You’re a Professional. Here’s What You Need to Get Started.
First impressions count. If you haven’t been told that before, know that the adage is true. You may not get a second look, at least for not for quite a while, if you get off on the wrong foot. It’s much easier to propel your voice over business to a strong start when you present yourself as a professional from the very beginning.
Voice over is a business like any other when it comes to creating the fundamentals. Make sure that you’ve covered the bases before hanging your shingle and welcoming customers. Skip a step and your business is more likely to fail.
First, do the prep work. Decide what products or services you are offering and how they can benefit your customers. Hone the necessary skills to make a high quality product that people want. In voice over, this translates to training and coaching so that you can acquire the knowledge and skills to create, offer, and deliver your services … high quality voice overs. There are many reputable coaches and training programs, available both in-person and on-line. Reference this article for a list of multiple resources to help you get your game up to its highest standards.
Second, have a dedicated workplace where your products are made. Have all the tools you need sharpened and at hand, and be able to consistently turn out a quality product. This is the voice actor’s home studio. It is your workshop and your tools include a properly treated space, a good microphone, interface, recording/editing software, and headphones/speakers. And, of course, a reliable computer. I talked about the basic of creating a home studio in another article that you may find useful.
Third, have samples of your work available so that potential customers can see for themselves what you can do. These are your voice demos that showcase your talent, range, and experience. One demo per genre, please – a commercial buyer does not want to hear how you narrate audiobooks. Yes, I have another article that focuses on the do’s and don’ts of demo creation.
The fourth step is to actually create the store and a marketing plan where you can advertise your business, find and attract leads, and service your customers. This is your voice over website and it can grow with you as you develop your voice over career. Check out this article about what goes into making a professional website and the resources for building an effective storefront for your business.
By having all the preliminaries in place – and keeping them current and in good working order – your business can thrive. And when the customer finds value in your services, they’ll more likely help you grow your business with repeat business and referrals. So, how do you find your new clients? Besides referrals and personal networking, which are terrific ways of finding new business, here are a few options:
Casting Sites or “Pay to Plays”
A majority of newer voice actors find their start on voice casting sites or “pay to plays,” so named because they are most often only available as subscription services. There are literally dozens of these sites worldwide, some with better reputations than others, and all at different price points. You may or may not have to audition with one of your demos to be accepted. Commonly, they will allow you to build a profile describing your vocal qualities and the genres that you want to voice in. You will be able to upload one or more demos and submit auditions for jobs that fit your profile. Each works differently, but know that for each job, you may be competing with fifty to one hundred other voice actors, depending on how many auditions the client has requested. Each site also has their own protocols for handling pricing, booking, communications with the client, and payment for completed jobs.
I’m not going to list all the casting sites here, except to say that I use Voiceovers.com, VoPlanet, and Bodalgo, all of which I’ve found to be highly reputable and responsible to their talent. Occasionally, I also see voice over jobs listed on Actors Access, primarily a (subscription-based) casting site for on-screen actors. Do your due diligence and don’t oversubscribe and spend all your time chasing their auditions.
You’ll find that audition requests are very time sensitive. They may state that talent has a few days or even a week to submit an audition, but the truth is that clients may only accept 25, 50, or 100 auditions, at which point submissions are no longer accepted. Additionally, getting your audition in towards the end of the queue may mean that the client may not even listen to it. Often, if clients hear something they like early on, they make their casting decision right then and there. Many auditions can sound the same after listening to dozens in a row, and not all clients have the patience for it, despite having asked for so many in the first place. You can feel tied to your computer, watching for an audition to come in, so that you rush to be one of the first in the queue. Some casting sites will show you how many have already been submitted, so won’t. The point is that casting sites are a nice way to find work from time to time, but the numbers are against you. Honestly, it’s highly unlikely that you can make a living off of these “pay to plays” alone.
The bulk of good opportunities are found by marketing your own business directly to production companies and businesses, and driving interested leads to your website. Leads come from a variety of sources, including personal networking with local businesses, referrals, and using Google and LinkedIn to find companies you want to work with and the decision makers within those companies.
