These days, “Voiceovers” is big business…from a number of perspectives.
With the technological barriers to entering the field disappearing day by day, more people than ever before are trying their hand at it. So while there are thousands of newly-minted talent looking to drum up some business for themselves, there are also scores of people eager to help those eager newcomers find their way through the wilderness.
Unfortunately, some of these trail guides are more concerned with their own fiscal health than with helping you develop your craft and your career. And that’s all the more reason to make sure that you know the lay of the land, and are fully equipped and prepared to blaze your own trail.
Be warned: anyone who tells you that they can guarantee your success as a professional voiceover talent is lying. And likely has a book, weekend seminar or other voiceover training “system” to sell you. That’s not to say that all voiceover coaches and authors are liars – far from it – but the ones who fill their promotional materials with superlatives like FOOLPROOF, SIMPLE, CASH IN ON YOUR VOICE or MAKE BIG MONEY aren’t likely to have your best interests at heart.
On the other hand, anyone who tells you that you can increase your chances of success through hard work, perseverance, and appropriate training, is someone with a much more reasonable approach.
So if it’s impossible to ensure success in the voiceover world, what can you do to increase your odds? Lots of things.
And you can start by approaching your voiceover career as a business. That one step will put you miles ahead of the masses of people who flock to the industry looking for a quick way to make easy money. After all, as my friend and fellow voice talent Bob Souer is fond of saying, “Voiceover is a great way to make a living, but it’s a terrible way to make a living quickly.”
You will, in fact, be running a small business. And due to some pretty significant changes in the voiceover industry over the last decade, successful talent often find that they need to be responsible for things they’ve never had to deal with before, including business planning, accounting, negotiating rates, collections, studio design, computer backup strategies, marketing, branding, web site design and maintenance, blogging, Social Media and more. You know…the things that businesses have to deal with.
And whether you do Network Television Promos, radio commercials, E-Learning or audio books, the basic requirements are the same. So I’ve tried to put together a list of resources that can benefit everyone from beginners to pros.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to include everything, so if a favorite of yours is missing from the list, please mention it in the comments below, and I’ll add it to the list as necessary.
In all but a few categories, I purposely avoided web sites and resources that are specifically intended for voiceover talent, hoping that a bird’s-eye view of the business side of things would be more effective for you. Let’s get started.
1. Will I Be a Good Entrepreneur?
It’s best to start at the beginning, so it’s important to know if the business of the business is something you’re well suited for. To help you decide, check out 25 Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs from Entrepreneur Magazine.
Inc. Magazine has a similar take on the entrepreneurial spirit, but they’ve narrowed it down to 9 Qualities of Remarkable Entrepreneurs. Or try the entrepreneur’s quiz Are You Tough Enough? from Success.com.
2. Who Needs a Business Plan?
The founders of 37Signals, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson wrote a book called REWORK, in which they say that “long-term business planning is a fantasy.” Here’s just a bit of their perspective:
“Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses. Start referring to your business plans as business guesses, your financial plans as financial guesses, and your strategic plans as strategic guesses. Now you can stop worrying about them as much. They just aren’t worth the stress.”
However, if you’re more comfortable with a “plan the work, work the plan” approach, you’ll find some helpful tips and templates from the U.S. Small Business Administration which will help you generate a business plan.
3. Accounting & Day-to-Day Productivity
Accounting & Taxes
Choosing the right accountant is never easy, especially if your income is a mix of W-2s, 1099s and other obscure tax designations. The right account can make navigating the ever-changing tax code a breeze. But the wrong account? Well, let’s not even go there.
Of course, you can always handle the financial side of things yourself. Mint.com “brings all your financial accounts together online or on your mobile device, automatically categorizes your transactions, lets you set budgets and helps you achieve your savings goals.”
A more streamlined option, and one that I’ve used for years, is FreshBooks.com to handle my invoicing. They bill themselves as “The #1 Cloud Accounting Specialist for Small Business Owners.” Their cloud-based service will make invoicing, expense logging and time-tracking (not to mention tax time) a breeze. And lately, I’ve been using their mobile app to send invoices right from the studio.
Expensify helps you keep track of receipts and expenses. As soon as you make a purchase, just grab a quick photo of the receipt and the Expensify app saves and organizes it for you. You can also email receipts right into Expensify for hassle-free tracking.
Fans of efficiency and clutter-free desks love Shoeboxed. Basically, they store your receipts, business cards, and various business documents in an online filing cabinet. Just send or scan your docs, and they’ll turn piles of business cards and receipts into contact lists, accounting entries and expense reports.
