So, after my last blog caused quite a ripple effect throughout the VO community, I’m adding some fuel to the fire with what you’re about to read. When it was first published I managed to piss off a great number of people, and I’d love to do that again. That’s why I’m republishing the story below.
If you’re looking for fresh content this week, you’re invited to check out a new category on my website: Reviews.
Over the years I’ve reviewed voice-over gear, and I wanted to create a place to bring these articles together. But prepare yourself: I’m going to branch out to other products I have tested, unrelated to voice-over. Click here to get to my first new review. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. If you’re interested, you’ll find out. Alternatively, keep on reading about…
5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over
by Paul Strikwerda
“Millions of dollars paid out to voice actors globally.”
“Audition for your dream job now.”
“Instant access to amazing opportunities.”
“New job postings every day.”
It sure sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Especially when you’re young, idealistic, and impressionable. It’s the way online casting sites throw out their net, hoping that loquacious people will bite.
Well, bite they do, and day after day an ever-growing army of hopefuls is eagerly looking at their inbox, waiting for the next “amazing opportunity” to arrive. It comes at a price, though.
If you’re taking part in these online cattle calls, be ready to be milked!
Of course these casting sites won’t tell you that you have to spend between $349 and $399 per year to take part in a crapshoot. They’ll feed you success stories about people who claim to make a six-figure income by winning audition after audition. Anecdotal evidence always trumps independently verified numbers, right?
Believe me: People believe what they want to believe.
So, today I’m not going to give you the golden formula to online voice-over success. Sorry to break the news, but it does not exist. Instead, I will give you a few reasons why you probably should stay clear of this business. I’ll start with the most important one.
1. The world doesn’t need you.
Yes, you’ve heard me.
We have enough people talking into microphones, thank you very much. What this world needs is less talk and more action. We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution; people who know how to fight global warming, and first responders to natural disasters.
If you want to make a real difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the homeless, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.
2. There’s no money in voice-overs.
The cost of living goes up every year, while voice-over rates are in steady decline. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Even the union can’t stop it. Thanks to online casting services and ignorant amateurs, your voice has become a commodity, sold by the lowest bidder to the cheapest client.
VO has become a game of averages, and here’s how it works.
The bottom feeders choose lowball sites like Elance, Fiverr, and freelancer.com to sell their services for beer money. The top end of the market consists of A-list actors making millions voicing cartoons and commercials. If you’re average, you’re forever stuck in the middle. You have enough integrity to leave the crumbs to the idiots, but you won’t get the big gigs for the big money.
Don’t be fooled by voice-over veterans posting on Facebook how well they are doing. Some of them confided in me that they’re just keeping up appearances. No one wants to hire a loser, so you’ve got to tell the world you’re still an important player. Yay for social media! Everything people post is 100% true.
3. You are a social being.
Unless you enjoy going to expensive conferences to hear VoiceVIP’s talk about themselves and plug their books, you’re pretty much on your own in this business. I mean, who likes being locked up between the four carpeted walls of a 3.5’ by 3.5’ whisper box all day long?
You have no one to talk to but yourself, and you’ll never see a response from the people you’re supposedly entertaining. If acknowledgment is what you’re secretly longing for, go to a nursing home and read to the residents. Tell stories to kids in the cancer ward. It will make their day, and yours!
The sedentary lifestyle of a typical voice-over is unhealthy for the mind, body, and soul. If you’re an extrovert, you crave contact, and you thrive in the company of others. I can tell you right now that you will curse the day you decided to isolate yourself from the world, just so you could narrate some third-rate novel for a royalty share that doesn’t even pay this month’s water bill.
4. You’ll spend at least 80% of your time trying to get work, and 20% doing the work.
Voice-overs spend a lot of time being busy without being productive. How rewarding is that? Regardless of what voice casting sites want you to believe, most jobs you audition for will go to someone else, and you’ll never know why. Don’t you love it?
But what about agents, you may ask. Once you have an agent or two, things will get better, right?
No they won’t.
The pickings are slim, and these days, all the agents in North America will send the same bathroom tissue script to every talent with a potty mouth. That really makes you feel part of an exclusive club, doesn’t it?
5. It may take many years before you see a return on your investment.
A voice-over career cannot be bought. It has to be conquered. Slowly.
You may think you’re going to be successful because of your unique sound. Dream on! The only way you’ll stand a chance is if you stop treating your pipe dream as a hobby. This means you’ve got to invest in professional gear and in a quiet place to record. Then you have to get yourself a few top-notch demos, plus a website to tell the world what you’re doing. And this is just the beginning.
Having all of that in place is no guarantee that you’ll make any money with your voice. Thousands of people all over the world are doing exactly what you do, and they are giving up within a year. The only money they’ll ever see is when they’re selling their stuff on eBay. At a loss.
When you really think about it, you have to be a fool to become a voice-over.
I was foolish enough to choose that as my career, and guess what?
Every couple of weeks I make the social media rounds on the various Facebook voice-over groups to see what’s new. The answer:
In fact, most of what’s going on is an endless regurgitation of familiar topics, and Me-Me-Me marketing we love wasting our time on: How much should I charge? Where can I find work? Will you critique my demo and my new website?
In an effort to nip these dreadfully boring and superfluous conversations in the bud, I’m going to cover some returning questions rapid-fire style, so we can all get on with our work.
I want to get started in voice-overs, but I have no experience, no equipment, and no money. Where do I begin?
Are you serious? You sound like the guy who wants to be an Uber driver, who doesn’t know how to drive, does not own a car, and has no money in the bank. How’s that going to work?
My two cents: Get a job. Put some money aside, and work with a coach to find out if you’re even remotely talented before you spend big bucks on a studio, gear, demos, and a website.
It sounds like I need a lot of money to break into this business. Why is it so expensive?
Compared to what? Ask a New York cab driver how much he paid for his medallion. What did the pianist pay for her Steinway? How much debt did your doctor take on to get her degree?
