In today’s world of VO, the successful voiceover talent is not only proficient in the art of voiceover, but he/she is also a savvy entrepreneur. The days of working only in a major market, through reputable talent agencies, and having billing go through a third-party (like the union/payroll service, agency, etc.) are forever changed for many talent. That type of payment may account for only a small portion of a voiceover actor’s income now.
Most of my work nowadays comes through production companies, advertising and marketing firms and corporate or small business voiceover clients. In this current voiceover marketplace, the voiceover talent has to be on top of the money game to ensure they get paid for their services.
How to Avoid Payment Issues
I’ve been working as a professional voiceover talent for over 22 years, and in all of that time, the total number of instances when I did not get paid for voiceover services delivered is less than ten. I’m VERY grateful for that fact. Considering that I’ve generated over ten thousand invoices, that’s a pretty staggering track record on the positive side!
In recent years, using PayPal and credit cards to secure the full payment before releasing final audio files has provided some accounting leverage. I use that approach with almost all new clients, many smaller-sized jobs, and nearly all voiceover clients located outside of the US.
The other main reason I think I’ve been able to avoid payment issues is due to the accounting system that I follow religiously. Here are the key things that I do to make sure the check is always in the mail, and ultimately in my bank account.
1. Send out invoices within a reasonable time-frame
My system is set up for Monday delivery of invoices for all jobs completed the previous week. My business manager (aka my husband) handles all the accounting, and employs a checklist-driven system to automate as much as possible. First thing on the weekly list is “Send Out Invoices.” Occasionally we send one even faster if a client needs that. And, when it comes to PayPal invoices, I always send those directly through PayPal as soon as possible, usually upon completion of the project and/or prior to delivery of final audio. So, a good rule of thumb would be “send invoices within one week of job date.” NO exceptions!
2. Include wording in the invoice that explains what will happen if payment is not received within a specific time-frame
This gives me some leverage and recourse if a payment is overdue. The wording I use says basically, that prompt payment is appreciated and payments that are still outstanding after 60 days (from date of invoice) will have a late fee applied, which keeps increasing monthly until payment is made. You can determine the dollar amounts and/or percentages you want to use for the late fee (I use $20 per month or 2% interest per month, whichever is greater). This is a very standard practice these days, not only for voice over talents but for many other businesses as well. I rarely have to charge a late fee, but it’s good to have it there when I need it.
3. Have a professional, organized Accounts Receivables System
Whether you’re using a software program or doing the old school approach in a ledger, make sure you have an accurate, easy-to-use system for logging your payments as they come in. Since some payments come in electronically through PayPal or a merchant account service if you accept credit cards, you need to have a way to keep track of those digital notices too. Until fairly recently, we used to track payments in a ledger, which created a bit of redundancy, since we also use Quicken to send out invoices. But, when it comes to accounting, redundancy can be a good thing. That approach worked well for many years and we rarely had issues or errors. We now employ a similar method of tracking with the ledger now in an excel spreadsheet. The digital version offers additional useful benefits, such as being able to sort the data for tax purposes or other reasons. It doesn’t really matter what your system is, as long as it’s comfortable for you, and you can do what you need to do each week to keep track.
4. Follow steps consistently when receiving payments
This may seem obvious but it’s actually worth mentioning. If you don’t have specific steps to follow, you can easily make an error, which will lead to additional work and hassle later on. You want your clients to trust that they’re dealing with a professional, who follows good business and accounting practices. Simple steps, done consistently, will ensure proficiency.
Examples of types of steps to follow are:
– Write the invoice number on each received check, so you can easily backtrack it later on if there is a question.
– Make copies of all checks before depositing.
– Always follow your sequence of steps in the SAME ORDER so it is habitual and consistent. If you have delegated accounting to someone else, make sure they are following a procedure, and not randomly skipping steps.
– Include the “payment received date” and check number in your accounts receivables log.
Keeping a detailed accounting of payments will save you time, energy and money. If you’re not a detail-oriented person or you don’t like tracking things like this, find someone who can help you and pay them to do the job! I can personally recommend Tina Maloney, the VO Helper, who has many great skills and loves to work with the numbers. There are other virtual assistants out there who can assist with accounting. If all else fails, marry an accountant!
5. Watch the 30 day deadline like a hawk
For me, it’s 30 days from the invoice date. You may prefer a deadline that is shorter or longer depending on the types of clients you work with. From our software and even in the old ledger book, we can easily see when a payment has crossed the 30 day threshold for payment. An email is sent out to all clients who reach this point to follow-up on payment status.
It’s a very polite and friendly message (and not automated), and it almost always generates a reply with a status update of when we can expect the check. If we don’t get a reply, we re-send again the following week. After three attempts, we get on the phone and get more urgent with our communication. But, we always are polite and professional with how we communicate. Here’s a very good article that covers the importance of being polite in these situations.
You may notice that my late fee doesn’t apply until 60 days, but I contact the client at the 30 day mark. This is because, I want to make sure the payment is in process at 30 days. Sometimes the original invoice didn’t get to the right person. At 30 days, I feel comfortable checking in to make sure the ball is rolling, and to find out when I can expect a check to arrive. Keep in mind, I don’t do this myself, I have my accounting support person handle this correspondence.
Another added benefit of having someone else followup on late payments is that I can avoid having unpleasant mental associations with certain clients just because they are late in paying an invoice. It’s easy to fall into that trap and start to feel a little resentful about so-and-so not paying up when you distinctly recall turning around his or her project on a dime and totally over-delivering on the voiceover services end! It’s better if I personally don’t know who is late in paying bills in the 30 – 90 day late window. I sleep better, I avoid negative emotions spoiling my day, and in general, I’m able to feel very good about all of my clients. Knowing that I have someone tracking this and following up on my behalf keeps me out of the whole conversation. In this case, it is true that ignorance is bliss!
An Organized Accounting System Pays Dividends
While staying on top of your accounting system and procedures does take some consistent work and follow-through, the results are hugely worth the effort, and will have a positive impact on your productivity and overall mental state. And, as voiceover talents, keeping that positive mental attitude is a critical part of success over the long run.
Please share any additional accounting procedures that you find work well for you. I’d love to hear about your ideas and experiences!