Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.

Feast and Famine

Posted by MikeCooper on December 10, 2008

It’s a funny old business, this voice over malarky. One minute you’re up to your Adam’s Apple in jobs; the next it’s all looking a bit barren. At least that’s been my experience of late.

In October and November I was rushed off my feet. I had one week in November where I had six days out of seven working for the BBC, a full morning’s recording at Sky on the other day and a whole host of other jobs – training recordings, continuity writing and recording, and so on – that I somehow managed to “shoehorn in” around it all. I’m not saying for one moment that I’d want to work like that every week, but it did feel rather good to be in demand. And the upshot was that in November I billed more than I’ve ever billed before – like, twice as much… 

Now, I’m the first to accept that any business like this is going to have its ups-and-downs, its quiet periods and so on. December is often a quiet month in business generally: no one wants to get too excited about new projects and the whole focus is on getting enough done to take two weeks off over the holidays. Nonetheless, this week I’m feeling a bit down-in-the-dumps, having had £700 worth of work disappear in a puff of smoke. Not one job, but three, have vanished into thin air at the last minute. Puff! Just like that.

The first, and the most lucrative of the three, is an instalment of an ongoing training project. Someone, somewhere far, far away, unbeknown to me and to the person who manages my side of things, decided that this particular training module either didn’t need to happen, or didn’t need to happen right now. £400 – Puff! Still, at least it’s an ongoing project, so there’ll hopefully be more in the new year.

The second job I was quite excited about. Though not that lucrative (£175 all in), it was to be for a major brand doing some web promos, and may have been a good way in to more work. The lady I spoke to, who contacted me out of the blue a few weeks back, seemed very keen and asked me to pencil it in for some time this week. A couple of my messages to confirm it in the last few days have gone unanswered, so my best guess is that at this point it’s either not happening or they’ve changed their minds about using me as their voice. Still, it would have been nice to have been told. Puff!

The final job was part two of a job that we did part one of last week. It’s for an out-of-town client. They don’t pay London prices, but the £130 would have been useful – especially in light of the other cancellations – and they’ve been good to me as I’ve been building up my voiceover client base this year. The client decided that they’d got all they needed last week, so Tuesday’s session was scrubbed from the diary. Puff again!

I’m philosophical (well, it beats bursting into tears) so I know that this is – hopefully – just a “blip”. I know that you can’t judge anything by how the weeks before Christmas go, either. But it does raise a few interesting points for those of us that freelance. There’s a temptation, if you earn really well for a short period, to spend as though that’s the way you earn all the time. Until you’ve been earning at that level for a good few months, and can see clear reasons for it to continue, it’s probably wise to exercise caution in spending. Put money aside. Strike a sensible balance saving and buying the stuff you need and were putting off buying before – like professional memberships, subscriptions, new equipment and the like. A few people who freelance have told me that they’re never happy unless they’ve got three months’ salary in the bank in case of emergency. My jaw drops at this point as I’ve never had anywhere near that amount of “ready cash” on tap. It’s something I aspire to, though.

Another point is this, and it’s just my personal view: don’t be too quick to ditch clients who don’t pay full whack, but who’ve been loyal. It would have been very easy for me to shun the out-of-town client I mentioned above, but I may be grateful for them in a slow period if they come up with work. It’s great to aim high all the time and go for the big money, but at the end of the day it’s about paying the bills before taking any holidays. If you deal in selling “widgets” then you’re disadvantaged compared to those of us whose only commodity is our time. Time costs nothing, and unless there’s a mob beating a path to your door, it’s wise to be at least open to offers in the short term when it’s quiet. Keep your principles close at hand though, for when things begin to pick up again, and don’t automatically sell yourself short. After all, nobody else needs to know you’re quiet, and it’s hard to beat the price up once you’ve gone in with your initial pitch…

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