You can’t be invested without making an investment. If something is worth it, you’ve got to pay the price. And if you’re serious, you can equip your voice-over studio for under a thousand dollars. Click here to find out how.
I just got started as a voice-over. I’ve been auditioning for over three months and haven’t booked a single job. Nobody ever told me it was going to be this hard. I’ve got rent to pay.
Your coach should have prepared you for a harsh reality. Ninety percent of trained actors are out of work. The ones on the A-list get booked again and again. It’s not much different for voice actors. Your job is finding jobs. Over and over and over again. So, stop lurking on social media and start marketing yourself!
I signed up for several Pay-to-Plays. Posted my demos. Nothing’s happening. Is this a scam?
A P2P is the lazy way to get into this business. You pay your membership fees, you post a few homemade half-baked demos, you do a few lousy auditions with your crap equipment, and you expect magic to happen? Don’t blame the system. You are delusional.
My neighbor is driving me crazy with his mad dogs, his leaf blower, and his lawn mower. Right now I want to kill him.
Do you expect the world to stop just because you need to meet a deadline? You advertise yourself as a professional, yet you have no dedicated, isolated recording space. That’s a problem. Costs come before revenue. Stop moaning and get a double-walled booth. If you’re any good, it will pay for itself many times over.
This new client hasn’t paid me in months and won’t respond to my emails. Help!
Who have you been working for? Did you do your research to find out whom you’re dealing with? Did you watermark your audio? Did you ask to be paid upfront? Not every client can be trusted so you have to protect yourself. You either lawyer up and threaten legal action, or write the unpaid invoice off as a business loss. Remember: even if small claims court rules in your favor, it’s not going to collect your money. That’s on you.
I’m not making enough as a voice-over. What am I doing wrong?
You’re not alone! In this business, there is no guaranteed return on investment, and with what you’re charging, are you surprised you’re not making enough? It’s a self-inflicted wound. Low rates are the sign of a desperate amateur. Who wants to work with a desperate amateur?
Be better, not cheaper.
Sitting in front of a computer all day long is hurting my health. I hate it!
No one is forcing you to do anything that’s detrimental to your health. In order to take care of your clients, you have to take care of yourself. Exercise, do yoga, move around, choose a healthy diet. Sit up, hydrate, get a supportive chair, and a wrist rest. Don’t forget your emotional health. Surround yourself with supportive people. Get a life outside of your studio! Your work is just a means to an end.
Being a freelancer is hard work. I thought it would be fun to be my own boss, but I’m starting to change my mind.
No job in the world is 100% fun all the time, no matter what some Instagram posts may tell you. What you see and what you hear – the end result, may sound and look like fun, but you don’t see the effort necessary to make it happen. If you do your job well, you make it seem effortless.
If your level of fun is the only criterium you use to evaluate your job, you’re never going to be satisfied.
Now, if you’re not happy with how things are going, know that nothing is going to change unless you change. Keep in mind that as long as you keep on blaming others for your misfortune, they have to be the ones that have to change in order for you to be happy.
That ain’t gonna happen.
Allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow others to make mistakes. You don’t have to spoon-feed every newbie begging for free advice. They’ll end up being lazy, ungrateful, and dependent.
Give yourself time to become good at what you do. Learn from the experts. Invest your earnings to further your career. Value what you have to offer and price accordingly.
And beginning today, start figuring out ways to get visitors to your web pages, instead of interacting on other people’s groups and sites, boosting their SEO.
It’s a trap I have fallen into many times. I was working all day long, without much to show for it. That is, until something finally dawned upon me:
Busy people talk about how little time they have. Productive people make time for what’s important.
The question is: how do you know what is important for your business?
On some days, everything seems important: answering emails, invoicing clients, making phone calls, updating the website, recording auditions, paying bills, designing marketing materials, researching new gear, keeping up with social media… The list is endless, especially when you’re a one-person band. It’s tempting to do it all, and to do it all by yourself.
That’s mistake number one. Here’s how to fix it:
Focus on what you’re good at. Outsource the rest.
There’s a reason why a brain surgeon doesn’t do her own billing, a CEO doesn’t answer every call, and Tim Cook doesn’t design the next iPhone. People who run a successful business hire people who are smarter and more talented than they are, to take care of certain aspects of that business. These experts are able to do things better and quicker, leaving you with more time to focus on your strengths. That’s where the money is!
So, if you’re not a kick-ass web designer, hire someone who is, and have him/her teach you to maintain and update the site once it’s up and running. Or do you have time to become an SEO specialist? I didn’t think so!
If you stink at bookkeeping, get an office assistant to take care of the numbers, and let an accountant prepare your taxes. This ensures that you maximize your deductions, and you minimize the money going to the IRS. An office assistant can also take on other administrative tasks, such as dealing with unpaid invoices. That way, you don’t have to be the bad guy (or gal).
If you’re struggling to create a logo or a catch phrase, hire a graphic designer and a copywriter. They specialize in making you look and sound much more professional than you’ll ever be able to do yourself. Clients will only see you as a professional if you present yourself like a pro.
If you’re recording a massive project (such as an audio book) on a tight deadline, pay someone to edit and master the audio for you. Why spend time on a $50 to $100 per hour job, if you could make between $350 and $500 per hour?
If you’re thinking about how much all of this will cost, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Reinventing the wheel, learning on the fly, trying to do everything yourself… it will leave you frustrated and without energy to do what you do best. You know, the very things clients hire you to do. That is going to cost you!
If -on the other hand- you decide to outsource some or all of these things, you’ll be surprised how much time you will gain. Now, let’s see if I can save you some more!
In the beginning of my career I spent way too much time auditioning for jobs that were out of my range. Why? Because someone had told me that it was a numbers game. The more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would eventually land a job, they said. Doing auditions was a way to learn on the job, right?
