Connie Terwilliger – ISDN Voice Talent

February 6, 2011

The MacGyver Approach to VO?

Filed under: Business, Marketing, Musings — Tags: , , , — connieterwilliger @ 4:40 pm

A post on a Facebook thread* this morning got me thinking about what you need to start a business. Can you make it in the voiceover business with “duct tape” and creative thinking? Well, not eveyone can be MacGyver. There is a bit more to it than that.

David Cross, a man with natural talent in voiceover and a deep background in marketing and business stated:

…for anyone “starting a business – don’t think you need any investment. It’s easy to get your first sales in through duct tape and creative thinking and use that money to put back into building the business. “Never a borrower nor a lender be.”

To which I too quickly replied in a lame attempt at humor…

I know duct tape is wonderful, but I tried to make a mic with it and failed utterly.

David followed up…

Duct tape is a “metaphor for getting things achieved even though apparent obstacles exist.

Certainly some with the right natural tools and marketing skills can be in the right place at the right time and start their business on little more than a roll of duct tape. But “easy?” Therein lies the rub. What is easy for some is Mt. Everest for others.

The business of voiceover has changed so much over the years, but the bottom line still remains – you must know that you have something to offer, and find the people who want to buy what you have to sell.

For some, understanding what you bring to the table may involve classes, coaching, studying. For others, this knowledge may have been present from birth.

For some, figuring out who wants to buy what they have to sell may forever be a mystery – or the steepest hill they have ever climbed. Others may understand marketing 101 and are able to match up their skills with the people with the $$.

Do you need to invest $$ in order to make this happen? Or will the duct tape metaphor carry you to success? Everyone’s path to making the business of voiceover pay off as a career is different. There are no bread crumbs. And certainly, given just how hard it is to make a living doing voiceover work, if you are just getting started, you shouldn’t mortgage your house while waiting for the sacks of money to arrive. In that I do not disagree with David.

But, let’s get back to getting “your first sales in.” And then the next and the one after that until you know that they will keep coming. It really takes something special to reach that point where you know you can pay the bills on what you earn doing voiceover work – some unique combination of talent and marketing skills that cannot be bottled. For most people, it will not be “easy” to bring in those first gigs using duct tape and creative thinking.

* The thread was started by Nancy Wolfson – she had posted a quote from The Social Network about inventing a job, not finding a job.


  1. >>>”Therein lies the rub.”

    “Rub”? What rub? Why would it be a rub (a euphemism but let’s call that spade exactly what it is – an “irritant”) that anyone could break into and succeed in voiceover or any other field with enough balls, hard work and a committed desire to succeed?

    Success has nothing to do with natural born talent or genetics. It also has nothing to do with luck or of being in some ethereal place at some magical time when mysterious forces collude to bestow a prize for those lazy enough to hang around waiting. Success is about breaking through any obstacle, whether real or mental, and pushing through until you succeed.

    Duct tape is a metaphor to getting started and not waiting until conditions are right because they never are. Anyone can get into most fields – and definitely voiceover – by starting right now. You don’t have to wait for ideal conditions or sit worrying and wondering whether you’re good enough.

    Whether you are a beginner or an expert wondering how to get to the next level you will never succeed by excess planning or wondering whether you’re going to succeed but by getting out there and getting on with it without considering the reasons why you cannot or should not be succeeding.

    >>>For most people, it will not be ”easy” to bring in those first gigs using duct tape and creative thinking.

    Why not? It’s just an idea. Most obstacles exist in our own heads. Finding a creative way around those internal obstacles is important for everyone. Duct tape alone isn’t enough and nobody with natural/”at-birth” talent will ever succeed unless they work hard and improve. Winging it and striving for perfection go hand-in-hand. They are – paradoxically – excellent bedfellows.

    I’d be naive to think that winging-it alone in any field would bring sustained, long-term success and my subsequent posts and messages to you on Facebook touched on that aspect. It’s also naive for any “established” business – voiceover or any other business – to think that not pushing new boundaries and improving the status quo will bring success.

    Anybody could adopt the same *attitude* that I did when starting out in voiceover or in any other business that I’ve started. It’s simply a mental space that says I can and will succeed and that there are no obstacles greater than my will to succeed no matter what anyone says.

