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For Long-Term Voice Over Success,
Be In Business - Not Just Sales

Mahmoud TajiBy Mahmoud Taji
Voice Actor

Lately I discovered that there are two (or three) kinds of people in the business world.
No matter how sophisticated and advanced the science of barter and exchange gets, in the end it boils down to those two or three kinds of people: the salesman and the businessman.
Now, that is not to say that businessmen cannot be effective at sales.
No I am, in fact, speaking of a state of mind.
When I use the term "salesman" I do not mean people who work in sales.
Rather, I am talking about a definition I came up with to define a specific business character and their business model.
In a nutshell, the salesman is great at convincing you to buy more, to pay more and leave happy. But that is the extent of it.
He does not care if you remain happy with your purchase. He only cares about the bottom line.
The fruit seller who sells you a few pounds of produce with a few rotten or ripe fruits at the bottom is a salesman.
The mechanic that convinces you to change your transmission fluid and flush your engine and galvanize your car's undercarriage when all you wanted was an oil change is a salesman.
The salesman does not care if you need those changes, doesn't care that you might have to cut back on your groceries to pay for these car fixes.
What matters is the bottom line.
The businessman on the other hand, put in the same situation, will give you excellent product and might even give you the ripe ones free of charge.
If you go to the businessman for an oil change, he will let you know that in a few months you will need to change your break pad - but won't tell you that if you don't do it now the world will end, or that you will rear-end the next car you are behind on the road.
A businessman cares more about the business than he does about sales, cares more about his reputation than he does about wringing the last buck out of his customer.
The businessman wants the client to come back and spend again, and be happy and keep coming back.
As a voice over artist you are a business owner, and your commodity is your voice.
Your skills and your customer support are your services. How you treat your client determines whether they will come back to you or whether they will go to your competitor.
So a good salesman will let you test drive his vehicle to hook you, a good cheese seller will give you a taste of his cheese, a good voice artist will tease you with their audition.
All of this is acceptable.
But what is not conducive to a healthy business is complete and utter disregard of the client.
A third type of person is so limited that I did not want to mention them as a viable contender with the other two forms of people.
Their presence is restricted to time and their lifespan is short.
The unmentioned third in this trilogy of two is the highwayman or the monopoly man, if you will.
The highwayman supplies a product that no one else around him has. He knows that his product is unique and cannot be found elsewhere and so he charges his clients excessive fees for it.
The highwayman is interested in making as much money as he possibly can in the time his product is available only through him.
Once the product becomes popular or a number of resellers have it and his monopoly ends his business model falls apart.
In a real life situation, it would go something like this: 
I am an Arabic language voice over talent. I am the only one available.
You come to me for a job and I charge double what a more common language talent would charge.
When you object, I shrug my shoulders and say, "Fine by me. If you don't want to buy from me find someone else."
No one likes feeling helpless or pressured. The client that buys from the monopolizer is resentful and would drop them in a second if another option came on the scene.
I think the best advice is present in the teachings of both Christianity and Islam. Treat thy neighbor as thou would want to be treated.
In modern terms, put yourself in their shoes and think to yourself: "What would make me want to come back to (insert your name)'s voice over service? What would make them happy?"
As always, I have provided a list.
  1. Price. How competitive are your prices? How precise are you in what you charge? Do you have many hidden fees?
  2. Payment policy. How competitive is your payment policy? Do you provide several different payment methods to your clients?
  3. Availability. Are you hard to get a hold of? Do clients need to schedule you days or even weeks in advance?
  4. Communication. Do you reply to your client's queries quickly or do you take your time? Do you have ISDN and can you be directed from home on some jobs?
  5. Turnaround. What is your average turnaround time? Is it in hours? Days? Weeks? How soon can you deliver work?  This of course depends on what the project is. A 30-second commercial is not a 20,000-word book.
  6. Retakes. What is your retake policy? How much do you charge for retakes? How fast can you get the retake sent back to the client?
  7. Services. Other than recording your voice, what other services do you provide? Do you direct? Do you do lip-sync?
  8. Range. Does your voice talent have a range? Do you do characters? Accents? Spoofs?
  9. Experience. Do you know the industry standards? Are you familiar with different techniques in getting things done? How fast can you get the job done, assuming people with more experience can record at a much higher accuracy level?
I can probably put a book together that speaks about every single one of the above subjects, but for now I will round things up with this:  Be fair and think of it as developing a relationship.