Clients hire you because they trust you can do the job. They don’t want you to experiment on their dime. These days I am super selective. I know I don’t have a movie trailer voice, so I’m not even going to try to sound like one. I won’t audition for projects by companies or causes I cannot support (sorry fast food and tobacco industry). If you’re not offering a decent rate, you can find yourself a Craigslist talent, but please don’t waste my time.
I also got smarter in the way I audition. Knowing that clients will often only listen to the first seconds, I am no longer recording three-minute scripts. Unless the client specifies otherwise, I’ll pick a few lines from the beginning with the company name, and I’ll include the payoff line at the end. Then I’m done. I know Michael J. Collins auditions this way, and he seems to be doing okay.
One last thing about auditions: I no longer record ten takes before I’m satisfied. If I can’t produce a good read in a few tries, the job is probably not meant for me.
THE HARDEST WORD
Apart from curbing my presence on social media, there’s one other thing that has saved me tons of time: I became better at saying a certain two-letter word.
“Can you evaluate my demo for free?”
“Can you write a guest post for this blog with 12 subscribers?”
“Can you tell me how to break into the business?”
“Can you answer this question I am too lazy to research myself?”
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy helping others, but I don’t run a charity. I run a for-profit business. That means that in everything I do, I have to think about the Return On Investment.
Making enough money gives me the opportunity to invest in ways that will save me money and grow my business, as well as the freedom to engage in activities that are important, but that won’t generate any money.
ONE MORE LESSON
When I look back at my career, I wasted so much time waiting for things to happen. I thought that if I put a few things in place; had the right equipment and a decent amount of talent, things would turn out okay. After all, a wise man had told me: “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”
Tell that to the people who are going broke, lovingly living a dream.
A few hard years later, I realized that if I wanted to be successful, I had to become the prime instigator and number one delegator. I had to stop being busy, and start becoming productive.
It was quite the transformation, but you know what they say:
“Busy people talk about how they will change.
Productive people are making those changes.”
VO ATLANTA 2019
If your VO business isn’t where you want it to be, and you wish to change that, come to VO Atlanta at the end of the month. On Saturday March 29th I’ll be leading a workshop (X-session) called Six Steps To Turning Your Business Around. It’s a practical, 3-hour, hands-on session during which I will challenge you to take a good look at six aspects of your voice-over career. What’s working, and what isn’t? Is one aspect sabotaging other areas? What aspect needs more work? At the end of the session you will walk out with a practical plan to take your business to the next level.
The day after I hope you will join me for a fun one-hour breakout session called Winning Mindsets To Take Charge Of Your Career. Great equipment and a good voice can only get you so far in this business. What you tell yourself is just as important as what you tell others. Find out what accomplished colleagues are doing differently between the ears that leads to their success.
“You’re very good at telling me what NOT to do. Please write about the best ways for me to promote my business.”
For that, I want to go back to an email conversation I had with one of my British colleagues.
Here’s what we talked about.
Q: Many people rely on just having a website and an internet presence on Twitter, Facebook or on a P2P site to do their marketing for them… does this work? And if not, why not? Let’s take a step back and talk about what I believe marketing to be: Any activity that helps you find clients and helps clients find you. Marketing is about understanding your clients’ needs and connecting your product or service with customers who want it. Effective marketing is a compelling, engaging conversation. It’s about building profitable relationships and creating an amazing experience around your brand, product, or service. If you succeed in these three areas, your marketing works. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. Having an internet presence in and of itself is as useless as hanging up an expensive billboard in the middle of nowhere. In order to be effective, you have to make sure people find your needle in the online haystack. It’s not enough to have an online profile on a P2P site or on Facebook. That only benefits the P2P and the world created by Mark Zuckerberg. You need to drive traffic to a site that you own and control.
Q: What is the most effective tool to market yourself? Blogging, Facebook, Tweeting? My blog has proven to be my most effective instrument in my marketing toolbox, and I’ll tell you why. You can offer the best product nobody has ever heard of and never make a penny. In order for people to buy from you or hire you, they have to find you, get to know you, and learn to trust you. That’s exactly what my blog has done for me. Today’s search engines have become much smarter. Quantity is no longer king. It’s about quality and engagement. Relevance and social interaction are now built into the algorithm that determines how your pages are ranked and thus found. Most experts agree that one of the best ways to boost your SEO is to offer fresh and quality content. Most websites are pretty static. Once it’s up, not much changes. That’s why blogs are so effective. Every day or every week you get a chance to connect with your followers and attract new readers by sharing something of value. Q: To be effective, how much time do you estimate it is necessary to spend on marketing? It’s a running joke among freelancers that we spend 80% of our time finding the work and 20% doing the work. Marketing never stops. Look at the big brands. We know their logos and slogans by heart. Yet, they continue to bombard us with messages. Award-winning colleagues whom we think of as “established” never stop marketing. B.L. Ochman, president of What’s Next said it best: “Marketing is everything a company does, from how they answer the phone, how quickly and effectively they respond to email, to how they handle accounts payable, to how they treat their employees and customers. Done right, marketing integrates a great product or service with PR, sales, advertising, new media, personal contact. In other words, marketing is not a discipline or an activity – it is everything a company is – at least if the company wants to be successful.”
