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Alternative marketing websites have become a very “hot” topic. I’m talking about sites like Fiverr, Odesk and Elancer, among others.

If you’re not familiar with these type of marketing sites, their basic concept is that they attract prospects by offering services at “discount” prices. This discount concept flies in the face of traditional marketing and is often considered to be “low-balling” or “undercutting” prices, often to the point where some conventional voiceover (and other) professionals consider these discount services to be lowering the pricing standards of the industry or doing a serious disservice to industry professionalism.

The reality, though, is that offering discounts for services and products is a time-tested marketing strategy that has made some business owners millions. Still, in the world of voiceover, these sites are frequently looked on with disdain and, sometimes, downright hatred.

But, just because the idea offering discounted services has been around since the days of the first business, and the fact that some people simply feel that the value of their service is what is it – and should never be discounted, does that mean it should not be considered by voiceover talent who are looking for tactics to include as part of a marketing strategy that will get them work? Probably not. After all, most VO professionals will readily negotiate a discount on certain aspects of their work to make the booking more enticing to their client. That’s just part of doing business.

Are the “discount” marketing sites a viable alternative for voiceover talent?

That’s something each voice actor needs to decide for themselves. For some, the “discount” sites may offer substantial advantages. These sites allow the talent to set their own prices, which can put them in a better negotiating position, something that’s not possible with the Pay to Play sites. On the other hand, the seasoned professional may find that these sites are unnecessary, inconvenient competition, or worse – a serious threat to industry professionalism. Unfortunately, the reality is that many VO professionals make the uneducated leap to determine that these alternative marketing sites are “bad” simply because they don’t fully understand how the sites work, or because the concept of competitive marketing is not something they are comfortable with. They assume that a marketing strategy based on tactic of discounted services is, by design, a negative, not accounting for the fact that this sort of business strategy has been with us for a very long time and is very successful for many types of business.

Recently, our Conductor’s Club members have had a series of discussions on pricing our voiceover services and marketing ideas. The discussions have been lively, with the end result being that these sites are neither good nor bad, and whether a voice actor decides to use one (or more) of these discount sites will be dependent on that individual’s personal business plan and marketing strategy. Anne Ganguzza and a panel of VO professionals from WoVO (World Voices Organization) have created an ongoing series of video podcasts focusing on pricing voiceover services. The Voiceover Rates & Digital Ad Reform (R.A.D.A.R.) videos are well worth watching and include many valuable tips and ideas for pricing our services. The overwhelming point of view from these participants is that Fiverr is a serious detriment to maintaining high standards and prices for voiceover talent. That opinion, of course, is completely valid considering the stature, experience and level of work these professionals do. You can watch the first of the series here.

With that said, this article will do a little digging into the concept of the “discount” service sites and lift the veil to provide some information so the choice as to whether they are “good” or “bad” can be an educated decision and not merely an emotional rationalization. Whether you choose to participate in or shun these sites is up to you. But the simple fact is that they won’t be going away any time soon, if ever.

One of the most popular discount sites to receive opposition from voiceover professionals is Fiverr.com. Since this site has a fairly large catalog of voiceover talent, I’ll use it as the focus for this article.

One challenge facing most voiceover talent is that of how they will market their services. Most professionals have a well-oiled marketing strategy that includes a variety of tactics that work well together. On the other hand, most beginning voice talent have a very weak marketing strategy, if any. Talent agents, email campaigns, post cards, cold calling, warm calling, Pay to Play sites, and sites like Fiverr are all marketing tactics that can be employed as part of a larger, comprehensive, strategy designed to bring in work. Relying on only one or two marketing tactics might bring in some work, but that approach might leave a lot of opportunities uncovered. The decision as to whether or not a resource like Fiverr should be one of your marketing tactics will ultimately be up to you and how you choose to market your voiceover work.

The adage “you get what you pay for” certainly applies to many of the VO talent on Fiverr. It is certainly a place where many so-called VO talent are offering their services at very low prices and clearly have little, if any, training or experience. There will always be a certain portion of the marketplace that will go for low price over best quality. However, there are also some extremely talented and very experienced professionals using this site to market their services.

The basic concept of Fiverr is that the starting “gig” is priced at $5. This gives an initial impression that those providing services through this site are “undercutting” or “low-balling” their pricing. Depending on how you look at it, that may – or may not – be true.

