Debunking Bottom Feeders

Keep Calm and Grab A BargainSomething strange is happening in the voice-over world, and it scares me.

I know of no other profession where colleagues (and I use the word loosely) denigrate other colleagues simply because they’re advocating for decent rates.

Those who favor higher fees are regularly labeled as greedy, unrealisticelitist, old school, or as misguided union members.

Since when did it become uncool to want to make more money, or at least earn a living wage?

Is it bad for business? Would it tarnish our reputation? What are people afraid of?

Some voice-overs who operate on the lower end of the scale have even come forward to proudly defend why they’re charging next to nothing. People like Rebecca Schwab, who confessed in a recent blog post that bloggers like me sometimes make her feel like “a voice over fraud.”

She goes on to describe her method of breaking into the voice-over business: by selling her services at rock bottom prices. In another blog post Rebecca writes:

“Whether or not I was “undercutting” anyone was the last thing on my mind. It was simply a matter of economics.”

I’m not going to copy and paste her articles here, but I think Rebecca needs to learn a thing or two about economics and collegiality.

The frightening thing is that she’s not alone. If you frequent certain Facebook voice-over groups, you’ll notice that even some moderators have become very defensive when the subject of rates comes up. What’s even worse, you can’t argue with these people because they will kick you out of a group if you try to start a dialogue about money.

So, rather than get into a discussion with people who are unwilling to listen, let me give you my take on some of the arguments that are being used to defend, excuse, or justify low rates. Even though we’re talking about voice-over services, you’ll find the same type of reasoning when other freelance rates are discussed.

Let’s start with something I hear almost every day:

1. There will always be a high end and a low end of the market. Accept it and move on.

That’s a given, and it’s not addressing the real issue. We all know that there’s a market for KIA and Rolls-Royce. The point is: how low is the KIA dealer willing to go to make a sale? Is he prepared to sell his cars at a loss, just to get his business going? How long can he keep that up before he goes bankrupt? It’s not a way to get loyal customers either. Next time, they’ll just buy from someone who’s willing to go even lower.

Bottom line: You need to cover your costs, and then factor in a profit. Once you get clients hooked on cheap fees, they will never pay full price again.

2. You may lose money on every sale, but you’ll make it up in volume!

That’s like buying ten melons for a dollar each, and then selling 12 for 10 bucks. Does that make any sense? No matter how many KIAs a dealer sells, if he sells them below cost, he’s not making any money. A small business owner once said: “Sales numbers feed egos. Profits feed families.”

It’s not how much you sell, but how much money you get to keep that matters. Business is a game of margins, not volume. Bargain airlines tried making money on volume. Guess what? They’re gone! Would you rather do less for more, or more for less?

3. Purchase decisions are primarily based on price.

If that’s the case, Mr. Client, I will send you your order in two years, okay? I’ll also make sure that it will fall apart in two weeks, and you won’t be getting your money back. Don’t bother calling me, because I just closed our customer service department.

Most people do not buy on price alone. They will talk about price, but what they really mean is that you haven’t offered enough value to justify paying the price you’re asking.

There’s this cartoon with a picture of a brother and sister each with their own lemonade stand side by side. The brother’s lemonade stand reads “Lemonade 25 cents.” The sister’s lemonade stand reads:

Lemonade 50 cents (clean water).

Do you want your service to be known for being the cheapest on the market, or for high quality? Competing on price is a losing battle.

Lawrence Steinmetz and William Brooks are the authors of How to sell at margins higher than your competitors. Winning every sale at full price, rate or fee. They say:

“If you want to earn a solid living in sales, you need to remember that you are going to face a consistent challenge to hang on to a higher price, because you will always find yourself competing with a fool who is going broke cutting prices.”

The key is adding value. If you don’t offer exceptional value, then your product or service becomes just another commodity. People buy commodities on price. If you’re just another web designer, voice-over artist, or car dealership, you’re in trouble.

Value means: offering more at a higher price.

4. Price does not influence the perception of a product.

If that were the case, why are people prepared to pay thousands of dollars for a Rolex, instead of buying a $50 Seiko? Most watchmakers agree that the Seiko is the better time piece.

Let’s talk about brain surgery. Why don’t people go to the cheapest surgeon in the area? Because low prices make people think he isn’t any good. Price makes a statement. Cheap = cheap. What does your rate tell the world about what you think you’re worth?

5. Some clients just can’t afford paying higher rates. I cannot change that.

How do you know they can’t pay you a better rate? Buyers lie in order to get you to lower your price. It’s the oldest trick in the book. If they could get it from someone else at a better price, why are they still talking to you?

