was not able to do marketing and correspondence. Creative work that required thought and patience just wasn’t going to happen while waiting for a doctor to come out and talk to me. My heart just was not in it. So, in some respects I was able to maintain business functions while Jack was in the hospital and with other tasks I was not.

When Jack came home, I was able to maintain somewhat of a “normal” work flow and rhythm. Instead of staying down in my studio for a good part of the day as I typically do, I would record for 30-40 minutes at a time and email the audio to myself so that I could edit while sitting by Jack’s side. I was able to then continue to audition and record booked work while he recovers at home. While it sounds great, the up and down was exhausting and the week has been challenging.

Our Household chores Don’t Stop

Household Chores Don't stop: Laura Schreiber in the kitchen and with school booksWhile I may have figured out how to manage my business responsibilities while Jack has been recuperating, doing that while also managing my home life has been tricky. I typically cook for my family. They fend for themselves for breakfast and lunch, and I prepare dinners. I now have to take care of Jack all day every day, and frankly I don’t feel like cooking. I did make quiche one night, but the rest of the nights we have gotten takeout. It’s the sum total of managing everything that is tricky, including: laundry, cleaning, homework help, bills, putting everything away, the dishes, and the list just keeps going. And I often feel that as soon as I finish one thing around the house, there are ten others waiting for me. I have a daily regimen chopping vegetables and filling kongs to freeze for my dogs, and all these little things add up. With Jack recovering and work, it’s a lot.

We Juggle

as moms we juggleAs a full-time working mom, we juggle. That is what we have always done and I know that I will get through, but when you have a routine, and that routine changes, it is hard. I am profoundly thankful that my daughter and my husband are helpful, but if all of this happened and it were not a pandemic, I know my mom and sister would be here for added support too. I really miss that. So I will continue to do what working moms all over do, juggle. I will find new ways of getting it all done, of making it all work, of getting my work work done, my house work done, and making sure my family feels loved and secure.

Why VO is Amazing

So as a working mom, I will say that working in the voiceover industry is amazing for many reasons, and this week has been no exception. Friday I woke up exhausted. Between sleeping in the hospital and sleeping in the sofa in my den since Jack could not go up the steps, I was quite low energy on Friday. At the end of the day I had two new commercial campaigns come in. One needed to be submitted on Monday, and one needed to be in over the weekend, so I decided to record on Saturday. When I was in my booth yesterday, I was thinking bout how blessed I was to set my own schedule. I was so thankful to have the ability to determine what made the most sense of me and for my family. I was so thankful to be able to not record on Friday when I was exhausted and to savor my time in the booth on Saturday. It was also great to know that I was leaving my son sitting with his sister who loves him at a time that was good for everyone when I did go to record. I am so thankful as a working mom to have this flexibility that so few women in this world ever have. And again, as Jack gets better and I can pick up what I had to let go of in the past week to make everything work, I look forward to working at full capacity with gusto.

Typically I Love Live Sessions

Normally when client tells me they need a live or directed session, which happens multiple times a week if not daily, I am delighted. I love the creative back and forth. I love connecting and getting to work directly with the client. And I love the feeling when the session ends knowing that the client has exactly what they want and need. My clients typically want to connect via Source Connect or Zoom, and usually it is pretty easy and there is no drama. But not this Wednesday. Not at all:(

The Session That Went Awry

Doubt is not goodSo on Wednesday a client emailed asking if I had availability for a live session for 4 spots, to 30 second spots and 2 60 second spots. Time was not the issue, I was happy to make time. Before even scheduling the session, which we planned to do via zoom, I had two hiccups. First, I had learned the day before that my son has to have emergency surgery tomorrow (not the day after the session, the day after I am writing the blog.) Jack has a rare problem called an intussusception which basically means his intestines are looped and it is quite dangerous, so that was weighing on me. Next, we were hit very hard by Tropical Storm Issias and still running on generator power. When I turned by iMac on in the booth it flickered constantly and I had a legitimate concern it would cut out during the session. I did not mention Jack to my client but I did tell her about our power issues. She told me she was having internet issues, but we decided to give it ago as she had a time crunch.

