You’ve launched your voice-over business. You market your demo. You network. You audition. You get gigs. Now all you have to do is get paid.
Union or Non-Union?
For AFTRA and/or SAG union talent, getting paid in a timely fashion is a benefit of union membership. It’s built into the union contract. Union talents fill out a form at the session and then submit it to a paymaster (someone contracted with the union to handle talent payroll). The paymaster ensures that the talent is paid within a time period specified by the union contract.
Non-union talent and financial core talent doing non-union work are totally responsible for collecting what’s owed to them. Financial core, if you aren’t familiar with the term, refers to less than full union membership. Financial core union members have paid the portion of dues and fees dedicated strictly to collective bargaining, excluding any activity not directly related to collective bargaining. You might call it “union-lite.” Financial core members do not have voting rights and cannot hold elective office in the union, but they also do not have to abide by union rules and regulations.
Types of Clients
So, what payment policy should you, the non-union talent, adopt? Just as the Internet has changed the voice-over business by making the home voiceover studio possible, the Internet has changed collection by making it possible to take payment electronically. PayPal is just one of a number of the online options that make requesting immediate payment possible, instead of sending a paper invoice through the postal system and then waiting for a paper check to be sent to you. But before discussing methods of accepting payment, let’s look at the various types of clients out there and the payment policy that may best apply to each one.
Most businesses base their payment policies on assessment of risk. Assessing the risk you take with a client usually is a matter of simple common sense. If an individual contacts you through your web site and asks you to narrate a wedding video or tribute to a deceased relative, then probably it would be wise to request payment up front before delivering the voice over. If the individual balks at paying up front, then you can agree to voice the script, play the voice-over down the phone line to prove you did it, get paid, and then deliver the voiceover.
Working with ad agencies and production houses usually means giving up a little control of payment terms. You can request payment up front, but most ad agencies and production houses expect to be invoiced. You can put “due on receipt” on the invoice, but that is often interpreted as “30 days net.” There are some excellent ad agencies and production houses out there that pay promptly, but very often you will have to wait 30 days or more for payment. Be aware: many smaller ad agencies and production houses have adopted a policy of not paying you until they get paid. In the ad biz, this means you can wait a long time for payment.
(On a personal note, after waiting a year for payment from a small agency for a VO I’d done for a local electronics and appliance retailer, I finally reached an agreement to accept a color television in lieu of cash. A couple of months later, the retailer went out of business, a victim of serious negative cash flow! Did the ad agency ever get paid? Good question.)
Doing voice acting work directly for mid-sized to large corporations usually means having to bill on a 30-day net basis. This means, in essence, that you end up offering 30 days credit interest-free. The good thing is the risk of not getting paid is usually low. Will some companies push payment out 60 days and even further? Yes, but again you’ll eventually get paid.
So, let’s go through the individual types of clients and your payment options.
For individuals, request immediate payment. As described above, play the completed voiceover down the phone to prove it was done and then ask for payment. Once payment is made, deliver the voice over.
For direct work with larger companies, ad agencies, and production houses, request immediate payment upon receipt of invoice. If they say their policy is 30 days, try for 15. For long-form voiceovers involving many pages and a large talent fee, try requesting 50 percent up front and 50 percent upon delivery of the project. Remember everything is negotiable. You can even barter for part of your fee. Remember how I received a TV in lieu of cash? Of course, keep track of your receivables (what’s owed you). When a client does not pay by the due date, send a statement. Make a polite but firm phone call requesting payment. Be proactive. Most people pay their bills. But for many clients your invoice will not be top of the pile, so to speak.
Payment via the ‘Net
Now, back to collecting via the ‘Net. PayPal is a very popular site for collecting or sending payments. Just visit www.paypal.com and sign up. Clients can pay by credit card or through electronic transfer from a checking account. You’ll receive an email telling you when the transfer of funds has occurred. This makes it perfect for collecting an up front payment. As soon as you receive the email, you can deliver the voiceover. www.worldpay.com and www.verisign.com are two other online payment processors you can check out, too.
Want to take credit cards? You’ll have to open a merchant account in order to accept them. It will cost you a fee to open the account, a monthly fee, a fee for each transaction, and a percentage of each sale. Do an online search for credit card merchant accounts and compare costs and services to get the best deal.
Direct wire transfer is a third electronic payment option. Set up a checking account used exclusively for wire transfers. You supply the client with your checking account number and the banks routing number, and the client transfers funds directly from his account to yours. It works well and can cost virtually nothing depending on the deal on the account you get from your bank. One of my TV imaging clients pays by wire transfer. I email an invoice out of my QuickBooks and usually the next day the money is in my account!
With a payment policy in place, you’ll gain greater control over how and when you get paid. Hey, it might be a really fun business, but it’s no fun not getting paid.
© Peter Drew, 2005
Peter Drew, a freelance voice-over talent and copywriter/producer with decades of experience, is heard on radio and television stations, corporate presentations, web sites, and messages-on-hold across America and countries around the world. To send an email regarding this article, please visit Peter Drew Voiceovers at http://www.peterdrewvo.com.