Sunday, September 30, 2018

Freelance Life: :Beginning a New Chapter

It's been some time since I've written. The truth behind this is twofold, actually. First, I really just have to own up to it: I'm terrible at keeping a regimented schedule. Now that I work for myself, my day is generally tied up in Deadline Triage, making sure the day's work is done and clients are happy. Posting on this blog becomes something less than secondary. I'm working on it.

Second, to be honest, there really hasn't been much to report. I've been in something of a Limbo of starting my business, making contacts, getting some podcasts and other projects going. Sure, I could have made mention of some of this, but it just didn't seem like to right outlet for it.

But, it's been nearly two years since I lost my job and began this new adventure, so I suppose it's time for something of a State-of-the-Union. A progress report, if you will.

A little background, in case you haven't been keeping track. I re-started my radio career back in 2007 or so, working for a small country station in Northern New York. It was a career move, but not a career maker. It was a stepping stone--and I knew it at the time. I had a plan in place, and that little station was my Way Back In. After a couple years there, I made the next major move in my career: I took over hosting the morning show at the biggest country station in the county--and, simply put, number One station in the area. It was a big jump, and a good one. But it was still a stepping stone. It was close to where I wanted to be, but I wasn't there yet.

I realized, at some point in my journey, that what I wanted, what I felt called to, was to be back in Christian Radio. I had some experience there, and loved it. I loved the ministry, the people... just about everything, and I wanted it again. The Family, a Christian Radio network in NE and Central Wisconsin and I found one another seven years ago. After much prayer and consideration, my wife and I decided it was the right move, the right time, and suddenly, I was exactly where I wanted to be. The Family was my career choice. It was where I wanted to stay, and when I said goodbye to radio forever, I wanted to retire from The Family.

I say this so you'll understand: When I lost my job, it wasn't simply losing a job. It was losing what I had literally spent years of my life working toward. It turned out, I was half-right about The Family being the ultimate place from which I would end my career in radio. It was indeed the end of my radio career as I had known it. It has taken me some time to come to terms with this fact. After over a decade in the industry I loved, after seven years as a morning radio host and five years working in a ministry I felt passionately called to, my career was over. Yes, I made an attempt here and there to kick it back into gear... but nothing was right. Nothing was that foot back I so desperately wanted. I had begun a new chapter in my life--and I knew I had done so--but that chapter wasn't even close to what I thought it was. The reality was, and is, I am done with radio as I know it. Or, perhaps more to the point, it is finished with me.

It occurs to me, I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was. Like all good stories, there was indeed some foreshadowing. Burgeoning interests in the creative aspects of voice work and writing that my career simply couldn't support. I had begun taking on side gigs, looking for something else to fill what was a slowly-growing void in my plans. If I should have been surprised by anything, it should have been this: that this position I had worked so hard to attain was not, could not be, enough.

I had studied film production. Was and am a writer. A creator. I have always been in love with storytelling. There was a time that the standard radio format had a place for storytellers. This is no longer the case. As I was coming into my own on a path I couldn't understand was slowly being overgrown with the underbrush of expediency, Radio as a format was leaving people like me behind. My last conversation with my General Manager and HR Director was merely the final nail in a coffin that was being built around my without my noticing it.

And so, a new chapter began. If you've been keeping up, you know something about that new chapter. The decision to go into business for myself as a freelance Voice Actor. The support of my amazing and ever-loving wife. What you couldn't know--because I didn't--was that even this hasn't been a destination itself, but a wandering in the wilderness. More steps to a future that is still uncertain.

But it--neither this chapter nor the last--hasn't been without its signposts. That growing desire to become the storyteller I wanted to be. A budding interest in telling these stories through audio. A fascination with, and love of, audio drama. Of writing. Even of acting. Of using my words and my voice to tell weave stories.

And so, just over two years after losing what I had thought of as my life's work, I see the end of yet another chapter--or rather, the beginning of another. Yes, I am still a freelance Voice Actor, and will remain so for the forseeable future. But is this my career? I don't know. I've recently begun branching out into podcasting and, even more recently, into podcast editing and consultation.

