How to Win the Game of VO Aggravation

Aggravation was one of my all-time favorite board games when I was a kid. If you’ve never played, the object is to move your four marbles from “Base” to “Home” before anybody else does the same. And you don’t want to get aggravated in the process, which means another player landed on one of your four marbles during their turn and sent the marble back to your Base to start again.

Voice acting has aggravating moments. And like the game Aggravation, starting over from Base is part of the business. For me, there are four stages of a booking. Let’s call these my four marbles, which are waiting to move from Base to Home.

Marble 1 – Quote
Marble 2 – Audition
Marble 3 – Session
Marble 4 – Payment

Marble 1 – Quote
 This is the first one to hit the board. Along with rate information, a quote should answer all the client’s questions in detail plus anything else you feel they should know. I use a boilerplate and fill in with the type of project I’m quoting for and the dollar amount. It takes me about five minutes to write. Make it a practice to send it the same day as requested. Potential clients appreciate a quick response.

I usually give the prospect a day to respond. If I don’t hear from them, I follow up and ask if I’ve missed anything or if they have questions about the quote. When I’ve addressed their issues, and we agree to terms on the rate, it’s time to move to the next stage.

One marble down, three to go.

However, if after three follow-ups I haven’t heard a peep, I move my marble back to Base. Aggravation.

Of course, there is always the possibility they’ll contact you again several weeks or even months later. If that’s the case, move your marble from Base to Home and proceed to the next stage.

Marble 2 – Audition
The client wants an audition to consider with other talent they’ve contacted. Read the script and pay attention to the directions.

If there are unfamiliar, profession-specific words or acronyms in the script, there may be a phonetic guide included. Read it. Even if you think you know how to say every word in the script. If a phonetic guide isn’t part of the audition, you’ll need to investigate pronunciations on your own. The web has some tools (How-j-say and Forvo) plus YouTube is a great source too.

Along with what to read, there may be specifics about filename, slating, file type delivery, and deadline. If you have questions after reading the script, and you couldn’t find answers on your own, ask. ALWAYS ASK!!! Don’t guess.

“We love it!” or similar client response followed with a booking is what will advance your marble Home. Sometimes, after you’ve moved your audition marble back to Base, the client notifies you they’re ready to book.

Yay! Advance marble 2 to Home. Two down. Two to go.

However, when there’s no immediate response, this marble may sit on the board longer than you like. My advice is to submit your audition and forget it. Most times, if you didn’t get the booking, you’ll never hear back. Aggravation. (Don’t let it get to you. It happens a lot.)

Marble 3 – Session
It’s a busy time. The script gets recorded. The audio edited. The final files delivered. The project approved by the client. This marble should be the easiest to get Home. At most, the client may want some pickups or a reread. Convince them it’s a good thing for them to direct your recording session. Also, if you have it to offer, talk about connecting to your studio by SourceConnect or ipDTL.

Directed sessions have the added pressure of an audience, and the recording is in real time. Be prepared with enough sleep, water, a fresh mouth, and being familiar with the script. Make sure you have the correct connection info, whether it’s patch, Skype, or any of the voice over Internet services.

Self-directed sessions are all about you. Include everything from the previous paragraph, sans the bit about connection info. If the script is short, be flexible by delivering a few reads. When the script is lengthy, a sample read of the first few sentences sent to the client for review is a good thing. It’s better to make changes in speed, tempo, and overall sound before you read several pages of narration.

Three marbles down. One to go.

On rare occasion, you might find yourself in the session from hell. You and the client may not be able to dial in the sound they’re listening for. You’ve been stopped and spoon-fed lines, and it’s feeling a little humiliating.

Or, you’ve sent what you thought was your best work ever. You delivered many reads to the client for review, and nothing worked. You’ve read the script a dozen different ways, and you sense that maybe you’ll never get it.

How thick is your skin?

Time to take a deep breath and tell the client, “Thank you, but this just is not working out.” 

Aggravation. Move the Session marble back to base. I know, ouch, right?

Marble 4 – Payment
 At this point, you’re just waiting for the check to arrive to get that last marble Home. Make it easy for clients to pay and discuss options ahead of time. Once you agree to payment terms, make sure to include the details in your contract with the client. Advancing your last marble Home means that you’ve won. Good for you!

When the due date arrives, and payment didn’t happen, reach out gently to your client and remind them.

“I noticed your invoice is a few days past due. Would you like an extension?” 

Most times this is enough to trigger action. However, there may be times when a kind nudge isn’t enough. I recommend waiting a few days then reach out to them again. Sometimes life derails the best intentions, and your client may just be off track.

To recap, there are things you can do to improve the chances of a complete booking or moving all marbles to Home and winning the VO aggravation game.

