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INCOME / FEES
Why Not Charge What You're Worth?
10 Myths About Low Voice Over Fees

By Paul Strikwerda

Voice Actor
"It’s not the crook we fear in modern business; rather, it's the honest guy who doesn't know what he is doing." - Owen Young
The lines have been drawn. The time to mince words is over. Every day, our community seems to get more polarized around the issue of low rates. 

Listen to the buzz. Look at the chatter. Do you think this bubble is about to burst? 

ANGRY AND FRUSTRATED

Some people are past being polite. They're frustrated and angry. I like that. If you're pissed off at something, it means you give a damn and you want things to change. 

Some of my voice over friends are a bit more diplomatic. Recently, I asked a few Facebook buddies a loaded question:
"Is charging low rates a sign of fear and lack of confidence, or just a smart strategy to attract more business?" 
Here are some of the responses: 
"You left out 'ignorance' - some don't know what they're worth ..." - Joe J. Thomas 
"It's not a smart strategy because sooner or later, you will be up to your eyeballs with a multitude of low-ball clients and you'll be working 15 hours a days, just to make ends meet. If you have to do this to survive, I respect that, but you'll never reach the next level working like this. For every low rate I have to turn down, it's usually made up a few days later when I get a new client who gets it. I would rather work with five good paying clients a week as opposed to 15 who have $50 for their budget." - Terry Daniel 
"I believe it's mostly the influx of part-timers and hobbyists to VO that drive down rates. They simply don't depend upon the income to pay their bills. Anyone who has to depend on this work to feed, house and clothe themselves (not to mention a family) could never survive charging such low rates. To them, it's pocket money. And in some parts of the country the cost of living is much lower than in others, so those fewer dollars go further." - Diane Havens 
THE ALTERNATIVE VIEW

Not everyone agrees. Of course, most colleagues would rather do a well-paid job than a low-budget project, but they say there's no shame in accepting work in the first place. 
"Many of us are low-volume workers for a variety of reasons, and do not see the need or value in becoming union members. Denigrating comments like "bottom feeders" are not only irrelevant but wrong and rude. For many of us, a low-paid job is better than no job at all, and there is the chance that someone will hear our voice and offer us a well-paid job. Did the "top feeders" start up there? I doubt it. Most worked their way up, leaving low-paid jobs for new arrivals, and maybe they don't like the competition coming up behind them, because they may just be better - perish the thought!" - Peter Sandon
"Do low rates ruin it for the rest of us? No, they don't. They really, really don't. They mop up low-budget work that others don't want. If they didn't provide that service, the money would simply be spent elsewhere, such as print." - Phil Sayer
THIS IS WHAT I THINK

Here's my take on some of the arguments that are being used to defend, excuse or justify low rates. 

Even though we're talking about voice over services, you'll find the same type of reasoning when other freelance rates are discussed.

Here we go ...

10 MYTHS ABOUT CHARGING LOW RATES

1. There will always be a high end and a low end of the market. Accept it and move on. 

That's a given, and it's not addressing the real issue. We all know that there's a market for KIA and Roll-Royce. 

The point is: How low is the KIA dealer willing to go to make a sale? Is he prepared to sell his cars at a loss, just to get his business going? How long can he keep that up before he goes bankrupt? 

It's not a way to get loyal customers either. Next time, they'll just buy from someone who's willing to go even lower. 

Bottom line: You need to cover your costs and then factor in a profit. But once you get clients hooked on cheap prices, they will never pay full price again.

2. You may lose money on every sale, but you'll make it up in volume. 

That's like buying melons for a dollar each, and then selling 12 for 10 bucks. Does that make any sense? No matter how many KIAs a dealer sells, if he sells them below cost, he's not making any money. 

A small business owner once said: "Sales numbers feed egos, profits feed families." 

It's not how much you sell, but how much you keep that matters. Business is a game of margins, not volume. Bargain airlines tried making money on volume. Guess what? They're gone. 

To paraphrase Terry Daniel: Would you rather do less for more, or more for less?