The best of these services include all of the features you need, and none that you don’t. And while some are more comprehensive than others, most will handle invoicing, estimates (proposals), and at least some form of contact management. Some options include Invoice.com, Quickbooks, Wave Accounting, Harvest, b2bee.com, Ronin, Billings, Bamboo Invoice (open source) SimplyBill and Xero.
Voiceover rates can be all over the road. And while discussing rates may not always be easy, there are plenty of ways to lighten the load. If you’re well prepared, rates won’t be an uncomfortable part of your next negotiation. This article from Patrick McNeil will help put things in perspective Discover the Sweet Spot for Winning Freelance Work. You may also appreciate 5 Ways to Strategically Price Your Freelance Rates.
After you and your client have negotiated a rate, and the audio’s been recorded and delivered, it’s always possible that you won’t get paid as quickly as you’d like. Larry Keltto’s invoice collection track record is unbelievable (1,235 out of 1,236 – 99.92%) and he offers some levelheaded advice here: Solopreneur Collection Tips.
There’s also a brand new service that’s designed specifically to give you peace of mind when it comes to invoicing and collections. In-voiced.com specializes in helping freelance talent get paid. They’ve got a “Pay-as-You-Go” service ($5 per invoice) that you can use for occasional, overdue payments, and a monthly plan ($25) that you can use for all of your invoicing and collections. But their highest level of service connects you with a negotiation consultant, who will help you determine the right rate for individual gigs, and even negotiate with your client on your behalf. Oh, and since you’re wondering, yes, their consultants have decades of major voiceover talent agency and management experience that they’ll put to work for you.
For many of the voiceover talent I know – and for solopreneurs in general – productivity can be a challenge. For me, it has a lot to do with my diagnosis of CSS: Chronic “Squirrel!” Syndrome. My mind will be humming along, working on whatever project is at hand, when suddenly, some idea darts across the periphery of my consciousness, and 20 minutes later, I realize that I’ve totally neglected the project I sat down to work on in the first place.
Unfortunately, I haven’t come up with a cure for my CSS yet, but I have found some ways to make the best use of my well-focused time:
Workflowy. My Aussie friend, and fellow voice talent Matt Cowlrick introduced me to Workflowy a few months ago, and I’ve been using it ever since. Some may consider Workflowy more of a note-taking app than a to-do list, but its magic is in its flexibility. And better still, the Workflowy learning curve is almost non-existent. It’s elegantly simple to use.
Todoist. The minimalist design of this web-based service can be deceiving. Todoist works perfectly well for simple lists, but there’s plenty more horsepower under the hood. Projects can be broken down into sub-projects, tasks and sub-tasks. Projects can be color-coded, and Todoist even integrates with plenty of other platforms.
Wunderlist. Easily the prettiest to-do solution, Wunderlist won’t judge whether you’re Mac or PC, iPhone or Android. It just wants you to be happy. Build your list on their desktop app, smartphone app or web application, click the sync button, and your Wunderlist is updated across all of your devices. You can even share lists and tasks with friends or clients with a secure URL.
Mindmeister. If you’re more of a visual thinker, you might want to consider mind-mapping in place of to-do lists. Like the services above, Mindmeister offers mobile access and sync, plus public and private sharing options.
Due. Okay, so Due isn’t technically a to-do list. But if you think that you’re a fabulous multi-tasker like I do (despite the fact that true multi-tasking is a myth), Due takes the D out of A.D.D. It’s a beautifully designed (iOS only) reminder app that lets you take your everyday tasks off your mind, and put them on your phone. If you need to be reminded to do something at a particular time, and need to be nagged until it’s done, Due is the answer.
Your Brain in the Cloud
Evernote has saved my bacon more times than I can count. It’s a seamless suite of software and services purpose-built for archiving and note taking. “Notes” can be bits of text, full web pages, a webpage excerpt, photographs, voice memos, handwritten notes, photos, sketches and even audio. After I send a script to Evernote (compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS and WebOS), for example, I can open it on the Evernote iPad app from inside my booth, and even edit it on the fly. You’ll find some really powerful Evernote tips in this article from The Solopreneur Life.