Q: Are there other ways to market yourself other than online? Marketing is never an either/or. It’s doing this, that and a whole bunch of other things in order to influence perception. If marketing is not integrated into everything you do, you’re not doing it right and you’re not doing enough. Q: If you have limited time/resources… how do you choose the best marketing tools for you? The best form of marketing is delivering a stellar product or service. Clients are your best credentials. If you exceed their expectations, they will do part of the marketing for you. Remember: tooting your own horn is necessary but suspicious. What others have to say about you is perceived to be more credible than all the things you will ever say about yourself. Q: How do you ensure that you are constantly reaching new people and not just preaching to the converted. Ask yourself this question: What greater community am I a part of? Most voice-over professionals are: – Actors & artists
– Small business owners As a narrator and voice actor, I’m also in touch with: – Linguists & translators
– Sound engineers
– e-Learning specialists
– Advertisers & Social Media specialists
– People in the entertainment industry Blogging is a form of content marketing. If I only were to write my blog for a relatively small group of voice-over colleagues, I would be preaching to the choir. That’s why I make sure to write content that appeals to all the groups mentioned above. That way, I widen my circle, instead of preaching to the choir. Q: Is marketing yourself the same as bragging? No, it’s not, although it often comes across like that. My advice may sound a bit like a contradiction in terms: If you want to highlight what you have to offer, don’t make it all about you. A blog or brochure is not a public diary about your personal trials, tribulations, and triumphs. Here’s the challenge: you have to show people what you’re made of, but avoid the ME, ME, ME-stories. That book is usually very thin and gets very old. Focus on your market. Find out what their frustrations are and offer practical tips, and remember this: Educate without lecturing. Come across as an expert, but not as a know-it-all. Q: As soon as you have an online presence, you are vulnerable … how do you protect yourself from spam and junk? Never put your email address on your website. It’s an open invitation to spam bots. Use a spam-protected contact form instead. Use an email program with a solid spam filter, or buy one. Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. Install anti-tracking software. I also check every new subscriber to my blog against a list of known spammers. Q: How would you compare the impact of automated tweets, updates, responses, and postings etc. against individually composed postings? Small businesses have a strong competitive advantage over huge corporations. They can deal with (potential) clients in a very direct and personal way. Because voice actors embody their product, that’s their unique selling point. Mass emails, tweets, and newsletters can be deleted in seconds. Personal messages, letters, and faxes are harder to ignore. Ultimately, effective marketing is directed at key individuals. Cater your message to their needs and you’ll be more successful. Remember: marketing is not a sales pitch. It is highlighting a service. Q: In an overcrowded marketplace, how do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd? I am going to brag now, but only because it’s based on feedback from my readers. The number one reason readers come back to my blog is that they find content that is relevant and helpful, told from a unique perspective. If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view. I’m not telling my readers how great I am. I’m simply showing them how they can be more successful if they follow some of my suggestions. In other words: I am not asking them to buy something from me. I’m giving them something useful. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. I highly recommend finding a niche and emphasize your specialty in your marketing messages. In my case, I market myself as “The Ultimate European Voice.” I realize that sounds rather pretentious, but for someone living and working in the United States, my European-ness is one of my unique selling points. More and more clients don’t necessarily want a British or North-American English speaker for a global campaign. Because of my more “neutral” English accent, international companies are interested in my services. Q: For people who may not be technically minded … do you think it is worthwhile employing someone to do your internet marketing for you? Technology is a tool that sometimes stands in the way of true communication. There has never been a generation in the history of this planet that has been more connected, yet millions and millions of people miss a real connection. Technology enables us to send a mass email or newsletter to everyone in our database. It’s as sad and ineffective as cold calling. You’re playing a numbers game, thinking: The more people I send stuff to, the more likely it is that someone will respond. I always get the best responses from personal contact. I have no marketing guru to run my “campaign”. The reason is simple. No one is as motivated and dedicated to my business as I am. No one is willing to work as hard for my business as I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t ask for help. We all have our strengths and I do feel that when I look at certain websites, some people should have used a web designer, a copywriter, or a professional photographer. First impressions are vital! However, it does pay off to learn how to maintain your own site. Otherwise, you end up paying your webmaster (or mistress) for every small change or update. Q: Talk a little about keeping the balance right … e.g. marketing versus actually doing the job. Is it possible to do too much marketing? As I said earlier, doing your job to the very best of your ability is one of the best forms of marketing. If you approach it that way, there is no real separation between the two. There is a risk of overdoing it, though. I’m not going to name any names, but one voice-over coach regularly plasters the internet with promos for seminars, classes, and the whole shebang. It’s overkill and it’s counterproductive. If you yell too loudly and too frequently (especially if it is more of the same), it becomes annoying and people will start tuning you out. Q: How do you think marketing will develop over the next five years? I’ll have to take out my crystal ball for that one. On one hand I see that marketing is becoming more and more mobile technology driven. YouTube is quickly becoming the number one search engine. Social proof is rapidly replacing expert advice. If you wish to make a dent in the marketing universe, you need to learn to play the technological game, create visual content and attract, grow, and serve a considerable online following. On the other hand, it is critically important to always remember that you’re talking to real people with real problems that need to be solved. It’s impossible to meet their needs with a mass email. Marketing can be the beginning of a connection, but it’s only a first step. Let me put it this way. Creating an appealing window display is one thing, but no level of technology can force people to come inside, let alone become a (return) customer. Q: Joining the dots … and creating a seamless approach to marketing – creating your own look, logos, fonts etc. Are they important? Now we’re entering the realm of branding: the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products. With thousands of voice-over talent entering the market each year, differentiation is essential. Having a picture of a microphone on your website is anything but unique. What clients are looking and listening for is personality. Things like a recognizable logo, a catchphrase, and a consistent color scheme have to reflect your personality and your niche. I don’t have a logo per se, but I consistently use a picture of me, holding a bunch of orange tulips. On a subconscious level, people still associate tulips with Holland, and as a native Dutch speaker that’s a good thing. Orange also happens to be the Dutch national color. Then there’s the pun “tulips” and “two lips” which for a voice-over professional is a nice association. Q: What is the most important thing you have learned about marketing? Three things: 1. Marketing is like sowing seeds. You can’t force those seeds to come up overnight, grow into trees, and produce fruit. Marketing is an organic process that requires persistence, patience, and love for what you’re doing. 2. It is pointless to market a bad product because it won’t sell. 3. Even the sharpest tools in the shed get dull after prolonged use. Keep on learning to refine your skills.
“Seize the day,” “Carpe Diem,” “Maximize each moment.”
In a society as hectic as ours, that seems to be sound advice. Especially at the beginning of a new year.
