Podcasts Vox Talk Voice Over Rates and Increasing Your Fees with Bill DeWees
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Voice Over Rates and Increasing Your Fees with Bill DeWees

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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What do you charge for voice overs? Bill DeWees shares his perspective on determining voice over rates, quoting on jobs, making room for higher paying clients and increasing your fees with existing customers. You’ll also learn why nobody wants a free voice over, why charging a new client less money to get them in the door is a bad idea, an interesting take on structuring your work day and how 20% of your clients are likely responsible for 80% of your business.

Mentioned on the show:

https://billdeweeslive.com/

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Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Hi there and welcome to Vox Talk, your weekly review from the world of Voice Over. I'm your host Stephanie Ciccarelli from Voices. Do you know what you need to charge for voiceover work today? Joining us is Bill DeWees, one of the most trusted coaches in the voiceover field, who could speak to the business side of voiceover like no one else. Today, we'll be exploring setting rates as a newcomer to voice over, building your portfolio and whether or not talent should ever work for free. Welcome back to the show, Bill.

Bill DeWees:

Stephanie, it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

So wonderful to see you. It's always good. And I know, Bill, that you are just going to bring it today. It's going to be so much fun. And for anyone who is like

Bill DeWees:

This is a landmine, so this ought to be interesting.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

I know it's the best topic ever. It honestly is a confusing one for a lot of people. So really glad that you're here and that you have the business mindset also to address this from. We're going to learn so much today. So, first question for you, Bill. It's so hard to get your first job and a lot of talent are like, well, how do I go about doing this? Do I work for free? Do I just set a rate and hope someone pays me? You’ve got to build a portfolio as a voice talent and it's not easy. So how do you go about getting your first job or at least the first piece of work that you can add to your portfolio?

Bill DeWees:

Well, as you said, it's not easy. It's just because you hang a shingle out front that says voice talent doesn't mean that the world will be the path to your door, obviously. And that's why people like you exist, to create the bridge between those who are looking for voice talent and those who have it. But even then, it takes some work, whether it's auditioning, marketing and so forth. So in the meantime, how do you build a portfolio or credit the idea of giving your voice away for free? It's an interesting and touchy situation. I'm not going to dance around it. I will give you my take on it. I think there's a couple of things. The first one is there's an old saying that nobody wants a free puppy. And you probably heard the old story of somebody who puts a box of puppies out and says, take a puppy, they're free. Everybody walks past, nobody wants it. And then later they put a sign that said puppies, $100 each. And people line up to buy them because all of a sudden they see value in it. So if you market yourself as somebody who's trying to push a free product, hey, let me help you out, I'll do that for free, where you're kind of the pursuer that really positions you in a very weak way. People will never view you as a professional talent if that's the way you market and pursue the work. But that being said, I think there are times and there are times when I have volunteered my services for organizations who have approached me, who I believe they're a good organization and they're nonprofit and what they're doing to be beneficial. And I don't do it all the time and I just can't do it all the time, but when I can, I do help. So on occasion I'll do it for free, but I don't market myself as a free talent. I think that's the distinction between the two scenarios.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Absolutely. And I was just thinking about all of the different ways that talent do promote themselves now that you say it, and you being an established talent, doing some pro bono work here and there is at your discretion and you've already established where you're at with your own rates. So that is very different. I was just thinking about that person who's starting out and something that people may do at first when they're thinking. Oh. Well. I'll just get into this Voiceover thing. Is that they will often charge a new client less money than they would want to. Simply as kind of like a loss leader to get them to hire me the first time and then I'll charge them later. Is that ever a good idea? And how hard is it to raise your rates after that?

Bill DeWees:

It's really hard to answer your question. So whatever rate you agreed to do a job for, don't expect that that client will ever want to pay you more for similar work. I think that's the way you have to approach that. That being said, and this, I guess, is a whole other topic, so I don't mean to get ahead of the conversation, but I'm not opposed to doing work at a low rate because it's like Voiceover is no different than any other career or job path. You don't start off in the C suite and a big corner penthouse office getting top pay. It doesn't work that way. But back to your question, though. If somebody says, look, I can only pay $100 for this job, that typically maybe you think you should get $300 for. If you take it, don't expect that they'll ever pay you $300. It's like the client that says, hey, I've got this job. I can only pay you extra of dollars for this, but I'm going to be getting more work to give you later. Never count on that happening. I mean, if you want to take it at that rate, that's fine. The way I would approach it is, I tell you what, here's my rate and let's start off with that. And then if the jobs come in, then I'll give you the discount, a volume discount, but it's a slippery slope.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Indeed it is, and that's why I've asked you the question, because so many people do think that, well, just this one time, or I could get them to work with me if I compromise on this or that. But you're training the client to work with you in a certain way that is unsustainable.