Much of the distrust in sites like Fiverr may be due to a misunderstanding of exactly how these sites work. If you look at the way some of the VO talent on Fiverr are pricing their work, you’ll soon realize that they are NOT working for just $5! Only the base gig is $5. Beyond that there are a variety of other “gig extras” that can increase the price substantially.

One voiceover talent listing promotes his service of providing “an Epic Movie Voice” for $5. On looking closer at this listing, it becomes clear that this voice talent is restricting his Fiverr work to “personal recordings only”. No ads, commercials, radio, TV, web or anything else. Basically he’s just doing birthday and anniversary, announcements, etc. And the $5 price is for one take only… that’s it! He records one take, mistakes and all (no editing), and sends that MP3 file to the client – at his convenience. And it’s only 15 seconds! That might be enough time for some announcements, but most people will probably want something a bit longer. I’m certain these bookings are at the bottom of his stack, so he’ll get to it when everything else is done. Want the recording today? Add $50. Want correct pronunciation? Another $50. Want more than one take? Another $20. Want a clean, edited track? $50 please. Want more than :15? That will be $20 for each additional :15.

It doesn’t take much to get the price up to something close to the going rate for non-union work from a P2P site.

Now, exactly who are the customers who might book this voice actor’s services? He doesn’t record anything commercial at these rates – only personal messages. So, his clients will be non-business private parties, which by definition eliminates the type of competition that most voice talent would object to.

But how about his pricing? Let’s say a customer wants a :60 announcement for a big party they’re having, and they want it today, edited, with sound FX, and they want everything pronounced correctly. Here’s how that prices out:

$  5 – first :15
$60 – additional :45 (3 x $20)
$50 – correct pronunciation
$50 – delivery today
$50 – add SFX

Did you notice? He’s just got a booking for $215! OK, not quite union scale, but not too shabby for a really simple job that will likely take no more than about an hour of time to record, tops. And it’s a non-commercial, personal recording, so it will most likely have a very limited life span.

Even if you take out the correct pronunciation and SFX, the price tag still comes in at $115 for a 60-second track that can only be used for personal use. That’s about the same as the common lower range budget for P2P tracks that will often be used commercially in perpetuity.

So much for a $5 gig. Sure, there will be some clients who book the minimum, and Fiverr does take 20% of the booking total. But there are no membership or other fees. By pricing the gig extras properly, those clients who want more will end up paying close to the going rate paid by non-Fiverr clients. It’s entirely up to the talent (seller) to set their rates, including what they will actually provide for the basic $5 price tag. The better, more professional, talent charge more for their gig extras.

So, what are these sites… really?

Fiverr, Odesk, Elancer, and others are really nothing more than alternative methods of marketing that use a time-tested sales principal of “loss leader” to bring in customers. When all is said and done, for some, Fiverr can actually be a viable resource for decent and occasionally very lucrative voiceover work.

Is this right for everyone? No. The appropriateness of using a site like Fiverr falls into the same category as using any of the Pay to Play sites as a primary means of marketing.

Do these sites fill a niche? Yes. Talent buyers come in all shapes and sizes, with all ranges of budget, and with a wide variety of expectations. Just as top national ad agencies will book only the best union talent, there are talent buyers at the other extreme who might struggle to pay even minimum union scale for a voiceover. Small market radio stations, Internet marketers, and private parties typically have small to non-existent budgets.

Are these services perceived as a threat to other professionals? Absolutely. Especially by union, rule-1 members. One principal of all unions is to establish a common base value (or price equity) for the work of their members, regardless of skill level or qualifications. The union sets a “standard” by which its members are paid for similar services rendered. That’s the basic premise of union scale. It’s much like setting a minimum wage for a particular kind of work. Anyone who books their services at a price lower than what the union considers to be the minimum rate will generally be considered by union members as “unprofessional” or “undercutting” professional rates. The perception, which may or may not be valid, is that the non-union performer is somehow “lowering the standards of the industry” or “devaluing” the service – even though that voice actor may provide an extremely professional, high quality performance.

The reality, however, is that the union concept of rate protection by imposing a standard rate generally creates a non-competitive environment, at least for the less established, lower end members. This might work for an assembly line worker who needs only a minimum skill set, but is not necessarily practical or realistic for a subjective voiceover or acting performance. That’s where agents and managers come in… they “up the ante” for the better quality and more experienced performers. It’s the agents and managers who put the competition into union work… not the union.