Stop making excuses for those who don’t respect you enough to pay you a decent fee. Unless you’ve seen their balance sheet, you don’t know what they can or cannot afford. 

Know your bottom line. Add value. Don’t compromise so easily. Negotiate. Dare to say NO to a bad deal. Study the art of making the sale. It’s part of being a pro.

6. I don’t set the rates. The market does.

So, what you’re saying is that you don’t take responsibility for your prices? They are forced upon you at gunpoint? You’re just a helpless leaf in the wind?

Let me put it bluntly: The market doesn’t determine your price. Your client doesn’t set your fee. YOU do.

It’s just very convenient to tell the world that you don’t have any influence over your rate. If you can’t control it, you can’t change it. You’re a victim of circumstance. End of story. Now go feel sorry for yourself.

Market trends are the result of millions of individual decisions. Decisions you and I make, each and every day. Change the decisions, and you change the trends. 

Price-cutting is a self-inflicted wound. Should you decide that $5 for an eight paragraph voice-over script is fair compensation, so be it. Contract law states that parties must agree to enter into a contract freely, and must be of sound mind.

I’m not saying that you should ignore the competition or forget about the rate cards that are floating in cyberspace. It’s up to you if you want to look at Odesk, freelancer.com, or the $100 voices.com minimum rate, and decide that that’s what “the market” is willing to pay. After all, the only thing the client cares about is price, right?

Or you could decide to look at union rates, and make those the basis of your pricing structure.

Why not talk to a few agents? If you’re any good, they might want to represent you. They will fight for a decent rate because if you do well, they will do well.

7. I’m not a sales person. I’m an artist. I don’t know how to negotiate.

No, you’re a wimp, and you need a firm kick in the pants! Nobody is forcing you to be a full-time freelancer. But if you tell the world you are doing this to make a living, it automatically means that you’re the head of the sales department, whether you like it or not. Lawrence Steinmetz has this to add:

“The first thing you have to understand is that the selling price is a function of your ability to sell and nothing else.”

Any idiot can cave in at the first sign of buyer resistance, and offer a price cut. That’s not selling. That’s being lazy and fearful. It’s a sign that you don’t believe in the value of your product or service. Clients always pick up on that, and it will cost you dearly.

Being extraordinarily talented in what you do, doesn’t guarantee instant success. Life might have dealt you a pretty good hand, but if you don’t know how to play the game, even the best cards are useless. We all know starving geniuses.

The way I see it, you have two choices. You either learn the rules and become good at playing the game, or you stay out of it. Remember: experience is the slowest teacher.

8. Low-end rates do not affect high-end rates.

If that were the case, why aren’t rates going up, instead of down? Why have so many auditions turned into a bidding war? Actor, writer and producer J.S. Gilbert:

“While it’s not being broadcast, I’m seeing people I know who have made six-figure+ incomes at voice-over for years now, looking at incomes that are fractions of what they were a few years ago.”

I understand that we’ll never get back to the golden days of Don LaFontaine (a.k.a. “The Voice of G-d”) and his limo. Thanks to the internet, the rise in home studios, and online job boards, clients no longer have to book union talent at union rates through an agent. Talk has become a lot cheaper.

As Gilbert pointed out to me, a job that used to cost the client $1000, is now offered at $250. But why pay $250 if some fool is willing to do it for $25?

As I said before, once clients are taught they can get it for less, why should they pay a penny more? Give me one reason why this trend does not impact today’s prices, and has never done so in the past. 

9. But I’m just getting started. I can’t possibly ask full price.

Some beginners admitted to me that they’ve offered their services for free, just to be able to build a portfolio. Mind you: they were not talking about doing stuff for charity.

I think a freebie only makes sense if you have something else to sell. That’s why a baker hands out samples, and that’s why my custom demos are free of charge. But if you’re giving 500 dollars worth of services away for free, you’re not only creating expectations, you’re in fact saying: “This is what I think my work is worth.” Meanwhile, you’re robbing a colleague of the chance to make five hundred bucks.

Jason Fried is the co-founder and President of software solution provider Basecamp. He recommends you practice charging a reasonable rate from day one. But what he said next was a real eye-opener to me:

“It’s very safe to charge low rates, because you don’t have to prove anything. But as soon as you charge a customer a good price, it gives them the power to demand something from you, such as good quality and great service. Those are the types of pressures you want on you as a small business owner. You want to be forced to be good. Charging for something forces you to be good.”