The Live Session

At the start of the session the client could not connect via zoom. It just would not go through. We decided to connect via mobile phone. On a normal day, my mobile phone is not great in my booth because of all the insulation, so on this day it kept cutting out. I have had sessions where for no apparent reason we are cut off. On Wednesday we were cut off FOUR times. Yes, that’s right, FOUR TIMES. I kept clicking save, in fear that I would also lose my computer, which thankfully didn’t happen.

Ultimately the client sent another zoom link and we connected on zoom. The first 3 scripts were fine. Not amazing, not brilliant performance, but they were fine and she was great to work with. On the last 60 second script I was flustered and tongue tied. I became acutely aware of how long our session was, and I am always quick and efficient. I was feeling insecure and I was beginning to panic about the computer going off. I was convinced it could not possible last much longer. I was also worried about my sick child upstairs. In order to turn the computer on, I turned the air conditioner off, and I knew the family was suffering. I was not concentrating on the script, my mind was elsewhere.

It was so embarrassing. I can’t tell you exactly how many takes we had to do to get a usable one, But it was not good. The more we did the worse I was. I wanted to crawl under a rock. It is a miracle she did not fire me mid session. She was kind and she did not give up. I felt like a f—cking idiot. To be clear, this session was a problem both because of tech issues and because of performance issues. Either would have been problematic. The combination is something I have never faced and was devastating. When we finished I was so embarrassed I did share what was going on with Jack because by that point I wanted to save face.

Emotionally Distracted, No Shutoff

I was terribly emotionally distracted. I should have meditated and prepared before going into the session. As a working mom, I always want to work because I have financial goals that I need to meet to help provide for my family. The thing is, I don’t have a shut off switch. I did not leave my feelings outside my booth. I have always felt that bringing all of them with me into the booth has helped with my reads, but in this case I needed to cope better. I needed to be honest about my ability to function and I needed to prepare differently. I also needed to realize sooner how frazzled I was and get it under control. I was having a real time melt down and just needed to stop and re-set.

I Would Have Regretted Not Trying

Would Regret not tryingWhen the client emailed me with the booking, in truth it did not even cross my mind not to take the gig. I always think of how I can best meet a client’s needs. In retrospect, I am positive that I would have deeply regretted not trying. I would have seen it as a missed opportunity. That would have been so upsetting too. My hope is that they see me as someone willing to work hard even with this going on and that they do not write me off. I am well aware that this is a competitive industry, so it is possible I won’t hear from them again, but I sure hope not. The other take away is that I have not been spending a lot of time practicing my craft and working on my read rate. This was a great reminder that those skills always need work. My hope as I reflect on this session is that I am defined from my ability to work through this and not by the worse session I have ever had.

An Opportunity for Jack

I’ll start out by saying that neither of my twins dream of becoming full time voice over actors like me. And though they do not share my dream, they support me in every way possible and are actually part of my small business team in integral ways this summer. In the past few weeks, one of my VO besties reached out and said that one of her regular clients needed 14-16 year old voices to do some eLearning narration, and my twins happen to be 16. So, they submitted demo reads. Again, it is not their life’s ambition, but in the summer of Covid-19 they realize that this is a great opportunity to learn and to do something that most kids never get a chance to do.

A script came in for Jack first. He was delighted. He booked his first paying eLearning voiceover gig, and he just needed a little coaching. I will point out a few things. Anyone who works in voice over knows that it is not really about the voice, although I happen to think he has a really nice one. My twins are both dyslexic. Reading fluently is not an easy thing for them. Jack also lacks the extensive coaching that I had that gave and continues to give me so much confidence every time I step up to the microphone. And that’s another thing, if you have never worked with a coach, you need to learn basic mic technique and basic Twisted Wave skills. I am pleased to say all of this came very naturally for Jack. I think much more than doing the actual voiceover, there are many life skills that kids get from having an opportunity to have a voice over gig.