All of us are given a limited time on earth. The best thing is to use it wisely. Don’t worry too much about tomorrow. Get the most out of each day.
Go to any electronics expo, and you’ll find tons of smart gadgets designed to make us do more in less time. While some of these ingenious tools can be helpful, they are part of a trend that worries me:
Life is speeding up. People are getting less patient, and more stressed.
They are focused on the short term, instead of thinking ahead.
Why? Because we crave certainty, and it’s easier to predict what will happen in the next moment as opposed to years from now. Instant gratification has never been more popular, and has never been more destructive.
A few examples.
Politics doesn’t think in decades anymore. Voters have short memories and demand quick results. Policies that lead to temporary gains are favored over measures that may take years to implement and bear fruit. Let’s drill for energy today, and we’ll worry about the environment later!
We’re not interested in diets or exercise that lead to gradual, lasting weight loss. No, we demand results by the end of the week. And if that scale doesn’t give us a number we’re happy with, we blame it on the method and move on to something else. But everybody knows that losing pounds is the easy part. Keeping them off is much more challenging. That requires long-term commitment.
Makeover shows on television tell us that people can change their lives in a matter of days. It takes us a week to build an Extreme Home, five days to turn a failing restaurant around, and 48 hours to learn what not to wear. After that, we’ll never be the same again! Well, a few weeks later our dream home is leaking, the bistro is going bankrupt, and that fashion-challenged girl dresses like a slob again.
I’m sorry to break it to you, but quick fixes rarely lead to lasting change.
Short-term thinking is a big problem in the “industry” I’m a part of: the wonderful world of freelancing, in particular, the voice-over industry.
THE MYTH OF THE SHORTCUT
Thanks to false advertising, unrealistic expectations, and an attitude of entitlement and impatience, some people still believe they can rise to the top in very little time. Just read this book, take that seminar, and buy some cheap gear. Before you know it, you’re in business! No experience necessary.
And when these people finally come to me for coaching because they’re not getting anywhere, they are shocked when I present a long-term plan without guarantees.
“That can’t be,” they say. “This takes too long, and it’s too expensive. I don’t have the time, and I don’t have the money. I thought this would be easy.”
I tell them:
“If you’re in this for the long run, a few simple steps won’t get you anywhere. Would you throw some seeds into the soil and expect a few trees to magically pop up the next morning? And would you expect these trees to bear fruit the day after? It may very well be a couple of years before you book your first job.”
One person responded: “If it takes that long, you’re probably not a very good coach.”
I replied: “If that’s what you believe, you probably won’t be a very good student.”
THE ONLINE CASTING TRAP
Another example of short-term thinking is the way some people perceive the “membership” fee for online casting sites. They tell me: “If I book one nice job, this whole thing pays for itself.”
No, it doesn’t. It wouldn’t even be true if you only booked that one job. If you spend let’s say $399 on membership, and you make $399, what’s your profit? To see if that $399 would be a worthwhile investment, you’d have to look at an entire year of membership, and ask yourself: “For all the time and money invested, how many dollars did I get in return?”
You’d have to add up all the money made through that Pay to Play in one year, and deduct the membership fee, taxes and other expenses. Then you divide your net profit by the total number of hours required to generate that income. By hours I mean all the time spent looking at jobs on that site, doing auditions, communicating with clients, and recording/editing the audio.
When you finally look at how much you’ve made per hour in a year, do you think this is still a good investment, or should you spend your time and money elsewhere? Of course no one ever takes the time to run the numbers. Perhaps they’re afraid of the answer.
A COMMON MISCONCEPTION
But don’t make the mistake that short-term thinking is just a problem for the newbie. I often encounter it when colleagues discuss the hot topic of pricing. People with a short-term view tend to charge lower rates than those who are in it for the long haul.
“I’d rather make a hundred bucks now, than lose out on a job,” they say. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” A week later they complain that they can’t seem to make a living as a voice talent.
No surprise there.
Your rate is not just about money. It’s a sign of professionalism. It sends a signal to the client: “This is what I believe my time and talent are worth.”
It also sends a signal to the industry: “This is what I believe this job is worth.”
By the way, it’s much easier to book a low-rate job than to land a well-paid gig. Any fool can undercut the competition (and go broke in the process).
Here’s the thing: If we devalue the work we do, don’t expect rates to rise. Low rates will become the new normal.
How do we turn this around?
Step one: realize that short-term actions have long-term consequences.
If you don’t think about the long-term consequences of your actions, your life becomes inconsequential.
A NEW FOCUS
If you wish to have sustained success as a freelancer, you have to start thinking long-term, and big picture.
You have to ask yourself:
“Where do I want to be, five years, ten years from now? How much do I need to minimally make in a year to get there? What do I have to invest? How much do I need to charge?”
Of course you also have to factor in what people around you are charging, and what clients are willing to pay. But don’t let that limit you. Premium products command a premium price. If you think that’s just a slogan, tell me: who’d have thought people would be willing to pay over $1000 for a mobile phone?
Thinking big picture also means you have to consider the effect your actions may have on others, and on this planet (often for generations). You don’t live on an island. It’s not just about you. What you do or don’t do may not seem earth-shattering, but it makes a difference. A tidal wave consists of many small drops.
So, here’s my humble request for 2019:
Accept that there are no shortcuts to success.
Slow down, practice patience, and embrace delayed gratification.
Counting correctly, this is my 49th entry this year. Wow!
You may have read them all, or you may have read a few. Anyhow, I’m glad you’re here so I can remind you of the stories you have memorized, as well as the ones you may have missed. As always, blue text means a hyperlink that takes you straight to the story.
Apart from the usual musings about clients, colleagues, and the ins and outs of running a for-profit freelance business, things took a very serious turn some nine months ago. March 26th was the day I almost died. It was hard to imagine that only a few days before, I had been a presenter at VO Atlanta, which I didn’t like, by the way. I LOVED it, and I’ll be back in 2019!