10. I don’t need to make a full-time income. It’s only a hobby.

If it’s only a hobby, then why are you advertising yourself as a voice-over professional? I play the piano, but I don’t market myself as a concert pianist.

If you enjoy reading to other people, go volunteer at your local children’s hospital or elder care facility. You will probably get more appreciation for doing this, than for anything you’ve ever done before.

Most talents I know are only freelancing part-time, because they’re still building what they hope will become a full-time business. A part-time teacher only gets paid less because she puts in fewer hours. Does a part-time cab driver fix the meter so he can drive you around at half-price? So, why should you offer your services at bottom dollar?

Oh… I see. Your partner has a steady job, and the money you make doing the occasional voice-over doesn’t have to pay the mortgage, right?

Guess what? In this economy there’s no such thing as a steady job anymore. What would happen if your partner gets laid off and you become the sole breadwinner? Can your beer money pay the bills? Do you really think you could raise your rates to make ends meet?

Price buyers are the first to look elsewhere. They don’t care about your personal situation. They care about cutting costs. But stop thinking about your own situation for a moment.

There are people who depend on doing this for a living right now, and they think your price dumping is nothing but unfair competition. I must admit: you’re quite talented, and by charging these low rates you are making it harder and harder for them to justify their fees.

I think it’s time for you to think about the bigger picture.

Asking for a reasonable rate is not about shameless greed or about becoming filthy rich and famous. This is about being able to provide for your family; being able to send your kids to college, and save some money for a rainy day.

Your voice could help sell millions of dollars worth of product. It can introduce people to brilliant books that enrich their lives. Your voice can be the voice of a mentor, teaching valuable skills to e-learners across the globe. Your voice can inform, entertain, sell, and assist. Surely, that must be worth something?

However…

Those who fail to build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS The above article is an excerpt from my book “Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing For Voice-Overs And Other Solopreneurs.” Click on one of the buttons below to get your copy.

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs." goo.gl/ihVpMc

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters

46 Responses to Debunking Bottom Feeders

  1. Ron Rhodes

    Just when I thought there had been enough chatter about low rates . . . this just happened.

    I received an offer from a major company in Canada is paying $50 OR LESS per spot depending on the market. Some spots in the smaller markets are only paying $10…Yep, ten bucks…AND they expect the voice talent to perform all of the editing and post work. What’s worse is they probably have an abundance of voice talents lined-up out their door who are willing to sacrifice an opportunity for a decent living for the chance at the tiniest little sliver of fleeting fame. So maddening.

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Ron, the story you just told makes me want to throw up! I can’t believe I had the same mentality as the bottom-feeders, at one time. To expect something for nothing seems to be the mindset of these clients, nowadays. We need to seriously band together to get some kind of economic justice.

    [Reply]

  2. Rose C

    This is such a good post. I loved reading Rebecca Schwab’s LinkedIn profile – because there you COULD see the clients that are willing to pay cheaply for their voice over recordings. Shame on you big clients! As she states here… https://www.linkedin.com/in/beccaschwab

    [Reply]

  3. Scott Gentle

    Paul – add me to to chorus about another great, timely, and well thought-out and state article!

    Based on my experiences and observations with new and veteran VOists, union and non-union, it seems most new talent (and even many experienced ones) have NO idea what the “real” cost of a gig could and should be.

    We can point fingers at the usual suspects for muddying the waters…

    – P2Ps and their bogus “throw it up against the wall and see what sticks”/”anything goes!” pricing charts – with numbers that have remained unchanged for years, went down when they did (and is outright ignored by their “we’ll bottom-feed even more with our ‘Professional’ Services Division’ which ignores them!”)

    – bottom-feeding talents masquerading as legit VOists/coaches, who are happy to profit from selling the art of their stupidity
    (who apparently aren’t making enough despite all those gigs they’re booking…because…well, DUH…so they have to pitch snakeoil)

    – newbie millennial talent and producers who think everything in the world is free, or nearly so (and predatory cheapskate veteran producers who are happy to cash in on them)

    – etc. etc. etc.

    …but let’s be honest: a good bit of blame lies squarely with the unions, too.

    (For the record, although I’m currently not a member of one, I’m NOT anti-union. I get why they were founded and why they’re there, and what they can do to help talent if all goes like it’s “supposed to”. Bravo to anyone who works hard to set the bar high, and is successful at keeping it that way.)

    The problem?

    For years, they’ve whinged about non-union talent working below their scale – while doing virtually nil in terms of outreach to promote that their way is better, or offering easy-to-use, publicly accessible tools to demonstrate why.