Following Multi-Step Directions

Following multi-step directions is hard for many adults, and there are very specific directions unique to every voice over job. This booking was for sure an exercise in following multi-step directions for Jack. For Jack’s first booking:

  • He had a pace guide that he had to match.
  • He had a pronunciation guide for Mandarin names.
  • He was told to keep an upbeat, happy tone.

Jack also had a lengthy, four page script to narrate while keeping all this in mind for his first time in front of the mic. It’s a lot of balls to juggle for a seasoned pro, let alone a newbie.

How to Take Feedback

Taking feedback well is something important in many aspects of life, and as a working voice talent, taking feedback in a professional manner is part of the job. After Jack submitted his audio, within 48 hours we received a spreadsheet from the client with minor feedback. Jack had done great work. For four pages of audio, he had only four minor corrections. This is pretty incredible for anyone, and especially considering he is so untrained. I explained to Jack how feedback from client works and how important it is that they have what they need. I also explained that we, as talents, cannot get emotional about it, we simply record and send. As a student who is used to the writing process, this is familiar to him. He was able to go back in the booth and re-record. There was one line that was quite long and needed to be read with more fluidity and different intonation. I gave him direction on the line and instructed him on how to break it down. It sounded great. Learning to take feedback well is a really valuable lesson for kids in voice over.

Interacting Professionally

Maintaining a professional demeanor in the professional world is important. I remember meeting Michelle Sundholm’s sons Ashton and Everett at VO Atlanta in 2018.They were so polite and they were so composed. It is this exact behavior that I am talking about. For Jack, since his interaction was online, it meant several details. First, it meant performing his work in a timely manor. It meant taking pride in his performance and doing his best. It meant sending follow-ups and  hand written thank you notes, both to the client and to the friend who referred the opportunity to him. Jack had to carry himself the way the rest of us do, and he took pride in doing so.

How to Be Part of the Team

Doing all of the above is no small thing, and in doing so Jack took pride in being a part of this client’s team and of being part of the other VO’s team. He understood that they had a choice and that there were other kids who could have booked the gig. He did his best. He was kind and he let them know he was appreciative.

My Reflections

I think it is great that my son got this glimpse of what it is like to be in front of the microphone, to live in my world. As the kids have been working for me doing marketing and social media this summer, doing the actual voice work only helps to better understand what it is they are actually marketing. I also think that the tech skills are great for anyone. Lastly, we are living in an unusual time. Kids had to regroup and reshuffle their summer plans this year. Some people who are pursuing in voiceover audition and audition and never book. It is really great that in this odd time Jack got such an exciting opportunity and he is very thankful.

A Degree of Trust…

As a professional voice over actor, I can say I interact with industry contacts as just that, as a professional. I get auditions, I submit auditions. It is non-emotional. It’s business. When I connect with people on Facebook or LinkedIn, it’s business. I’m delighted, but still, it’s a business contact. Yet, there is a degree of trust that we must assume when we interact with clients and new contacts alike in the voiceover industry, right? Voice actors like myself often send recorded audio to people, whether they be clients or prospects, that we actually know very little about, and when we do this we trust that the audio we send is being used under the agreed upon terms. We trust that it is not manipulated. We trust them with our contact information. There is a lot of trust going on. For those of us who are working mothers, who have a family at home, we have a lot invested in the businesses we have built, and this trust is no joking matter.

