I had an interesting conversation today with a friend who is a radio programming consultant. He was asking about my radio imaging work, and made this comment: “That’s gotta be a frustrating thing.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, because, when a consultant gets hired by a radio station one of the very first things we recommend to change is the imaging. It’s the easiest thing to change and it quickly produces a recognizable difference to the client and the audience.”
That started me thinking. There are certain vulnerabilities that voice talents must endure. Several actually. But there are four that I can think of that seem to really take their toll on us.
1. It is really hard to establish ourselves as part of a company’s team.
The very nature of our business makes us a simple, disembodied voice for most of our clients. Then when a client decides to make some changes, we often become an expendable part of the change. It’s not personal. In fact it’s quite impersonal. We usually have no dynamic relationship with the client other than just being a service provider, so they have no loyalty or consideration for us. It’s business. That’s just the way it is.
But the good news is that we can work harder and smarter to build those relationships. It takes time and energy. And creativity. But it certainly can happen.
2. How we market.
Too many of us confuse sales with marketing. For most of us, our first connection with a potential client is essentially a sales call, whether it be an email, snail mail, a phone call, or whatever. It doesn’t work very well, does it? No wonder the closing rate on those sort of approaches is usually no more than about 1 to 2%, if we’re lucky. That’s a very perverted concept of marketing.
Marketing is what you do to get to the sale. That involves a lot of research, discovery, timing, and connection. The old adage that you are always selling yourself is quite cliché, and downright wrong. In reality, you can never really sell yourself until you’ve done your marketing. Marketing takes time. Lots of time and attention.
Marketing begins with you “selling the client to yourself.” In other words, you have to determine if that particular client is right for you, and do you really have what that client needs. Do you believe that you are the best answer for that client’s needs?
One of the problems with that is that usually, in our business, the client often doesn’t know what their needs are because they don’t have their next project. And chances are that they’ve already selected a voice for their current project, or have a stable of voices that they are already comfortable with. So your marketing requires the research to determine the probability of whether or not that client may eventually need you. That’s a pretty vague premise on which to build a sales strategy! It may work if the client does the same sort of projects time after time (such as automotive commercials or specific eLearning genres), but what if the client’s demands change with every project?
I don’t know of any client that hires a voice because they want that voice. They hire a voice because they perceive that they need that voice for their project. So until they need your voice, you have nothing to sell! Marketing is the art of finding clients that need your voice. And there is no way that you can discover that until you’ve done your homework about what the client does, how the client works, who the client likes to work with, when the client chooses a new voice, and how the client makes that decision. And even with that knowledge, you haven’t even started selling your services.
Some may think, “Oh, I think I’ll just join a Pay To Play site and let them send me clients that are ready to hire me.” Yeah, good luck with that. About the only advantage that I can think of that a Pay To Play site might have is one where you can actually interact with the client and build a relationship…and then someday perhaps the client will be ready to use your voice. But if you’ve already gotten caught in the bidding war of cattle calls, you’ve probably already undersold yourself to the client that may or may not consider you. Again, remember, successful marketing and selling is based on need. It’s pretty tough to audition for a potential client that you know little to nothing about, with only some vague instructions about what they’re looking for, and they have no clue about who you are and what you really bring to the table.
Let me recommend that if you are going to use a Pay To Play site you avoid the bidding wars and ONLY audition and work with clients that have set rates. In my experience, those clients have a much better understanding of value and are far more professional in their business.
Until Pay to Play sites offer the “Set Rate only” option to their talents and clients, they’re just accelerating the race to the bottom on talent rates. You’re foolish to get into the bidding game. Bidding wars say a LOT about the client, the Pay 2 Play site, and you.
Set rates are one of the reasons I appreciate agents and true casting sites so much. No legitimate talent agent or casting agent puts jobs out to bid.