3. Purchase decisions are primarily based on price. 

If that were the case, Mr. Client, I will send you your order in two years, okay? I'll also make sure that it will fall apart in two weeks, and you won't be getting your money back. Don't bother calling me, because I just closed our customer service department. 

Most people do not buy on price alone. They will talk about price, but what they really mean is that you haven't offered enough value to justify paying the price you're asking. 

There's this cartoon with a picture of a brother and sister each with their own lemonade stand side by side. The brother's lemonade stand reads: "Lemonade 25 cents." The sister's lemonade stand reads: "Lemonade 50 cents (clean water)."

Do you want your service to be known for being the cheapest on the market or for high quality? 

Competing on price is a losing battle. The key is adding value. If you don't offer exceptional value, then your product or service becomes just another commodity.

Value means offering more for a higher price.

4. Price does not influence the perception of a product. 

If that were the case, why are people prepared to pay thousands of dollars for a Rolex, instead of buying a $50 Seiko? Most watchmakers agree that the Seiko is the better time piece. 

Let's talk about brain surgery. Why don't people go to the cheapest surgeon in the area? Because low prices make people think he isn't any good. Price makes a statement:
Cheap = cheap
What does your rate tell the world about what you think you're worth? 

5. Some clients just can't afford paying higher rates. I can't change that.

How do you know they can't pay you a better rate? Buyers lie in order to get you to lower your price. It's the oldest trick in the book. If they could get it from someone else at a better price, why are they still talking to you? 

Stop making excuses for those who don't respect you enough to pay you a decent fee. Unless you've seen their balance sheet, you don't know what they can or cannot afford. 

Know your bottom line. Add value. Don't compromise so easily. Negotiate.

Dare to say "NO" to a bad deal. Study the art of making the sale. It's part of being a pro. 

6. I don't set the rates. The market does. 

So, what you're saying is that you don't take responsibility for your prices? They are forced upon you at gunpoint? You're just a helpless leaf in the wind? 

Let me put it bluntly: The market doesn't determine your price. Your client doesn't set your fee. You do. It's just very convenient to tell the world that you don't have any influence over your rate. 

If you can't control it, you can't change it. You're a victim of circumstance. End of story. Now go feel sorry for yourself. 

Price-cutting is a self-inflicted wound.

Alternative: Look at union rates and make those the basis of your pricing structure.Or talk to an agent. If you're any good, she might want to represent you. She'll fight for a decent rate because if you do well, she will do well.

7. I'm not a sales person. I'm an artist. I don't know how to negotiate. 

No, you're a wimp and you need a firm kick in the pants. Nobody is forcing you to be a full-time freelancer. 

But if you tell the world you are doing this to make a living, it automatically means that you're the head of the sales department, whether you like it or not. 

Any idiot can cave in at the first sign of buyer resistance and offer a price cut. That's not selling. That's being lazy and fearful. It's a sign that you don't believe in the value of your product or service. Clients always pick up on that and it will cost you dearly. 

The way I see it, you have two choices. You either learn the rules and become good at playing the game, or you stay out of it. Remember: experience is the slowest teacher.

 8. Low-end rates do not affect high-end rates. 

If that were the case, why aren't rates going up, instead of down? Why have so many auditions turned into a bidding war? 

Actor, writer and producer J.S. Gilbert said:
"While it's not being broadcast, I'm seeing people I know who have made six figure-plus incomes at voice over for years now, looking at incomes that are fractions of what they were a few years ago." 
I understand that we'll never get back to the golden days of Don LaFontaine and his limo. Thanks to the Internet, the rise in home studios and online job boards, clients no longer have to book union talent at union rates through an agent. 

Talk has become a lot cheaper. As Gilbert notes, "A job that used to cost the client $1,000 is now offered at $250. But why pay $250 if some fool is willing to do it for $25?"

9. But I'm just getting started. I can't possibly ask full price.  

Some beginners admitted to me that they've offered their services for free, just to be able to build a portfolio. Mind you, they were not talking about doing stuff for charity. 

I think a freebie only makes sense if you have something else to sell. That's why a baker hands out samples, and that's why my custom demos are free of charge. 

