In 2014, my husband and I had our first baby girl. I had three months of maternity leave and then went back to work.
It was not easy going back to my job after the fastest, craziest, longest, shortest three months of my life. That time at home spoiled me, and I did not feel ready to go back to work and be away from my family all day. I wanted desperately to find a way to stay home (and make money), but I had no idea how I could make that happen.
On my commute to work one day I listened to a podcast interview with a voice actor named Alyson Steel. I had never even heard of voice acting. I had no idea it was a job that thousands of people around the world were making a living with. Alyson talked about her career and how she voiced TV and radio commercials from her home studio.
Did she say home studio?!
A lightbulb went off!
Before I could talk myself out of it, I booked a coaching call with Alyson, who also teaches voiceover. We connected on Skype and by the time my first coaching session was over, my mind was exploding with info about this new industry that I was quickly falling in love with.
I started getting regular coaching lessons. Eventually, I started auditioning. I consumed every piece of voiceover material I could get my hands, eyes, and ears on. I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours I spent reading, watching, and listening to voiceover-related content.
I was obsessed.
And then it happened…
I got my first job!
It was for the narration on a two-minute product explainer video and it paid $450.
Someone actually paid me to read a script from my closet and send them the file!
(This was the moment my husband was convinced that maybe all this training and auditioning was going somewhere.)
This first taste of success was like pouring gasoline on a fire. I went crazy auditioning on the nights and weekends. Within four months of beginning my voiceover journey, I booked a national radio campaign which, combined with other one-off gigs I continued to book, allowed me to quit my job and came home to focus on my new career.
Since then, I’ve done work for Taco Bell, REI, AT&T, Kmart, Bayer, Kaiser Permanente, Grammarly, Netflix, Walt Disney World, and TNT to name just a few.
My voiceover career has grown every year and the best part is I can do it all from my home studio in Kansas City. The job is flexible enough to allow me to spend time with my family when I want to and pays more than enough for us to live on.
Okay, interested in learning exactly how I did it?
Grab a snack, this is going to take a minute.
But before we get going, I have to say that my story is not typical.
Having been a full-time voice actor for almost five years now, I’ve seen a lot of other aspiring voice actors start their journeys. Some get traction rather quickly, but–like most entrepreneurial — it typically takes years to get to the point where you can do voiceover as a full-time job. You can’t just buy a microphone, start auditioning and expect to be making a full-time income next week.
Building a successful voiceover career is not a straight path. Ask ten voice actors how they got started and you’ll get ten different answers.
So, if you’re cool with putting in the effort, let’s get into it.
Everyone Needs a Coach
Think of the last commercial you heard on the radio, TV, Spotify, or YouTube. Chances are the person speaking sounded like they were just talking to a friend. Sharing about his or her experience with some product. Easy, right?
The reality is that it is very likely that the person voicing that ad has spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars learning how to make it sound like they were “just talking to a friend.”
I know this probably doesn’t seem to make any sense. I mean, how much work can it take to learn how do what you do every day naturally when you’re just talking to friends, right?
The answer is: a lot.
When you are talking to friends, your words are coming from your own mind. You are using your own words, and you are genuinely experiencing the emotions you’re conveying with your words.
When you book a voiceover job, you get a script that came from someone else’s mind promoting a product you may not care about, and you have to delivery that script as if the words and emotions are your own.
And unlike on-camera acting, you don’t have a scene partner to play off of or an elaborate set to help you visualize what’s going around in the imaginary world of the script.
I won’t spend too much time on this, but I have heard a lot of people leave their first voiceover coaching session express just how surprised they were by how much goes into artfully breaking down and delivery a piece of voiceover copy.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that people who are good at things have coaches. I wanted to be good at voiceover, so I hired someone to help me do that. And it has more than paid off.
Coaching saved me hundreds of hours of wasted time. Looking back, I can’t imagine how it would have worked out for me had I tried to just go at it alone. I would have made all kinds of poor decisions and probably would have made mistakes that would have been hard to recover from. I’ve seen people try to go it alone, only to get discouraged and quit.
A good coach will help you create a pathway forward that is right for you, your voice, your strengths, and your goals.
Notice I didn’t say “find.” I said, “create.” Voiceover, like so many things in life, is an individual experience. It’s not like finding a job that literally anyone could do; it’s more like creating one that only you can do.
There are so many rabbit holes, distractions, bad advice, and dead-ends in the pursuit of voice-over work, and a good coach will help keep you on the right path.