    They’re quick to point out their rates have been public on their site for years, yet you need to download multiple PDFs – then have a NASA lunar landing engineer’s degree – to figure out their arcane, byzantine methods of computing the return for a simple radio/TV/internet campaign.

    Yes, several third party sites have posted simplified rate breakdowns…which many fail to keep updated.

    Some even have extremely simplistic calculators…which are geared towards the needs of onscreen actors, but not VOists.

    Am I the only one who’s wondered why there’s never been an official union online resource for this, in this gilded age of the interwebs?

    Well, lo and behold, look what came up on a random Google trawl the other day:

    SAG-AFTRAnumbers | Version 1.0 (Beta)

    http://sagaftranumbers.sagaftra.org

    Apparently, it’s new, and just went public recently…I’ve never heard a union friend or colleague mention it (I could be totally wrong too).

    Of course, it’s beta, so stuff’s missing – at the moment, something huge: radio – but it does have the basics for figuring out TV and/or New Media gigs. In fact, I used it the other day to nearly double the originally-offered price on a not-insignificant gig a past client offered.

    Obviously there will be people who will use this as a tool to build their “business” by saying “Look! I’m way cheaper than those guys!” – but those of us who know better know they’ll either be forced to see the light from overwork, or drop out of the biz thanks to their ultimately unsustainable price model.

    Everyone else should use this as intended – to discover that a lot of what we’re told is “the new normal” is far from that – and argue that they deserve more for their talents…sometimes MUCH more…because they do.

    I think a lot of VOists will be angered by this, and they well should be, because they’ve been unknowingly ripped off for years, and in some cases even made laughing stocks in the union and production communities for their lack of negotiating savvy or the simple ability to do the complicated math, which previously required a union insider’s or hired paymaster’s assist.

    I think the union should be commended for posting this, and hopefully will keep it public and develop it further, because as they say, “a rising tide floats all boats”.

    This post is way long so I’ll stop here for now, but will pop back with a real-world example about just how bad somebody got shyster-ed both on – and by – a P2P, and why many of us publicly chastised their CEO on LinkedIn for their hand in it.

    [Reply]

    Scott Gentle Reply:

    Okay kiddies….gather around ye olde campfire for a cautionary VO tale/horror story – except it’s neither a tale nor a story – it’s totally real, and verifiable.

    Voices.com users may remember Job #113727 “Voices – Lumosity – TV & Internet Spots {10 Total}” in July 2014, the year that the site seems to have made a big push with their so-called “Professional Services Division”, apparently their newest attempt at building a cash cow by soliciting themselves as an agent…er….”one stop VO marketplace”.

    Whatever they want to call it, by most definitions they acted as an agency, which usually gets talent the best deal possible, right?

    Yet the talent got TOTALLY screwed on this one.

    It was already pretty obvious from the initial listing – 10 national TV spots for $100-250 each?!?! – that things were pretty rotten in Denmark…to say that pricing’s an insult is an insult to the term insult – and that’s even without internet included….AND the talent likely didn’t see a maximum return on that, since the price on this was a bid range and not fixed.

    But oh, how things get even darker when viewed through the lens via SAG-AFTRAnumbers.

    Yeah, sure, the talent likely came away with at least a grand, if you use the bottomfeeder mentality…but as you’ll see with the help of SAG’s calculator, that’s hardly anything from what COULD have been made.

    Can it get worse?

    Believe it or not, yes…they also got totally hosed by the worst of predatory bottomfeeders…mot by a cheapskate veteran production company, nor a Leisure Suit Larry-esque skeevy agent…but ACTUAL JOB SITE ITSELF, which claims to be an intermediary working in the best interests of everyone.

    I turn your attention first to the historical record from the actual listing, for the benefit of non-subscribers (with apologies for the less-than-clean copy/paste:

    Voices – Lumosity – TV & Internet Spots {10 Total}
    Job # 113728
    Job Posting Details
    Job Status
    Posted Date
    Respond By
    Word Count
    Budget
    Completed Jul 29, 2014 @ 15:46 Jul 31, 2014 825 $1000 – $2500

    Language
    Gender
    Age Range
    Category
    Market
    English (North American) Male Young Adult Television national

    Script & Instructions
    Job Description
    Hi there,
    Our client is looking for a male voice for their national broadcast TV commercial and Internet videos. There is a total of 10 scripts {9 x :30s, 1 x :60}.
    The client is looking for a male voice aged 30s-40s. The overall tone should sound natural and not overdone. The client is NOT looking for someone who sounds too “announcer-y,” or “marketing-y.”
    The voice should sound confident, with a hint of seriousness.
    An example of the type of voice we’re looking for: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1Ci2UGrv1M
    PLEASE NOTE: The client requires talent who are local to SAN FRANCISCO or have access to ISDN. Please mention whether or not you meet this criteria in your proposal.
    Thank you and good luck!