Self-marketing takes time, self-discipline, and persistence, but it pays off with much better opportunities down the road than other methods. It also requires you to run your business as a professional business, with lead tracking, regular marketing communications, and an invoicing and payment system, to say the least. It requires self-discipline and strong organizational skills, and the mindset to proactively look for new business, rather than more passively waiting for auditions to populate your inbox from the casting sites.
One of the most important tools that you’ll want to get sooner than later is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system for keeping track of your leads, prospects, and clients. Look for a CRM that fits the size of your business. Some are intended for corporate-wide use and may be overkill for what you need AND your budget. They all have different strengths, as well as price points. Primarily, you’ll have to decide what you want from your CRM. Some have integrated email messaging systems, others help you keep track of your targets’ social media activity, most will include invoicing and job tracking. All will help you manage a growing list of contacts. Some popular choices for voice over businesses include:
Some newer systems developed just for voice actors are:
A few casting sites offer their own custom CRM systems, too. So, how do you choose which to use? As with any other tool, there’s a trade-off between functionality and price. Decide which features are most important to you and how much you’re willing to spend. Test the user interface to see how the system works. Do you like the way you can pull up client data, update records, and view reports? Often, the decision on which CRM to use comes down to what feels natural to you.
So how do you successfully self-market your VO business? Rather than reinventing a wheel that’s been extensively road tested by others, I prefer to refer you to two voice actors who have done remarkably well in this area and who have made a name for themselves as VO business experts. They’ll teach you their steps for marketing your VO business, what pitfalls to avoid, the tools to use, etc. Marc Scott has a podcast and Facebook group, as well as an overall marketing program and coaching service. Tracey Lindley built her VO career on leveraging LinkedIn and teaches others to do the same. There are others, but I’ve personally worked with both Marc and Tracey and found a lot of value in what they have to say.
In the on-camera world, representation is crucial for finding acting work beyond student productions, small independent films, and the occasional commercial or industrial. In voice over, agents also play an important role, especially for opportunities to audition for national and major regional commercial campaigns, animated roles on TV cartoon series, promos, and other projects. Until you are an established talent, though, and even after you are a working full-time VO actor, the percentage of auditions and bookings from an agent is small compared to what you can find for yourself through direct marketing.
Voice agents are usually local, regional, or national in scope and reputation. They are paid by their clients to find the best voice options for any particular job, but represent their talent with contract negotiations and handle invoicing, payment, and accounting. A voice actor may have one, several, or a half dozen agents in different regions of the country, and perhaps even one or two in other national markets. With multiple representation, it’s not unusual for a national commercial job to arrive in the talent’s email inbox from different agents. It’s up to the voice actor (and agents) to determine ahead of time how these situations are handled.
The best way to approach an agency for representation is to go to that agency’s website and READ their instructions for submitting yourself. They will tell you if they are open to accepting applications to their roster and the procedures to follow. Please note that you need to have at least one demo (usually commercial) before applying, and ideally a website. Look at their roster, listen to voice samples, and see if you can fill a niche for them. You will hear back if they are interested and often nothing at all if they are not. Check back again in six to twelve months, especially if you have something new (like an updated demo) to show them.
Hanging Your Shingle
Whew! There’s a lot that you can do to market yourself to potential clients. Remember, though, like with any other business, it takes time to build up your list of qualified prospects and clients. In sales terms, a qualified prospect is someone or some business that needs voice over services and has the budget to make a project happen. A lead is an individual within a business to contact who may have a need for your services. And a client, of course, is someone who has already booked and paid you for a job.
So, are you ready to go into business? Let’s review the checklist:
· (On-going) voice over training and coaching
· One or more professional demos
· A home studio for producing high quality audition files (.mp3 or .wav formats), including equipment (minimum: computer, microphone with pop filter, interface, headphones and/or speakers, recording/editing software, internet connectivity)
· A website
· A system for managing leads, prospects, clients, and bookings
· A (multi-tiered) marketing plan for finding work
You’re good to go! Hang your shingle with pride, knowing that your business will be ever-changing as both you and the marketplace continue to change and grow. Make it a priority to stay on top of these changes so that you can adjust accordingly with new demos, perhaps upgraded equipment, and of course, on-going training. If you’re missing any of these elements, check with my blog for tips and links to outside expert resources. Best of luck – I look forward to hearing your voice in the ethers down the road.