Thanks to my agent, I have even begun branching out into onscreen work. Acting, after a fashion, and have been advised to grow my skills in this area as well. Yet another signpost that nearly went by unnoticed.

Since losing my job in radio, I have acted in a short film, as well as multiple audio dramas (indeed, I had worked in several while still hosting my morning show). I have done voice work for multiple clients, including everything from commercial announcing to video narration, to voice acting animated characters.

All of which is a foreshadowing of this next chapter.

This Tuesday, I am driving out to Chicago to record my first paid, professional audio drama. A story written and produced by a man who has amazing credits in this field (co-writer of the Left Behind: The Kids audio series, a writer on the G.A. Henty audio drama adaptations, and others), it is called The Jake Muller Adventures. Not only am I blessed to work with someone with so much experience in this field, but my fellow actors and other crew on this project are amazing in their own right. I've been geeking out a bit for the last month with the knowledge that, among the actors in this new series is Adventures In Odyssey co-creator Phil Lollar(!). And there are others, too, who are amazingly credentialed, and among whom I am a neophyte in a room of masters. It is our hope that these episodes we're recording next week will be just the start of a phenomenal series, and I am overjoyed to be a part of it now, in its early stages.

Then, in early December, I am taking a supporting role in an upcoming independent feature film. I'll be detailing more about this as we move forward, but suffice to say, I am equally excited about this new venture.

The point is, I have made a discovery, and have rediscovered some old truths. First, a lesson relearned over and over again: God is good. I don't always know where I'm going or, as a favorite song says, what He's doing. But I know who He is. Sometimes I just need a reminder that I'm walking blind with a Guide who already knows the destination.

Second, a discovery: It's never too late to dream something new. The death of an old dream isn't the end if you're willing to keep dreaming. It's the end of the year, over two years after my dream died. I am forty years old. Yet, with my wife and children standing with me, with a God who loves me, I am starting over. I'm doing something new. I am beginning a new chapter. I don't know what it's about yet, but I can't wait to find out.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Freelance Life: The Life of the Subcontractor

As a freelance voice talent, I most often work in the capacity of subcontractor. That is, though I do some work directly with end clients (phone answering systems, audiobooks, the occasional web video), most of my work comes either through an agency or production company.

This actually works well for me. As I have a background in video production as well, I find this helps me in my client relations. We speak the same language, as it were. I understand their needs from a production standpoint, and they know what they want -- and what's possible -- from me. Very often, they are also small businesses or freelancers themselves, so we understand one another when it comes to time spent on a project and, generally, payment.

The limitations of a subcontractor, however, are worth taking note of. For one, my client is generally not the end user. This can sometimes mean waiting for feedback longer than you normally would working one-on-one with the end user. Occasionally, this can also mean waiting to get paid until the project is finalized -- which means holding my breath until whatever back and forth takes place between the initial contractor and the client.

Being a subcontractor brings with it an element of uncertainty. I only rarely get direct feedback from the end user. I rarely know whether they're truly happy with my work, or even what the end product will look like when it's all said and done (sometimes, if I ask nicely, I can get a link or a copy of the finished product for self-evaluation and portfolio purposes -- but not always).

So, these are things you get used to. That said, if you're new to subcontracting, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind.

1. The initial contractor is your client. 
Your only concern is in doing the job the contractor asked you to do. You don't need to concern yourself with their relationship with their client, with the scope of their work, or with any part of the project outside those pieces for which you are responsible.

2. The initial contractor is your client.
Unless the end user decides he or she needs to open communication with you, your job communication begins and ends with the initial contractor. The end client probably doesn't know who you are, and honestly probably doesn't care. His or her connection to the project is with the person they contracted to get the work done.

3. The initial contractor is your client
Whatever happens to the project after you've done your part and have been paid is not really your concern. As long as your client is happy with the work you've provided for them, you've done your job.

