by Ed Thompson

What are you worth? What are your talents, skills, and abilities, not to mention time worth? Then what the hell are you doing charging chump-change for those God-given endowments?

About a year ago, I was working on trying to sell a radio GM my copy writing and production services. I put together what I believed was a killer package. Since he and I had worked together for the same company at one time, I even gave him a reasonable discount. When I pitched him my package he came back with an offer from some other hired gun to do the same thing for less than half the price—40 spots a month, written and produced for just $750.00. I was dumbfounded. Either this guy has a staff of three or four writer/producers, or he’s a fool with no clue what he’s getting himself in to. Needless to say, my GM friend went with his offer. How could I blame him? He had just fired his production guy and he had spots that needed to get on the air now!

I broke down the average month of one production guy for a radio group in the middle of America. Mr. Production Guy completes about 40 to 60 spots per month, for which the radio group pays Mr. Production Guy anywhere between 16 to 25-hundred a month (depending on market size). With benefits, no less! What’s wrong with this picture? 750-boy is doing nearly the same amount of work for almost half to two-thirds less money. Is it any wonder why some of us run into clients who say, “Gee. That’s an awful lot a money just to do a commercial.”

By now you might be thinking this is merely sour apples because the Seven-Hundred-Fifty Dollar Man beat me out of a potential account. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In all candor, I care about him. I care about him because he is selling himself so astonishingly, amazingly, astoundingly short. And I have seen so many people in this business that timidly offer their precious and valuable abilities for far less than they are worth because they are afraid that the client will walk away if they perceive the price to be too high. Something else will happen. The more he sells his services for less than they’re worth, the clients will start beating him up over the price on every single spot he produces. Then he’ll drop his rates even more and a sad, vicious cycle will start.

When I got into this business, I understood that the pay scale was painfully low. I also know that most of us got into this wacky industry because we are (God help us) madly, passionately, head-over-heels, puppy-dog in love with radio. Money was more than likely not our main motivation. But as we grew in the business and started enjoying some success, the money began to match the salary of the assistant night manager at the corner Quickie Mart. After paying our dues we found out there was a market for our voices.

My first freelance gig came from an ad agent who heard my spots win some awards at the local ad club banquet. When he asked me how much I charged, I had to tell him that I didn’t know. I’d never done that sort of thing. I didn’t want to ask too much. But, I also knew that I had some sort of extra ability or he wouldn’t have taken the time to ask me about freelancing in the first place. So I didn’t want to charge too little. So I started asking questions. I asked a couple of VO guys I knew about what rates they charged and found a happy medium. My rate was low enough that it reflected my untested experience, but high enough to reflect the faith I had in my talent. Over time, as my experience and reputation grew, the more business I took and the more I charged. In other words, I followed the basic laws of supply and demand. The more demand there was, the higher the rates went to reflect it.

And let’s not forget to put a value on my most precious asset, my time. I’ve got plenty of voice and talent. They’re gifts of genetics and training and are practically inexhaustible if I keep in good health. Time though, that’s another story. Just as 60 seconds will always be 60 seconds, 24 hours will always be 24 hours. After I put in my eight to ten hours for my radio group, I drive home to my own studio where I’m putting together about one or two spots for my freelance clients. But, I also have a family who loves me and enjoys my company. Add to that other commitments and you can see that my time is more prized than gold. I can always buy more gold. But once time is gone, nothing can be done to bring it back.

Also, I am always prepared to say, “No.” I walk away from some business because those customers are not willing to pay the price I put on my product. If I made Left Nostril Inhalers and it cost me $10.00 to make each Inhaler, would I charge less than $10.00 to sell it? Likewise, is it really worth it to drive across town during your lunch hour or skip your daughter’s dance recital if the local cable company only offers you $10.00 per spot?

So, Seven-Hundred-Fifty-Dollar Man, if you’re out there and you’re reading this now, my only hope is that you’ll discover this before you burn out, give up on this business, and go get a “real job.” You have been blessed with the ability to do things that most people in the world can’t. Don’t sell yourself short. After all, you’re worth it. And that ain’t just hair dye I’m selling.

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