Connie Terwilliger – ISDN Voice Talent

October 11, 2013

I’m Confused. Just What Constitutes a Business These Days?

Filed under: Business — connieterwilliger @ 12:32 pm

I wasn’t always a full-time voiceover talent. I am first and foremost a video producer and writer – and wore those hats during the first 20+ years of my career. After finding myself working at a television station in the mid-70’s as a graphic artist (art degree), I moved into production and decided that this was perhaps an industry where I could find a career. So I went to graduate school and learned more about it.

It being the 70’s (by now the late 70’s) and being that I am a woman with a Masters Degree, I was hired immediately at a TV station as a director. That didn’t last long. I decided that I really didn’t want to be a news director, I wanted to produce and write. But I found myself in a tiny booth as a live booth announcer for the station – part-time. This was because I did some radio in college and then some booth announcing while getting my masters – but this was NOT what I wanted to do. It was merely my security blanket job while I focused on my Producing and Writing.

Of course, because I didn’t sound like a typical “announcer,” the door kept opening and people kept handing me commercial copy. This led to an agent, Nanci Washburn at Artist Management (still with her today here in San Diego and Orange County). But even though I was starting to become pretty well known in my market as a voice talent, my “real” job was as a producer and writer.

So, while I have always done some “talent” work since those college radio days in the early 70’s, most of the time I was working for local production companies, and didn’t have to worry about how the money was flowing. In fact, I didn’t worry about the money at all. I worked. I invoiced. I got paid.

As time went by, I did a little project management under my own company and started to see how important it was to “worry” about the money. As a business person, it was my responsibility to treat my business as a business. People worked for me. They invoiced me. I paid them.

There was never any question about this part of being in business. Eventually, I decided that I really wasn’t cut out to be the top dog in the food chain of production, so I transitioned away from producing and decided that being “talent” wasn’t so bad after all.

Well, except for the part about getting paid!

What happened to the idea of a business being responsible to their subcontractors!?

Perhaps it is due to the slow-down in the economy – perhaps is it simply a change in business mindset (oh, I hope not) – but more and more, I am hearing about (and seeing it personally) contractors waiting until they get paid by their client before paying their sub-contractors.

Most of the time the bills will get paid, but many times with long delays and many reminder calls and emails. Sometimes the bill never gets paid. For most of us who have been in business for a long time without having issues getting paid, it leaves us wondering if this is a new business model being adopted by young business people due to the tough economy, or a temporary disturbance in the force.

We are in business. From the beginning of the process to the end of the process, let’s treat it as such. I think people get fooled these days by the ease of hanging out a sign and going into “business.” They don’t seem to understand what it means to be “in business.” I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of calls, email and snail mail with offers of business loans – lines of credit. Helping to meet payroll in tough times is part of what these lines of credit are supposed to do.

So, what is a sub-contractor to do!? In the voiceover community, the debate rages. Ask the client to pay upfront. Ask for half upfront. Don’t deliver final tracks unless the invoice is paid. Invoice and wait for payment. More and more companies seem to be working this wait until the check comes in way. And I am sure that it comes from needing to bring in more business in order to keep the doors open. The Internet is a blessing and a curse.

If you work as a director, shooter, editor, LD, grip, craft service, makeup, etc., you have a little bit more leverage when it comes to holding a producer/production company accountable for payment. Word of mouth while networking with other production face-to-face people helps prevent working for companies that don’t pay until they get paid. There are times when everyone is working on faith on a project, but the payment issues are out front.

As voice talent, working remotely for clients you may never have met, it is harder to vet the client. It is easier to get lulled into thinking that everything will be OK. That you will send the invoice and it will get paid. And the vast majority of the time, you will get paid. Most people want to do the right thing.

So, what happened? Why are we seeing an increase in the “you’ll get paid when I get paid” mindset? Is it simply economics? Or is it a shift in the way business is being done? Is it the ease of starting a “business?” Is it really the “Internet?”

I’m confused and curious.

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6 Comments »

  1. In this age of home studios, I think people forget sometimes that there are real people depending on them to do what they are supposed to do. It is hard to have a relationship with a computer, and every so often you find someone who isn’t as professional as you. Then you come up against this kind of stuff of “you’ll get paid when I get paid.” I’m sorry, but that isn’t how a professional works in any business. I believe that if you are responsible for a project, then you should have planned how you’re going to get paid and how you’re going to pay the people doing work for you (Luke 14:28-30).
    I think that this can become the norm if people let it become so. If there is someone that wants to business with you, and you don’t know them, then (to me) it makes sense to have some kind of document that spells out what everyone’s obligations are so that there are no questions should a discrepancy arise.
    Best of luck to everyone who is facing this right now. It kills me when I hear of folks having to wait 30+ days for payment when the work had to be done “right away!”

    Comment by Scott Lyle — October 11, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

  2. Thanks Scott, We do need to do that CYA thang! (Super to meet you, by the way!)

    Comment by connieterwilliger — October 11, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

  3. Sometimes it’s hard. A foreign client came to me with a new job — and I said I would be glad to do it if they paid me for the last job several months ago. Ugh! I am still waiting, now two weeks. It’s disconcerting but as you note in your splendidly candid post, Connie, it is the exception. It doesn’t work for me to demand money upfront or to do anything that inserts any element of distrust. My business depends of forging relationships with clients who return multiple times — and I would rather protect those burgeoning relationships than protect against a few rogues.

    Comment by Michael J. Schoen — October 12, 2013 @ 10:58 am

  4. I think non-payment is the exception Michael. Unfortunately, I don’t think the “you’ll get paid when I get paid” part is the exception any longer. And you never think to ask about that! A couple of my agents work this way and they are pretty good on their end to vet the people who hire them to find talent for their projects.

    Comment by connieterwilliger — October 12, 2013 @ 11:48 am

  5. Yep. It’s confusing indeed. And it feels so wrong. And I have to say… I have the most trouble with getting paid in a timely way from agents. Usually, when I deal with the clients directly, I have been paid within the month. But I have waited up to 9 months to receive payments from agents because they are “waiting to get paid.” And who’s to know… maybe they really aren’t? I don’t know much but what I do know is that i HATE just waiting… and waiting… and waiting to be paid. Thanks for writing Connie!

    Comment by Christian Taylor — October 12, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

    • Christine, I know what you mean. I just checked on payment on something done through an agent back in May and got the response that they have emailed the “engager” a couple of times and have had no response.

      Comment by connieterwilliger — October 21, 2013 @ 9:02 pm


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