Being a Big, Small Business

 ***This blog entry was written by Carr Hagerman, an exclusive NUTS VO talent, accomplished public speaker, author, and performer.*** 

I wish I had a dollar for every business idea I ever had.  Ideas are cheap and easy for me to drum up.  Just think- a buck for each idea…I’d be stupid rich.  To take this train of thought a bit further down the tracks; just imagine how filthy wealthy I’d be if I actually acted on all those thoughts in some way!

 Unfortunately, I (along with many of my creative friends), suffer from what Stanford professor Robert Sutton calls the “Knowing-Doing Gap.” It’s the gap that exists between actually having a good idea, knowing something might work, and taking action on it. It is easy to think that having the idea is, in some ways, the same as doing something with it. It’s the “taking action” part that is problematic.  How many times have those of us in the creative professions listened to some shiny new idea from one of our friends or associates and thought to ourselves that the seed will never make it into the ground, and nothing new will grow?  But ideas, and a plan of action to develop them, should constantly be part and parcel of our work.

The work of a professional talent is really a micro-business, a small enterprise that is focused on selling our various talents to producers, writers and directors. We sell our time, for sure, but we also sell our experience, our know-how, and we also sell ourselves to our clients in how we show up. The theory is, the longer we’re in this industry, the better we are at what we are doing. Sometimes that’s true, but we should not lean too heavily into the armrests of certainty in our ability to read and interpret a script.

There is an incredible amount of creative apathy inside creative communities. Once we figure out how to make a living we often give up trying to expand our talents. We know what worked.  We tried it, we succeeded…just repeat!  But there is a body of evidence that suggests that over time, all businesses flounder and fail for lack of engaging new ideas, and the creeping shortfall of presenting the same thing over and over again. This is why when a new talent shows up, if they’re any good, everyone wants to hire them…and the seasoned veteran can start seeing their business disappear.  Clients want a voice that is fresh, new, and ENGAGED.

I’ve heard some voice talent complain that they’re not getting the work they used to.  One talent said “The (agency) really must be pushing the fresh new people…because I’m still doing what I’ve always done, and my bookings are way down.”  Well. Okay. There is an old cliché about the definition of insanity, but turned around it reads, “If you never do what you’ve always done, you can expect different results…” In other words, the reason your bookings may be down, or why you’ve become shelf-dated, might be because you’ve not changed up your game, tried new things, re-branded yourself.

“My voice is my voice…can’t change my sound.” I heard at a recent party. That may be true, but if you see your talent as your business, why on earth don’t you consider every aspect of that business as affecting your own bottom line? Any successful CEO will tell you, innovation and new product development are critical to growing their product and their bottom line. Why not apply the same reasoning to your work as a professional talent? What are some ways you can change it up? 

To begin with, while you may not be able to change your voice, you can expand your range, change your demo, work to present a different sound, and offer new alternatives for producers to choose from. Do you explore your voice any more?  Also, how do you look? I can’t tell you how often I see talent show up at voice gigs looking like they don’t have anything better to do!  The crappy jeans, the turtle neck.  Completely unmemorable, over time. Try changing glasses, the way you wear your hair, and your clothing choice. Lately, I’ve taken to wearing a kilt, and will soon add the kilt to my professional speaking wardrobe…among other things.  Do you work out, keep yourself looking relevant, or do you subscribe to the idea that one of the reasons you love this line of work is that you don’t have to dress up for it?  Rubbish. Going to the studio IS your work; at the rate you’re being compensated and for the impressions it can create, you should have a talent wardrobe.

What about your materials?  I believe every talent should have a business card that includes all of their agency contact information.  Leave a card behind with every producer, write on the back what spot you recorded, a quote, or some other interesting tidbit.

There are a million ideas you can pursue that will keep you front-of-mind and relevant, not only to the clients, but most importantly to yourself. But ideas are a dime for 6 dozen, and their worth will only be determined when you engage them with action.

Here is a quick list of a few other things you might do to keep yourself current:

1.) Update your demo often.

2.) Read the ad industry rags, so you know the current landscape. I get Ad Age every week; if I see that a local agency or production house has won an award, and if I happen to be working with someone from one of those places, I make sure to congratulate them when I walk in, or send them a note.

3.) Hire a style consultant. I work with a consultant in Edina, who has helped me with my wardrobe, my shoes, even how I wear my hair and my glasses. Old jeans and crappy tennis shoes…nope.

4.) Spend 15 minutes a week listening to every demo you can find. Practice with a voice recorder.  Read copy you don’t think you’re good at.  Read copy you’d like to be good at. Listen and Learn! Your competitors are a great source for learning.

I’ll be sharing more ideas in the future, but for now, remember that relevance can disappear as quickly as it came. If you’re not fine tuning and growing your talent with new energy, new offerings and an occasional new look, it won’t be long before you’ll join the ranks of the highly talented, under-employed professional talent…and that my friends, is a cliché!


to start a new project folder.