    So, as written (union folks please feel free to correct me) on the union site, assuming this was a cable ad like most Lumosity spots I’ve seen, this looks like:

    Television Commercial (Voiceover/Off Camera)
    1 Principal Actor
    10 versions of the script
    0 tags
    Airing as both a TV broadcast + Internet/New Media
    National Cable – 13 week cycle
    Internet/New Media – 1 year option
    Broadcast on a national station with Max 3000 units

    Et…voila…the numbers:

    Estimate Summary
    Principal Actor 1
    Session Fee
    $ 472.00
    9 Add’l Versions of the Script
    $ 4248.00
    Session Fees Subtotal
    $ 4720.00
    National Cable – 13 week cycle
    1 Principal Actor(s)
    $ 2317.00
    Internet or New Media Use
    1 Principal Actor(s) with the 1 Year Option
    $ 1652.00
    Usage Fees Subtotal
    $ 3969.00
    Talent Agent 10%
    $ 868.90
    Subtotal
    $ 9557.90
    Pension & Health
    $ 1605.73
    Payroll Taxes
    $ 1338.11
    Estimate Total
    $ 12501.73

    Now remember folks – this is ONE cycle of TV…not even a whole year, so that number could go much higher…and I seem to recall seeing somewhere that past Lumosity ads have run for upwards of 2 years+.

    Regardless of how you do the math, the talent could have easily seen nearly $10K at scale, and even if they lowballed it at 50% off, there could have been more than double the pittance that Voices.com gave.

    SUMMATION:

    The only people that appeared to have gotten real benefits was the client (by way of uber-cheap VO talent savings on a spot they ran on the internet…AND TV – and they run a LOT of TV) and Voices.com, who if I understand their service correctly, took not only a yearly subscription fee and a 10% SurePay commission from the talent – but also a third bite via upwards of a 50% commission since this gig was listed by their PSD…or more, according to some estimates, but that’s a whole other post.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    This painfully illustrates why P2P’s like voices.com aren’t working in the best interest of their members. They’re operating the in these interest of their bottom line. That’s why I call them bottom line feeders.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Scott, thank you so much for your comments, and for discovering the link to the SAG-AFTRA rate calculator. I hadn’t heard of it, and I think it’s a step in the right direction.

    [Reply]

  4. Sean O. Shea

    Ignorance is a huge factor, Paul. None of the coaches I worked with or classes I’ve taken, ever brought up rates. Sadly, I learned from the P2P sites. For years I had no clue. We didn’t have the VO blogs and sermons of generous people such as yourself.(Loved the Roundtable discussion on World-Voices.org.)

    I am so happy to see more discussions popping up concerning rates. I even noticed Terry Daniel featuring an ENTIRE class on rates for his VO Camp. Kudos, sir!

    This is exactly how we invoke change, isn’t it?

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    In this information age we live in, ignorance is a poor excuse, Sean. If you ask me, I think it’s a matter of stupidity, carelessness, and laziness.

    I can’t imagine being a coach, and not talk about setting rates. Becoming a VO-pro is not just about learning how to read lines and make them sound conversational. It’s about getting someone ready to run a for-profit business!

    Giving people more information is a positive step, but it does not necessarily lead to change. People have known for decades that smoking is bad for their health. Yet, every day people pick up the habit.

    We can tell horses where they can find the water, but if they’re not even thirsty, we cannot make them drink.

    [Reply]

  5. Melanie Fraser

    What a splendid article – I strongly support your views and hope that many more VO artists will do too. I often say “No” to these murky business dealings but do volunteer to charities.

    It’s about time the bargaining stopped. What about having a global rate card as a gold standard? The only problem is, who would set the rates?

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    A global rate card? I don’t see it happening. The price of a Big Mac or a Tall Latte fluctuates due to geographical differences. The same is true when it comes to services. As I explain on my voice-over rates page:

    “rates are based on a number of variables: the medium (radio, television, internet), the market (local, national, international), the length, the nature and the use of the audio.”

    Even if we were to have such a card, there’s no international body that could hold people accountable, and ensure that those rates aren’t undercut.