Bill DeWees:

Yes, there really is. Not just one time, because the client will never forget that. If you work for X number of dollars, they won't forget that. And when the next job comes around and you're quoting three times what you charge them the first time for the same type of job, they're going to say, ‘Wait just a second.’ And then you're going to say then it becomes very awkward. Well, I was just giving you that because you're a first time client. Well, they don't see it. That's not the way they see it. It's not like a grocery store loss leader kind of situation. They're not shopping for voiceover talent that way.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

I'm grateful that they're not, because what that means is that they're actually looking for value, looking for your talent, and they want to reward you for all of the effort and the work you put into it, but also for being the right voice for the job, not just qualified. So all of this being said, let's pretend we're a brand new voice talent trying to get work, maybe don't have a portfolio or much going on, but we know that we need to start building a rate card. So how do we go about figuring out what we should be charging for the various kinds of voiceover, given that we're new to the industry?

Bill DeWees:

Do you want me to tell you how I approach that? Almost 17 years ago when I first got started, and by the way, let me just say this quickly, I think there's too much emphasis placed on having credits or portfolio. I'm not saying it's not important or that it doesn't help, but people I think 90% of the equation is going to be your demos or your audition or both. I don't think most people are doing a lot of digging into your background to see what all you've done. It may help them make the final decision, but it doesn't mean I tell my students all the time because they'll ask me, they'll say, ‘what you've done?’ Chevy and Disney and Walmart, I have nothing. And I tell them, focus on what you do have. Because none of us had those when we first started. So focus on what you do have. Now back to how I approached this when I first started. So the scenario was this the job that I had had worked. It was an instructional design firm, and they were going out of business. And so my pay had been cut in half and they were on their way out. And so essentially I was losing my job, and so I had to replace income quickly and I didn't know what I was doing. Voiceover was a new world for me. And I don't know why, but I assumed in my mind everything was different. It wasn't like anything else. It had its own rules of marketing and its own rules of dealing with clients. What I found out was that business is business. I don't care if you're selling widgets or voiceovers, it's essentially the principles still apply. Which I eventually learned, I eventually found out, and once I did, I thrived after that. But what I did was I knew what I needed to survive. I needed $200 a day to survive, to pay my mortgage, to pay the cars, to feed my kids, to keep everything afloat. That's what I needed. So I started off thinking, well, how can I make $200 a day? And Stephanie, at the risk of maybe raising a few eyebrows, I didn't care how I got the $200. I didn't care if it was a $200 job or if it was 20 $10 jobs. I was brand new. I needed the money to survive. So that was job one. So I cast a very broad net. I was marketing any place that I could to find whatever I could get. So I didn't have a rate card. I didn't work with the rate card. I found out what people were paying and I took on everything that I possibly could with the objective of filling my day with as much work as I could to meet that $200 a day. Which I did, actually relatively quickly. I mean, within a matter of a few months. I think within six months, I'd actually exceeded that on a consistent basis. But once what happened I filled up my day and I got to the place where now I've got to make room for new work. That is the point that I then began to negotiate to get better rates. So the way I would do that is I approached my current clients and said, due to the volume of work that I'm doing, I now need to charge you. So I had a reason for going in. It wasn't because of inflation or because I felt that I deserved more. It was simply something they could understand. Is that my day’s full my book of business, I'm maxed out, I can't take on anymore. And because of that, I need to raise my rates. And I say what those rates were. To my surprise, half of my clients stayed with me. And by the way, I didn't approach every client with this. I took the lowest producing clients who are paying the least amount. So I tiered them. So I took my bottom tier of client in terms of money and I approached them first to make room. About half of them accepted the new rate, half of them left, which then allowed me to bring in new clients at higher rates. And I've done that. That is the philosophy I've followed for the past almost 17 years now. And it's allowed me to build a bigger income than I ever would have imagined in voiceover. So whenever I get completely filled up, I just say, okay, what client is either causing me more hassle than they're worth or just aren't paying me enough compared to maybe some other clients? And then I'll approach them with the new rate.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

I like what you said about some clients being more hassle than they're worth, and oftentimes it's the clients who pay you the least amount of money but expect the greatest things from you almost always.