Marble 1 – Quote
Respond same day as requested
Provide your rate
Include detailed information about services
Followup when you don’t hear back

Marble 2 – Audition
Review the script before recording
Follow all instructions/directions
When something is not clear, ask questions
Deliver promptly

Marble 3 – Session
Prepare mentally and physically
Have patch number or other connection details
Give multiple, different reads
Know when to quit

Marble 4 – Payment
Establish payment method and due date
Include payment details in your contract
Offer easy methods of payment
Nudge gently when payment is missed

Not having a clue about what you’re doing in the studio can make you sorry. Managing risk when dealing with clients creates a smooth operation. There were other careers you could have chosen, but you settled on the one that allowed you to have a life.

What gets your marbles around the board?

© 2017 J. Christopher Dunn

5 Tips To Build Solid VO Client Relationships

Forgetting is more of an excuse than a reason for failing to be remembered. As a voice actor, or any freelancer for that matter, what is one of the leading things that make your business grow? Clients who come back for more. But, if you’re not at the top of your client’s mind, you’ll be left wondering what happened when they don’t come back.

Here are 5 tips from business professionals that will increase the odds in your favor.

1. Can They Hear You Now

From MBO Partners, a company providing Business Management Solutions for independent workers suggests to “Focus on Exceptional Communication” as one way to keep connected with clients. From their article, 6 Tips For Building And Maintaining Long Lasting Client Relationships:

Make timely, efficient communication a priority. Of course, communication with a single client should not consistently and unreasonably encroach on your personal time or negatively affect your productivity. However, being available demonstrates that your client’s project and satisfaction are important to you.

This could include following up a few days after delivering your audio files to find out if your client has everything they need. Ah, but you may be thinking that if they need something more, they’ll let you know. Maybe. Give your client an opportunity to ask. Who knows, it may turn in to more work. At the very least, your client feels cared for.

2. Being One with the SME

When I worked in the corporate world, I heard the three letter acronym SME for the first time. It made me giggle. It sounds made up. However, being a SME is nothing to laugh at. It stands for Subject Matter Expert, which means the person with this quality commands knowledge worth knowing. Clients respect SMEs and count on them for guidance.

Alyssa Gregory, Contributing Editor to The Balance, a company with a focus on understanding money and earning more, had this to say about SMEs in How to Strengthen Relationships with Your Clients:

Many times, your clients will welcome and appreciate suggestions on how to do things better or more effectively. Use your past experience and in-depth knowledge of the work you do in your business to help your clients develop solutions that surpass their initial expectations. This can be accomplished by comprehensive consulting, or even more informally, such as by sharing tips, advice and resources that will help your clients in their own businesses.

So when a client contacts you with a voiceover project and is not sure how it should sound, take the opportunity to give input. Or if a script seems a little wonky, take the initiative to ask questions and offer solutions. You’ll be a hero to those clients who’ve never worked with a voice actor. You’ll be their SME.

3. This is Pure Gold

Now, just because you’re s SME, doesn’t give you the license to be all snooty and hoity-toity. Give your clients the respect they deserve. You like to be treated nicely. They want to be treated the same way. In Entrepreneur Guest Writer Allen Duet’s article, 5 Tips for Building Strong Relationships With Clients, his first tip is to treat others the way you want to be treated:

This classic lesson seems like the simplest of tasks: Yet it is often the one forgotten. When engaging in business with a customer, put yourselves in the person’s shoes and provide the same level of service and respect that you would want.

Keep positive and make your clients feel working with you is hassle-free. It’s a pleasure! I always go back to the businesses that treat me well, and I’m sure you do too.

4. The Perfect Stranger

Be the best you that you can be. Coming off as something you aren’t will make you appear robotic. That doesn’t mean being sloppy and careless with work and clients; it means being genuinely human. In the Small Business Trends article, 7 Strategies for Better Managing Client Relationships, Larry Alton writes:

Stop trying to be such a polished version of yourself in front of customers. In an effort to clean yourself up, you’re actually cheapening your image and transforming yourself into someone you aren’t. They don’t want some ideal image of you. They want the real deal.

Mistakes are going to happen and it’s much better to be open about them. This proves that you’re human and, while they may be frustrated at the moment, it ultimately puts them at ease.

Whew, what a relief! That should take a massive weight off your shoulders. You want to be professional but real. There’s no such thing as perfect.

5. Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Working in solitude has a significant drawback. Opportunities to connect on other levels besides professional are almost non-existent. Developing ways to connect socially and getting to know your clients better will help create a stronger business bond.

Product Designer Fabio Muniz wrote in his HOW article, A Freelancer’s Guide to Building Great Client Relationships, being friends with clients is a good thing:

Get to know your clients. Get to know who they really are—what is their story, what they are building for the world, what kind of food they like. Do they have children? Do they like to travel? Put in the hours to learn about them. Show that you care, that you are not just in it for the money, that you want to truly help them.

Now, when you Friend you clients on Facebook or invite them to join your Linkedin network, you’ve got more in common than work.

To recap 5 Tips to Build Solid Client Relationships:

  1. Keep the communication flowing
  2. Be the expert your clients can depend on
  3. Treat clients like you want to be treated
  4. It’s OK to be human and have flaws
  5. Becoming friends with clients is a good thing

What are your suggestions for developing client relationships that last? Leave your comments below.

© 2017 J. Christopher Dunn