Google Drive. If you’re comfortable keeping a lot of your content in the cloud, Google Drive can be a huge productivity booster. You can upload and easily share most any kind of files, and keep them synced across all of your devices. There are plenty of other solutions for syncing files (see below) but the fact that Google Drive lets me create, edit, search and share documents, slide presentations and spreadsheets puts it at the head of the pack.
iCloud. For fans of the Apple universe, iCloud’s deep integration with both OS X and iOS can be a godsend.
SkyDrive. If you’ve made the transition to Windows 8, you might want to consider Microsoft’s SkyDrive. In addition to online storage of documents and media files, SkyDrive provides folder syncing across multiple PCs, and will even backup your Windows 8 and Windows Phone settings.
Unlike other cloud storage solutions, which offer instant access and restoration, think of Amazon Glacier as cold storage for data. Yes, prices can be as low as $0.01 per gigabyte per month, and Glacier does provide formidable security, with 256-bit encryption, but it’s better suited for files that are important, but that you rarely need access to.
Dropbox is an incredibly powerful free service that’s designed to let you bring all of your photos, documents, audio and video anywhere. It will also automatically save those files to your computer(s), phone, and even the Dropbox web site. This overview from PCMag will give you some idea of Dropbox’s power and flexibility.
Since digital files are the lifeblood of our business, voiceover talent without a foolproof backup plan are simply irresponsible. Commit the 3-2-1 rule to memory: be sure to keep 3 copies of all vital files, on at least 2 different media, with at least 1 off-site storage site. PC Magazine’s “Disaster-proof Your Data with Online Backup” article will help you sort out the options.
4. Everyone Has a Brand. Yes, Even You.
You might know that branding and marketing for voiceover talent is one of my favorite subjects. I could go on about it for another few thousand words (and I sometimes do.) For the purposes of this post, however, I thought I’d discuss some basic tools and concepts that will help you build a strong foundation.
One of the things that makes effective branding so elusive is that it seems that no one can agree on a definition of the word:
- “Branding is the representation of your organization as a personality. Branding is who you are that differentiates you.” Dave Kerpen – Likeable Social Media
- “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” Seth Godin – Seth’sBlog
- “A brand is the essence of one’s own unique story.” Paul Bierdermann – reDESIGN
- “[A brand is] a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers…” The American Marketing Association
So clearly, there is no right answer. But one of my favorites is this one from PersuasiveBrands.com: “Any brand is a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service…a brand is the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced.”
Effective voiceover branding makes it easier for your clients and potential clients to categorize you and your sound, so they can more easily imagine your voice on their next project (when appropriate). It gives you the opportunity to teach your clients when they should be hiring you.
Think about the visual images that may be associated with you and your brand. In the voiceover world, where we all work with the same basic tools (microphones, headphones, graphic representations of sound waves, etc.), visual “sameness” can spell brand blandness. It’s not easy to set yourself apart in vast digital sea of voice talent. But it’s vitally important. When you have visual branding that reflects the sound of your brand, it makes it quite easy for clients to associate your brand with your work, and you’ll be easier to remember the next time they need voice talent. Take a look at this overview of visual branding from Lauren O. Venell: The Six Cs of Visual Branding for Creative Professionals.
This list (from Guy Kawasaki and Joe Moreno) of “Six Solopreneur Branding Boo-boos” was written for a general audience, but you’ll find a number of powerful insights that that make tons of sense in the world of voiceover.
Creating an online outpost for your brand is no longer optional. Especially because it’s likely that the lion’s share of searches for voice talent now begin on the interwebs. There are as many different ways to approach curating your online brand, as there are tools to help you do it. “14 Must-Haves for Your Online Personal Branding Toolkit” details the most effective ones.
Once you’ve figured out where to brand yourself online, Shane Robinson’s article about being unforgettable will help you figure out how.
“If you’re an actor, you’re an actor. Doing it is not the hard part. The hard part is getting to do it.” –Morgan Freeman
Mass Marketing is Now a Mass of Niches
Target Market or Niche? There is a Difference
Until you know who you’re marketing to, it’s nearly impossible to market yourself effectively. Michael Port explains a simple but vital difference between your target market and your niche in this post and video.
For a deeper dive into determining exactly what your target market is, see Inc. Magazine’s “How to Define Your Target Market”.
For most of us, the knee-jerk reaction when writing web site content or marketing copy is to focus on features and benefits. Predictability is the enemy here, so learn better ways to write about your services by going “Beyond Features and Benefits.”