    [Reply]

  6. DaveC

    What turned things around for me were the words of a homicidal, sociopathic “agent of chaos.”

    “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” The Joker – The Dark Knight.

    [Reply]

    Jeff Bugonian Reply:

    That is just awesome DaveC! I may just steal the quote you have just stolen….:-)

    [Reply]

  7. Mike McGonegal

    Paul,

    Well written as always! One thing I like to point out when people trot out the old “I’ll make it up in volume” saw is that ‘volume’ only works when it’s the same item produced over and over again – like a can of soda or a box of cookies. When it comes to VO, where every single thing we do is a custom piece of work (shall we say, ‘bespoke audio’?), that idea completely falls apart. We, if we’re doing our job right, have to record, edit, and QA every piece of audio – and that all takes time, energy, and skill.

    …and the Steinmetz book? A VERY useful and informative read. It should be on everyone’s shelf right next to the acting books.

    Have a great weekend!

    [Reply]

    Jason Lechak Reply:

    Mike, this hits the nail square on the head, regarding explaining voice over quotes. Their message, which they want to convey, is not mass produced.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Great points, Mike. The only time voice-overs can make it up in volume, is when they’re asked to speak louder!

    [Reply]

  8. Paul Garner

    Paul,
    Thanks for this. We see more and more rate races now and not in a good direction. Standing together on this will hopefully bring us about on the right course!

    [Reply]

  9. Ron Rhodes

    I’m convinced there is a significant large section of the talent pool who are just trying to grab a small modicum of fame. And they will gladly trade the opportunity to make a decent living in exchange for notoriety (however fleeting or small). They want so much to tell their family/friends “Hey! That’s me on the radio! Ain’t that cool!”

    Yeah sure. Congratulations, you’re still poor, Genius.

    [Reply]

  10. Ron Rhodes

    I think. . . no, I HOPE, that the voiceover industry is in a bubble right now. I hope that the bottom end of the talent pool will soon wash away due to lack of work.

    As for me, even as a beginner, I’ve always felt like it was important to charge a wage that I can live on. And I would walk away from work that paid too little. I was once offered $150 for doing 15 national spots on Pandora.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Why charge a fee one could not live on, I wonder. What’s the purpose? A pro turns a profit, otherwise it is a hobby.

    [Reply]

  11. Jason Lechak

    Hi Paul, and all!
    I am fairly new to voice over but I don’t settle for lowball prices. What will I do for a $20? Give it a lift – pick it up off the floor! A lowball price gets lowball quality; pretty simple.
    Anyway – keep fighting the good fight everyone! 🙂

    Jason

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Good for you, and good for us, Jason! If you offer a quality product, you rate should reflect that. Always.

    [Reply]

  12. Mike carta

    FPT (federal poverty level)
    1-person $11,770 = 235 $50 spots or 117 $100 spots.
    2-person $15,930 = 318 $50 spots or 159 $100 spots.

    * rate integrity is paramount even if your significant other is the higher income earner.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for adding those numbers, Mike. Now imagine voice-overs working for Fiverr, and making less than $5 per spot… Madness!

    [Reply]

  13. Kent Ingram

    When I got back into the business, after a lengthy sabbatical, I fell into that trap of agreeing to lower fees and making up for it in volume. Boy, did that ever fail! I learned my lesson and established some standards that I could live with and not appear to be desperate or a sucker. Paul, if I haven’t registered with World Voices, I’ll do so, posthaste! By standing together and establishing reasonable standards, we can become the kind of class outfit that we should be. Limited free markets work better than anything, but there have to be limits to make it successful. Thanks for reinforcing these points, Paul!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m sure World Voices will welcome you with open arms, Kent. It’s not a trade union, but it’s a group of seasoned professionals dedicated to set and uphold professional standards in our industry.

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Just looked at the site, Paul. Very impressive! I also sent an e-mail to Chris, regarding some confusion I have about membership. I’m sure it’ll be answered soon. This is definitely a place to start the ball rolling in the right direction!

    [Reply]

  14. Terry Daniel

    Brilliant blog, Paul! If you take your craft and career seriously, then you always have to remember you are worth so much more than the $10 and $15 jobs that seem to be popping up out of nowhere. You might be saying to yourself, “But, those are the only jobs that are available right now!” By thinking this way, you are clearly not able to see the forest for the trees. Believe me, I know what’s like to struggle to get as many jobs as you can when you are sitting on a big goose egg for the week or even the month – bills piling up, prospective clients bailing out and you’re left wondering whether or not you should have gotten into this business in the first place. I went through this when I first got started in voiceovers. Take a deep breath and erase this level of thinking from your mind.

