What Were They Thinking?

Sale!No matter how much you love your job as a voice-over, there are always aspects of your work you don’t care for, or would rather have someone else do.

I, for instance, am not a numbers man, and I’m glad my office manager is keeping the books for my business. Very few colleagues I talk to, enjoy doing the unglamorous paperwork that is part and parcel of running a professional service. Yet, it needs to be done. 

But if there’s one thing many voice-overs are very uncomfortable with, it is this: selling themselves. They’d rather spend hours in a dark booth recording an obscure historic novel, than having to talk a client into hiring them.

If you’re experienced enough to have a couple of agents, they will do the talking for you. Quite often though, a potential client will approach you directly because they’ve been on your website. In that case you have to do the negotiations yourself. Inevitably, you have to answer the following client questions:

1. Why should I hire a professional voice? 

2. Why should I pay that much money, if all you’re going to do is talk?

In the end there are three ways to answer these questions. You can highlight the benefits of what you have to offer, or you can tell some horror stories of clients who went with a cheap, unprofessional voice… or you can use a combination of positives and negatives.

Now, for some clients that’s not enough. Maybe they’re new at hiring a VO, and they simply can’t imagine what effect a bad voice-over could have on a good script. Those people need to see, in order to believe.

One guy started talking to me about text-to-speech software, and how advanced things were getting in that area. His boss had suggested he buy some software, and use it for the next video, instead of a real voice. The TTS-software would pay for itself in no time, he told me. 

“Well,” I said, “I’m not sure your company could afford the kind of artificial voices that are developed and used by Google or Apple. But let me send you a link to a video that was uploaded as recently as last year. This is an affordable product you could buy right now. Take a look, and let me know if this is what you had in mind?” Here it is:

Some things just speak for themselves, don’t they? A few weeks later I spoke to a Head of Internal Training who wanted to “explore his options.” He was producing a tutorial, and he said:

“I’ll be honest with you. Keith from IT has a decent voice, and he said he’s willing to put this thing together for a six-pack and a pizza. That would save me a lot of money. Give me one reason why I should hire you.”

“I’d be happy to,” I said, and I sent him this educational YouTube masterpiece:

Let me share one of my other favorite tutorials. It’s not a corporate presentation, but if you’re interested in baking banana bread, this is a must-see (but you might want to turn the volume up a bit…).

Are you hungry yet? I admit it: I put that video in here just for fun, and because it’s rather bizarre. Don’t be fooled though. People put strange stuff on YouTube because they can monetize it. That’s why you’re forced to watch all those annoying ads. 

The most popular tutorials on YouTube have to be the ones of girls teaching you how to put on make-up. Why do I bring this up? A year or so ago I was approached by a cosmetics brand. Their creative team was coming up with a new campaign, and they had two directions they wanted to explore. One was a more sophisticated approach for which they had my voice and accent in mind.

“The other idea,” said the account manager, “is to let real people tell their story. After all, that’s what our clients can relate to. We want someone who sounds like the friend they never knew they always wanted. Someone who can demonstrate our product, rather than sell it in a commercial.”

“Do you mean someone like this?” I asked? (and you might want to turn your volume down again…)

Most potential clients I talk to aren’t the creative types. They’ve already decided they want to hire me based on my demos, but they want me to give them my “best price.” That’s client speak for: “I think your rates are ridiculous, so let’s see how desperate you are.”

Last week I had a very interesting experience. A woman I was talking to about a voice-over project did something crazy.

She used the F-word!

We were talking about what I would charge, and all of a sudden she said: “But what about all these guys on Fiverr?”

“What about them?” I asked.

“Well,” she continued, “if I were to go with one of them I’d pay a lot less. In the end it’s all about the bottom line, you know.”

“Listen,” I said. “This video you’re putting together is going to be on the world wide web forever, and I hope thousands and thousands of people are going to watch it. For many, this is how they will learn about what your family business has to offer.

In most cases, you’ll get one chance to make your pitch. One chance. People have become extremely critical and impatient. If they don’t like what they see and what they hear, they’ll have millions of other things to watch. So, it’s up to you how you want to present the company your grandfather built. If your video looks unprofessional or sounds unprofessional, your company looks unprofessional.

Do you honestly want to put the reputation of your business in the mouth of this Fiverr guy?”

I think she got the point. Now, let me be clear.

This blog post is not about bashing people who are trying to make a few bucks with a dynamic microphone, or who want to share their knowledge, passion, and whispery voice with the online community. I used the above examples to provide some perspective, and because these videos are in the public domain.

One thing I’m sure you’ve picked up on, is that voice-over narration is very different from giving a running commentary of whatever you’re doing, using the cheapest device in the house. It’s not as easy as it seems, and it’s not true that anyone can do it. 

The difference between a pro and an amateur is this: a pro makes it seem easy and effortless. Amateurs are often hard to understand, and clumsy. Their presentation distracts from the message. A professional voice allows the viewer or listener to focus on the message. 


This blog post started as a story about selling, so let’s get back to that.

Some clients are sold on benefits. They need to know what good things will happen when they hire you. Other clients are motivated by fear. They want to avoid disaster. Sometimes it really helps to give those people a flavor of what’s in store for them, should they go cheap. My message to them is this:

Cheap is always more expensive. 

Some things in life are just too important to leave to hobbyists or stupid software.

If you need a builder, a car mechanic, or an electrician, would you go to someone who charges five dollars for his or her service?

Would you pick your OB/GYN based on whomever has the lowest rate?

