Spotlight on Running your Voice Over Business – Professional Tips
Occasionally a voice actor will have a knack for business, or a business background or be uber organized and love to tick boxes as much as they love to explore character and performing stories. But more often than not, voice over actors fall short in the running-my-own-business category. If this is the weakest link in your biz chain, this post is for you.
Full disclosure: I suck at paperwork. It’s something I push myself to do. There’s often an amount of inner conflict, kicking, and teeth gnashing, but hey, as my kids used to say when faced with unpleasant chores, “ya gotta do what ya gotta do.” So, I did what I had to do. My own quarterly and annual taxes. My own marketing (which was my fav part of the business end of the business as I always saw it as an outlet for creativity). My own payments to suppliers, subcontractors and agents. Until a few years ago, when my rate of incoming work exceeded my available hours in a week (it was getting up to 80 – which is unsustainable) and my husband quit his job and stepped in to run my voiceover business with me. Happy day! A former small business owner (19 employees) with a BCom himself, he came with all the bells and whistles I did not. Here are professional tips I’ve learned from him on how to best run your voice over business.
The Key Players on Your Voice Business Team
Though it may feel like you are doing everything alone as a solopreneur, there are some key players that you can add to Team-YOU early to help move your business forward, and some that you’ll add later as you bring in more work to voice and have less time to devote to other aspects of your business. Here are some to consider:
Keep in mind that your agent is a business partner – they are in business to make money with you – if you earn, they earn. So this relationship needs to be symbiotic, or at the very least a B2B equal partnership. Communication with your agent or agents is a key ingredient in that relationship. The better they understand your business – where you’re booking, what genres are your jam, who you’re training with, what workshops you’re attending – the better equipped they are to sell your services to buyers who are looking for voice talent. Let them know about your latest achievements and new goals.
Cash Flow Note: Often the client is billed by the agent, who will then collect the money, assess their commission and then pay the remainder out to you, the talent. This can mean your expected payment schedule may have additional time added to it for that processing. Be aware of that time-table when accounting for when that money will actually get to you. Also, if your arrangement is to collect from the client and then pay your agent, be cognizant of their cash flow expectations and be transparent about your collections and payments to them.
According to Investopedia, “Subcontracting is the practice of assigning, or outsourcing, part of the obligations and tasks under a contract to another party known as a subcontractor. Subcontracting is especially prevalent in areas where complex projects are the norm, such as construction and information technology.”
In the voice over industry, this would include people you hire out for audio editing, video editing, translation, website hosting services or any ancillary services you offer. Sometimes this includes other voice over talent – if you offer casting services or have lists you provide clients of talent for jobs in languages you do not speak.
CashFlow Note: Keep in mind, many of us expect to be paid right away. I can’t argue, it’s best. But the rest of the world operates on “net” – which can be 15 days net, 30 or occasionally 60. Union payment schedule is net 30 days and then late fees. The key here is to be transparent and clear about payment terms and when they can expect to be paid.
A pure business to business (B2B) relationship, a supplier is an entity that supplies goods and services to another organization. In voice over, this can include Pay to plays, marketplace memberships (including Union dues), subscriptions like Dropbox, We Transfer, Source Connect, Adobe.
CashFlow Note: Make sure you’re paying attention to your usage, especially with tools and services you subscribe to, but perhaps aren’t utilizing. This can be a large outflow with no benefit to your business. For example, I had a LinkedIn Pro account that I wasn’t using but was paying for to the tune of $60 a month! Buh-bye.
Cash Flow (Money In, Money Out)
Ok, so I’ve mentioned a couple of “CashFlow Notes” and you may be wondering what that means. Cash Flow is all money that comes in and out of your business. In order for your business to be profitable, you have to make sure more money comes in than goes out. Because of the nature of the voice over business, you may have some income on a regular, trackable schedule and other income from new or one-off projects that you’ll need to stay on top of and plan for when that money will hit your account. More often out-flows are more regular (monthly subscriptions, weekly coaching sessions, etc.) so planning for income to cover those expenses is paramount.
Invoicing and Getting Paid
It is important to invoice as soon as possible after the job is done. Remember that you are likely one of many vendors billing them and waiting to send invoices until some time after the job can lead to confusion and disorganization. Do everything you can to be professional and help your client stay on top of their account payables. Be sure to include the job description, date, PO numbers or any invoicing specifics the client has requested. If provided one, use the client’s format for invoicing and make sure you have the correct person to address the invoice to (the person who hired you may not be the person responsible for paying you). Ed keeps a running template of repeat customers and companies that have specific needs for invoicing – as your business grows, you need to be organized and keep systems to streamline your time.