    The key is to make sure that you focus on what is really important – the quality of the client instead of the quantity of the payment. When you’re not making very much money or closing very many jobs, you may start to think about joining such sites as Voice Garden and Internet Jock just to scrounge up as much work as possible. As is the case with any business, you need to focus on working smarter and not harder by focusing on high-quality clients.

    There are always going to be clients that are simply looking to save a few bucks by getting whatever they need done as cheap as possible. As long as their basic needs are met and they don’t have to spend a lot of money to do so, they are happy. Even if they are not familiar with the average rates that professionals within our industry charge for our services, they will find themselves simply searching for the lowest bid amounts and hoping for the best. Those are low-quality clients that accept low-quality work as long as they get it done for low quality prices.

    You need to be focusing on the type of client that is the exact opposite. The type of client that clearly understands the simple fact that quality work requires quality prices. Even if they have limited experience when it comes to this industry, they know that if they want it done right the first time around with no exceptions – they will have to pay for it. In comparison to the lowballing clients looking to save a few bucks, high-quality clients ARE OUT THERE and could be just around the corner. Keep in mind that one high-quality client can do a heck of a lot more for you in the long run than twenty low-quality clients.

    When you’re a new voice talent, it may come easy settling for these types of jobs for the long haul just because they seem easy to close. Professional anglers don’t use their best tools, equipment and boats to find goldfish just because they are available. Not only would they be wasting their time, money and resources, but they would look absolutely foolish doing so, wouldn’t they? How do you think you look with all of your time, money and available resources chasing after the “goldfish” clients and jobs of this industry?

    I look at some of these lowball VO directories like a kiosk in a shopping mall. Full of junk that true professional voice talents don’t need. So, do yourself a favor and avoid them! Focus on revamping your marketing strategy in order to effectively target the “big fish!” This can be done much easier than you might think.

    The key is to simply remember that your work is worth more than $10 – regardless of any rejection notices and emails from prospective clients that would rather keep their money and sacrifice quality than the other way around.

    Think of your voice as a showroom-quality product that just hit the shelves today for the first time. Don’t place your brand new product on the clearance rack just so it can sell quicker for pennies. You could easily miss out on the high-quality sales opportunities that will slip right past you along the way.

    Keep in mind that my entire sermon here is based on working with clients direct. If you’re represented by a talent agent, the agent will negotiate the rates with the client and more often than not, they are really good rates! Thank you, talent agents! More about the agency game in a future blog.

    So, I ask you again….what amount appears on your price tag?

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, “pastor” Terry! This is a great addition to my piece.

    I always tell my students: “It’s very easy to book a low-paying job. It’s much harder to book a job that pays well. We can all compete on price and go broke in the process. It has happened, and it will happen again and again. Those “professional” voice-overs end up selling their studio on Craigslist and eBay.

    It’s time voice talent stop blaming clients for the decline in rates. We cannot change clients. We can only change our own attitude toward money.

    [Reply]

  15. Sandi Sloan

    Paul thank you so much for articulating this issue so concisely. As a long time voice agent working with Union Actors in a major market and managing Paul Boucher in a non union environment, I must say that I see declining rate structures being offered in both environments. As a community it is incredibly important that we understand the realities of the marketplace…but we must also have the courage to say NO to some of the inappropriate rates being offered – otherwise we are all in a race to the bottom – and that is not a place I for one plan on arriving.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I totally agree, Sandi. The power of NO can be very persuasive. If we don’t draw a line in the sand, we devalue our own services.

    [Reply]

  16. Paul Boucher

    Hi again Paul,

    Although I stand by what I said earlier, I wanted to thank your blog readers for their very productive, and constructive comments following your post. I particularly appreciated the references to books and other reading.

    Although I’ve seen dissenting opinions and commentary on some of your other blog posts, this initial stream of comments on this post is a fine reflection/testament of/to you and your business.

    Thanks again.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    This happens when the people who “get it,” get together and support one another. One of the reasons I keep on blogging is exactly because I can’t wait to turn my monologue into a dialogue. That’s where you’ll often find the real gems.

    [Reply]

  17. Jim Edgar

    Clean, clear and professional, Paul!

    Thanks.

    I’d also suggest folks read/listen to “Linchpin” by Seth Godin – it talks a lot about both the delusion of competing on price and the clear benefits that training and focus can bring. Making yourself the Linchpin in an organization (or in our cases, to our clients) is how you build a business relationship.