Bill DeWees:

I tell you what, they say, I'll pay you $25 to do this. And I'm not against that, I'm just saying. But let's say they do that and they may come back to you five times with changes, updates, because it's off the cuff. They haven't thought through the script. They didn't even listen to your demo. They just wanted it done fast. And they come back and come back and come back and the person who's paying you $10,000 for like a national commercial. I'll never forget the Chevrolet Find New Roads campaign was by far the biggest job I ever landed. They used my audition. I didn't even have to do a session. They just used it and that was the end of it. I got a paycheck, it was done, and it was the biggest paying client. And there is like an inverse relationship to pay and hassle and it's almost a universal principle that is rarely ever broken.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Wow, that is a great story. And so do you find that the 80/20 rule is that play here?

Bill DeWees:

I'm so glad you said that. I am so into the Pareto Principle. It is the 80/20 rule. It is so true. I'm in the middle of listening to an audio book about it. As a matter of fact, right before I got on with you today, I was listening to that book just to refresh my thinking on it. And I'm always, yes, it's in play. And I think occasionally you have to, sometimes occasionally I'll print out a list through my accounting software to see my clients for the year and how much I made from each client who are my highest. And you might be shocked because you assume things and then you actually look at the numbers and think, oh, really? And I look at my highest producing clients and my lowest producing clients and that's how I make my decisions based on who I'm going to keep and who I'm going to let go. But yeah, it's true. Almost always.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Right. And you want to be working with clients that you enjoy working with and who pay you well and don't give you a lot of hassle. So I know that there are probably many people listening right now who are digging themselves out of a hole of, ‘I quoted too low. Now I'm stuck with these people. I'm even going to lose half of them if I go about increasing my rates. But there's a lot at play right now. People need to raise their rates for any number of reasons, because everything is more expensive these days. And there's no shame in starting out getting what you can actually get at that time. Because one of the reasons why we started this company, Voices, was that we wanted to help voice actors to put food on their tables. It was as simple as that. I really did appreciate what you said about raising your rates with those existing clients. For talent who are looking to do that, they haven't raised their rates in three, four years; what is the best way for them to actually go about having that conversation?

Bill DeWees:

Yeah, that's a good question. Because really, I think how you approach it will decide in large part what happens, because people can be easily offended. They need to understand where you're coming from. I think one of the things that's so important to understand in a free market system, and this is a harsh reality, your value is not what you think you're worth. Your value is what somebody else thinks you're worth to them. Now, I can line up ten different clients, same job, and what they're willing to pay me. My value to them could be totally different. It could be ten different amounts based on the size of the company, the reach of what they're using, how long they're going to use it. One size doesn't fit all. But I think it's so hard for creative talent who want to feel good about themselves and think, I have great value. And you do. You intrinsically, inherently have unlimited value, but not to the guy who's hiring you for a voiceover. There is a price tag that you're worth to that person, and then you have to decide whether you're willing to work for that or not. But in terms of upping your rates or negotiating that whole process, again, I like my approach because it's so easy, and that I do wait. I don't see any reason to raise rates if I'm only doing like one job a week. Go out and find new clients who will pay you more, because if they're willing to pay you more, if you can demand more in the market, then you're going to get it from other people. Then you can go back once your plate is full and say, I'm full. I can't take on more work. Because of that. I've had to raise my rates. This is my new rate. I've loved the opportunity to work with you. And by the way, I've never asked my clients to stay with me. I thank them and say, I still appreciate the opportunity to work with you, but going forward, this will be my new rate. I say it in such a way to acknowledge the fact that they probably won't be using me anymore. If they don't want to pay you what you want, great. Don't take it, but don't position yourself to them as well, I'm worth this much? They'll decide what you're worth.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Yeah, because they have a budget. And I think that's the point you're trying to make is that it isn't about you as a person, it's about you as a service provider. It's not about Bill, the father and husband and dog owner.

