A couple of recent newspaper headlines from different cities gleefully state that you can make lots of easy of money as a professional voice talent after taking only a 2-hour introductory group class. According to these articles, a particular group of voice-over teachers seems to be traveling through the country and conducting these “if you can talk, you can break into voiceover and make fabulous money” seminars at community colleges.
I thought about writing a blog entry warning people about the false hopes generated by the headlines and the teaching company, but I decided against it. I don’t want to insist that someone considering a voice-over career must follow a certain path. Besides, who am I to predict the outcome of such a class? I suppose it could happen that someone is blessed with the most distinct voice, the most amazing cold-reading skills, the most transparent and authentic interpretation, and the most exciting contacts who are looking for a shining new star to voice their national TV commercial/e-learning project/PBS documentary/trade show video/major animated movie. A 2-hour class is certainly sufficient for this kind of person to be able to hang out the sign as a professional voice talent and have clients with unlimited checking accounts flocking to them with no effort.
For the rest of us, though, gaining work as a voice talent requires much more — more confidence, more training, more marketing and more relationships, which all require more time, money and effort on the part of the voice actor.
I started writing this entry on Friday, 16 January. When I got up that morning, the Atlanta temperature was a frigid 14 degrees. A good use of time on such a bitterly cold day — or any day when you have free time — is to work on your marketing plan, particularly making cold calls. (You knew there was a tie-in with the weather somewhere!)
When I decided to become a voice-over actor in the late 90s, I was perpetually excited during the process of making my demo. I then hit a brick wall when it came to marketing it. What good does a fab demo do me if I can’t make myself call people who not only might be interested in hearing it but actually willing and able to hire me?
The thing that propelled me to make the first call was the following passage that I read in Rick Crandall’s book 1001 Ways to Market Your Services…Even If You Hate to Sell:
Overcoming Your Cold-Calling Fears
Cold calling scares all of us sometime. Ram Yellen deals with his fears by asking himself these questions:
1) What’s the worst thing that can happen if I make this call or proposal, or ask for a referral? (They can say no, no, a thousand times no! –or is that from a Victorian soap opera?)
2) What’s the best thing that could happen? (You could make a new, lifelong friend.)
3) What would I do if I knew that this person needed my services tomorrow?
— Pin up a picture of someone successful in your business and ask yourself what he or she would do in this situation. (If it’s a competitor, you can do it just to show them up!)
— Acknowledge the fear and do it anyway.
The bit about the Victorian soap opera cracked me up. Even now, I still have times when I feel fear or anxiety about making calls to pursue my voice-over career. I think about the “1000 times no” line, and it gives me courage (after I stop laughing!) to make the call.
I admit, though, that I still prefer to initiate conversations in writing or in person. The recipient of your calls could think that you don’t have any work. They may hold the perception that voice talent who are in high demand don’t have time to make prospecting calls.
Still, phone calls are sometimes necessary. For the times you choose to include phone calls in your marketing mix, here are 5 tips that will boost your confidence and courage:
1) Research the organization before deciding to call them.
Google is my friend. I can search for the type of organization and then find company web sites, on-line profiles on social networking sites and possibly news stories related to the target company. Many times, you can see portfolios of past work and get contact information. I can’t tell you how many phone calls and e-mails I have received from people who want to work for me as a voice talent. In those cases, I always know that the person has not done their research to identify the nature of my business. Good research will also move the phone call away from the “iceberg right ahead” category of cold call disaster.
2) With your research completed, identify some reason for the call.<
Repeat after me: “it’s not what they can do for me; it’s what I can do for them.” You may say you were updating your database, had a referral, saw they are members of a mutual professional group, etc. However, you don’t want to call and offer unsolicited advice about improving the business.
3) Write and rehearse a script that you will use when the other party comes on the line.
We voice talent always read from scripts, yet many people ignore this step when deciding to call potential clients. You want to state how you found them and be ready with a list of questions and/or a desired outcome for the call. A recent post in the Marketing Mix blog should give you fantastic ideas for a boilerplate script. Just like any voice-over script, you will want to practice it and possibly record it so that you can deliver it fluidly and easily.
4) Write another script for leaving a message.
You don’t want to be caught off-guard and leave a rambling message on voice mail. You also want to motivate the person to return the call. Saying something like “I have some information that may allow you to create an e-learning module at lower cost” is much more intriguing to the prospect than “I’m wondering if you ever need to use voice talent.” The second sentence is especially ineffective since it immediately indicates that you haven’t done your research.
Also, be sure to state your name and return number clearly at the beginning AND end of the call. How many messages have you heard where someone rushed through a message and then blurted out their name and phone number at the end of the call so fast that you had to rewind the message more than once to understand it? You don’t want to be one of those kind of people, do you?
5) Be prepared for follow-up actions.
Take careful notes during the conversation. You may have promised to send your demo or some information on the web, or you may hear some other action that you could take, like meeting them at an upcoming event. Track your needed actions with appointment entries on your calendar.
As you can see, even your preparation for your first prospecting call can require more time and energy than the 2 hours expended in an introductory voice-over class. Perhaps a more appropriate name for the traveling voice-over seminars would be:
“If you can talk, you can call people on the phone to discuss voice-over work with them, and you may even make some money as a professional voice talent if you have an outstanding demo and make enough calls to market it, being sure to do your research ahead of time.”
Mary McKitrick says
Karen, what a great post (as usual)!! Wonderful tips for winter calling 😉
As to those voice coaches – it is so sad that these kinds of companies are preying on people looking for career overhauls – and taking large amounts of money to record unmarketable demos for them. The misconceptions about voice-over and how easy it is to do are monumental. I recently met someone at a party who was so fascinated by what I did that she proceeded to haul over everybody she knew and introduce them to me as someone with a great voice who could “help me” with my work. I was too stunned to rally and try to educate her and just did the nod-&-smile. Your approach is best – write a sensible blog post and hope it reaches a few of the people taking the time to research this fabulous career that is unbelievably challenging, competitive and complex.
Mary, as usual, I thank you for your thoughtful comments. I especially liked the alliteration in your last sentence. 🙂 No matter how much we want to help people interested in a voice-over career, it’s up to each person to do their own research and be responsible for their own path.
A voice coaching company — perhaps even the one with the traveling road show — recently asked me to link to their site. However, I won’t make a referral to a voice-over teacher without personal experience. I’m afraid the number of shady enterprises exceeds the number that offer true value for the money.
Stu Gray says
What an AWESOME post.
You always have the most interesting links too!! The Marketing Mix – what a cool site…and Rick Crandall’s book…now I have to add it to my list!
Thanks!!! – Stu
Hi, Stu! Your kind words have made my day! I love marketing and am glad you think the links are helpful.
Best wishes for your continued success!