how to bid on a voice-over project

Open Letter to Voice-Seekers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 17 Comments

Dear voice-over shopper:

Thank you so much for getting in touch! Before we get down to business, may I ask you a question?

Would you ever bid on a project without knowing the specifics?

Let’s assume you’re in the construction industry. A prospect sends you an email asking:

“How much for a building? Give me your best price!”

Could you honestly answer that question? Of course not. Yet, I receive emails every day, asking:

“How much for a voice-over? Give me your best price!”

… as if we’re talking about the cost of a Big Mac or a quart of milk. Even that differs depending on where you live.

If you were a builder who was asked to come up with an accurate estimate, you’d minimally need to know what purpose the construction would serve (commercial or residential); you’d have to know where it will be located, how big it needs to be, when it needs to be finished etcetera, etcetera.

Voice-over professionals are no different. They’re  independent contractors. They need to know what purpose their recording will serve, in what market it will play, how long the script is and how soon you need it (among other things).

Without specifics, any bid is based on pure guesswork and not on the particulars of your project.

“Then why” -you might ask- “are so many of your colleagues willing to plug in just about any number -no questions asked?”

I’ll answer that question with a question.

Would you trust a builder who’d name a price knowing hardly any details of the project? Or would you consider that to be… unprofessional?

STANDARDS, ANYBODY?

The voice-over industry is populated by seasoned pros, hopeful hobbyists and anything in between. With today’s technology, it’s so easy to plug a mic into a computer and hang up a sign saying:

“Voice for Hire. Will work for the experience.”

 

There are no requirements, no regulations and no standards.

What would happen if the construction industry would operate that way?

Some might argue that that’s an unfair comparison. When builders don’t follow regulations, people could get hurt. No one’s ever going to get harmed by an unprofessional voice-over artist, right?

Think again, and let’s zoom in on Medical Narrations. What would happen if the name of a medication would be mispronounced or if the narrator messes up the dosage? What would happen if a procedure would be read in such a way that it could be misconstrued?

These are extreme examples. I agree. How about something less serious: Audio Tours.

Imagine hundreds of tourists getting stranded on a hot summer’s day because the narrator had instructed them to go left instead of right. Among the group members are elderly people, pregnant women and folks with various medical conditions.

That’s not just a ‘small oversight on the part of an inexperienced narrator’.

That’s a lawsuit in the making!

THE REAL DEAL

Professionals do their homework. When a voice talent gets back to you with specific questions, that person is not trying to be a pain in the neck. It’s a sign of professionalism. It means that you’re not getting the cookie cutter treatment. It’s an indication that this person takes his or her job and your project seriously. Please remember:

Amateurs passively plug in guesstimates. Pros ask questions and give informed quotes.

There’s a reason why the word pro is part of ‘pro-active.’

Think of it this way: your voice-over project is a destination. If your end-client does not provide you with a clear description, how can you be sure that you’ll ever get there? Without the right information, you’re setting yourself up for failure, as well as the talent you’re hoping to hire.

Let’s assume the end-client asks for fruit and you come back with the juiciest orange ever to hang from a tree. It could have been a lucky guess. But what if your client says:

“Oh come on… I didn’t want a boring orange. I had an orange yesterday. You should have brought me an apple. A green apple. From Holland.”

THE BLAME GAME

Now, it’s easy to point the finger and blame your unspecific client. But blame is lame and disempowering. The ball was in your court. What did you do with it?

Not only are you now wasting your own time; you’ve just posted a vague project on a casting site and hundreds of voice-over talents are wasting their time recording a custom demo that’s nothing more than a shot in the dark.

Some of you might respond: “That’s just too bad. It’s part of the industry. It’s always been like that and it will never change. You win some. You lose some. And if you don’t like it, go do something else.”

That might be true, but does it really have to be that way? It’s the twenty-first century. Are we still running the industry based on these inefficient, expensive, last century old-school ideas?

IT ALL ADDS UP

Please consider this: how long will it take you to weed through all these shot-in-the-dark submissions? You might end up picking a very affordable talent, but -thinking of your hourly rate- how much did all that weeding just cost you and your company? Don’t you have better things to do than listen to auditions that totally miss the mark?

If you expect talent to be on target, give them a fair chance to hit the bull’s-eye.

Tell them what you’ll be listening for in as much detail as possible. If not for the sake of the voice talent, do it for your own sake. You’ll get much better results in less time.

Here are a few other tips. Don’t worry, they won’t cost you anything!

Language. Don’t just put “Spanish” if you really need a speaker from Chile. Otherwise you’ll get accents from wherever Spanish is spoken. (more on accents in this article)

Age. When you need a young and energetic sound and you’re not clueing us in, don’t be surprised to receive demos from mellow middle-aged matriarchs and serious sounding seniors (as well as from blogging voice-overs who love alliteration).

Budget. You say that you want to hire an experienced voice talent. Do you really think you’ll get one for a hundred bucks? Try this experiment: go to a jewelry store and shop for a 24 carat diamond. When you’ve picked out a nice rock, tell them you wish to get it at the price of a cubic zirconia. Let me know how that worked out for you.

I assume that you take pride in your work, just as we take pride in ours. Don’t devalue what we do. Believe me: it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Expertise. If you don’t want to pay a pro, why don’t you ask Sam in Receiving to record that power point presentation you’re about to give to potential investors. It’s only the future of your company that’s at stake.

Cindy the secretary has a nice voice too. Perhaps she’s willing to do that phone greeting that will be heard by thousands of customers every day. It’s not our job to determine how you want your company image to be perceived by the rest of the world.

Editing. If you expect a talent to deliver clean, edited audio, don’t assume that someone will throw that in for free. First of all, editing is a special skill and not every talent has mastered that skill.

Secondly, it takes an experienced editor at least twice as long to clean up the audio as the time needed to record it. People deserve to be compensated for their time and expertise. Aren’t you?

Payment. Don’t be surprised if we ask you to pay 50% upfront and the remainder upon receiving the recording. Some colleagues won’t record a word without getting paid in full first. You see, we haven’t established a relationship yet, and most of us have been burned in the past. Did that band you hired for the office party require money upfront? Did the hotel ask you for a deposit at the time you reserved that conference room?

Don’t take it personally. We run a voice-over business; not a collection agency. We give you our word (literally) that we’ll deliver the goods. In fact: we will WOW you! Please PayPal your down payment so we can get the ball rolling.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you happened to detect a slight sarcastic undertone in my writing, please know that I’m aware of that. It’s a bad habit and I’m working on it. Just not today.

Secondly: not all voice-seekers are created equal, and it’s not right to put all of you into the same category. You’ve got to make a living too and make your boss happy by hiring the best talent at a reasonable price.

I’m confident that we can meet in the middle, and I’m committed to making your product or service shine as if it were my own. You and I are in the same boat:

Happy customers are our best credentials.

Testimonials from satisfied clients are stories that can never be accurately reflected in the most detailed of rate sheets.

Quality will always be remembered long after the bill has been paid.

Now… let’s talk some business, shall we?!

Sincerely,

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Voice seekers are not the only ones trying to get more out of you for less. My next article is about Internet Casting Services taking it to the extreme.