People going through major, traumatic, life-changing events often ask three questions:
– Why me?
– Why this?
– Why now?
In Life’s Unfair. Get Used To It, I’ll tell you how I deal with these questions. Stories like these are examples of what I’m trying to do with this blog. Many assume that since I work as a voice talent, this must be a blog about voice-overs. That’s only partially true.
For me, the world of voice acting is just a lens through which I observe and comment on the world. When I write about customers, colleagues, and communication, what I really write about is relationships and human interaction.
A story like Filling In The Blanks, is not only a tale about what happens when you start to second-guess what you think your clients want to hear. It’s a story about perception and projection. About making assumptions, and finding true meaning.
In Getting In Our Own Way, I describe two types of voice talents: the narcissist and the masochist. They are two types of people who are very hard to teach. Take a few minutes to read it, and tell me if it only applies to the world of voice acting.
One more example. Are Clients Walking All Over You? is not just about dealing with difficult clients. It’s about how to handle conflict and getting a spine. That’s something many of us struggle with on a regular basis.
Some of my stuff is explicitly written for those who are thinking of becoming a voice-over, and those who are new to the business. When it comes to these people, here’s my general approach: I tell them what they don’t want to hear. As you can imagine, that makes me very popular in certain circles.
This December I wrote a 3-part series called Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? (here’s a link to Part One, Part Two, and Part Three). If you ever have the “People told me I have a great voice” conversation with a wannabe, and you’re lost for words, please point them to this series.
Now, whenever I write these cautionary articles, there are always one or two commentating newcomers who still believe I’m trying to denigrate and disparage beginners.“You must be threatened by us,” they say, or “You were once a newbie. Why are you so mean?” It’s as if I personally reject them.
Although I’m convinced The Voice-Over World Needs More Rejection, it is never my intention to spitefully discourage people who are talented and truly committed to becoming a voice actor. In fact, in my blog I give those folks tools and strategies to help them navigate a new career in a competitive market.
As a voice-over coach I’ve encountered a common problem that’s keeping talented voice actors from making a good living. They have the right training, the right gear, and promising demos, and yet they’re struggling. Why?
What was my greatest gift this year? I’ll tell you: it was your ongoing support when I needed it most. Thank you for reaching out after my stroke, and for showing me that you’re not just a colleague or reader of this blog, but a true friend I can count on when times are tough.
My recovery made 2018 a miraculous year.
Your help and encouragement have moved me more than words could possibly convey.
Sit behind their microphones and record the most amazing scripts?
Make $5,000 for a twenty-second commercial?
Narrate yet another best-selling novel?
If you choose to believe Facebook, that’s what voice-overs do. They book, they record, and they cash in. Rinse and repeat.
Unfortunately, that’s a big fat lie, told to the world because no one wants to look like a loser on social media. We’re one happy family, everything is always great, and business is booming!
The truth is, some voice actors are doing really well, and many are not. Going into 2019, even the big names are asked to work for smaller budgets at full perpetual buyouts, while $249 seems to be the new normal for many non-union jobs. Jobs that would easily go for four or five times as much some years ago, perhaps even more.
If you’re just starting out, and your expectations are as great as your ambition, that’s probably not something you want to hear. But let’s be realistic for a moment.
Once you’ve told the world that you are now a professional voice-over, it stops being a hobby or a daydream. In fact, you’ve just opened up a business. Congratulations.
“that activity is carried on for profit if it makes a profit during at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year (…).”
As someone who has coached many beginning voice talents, I’ll be straight with you. Most of my students have no clue what it means to run a for-profit business in a market saturated with wannabes. That’s a huge part of what makes doing voice-overs so difficult!
Think about it. You may be a crazy talented chef in your state-of-the-art kitchen, but if you don’t know how to run a successful restaurant, you’re doomed to fail. If you don’t believe me, ask Gordon Ramsey!
Here’s where the comparison stops. A smart chef has a staff managing all business aspects of his establishment. That way, he can concentrate on the cooking. As a VO-pro you are on your own, wearing many, many hats. You’ve got to get customers in the door, set the tables, cook the food, clean up at the end of the day, and do the books.
On top of that, too many beginners don’t know what they don’t know. Between you and me, they just want to have fun talking into a microphone, and get paid for it.
I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: most voice-overs spend way more time trying to get the work than doing the work, myself included (and I’ve been at it for over thirty years).
Like any business, you’ve got to attract customers. How do you do that when no one has ever heard of you (and no one cares to hear about you)? Have you thought about that?
Don’t tell me you’re going to sign up for a voice casting website, and expect them to get you work. That big unethical one in Canada claims to have a global network of over 200,000 voice-overs, and most of them speak English. By the time you open that casting email, you’re at the back of a long line of hopefuls who just received the same message. Chances are that the client won’t ever hear your carefully crafted custom demo. I mean, who’s got time to listen to over a hundred auditions?
And you pay for that “privilege”?
Don’t expect an agent to send you work either when you still have to prove yourself. The irony is: agents want you when you no longer need them. As soon as you have clearly demonstrated an ability to make them money, you become interesting. By that time you should already have a portfolio of returning clients giving your business a sustainable basis.
So, if you can’t rely on Pay to Plays or agents, what are you to do? Where do all these fantastic money-making voice-over jobs come from? Do you find them on Craigslist? Do they grow on trees?
Ultimately, finding work comes down to one person: YOU!
Here’s secret number two: it’s easier to have clients find you, than you having to find clients.
To get people’s attention, you’ve got to toot your own horn. That puts you not only in the business of providing voice-overs. You’re also in the business of self-promotion and marketing. Be honest: do you have expertise in those areas? Are you even comfortable telling people why they should hire you?
Let’s be more specific. Do you know how to design and maintain a kick-ass website that’s search engine optimized, and ready to withstand hackers? If not, do you know a reputable company that can build that site for you? Let’s assume you just spent thousands of dollars on coaching, professional demos, equipment, and a good recording space, how much money is left to get you an online presence? Include the money you pay to a company like SiteGround, to host your website.