4. The initial contractor is your client
The end client may or may not decide to use the work you did in the final project. This is entirely up to them. I had one contractor for whom I did a job, and then the end client decided they wanted to go with a stand-up presenter rather than a voice over. It happens. MY client, to their credit, paid me anyway.

Which brings up the final point:

5. The initial contractor is your client
You are hired by the contractor to do a job. Your completion of your end means you get paid, regardless of what happens on their end. If you do your job to your client's specifications, they owe you for that work. If the end client doesn't like the finished product, doesn't pay, or goes belly up, these things are not your problem. You bill the contractor; the contractor bills the client. You are hired to perform a service for their project, not to guarantee success of that project.

Obviously, your mileage may vary. For example, if in the case of points 4 and 5 the client for whatever reason decides not to pay the contractor for whom you worked, you may well decide -- entirely at your discretion -- to cut them a break. Making small sacrifices in order to save a solid and lucrative working relationship may well be something you're comfortable with. Particularly if they, like you, are a small operation. Sometimes, freelancers decide to help one another out, and a little bit of goodwill goes a long way.

But do not write such concessions into your contract, and do not agree to them if the contractor puts them in.

I did a job once, after which, for whatever reason, the client decided to use a different voice talent for the final product. Presumably, they wanted a younger-sounding, higher-pitched voice, since that's who they ended up getting. It's not a big deal, and it doesn't reflect on your work -- it just happens. But again -- and I can't stress this enough -- you did the work. If the contractor's client decided to go in a different direction, that really isn't your problem. Your contract was with the contractor, and you completed the work assigned.

Fortunately, I have yet to run into a situation where I've needed to enforce this rule -- again, since most of my clients are small businesses themselves, they understand how it works, and mostly likely have the same rules when they are subcontracted.

The most important thing is to understand where your clients are coming from. In fact, let's make that point #6.

6. The initial contractor is your client.
If they are doing contracted work, be willing to have some patience where communication and timing are concerned. If their demands start to seem unreasonable (for example, if, after approving your work, they suddenly need a revision, and need it an hour ago), keep in mind that they are probably dealing with a similar situation on their end. If they could have given you notice, probably, they would have. After all, they have just as much a vested interest in getting the project finished and getting paid as you do. Shrug it off, do the job, and commiserate with the contractor over beers later on.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Freelance Life: Time to Take Stock and Look Forward

I lost my job just over seven months ago. It was a blow, and a hard one. Not only did I lose the job I felt I was meant for, a job I loved, but it also meant my family would have to make do without the $35,000 I was bringing in annually.

I've mentioned before that, throughout all of this -- the depression, the transition, everything -- my wife has been my rock and anchor. She was the one who encouraged me, and made the suggestion that now was the time to strike out on my own, to do my own thing. To find my passion and move forward. And I did. With her blessing, I bought the equipment I'd need, bought a domain name and built a website, and signed up on the necessary freelance and job sites I'd need to start working as a fulltime freelance voice talent.

When I began, I had a simple goal: make a thousand bucks a month. It wasn't much, but I was supplementing with unemployment and part-time work with another radio station. It would be something to build on. Once I got there.

It took three months to make my first thousand. Not per month. Total. In three months, I'd managed to bring in a thousand bucks freelancing. It was a start. Month four was almost a bust. There was depression. Apprehension. Wondering if it would work. If I really could make it. I started sending resumes out with a little more desperation than I had before. But I kept at it. I altered my goal. Year one: $2000/month. Find an agent. Keep moving forward.

It's been seven months since I lost my job. Just under seven months since I started freelancing. I did the math today, and realized that this month, for the first time, I would not just hit my goal, but I would actually earn what I would have earned in my old job.

Now, I'm not an idiot. Certain things came together this month. A couple big contracts came in that, put simply, I can't count on next month or the month after. But what it does tell me is that it can be done. That I can actually do this, and make a living. That I can actually contribute to my family in a meaningful way financially.

