Fail To Plan… Plan To Fail

June 27, 2009  |  Articles

Apparently this is a New Business Mantra that is pretty popular… I only heard of it a few months ago when discussing one of my friend’s idea for a new business. My friend Izzy is a very ambitious kind of guy… He is one of the only people that I know that has been able to sustain a successful freelance business and remain self employed. Some Months are great and some months are lean… and in the lean months he tends to try to find some way to supplement the money and maximize his profit.

The Hierarchy

He reads allot of books on opening a small business and developing a successful marketing strategy.  My marketing know how is a little more seat of my pants oriented. As a graphic designer I used to design what I was told to design… as an Art Director I was briefed by an account manager and then I would come up with a visual representation of what the creative director wanted and then I would make a quick mock up and then give the graphic designer the low down on what I needed.

Eventually I reached the level of Creative Director… so now I was sitting with clients hearing them talk. I’ve had engaging discussions with some of the best marketing minds in the pharmaceutical industry in the middle east… And if you don’t think that’s impressive… think about it this way… these people don’t sell consumer products like chocolate or cheese… they sell pharmaceuticals that have a very short marketing cycle and they are marketed aggressively.

In the consumer world you generally make a brochure once every year to 2 years… in the pharmaceutical advertising field we make a new brochure almost every 4 to 6 months… think about that… at minimum pharmaceuticals are marketed twice as aggressively as fast food or chocolate… the only difference is that the consumer only sees a small part of that … you see the danglers in the pharmacy or outside the store… you might see a billboard or get a flier… the bulk of the advertising is targeted to the doctors since they are the ones that write the prescriptions.

So my marketing knowledge is more or less gained by my practical  experience. When I read marketing blogs, articles or books… I find reflections of the lessons I was taught during one job or another written as a point or in a list.

Fail To Plan

One of the interesting things about a website like Linkedin is that it puts you in contact with all kinds of people… from the Voice over artist who holds down two jobs (like me) to people who run their full time production companies. From the newbie to the veteran professional.

Several things start becoming clear when you frequent the user forums and groups.

  1. Not everyone might be as capable as you are.
  2. You might not be as capable as others.
  3. You really have to dig for those gems of truth that might be beneficial to you

When I designed my voice over website www.mahmoudtaji.com I made a conscious decision not to go after fully english speaking jobs outside of Egypt. In egypt there arent that many good english VOs so I can stand a chance at being in the competition. In Egypt there are tons of Arabic speaking voice over specialists. What makes me unique is that I am a native speaker of both English and Arabic. So as a voice overist (as Philip banks would say) I decided that to the world I will supply the need for Arabic voice over… What I failed to plan was that I beefed up my arabic demos so much that my English one was amateurish in comparison. A voice over veteran (JS Gilbert) pointed out to me that although the English demo showed that I didn’t have an accent (I do.. its a bit of rounded O from toronto) the demo wasn’t really that good… so if I wanted to land English speaking voice over jobs in Egypt… I was doing a heck of darn bad job at representing myself with that demo. So now I had to make a conscious effort to plan my national marketing strategy ( as opposed to my international one which I am happy with).

Rethink, Re-plan, Reembark

So this last week I went and dug up any good English voice over recordings I might have made … then went hunting for some scripts (and found a few good ones thanks to Edge Studio’s free Scripts) and then I took the time to re-record them. I usually do 2 or 3 takes of each one … this time I did 5 of each so I can pick and choose from the best takes.

I decided to use my old MXL USB microphone to get a nice beefy sound… and then I went wild with recording…. You’ve already heard the fast speaking voice over that I posted a few days back… I knew I wanted it to be in the demo but I knew that I didn’t want that to be the focus.. I wanted to show range… I also wanted to show sound engineering finesse. I actually don’t like going to studios (that’s like a doctor who faints at the sight of blood right?!) but I don’t like studios… I remember how grueling it was to dub a couple of cartoons series and honestly after at least 500 or so clocked hours in studio booths… I think I’ve had more than enough. I prefer recording at home. I will go to a studio when the need arises… but it doesn’t mean I don’t hate it.