Building a website is not just about finding an attractive template and some stock photographs. You need someone with serious copywriting skills to sell your services. Someone who can capture your essence and turn it into a brand. You also have to develop fresh content to give visitors a reason to come back to your website. How are you going to do that?
Then there’s your social media presence. Your brand new company has to be on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and whatever the next big thing is going to be. Each platform has its own rules, algorithms, and format. You’ll have to learn how to shoot and edit decent home videos, how to take striking pictures, and how to write compelling copy that makes you stand out above the crowd.
A word of warning. Once you get started, you’ll soon notice that social media is a monster that constantly needs to be fed with fresh, relevant, and unique content created by YOU. This takes time. Lots of time. If you’re lucky, your content gets picked up. More likely, it gets lost in an ocean of mindless, self-absorbed chatter crying “Look at ME. Look at ME!”
Those who are young and full of energy are used to living life online. Their self-esteem is linked to the number of likes each post receives. To them, creating a social media presence is no big deal. I have coached quite a few people for whom voice-overs is a second or third career. They’re in their fifties or sixties, and to them building a website and being active on social media is intimidating and often frustrating. It’s not what they signed up for when they dreamt of being an audio book narrator.
They want to try it the old-fashioned way: cold calling clients. It’s the most masochistic way to spend your day. With people being sick of unwanted solicitation and robocalls, good luck trying to get past the screener before you can read your script to some teenager who is in charge of promotions. These days, more and more people refuse to answer the phone if they don’t recognize the number. If you love listening to voicemail and pissing people off, go for it!
So, let’s quickly recap. Why is doing voice-overs so difficult?
Last week I told you it is hard to sound natural in an unnatural situation, and to act as if you’re not acting. You need much more than a great voice to make it.
Today we talked about running a business, finding work, and self-promotion.
Next week I’ll add another layer: dealing with constant uncertainty.
PPS Bob Souer, one of the nicest people in the voice-over community, has had a tough year. He has asked for our help to turn a corner and move ahead. Through the years, Bob has supported many of us with his wisdom and insight. Now it is time we support him and his family. Please visit his GoFundMe page, and give what you can give. Thank you!
One of the joys of visiting Facebook voice-over groups is this. Every day, you’ll find questions from VO-colleagues that have been asked and answered a gazillion times. In most cases, the person asking the question is new to VO (yet they’re on the Voice-Over Professionals group), and simply too lazy to do a quick search, and they want to be spoon-fed like a cry-baby.
This is not unique to VO, by the way. You’ll find the same phenomenon in almost any group on social media. In this age of information, laziness,willful ignorance, and an attitude of entitlement is alive and well!
Now, I can already hear my critics say: “Stop it already! There’s no need to bash beginners. Be supportive. You were a novice once. I’m sure a lot of people helped you out when you were new to this.”
True, but things were very different when I first stepped up to the microphone. This happened in 1980 (yes, I’m that old). I was seventeen when a national broadcaster picked me to produce and present youth radio shows in the Netherlands. I had lots of ideas, but no clue about how to bring those ideas to the airwaves.
Back then, everybody was using typewriters, rotary phones, and Rolodexes. There was no Internet to do research. No social media. No YouTube tutorials. No place like Quora to share knowledge. I totally depended on the information I was able to dig up myself, and on the help from those who were already working in the business.
I still have the same attitude I had when I was young. Before I would bother a pro, I would do everything in my power to find the answers myself. I did this out of respect for the experts’ time, and out of respect for myself.
Looking back, my quest for knowledge taught me more than the quick-and-easy answers the pros could have given me. To this day I am convinced that when we’re on a journey to find our own solutions, the knowledge tends to stick much better because we’re invested in the process.
I see this as a coach. My students ask predictable questions all the time. “Should I record sitting down or standing up? How do I protect my voice? What’s the best voice-over travel kit? Where can I find practice scripts? PC or Mac?”
It would be easy for me to answer these questions based on my experience. But what works for me, doesn’t necessarily work for the rest of the world. Voice-overs is not a one-size-fits-all business. My job is to make sure the individual I am coaching finds something that caters to his or her unique needs and budget.
If I were to give them all the answers on a silver platter, I’d make my students lazy and dependent, but if I send them on a quest, they’d have to do the work, and depend on themselves. Don’t get me wrong: I won’t send them on a wild goose chase. Like a tour guide, I point them in a certain direction, but they have to explore the area by themselves and report back to me. Why is this important?
We live in a time of algorithms. Algorithms determine what pops up in your Facebook feed. Algorithms decide what products Amazon thinks you should buy. Algorithms suggest which people to befriend, and which jobs you should go after. In an ocean of information, cutting-edge technology beyond our control filters what reaches us and what doesn’t. We are being spoon-fed by artificial intelligence.
As fascinating as this new technology may be, I believe people should use their own initiative and intelligence to gather and evaluate information first. I want them to become critical, knowledgeable voters, consumers, and professionals who are able and ready to make their own choices. You don’t need Netflix to tell you what you want to watch.
A word of warning. Our society doesn’t necessarily like these independent thinkers, because they don’t conform to the norm. These people question what’s being presented to them, and refuse to be manipulated. They don’t buy into hypes, they’re not impressed by assumed authority, and tend not to fall for schemes that take advantage of the willfully ignorant.
This pro-active, non-conformist, and critical mindset is exactly what I’d like my students, colleagues, and readers to develop. As more and more people flood the freelance market, it is vitally important to question the easy answers, to not do what everybody does, and to be the instigator of our own success.
This mindset alone will make you stand out, and increase your chances in the unregulated world of voice acting. Why is that? Because so many people are afraid to be different, so many people love the reward but don’t want to do the work, and so many believe BS because they can’t distinguish between fact and fiction.
