Most Small Businesses Fail Because They Give Up Too Soon (From an SBA study!)

Most small businesses fail because they give up too soon, found a study by the American Small Business Assoc. But I'll add to that finding and I am writing an article about this subject too. I'll let you know where it ends up being published online when it's finished. As a voice coach and longtime voiceover pro (studio singer too) who has been through hard times and good, who started out in this nutty business with a four month old baby and no husband, no money, no job, who moved to a new city where there was more studio work available leaving her free babysitter (her mom) behind, I'm convinced it's that many in the voiceover start-up world do not know the basic tenants of entrepreneurship, of owning one's own business, self-promotion, advertising, being organized, setting goals, following through. Last year, I was asked by VASTA (Voice and Speech Trainer Association) to write an article for their annual publication in which there are many wonderful articles on various aspects of a career in voice and speech, and the topic I was given was, "The Home-Based Business." Yes, we voice talents are entrepreneurs. We are a home-based business. Yes, there are start-up costs. Yes, the costs never end. We have to re-invest back into our business forever. Yes, there are cash flow situations one must plan ahead for. For example, (there are exceptions, of course), the month of August and the holiday Christmas season are usually "dead zones." The business really doesn't start up again until mid-January or even later. There are certain "musts" that one must have. These include an online internet presence (which can be accomplished in many differing ways), getting bookings or auditions through voiceover agents who represent us (I favor having agents in at least four or five cities and one or more in Europe), selling voiceover jobs on your own (I own a telephone message company and also am a copywriter, recording studio owner, producer, engineer capable of producing jingles and voiceover campaigns totally on my own--I 'cut my teeth' as creative director of several major agencies and production houses in past years and that's where I learned these skills). Talk about giving up too soon? Think about all of the singers and dancers and actors in Hollywood and NYC pounding the pavement eating spam and beans, couch-surfing or sleeping in a car, working as waitpersons. Think of all of the stories they can tell. And think about all the famous people who can tell these stories. Did they give up before landing that role in a film or a musical? Obviously not!

Just today, I had a former student in my office who wanted to talk to me about his frustrations in the voiceover realm. He made a demo with me about three months ago. He has a quite expensive computer recording set-up at home now (premature in my opinion but he didn't ask me) and he mailed out demos (at Christmastime!) to seek agent representation but has heard not one word back from any of them. He is not on any internet "pay to play" sites. He doesn't network in our town as he should, hobnobbing with producers and such. He so far has not mailed his CDs to producers or advertising agencies and he is quite well connected because he also is a jingle composer and jingle singer who moves in some good circles but never thinks to advertise his voiceover abilities.

Just today, I signed him up for VU. He said he doesn't know "how to build a website." I showed him how simple it can be. These are basic skills, basic duties of anyone starting a new business...voiceovers. At least now he's got a page people can see! He's ready to quit, throw in the towel. What do you say to this person? "I've spent over $3000 on workshop fees and various types of voiceover training, buying my studio equipment, duplicating my CDs, and having a demo created." Those of you paying $5000 and more for a demo alone are now staring at this page in amazement at such a low fee for a start-up! He is in the midwest...not in LA or NYC.

It's so frustrating to teachers, I'm no exception. And I am a person who truly loves people and loves teaching, it's my biggest bane of existence, the 'giving up so soon' syndrome. Where did the unrealistic expectations come from? Not from me! Did he think it was a "quick win?' Did he think large sums of money would come in after only three months' time? Certainly, he did NOT hear this from me! Oh no. I talk to students of "starting your own business," "How important self-promotion is," on and on...and I do NOT make demos on students who are not prepared. I do not make promises to people who shouldn't be doing voiceovers at all. Oh no. I prepare my students completely before I let them record with me. I train newcomers to advanced pros. I start from where the learner is. That's the first rule of teaching. People have different levels of talent and expertise. What are those levels? I try to identify them. Even when I produce demos for advanced professionals which I do quite often, I make sure the professional is prepared and we're moving in the right direction with the demo project. What is it the experienced talent, my client, needs now? It's my job to move his career forward. That's what he's paying me to do!

I developed my Business of Voiceovers workshop a few years back because so many people are constantly studying voiceovers and acting while being totally out of touch with how the voiceover business works. It's certainly not "fun" all the time. It certainly takes hard work to establish any business and voiceovers are no exception. Some succeed, some fail. That's true of all business areas.

But don't give up until you've given it some time. On the average, I believe a voiceover business that brings in pretty good money over time is about a three year (or more) build at the least, and then one must sustain it and grow the business (just as with every field!. Oh yes, I've had students who succeeded quickly, winning a huge national spot their first month in the business. Oh yes, I've had students who signed with major NYC agents right away. These are the exceptions. I have many students all over the world who have fine careers now as voiceover talents and many do other things too (a filmaker, a singer, a composer, a studio singer, a copywriter, a videographer, a recording engineer, etc.). But the field everywhere is littered with those who gave up too soon. Too bad.

Food for Thought...
Bettye Zoller

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Comment by Bonnie Engel Lee on February 18, 2009 at 9:02pm
Thanks for your realistic article. In our society, we are primed for instant gratification and if it doesn't come, we tend to ask what's wrong and give up. Your article takes some of the pressure off by describing how it really is. Only a small number of people are successful right away.

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