We’ll talk a bit more about the vocal side of voice over next and then get into my favorite part after that.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
When you are just starting out you’ll be competing for voice over jobs against other voice talents who have been in the game for years and even decades. So how do you earn a spot at the table? Practice, practice, and more practice.
Turning on a mic and delivering a great performance doesn’t just happen.
My guess is that you fall into one of two camps.
- You really like the idea of voiceover, and you want to know if it’s a good fit for you… but you don’t like the sound of your own voice. You’re doubtful about your ability to deliver high-quality voiceover like what you hear on the TV and radio.
- You’re interested in getting into voiceover because you feel pretty good about your ability already. Maybe you’ve had vocal training. Maybe you’re a singer or a podcaster. Maybe people are always telling you you have a great voice. Maybe you love the sound of your voice!
Here’s the deal. Regardless of which of these camps you fall into until you have developed an ear for voiceover, you won’t really be able to be a good objective judge of your ability and potential.
But–whether you think you’re awesome, or you’re just not too sure, the good news is you can always improve if you put in the work. And depending on where your starting point is, you may not have a very long road to get where you are competitive in the industry.
Voiceover performance skills have to be developed and maintained.
Everyone has to start somewhere. It may not be pretty at the beginning, and that’s okay! Hear me say this… It’s okay to be a beginner! That’s true with anything in life, not just voice acting. Serena Williams was a beginner a long time ago and she just never stopped practicing. The good news is that just like so many things in life, what you focus on will improve. You can get better with practice.
How do you bridge the gap between where you are now and where those pros are that you’ll be competing with? Practice and training.
How do you get your performance skills to a level that you can proudly turn in an audition that you are confident with? Practice and training.
I’ve got a huge stack of resources, thoughts, and recommendations for practicing in my free getting started guide and in my membership site.
Let’s talk business and marketing!
Be Your Clients’ Go-to VO
One thing that has created thousands in recurring income sounds really simple but it’s something I have to remind myself of often.
Be easy to work with.
Your clients are people. They’ve got a boss or client to keep happy. They’ve got deadlines. They want to feel like you are listening to them and care about doing good work.
Multimedia projects have a potential headache written all over them. The script has a typo, the video doesn’t sync up with the slides, it’s too long, it’s too short, it was due yesterday, it doesn’t “feel” right, the list goes on and on.
Pro Tip #1: Turn everything that can or does go wrong into an opportunity to be a hero
Every project manager has a voiceover nightmare story. Imagine the headache when a voice actor can’t (or won’t!) follow direction, delivers the audio two days late (and now the entire project is going to be late), or delivers poor audio quality or sloppy editing. Now everyone is frustrated and you aren’t likely to get re-hired by that client.
Things will go wrong. It’s how you react that will score you points with the client. (Or guarantee you’ll never get hired by them again, depending.)
If there’s a glaring typo, politely ask for clarification quickly so there is time to edit. If the project is running behind schedule, turn your work in sooner than expected.
I could go on and on, but the point is to keep your eyes open to the bigger picture and you’ll see the opportunities to be a hero when they arise.
Even today there are times I just want to deliver the script (and the invoice) and be done with it. But I always try to go the extra mile and let my clients know I care and I’m available.
Pro Tip #2: Jobs are auditions for future jobs
When you go the extra mile to make a client’s life easier, you increase your chances of getting repeat work with that client. And repeat work is the easiest work you’ll never audition for!
Email subject lines like “I’ve got more work for you!” are much better than “Sorry, we went with someone else this time.”
Repeat work is a much better way to grow your business compared to never-ending auditioning. Don’t get me wrong, I still audition every day, that’s never going away for me because of the type of work I do, but the repeat work sure does balance things out.
When you are delivering a job, think of it as an audition for on-going work and see how it changes the way you interact with that client.
Be the smoothest part of the project and they will hire you over and over.
The Million Dollar Question…. Where are the voiceover jobs?!
“Where do I go to find the voiceover jobs???!” -Everyone, all the time.
It seems like a logical question to ask, and who could fault anyone for asking?
However, I fear that many people (I’m sure not you!) who are asking this question are really asking for a fail-proof, pre-packaged, easy way to get voiceover work. And I don’t believe that exists.
When you open a restaurant, there isn’t a fail-proof, pre-packaged, easy way to ensure that people will come and eat at your restaurant and that it will survive. It’s always a risk. But the more time, energy, and money you invest into giving your business a solid footing from the beginning and then marketing it well, the higher the chances are that you’ll do well.
The same is true for voiceover.