Crossing the Line…

I will be vague as I describe a bizarre and quite disturbing incident that happened in the last week. I need to be vague to protect myself and my family, and unfortunately a friend who was dragged into the mix. The story begins on LinkedIn. Like many voice actors, I spend a lot of time connecting with prospective clients on LinkedIn. I have made some great contacts and gained wonderful clients that way, and only twice before had issues where I felt like lonely guys were a little too friendly. This incident was not that. This week a contact asked for my email so he could send an audition. Perfect, right? That is typically the goal of LinkedIn correspondance, isn’t it? The male clients sent me the “script.” I call it that because it was written as a short story, and from that he wanted me to read for three animation parts. It seemed unusual, but after years in the industry little surprises me and he wanted an improv read, 30 seconds each. No problem, I submitted and moved on and this was just one of the many auditions I was doing. Then he called me. He turned out to also live in the NYC area. He wanted help shopping his script. This is when things got weird.

At first I did not see any red flags. I connected him with an agent and she was not interested. Next I connected him with an industry friend. To protect my friend I will give very little details as she is extremely well known in the voiceover world. I was still assuming that this was completely professional. While my interactions with this guy had been completely professional and he was not flirtatious with me, my friend is single. Their interactions were flirtatious. She asked me if he was for real, and I had no idea, as I really did not know him, as we seldom do when we meet people on the internet. My friend was smart enough to google this man. She found a shocking post about him in the NY Post!  He was a known scammer who served hard time for a sextortion scandal. This was one sketchy guy. While yes it is possible that he is on a path to redemption and yes everyone can change, as a working mom I had no desire to find out where he was/is on this journey and was very shaken to have had any involvement with this guy who had been calling, texting, and emailing by this point. I was further shaken that I had actually made industry contacts and friends vulnerable as well. This did not sit well in any way.

Immediate Response

My immediate response was to block him in every way I could: by phone, his email, his texts, and on social medial. This still felt, though, that it was not enough. Learning to do my research (or different research) also seemed like a step in the right direction, but when the contact was a result of research, I felt like I was spinning in circles. The problem is that when you are a working mom, a solopreneur working from home, there is no security at the front desk keeping anyone away. My dogs are more likely to kiss any one who comes to the house than threaten them. And that points to the next issue, I realized just how findable I am. I am on “google my business,” which is in my home. My home address is on client invoices and newsletters. I use my actual cell phone number.

I posted in the “Voice-Over Mamas” Facebook Group asking other working moms in voice over whether they use PO Boxes and their phone numbers. Their were quite a few established talents who do use PO Boxes, but less for safety and more for making sure that clients who pay by check always get the checks to them. It seems that everyone in the group used their real mobile phone.

I went looking to see what other businesses do to protect themselves. The only other option it so invest in a virtual office space, which a lot of LLCs, which I actually am, are doing. I found this useful article if you want more information about how to do that:

https://www.virtualpostmail.com/blog/5-ways-to-get-a-commercial-business-address-for-your-startup

The Aftermath

Besides feeling shaken, I have not changed my setup yet. I have lots of questions. I think more than changing what how I am set up, this icky feeling (for lack of a better word) will stick with me. This feeling of vulnerability is not a pleasant one and I think that when future contact behave in a way that is outside the norm I will simply pass on the opportunity. I am not desperate for work, I am established in my career. I would rather forgo something that does not seem right than expose myself and my family to potential harm.

My Chat This Week With VO Project Managers

An Unusual Opportunity…

This week I had an unusual opportunity to have a zoom sessions with a few folks who do casting. I was on a zoom call with an extremely accomplished male voice actor based in Vancouver named Brent Miller. Brent and I get to spent about 45 minutes chatting with these folks about our background, experience, best clients, niche roles, and the kind of work we book. Here is a summary of what the Project Managers asked me and how I replied:

Did you get your start on Pay to Plays?

I wouldn’t say I got my start on Pay to Plays, I would say that seeing what was available on the various casting sites gave me the confidence to pursue voice over.  When I saw how much opportunity there was on the various casting sites, I was confident that with the right training there was potential to do work and make a sustainable income. I spent years getting coaching, doing demos, and building my website before I had a presence on any of the various pay to plays though. I know some talent just buy a mic and go, but I wanted to be competitive and to put a certain quality out that represented my brand from the start. I wasn’t ready to launch until I was ready to launch.