So, in other words, what this gives me is momentum. Now that I've seen it can be done, the goal now is to keep doing it.

So, I have fleshed out new goals for 2017. I'm writing them here, publicly, to provide for myself some accountability. Because goals you keep inside aren't really goals, I've discovered, but some nice thoughts.

So, here they are. And I hope you'll be praying for me and keeping me to them as I go.

2017 Year End Goals:
By December 31, 2017 I will...
-Build on the reputation I have gained (and continue to gain) for quick, quality work and professional service.
-Update my website regularly with new work, demos, and blogs.
-Make contact with at least three potential clients (outside the freelancer websites) per week.
-Contact at least three active or recurrent clients per week.
-Actively audition for at least 30 jobs per month.
-Be in front of my microphone working at least once a day, 5 days a week.
-Invoice at least $3k/month on a regular basis, providing for my family the income lost with my old job.

These goals, particularly the last, are lofty, hefty, difficult... and achievable. This month has shown me it can be done. Now it's time to focus and prove it can be done regularly.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Freelancing And The Not-So-Lone Wolf

Now that I'm freelancing fulltime (which I love, by the way), I find that I still have days in which I'm sluggish and unmotivated. Depressed, even. While I easily chalk some of these feelings up to residual regret over losing my job, I have recently made a discovery that, I hope, will help me -- and perhaps others like me -- to push through and become as productive as I want to be.

It came to me as I continued to apply for job after job in the Christian radio market, even all the while knowing that moving was, at best, a remote possibility. With my kids in a great school system and my wife working an outstanding job in a career in which she excels, the practicality of relocating to serve at another station was, and is, simply well outside the realm of probability.

And in truth, I don't fully want to go back. I like working for myself. I like setting my own hours, pushing against deadlines, and knowing that I will rise and fall based on my ability to deliver quality. I love the freelance life!

So why was I pushing so hard to find another fulltime job, even knowing it would take me away from this new career path I enjoy so much?

One word: Loneliness.

See, when I worked for the Christian radio station, I had an office full of friends: people who would poke their heads in while I worked just to say hello or decompress from the day-to-day stress. And who I, likewise, could distract momentarily to work out my own daily restlessness. People I could talk to and pray with.

I enjoyed those times, and my coworkers, but the thought that I was fulfilling a personal need never really occurred to me. After all, Myers-Briggs swears I'm an Introvert. I hate parties. I enjoy time to myself -- a LOT of time to myself. Crowds of people exhaust me. Classic Introversion.

It turns out, I am what is known as an "outgoing Introvert." It's one of those personality types not really covered by good ol' Briggs and Myers. Extroverts think we're snobs, and Introverts find us either useful or exhausting, depending on their needs at the time.

Actually, being an outgoing Introvert is, I'm starting to believe, probably among the best personality types for what I do: I have no problem networking and putting myself out there to find work and contacts, and I'm perfectly happy working on my own.

BUT, the problem for us outgoing Introverts is that, though too much interaction is bothersome and exhausting, we do need to spend some time, occasionally, with other human beings.

Turns out, being locked up in your house with only your cats and Social Media during the entire work week, every week, month after month, isn't all it's cracked up to be.

So, I took the first step, and one that I recommend to anyone feeling the strain of day-to-day self-sufficiency: own it. Learn to understand what you need mentally and spiritually, and then start to do something about it.

My second step was trying to figure out what to do about it. In my case, I looked for organizations for people like me in the area: freelancers and entrepreneurs. They exist, mostly if you're willing to pay dues, and mostly with the stated purpose of networking and learning about business.

Personally, I don't want to pay dues. So, I got to steps three and four. If the group I needed didn't exist, I'd create one. I called a friend who is also a sole-proprietor and told him my idea, and he agreed it sounded like a good one.

So that's where I am now. In my spare time, I'm looking to communicate with others in the area facing the same daily challenges as I am to create a group. The purpose of this group -- the only purpose for now -- is simply to come together in solidarity, be there for one another, have the occasional cup of coffee, and hold each other accountable for our workday goals. No dues. No lectures. Just time spent with other people.

