Fork It Over! Cough it up! Pay the Piper! …Gimme it.

It’s a Contest of Wills…or is it?

The One with the Embryos

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You remember.  The One With the Embryos.  Or, better known as the one with the contest between Chandler & Joey and Monica & Rachel.

Chandler and Joey eventually win the trivia contest, and Monica and Rachel are forced to trade apartments with them, and be relegated to the guys’ apartment instead of their expansive suite (how they can afford that suite we’ll never know anyway…).  But it’s what Chandler says even before that big contest begins that is the best part.

Chandler bets the girls that he and Joey can name every item in the girls’ shopping bag.  Chandler and Joey wins the contest, and Chandler triumphantly demands their winnings.

It’s hilarious.  And oh so true.

When we are owed money, how often and heavy-handedly do we relentlessly pursue our debtor?  When grace goes out the window, and we slam down the gavel and insist that we be paid right this very minute, what does that do to relationships?

Billing Cycles of Death

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Many many years ago, I used to be relentless.  I used to be unwavering.  I used to put my foot down and demand payment of at least a third up-front (but come on, preferably 50%) on all my projects – both voiceover and video.  I used to insist, before I could step into production, that I be paid what I was owed prior to release of unwatermarked files.  I put my foot down and staked my hope on this.

I never got my way.

Now, to be fair, I just wanted to be paid.  But, to be honest, I was short-sighted.  And, complicating matters further, I was doubtless putting a damper on what could be a long-term relationship with that client.  Was it the client’s fault that their company has certain accounts payable policies, and that said policymaker is probably someone I’ll never even get to appeal to?  Even if I could, should I brazenly attempt to change anything?

Let’s be super honest for a second.  90-day accounts receivables, ahem, SUCK.  So do 45-day’ers.  And even 30-day’ers are a bitter pill to swallow.  Isn’t it wonderful when, in this glorious world of idealism and perfection, the stars glitter, rainbows swirl around us, twinkly lights sparkle, there is peace and harmony and love, John Lennon music plays everywhere, unicorns dance, Elvis is alive again, and we’re paid the very nanosecond our audio files are transferred?  It’s like the Glienicke Bridge of Spies, and a prisoner exchange….only…..nicer and sweeter in tone.

Yes. Twould be the golden era of voiceover payments.  But, unfortunately, the grim reality is that our clients need their clients to pay them too, usually.  And even though the threat of being stiffed looms large over everything we do, when there’s no escrow account in place to protect us, can we still move to a position of trust?

The answer is yes.  It’s called “investing into our future.”

A Hearty Sigh of Relief

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MAN nothing gets us bent out of shape more than money owed to us.

One of my clients is Zillow.  They still haven’t paid me.  It’s a $600 payment that I’d love to have.  They’re Zillow, after all!  What’s taking them so long?

My other client, Kathryn, who is a senior producer at a content agency, ALWAYS pays me multiple thousands of dollars on her projects right away.  So what’s the deal?  Why do they have money and Zillow doesn’t?  What’s the meaning of all of this anyway!  You rotten crooks, you have my files, now give me my money!!  *insert sound of loud wailing and tantrum-infused fists and feet slamming on the floor here*

But when I go to the post office and find that $600 Zillow check waiting for me that I had forgotten about from 45 days ago, it’s like Christmas.  It is!  It’s a “What?  Oh yeah!” moment that resonates deeply and puts a skip in my step.  It’s the intake of breath.  It’s here!  YAY!  It gives me such a renewed sense of joy knowing that people came through, they proved faithful, they met my need in return for my meeting theirs.

It gives me a hearty sigh of relief to find that check…to know that trust has been redeemed, that I made a deposit into the Universal Bank of Patience, and it paid back dividends from the Restored Faith in Humanity Fund.  After all, is Zillow really that nefarious?  Would they have intentionally stiffed me?

Sometimes, we don’t see our payments until the time the ad that we voiced is already running.  That can be a bitter pill to swallow.  We hear it on the radio or see it on the web and say “Oh hey, what a nice spot. Sure would be nice to be paid for that, since that’s MY VOICE!!!!”  But there’s trust that gets to be built up in the waiting.  There is fortitude and hope, and it’s all good in the end.

Ever been stiffed?

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Have you been stiffed?  I haven’t yet.  I’ve been stiffed in video production over the years – I think three times since 2003.  But never with voiceovers, knock on wood. Overall, it’s been a wildly successful venture, and though I was hard-nosed to begin with, now, if a client has net terms that I need to accept, I come to that crossroads of decision.

Am I going to reject this job because they are paying on 45 days and not 30?  In 45 days, will I be the happier, or will I be the sadder, because of this choice here and now?  My choice NOW affects my mood 45 days from now.  I can sow into the future and plant seeds that will take root and grow and produce a money tree (wouldn’t that be nice!) that will blossom and bud and produce fruit that I will need then.  Yes, I need it now.  But who knows if I will need it more then?  Shouldn’t I be investing into my future and receiving returns on investment down the road?

Net terms payments are like gems hidden along a roadway.  You sometimes don’t even know they’re there.  I just got one today that I had forgotten about.  Yes, I keep track of who owes what, but I sometimes forget the little ones, and this was a smaller one.  Did $175 bless me today?  Yes.  Did I know 30 days ago that it would bless me this much?  No.

The other caveat is that in the 45 days it takes for me to be paid, they may have another job.  They may have two.  They may refer me out to another client who has five.  The goodwill factor knows no bounds and is no respecter of accounts payables.

The voiceover businessman (or hobbyist) demands payment up front due to either A) an ungrounded faith in humanity, or B) a lack of foresight and vision.  I love what the character Mitch Leary says in In the Line of Fire:

Your average American businessman... looks at a product, a marketing scheme, what have you...and he sees the length and width of it. The Japanese see the depth, the long-term effect. We look at the next fiscal quarter. The Japanese look at the next quarter of a century.”

Look ahead.  Don’t listen to Chandler.  Is it funny?  Yes.  Does it appeal to our desire for justice as humans?  Yes.  Is it long-term-relationship-depriving?  Possibly.  Let your clients make the calls.  Don’t be so hard-nosed.  You’ll be blessed with both immediate payments AND net terms payments on this journey called voiceovers.  No two clients are the same, after all.  One will pay now and one will pay then, and both are wonderful, because they’re putting money into your pocketbook.  It’s the mark of an amateur to demand payment or else.

Let the net terms happen.  Don’t be the one who pouts and demands her Oompa Loompa now.  As Violet says in the end, “Can it, you nit!”

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Joshua Alexander
Seattle Voice Actor & Voiceover Talent for hire
joshua@voicetalentseattle.com
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