What advice do you have for other mom’s in VO?

I say this a lot: get a crockpot. It’s hard juggling a lot of balls, and if you still have household responsibilities and you have to work a full work day, it’s hard to do everything. Plan ahead as much as possible.  I do weekly meal planning for all of our dinners.  Another tip for working mom’s is to have patience. When I started I had all of these immediate goals for my voice over career. I have always been very “Type A.” But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and especially when you have a family, you have to realize that there is not overnight success in voiceover. It does take time to build a client base. Lastly, find and report to an accountability group. I meet with mine weekly. We have five touch points that we report on, but we for sure hold each other accountable and lift each other up.

If you could work with another talent, who would it be and why?

Oprah. I have always loved Oprah. I actually came face to face with her once at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C. I was speechless. She looked amazing and said hello and I stood there mouth open and no words could come out. Nothing. Silence. But I have dreamt of speaking to her and collaborating with her and going to her school in Africa. I have dreamt of contributing in any way to one of her many amazing projects. I have fantasized about collaborating in numerous ways.

I have also had similar fantasies of working with Ellen DeGeneres. I think Ellen, like Oprah, uses her celebrity to better the world and to help people. I love the positive energy they put out and I love the giving example that Ellen sets for others. I confess that I watch whatever Facebook poppop comes up of Ellen, and if I could ever contribute to an Ellen project it would mean a lot.

What is a project you’ve booked recently that meant a lot to you?

You know it’s funny, I do a lot of TV and radio commercials, but recently I was cast in a B’Nai Mitzvah video as the voice of the family dogs. If you don’t know, a B’nai mitzvah is a Bar Mitzvah for boy/girl twins, and if you don’t know what a Bar Mitzvah is, it is a coming of age celebration at 13 for Jewish people. Anyway, in the video montage that was to play at the celebration in Long Island, I was the voice of the family dogs. This meant so much to me because I understood that all the people they loved most in the world would be there, and I was really touched be that. We talk so much about usage in the voice over industry, but this is something that hopefully these kids will show their kids in 20 or 30 years, and I hope they love it and it brings the family a lot of joy. It was really special to be a part of such an intimate project.

There are some Questions the Project Managers DID NOT Ask and I Wish They Had:

What kind of work do you want to book more of?

Promos. I spent a really long time coaching with Dave Walsh and I redid my promo demo in 2018. I would LOVE to do more promo work. As a wife and a mother, I would love to book more work related to women’s health issues. Surprisingly I seldom play the mom role, so I would love to do more as a mom in VO.  I also would love to do more work related to pet care. I have done some, but as an animal lover and mom of two dogs, I would love to add more pet brands to my client roster.

How do you feel about rates right now in the industry?

I wish the Project Managers had asked about rates. It’s something we discuss a lot in my accountability group. Particularly during the covid-19 Pandemic, I thinks some voice actors are more willing to take lower rates as work is slow. I think it is more important than ever to maintain industry standards.  Whether it is the GVAA rate guide or the Gravy for the Brain Rate Guide, it is really important that voice actors maintain a unified front and let those casting know what we are worth.

For those of Us Who Already Worked From Home….

As a full time voice over actor, I’ve been working for home for years. I loved being in my booth in total quiet with my dog, now dogs. Before Covid-19, I had the entire house to myself the majority of the day as both my husband and my twins commute for work and for school. Now, they are all home. The quiet his gone and there is pacing, lots of zoom sessions, conferences calls, endless meals and snacks, and even though we are a family of four humans and two dogs, it feels like what was once a delightful, calm haven is now as chaotic as a New York City train station in rush hour.