This works for me, because I'm in an area where I simply don't have a lot of friends outside my former job, whom I can call on when I need an ear. For you, maybe you have a friend or two who wants to just hang out. But whatever the case, if you're feeling lonely, if depression is setting in and hurting your productivity, I truly believe the cure is simply Hanging Out. Schedule something monthly that you can look forward to, or maybe a weekly cup of coffee during the less productive part of your day. Anything that gets you out of the home office and interacting with another human being who isn't a client.

And, hey, if you happen to be in NE Wisconsin, drop me a line! I'm always up for a cup of coffee. You know. If I'm not working.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Job Loss: The Adventure of Finding Purpose

It's been about five months since I felt as though my world was crashing down around my ears. When you work in ministry -- really, when you work in any sort of job you love and believe in -- it's so easy to wrap your life's meaning around the work you're doing.

When I accepted the role of morning host at The Family, I thought, this is where I'm meant to be; this is what I'm meant to be doing. I believed I had, finally, found my purpose in life.

The only thing wrong with that was, I already had a purpose in life. More than one. I have a God who loves me. An amazing wife. Four beautiful children. And as much as I gave this idea lip-service, I lived my life as though it was my job that gave me my purpose.

I have finally come to an understanding, and today I was able to put it into words: I am not my job. You are not your job. We weren't put here for a purpose, but for many.

But it took losing my job for me to understand it.

When you lose a job, it can feel as though you've lost your purpose. This is where depression comes from, I think. That hopeless feeling. That now-what-ness. But the truth, the reality, is that this is the beginning of a grand adventure: seeking new purpose -- and learning to recognize the roles you're already filling.

This was never a self-help blog, and Heaven help me if I ever turn it into one. If you're dealing with a major life change, such as job loss, I'm not going to tell you what to do. What I can do is tell you what I'm doing, and if it works for me, hey, maybe you can glean a little something for your own life.

So, for me, step one was recognizing that, indeed, I am on a journey. Step one was to recognize who God has placed in my life, and to ask the big question: why? Could it be that one of my purposes is to be the friend, husband, and father that each of them needs?

Now that I'm at home most of the day, I'm able to help my wife get the kids around for school. This reduces her stress in the morning and helps her get to work in a better state of mind. That's something right there -- and it's not a small thing! I'm able to get stuff done around the house, attempting to create a more pleasant environment for everyone (when I actually, you know, do stuff). I'm able to be here for my kids when they're out of school, and not be the exhausted zombie they used to come home to. I can ask them about their day and truly be able to listen to their answers.

This is Big Stuff. This isn't "passing the time while I wait for the next job" stuff, but truly important, life altering work.

Step Two: I can explore my passions. As a mediaphile, my job did afford me the equipment I needed to work on some of the projects I wanted to... but in order to do so, I had to take more time away from my family. When I lost my job, I discovered I'd gained something (actually my wife pointed it out on day one) that I didn't have before: time. Time is precious, and no matter how much money you have, you can't buy more of it. Equipment is another matter. Equipment was something I could buy.

So now, thanks to an encouraging and understanding spouse, I have both the time and equipment to explore those passions of mine. And I am, and as I do so, I discover more and more ways to use those passion to create purpose. Or, perhaps, to find it.

For a season -- four years, to be exact -- one of my purposes in life was to be an encouraging voice on the radio; to be the person who maybe said just the thing somebody needed to hear at the right time; to offer an ear to my callers and words of prayer when necessary.

That was my purpose -- or one of my purposes -- in life. And now, it isn't. Now, my purpose is to explore all the things God already had for me to do (like being the person my family needs), and to find out what's next.

It's an exciting journey, fraught with surprise and even a little risk. It's not a journey to take lightly, or to take for granted, but even though I haven't -- and may never -- reach a final destination, I can already tell you it's a journey well worth taking.