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How To Sell Your Voice Over Skills
When Prospects Want To Go Cheap
November 1, 2016

By Paul Strikwerda
Voice Actor & Author

No matter how much you love your job as a voice-over, there are always aspects of your work you don’t care for, or would rather have someone else do.

I, for instance, am not a numbers man, and I’m glad my office manager is keeping the books for my business. Very few colleagues I talk to, enjoy doing the unglamorous paperwork that is part and parcel of running a professional service. Yet, it needs to be done.

But if there’s one thing many voice-overs are very uncomfortable with, it is this: selling themselves.

They’d rather spend hours in a dark booth recording an obscure historic novel, than having to talk a client into hiring them.

If you’re experienced enough to have a couple of agents, they will do the talking for you. Quite often though, a potential client will approach you directly because they’ve been on your website. In that case you have to do the negotiations yourself.


Inevitably, you have to answer the following client questions:
  • Why should I hire a professional voice?
  • Why should I pay that much money, if all you’re going to do is talk?
In the end there are three ways to answer these questions.
  • You can highlight the benefits of what you have to offer,
  • You can tell some horror stories of clients who went with a cheap, unprofessional voice, or
  • You can use a combination of positives and negatives.
Now, for some clients that’s not enough. Maybe they’re new at hiring a VO, and they simply can’t imagine what effect a bad voice-over could have on a good script. Those people need to see, in order to believe.


For example, one guy started talking to me about text-to-speech software, and how advanced things were getting in that area. His boss had suggested he buy some software, and use it for the next video, instead of a real voice.

The TTS-software would pay for itself in no time, he told me.

"Well,” I said, "I’m not sure your company could afford the kind of artificial voices that are developed and used by Google or Apple. But let me send you a link to a video that was uploaded as recently as last year. This is an affordable product you could buy right now. Take a look, and let me know if this is what you had in mind?”

Here it is:

Some things just speak for themselves, don’t they?


A few weeks later I spoke to a Head of Internal Training who wanted to "explore his options.”

He was producing a tutorial, and he said: "I’ll be honest with you. Keith from IT has a decent voice, and he said he’s willing to put this thing together for a six-pack and a pizza. That would save me a lot of money. Give me one reason why I should hire you.”

"I’d be happy to,” I said, and I sent him this educational YouTube masterpiece:


Let me share one of my other favorite tutorials. It’s not a corporate presentation, but if you’re interested in baking banana bread, this is a must-see (but you might want to turn the volume up a bit…).

Are you hungry yet? I admit it: I put that video in here just for fun, and because it’s rather bizarre.

Don’t be fooled, though. People put strange stuff on YouTube because they can monetize it. That’s why you’re forced to watch all those annoying ads.


The most popular tutorials on YouTube have to be the ones of girls teaching you how to put on make-up.

Why do I bring this up? A year or so ago I was approached by a cosmetics brand. Their creative team was coming up with a new campaign, and they had two directions they wanted to explore.

One was a more sophisticated approach for which they had my voice and accent in mind.

"The other idea,” said the account manager, "is to let real people tell their story. After all, that’s what our clients can relate to. We want someone who sounds like the friend they never knew they always wanted. Someone who can demonstrate our product, rather than sell it in a commercial.”

"Do you mean someone like this?” I asked? (and you might want to turn your volume down again…)


Most potential clients I talk to aren’t the creative types. They’ve already decided they want to hire me based on my demos, but they want me to give them my "best price.”

That’s client speak for: "I think your rates are ridiculous, so let’s see how desperate you are.”

Recently I had a very interesting experience. A woman I was talking to about a voice-over project did something crazy. She used the F-word!

We were talking about what I would charge, and all of a sudden she said: "But what about all these guys on Fiverr?”

"What about them?” I asked.

"Well,” she continued, "if I were to go with one of them I’d pay a lot less. In the end it’s all about the bottom line, you know.”

"Listen,” I said. "This video you’re putting together is going to be on the world wide web forever, and I hope thousands and thousands of people are going to watch it. For many, this is how they will learn about what your family business has to offer. In most cases, you’ll get one chance to make your pitch. One chance. People have become extremely critical and impatient. If they don’t like what they see and what they hear, they’ll have millions of other things to watch. So, it’s up to you how you want to present the company your grandfather built. If your video looks unprofessional or sounds unprofessional, your company looks unprofessional. Do you honestly want to put the reputation of your business in the mouth of this Fiverr guy?”

I think she got the point. Now, let me be clear. This aticle is not about bashing people who are trying to make a few bucks with a dynamic microphone, or who want to share their knowledge, passion, and whispery voice with the online community.


I used the above examples to provide some perspective, and because these videos are in the public domain. One thing I’m sure you’ve picked up on, is that voice-over narration is very different from giving a running commentary of whatever you’re doing, using the cheapest device in the house.

It’s not as easy as it seems, and it’s not true that anyone can do it.

The difference between a pro and an amateur is this: a pro makes it seem easy and effortless. Amateurs are often hard to understand, and clumsy. Their presentation distracts from the message. A professional voice allows the viewer or listener to focus on the message.


This article started as a story about selling, so let’s get back to that.

Some clients are sold on benefits. They need to know what good things will happen when they hire you. Other clients are motivated by fear. They want to avoid disaster.

Sometimes it really helps to give those people a flavor of what’s in store for them, should they go cheap.

My message to them is this: Cheap is always more expensive. Some things in life are just too important to leave to hobbyists or stupid software.

To the creators of the Text to Speech video, the software tutorial, the banana bread lady, the make-up girl, and Mr. Fiverr, I want to say this: I’m not going to take away your right to post anything on YouTube you believe is worthwhile watching. But honestly: What Were You Thinking?
Paul Strikwerda is a 25-year veteran of the voice over industry whose Nethervoice service features German and Dutch voice overs, translation and evaluation services. Born in Holland, he has worked for Dutch national and international radio, the BBC and American Public Radio. Although 90% of his work is in English, Strikwerda also records in Dutch, German and French. Clients include Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and the Discovery Channel. And he is author of the new book, Making MONEY In Your PJs: Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, and writes an informative and entertaining blog.


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Comments (2)
11/1/2016 at 9:04 PM
Oh, Paul! That is absolutely FABULOUS! How better to refute client arguments than to show them exactly what they are opting for in place of a genuine voiceover performer! I had a class...waaaay back in college called PRODUCT DEMONSTRATION. It was challenging enough to read and sound "conversational" but now we have to work with a physical object at the same time!?? It showed clearly that most of the class absolutely did not have the talent to do it! Your examples are perfect! Mr. Florian...this is one for the archives!
Howard Ellison
11/1/2016 at 8:12 AM
Funny, shocking and every other emotion. One can't imagine these creative souls being responsive to being invited to pay for a proper voice - or even a proper video. A lost cause. At the same time, the medium is the message and if these were marketing efforts they'd be eloquent in warning off potential customers.
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