Bill DeWees:

Right, exactly.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

It's not about that. It's about this voice artists that we're hiring to do this job, and we've only got this much money, and not everyone is obviously seeing it as on a human level in that same way. Of course, they do recognize your humanity, but it's not the same when you've got a budget and you can only hire talent for a certain amount. And I love what you said also, and we completely encourage us, always quote what you want to be paid. Don't just do work because it's what's on the table. So many clients will post a job within a given range, and we find that oftentimes they're hiring talent who are quoting above the range. So it's something just to keep there in your mind, is that there are clients who are often new to voiceover or hiring in this way. Maybe they used to work through a third party, and now they don't have that relationship anymore. They're going direct, and they're like, oh, I don't even know how much it costs. And they're guessing at times, and it's not how it is for every client, but obviously there are some who are new, just like there are talent who are new, and they're trying to find out what my rate should be and what should I quote and how do I know. So another factor I know that should or maybe shouldn't, I don't know, you're the expert on this, go into the quote would be how much time you're spending on it, your studio time, perhaps, maybe editing. How does that all factor into the actual quote for the work?

Bill DeWees:

Don't put it on clients to do the math and figure I mean, they see again, we're thinking from a marketing perspective. From their perspective, they are buying a product, a service, a result from you. They don't care necessarily how much time you spend. They don't care the equipment you use or whether the cost of doing a session. All they know is what am I paying for this outcome? I don't break it down. I'm not saying studio time, this, that, or the other. I'm saying for a finished product, this is going to be the rate, and it includes like, maybe two rounds of minor revisions or pickups. I don't like to nickel and dime, not that pickups are necessarily nickels and dimes, but I want a client to feel comfortable. They hire me, okay, I know I'm going to get the outcome I want. I'm not going to be surprised at the end, that unless something really extraordinary happens. That number will be the number at the end.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

So what you're saying is you bake in those costs.

Bill DeWees:

I do, exactly, yeah.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

And I guess where I'm going with this Bill is I'm just trying to figure out how does the talent know how to price those other things? A voiceover for this kind of work would cost this much, but how much is my editing time worth or how much is just I don't know what else. They might be doing music, they might be adding royalty free music. And how might they think about what those items cost, obviously, to package in that one price point?

Bill DeWees:

Well, for me, again, I do bake that into my rate. So for instance, if I'm doing elearning, I know basically how long it's going to take me based on the word count, unless it's an extraordinarily difficult, highly technical even, then I have a different rate for that as well. But the rate reflects that. So once I figure out I know what kind of script it is, I know how many finished minutes it's going to be, I know about how long it's going to take me to do it. So my per finished minute rate reflects everything. It's all included in the price. That way they don't have to think about it. Now, the only difference, the only thing that I will say that I added, you brought it up, adding, if somebody wants me to do a full production on something. Because actually, before being in Voiceover, I wrote and produced thousands and thousands of commercials. That was a big part of what I did. So I had that skill set. But I don't market it outside of my demo services for Voiceover talent. I don't market production for commercials just because I make more money recording Voiceover. So for me, it's a 80/20 thing. It's more profitable for me to do Voiceover. But if a client wants me to do that, I can come back and say, okay, I can do that for an extra number of dollars. I will look at that as a separate line item because it's not Voiceover, it's something aside from Voiceover, but everything else I don't, when it comes to my communication with the client, it's one price and it is baked in. I know how much time it's going to take based on what the project is, and it's going to be the same for every client.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

And that would be true, let's say, if they needed it done urgently. Turnaround time might also factor into these quotes, too.

Bill DeWees:

Here's what I do. I don't charge people necessarily more if they're willing to pay the rate that I'm giving. That's a negotiating tool for me. So here's how that would work. Let's say you came to me and you had a project and you needed it done urgently. Well, I'll give you my rate card. This is my rate. And if you're willing to pay, that great, we do it. I get it back to you quickly. But you say, oh, Bill, you know that's not in the budget. I can only do it for X number of dollars. Well, now that's my negotiating, I've got something to negotiate with. Okay, that's great. However, I can do that. But I need from you a little more time. I need an extra 24 or 48 hours. In a negotiating situation, it's a good idea to make sure that you're always getting something back for what you give so that it feels like an equitable relationship between the two parties, instead of you just saying, okay, I need a lower rate. Okay, no problem, I'll do it for less and I need it fast. Okay, no problem, I'll do it fast. And I need this, and you're just, okay, use it as a negotiating tool. At least that's how I use it.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

I love it.