Would you want to get your teeth fixed by an amateur dentist?

Then why on earth would you trust a Bottom Dollar voice talent with your promotional message? Why would you allow a babbling dabbler to take a shot at your training course that took a fortune to develop? Do you want your employees to be distracted by Keith from IT, or do you want them to actually retain some information?

And to the creators of the Text to Speech video, the software tutorial, the banana bread lady, the make-up girl, and Mr. Fiverr I want to say this:

I’m not going to take away your right to post anything on YouTube you believe is worthwhile watching. But honestly:

What Were You Thinking?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Paula Satijn Bargain via photopin (license)

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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."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media

21 Responses to What Were They Thinking?

  1. Pingback: Here's What You've Missed | Nethervoice

  2. Paula Satijn

    Hey, I’m the pink satin girl on the picture. I’m definitely not for sale but nice to see my picture here anyway 🙂


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m glad you like it, Paula. Leuk dat je hebt gereageerd!


  3. Marlene Bertrand

    Excellent article and accompanying videos. You bring home a very important point. We get what we pay for. If I am honest, when I first started out as a VO, I was kind of like “Mr. Fiverr,” thinking I was all that and a bag of chips. I had no formal training (until later), my rates were low and I was obtaining business. I did my best, but I have to be honest – my best was decent, but it wasn’t top-notch in comparison to VO’s like you and some other well-known artists. Clients deserve awesome and amazing, because like you said, once something is on the internet, it is out there forever and that first impression cannot be undone. Excellent article, Paul. As usual, you have a wonderful way of sharing the nuances of the VO industry.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you for sharing a bit of your career path with us, Marlene. It’s fairly easy to get work when your rates are low. You have nothing to prove. Clients don’t expect much, because they’re not paying much. Once you raise your standards and your rates, you raise your clients’ expectations, and for a good reason. Decent rates force a freelancer to deliver value for money.


  4. Natasha

    Love it. Love, love, love your ability to show the reality of a situation without being totally negative, which can be exhausting.

    Your post reminds me of my discomfort regarding this recent article: NEW RESEARCH: Could Female Voiceovers Be More Trustworthy? http://b2c.news/k7yL6W The “research” uses pro and amateur voices. The “pros” come from 5r… Umm…is that a new standard? Yikes…

    I will site your blog as a reference to clients, if necessary! Thanks for being such a positive, contributing member to the VO community, Paul! …wise and an outstanding role model…


    Chris Mezzolesta Reply:

    I commented on that article just as I commented on the article that it references…..somehow I don’t see the comment….I wonder why?…….. This just slams it all home. Feel free to comment on that article and on the original on from ConversionXL! Paul is once again dead on.


  5. Jeff Bugonian

    Thank you Paul. This made me laugh and cringe at the same time.

    Hope you don’t mind, but I am going to plagiarize the wazoo out of this blog post…..maybe not plagiarize (especially after Terry Daniel’s recent experience), but I will be referring back to this often.

    Great post.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That’s the ideas, Jeff. There are plenty of examples to be found on the internet because there are very few filters that keep the garbage out.

    It’s okay to cringe. Irritation is the highest form of flattery!


  6. Debbie Grattan

    You can’t make this stuff up! What a great compilation, in real YouTube videos, to illustrate your point. As usual, you’ve made your points better than most can. I’ll be sharing!!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for spreading the message, Debbie. I think this one will be on VoiceOverXtra as well.


  7. Shane Morris

    You get what you pay for! “Why do they keep running into that brick wall? Because it feels so good when they stop!” Hard lesson for most! Thanks Paul!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The problem is that so many people don’t believe there is a wall because someone told them the sky is the limit.


  8. Johnny George

    Another Home Run Paul. (As usual) Sharing over to my biz FB to my biz FB page now.

    Thank you!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for sharing, Johnny!


  9. Adrienne Grechman

    Can I just forward this blogpost to my potential clients who think this way? This is brilliant.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    As a blogger I encourage people to share my stories with the world, Adrienne. While writing this blog I found out a rather scary thing: It’s very easy to find examples of voice-overs gone bad. So, whether you send your client my blog post, or you find a few videos yourself, I hope it will have the desired effect.


  10. Jim Edgar

    The really frustrating thing about this post?
    The time it takes to clean all the coffee off of my monitor and walls.
    (reminder to self: do not sip beverages while reading Paul’s posts…)

    Thanks again, sir! Great stuff. Oh, and make sure you use the Eyewash Station to clean those videos out… yikes.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for the advice, Jim. Sorry about the coffee stains… on national coffee day!


  11. Mike Harrison

    Once again: Brilliance. Thank you, Paul.

    The notion that “the customer is always right” is nonsense in most cases. Very often, the customer needs to be respectfully educated.

    I’d guess that (at least the major) corporations would spend considerable money to hire a good writer to ensure the words in their image and product videos and eLearning lessons are correct. That they would then shop for voice talent based on cost alone is exactly WHY clients need to be educated.

    Anyone – now including software – can speak those words. But only those with TALENT (aka those who know what they’re doing and who do all the right things for all the right reasons) can relate those words so that the audience grasps the total concept and is able to retain what they’ve heard.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Amen to that, Mike. Just as a machine will never be able to replicate Yo Yo Ma’s cello playing, a dumb robot will never be able to narrate literature with depth and understanding.

    The more technology advances, the more people long for a real human connection. TTS-software maybe fine for telling me how to get to my destination, but it has no heart.


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