You don’t want to be like so many people.
So, the next time you feel tempted to answer one of those common questions on social media, ask yourself the following:
“Will a baby ever learn to walk, if we carry her everywhere?”
“Is it better to teach a new colleague how to fish, or do we feed him a fish?”
“Are we really helping this person by spoon-feeding them information, or are we enabling a lazy attitude that is counterproductive to a successful career?”
Three years ago, two aspiring voice-overs took the plunge, and opened up shop.
One was incredibly talented, undisciplined, and thought he always knew best. The other one wasn’t as good, but she was business-savvy, and listened to feedback.
36 months later, number one is now an Uber-driver, entertaining his clients with celebrity impressions. Number two is starting to make a living… as a voice talent.
What went wrong, and what went right? Was it a matter of luck, attitude, or preparation?
Simply put, it takes more than talent to make it as a freelancer, no matter what field you pick. Way more. Let’s explore.
INVESTING IN YOU
Here’s a question for you.
If I were an investor on Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den, and you came to me with a pitch to back your business, what would I be looking for?
Number one: I’d look for your ability to make me money. By the way: that happens to be the same reason why agents sign you, and clients hire you.
Think about that for a minute.
You may believe that you’re doing what you’re doing to make money for yourself. If that’s the case, I have news for you.
Your clients don’t care whether or not you turn a profit. Your clients don’t want to know how much you spent on that new microphone or revamped website. All they are interested in, is this:
“Will your voice help me spread my message so I can make more money?”
Even if you happen to work with a non-profit, it’s always a matter of benefits and costs. The benefits of hiring you should outweigh how much your clients pay. If that’s the case, those clients will perceive you as an asset, and not as an expense.
MAKING YOUR PITCH
There’s a lot of psychology in selling, but it starts with this: in a competitive market you have to offer a competitive product. Something that’s different, or better than what’s already on the shelves.
If you’re providing a service like voice-over narration, you better bring it from day one. Don’t jump into the ocean if you barely know how to swim. Amateurs learn on the job, and they get eaten alive. Professionals know what they’re doing, and they’re able to survive.
In the Shark Tank as well as in real life, you’d need to bring something to the table that’s rather unique; a brilliant solution to a common problem, sold at the right price. Yes, you heard me. As one of the investors, I would expect you to know what you’re worth and charge accordingly.
Mark my words: Those who sell themselves short, aren’t taken seriously.
You’d also have to demonstrate what sets you apart from the competition. You have to come up with a solid marketing plan, and convince me why I should trust you.
It’s also important that you present your plans compellingly and logically, particularly under pressure. The reason is simple. If you cannot sell yourself, how will you ever sell your service, especially if you are the embodiment of that service?
LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS
Lastly, you’d have to show me your books.
Some freelancers think this is the boring stuff, but to me, this is where things get interesting.
No matter what business you’re in, the way you manage your money is one of the most important predictors of success. You may have the most enchanting voice in the world, but if you don’t price for profit, and you spend more than you make without even knowing it, you may end up driving for Uber.
Your balance sheet needs to reflect a few other things as well:
a keen sense of organization,
an aptitude for making intelligent investments, and
an ability to control costs.
If it’s okay with you, I want to talk about the last two things I just mentioned: investing in your business, and controlling how much you spend. Today I’ll talk a bit about spending. Next week I’ll show you a few of my favorite ways to save.
WHERE TO PUT YOUR MONEY
No matter what some people want you to believe, you cannot run a profitable voice-over business on a shoestring budget. It starts with getting the proper training. Clients pay you because they trust that you know what you’re doing. They don’t expect you to figure it out on the fly and on their dime.
Just as a carpenter needs quality tools to deliver quality work, you need to have equipment that says you’re taking this voice-over thing seriously. Otherwise, you’re nothing more than a hopeful hobbyist talking into a stupid snowball microphone.
Now, if you’re just getting started, here’s something you probably don’t want to hear: without a dedicated, isolated, and acoustically treated recording space, you’re not going to make enough money to stay afloat.
When a client calls, or there’s an audition, you need to be able to jump into your booth and press “record.” Otherwise the client will go somewhere else, and you’ll be last in line for that audition. You really can’t afford to wait until your neighbor stops using his snow blower, or until that barking bulldog finally falls asleep.
An expensive microphone in a bad recording space won’t sound half as good as a cheaper microphone in a treated environment. I think you get the point. Looking back at my career, building a home studio was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. It has paid for itself many times over, and frankly, I wish I’d done it earlier.
THE INVISIBLE EQUALIZER
Another investment you should make, is an investment in something invaluable that cannot be bought or rented. You can’t taste it, or touch it. Yet, everyone is using it every day (some to greater effect than others).
I’m talking about Time.
The success or failure of your business greatly depends on how you spend your time. First of all, give yourself time to become good at what you want to do. Cultivate your craft. Don’t rush it. There’s a lot more to doing voice-overs than most people think. And just because it sounds easy, doesn’t mean it is.
Time is all about goals and priorities. We usually get things done that are important to us. People tend to get their “musts,” but not their “shoulds.”
In a past profession, I interviewed many people who were considered to be a success. Politicians, captains of industry, and entertainers. Most of them were incredibly busy, but they were really good at planning, or had someone else do the planning for them. That way, they made the most out of every day.
These people were just like you and me, but they didn’t spend hours checking Facebook, or watching soap operas. What struck me most was their tremendous power to prioritize, delegate, and focus. Whatever they were doing at a particular moment, had their full attention.
So, if you wish to learn from those who are where you want to be, don’t ask them about the moment they knew they wanted to be a voice-over.
Don’t ask them about the silliest thing that ever happened to them in a studio.
Ask them how they spend their time, and learn from it.
This will help you get ready for the Shark Tank that is your professional life.
Three years from now, it might make the difference between working a dream job, or driving a cab.
Something 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, unrealistic, elitist, 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 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.
“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?
Those who fail to build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.
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