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Rates: Why Insult With A Question About Client
Budget? Ask For Job Specs, Then Quote Your Fee
March 23, 2015

By Jerry Reed

Voice Actor

From the conversations I have read and have been a part of, it appears to me that a lot of people in the voice over business are reluctant to quote rates for their service – voice over - until they find out what the client has in the budget.

There are some who feel that the new client you have been talking to may have more to spend and that you should not be too quick to quote your rate for fear that you might be leaving money on the table.

I understand that.

But at the same time, I ask: Is that being a good business person?


Let's take a quick look a three scenarios:

1. You need to have some carpentry work done on your studio.

You call a contractor. He learns about your project, might even come for a visit, and then he gives you an estimate for how much the work will cost you. It's an estimate based on what work he expects to do for you, the time he will have invested and any supplies he will need to complete the job.

2. You call an audio engineer to install that pile of equipment you just bought.

She asks: What equipment do you have, and what do you need to have done? She will give you an estimate for the work that she will do for you.

3. You just backed into light pole across the street.

You didn't do any damage to the pole, but your car has a big dent and a broken tail light. You stop by the auto body shop and the fine folks there consult the flat rate labor guide. With that information and their posted hourly labor rate, they will come up with a price to fix the bumper and taillight.


In all the above cases, never does the craftsman ask you how much money you have to spend or "What's your budget?" No one wants to spend more than they need to for any service or item.

So why would a client risk having to pay more than necessary to get the job done?

If you look at your voice over business "as a business” you should feel comfortable with your own rates. After all, if you set up the business properly, you have an idea what it costs to run your business and what income you need to generate in order to pay the bills and come away with a comfortable profit.

You set your rates accordingly. That's what the contractor, engineer and body shop did. Why should you be any different?


So when someone asks my rate for a project, I first ask:
  • What do you need to have done?
  • How soon do you need it, and
  • How will it be used?
With that information I can easily quote a price for a project. I believe it's an insult to ask: "How much money do you have to spend?"

This doesn't mean that you can't accept a project for less than your normal rate if presented to you. But I wouldn't publicize it. I'm a firm believer in knowing what my value is.

So if prospective clients find that my rate is less than they were ready to pay, then they just got a great deal. I'll be happy that I got my quoted rate and the client will be happy he got a good value. Everybody is happy.

If you constructed your rate card properly, you also built in a little room for a first-time buyer discount or a discounted long-term contract or retainer that will help seal the deal. And, you probably have a repeat customer in the works.

That's just good business.
Jerry Reed has been a professional voice artist all of his adult life. His early days were spent in broadcasting and he now works from his home voice over studio located in upstate New York. In addition to voice overs, his diversions include amateur photography and baking artisan breads.


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Comments (7)
Mike Harrison
3/31/2015 at 4:30 PM
What *is* unprofessional is using exactly that word to describe what others – some of us for decades – do differently and for very different reasons than what we might prefer to do ourselves. We can disagree, but "unprofessional" is a very strong word that should not be flung around in public forums without good cause. Part of what we do involves knowing the weight of words. Let's try to remember that.
Taylor Stonely
3/24/2015 at 9:43 PM
Good points about rates and what you should charge. I've never been a big fan of the "budget" question, and this explains the reason why it is unprofessional. Knowing the specs of the job should be enough to quote for VO services.

Thanks for sharing!
Paul Strikwerda
3/23/2015 at 3:22 PM
Thanks for tackling this topic, Jerry. In my book I talk a lot about establishing value, and setting voice-over rates. If you've read it, you know my mantra:

My added value is always higher than my rate.

I used to think that publishing my rates would be a cardinal sin, and I was leaving so much money on the table. The opposite is true. Since I started publishing my rates I rarely have to deal with lowballers anymore. The clients I attract can afford my services, and they are grateful that they don't have to guess about how much I charge.

Last but not least, my rates page is great for SEO. It is one of the most popular pages of my website with thousands of views every month.

steve hammill
3/23/2015 at 1:50 PM
Just about every construction or carpentry job that I've commissioned, my budget is the first thing that comes up. It is a good, better, best sort of check for materials to use.

Beyond that, you are spot on.

Set your rate and stick to it. My rates are simple, union scale plus studio hours. The studio hours pays my assistant.
J. Christopher Dunn
3/23/2015 at 12:28 PM
Jerry, I was thinking about this exact thing over the weekend. I have been successful ZERO times asking the size of the VO budget. Ever shop for a car and have the sales person ask how much money you want to spend? I feel like they're after all the $$$ in the budget instead of working to get me the best deal on the car I want. The scenarios are different but the emotional response is the same.

Now, when a prospect or current client asks me for a quote I give it to them straight, based on similar criteria you listed above. I also include, "My rates are flexible and, within reason, I am happy to work with your client's budget."

They have my numbers, know I'm flexible because I gave them an opportunity to discuss my rate and they get the sense I want to work with them. After a few days when I don't hear back, I followup, "I'm checking in with you to see if you had any questions about the rate I sent. I'd love to work with you on your project so, please let me know either way."

I've been hugely more successful with this method than asking for their budget. Do I "leave money on the table"? Probably.
Mike Harrison
3/23/2015 at 11:00 AM
I think "insulting" is a bit strong, because it really depends on the circumstances. I can't count the times I've received email from someone who – by the way they state their request and/or provide little to no information – appears to be quite inexperienced in hiring voice talent. And on those occasions when I simply respond with my rate, which – if they have indeed never hired professional talent before – is perhaps more than they were expecting, all too often they don't even reply before moving on to someone else. This completely prevents the possibility of negotiation.

By asking "is there a budget you're trying to stay within," at least keeps the door of possibility open a bit longer and will allow me to offer a first-time discount (if need be) while explaining how my rate structure works (i.e. what goes into providing the finished product, and that usage of the finished piece also figures into the cost).

It is still quite obvious that many who find themselves in the position of having to hire voice talent seem to be under the impression that rates are simply based on: "It'll only take you X minutes to do." Some clients – especially those who don't know what qualities to look for in a voice talent – need to be educated. Many people have nice voices. Many of them are capable of reading words written by someone else. But we know it's more than that. And, the more we can educate, the better the chances of keeping prospects from winding up at
Jim E.
3/23/2015 at 10:12 AM
All good points, Jerry. I will say that asking about budget in general is a shorthand for "you are planning to _pay_ for this, right?" One thing it seems is unique to acting in general is the prevalence of folks who are offering "copy & credit" payment. Perhaps it's a quick way to shake them out. But, your article jostled me enough to realize it's also a lazy way of doing so. Thanks for the admonishment.
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