And the concept of “rate protection” really only applies to those who agree to play by the union’s rules. The Pay to Play sites certainly don’t maintain any sort of rate protection, and the vast majority of non-union voice talent who want to work are usually more than willing to negotiate their pricing – at least to some degree.

Are there professionals who book gigs through Fiverr? Absolutely. Some of the Fiverr voiceover talent are radio personalities who use Fiverr for VO gigs. Others are VO pros who use Fiverr as an adjunct to their other VO marketing (either using their real name or an AKA). And a few aren’t very talented and sound the same with everything they do. But, just as there will always be a market for high-end union VO, there will also always be a market for Fiverr voiceover. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that some voice talent on Fiverr are also union members.

Is Fiverr a viable marketing tool? That depends on the individual’s marketing strategy. For some, Fiverr will present an opportunity for work that cannot be rivaled by the Pay to Play sites. For others, Fiverr will continue to present a threat and they will believe sites of this type are nothing more than a means to degrading and lowering the pricing standards of the industry.

Both opinions are, none the less, valid.

It’s called competition.

Discount sites vs. Pay to Play

Voiceover has become a very competitive business and, as with all competitive businesses, marketing is a critical component that needs to be addressed and given due attention. It’s up to the performer to determine whether a site like Fiverr is appropriate for them and fits in their marketing plan.

It comes down to the simple questions: “What is the value you place on your work and how are you going to market your services?” Lots of VO talent rely exclusively on the Pay to Play sites for their auditions in the hope of getting work. On the P2P sites, there are hefty membership fees and, with some sites, various fees taken out of the booking payment – all with no guarantees of really getting any work and zero options for negotiation. And, in the process of submitting a P2P audition, in most cases, the talent is placed in a bidding war with other talent submitting for the same audition. Other than the quality of the recording, there is no direct competition between voice talent submitting auditions. The choice of talent is often completely subjective and even more often, based on the lowest “bid”. So much for standards.

With sites like Fiverr, the talent may actually be in a much better marketing position than with the P2Ps. After a baseline service is set for the “loss leader” price, the pricing for everything else is at the discretion of the seller (talent). Most buyers understand the “you get what you pay for” concept and, as with most things, the price being charged is often a reflection of the quality being provided. Sellers who (for one reason or another) may not place a high value on their work, will likely post lower rates for their gig extras. The more professional, experienced and competent performers will often post higher gig extras rates. The fact that the talent buyer can easily compare talent and submit an inquiry to several sellers before booking puts the talent in control. Unlike the Pay to Play sites, there is a direct line of communication between the talent (seller) and the client.

Voice talent who have agent representation, often rely on auditions sent by their agents with bookings ultimately negotiated by their agents. The more successful voice talent recognize that the majority of their work will come from their own marketing efforts – not from their agents or P2P sites. Unlike the P2Ps, alternative sites, like Fiverr, put the talent, or seller, in the position of marketing themselves and the work they can provide. The apparent low price of $5.00 is, in reality, only a marketing device to attract potential customers. The deeper reality is that, although a Fiverr gig might generate a bit less income than other marketing efforts, the upsells (gig extras) can often offset the initial discount, and the ownership of the customer along with the greater possibility of repeat business from a satisfied client offer strong incentives to use these alternative services – especially for entry-level voice talent.

The bottom line of sites like Fiverr is that they do, indeed, offer pricing that is often lower than what many consider to be industry standard. And they are definitely lower than union scale for most gigs. But this marketing approach is true in every line of business. This is not unique to voiceover.

Fiverr and similar “discounted” services do fill a competitive niche. Whether they are perceived as “unfair competition” or simply another marketing opportunity, is completely up to individual choice.

Every business is facing new challenges with their marketing and how they do business on a daily basis. And every business owner will ultimately need to make a choice as to how they will maximize their marketing to generate income. Whether that includes offering discounting rates (either as a normal business practice or only on an occasional basis) – or not – will entirely depend on that business owner’s business model and marketing strategy.

For more ideas on marketing your voiceover services, you might be interested in Maxine Dunn’s online course “Voice Over Marketing Made Easy“.

To learn more about marketing tactics vs. strategies, see Dana Detrick-Clark’s blog post HERE.

I’d love to hear your comments on discount service sites, especially if you have had any experience using them.

James Alburger