But if you're giving $500 worth of services away for free, you're not only creating expectations, you're in fact saying: This is what I think my work is worth.

Meanwhile, you're robbing a colleague of the chance to make five hundred bucks. 

10. I don't need to make a full-time income. It's only a hobby. 

If it's only a hobby, why are you advertising yourself as a voice over professional? I play the piano, but I don't market myself as a concert pianist. 

If you enjoy reading to other people, go volunteer at your local children's hospital or elder care facility. You will probably get more appreciation for doing this, than for anything you've ever done before. 

Most talent I know are only freelancing part time because they're still building what they hope will become a full-time business. 

A part-time teacher only gets paid less because she puts in fewer hours. Does a part-time cab driver fix the meter so he can drive you around at half-price? So, why should you offer your services at bottom dollar? 

BE A BREADWINNER

This is not about shameless greed or about becoming filthy rich and famous. This is about being able to provide for your family, being able to send your kids to college and save some money for a rainy day. 

Your voice could help sell millions of dollars worth of product. It can introduce people to brilliant books that enrich their lives. Your voice can be the voice of a mentor, teaching valuable skills to e-learners across the globe. Your voice can inform, entertain, sell and assist. 

Surely, that must be worth something? However, those who can't build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.
---------------------------------------
ABOUT PAUL
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. He also publishes an informative and entertaining blog, Double Dutch.

Web: www.nethervoice.com
Double Dutch Blog: www.nethervoice.com/nethervoice


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Comments (12)
JAY LLOYD
12/25/2012 at 9:45 PM
Echoing the others...wonderful article and great advice for newbies and veterans alike. I was once solicited by a major cable company to voice an employee training film. I wanted a certain computer item that cost $500. So I off-handedly quoted a fee of $500. "Does the fee have to be that high?" they asked. I said, "That IS the fee." They said, "OK." So no matter how you set your fee, stick with it. Give yourself VALUE. Chances are they will respect your decision. Remember 19th Century retailer John Wanamaker who said, "I have no quarrel with those who sell for less, for they know best what their product is worth."
Earl McLean
12/17/2012 at 11:42 PM
Unfortunately, there is a perception that was started by those who are coaches or teachers/voice actors, that voice over is a skill set that is specific but transferable and lucrative. The result is that more people are out there looking for their slice of the pie and dream. The end result is a supply influx that drives down demand from buyers. Yes there may be sophisticated shoppers out there who go on high value but there are more shoppers who are thrifty or appreciate bargain deals to say the least. So the probability factor of finding available talent for recording is now more than ever in their favor. If the majority of working voice providers once again become a collective as in earlier times, the pendulum will then swing back to reasonable earnings for all.
Paul Strikwerda
12/17/2012 at 5:51 PM
Thanks for all the kind words and compliments. My head is three sizes bigger now!

I agree with David: there are many aspects to this issue and they can't all be dealt with in one article. As you know, there's much more to explore on my blog and on VoiceOverXtra. I believe I have written at least 20 articles about voice-overs, freelancing and money.

Have I been "moaning" about losing jobs to lowballers? Was writing the above story a waste of time and should I be focusing on drumming up new business instead?

Well, writing is sort of a hobby of mine. It's physically impossible for me to talk for hours on end, and writing my blog is a nice break from doing voice-overs. Secondly, it's also about giving back.

When I started in this business, countless people gave me valuable advice, and they are in part responsible for where I am today. Reader feedback tells me that my articles are appreciated and considered to be helpful. Educated freelancers make better decisions that can benefit our group as a whole.

Lastly, I'm all for maximizing my income. In order to do that, people have to know where to find me before they can book me. My blog and these articles on VoiceOverXtra have driven traffic to my website in a way I could never have imagined.

Thanks to these articles, colleagues pass my name on to their clients who are looking for an international voice. Producers and agents have stumbled upon my stories and ended up hiring me for a VO project. I have turned some of my blog series into eBooks. Not only do I get passive income from that, I was also able to invest part of the profits giving micro loans to deserving entrepreneurs in Third World countries.

