For as long as I can remember I’ve had a general disdain for coffee. The smell, the taste, the awkward social construct based around meeting up over a “cuppa”. I could think of nothing worse. However, recently I’ve begun to see the merit in this phenomena that brings people together.
Let’s face it, most of us can’t function first thing in the morning without our soy cap or skinny decaf latte. Me, I’ve never really had that issue, but since becoming a dad, sleep is precious and so is the ability to recognize when we need that something extra to kick start the motor, or keep the gears moving.
Most people I know love coffee, and they also love talking about themselves. They combine these two loves easily, becoming social butterflies who’ll talk to anyone as long as there’s a coffee involved. That’s never really been my scene, because aside from my aversion to coffee, the idea of getting out and “pressing the flesh” has been a bridge I’ve not been willing to cross.
However, what do we gain by hiding ourselves away? The world cannot find us if they don’t know we exist. If we are to make any sort of traction in the industry, we need to find ways to network that are relevant to us. Lately, this has meant I’ve been out and about, drinking coffee and meeting people one on one.
My previous attempts to build networks have mainly been done in the safe surrounds of my studio, behind the comfort of my computer, but earlier in the year, I said no more. Enough was enough. You cannot build relationships with potential collaborators and clients by simply sending an email hoping they’ll read it.
Would you do business with a complete stranger? Many times we do, going to the shopping centre or calling a tradie out to fix something, but in the media industry that simply doesn’t work. There needs to be a rapport built up over a significant amount of time for a potential business partner to trust you with their product or service.
Lo and behold, my approach has changed and therefore the results have changed. I’m having more and more meetings, things are moving in the right direction and I’m finding myself becoming more comfortable with the idea of talking to someone over coffee. I’m even getting used to the taste too.
As a general rule of thumb, there are three types of service offered in any industry, cheap, fast and good. Despite what some might think, there is no way to deliver on all three of these. You may have seen this recent animation that explains more. In a nutshell, if you want something cheap and fast, it won’t be good. Alternatively, to seek a fast and good service won’t be cheap, and lastly you can’t get a cheap and good service done fast.
It is imperative to make sure you are valuing your services according your worth, not the worth placed on you by others. With the rise of Fiverr and other similar sites offering services for next to nothing, there is always the constant threat of being asked to do things on the cheap but what do we gain in the long run? In short, not much.
In the interest of disclosure, I will say that I have recently joined Fiverr after years of reluctance, although mainly for research purposes. I am still not sure if it’s a worthwhile pathway for me, or if it is undercutting the industry and cheapening the value of true artistry as I suspect.
To get a good idea of what you should be charging, chat to someone who knows your industry and can give you an insight into the standard rates set out by your professional body. For example, when I began Stafford Media Solutions, I sought out the advice of the Small Business Development Corporation who showed me the rates that voice artists charge which I could then base my prices on.
Unfortunately, I was naïve about the whole thing, thinking that nobody would hire me if I charged what they were suggesting, so ultimately, I set my own rates which did me no favours in the end. It was a costly mistake as I soon developed a reputation for being on the cheaper end of the scale, and consequently, I was always being asked to do things for well below what I was worth. Cheap prices equal cheap reputation. You can change your prices easily enough, but it’s very hard to change a reputation.
Another thing to remember is that only you truly know yourself, so don’t let others determine your value. By accepting work at a lower rate, you are putting clients in the driver’s seat, giving them the wheel and letting them steer you down a dangerous road.
Once you have set your prices according to your worth, stick to it. In the early days, I would panic when I saw a competitor doing something for cheaper than my rate, and would then adjust my pricing to match or better their offer. Just because someone can do something cheaper, doesn’t mean it will be as good. Back yourself to do great work and (most) people will pay what your worth. If they aren’t willing to do that, then they aren’t the right clients for your business.
One final thing to consider so that you are properly valued in your industry is to not get too caught up in doing things for free or at mate’s rates. It can be a good place to start when seeking jobs, to offer deals to friends but it’s not sustainable in the long term. Eventually, these friends may come to expect discounts or free stuff all the time and while it’s a good deal for them, it does not help you one iota.
In conclusion, the lure of offering cheaper prices and setting the bar low is a tempting one. I know, I have been there, but we all have families to provide for, mouths to feed and expenses that need to be paid for. We simply cannot bend over backwards to accommodate everyone without sacrificing our self-worth.
With 2014 drawing to a close, it also marks the end of my first year as a small business owner. As I reflect back on the 12 months I’ve been operating Stafford Media Solutions, I am pleased with my efforts.
While I did operate at a loss this financial year, mainly because I couldn’t recoup the start-up costs accrued at the beginning of 2013, I still managed to make some money from a number of jobs. In total, I completed eight paid projects for a variety of clients, including real estate and travel agents. I also gained valuable experience doing unpaid jobs for friends, highlighting their businesses and helping both parties to gain valuable online exposure.
More important than any monetary gain was the giant strides I took in terms of getting my name out in the community. I’m not a natural networker, so I didn’t attend that many formal events, but it only takes one person to get the ball rolling. They say that when you attend business lunches and breakfasts, there's no point in trying to connect with everyone as it's just not possible. Using this philosophy as a strategy saw me focus instead on getting to know a few people each time, which proved to be more helpful than a mass meeting of minds.
I’ve been a member of the business networking site LinkedIn for a while now, and at the time of writing this post, I have 732 connections, but only a few have actually met me face to face. LinkedIn seemed like a novel idea when I first joined, but now it’s more of a novelty, with people who don’t even know me endorsing me for things that they have no idea whether I’m capable of or not.
I was fortunate that a couple of people were willing to take a chance on a relative unknown, and that they believed in me enough to encourage me and give me repeat business. Self-confidence is something that I’ve always struggled with, so having others back me in was an unexpected fillip.
