Today’s post could possibly be considered as a bit of a rant, but in all honesty I’m actually writing it because it might just help someone. Someone like me, a few years ago, before I got a bit of a wake-up call on the subject.
I started out as a professional photojournalist, and I was one of the lucky folks who actually had a staff job at a major daily newspaper. That’s a pretty rare commodity these days (even rarer, now that so many traditional newspapers are drastically reducing staff, or folding altogether.) But I digress. You see, although being on staff at a newspaper was a fantastic experience that I wouldn’t change for the world, the unfortunate reality about it is that it did nothing for me in terms of providing me with business or marketing skills, both of which are sorely needed to be successful in the freelance world — and that goes for the freelance/self-employed world in general, not just photography.
So when I got laid off for the first time (yes, I said first time…obviously there’s a longer story here, but I want to get to the meat of this discussion) in December 2009, it came as a huge awakening for me. I very quickly realized how easy I had had things, not having to worry about marketing myself, trying to generate clientele, handling general business dealings like proposals and invoices, accounting, etc. They say that when you run your own business you’re everything from president and CEO to the marketing team to the accounting staff to the talent/producer, and boy did they get it right!
So how does all this translate into the world of voiceover?
You need to treat yourself as a business from Day 1. For me that meant incorporating as an LLC. (You can do this online through sites such as Rocket Lawyer or Legal Zoom, which can walk you through the process step by step.) Once you’ve got an EIN, go ahead and fill out a W9, scan it, and save it so that you can readily access it when you bill clients for the first time. (They’re going to need one from you, so you might as well be proactive and send it along, in .PDF format, with that first invoice.)
Get a website (and then an email address that matches your business). You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to have something custom-built. There are tons of free templates (like this one that I use!) on sites like WordPress. Showcase your work in a clean, professional manner. Also, make sure you get an email address that corresponds to your business. People won’t take you as seriously if you’re JaneDoe@yahoo.com, or even gmail.com — if you’re operating as Jane Doe Voice, get an email address like JaneDoe@JaneDoeVoice.com. Again, it’s just more professional!
Create business document templates. When a potential client contacts you to inquire about possibly using you for a certain job, your first impression with them is going to be how you present yourself and your services. EVEN IF IT IS A FRIEND REACHING OUT TO YOU TO POTENTIALLY HIRE YOU, TREAT THEM LIKE A PROFESSIONAL! That means creating proposals, invoices, work agreements, etc. — whatever documents may be necessary to send out. Have a basic template saved with your logo and business information on it so that if a client asks for a particular type of document that you don’t have in your template folder, you can generate one.
Think branding. This should possibly be listed right after incorporating, because it’s an important step to consider before you even create your website and business docs. I’m not going to go into a huge explanation here, because this could be its own blog topic in and of itself, but my advice here is to create something that is professional, but also speaks to your personality. And then remember to keep your branding consistent across platforms, from your website to your business cards to the business documents you’re generating.
Business cards are still important. I know people think these might be going the way of the printed newspaper, but at least for now business cards are still important. I can’t tell you how many times people ask me for a card. So get them, AND CARRY THEM WITH YOU! And here again, like branding, I’d like to recommend that you take the time to make a business card that really shows that you’re a professional, both in its design and its physical appearance. (Personally I love MOO — the quality of their products across the board is just exceptional.)
Figure out an accounting system that works for you. Lots of people love QuickBooks. But even if you’re not a software person, at least establish a system so that you can readily determine who owes you money. It sucks to do hard work and then not get compensated for it, or to not know if you have been or not!
Follow up! Here’s an important step that I always take that others may skip over. After I’ve done work for a client, I send them a follow-up postcard just to thank them for the opportunity to work with them. I think it’s a nice way to keep in touch with someone, and to show that you spend more than the 5 minutes it takes to jot off an email to do so.
Above all, you want to present yourself as a professional from a client’s first interaction with you (i.e. finding you through your website or discovering you when you send them marketing materials) until their very last (hopefully following a satisfied receipt of files/recording session and your receipt of payment). I’m also a huge proponent of the “underpromise and overdeliver” mindset, which has served me well so far.
I hope some of this works for you! I’m happy to discuss in more detail any of these steps, or even to share some of my business docs, if that’s helpful to you. Just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.