Every week I am in touch with colleagues from all over the world who have read my blog. They enrich my life in ways that go far beyond making money.

Marketing is a must, and that's precisely one of the reasons why I keep on using my pen to attract business. As long as there's still music in me, I will keep on singing!
Anne Ganguzza
12/17/2012 at 3:55 PM
Paul,
Fantastic article! It should be required reading for every VO artist out there. Thanks so much for sharing your insightful perspective.
TJ Jones
12/17/2012 at 3:39 PM
If I may be devil's advocate for a moment, if someone is willing to pay $150 for 5 minutes work, and you have not made $150 that week, that looks like a good rate. If it's a choice between taking whatever is offered, or not making anything, what is their option? Being a hungry and homeless VO who stood on principle?
Maxine Dunn
12/17/2012 at 3:26 PM
Hi Paul,

What a great article! And SUCH an important topic for anyone doing voice-overs, whether you’re full-time or part-time. And I really appreciate your balanced assessment of the whole situation. And I love Terry Daniel’s comment too. Very true!

I appreciate that we’re all in this biz for different reasons. And there are many voice actors who feel that by lowering their rates they’ll somehow make more money.

Here’s my take on this subject:

The LOWER your fees are, the less clients will value you, the harder they’ll be to work with, and the more difficult they’ll be to obtain payment from.

The HIGHER your fees are, the more clients will value you, the easier they’ll be to work with, and the more quickly and efficiently they’ll pay you.

Or look at it this way – who would you prefer to work with?

Ten different clients, who pay you $50 each for projects that are poorly planned, entail difficult and sporadic communication, and who take 90 days to pay you.

One client, who pays you $500 for a well-planned project, whose communication is efficient and professional, and who pays you in advance.

And I wholeheartedly agree with you that if someone’s starting out in the biz, using the SAG-AFTRA union rates as a starting point when setting your (non-union) fees is a great way to go.
Dave Menashe
12/17/2012 at 1:57 PM
Another great article Paul. While I don't disagree with what you say, the issue is a lot more complicated.

The Pay 2 Play sites have opened things up to everyone and they have driven rates much lower. But they've also allowed a lot of folks to get into the business who would never have otherwise landed a single client.

Just a few days ago I spoke with a friend who booked a job on one of the big 2. It paid her $650. The allotted budget range was $750-1000. So yes, she underbid. She drove the rate down. But she still made a tidy sum for her 3 hours work (including editing) and she's convinced that if she'd bid $800, the job would have been awarded to someone else.

This is a competitive business and we must each decide for ourselves what we're prepared to do to put food on the table. The biggest myth of all is that we're not in competition with each other. Fact is that we have to do what it takes to win a contract. When we moan about losing jobs to folks who undercut our bids, all we're doing is wasting time we could be using to search out more work!
Fred Humberstone
12/17/2012 at 9:39 AM
Amen, Paul. In my experience the producers who try to beat down your price end up stiffing you on the bill anyway so why bother. The talent that keeps taking those jobs will have to give up on the business eventually due to the fact they cannot make a living.
Andy Boyns
12/17/2012 at 9:32 AM
Yet again hitting nails on the head, Paul. Having recently become a full time freelancer voice artist I doubly appreciate your perspective. No 10 is something I haven't heard before on any of the forums, and it's a good positive suggestion for the hobbyist.
Thierry Laflamme
12/17/2012 at 9:09 AM
Without any doubt, this is the most brilliant and helpful article that was published about fees in the industry in a long time. Thanks a lot, Paul.
Paul Strikwerda
12/17/2012 at 9:06 AM
Thank you so much, Randye. What many lowballing colleagues don't realize is that even the Dollar Store needs to turn a profit. Happy Holidays to you too!
Randye Kaye
12/17/2012 at 8:18 AM
Another terrific post, Paul. Great points, and fairly presenting different views as well. Each businessperson must decide if they are "The Dollar Store" or not. And we value our clients, who in are happy to have the quality and assurance that comes with hiring us at a fair rate.
Happy holidays!
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