Ever had to track down non-paying customers? Non-union voice talent agent, Roger King, knows your pain. Join Roger as he discusses practical strategies he has used to collect on overdue invoices and pick up a few tips along the way that will save you stress and keep the cash flowing.
Roger King, PN Agency, Agent, Voice Work, Voice Acting, Business, Talent, Voice over Canada.
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Roger King is the President of PN Agency which provides voice-over talent to the radio, television, film, multi-media and animation industries. In 2004, he launched a sister agency, Ethnic Voice Talent (EVT), and now represents over 100 voice over talents and translators in more than 15 different languages.
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Roger K: Hey, this is Roger King, happy to be back in another voice over expert’s session for the fine folks at voices.com. If you don’t know me I own PM Agency, which is a non-union voiced agency, which is based in Toronto. We represent English and French non-union voices. And we also have ethnic voice talent, which as the name implies represents voice talents in many different languages. So, we’re sort of like the United Nations of voice work.
In addition to that I have a blog called voiceovercanada.ca where I go over very sexy topics in the voice over industry from the perspective of a voice talent agent and you guessed it, we’re not on Twitter #voiceovercanada, couldn’t resist tweeting like a mad man about the various whacky adventures of a voice talent agent.
And as I mentioned, I’ve done one of those voice over experts podcasts before in what I like to call secrets of an agent man. And today I thought I would cover a topic I think applies to everyone listening to this podcast. And that’s collecting money from those clients we all know and love who just don’t seem to get the concept that they owe you for the work you’ve provided. I’ll call this podcast Collect Calls or if you prefer Cheques and Balances.
One of the joys of being a talent agent is that I have to do those collect calls and chase down money, especially because we’re in the non-union world. The net 30 days on the invoice seems to be some sort of very lose guideline for your average client. I do find the majority of clients pay within striking distance of the 30 days. Some who take longer you get used to ’cause either their a major company and you know they’re good for the money and they have some kind of 60 day bureaucracy thing or they’re old clients who are predictably late.
But there are those of course for whole it requires some aggressive collection techniques and you sort of sometimes leave it to your gut, should I leave it to the fact that the bookkeeper was on vacation or that he thought he mailed the cheque last week. It’s your call.
In 17 years of doing voice work and now nine years of owning P&A Agency, I’ve only not been paid four times. Two bankruptcies, fortunately in both cases small amounts of money, about $300 each. One client I had to take to small claims court. He was in bad financial shape. I’m not sure if I’m going to get any dollars. And then we have a fourth client who, I’m doing the air quote, closed down his business but then appears to have restarted a new company doing pretty much the same thing. But anyway my point being, getting close to 20 years in this business, I’ve only been burned a handful of times.
So, I have some perspective on that. And the fact that you might have an agent, you probably breathe a sigh of relief that it’s folks like me that have to do this, this chasing down of money. But then again you may be someone that has a home studio and your own voice business as well, in which case you also have to have your accounts receivable department. When you have an agent doing this for you of course then your job is just to go record the thing and then find a good table on the patio. As an agent I’ve experienced every accounts receivable scenario under the sun so I thought I would just share some wisdom here after all that preamble that may help you when tracking down those overdues.
Now first off I think there’s a couple of pre-emptive strikes to do before and immediately after your voice session. I think I’m stating the obvious but get every job booking confirmation in an email. You never want to have to reference a phone conversation where, you know, no, I didn’t say $300, I said $700. You don’t want to have that dialogue. In this day and age, email correspondence does hold up legally but you got to be clear and concise in your emails so that someone not intimately involved in your tense negotiations can make sense of this thing if they have to look it over if you’re getting legal help or whatever. You don’t want to have to reference seven different email trails or you’re going to be scrolling like a mad man up and down.
After you’ve lent your dulcet tones to the project, keep a copy of the script if possible. Obviously that’s easier to do if that’s a home studio job. And also keep or obtain a copy of the audio. This is assuming it’s not a 90 minute e-learning narration at someone else’s studio. But for shorter things, see if you can hang onto the script and of course hang onto any correspondence that acknowledges receipt of your final audio if it’s a home studio job and/or receipt of your invoice. This is of course the pre-emptive strike against the age old classic, I never received it.
Now fast forward to the point in which your invoice is overdue. What can you do to inspire your client to pay short of taking them to court, which you may ultimately have to do and you should be prepared to do so. I’m assuming you’re at the point where you’ve done the squeaky wheel thing with your client, you followed up by email, you’ve left messages, sent telegrams, you’ve done the megaphone outside their office window and they’re still not paying.