    Voiceover is a business and like any other business nothing happens until a sale is made. The free market determines who becomes successful but unless you strike out, nothing will happen. Since starting in voiceover in the last few months I’ve gained a number of new – now, repeat – voiceover clients who are all happy with the business results of my voiceover. I’ve also put back into my voiceover career about $7,500 to date and I expect to put a lot more into it over the years. Add to that the $335 I’ve contributed to charities that our voiceover community have supported since last September.

    First and foremost I invested in the best voiceover coaching there is with Nancy Wolfson of Braintracks Audio who is not only a top voiceover coach but a total supporter and advocate of all her students. I’ve also invested in additional equipment and built a vocal booth and networked with some of the best voiceover talent there is who have given me incredible support, knowledge and skills and in return I’ve freely helped them with their own marketing. I’ve also referred voiceover jobs to a number of colleagues and friends where my own voiceover skills were unsuitable (“Bay Area Female for Bank Narration” in their 30s is just not my vocal style :-).

    Your critique at my comment that winging it with duct tape to get started cannot be considered a basis for long term business success skims over what entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, et. al. have known and practiced for years, viz – it’s the ability to fail or succeed *quickly* that determines the success and growth of any business and that we should never hold back and always be pushing ahead and testing new ideas, new ways of growing our business, new ways of improving ourselves. If you want 6 Sigma you have to know where the defects are in the first place.

    I fully expect to pay my mortgage with voiceover work in 2011 and I won’t stop building my voiceover business and bringing outstanding quality to my voiceover skills and craft.

    There’s plenty of incredibly talented but starving voiceover artists out there looking for ways to improve their business and I’ll take the “MacGyver” approach to the business of voiceover to get started and I’ll continue to push out the boundaries and see what works and what doesn’t.

    I’ve still much to learn in the craft of voiceover and look to seasoned professionals like you Connie to set an example to up-and-coming voiceover artists. I do bring a lot to the business aspect of voiceover and I am excited to help any VO talent committed to success with their marketing. As I mentioned in my presentation at FAFFCON #1, any skill that we don’t already have can easily be outsourced allowing us to get on with the craft of voiceover (for example I am not the world’s worst designer – but almost!) and I am delighted with the work Jason Sikes of Village Green Studios did on my branding and design.

    I’ve a call with Google shortly about my voiceover services with them so I need to go, but let’s end this comment with another person fond of winging-it and the film that portays him – Patch Adams. “In the future, I think matters like this could best be solved if all voiceover artists would practice a little “duct tape.” :-)


    Comment by David Cross — February 7, 2011 @ 9:36 am

  2. I think that you have expanded well on your initial post to the Facebook thread. Discussions must have time to develop. Short social media sound bites often lead to miscommunication.

    Certainly one should not wait until the “time is right,” because you are correct, there is no “right” time. And even success is a relevant term – just as the difference between “good” and “great.”

    You stated: “Winging it and striving for perfection go hand-in-hand. They are – paradoxically – excellent bedfellows.”

    I do like this quote from your reply David. But let’s discuss “winging it.” My initial interpretation of “winging it” painted a vivid picture in my mind of someone (metaphorically) throwing a handful of seeds into the air willy nilly.

    If some of those seeds are going to take root and develop into a career, there must be some research and self-understanding about what kinds of seeds – what kind of soil – etc. etc.

    I poked around for the origins of the phrase “winging it” and found this page:

    ‘Winging it’ is a theatrical expression which refers to impromptu performances that given by actors who had hurriedly learned their lines while waiting in the wings and then received prompts from there.

    This phrase dates from the late 19th century and the verb ‘to wing’ was defined in an 1885 edition of Stage magazine:

    “‘To wing’… indicates the capacity to play a rôle without knowing the text, and the word itself came into use from the fact that the artiste frequently received the assistance of a special prompter, who… stood… a piece of the scenery or a wing.”

    The phrase ‘winging it’ is used in print explicitly in 1933, although it must have been well-established before then, in a book that could hardly be better equipped to explain the meaning, Philip Godfrey’s Back-stage: a survey of the contemporary English theatre from behind the scenes:

    “He must give a performance by ‘winging it’ – that is, by refreshing his memory for each scene in the wings before he goes on to play it.”


    It seems to imply that there has been some preparation done – that there is some ability to go with the flow and adapt. Your examples of Bill Gates, etc. are great examples of preparation meeting opportunity, in my opinion. Not eveyone can wing it and bring in the sales.

    Comment by connieterwilliger — February 7, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

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