The crazy thing is that I feel like as a momtrepreneur I had really just found my groove in the past year or two. I had gotten the hang, finally, of what had to be done when, and figured out how to balance my family and professional responsibilities. And just as I got comfortable with my life, a pandemic struck and suddenly, like many, I find myself juggling many more balls than I want to manage, and none of these balls can be dropped. Really, each ball is much more like a fragile egg and represents an important segment of our life that now needs to be managed, or worse, micro-managed. From cleaning the bathrooms to grooming the dogs, all of these tasks that used to be done by others are now also mine. Not that I can’t do it, I just regret that I have to. I think we have all seen the tweet about our grandparents being called to war and we just have to sit on the couch, but with this sudden shift, at least for the mom in the family, there is not actually so much couch time.

Some Tips for Coping:

  • Establish boundaries. This is important both for kids and for clients. This actually is good advice that stemmed from a chat with one of my besties Shelley. Often outsiders looking in can see your family and say, “hey, you better stop that right now.” So, in my home I have always loved to work in my den and kitchen when I don’t have to be in my booth recording. Now that my twins are remote learning, they immediately wanted to spread out all over, including these spaces that I have always relished as my productive spaces. I immediately reminded them that they need to work in the dining room or there rooms. We cannot all remain silent while they are online with theirqw23 school. It just is not practical. This very important boundary has helped keep the sanity.

Likewise, clients are all working from home now and they may be testing the limits of professionalism.  While I have always accommodated different time zones, as my household responsibilities have now multiplied exponentially, I need to set boundaries to work hours.  It is ok to say “I wrk from 7 am to 7 pm.” These are unusual times and we have to make sure we take care of ourselves and our families.

  • Delegate Household Tasks. Typically, we are fortunate to have a cleaning lady. At present we are paying her not to come in. Our house is rather large and I simply cannot maintain it in the way that we are used to on my own, even if I did not have a business to run which I do. Further, as I want my kids to know how to maintain their own place and they’ll be living on their won sooner than I can believe, learning these life skills is actually really good for them. We have made a chore chart and a schedule. Certain chores are being done on certain days. Then the twins switch off. For example, yesterday Emma dusted the entire house and Jack cleaned all the knobs and handles with lysol and emptied all the trash. Today I will do all 6 bathrooms. Harlan will vacuum. Tomorrow Harlan and I will change the sheets together. As a family it is much easier than as individuals.
  • Plan Ahead. I have been doing meal planning for a while, but this involves a new level of planning. In our area, the markets and online services have terrible shortages. Planning ahead makes it posable to avoid going without.  It also makes it less stressful. My kids constantly want to know what we are having, so the schedule is reassuring to everyone.
  • Maintain Work/Family Schedule: Planning ahead is not just essential for meal planning, now that everyone is home and the kids need academic support and we all have to share a space, a schedule is essential to functioning as a unit and being considerate of everyone’s needs. Each member of the family, from my husband to the dogs, has a routine and needs that all overlap. Working together is a much better plan then a melt down. I mentioned at the start of this blog that I am juggling a lot more balls now. The kids teachers have been amazing about adapting the curriculum to being online, but they now want to discuss their work. They seem to be watching movies in everything from Music to History, and having a family schedule means we can enjoy these moments together. That leads me to my final point.
  • Find and Relish the Silver Linings: While we may all be social distancing to avail a life threatening virus, some really special time with our families and neighbors (at a distance of course) is the result of this time at home. In my family, right before this shut-in period we got a beautiful new puppy named Daisy, and she has been a great distraction. My husband typically commutes to NYC and works very long hours. Instead, he is here and each afternoon we are going for long walks together. I love every single minute with him and I know that I will miss this time so much when live as it was before resumes. I know that my kids really miss their time with their friends, and as soon as they can they will be out and about again, so I love every single moment I get that we are all together. I very much wish that this virus were not so scary and that I did not fear for the lives of the people I love the most, but in the mean time I try to focus on this gift of time with my family.

