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YOUR INCOME
If You Hate To Negotiate Voice-Over Rates,
Follow These 6 Tips On How To B.E.H.A.V.E.
June 13, 2018

By Dan Hurst
Voice Actor

Sometimes rates are not negotiable. The client has a set rate and you either live with it or you don't. Sometimes it's a fair rate, and sometimes it isn't.

However, often setting the rate is part of closing the deal. Normally many of us would just let our agent take care of that.

But what if you don't have an agent yet? Or what if the client wants to deal with you directly?

One of the most stressful, awkward and difficult things for most VO talent to deal with is negotiating rates. We probably struggle with this one issue more than any other regarding our business.

In most cases, it's a confidence thing.

But along with that are the necessary elements of:
  • determining what the fair rate is, and whether the client knows what the fair rate is,
  • not wanting to sell ourselves short, but also not wanting to leave money on the table,
  • making sure there is no misunderstanding about expectations,
  • clarifying any additional expenses or possible costs, and
  • making sure we're protected as much as possible in case the client does not pay (should you get pre-paid, require a down payment, how much time they need for payment, etc.).
And there are some things that you need to know and/or have before you start any negotiation process:

1. You should know your rates.

If you don't have a rate sheet, build one. A number of organizations offer suggested rates, including the union, GVAA, Edge Studio (and some P2P sites have some disgusting rates posted, but it's up to you if you want to play by those), and I'm sure I've missed a few.

By the way, if you want to use one of the above sources to set your rates, that's fine. But remember, you actually set your own rates.
  • What is your time and talent worth?
  • What is your overhead?
Use the various rate sources as a guide, but know your worth.

2. You should know the usage of the VO project.

A commercial that is going to run 6 months is worth more than one that will run 13 weeks. An eLearning course that is going to be resold without limit is worth more than a one-time training event. 

3. You should know when and where the VO recording will take place.

I learned very early in my career that some clients think they can just come over to your house and use your studio for free. Not cool. Spell it out in your agreement!  

NOW, ABOUT THE MONEY ...

Once you've done your due diligence, and you are ready to get down to the nitty-gritty of your discussions with your client, you will of course discuss the elements of the project - the purpose, the intent, the style, what they are looking for, what you will deliver, etc. etc.  

But at some point the issue of money has to be addressed. How should you do that?  

This matter is usually handled rather quickly, and once you've established a business relationship with your client it probably will be a done deal.

But for new clients, or for re-negotiating rates with old clients, be willing to take some time to work this through. I've had situations where the process took weeks. And I've had situations where it took seconds. But it helps to be prepared to address your client's questions and concerns whether they are expressed or not.  

YOUR 6 NEGOTIATING TIPS

Here is a quick and simple primer on how to handle these matters. I call it B.E.H.A.V.E. 

If you can remember these 6 tips, you can confidently negotiate your rate. These are not in any order of priority, but knowing the acronym helps keeps these elements in mind.  

BUDGETS

Ask the client upfront what their VO budget is. This is such a simple question, and an easy way to broach the subject, that I'm surprised at how many voice talents never do this!  

Believe me, almost every client you have has a VO budget in mind when they put their projects together. Now, they might have a range, but they almost always have a budget!  So ask!  

EXPECTATIONS

I always include this point in the discussion. It's important to know what they are expecting from me. That gives me a sense of what they think the scope of the job is.

In this part of the discussion, I try to get a sense of how much work they think the project will involve, and how much I think it will involve.

If we are at odds on this matter, this needs to be cleared up right away. There is no point in discussing money if the client thinks it's a simple, little, short job, and you know that it is going to be significantly more involved.

Make sure the client understands the scope of the VO job.  

HISTORY

What does the client normally pay for talent? If they are changing voice talents for an ongoing project, ask what they've recently been paying that person. There's nothing wrong with asking that.

But remember, NEVER be intimidated by what they were paying.

Usually when a client realizes they need to make a VO change, they understand they may have to pay a little more than they've been paying. As a matter of fact, I recently got a new client that had decided to change the voice of his company. In our discussions I asked what they had been paying their soon-to-be-former voice talent.

When they told me, I was stunned at how low the rate was. I told them that my rate was double what they were used to paying, and that this was a rate for ongoing work. Their response was refreshing: "Well, we finally realized that we got what we were paying for, but we didn't expect it to be that much more."

I made a mental note, and later in the negotiation I offered to include their phone messaging at no extra charge. That sealed the deal.  

Moral of the story: have some options, some benefits to share.

ANNUAL

Retainers can be a win/win situation. Don't be afraid of a retainer rate.

If a client has an ongoing project, ask what the amount of spots will be per month. Then do the math. What would be a good monthly average rate?

Consider offering your services on a monthly basis over a year agreement that would appeal to them, and guarantee a base rate for you. But make sure you get a signed annual agreement for the monthly rate.  