    Very true insights on the whole “…can’t afford to pay a better rate” argument. For someone who negotiates rates for a living – likely the person on the client side of the communication – the first answer is always “No. That’s too much.” Having the confidence in your product to say, “OK. Thanks. That’s what this is worth..” should also set the bar for what professional work costs. And do it graciously with a smile. It may take them going through production purgatory with missed deadlines and poor audio to realize what they have purchased. If they truly don’t have the budget, that’s OK too. I’ve had clients come back on later projects, when they did have the budget.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for the tip on Seth Godin’s book, Jim. I’ll put it on my reading list.

    Anyone who has ever negotiated anything knows that the first offer is never the real offer. It’s just a way to test the waters. Yet, too many colleagues fall for it because they’re afraid to loose the job.

    [Reply]

    Jim Edgar Reply:

    just after I read your post, this one from Joe Gilder dropped into my inbox – so, lest we think VO is unique in not treating the Biz like a Business:
    http://www.homestudiocorner.com/your-studio-is-not-a-tech-startup/

    [Reply]

  18. Jeff Bugonian

    Excellent blog Paul. Here is a major paradox on this subject too: The same people who are trying to cut the cost of VO to rock bottom prices would probably be highly offended if a customer were to offer them less money for the product or service they are selling.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I see the paradox, Jeff. The goal of every entrepreneur (including myself) is to keep costs as low as possible, and to maximize profits. But what some “colleagues” fail to realize is that beer money won’t pay the bills.

    [Reply]

  19. Karen Souer

    This is a challenging issue from more than just the voiceover side, as well. A colleague of mine and I got into a lengthy (thankfully civil) discussion with an editor that wanted to give 18 hours of his time away for free. People and this guy commented on how he wasn’t competing, or undercutting anyone, and I struggled to direct his attention to the larger issues. This wasn’t personal, this was about the way post production persons are viewed by the very people we work with!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Absolutely. Sooner or later, every freelancer will feel the pressure to do more for less. It’s ironic, because so many solopreneurs started their own business to (eventually) do less for more.

    [Reply]

  20. Paul Boucher

    I offer an emphatic THANK YOU for clearly articulating your arguments against the tripe being offered by the bottom feeders as justification for unsound thinking, bad planning, bordering-on-moronic “business practices”, etc.

    I applaud you for sourcing out examples to support your arguments; that definitely helps to strengthen your piece.

    It really is unfortunate that the same technology that allowed those of us with career, rather than hobby level ambition, contributes to consolidating so much of this naked stupidity as a shadow industry that has weakened the “legitimate” industry to the point where these sorts of pieces of necessary.

    It’s happened historically to countless other industries, art forms and professions, but it’s still disheartening to feel like we’re struggling to reverse what seems an overwhelming tide.

    Thanks for bringing together other voices who agree and for being a champion of reason in a community that needs to hear and see it.

    [Reply]

  21. Debbie Grattan

    I agree with everything you say here Paul. AND, I also feel the pinch from all directions, as the playing field continues to change. I lose work all the time to rate, and it gets old after a while. Yes, there are clients and agents who understand fair rates, but I still see the “low rate” alert in audition emails from agents as well. I think they get hungry enough too, to allow for someone at less than standard rates to boost their bottom line.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The next question would be: what to do about this downward trend?

    I hear you, Diane! The question is: What do we do to counter this downward trend?

    As a blogger, my pen is my weapon. As a voice-over, I’m a member of the World Voices Organization. Why? Because I know I can’t fix the problem of low rates on my own. We need to stand together on this, and make sure clients are aware of the tremendous added value we bring to the table. One voice at a time.

    [Reply]

    Ron Rhodes Reply:

    Completely agree with both of you. I have seen low rates from agents, too. One of the latest I got from an agent was a multi-regional radio spot for $230. Blessings to both of you.

    [Reply]

  22. Mike Harrison

    Excellent, Paul. Jason Fried’s brilliant comment needs to be repeated:

    “It’s very safe to charge low rates, because you don’t have to prove anything. But as soon as you charge a customer a good price, it gives them the power to demand something from you, such as good quality and great service. Those are the types of pressures you want on you as a small business owner. You want to be forced to be good. Charging for something forces you to be good.”

    Giving one’s services away for next to nothing makes them appear desperate, not professional. In fact, nothing could be further from it.

    Thank you.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re right. Desperation is never a client magnet. Confidence, on the other hand, is.

    [Reply]

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