International VO Work: How to do more trade, without being seen as a jack of all trades.


Marketing pros understand the importance of positioning – being thought of by your customer as a certain type of product or provider, a specialist, an expert ...not a jack or jill of all trades.

As a VO pro, you, too, should understand the importance of focus. It enhances your credibility as a strong voice over talent. Being known as the go-to person for a particular genre or specialty is likely to bring you more business, more easily, than spreading yourself thin among too many fields.

But, within that focus, when you’ve expanded your capabilities and extended your marketing as much as you can (or dare), how can you pitch additional prospects without watering down your image?

Try this: Expand internationally.

In a wide range of foreign markets, producers seek authentic voices like yours. (Notice that we didn’t say “authentic English-language voices” like yours, because if you live outside the U.S., and/or speak accented English, or if you speak a different language altogether, we’re also talking to you – sell your vocal wares in North America. It may be as simple as applying the following advice in reverse.)

Start your prospecting by asking, where is your language and/or accent considered a premium asset? For example, Americans seem attracted to a British accent as being honest, educated, interesting or simply distinctive. Everything from classical music to cleaning supplies have been hawked in the USA by Brits. And in many places outside the U.S., a neutral American accent is heard as a modern sound, firm common ground among many speakers of English.

Another way to identify prospective foreign markets is by genre or specialty. What’s yours? For example, if your thing is e-learning, then language courses would be an obvious target. Corporate narration? What companies market to your native land? Other genres that are especially open to international production include: other e-learning, such as educational videos and training films; website narration; museum tours; software narration; automated telephone systems; and documentaries, such as history and biography.

If you’re aiming at the European market, take a look at Bodalgo. It’s an online casting site based in Germany, and although its service ranges worldwide, Bodalgo tends to have a European focus. Competition amongst talent is less competitive than than Voices.com and Voice123.com. However, unless you have a reason to focus on international work, membership in one or both of the two major North American casting sites might be a better place to start with online casting.

Once you’ve covered all the bases (ooops ... pardon the baseball metaphor!), let it be known that you can serve overseas markets. Use your online searching skills. And network yourself, via LInkedIn, for example.

If you offer ancillary VO services, such as dubbing or production, you may be able to create opportunities. For example, have you seen a subtitled video that could be easily narrated and/or dubbed? If you’re blessed with video production skills and software and have dubbing experience, you might approach that video’s publisher with a proposal. If you can voice and edit the audio to strict time constraints, mix SFX and music, and encode it for production, that could clinch it. Most likely it’s subtitled rather than dubbed because subtitling is cheaper and easier to produce. But a good voicing job can make the video more personal and more effective – especially important if it’s a marketing video. By making it easy to go the dubbing route, you might tip the balance for that producer.

On the other hand, by offering merely clean VO tracks for a number of short videos, you could offer great perceived value while you enjoy volume efficiencies in a relatively simple audio recording process.

What other extra services might you offer (hopefully at additional charge)? Can you include reliable translation services or localization of the language and cultural references? For example, how would you convert our baseball metaphor?

Just as with domestic work, match your capabilities to what the market needs.

But international work does pose at least one very important difference: How to get paid. You’ll want to protect yourself perhaps a little more carefully than you might with domestic clients. Seek out reputable companies, and work out a staged payment/delivery schedule (or get paid up-front). Take advantage of casting services’ client screening processes, and possible payment assurance plans. Be aware that companies in some regions (e.g., Europe) tend to prefer payment by credit card rather than check. PayPal might be a solution. Whatever card-processing service you use, be sure they will handle cards from your client’s country. As with any job, get all payment details (including stages, due dates, currency, and method of payment), production requirements and approval parameters agreed before the job begins.

(If your client wants to pay by international wire transfer, check with your bank beforehand, regarding your account’s ability to receive it, and fees. Be aware that in addition to a possible fee charged by your bank or your client’s bank, yet another fee might be deducted by an intermediary bank. On a large payment, the intermediary fee might be relatively minor. But it could be a hefty percentage of a small payment, and if you get paid in installments, it will cost you every time. You might want to specify that your client should prepay any intermediate transfer fees, or build it into your quote, or use another method of payment. Once a transfer is made, it generally cannot be undone.)

How much to charge is another issue. In the UK and some other European countries, clients might actually pay more than you’re used to in the States (the difference in levels varies by genre), and if you get paid in Pounds or Euros you might enjoy an exchange-rate benefit, too. But in many countries, the pay scale is simply not very high compared with North America. Companies in Italy, Portugal, Poland, Brazil and Mexico, for example, tend to pay less. And don’t forget Russia. If you can work it, translation and voicing of videos is an opportunity. And China is a diverse marketplace; depending on industry and region, etc., it shares characteristics with virtually all parts of the world.

Set a rate commensurate with your capability, the prospective audience volume, duration (if not a total buy-out), and the local market’s ability to pay. At some point you may have to decide between two options: getting the foreign experience and track record for half what you usually get (and hopefully gaining yet another steady client who relies on your expertise), or commanding a rate much closer to your domestic one, recognizing that there are some markets you simply can’t afford to serve.

You might increase your rate as your proficiency and track record grow, but as you’ve probably already discovered domestically, it’s not so easy to raise your rate with an existing client, and bidding low is not necessarily the way to land jobs and quality accounts ... so it may be best to research the market and start by bidding on its high side. After all, you might be seen as a premium provider by virtue of your location and knowledge of it.

Approach international markets with confidence and pride, think and explore widely, and expect to be surprised for better or worse. Never assume. Did you know that comic books are far more popular in Europe than in the US? For decades, Europeans have learned to read English by studying Mickey Mouse comics; “Donald Duck & Co.” is the best-selling periodical in Finland, popular among all ages.

Pabst Blue Ribbon beer is the rage in China. Japanese girls like slouchy socks made in America. Seven-Eleven stores are four-to-a-block in Taiwan. Spam is part of the culture in Guam. Domino’s 806 stores in India make it that country’s largest international foreign-food chain, with just the right mix of Indian ingredients and Western personality.

And not to be US-centric about this, Kit-Kat candy bars are another favorite of the Japanese – a treat made by a British company that’s owned by the Swiss giant Nestlé.

So explore. International voice over is a wide and varied scene. Your existing capabilities might fit into it very nicely.

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