By the way, I generally don't offer discounts. I've offered discounts in the past for multiple jobs, or the promise of volume activity, and I've always been burned. It's just not worth doing that up front. Now what I tell clients is that I would consider a discount after so many jobs. But I never discount from the start.  
Before the next tip, take a moment and write down WHY someone should want to use you. Think it through. Think outside the box. Include in that list things (if applicable) like:
  • good voice,
  • good voice style,
  • fair pricing,
  • ability to take direction,
  • availability,
  • quick turnaround,
  • production quality,
  • subject knowledge,
  • pronunciation ability,
  • language proficiency,
  • cultural understanding,
  • quick response to questions and issues, and on and on.
Now, check this out:  
VALUE

This is one of the most powerful negotiating tips you can master.

When negotiating rates, ask:
"I'm curious. Why do you want to use me?"
Then listen for what they DON'T say.

Why? Because clients don't really buy on the basis of price alone. They buy on the basis of perceived value. If they don't know - or don't think of all the value you offer - all they have to go on are the things they mention to determine your value. So the things that they don't mention on your list are what you need to remind them about, that you bring to the table - and thus, why your rate is a good rate.

Increasing your value increases your rate.

This, by the way, is one of the reasons VO rates have gone down in many areas. Clients who use P2P (online casting) sites usually just make a decision on the basis of a disembodied voice. The perceived value is low because they have no way of knowing all that a VO talent can bring to the table.  And P2P sites that prevent contact between talent and client do both a great disservice.

Conversely, that's why referrals and networking with potential clients in person or on social media can be so effective. And finally…  

EXPERIENCE

This is a very useful part of the process. Clients are looking for a good experience. We all are!  

What can you do to make that particular project a good experience for them? Would they like to be in on the recording session, either in person, by ISDN, by Skype or phone patch?

Offer for them the opportunity to direct the session. Sure, sometimes that can be a pain, but often it's a great way to focus in on what the client wants, and on top of that, to continue to build a relationship.  

If they don't want to direct, would they like some sample reads before you actually record? It is usually a great relief for them (and for you) to be able to nail down the style and character of the VO before actually recording.  

Some of my clients like to give their VO interpretation of the copy before I record. I mean, they actually record their scratch track of the project, or read it in a live session. No problem.

Ask clients if they would like to do that to help you understand what they are looking for.

When clients understand and believe that they are going to get more of what they expect, and perhaps something good that they didn't expect, the value of the experience goes up.

A lot of voice talents hate negotiating the deal. I actually love it. I find it a terrific way to get to know the client and build better relationships. And I love being a part of their creative process!  

So, there you have it. Go BEHAVE. And good luck!
------------------
ABOUT DAN
Dan (Daniel Eduardo) Hurst is an experienced bilingual (English and Spanish) voice talent operating out of the Kansas City area. His business extends internationally, with clients including Maserati, Boehringer Ingelheim, British Petroleum, Kimberly-Clark, McDonald's, Volkswagen, Telemundo International, Shell, Hallmark, TransCanada, and many more, along with his national work for numerous infomercials, ESPN, MLB, and the Golf Channel, among others. When he's not working, he spends time cheering for losing sports teams, getting kicked off of golf courses, and cursing his boat motor. 


Email: DanHurst@DanHurst.com
Web: www.DanHurst.com


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Comments (5)
Conchita Congo
6/18/2018 at 9:37 AM
Great advice! Makes it so much easier to gather my thoughts when it comes to negotiating rates. Thank you.
Johnny George
6/15/2018 at 5:41 PM
On point as usual...

Make notes to remind you of Dan's suggestions, so you're not trying to remember what you read here. Sounding prepared makes you sound more confident too. Stick to your guns in times of being beat up by inexperienced clients who have NO CLUE. It's an educational moment that helps you and your client.

This is an on-going part of a voice talents learning curve. We ALL need to think of these options when you're standing on a limb with a saw and knowing WHERE to cut.

Thanks Dan!
Russ Wayne
6/13/2018 at 1:34 PM
This guy writes some of the smartest VO advice I've ever read! I think somebody should appoint him King of the VO world, but he'd probably have to take a cut in pay.
Jason Culver
6/13/2018 at 12:19 PM
Excellent advice Dan - which can be applied to many other industries, and areas, of life - especially for those who don't quite know how to BEHAVE.
Peter Drew
6/13/2018 at 10:44 AM
Great advice, Dan! "Expectations" is a great point. In this relatively recent evolution to virtual recording sessions, many producers/clients have never been inside a recording studio to see exactly what goes into a VO session. They're talking to you down a phone, Source Connect, Skype, or ISDN line, never seeing what you're doing before, during, and after the actual recording is made. It's like picking up the phone and ordering a pizza. You never see the kitchen, the making of the pizza, and the driver rushing over to your house. All you know is that you pick up a phone and a pizza arrives at your door. Knowing what the client expects is very helpful when negotiating rate, for sure.
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