One particular connection that I made has ties to a number of other important people in WA, and with time could see me advance the business further. I’ve also established contact with another voice artist who I can possibly collaborate with down the track.
There have been times when I’ve thought some things or people were out of reach, and it wasn’t worth making contact if it was only going to set me up for a fall. No doubt, that does happen sometimes, but if you don’t at least take a step and get out of the boat, you’re not going to walk on water.
As for next year, there’s already some projects in the pipeline which are both exciting and different from what I’ve done so far. I look forward to heading back to work soon after a short break and getting stuck in. I’ll keep you all updated with the latest developments for the 2015 iteration of Stafford Media Solutions via this website and my Facebook page, so keep your eyes open!
When I first started to think about my career choices in high school and started travelling towards the path I am now on, I had many compliments on my voice. A lot of friends and family noticed it and encouraged me to look for opportunities in radio. I thought I had it made and that my voice would carry me through for many years to come.
Over time, I’ve realised that it takes more than just a smooth voice to get ahead in the field of media. I’ve tried many times to be professionally represented by any agent, who I thought would take me on based on the strength of my voice alone. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Every time I’ve sent demos to agents, they’ve come back with the same response, telling me I’ve got a good voice, but there was no emotion in my reads. I think it stems from my newsreading days, when I formed some speech patterns that ultimately took some time to overcome.
At the start of last year I undertook a voice class run by professional actors and casting directors, and again I thought all I needed was my voice. I walked into the class full of confidence, and after hearing that many of the other people participating didn’t have the level of experience that I did, I thought it would be a walk in the park. Again, I came to realise that I fell short in the most important area, not being one dimensional.
To be a good voice artist, you need timing, the right mix of emphasis and emotion, confidence, quick thinking, a willingness to learn and take direction, the ability to adapt to any script or situation, plus plenty of hard work and determination. Having a nice sounding voice will get you so far, but it’s only when you add all these other skills that people will begin to take notice.
So if you’re like me in my younger days and think that you’ll automatically be able to advance your career on the strength of your voice alone, please reconsider and recognise that it’s about more than just having a good voice.
They say you learn something new every day and that has certainly been true in my life since I became a small business owner, but the greatest lesson I've learnt so far has been patience. Every week I get lots of ideas about how I want to grow Stafford Media Solutions and in typical Gareth fashion I want it all to happen straight away.
When I first started the business I was told not to expect too much straight away and to give myself 2 or 3 years before deciding if it would be worthwhile, but occasionally I forget that. A few times I've wanted to just go find a regular job elsewhere because I haven't been willing to wait out the tough times. On the slow days I have to remind myself that what I am doing is for a purpose and even though everything may not be happening as fast as I would like, that's no reason to throw in the towel.
Even though I'm currently only engaged in the business two days a week and work has not been constant, I'm never bored. Some might think that I sit around all day and do nothing, but that's not the case. Because I am the sole operator of Stafford Media Solutions, I am responsible for every aspect of the business, including all the behind the scenes admin. If I'm not recording, then chances are I'm handling my social media strategies, invoicing, promoting, dealing with accounts and bookkeeping. The list is endless and there's always something to do.
Another important revelation I've had is that it's ok to say no sometimes. There have been times along the journey that I've almost bitten off more than I can chew as no is not a word that's often used by me. I've since learned that not every job is worthwhile, and sometimes the best thing you can do is to let it go. I thought I could handle what was asked of me, I soon realised I was better off without the stress of a complicated order that was a little outside of my capabilities.
Chasing the dollar is not as important as developing your brand, so don't be afraid of working for free at first. The majority of my media career recently has been built upon voluntary jobs for friends and charities, and has helped create an online profile that's continually expanding. I didn't think taking this route would lead me anywhere but it has. At the end of the day, you can work for money which won't last or you can focus your energies on developing a legacy and reputation of hard work, integrity and reliability.
Finally, don't be afraid to take risks. The biggest risk I took was actually starting the business itself but the second biggest risk I've taken is just getting out there in the business world and making myself known. I'm not a naturally outgoing person and networking doesn't come easy to me but I had to take the risk and do it anyway. You're not going to connect with everybody in every place you go, but if you can make 1-2 new connections a week, then slowly over time you'll have a core group of people who can provide business to you as well as referrals, testimonials, and encouragement. So step out of your comfort zone. You can't walk on water by sitting in the boat.
One of the first things I was taught when I embarked on a radio career was that smiling is so important. When recording or going live to air talking with a smile on your face is more engaging and gives listeners a sense that they can trust you. Alternatively, having an unhappy tone and not smiling creates the picture in a listener's mind that you are bored and uninterested in the message you are delivering. This kind of negative allusion must be avoided at all costs.
Unfortunately, I've never been a naturally happy person so it took me a while to grasp the concept.
Consider the following two recordings. The same content but one done with a smile and the other without. Can you tell the difference? Which version would get your attention and make you want to know more? I think it's pretty obvious.
Of course, you have to be careful when it comes to smiling in the wrong context. After leaving the announcers booth, I went on to become a newsreader, and there are times when you certainly should not be smiling while reading the news. For example, I was once caught out after reading about bushfires live on air with a happy tone. It's a lesson you learn quickly and rarely make that mistake more than once. That's a danger in itself. When you move from the happy laidback environment of announcing, to the often serious and sombre newsroom, you can't get the two confused as I did on occasions.
One final point to consider is this: don't overdo it. Smiling is important, but when you push it too far and end up in the realm of being cheesy, nobody will take you seriously. Would you do business with this guy?
So remember to smile more, laugh loud and long and put your best foot forward when presenting on air.
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