The first time cold-calling was suggested to me as a vital marketing tool for voice-over, I immediately got flashbacks of my abortive time spent in telesales while training to be an actor.
The expectation was something like Wolf of Wall Street.
Stuck in a nondescript concrete block/rabbit warren with the kind of artificial light that makes you forget what day, let alone what time it is, I spent six months cold-calling people for various charitable causes before deciding that it was better to be just, well… really really poor.
I never went back.
But the cold call makes absolute sense for a voice over talent. After watching lots of videos from Bill DeWess (which I would recommend to anyone starting out in VO), it was all to do with the mindset in which you approached the call. His video about cold calling is here.
In acting, cold calling gets short shrift at best. No agent or casting director appreciates you taking the time to give them a call, because you’re not instantly offering a potential solution to one of their problems - you just want a job - and there are already a lot of people willing to do whatever for not that much anyway.
In voiceover, you can skip these gatekeepers to a extent by going directly to potential clients. Just google ‘video production company [insert city]’ and you will get a long list of potential employees with impressive portfolios. The crucial thing is to not attempt to make it a sales call. Rather, it’s about putting yourself on someone’s radar, which might pay dividends in a week, a month, or twelve months time.
Bill DeWess talks about opening any cold call with “I was wondering if you could help me”, and that one little sentence can trigger a subtle shift within the receiver - quite often an underpaid and overworked receptionist. There are many wannabe VO’s who have decent websites and decent demos sitting on a homepage, but nobody knows they exist. It’s in the cold call that you can connect a potential client with that product in a ‘no pressure’ way.
Below is the basic script I use when cold calling:
"Hi, I was hoping you could help me. My name’s Chris, I’m a voice over artist, and I was wondering if you put me through to the creative director or person who deals with voice over talent for your productions?
Hi, I was just wondering if you were open to receiving voice over demos at the moment?
Great. Would you prefer me to email you a link to my demos or email you an mp3?
Fantastic. Could I take your email address?
I’ll just read that back -
Is it okay if I follow up with you in a few months just to stay in touch?
Thanks so much for your time, your help has been much appreciated. Have a great day.
Do you mind if I contact you in a few months to see if your status has changed.
The key, as ever, is simplicity.
Unlike telesales, there is no pitch, just an offer to send a link to a website. That’s all - but you’ve made a bit more effort than just a cold email, and even if the person you should talk to is busy, you can get the name of the person who did pick up the phone and preface your email with “After taking with x”. Suddenly, that website only your mother ever looked at becomes important - and if you’ve already put the work in on that (plus, MOST crucially the actual VO demos it hosts), then you’ll be filed for future reference.
I’m not saying that it’s easy, or that it’s the most immediately gratifying time in your day. But it is simple. Another VO blogger actually took the time to record what the experience was like (very close to mine, despite being on opposite sides of the Atlantic), when making 10 calls in under 20 minutes.
Check it out below.
But if there’s one thing that being self-employed has taught me, it’s that every minute not spent recording, should probably be spent marketing - and this is the most direct way possible. In six weeks consistently cold-calling, I’ve made 124 enquiries, and the worst response I’ve had is “we use agents” or “we don’t take unsolicited calls”. And that has been five times.
Thirty of those calls have led to an acknowledgement email saying the company will keep me on file.
Eight of those calls has led to a sustained correspondence about my rates and future availability.
Three of those calls has lead to a job already.
To further crush the numbers - 2 minutes per cold call, x 124 = 248 minutes, or roughly four and a half hours.
Excluding any future work that may come from the calls already made, that’s three jobs (paying £150 each) in less than five hours (+ the three hours it actually took to record them).
So 8 hours for £450, which works out at £56.25 an hour.
I can remember Guy Michaels mentioning a per-hour fee of £50 an hour and trying to resist laughing. But maybe there’s something in it after all.