Copy and content will only get you so far. At some point, you’re gonna need some design inspiration. (Or in my case, a lot of design inspiration.) Creattica.com‘s design and inspiration gallery will provide you with oodles of it. But be sure to clear your calendar before you click. For inspiration of the color palette variety, Kuler.Adobe.com will generate color themes beyond compare and will give you the chance to easily experiment with countless color variations and themes from their community.
Keep in Touch
I’ve always been a fan of keeping the number of business tools I use on a daily basis to a minimum. The more efficient I can be, the better it is for both my clients and my sanity. I did quite a lot of research – along with some trial and a whole lot of error – before settling on CRM and email marketing tools that I love.
My personal favorite CRM tool is Batchbook. It’s designed to help you build and maintain relationships with your clients. It’s a powerful CRM tool that also allows you to connect to your clients’ Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin profiles right inside of Batchbook, so you’ll always be in the know. You might also want to look into Big Contacts, Highrise, and Insightly.
Much like accounting, you might choose to “roll your own” when it comes to keeping track of your clients (and potential clients). If so, this article from FreelanceSwitch will get you headed in the right direction.
Maybe you’re still in the early stages of organizing your client list and you’ve got a drawer full of business cards that you’ve been meaning to get to. What you need is CardKeeper. It’s a free iPhone app that will turn business cards into contacts in a flash…no typing required.
Shoot me an Email
Once you’ve figured out who you’d like to stay in touch with, you’ll need an attractive, efficient and easy way to reach out to them. MailChimp is my service of choice. With beautiful templates and an easy-to-use interface, MailChimp is free for your first 2,000 subscribers. There is a wide variety of other email marketing services to choose from, including ConstantContact.com, Vertical Response, iContact, EmailBrain, Campaign Monitor, and MyEmma.com.
One last resource that I think is worth mentioning here is Daylite. It’s Mac, iPhone and iPhone only, but I’ve heard some great things about it. Daylite’s goal is to keep “everything related to your business in one place.” It might be a bit overwhelming for some, but if you’re looking to keep track of leads, projects, email, contacts, calendars and more all in one app, it may be for you.
The simple fact is that today, having your own web site is a must for professional voiceover talent. And one of the most hassle-free ways to establish your digital domain is to use WordPress, available in two flavors (.com and .org).
Even the most technologically challenged among us should be able to manage WordPress newly improved user interface. Translation: they’ve made it extremely easy to create, update and maintain your own site.
Choose WordPress.com, and they’ll host your site for you, making things even easier (though this limits your creativity a bit).
The self-hosted WordPress.org gives you quite a bit more flexibility, including scores of site-design templates that you can change with a single click. For even more options and control you can also employ third-party designs – themes– from sites like WooThemes.com, Press75.com, StudioPress.com, MOJOThemes.com, ElegantThemes.com, and Templatic.com.
Marketing guru and author Seth Godin has posted one of my favorite outlines of How to Create a Great Web Site. Number 7 deserves a gold star.
Whether you’re looking to improve your SEO, or strengthen your branding, you can’t do much better than blogging. Fresh, industry-related content will work wonders to boost your credibility with both Google and your clients.
To get your creative juices flowing, see Blogging Tips for Beginners, an exhaustive and valuable list compiled by ProBlogger.com’s Darren Rowse.
Once you’re got the basics under your belt, explore the finer points of the SEO benefits of blogging with these two posts from TechieMania.com: A Visual Guide to Search Engine Optimization and 5 Basic Search Engine Optimization Tips for Blogging.
Social Media may be one of the most misunderstood aspects of marketing. And while some people swear by it, others find it to be nothing more than a major time-suck. I’ve found it to be more effective in terms of branding (reputation), than with marketing (actual gigs), but YMMV. That said, I’d still recommend that you visit SocialMediaExaminer.com, the world’s largest online Social Media Magazine. You’ll find a kitchen sink full of information about using social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn to network with current and potential customers, and generate some brand awareness. For a more laser-targeted approach, here’s a shorter article that spotlights the essentials: Your Social Media Strategy is Your Best Investment.
Why Should I Hire You?
With tens (hundreds?) of thousands of voiceover talent just a Google search away, it helps to know why you should be your client’s first choice. That’s exactly what Andrew Cooper talks about in this very practical article: Why a Prospective Client Should Choose You.
Keep the Conversation Going
With limitless resources available to help make running our businesses a little bit easier, there’s no doubt that there are some important options that I’ve missed. And since I’ll be keeping this list up-to-date as new suggestions roll in, I hope you’ll add your favorites in the comments section below. Do you have a favorite business resource that’s not on the list?