Since I started working online, this has been a concern of many voice talent, almost to a hurtful degree. Maybe I even work where I do because of personal experiences of people who tried to take advantage of my career, offline. I naturally saw opportunity in having “an eye for spotting trouble”, and so many claimed such negative things about online casting when I was starting in it in 2004, that I just had to see for myself.
It is really not that scary or complicated. This is perhaps my favorite topic to write about, maybe because I come from a dramatic background, and I have this thing for ‘catching the bad guys’. I also worked in fraud investigation and ‘recovery’ on Wall St (a nice word for ‘debt collection). Now, adding the drama is a fun way to approach it, but I have found there are rarely ‘bad guys’ to catch, and that is because the online community has gotten smarter about spotting them. Does it happen? Sure, because anyone diligent enough will eventually get you once or twice. Should you avoid working online because it has happened? NOT AT ALL!
Let me show you why:
- In 2010, I had processed/saw over 26,000 jobs come through as part of my job on Voice123.
- Out of all of these jobs, we had only 20 cases of non-payment in all of 2010.
- Out of these cases, less than 10 of them were situations that were resolved via a simple email.
In ALL situations, I noticed these common threads:
- A direct contact was made that was stereotypical spam.
- There was no ‘agreement’ set up for when someone was to be paid.
- There was an assumption that the payment method was understood.
- Emotional, aggressive, and accusatory emails were written, and it scared someone away.
- The payment method agreed upon caused some confusion (wrong Paypal email)
- The job payment was really low.
I know some will get upset at these last two threads, and by no means do I say it to accuse, but it needs to be mentioned:
- The job was for a DJ party gig.
- The client and talent worked in different countries, and the cultures had very different understandings as to how the other should work.
Since 2008, social media has changed so much about the online industry. It is easy to talk to someone about who you work with, and any business who decides to not pay is making a very big mistake. There have been times through Facebook where I have seen people helping each other to stay away from other businesses, known for not paying. Word travels fast, and non-payment matters do not have to happen, but they happen to those who may not be aware of those online ‘bad guys’. Working online as a business, you have to be able to spot this before you waste your time on them. As such, coming online to get voice over work requires much more than a knowledge of the traditional voice over industry, offline. But let us say it does happen, or you think it is happening. What do you do next?
Write the website and tell them. They need to know, too:
- The date production was finished.
- The date payment was promised.
- Email correspondence in which payment was promised.
- Any relevant information you think should be mentioned. Did they do something odd?
- In short, keep records of what you are doing.
Websites are only able to help those, who took every action possible to help themselves, first. I know it is not easy being ‘your own business’, but this is what a ‘do it yourself’ business is all about. It is about not waiting for others to handle your business for you. What I personally do where I work is carefully try to get the payment process flowing again. I share below, an example of an email written that led to someone getting paid. Before reading it, notice how the email focuses on ‘the goal of the email’ and not the ‘Law & Order’ drama and emotion behind it:
I am writing you in regards to (talent) whom you had hired for project (insert name). The purpose of this email is simply to reconnect you both because we understand that payment had not yet been completed. We firmly believe in community harmony among the voice industry. Would you be so kind as to resolve this payment issue, and let me know when all is ok? If you have any questions, let me know!
Now, it would be fun to be the working-class hero, and write someone an iron-fisted email, but the fact is that NEVER works. If you want to scare someone away, write something scary. Emails with a threatening and aggressive tone scare people away, or lead them to think, ‘Come and get it.’
To conclude, understand that non-payment matters rarely take place, and are highly preventable through proper record keeping, business etiquette emails, and trusting your gut instinct when it says, “Don’t do it.” There have been voice talent, like myself, online since 2003 that have never dealt with this, and that happens because of awareness. If you are online, people will contact you somehow for what you are able to do. Web content cannot be considered valid proof that it ‘must happen often’ because 100% of web content is generated by less than 10% of the online community, and even then, we only read examples of extreme cases which were preventable. The Internet is a great equalizer for truth, and those who choose to challenge this, will soon find their business having problems. There are always rotten apples in any business. You must be able to spot them, and ignore them.