My 10,000 Dollar Voice-over Mistake

I was in a rush. I wasn’t thinking. And it almost cost me ten thousand dollars.

The lesson I learned that day has been one of the cornerstones of my success as a freelancer and a voice talent. Before I share that lesson with you, let me ask you this:


Have you heard of the Calimero complex?

It is named after an Italian/Japanese cartoon character named Calimero, and many voice-overs seem to suffer from it.

Calimero is the only black chick in a family of yellow chickens, and he still wears half of his eggshell on his head. It is as if he never really made it out of the nest.

Calimero is the archetypal underdog. He often gets in trouble and believes the whole world is out to get him. When the show reaches a dramatic climax, Calimero usually utters the following catch phrase:

“They are big and I am small and that’s not fair, oh no!”

That’s the Calimero complex.

I can understand why some freelancers can identify with him. Operating a small business in a big world is not easy. We might not wear an eggshell on our noggin, but we certainly wear many different hats.


Unlike bigger businesses, we don’t have huge marketing budgets, top-of-the line facilities or people to do the work we don’t like doing. As solopreneurs we do it all, and quite often we seem to be at an unfair disadvantage.

Being self-employed can be invigorating, liberating… and terribly intimidating. Some of us thrive under pressure. Others can’t stand it and eventually chicken out.

Personally, I believe that small is beautiful. I love being my own boss. As a solopreneur I have worked with many big corporations on extended contracts. I was glad I could join them, and most of the time I was even happier to leave.

Think of the bureaucracy, the bean counters, the pencil pushers, office politics, the untalented, uninspiring people being promoted to the level of incompetence, clocking in and counting the hours till the next coffee break. Not to mention the endless meetings that never lead to anything.

And have you ever wondered why big businesses spend so much money on advertising and PR? Why do you think they hire movie stars to voice commercials to convince us that their products are so special?

Because they’re not!

Name one big brand that is not bland.


We live in a culture of more of the same. Generic companies produce generic products using automated processes, backed by generic quality control, and careless customer service.

Some corporations may pretend they’re passionate, but you know that’s only on paper. It’s not something you can fake. Things like passion, imagination and originality cannot be imposed by means of corporate policy.

That’s exactly why I as a small business owner do not suffer from the Calimero complex. I’m not afraid of the big guys because I know I have something to offer that big businesses can never compete with, no matter how hard they try.

I’m not a chain, a franchise or a branch. I personify my product and there’s nothing generic about that. I might not have offices on five continents, but I do business with people from all over the world.

I don’t build brands. I build relationships.

My customers don’t have to jump through a million hoops to speak to someone from management. My clients have direct access to the CEO. And when they send me an email, they won’t get an automated response. They receive a personal message, usually within the hour.

I don’t outsource quality control and customer service. I am quality control and customer service. I don’t dictate to clients what to do. I listen to what they need.

And most importantly: I don’t do more of the same. I customize. I localize. I personalize based on the unique requirements of the job. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

One day, an audio book publisher asked me to audition for a 1,200-page biography. He didn’t send me a demo script. He only told me what the book was about. His request came at the end of a very busy day and I was ready to leave my studio to meet a friend.

I usually answer these types of emails as soon as I can, and on my way out, I wrote the publisher that I was interested in the project and I attached a generic demo to my message.


A few days went by before the publisher emailed me back. He said he’d continue his search for a narrator because my demo sounded “too commercial.” He needed an international storyteller. Not someone doing a sales pitch. He was right.

I could have left it at that, but something told me I should try to turn things around. Perhaps I could get a second chance and nail the audition.

I went online to find the book in question and picked a paragraph to read. This time I recorded a custom demo, showing off my multilingual narration skills.

That same day I received some great news. My new and improved audition was a big hit. The job was mine and I ended up recording (and getting paid for) over 32 hours of audio. A few months later, the same publisher asked me to narrate a second book.


These days, I hardly send out generic demos anymore. When no script is provided, I look at the subject matter and (if available) the name of the client. Then I go online and find a press release or an article about the product or service the client is associated with, and use that for my audition. This does two things.

It is my way of telling clients that I do my homework and that I’m willing to go the extra mile. Secondly, clients get the opportunity to hear me say the name of their company and product and “try on” my voice in a context they can relate to. All of a sudden, a simple demo becomes relevant.

Of course I don’t win every job I audition for. Far from it, but I do know that customization sets me apart from the rest of the pack. It makes my entries more memorable and as such, it enhances my chances. And when I ask my clients why they picked me, the custom demo is often cited as the difference that made the difference.

It does take extra time and effort to do the research and record something special. But that’s an investment well worth making.

Customers are the lifeblood of your business. Why give them a hotel chain treatment, if you can give them a bed-and-breakfast experience?

Being small in a big world can be a competitive advantage.

Please tell that to Calimero!

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My 10,000 Dollar Mistake was taken from Paul Strikwerda’s book Making Money In Your PJs: Freelancing for Voice-overs and Other Solopreneurs, available as paperback and e-book format. You may avail your copy at Amazon and for more information, visit http://MakingMoneyInYour

Paul Strikwerda is a multilingual voice-over Making Money In Your PJs professional, coach and writer. Originally from The Netherlands, he now lives and works in the United States. With almost 35K subscribers, his weekly blog is one of the most widely read in the industry.