Speaking of systems, when money comes in, have a system for noting the invoice and the client who paid you. It is a smart business practice to have some way (accounting software, spreadsheet, a CRM – I happen to use VoiceOverView, etc) to know what you’ve invoiced and what you’ve been paid for every job from every client.
Keep in mind that your clients will have varying payment terms (try to establish this upfront when quoting the job) – some will pay right away, some will stretch it out 30/60/90 days. If the client has missed the agreed upon payment due date, don’t cut them out as customers. In this very freelance business, you have to be flexible and adapt. Communication is key here.
Should payment become extremely delayed, remember that collection is persistence. Some VO artists feel very uncomfortable getting demanding after payments are overdue. But this is a business, so when invoices are overdue by more than 90 days, how do you collect? Ed sends weekly emails, then daily emails, then threatens to put them on voiceover red flags. If you booked the work on a P2P, while they won’t actively collect on your behalf, they may block them from posting future jobs until yours is resolved. I confess I suck at this. Before my husband got involved, I had $40K in over-90-days-collectibles. Now, it’s maybe $400, if that.
Marketing Your Voice Over Business
Marketing your voice over business is a never-ending activity. So to be effective, know your wheelhouse reads and focus your energy there first. Focus on where you have the best chance of booking work to get the most return on your marketing efforts. Pay attention to niche voice markets and make sure that the marketing strategy you select serves your niche. If the majority of your target clients live on LinkedIn, why spend marketing energy on Instagram? Also be aware that just because a market segment is hot (i.e. political in 2020 or elearning in the Covid-19 environment) doesn’t mean you should spend a lot of energy there. Do they share any space in the Venn diagram of the market segments in your wheelhouse? If not, your time is better spent marketing elsewhere.
Some excellent marketing advisors in the voice over world are David Tyler, Marc Scott, Jonathan Tilley, Tracy Lindlay, Anne Ganguzza and Sophia Cruz, to name a few. (Forgive me any VO marketing friends I overlooked here – these are the ones that are currently top of my mind)
Though finding ways to introduce yourself to the ever growing market of buyers (through agents, P2Ps, direct marketing, etc.) is a primary building block of your business, once you begin to book work, the care and nurturing of your existing clients is your top marketing priority. Provide excellent customer service with honest communications, professional interactions and a “how can I be of service” mindset. This can lead to real relationships with clients, once you’ve worked together and taken interest in each other’s lives, but be selective. I have become friends with a few clients over the years. Ones where our common interests and take on as aspects of our shared industry led to interaction outside of our professional relationship – but that’s rare. Authenticity is key in building trust with a client, but focus on always being professional.
Know Your Value When Quoting Prices
I cannot say this enough – know the market prices for your voice over services. There are some great rate guides out there so use the tools created. Know your value. Are you always giving discounts when requested? Remember you’re not running a charity, you’re running a business designed to put food on your table. And when customers are accustomed to getting discounts because you’re willing to drop your rates too quickly it will be very difficult to move them back up to your standard rates and you’ll always be working for them for less money. It is best to understand what the market rates are and know why you charge what you charge – factor in your experience, the cost of your setup and gear, the overhead of running your business including healthcare and taxes. Devaluing your services just creates a race to the bottom. It is impossible to stay in business this way.
A couple notes about how you communicate with clients. First, I will say again, you are a BUSINESS, so having a weird business email or PayPal name sends a message that you don’t take your business seriously. You’re dealing with business people, so unless you’re in animation or unicorns (Helo Jenn) are your brand, then firstname.lastname@example.org may bring you a chuckle, but will make it confusing to the person who is trying to pay you.
Second, some people send thank you notes or promo items after jobs. I never have. I feel a little uncomfortable doing that. You’ve given them a service sending a thank you gift makes it seem like perhaps you overcharged, or like a bribe for them to hire you again. To my mind, it sends a message that is not professional. If it’s part of your brand – that’s your choice, but I question whether it is seen as businesslike. Gifts at Christmas or Thanksgiving are different – many businesses send a holiday greeting as a customer appreciation gesture. And a branded promotional item in a promotion, again, is different. But a gift after doing a job? Personally, I wouldn’t.