Bill DeWees:

My business is built around the fact that about half of everybody who comes to me, it's same day. Even a lot of my regular clients. One thing that I've developed over the years, I'm very fast, I'm very efficient, I don't waste time, and I do a good job. It's not that I rush anything, but I can crank out large volumes of work. I can edit it, get it all done, and out the door surprisingly fast. Because of my background, I won't give you a number of years, but for many decades I've been recording and editing, and so I can just do it quickly. So it allows me, in my business, you know, if somebody comes to me with 10,000 words project and they need it. So that's going to be about an hour finished audio, and they need it later today. If they're paying me the right rate, I can probably get that done. I'm not saying it will be easy, but I don't have everything so blocked out. I have certain things blocked out during the day when people need sessions, but other than that, it's a free for all in terms of it would appear that way on the outside, my inbox is just people are just sending stuff in. Well, then my daughter Mallory, who helps me out, she prioritizes those and says, ‘okay, dad, you do this first, you do this second. Okay. While you're working on pause, it because this just came in. Do this. Let's take care of this 30 second commercial. Then you can get back to that 20 page elearning that you're doing. That's the way the day work, I love that. Personally, it wouldn't work for everybody, but I think my skill set allows for it and my temperament allows for it.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Yeah, well, you got to do what is right for what you need to do that day. Obviously you've budgeted time and set aside. Okay, well, half my business every day are new people just coming to me today. And then the other half were existing projects that I have just booked through my clientele and whatnot. So I don't know, maybe people could start thinking about like, how many new clients do I expect to get a day? Or at a certain point in your career, you're going to have to find that balance between bringing in new people and maintaining your existing clientele and how much they need you. So I guess that's just a balancing act that everyone has to figure out when they are in the thick of it because there's really no other way to figure out what's it going to be like. But I think being flexible and open minded and agile are really great traits for talent to have because you never know when that big, huge job is going to drop on your doorstep. If you're not the one ready to take it or to do it, then they will find someone else because you just weren't ready and it wasn't within your schedule.

Bill DeWees:

And Stephanie, that's especially important if you want to do a high volume of work. Because I want to do the highest volume of work at the highest rate that I possibly can. So my day starts at 08:00 and I only work maybe till 3:30, 4-4:30, just depending on what's going on later sometimes if needed. But during that day, I want to be busy. I want to be recording and editing. And it's controlled chaos. It would look chaotic from the outside, but it's a very controlled chaos. It's like, think of an air traffic controller. That's kind of what the function my daughter serves for me and she's controlling all the chaos and just giving me this, that and that. And by the end of the day, all bases are covered, everybody's satisfied, and then we move on to the next.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Oh, everybody needs a Mallory at this point in their life to help them.

Bill DeWees:

I’ve always said that!

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

And when you get established in the way that you are, Bill, you can outsource some of that, be it your editing, be it someone to orchestrate or air traffic control. But I think we have so much more to talk about on another day. We’ve now just,

Bill DeWees:

I would love it.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

We've scratched the surface here. Well, thank you so much, Bill. So before we go again, what is the best way that people can get a hold of you?

Bill DeWees:

The best way to contact me is through Bill DeWees. That's Bill DeWees Live.com BillDeWeesLive.com.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for being on the show, Bill.

Bill DeWees:

Thanks, Stephanie. My pleasure.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

And that's the way we saw the world through the lens of voice over this week. Thank you so much for listening and for following Vox Talk. It's always so much fun to see you and thank you to our special guest, Bill DeWees. Oh my gosh, there's so many good things that have come out of today's episode. Well, thanks for joining us. I'm Stephanie Ciccarelli, host of Vox Talk from Voices. Our producer is Geoff Bremner. Thank you for listening and for watching, and we'll see you next week.

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Stephanie Ciccarelli is a Co-Founder of Voices. Classically trained in voice as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. For over 25 years, Stephanie has used her voice to communicate what is most important to her through the spoken and written word. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, Stephanie has been a contributor to The Huffington Post, Backstage magazine, Stage 32 and the Voices.com blog. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.
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Comments

  • Craig W Van Sickle
    October 19, 2022, 5:44 pm

    Great information but as a voice artist just one small step above Newbie (70+ audiobooks through ACX), I need to start making enough money to pay the rent+. I mostly willing to do anything that pays. Is that a poor way to go?

    Reply