Living The Dream Means You have to Actually Let Yourself Live It

Yes, if cauliflower can be pizza, then even the dreams of a 40 year old suburban mom can come true! One day I’m out marketing at Whole Foods, the next day I am one of their voices! But when I started going after my voice over career with gusto it did not mean I was in any way less passionate about my life as a mother to Emma and Jack. Being a working mom often means spending a lot of time at the intersection of our personal and professional aspirations. For most, motherhood is not something we just fell into. Rather, like my voiceover career, I spent years dreaming of the children I am now proud to have. For some of us, myself included, conceiving these children was not easy, and not a day goes by that I don’t look at them as a miracle. I was also told countless times that if I was very lucky I might have one baby, and could never have twins. So I find myself looking at my twins, and cannot imagine a world without an Emma or a Jack in it.

That said, when I built my career as a voice over actor around my twins, I still intended then and intend just as much now to be present for my family while pursuing my work full-time. Is it a juggling act some days? Yes! I find inspiration in places I never knew I would look. I knew a girl growing up, now Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, and we went to school together through high school. I find myself always looking forward to Jaime’s instagram posts. In a time when people carefully craft these perfect scenario’s on social media, I find Jaime is keeping it real and I am so thankful for her content! She leaves me feeling inspired and I enjoy seeing what this working mom of three has to reveal. When I find working moms like this on line I see that I am not alone and we are all in this together!

The point is that if you build a career like voiceover so that you can be available to your family, it is then okay to choose to prioritize your family and schedule your bookings around what your kids need. It is possible to do both, but that will only happen if you actually schedule it that way. Here are some tips that I have found make this ride a little less bumpy:

Plan Ahead

This goes for both voice over and family. I maintain a huge calendar and as I do not exist separately neither does my calendar. At first I did have two calendars and suddenly we were missing things like the dentist! They were nice about it but I was horrified. So, I find one calendar helps. I do as much as I can in advance. Before writing this blog I planned all my dinners for the next week and did my grocery shopping for the week. After I post this blog I will prepare lunches through Wednesday.  I have set laundry days and set days to do social media posts. Planning ahead is not only provides comfort, it gives a sense of rhythm in what can otherwise be a chaotic daily schedule. Some clients will send work with a far off deadline, particularly in eLearning, but as I do mostly commercial work it is a rare luxury that I can schedule my work beyond a 12 hour window.

Delegate

I delegate as much as possible, both in my home life and in the studio. Here are areas I suggested delegating:

  • Chores-  Everyone in my house has responsibilities with the exception of Violet, the dog. She is just a mush who looks happy. From doing the dishes, to making the beds, cleaning bedrooms, holiday prep… the list goes on and on… but everyone helps. I feel very strongly that it is not my home, it is our home and my kids are quite capable. I appreciate very much all that they do, and I am happy to wait for them to help, but we all chip in.
  • Marketing- Since the twins were born, my husband has helped with grocery shopping. Now the kids love to do it too, so it often is a family affair, but it does not fall to me to do alone. We often market at off-peak hours like Saturday nights and can get in and out quickly.
  • Homework Help- My kids have learning differences. Both twins are dyslexic and need help with different aspects of their work. My husband and I do what we can, as we have different strengths, but we also welcome help from family members! My sister is amazing with Math. My mother-in-law handles Latin and Spanish. We have a tutor for Chemistry. This is a huge help as VO work from the West coast often comes in after dinner and I need to be able to go down to my booth a lot in the evening.
  • Editing-  Outsourcing voiceover work is important. As the voice, you can’t outsource that. Sometimes some clients have clauses in the contract that limit subcontractors. Often, though, you can higher an editor and it is a huge help.

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

It is not easy to work and to take care of your family. Ask yourself, did your expectations of how you parent or run your home change when you started your business? At first mine did not. I will confess that there are days I go down to the kitchen at 5:20 in the morning to get my kids ready, and I don’t go back upstairs until after 8:30 at night. The bed was never made. What can I do? I worked hard.  I did my best. I got a lot done. If I weren’t so busy, the bed might look like a display in a department store, but that is not my reality, and that is okay. As my role has changed, my expectations have changed. I think back to my old school friend Jaime and I just keep plugging.