Marketing for your voiceover business can look like a lot of things. You can send out emails, you can network in person, you can use social media, you can door-to-door, etc. But you do have to do something.
If the idea of getting creative and marketing your business sounds exciting, awesome! This part will be a lot easier for you. If not, you’ll need to learn to embrace it. Because this isn’t going away.
The jobs are where you find them. You as in *you*.
The second best thing (the best thing being coaching) I did to move my career along quickly was I developed my own marketing outreach strategy.
I wasn’t about to sit around and wait for clients to find me. And I didn’t want to spend too much time on the audition hamster wheel of burnout. I have to give credit to the online casting sites for getting me on my feet but I also have to give equal credit to my own marketing efforts for moving on to the bigger arena.
Because I had a background in e-learning I decided to focus on finding and reaching out to e-learning developers. I choose this niche not only because of my background but also because I knew that developers would have on-going work!
I landed several clients who create long-form and ongoing e-learning content. Before I knew it my marketing strategy was bringing me increasingly higher-paying jobs with fewer auditions. (Remember Pro Tip #2: Jobs are auditions for more jobs!)
I was researching clients who would be a good fit, artfully reaching out to them, and then delivering great work. When a client already has a relationship with a great voice talent who is delivering the goods, they won’t ask other voice actors to audition. It’s easier to just use someone they know, like, and trust.
Think of this from the clients’ point-of-view. When they know they can trust you and your work, there’s no need to spend hours posting their work to job sites, sifting through hundreds of auditions and then getting to know and working with a new voice talent. It saves them tons of time and energy. Win-win.
So, if you’re going to audition on online casting sites, you’re only going to win consistent jobs if you take it upon yourself to get the training you need to be competitive. If you’re going to focus on marketing yourself to get work, you have to do the work of nurturing your potential clients. Either way, you have to be aggressive and assertive. And there’s nothing wrong with doing both at once.
You can see how executing a marketing strategy + focusing on a niche I have experience in + being easy to work with + coaching and practice helped push my career into high gear without having to be dependent on being chosen by someone else out of a pool of hundreds of voice actors all auditioning for the same jobs. I now teach this strategy to my advanced students.
So, how do you get the jobs?
Here are a few tips.
Start with what you know.
Are you in the medical field and know how to pronounce levothyroxine, acetaminophen, hydrochlorothiazide, and sphenopalatine-ganglioneuralgia? There is a lot of medicine-related voiceover work out there. And you better believe these clients don’t have time to correct pronunciation all day. If you already know how to pronounce all those medical terms, you are way ahead of 90% of the voice actors out there for this particular field.
Start with your experience and skills.
Are you a musician, actor, or podcaster? Truck driver, software developer, or administrative assistant?
I bet if you thought about it for five minutes you could come up with several things in your past that you could leverage to position yourself to book some voiceover work.
Before I had even heard of voiceover I had hosted and produced hundreds of podcast episodes. And although I had never performed on stage, I always had fun doing voices and characters for as long as I can remember. I also designed e-learning at two of my corporate jobs and even voiced some of the courses I created. All this previous “non-voiceover” experience was invaluable when I saw the light and connected the dots.
Start with your contacts.
Do you have a friend who produces video content? (I do and I’ve done thousands of dollars of work for them.) If you searched your LinkedIn or Facebook connections I bet you could find a few folks who are in the media creation world.
Start with what and who you already know and see what you can come up with. Get comfortable behind the mic, develop your performance skills, and then use these marketing ideas to branch out.
Making Your Business Successful
You might be thinking, “I thought this was going to be about voice acting and it was mostly about marketing and coaching. What’s up with that?” Well, one of the reasons I turn quickly to marketing and coaching is because I think it’s important to convey quickly that being a voice actor is much more than just talking. It’s a full-on business, and you have to think of it that way from the beginning so you are set up for success from the beginning.
Of course, your voice has to have a fit in the industry as well.
What I want you to know is that there are two sides to this voiceover thing.
2) Business and marketing
The person with the best voice doesn’t always get the job. You have to take a holistic approach to your business. And that means paying just as much attention to your business and marketing.
You might have also noticed I barely mentioned how to train your voice and didn’t even mention what equipment is needed. That’s partly because I haven’t heard your voice yet so spending too much time there isn’t going to be terribly helpful right now. (That’s where coaching comes in.)
I go much deeper into everything mentioned here plus how to know if your voice is right for voiceover and what equipment you need in my getting started in the voiceover guide.
And remember when you feel a little silly (but mostly excited!) recording your first fake audition in your closet, that is a good sign you are on the right path.