Mahmoud Taji is a voice actor based in Cairo, Egypt, specializing in Classical Arabic, New Standard Arabic, many forms of Colloquial Arabic (Egyptian, Shami and a little Khaleeji), bilingual Arabic / English text, and translation services. His voice is heard worldwide, from web promos to eLearning modules about Islamic banking and finance, travel documentaries for cities in Italy, promo videos for Brazilian oil conglomerates, and more. He has a degree in journalism and mass communication, is creative director at a Cairo advertising agency, and publishes the lively and informative blog, Taji’s Voice Emporium, which includes a VO Directory and Scam Alert; and the Voiceover Pavilion, a "Directory For Everything Voiceover."
Taji's Voice Emporium:
Voiceover Pavilion:

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Comments (8)
Rashida Clendening
1/2/2013 at 6:53 PM
Wow! Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share this. It's truly helpful and right on time.
Many Blessings and Continued Success for us all!
Judy Fossum
11/23/2011 at 6:01 PM
Thank you, Mahmoud, for this insightful article. Your "list" is concise and very helpful and actually makes a great checklist for those of us in the field to ask ourselves and our clients. Really, none of us like to be "sold to" when we are out shopping, so why in the world would our clients. So true.
Thank you!
-Judy Fossum, Cheyenne, WY
Paul Strikwerda
11/18/2011 at 8:39 AM
Insightful as always. If a salesman cares more about making a quick buck, instead of cultivating long-term relationships, he's just a bad salesman.

I sincerely wish more VO colleagues would enhance their business skills, before they put themselves on the market. This includes skills like money management, budgeting, marketing, advertising, contract law, negotiation and sales strategies.

Owning a great instrument does not make one a good musician. Being a great musician does not mean having a successful career.
Mahmoud Taji
11/15/2011 at 1:44 PM
Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my article, and I hope you found it helpful somehow.

Ken Budka: I always worry that my analogies will confuse more than they will explain, so thanks for easing my mind on that issue.

The act of mixing business with generosity can be somewhat tricky but once one achieves a good balance can be both satisfying emotionally and gratifying professionally. I was once watching a show about business techniques and one of the things that stuck with me, even though I probably saw that show 8 or so years back, was a consultant who prior to being hired by a firm went into their factory and gave them 2 pieces of advice pro bono as a show of good faith. The advice he gave saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars and the company realized that this person knew what he was talking about.

Jim Conlan: Whether one is recording a session at home through ISDN or sitting in a studio, the quality of your product is not just made up of your vocal performance - your attitude, professionalism, dedication and approachability (or down-to-earth attitude) is what elevates your image and business attractiveness from average to outstanding. Putting your client first is a priceless gift that many of our fellow voice talent are lacking.

Christi B: Thank you for your kind words! I always find it a little ironic that I communicate better with the written word than I do with the spoken one (if my script is not pre written for me :) I just hope that folks find benefit from my musings.

dD: My fellow Canadian, it's great to hear from you. I apologize that the number of articles that I produce has dropped so dramatically... but with the new baby and business growing, one has to make sacrifices :) Always a pleasure to know you're reading.
Ken Budka
11/15/2011 at 11:28 AM
Great article Mahmoud, thank you.

Your analogies really put things in perspective and act as a great reminder to show up each morning as a business professional.

I can think of more than a few times where I selected auditions based simply on the budget or have immediately thought about the short-term gain and my own needs and my own mortgage instead of the client and the overall project.

Throughout my life I have found that whenever I freely give of myself, my time, or my possessions, the good feelings that I get in return are priceless. Heck, people pay good money for all sorts of potions and pills in an attempt to feel this way! Focus on others, the listener, the reader, the other guy, and it always comes back in a good way.

I definitely agree that the long-term relationship is key and one of the best places to look for more work is right within your database of existing clients. Treat them like gold and you'll never be hungry...

Happy Tuesday.

Jim Conlan
11/15/2011 at 10:52 AM
Another helpful article from a helpful guy.

Based on my experience as a voice-over artist and a producer/director, I'd like to add this: the business person pays attention to the session. I call it "service during the sale." You show up on time. You listen. You cooperate and collaborate. You're pleasant company. You talk sparingly but offer suggestions where appropriate. You're committed to the message, whatever it is.

I can almost guarantee that service during the sale will get you re-hired. In fact, the greatest compliment I am paid after a session isn't "Wow, that was great," but "Wow, that was easy."
Christi B
11/15/2011 at 10:51 AM
Thanks again for another great article. You're very lucky to be such a great writer and communicator as well as a voice artist. Keep up the good work.
Doug de Nance
11/15/2011 at 1:09 AM
Mr. T,

Good to hear from you. Whenever you speak I always stop to listen (like those old E. F. Hutton TV ads). And I always learn something - like how I originally made my living as a salesman, but today I've learned to be a businessman. Thanks for the reassurance.

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