I should point out, you know, like I said earlier, clients come in all shapes and sizes and you sometimes have to make the call whether the excuse they’re giving you is valid. Not all late payers are bad apples. Some legitimately run into a rough patch or are overwhelmed for one reason or another and I think the ones that at least communicate. One guy that owned me a lot of money was giving me weekly updates on whether the landlord was locking him out of the office. Not want you want to hear but at least you can tell he’s being sincere.
But assuming you’re not buying their excuses or they’re not communicating at all, you got to look for clues as to who their client is. And that’s why I said if you have a copy of the script it might be on there somewhere. You do the thing, a Microsoft Corporate Video but their client is obviously not Microsoft, it’s a local ad agency or production company. And you look for clues. There’s nothing wrong with taking your squeaky wheel routine up to a third party, which I’ve done many times.
As an example a client wasn’t paying my agency for some home show radio spots that were done. And this client was dodging so I phoned the marketing department of the home show itself. And I simply explained that we hadn’t received payment for commercials that had already aired. And within 24 hours I heard from my client who, let’s say he was a little perturbed that I had gone to his client, but not as perturbed as the home show clients were at him for not paying me. They loved the voice talents on the spots and it turned out it was a perfect scenario because they were planning to record more home show spots for the fall and wanted to use the same talent. So, let’s just say miraculously after these phone conversations, I got full payment within 48 hours.
When you’re calling a third party be polite. Be polite because it’s not their fault presumably. But don’t hesitate to use this gem of a phrase. And I quote it is illegal to air commercials without paying the talent. It is illegal, three words that get people’s attention.
Keep in mind do not character assassinate when you’re calling a third party. So, an acceptable line would be, Dazzle Productions has not paid the talent who voiced these commercials. By the way this would probably be the point in the podcast where an announcer comes on and says real names are not being used, all names have been changed. But in this case I am using real names. Don’t ever do any work for Dazzle Productions. Just trust me; they do not pay their bills. And I’m running the risk of a defamation of character suit and I’m happy to do so. Don’t work for Dazzle Productions. Anyway, that’s a little sidebar.
Just stick to the facts and you don’t want someone else in the industry to think you’re the type that goes around bad mouthing people. You’re just calling to say you know what? There was this job and I wasn’t paid or my talent wasn’t paid. And there’s also no harm in calling the radio and T.V station assuming this is broadcast stuff that you did, where the spots aired. Let them know that you haven’t been paid. Assuming the radio and/or T.V station is in your city. It’s not that they will necessarily be able to do anything about it. But you want to get your client’s attention. And the more people somehow connect it to the work you did that you inform the better. And again, you just stick with the truth. If you say the truth you’re not doing anything wrong. Be straight forward with the facts and again, remember those three fun words, it is illegal.
A couple of other tidbits when trying to collect from the dead beats, when you follow up by phone call from different numbers or block your number. So, you got to switch it up a bit. And call your client’s cell phone rather than a work phone, land line kind of thing. Get them on the cell phone. Call at odd hours. Not at 2 AM necessarily, but why confine it to business hours when they’d be expecting you to call. I’m talking 7:30 or before 9, just switch it up a little bit, keep them on their toes.
You can also construct an email to their clients detailing how unprofessional they’ve been in dealing with you. Again keeping with the theme, stick to the facts. Send the email to your client. Tell them you’re going to send it out on Friday to their clients if you haven’t received payment. A lot of clients of course on their website will list other people they’ve worked with. Again, don’t actually do it but pretend you’re going to do it. Let your client think, let them sweat a little bit.
Of course spread the word in the voice over community if you’ve had a particularly bad experience with someone or at least talk to others and see if they’ve had similar experiences with this client and how things got resolved if they did at all, nothing wrong with spreading the word, again as long as you’re sticking to the facts.
So, never lose sight of the goal of never getting paid. Your job is to be as persistent and annoying as the situation calls for within reason in order to get your money, without physical threats of course. I think that goes without saying. I look at clients like this is shoplifters. They’ve taken something and not paid for it. So, make them pay, literally.
I cover this in a number of different blog pieces on my blog, which in case you’ve forgotten is voiceovercanada.ca. And we’ll probably return to this topic from time to time because I think it’s an important one obviously ’cause we’re not doing this from the goodness of our hearts. So, I’ll leave it there. This has been another addition of Secrets of an Agent Man.
And if you want to keep in touch of course visit the blog. Did I mention it? voiceovercanada.ca or find me on Twitter #voiceovercanada. Or you can do both, you can go to the blog and to Twitter, I love that. For now this is Roger King, that will be all.
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