Trust me, I’ve heard the argument from both talents and Pay to Play site owners: “Hey, we’re just offering clients and talents the opportunity to work together at a rate that they will both be happy.” If you want to buy into that concept, then let an agent negotiate the rate for you. Don’t be your own negotiator. And if you feel you can’t find an agent, start researching casting agents and/or sites that will do the negotiation for you and work with them. Or find a VO manager (one with great connections to talent agencies and brand clients).
By the way, a growing trend in voiceover online services is casting sites. There are some that are legit, but be careful. Anyone can call himself or herself a casting agent, and they’ll be happy to take your money. A legitimate casting agent doesn’t charge for listing you. They take a percentage if they negotiate a project for you either directly or through your agent, but they don’t charge upfront. And some will also charge the end client a fee or percentage.
3. We try to be all things to all people.
Stop it. You are not good at everything. If you are going to carve out a niche for yourself in this business, you are going to have to be one of the best at what you do. Not just good. Not just great. But the best. The best clients hire the best talent. That doesn’t mean they pay the most money. That means that unless you are one of the best at what you do, you are little more than a hobbyist in that genre, and are probably not even going to be considered. You’re generallywasting your time.
Take your anger at me about that and channel it to find out what you are the best at. And capitalize on that!
What are your possibilities? Well, just look at some of the genres in the voiceover world:
Commercials (and even in this category there are countless sub-categories).
Explainer Videos (the short narrations that companies use on their websites to introduce new products or instruct consumers on how to use them).
Corporate Narrations (the narrations that companies use to explain or introduce their services).
eLearning (which uses everything from announcers to characters to the tune of billions of dollars a year).
Gaming (demanding an incredible range of character voices).
Telephony (what company doesn’t need this?).
Public Announcements (everything from in-store announcements to museums, to public transportation, to emergency services, to live announcing at conventions, etc).
I’m sure I’ve missed some, so please feel free to add in the comments.
4. Our productivity.
This ranges from the way we handle business, to our equipment, all the way to how we prepare and improve our craft. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Add to that the complexities of the demand of advertisers and their agencies, and it can be intimidating and even disheartening.
So what can you do about your vulnerabilities?
Well, there are blogs and more blogs written on that subject. And there are coaches and more coaches that can give you insight and help you focus on that. But I want to recap these thoughts with four things that you can start doing today.
A. Start by building up relationships with your current clients. You already have established a connection there. Build on it. Eventually, if you do it right, you’ll have them on your side even to the point of becoming your advocate to help you find new clients.
B. Study marketing. Learn WHY and HOW to market. Your local community college no doubt has a few courses on this right now. There are plenty of eLearning courses on marketing that you can take at home. I’ve even noticed a few voiceover people offering marketing courses and services (I have no idea how effectual those are, but we shall see).
C. Research yourself. What VO genres are you best at? Not that you can’t develop and improve in other areas, but what are you really good at? Start marketing yourself in that arena.
D. Create a DPA – Daily Productivity Agenda. Go ahead, write down a daily activity list of what you have to do be more productive. Put it on your schedule and do it! Every day.
My DPA tends to change from day to day, but I’ve found that certain days seem to require the same agenda; for example Mondays. But every day I put in 30 minutes to an hour of marketing work. Every day I put in time to get coaching or to review recent coaching sessions. Every day I have a financial goal, and I stay in the studio until I achieve that goal, or realize that it is impossible to reach that goal that day. And by the way, I also permit myself to take the rest of the day off when I reach my goal if I am able to do so. And finally, every day I spend about 30 minutes researching and reviewing what’s going on in the VO world.
This is a tough business. It’s competitive, frustrating, sometimes disheartening, and often lonely. Let’s face it: you’re on your own. That, in and of itself is another vulnerability.
But good careers are being made out of this work. The people who study it and learn what works and doesn’t work will survive it. It takes heart. It takes determination. It takes passion. It takes knowledge. Of course it takes some talent and a few breaks. But overcoming your vulnerabilities will insulate and strengthen you in your drive to succeed.
Go get it!