Having a successful career as a professional voice over isn’t just about the craft of voice acting . In Voiceover, it’s mostly dependent on your business sense, and ability to manage your business. And if you’re newer to voice over and unless you’re earning more than $100,000 per year, in most cases you won’t be able to afford to hire a manager to handle your business details as a voice talent . So that means, running a successful professional voice over services business is up to you!
The bottom line is, you must be making enough money to retain a healthy enough profit margin to maintain and grow your professional voice over career.
You’ve probably heard the grim statistics. Most new businesses close down within one to 3 years. I strongly suggest you have a road map, such as a business plan. Revise your business plan as often as necessary, and do so at least every eighteen months. The way the voice acting business has changed and morphed, and with the constant infusion of new voice talent to the space, even if you’re an experienced voice over actor you must keep up with trends in professional voiceover and voice acting, auditioning, digital audio delivery and more. Just the last five years’ transition has been mind-numbing.
So You wanna be an entrepreneur
You’ve no doubt heard or have already learned that a business owner wears many hats. Running a successful enterprise is similar to running a marathon. You need to be in for the long haul!
In our field, we’re the product, the voice-over artist, talent, director, producer, editor, creative writer, the procurement officer, actor, accountant, trouble-shooter, marketer, designer, social media networking pro, bill collector, and the list goes on. Show business is really about 10% “show” and 90% business!
Many ask me whether or not it’s necessary for a VO talent to have some kind of legal and organizational structure. Like any business, there are options. There’s the “C” corporation, the “S” Corp, LLC, and partnerships. Each is very different.
I feel setting up a business structure should be best discussed FIRST with a professional, like your CPA to see if your financial dispostition of your voiceover business warrants it. Then consult an attorney. My CPA is worth his weight in gold. I actually consider him part of my management team, and consult with him on weighty matters. Any lawyer will advise you to do whatever is possible, and will do what you wish, for a sizeable fee. Weigh the pros and cons. I’ve incorporated a C Corp for a different company, and hired an attorney handle it. It can be cumbersome and costly to properly maintain necessary records, set up tax and payment entities and execute everything by the book. Yes, you’ll have the cloak of liability protection, in a C Corp, the S Corp and LLC/LLP to a degree…but really… At what cost? And why? Unless you are making over $100,000/year, and or unscrupulously, blatantly plagiarizing ad copy and pirating music and sound effects, or if you have a studio where clients come and go regularly, I suggest your liability exposure is practically nil.
The attorney fees and business liability insurance, hiring a CPA to file special tax returns…… Other than bragging rights- I feel it’s unnecessary, unless you are making so much money you can no longer manage the enterprise by yourself, and you need peeps to help..
But what I suggest we do is spend time on is the importance of the nuts and bolts… the organizational aspect of a professional voice over company, and any well-operating business. . Any successful business is highly organized. In order to become organized, you need the proper tools, coupled with the right mindset and discipline. When you are organized you can focus, and run at peak efficiency, and make a profit. Once you’re making money, you can move forward, gain momentum, and make a profit. You’ll notice I’m focused on profitability!
Note: Just because you just made $25 on a message on hold gig doesn’t mean you’re making a profit!
Now a few words about rates for voice talent work if you’re not working with an agent.
Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s , many used to advise writing “negotiable” on job payment expectations.
Is your approach still valid?
Obviously the voice over talent is a bit stressed to be walking the tightrope, trying to avoid losing out on voice-over jobs and avoiding the position of selling him/herself short.
And the clients, many still emerging from “the great recession” want to hire the most qualified individuals at the lowest cost possible. This has not changed.
What has changed is the increase in competition and lower priced voice talent, the availability of pricing information via social networks and voiceover pay to play sites and easy low cost of entry into voice over. With helpful places like the vo-bb, SAG-AFTRA online contract rates and some higher-profile play to play sites , a voice over marketplace, prevailing rates are free for the taking with a voiceover rate sheet . You can also look up the types of jobs and corresponding price ranges the company has previously posted there . What makes me cringe are some of the virtual “dollar a holler” sites or solicitations for free VOs on the other extreme. Won’t go there!
It makes sense that voice over talents should never take up precious time to audition and craft a proposal without doing their homework. You can readily glean from the company’s website or find the company at LinkedIn, or check out their Facebook fan pages, or you can also get information the old-fashioned way; by talking to friends in the business, and those who’ve already worked with the company that wants to hire you.
Of course if you’re working a union job, none of this applies unless you’re a voice talent working over scale.
Know your numbers!
In most cases, the VO who does the research will determine if a job is in the right price range for him/her.
Be aware of the word count of the job. A narration project that pays $250 may look tempting at first blush. But simple research and math may indicate that the job has 9000 words. If the normal pace of speech runs 136-165 words per minute, a 9000 word script will finish at about one plus hour total running time. After you’ve recorded most of the time you’ll be requested to edit out mistakes and render finished audio. Most voiceover/ editors take anywhere from 2-4+ times the initial recording time to record and edit the finished audio.
Next, calculate your time in motion. Your time in motion or work per hour may amaze and illuminate where you’re at right now. Do you know what your cost per hour is to merely hang your shingle and call yourself a professional voice talent? Don’t forget to add how much you’ll need to make per hour to pay for your other total costs, aside from “talent fee”.
Consider your cost of doing business to include advertising & marketing, utilities, cost of space, insurance, utilities, telephone, internet, training, etc. Don’t forget equipment depreciation (computers, mics, hardware, software, office machines, ISDN, are also amortized expenses, adding to the cost of doing business.
A Suggestion: Sometimes there’s a price range listed for a job on the VO “pay to play” sites, like $250-500. If after your research, you feel the range for the scope of the project is something you can live with, try proposing the midpoint. In my experience, the clients’ expectations really mean the lower end of the range.
An agent may send you an audition and it’s not in your price range, or if the specs don’t match your strengths, take a pass! Find alternative ways to spend your time productively, like updating and sending out your demos or something else that will move your business forward.
Find a way to make a profit, and maintain it!
Never sell yourself short. You may find yourself going out of business and not even know it.