So I wanted to show my Egyptian clients that I can do my own sound engineering and send them a wicked good voice file and not have to meet with them.

I hate meetings. I think work related Meetings are the single biggest waste of time every.. I don’t mind brainstorm session.. I’m a veteran brainstormer… I work very well sounding my ideas off others and helping them sound their ides of me. Thats where I excel. Business meetings that drag on and on… I can do without those…and I often take advantage of the whole “Artist” persona that is attached to Creative personnel in advertising companies to excuse myself early out of those things.

Some clients are cool with giving me direction over the phone and sending someone with the money for the invoice… some like to be there… if its a big job… I’ll bite my tongue and do it in the studio (not at the same time)… if its something tiny… I’ll just suggest someone else to do the job and go back to my routine… hey .. everyone has their idiosyncrasies … not liking studios is mine.

So I recorded 3 other English voice scripts… and went audio hunting for the music beds… I eventually found the perfect music beds for each one and mixed them in… For the piece that I chose to be the first in my demo… I had to actually mix in two different pieces of music and make it seem like it was made that way… I was pushing for a range of emotions in the different demo showcases and I figured Happy Cheerful then  Snarky/ authoritative then serious and sombre… then blow them away.

You can find my new English voice demo on the front page of my website www.mahmoudtaji.com (the one labeled English demo). I’ve had a few industry pros take a listen and overall it seems to be met with approval.

Plan To Fail

When you take too long to spot a mistake… or when you decide that tweaking your demo or your image isn’t worth the time… then you are basically planning to fail. I’ve had years of experience mixing my own songs together for my band and for the radio… so I can mix my own demo… if you don’t have that experience … find yourself a good studio or sound engineer… or talented audiophile to help you put your vocal portfolio together.

You need to sell your skills with the power of your demo… when I was a graphic designer I had a portfolio that I lugged around to potential employers. I would open up each piece and show it to them and give them a verbal rationale for why I chose and designed the piece the way I did. As I got older and gained more experience I had to adapt to the new way of doing things… No longer did I have to carry a portfolio bag… I could send the portfolio via email in pdf format or I can lug my laptop with me to the next job interview.

There are practices that are tried and true in the voice over industry and are still being applied. You can still send your CD demo reel to clients. You can still make followup phone calls and unsolicited visits. That has worked for decades … but it seems the times we are in are different… and casting agents are more interested in expanding their casting rosters… the internet is perfect for that…

So your portfolio is on your website not on a CD… before CDs you had tapes. The face of the voice over industry is changing … the days of the casting agent as we know them are nearly done… With the internet the client usually comes straight to the talent forgoing the casting process… doing their own casting… Yes there are ups and downs with that. They could easily hire the wrong person… But ultimately what concerns you is that there are certain rules that need to be followed… this is of course until these rules need to change and evolve:

  1. Decide on whether you really want to invest time and money in being a Voice Over Artist
  2. Get some training
  3. Get your demo reel done professionally
  4. Build a website (or get one built for you) to showcase yourself and your skills
  5. Find the best way to sell your skills via your website
  6. Do some free work if necessary to get your first practical job experience
  7. Get some client testimonials if you can
  8. Get some Social Networking done.
  9. Check out your local businesses and radio stations and see if they are interested in working with you… amateur radio is great experience if you know how to get into it.
  10. Keep up with the VO industry… word of mouth is everything in this industry.
  11. If you find that your strategies aren’t working… change them.. do some more studying… consult with other professionals.
  12. Rinse and repeat.

Taji

P.s.: Regarding point number 10… pun was intended 😉


1 Comment


  1. Thank you for an excellent article and the link to Edge Studios for the free scripts.

    I want to get back into the voice over industry after a fairly lengthy absence while I was yacht hopping as a private chef. The private chef industry has taken a big hit during this economy and I need to supplement my income with my other talents.

    I have always enjoyed voice over (my father was a professional actor in the UK for 60+ years and working into his 70’s) I am relocating to the San Diego area and want to begin again there.

    I am sure that your tips will help me to re-enter the industry more effectively. Thank you, Venetia