Secrets of an Agent Man: Cheques and Balances

One of the advantages of having an agent is it means someone else can handle the billing/invoicing and the sometimes thankless job of chasing after overdue accounts, leaving you to just concentrate on doing the voice sessions and then finding a good table on the patio after the recording.  Of course, you may be a voice talent who also goes after work on your own and therefore you’ve got your own accounts receivable department.  As an agent, I’ve experienced every accounts receivable scenario under the sun so allow me to share some wisdom that may help you when tracking down those overdues and dealing with those charming clients who appear incapable of comprehending the fact they owe you money.

PREEMPTIVE STRIKES

First off, a couple of preemptive strike things to do before and immediately after the VO.  I believe I’m stating the obvious but get every job booking/confirmation in an e-mail.  You never want to have to reference a phone conversation after the fact.  “I didn’t say $300, I said $700.”  In this day and age, e-mail correspondence does hold up legally.  But be clear and concise in e-mails so that someone not intimately involved in your tense negotiations can make sense of what was agreed to without having to read through several e-mails or constantly scrolling up and down.

After you’ve lent your dulcet tones to the project, keep a copy of the script if possible (obviously easier to do if it’s a home studio job) and also keep or obtain a copy of the audio, assuming it’s not a 90-minute e-learning narration at someone else’s studio.  Hang on to any correspondence that acknowledges receipt of your final audio if it is a home studio job, and of course acknowledgement of your invoice.  This is of course the preemptive strike against the age-old classic, “I never received it.”

Now fast forward to the point at which your invoice is overdue.  What can you do to “inspire” your client to pay, short of taking them to court, which of course you may ultimately have to do.    I’m assuming you’re at the point where you’ve done the squeaky wheel thing with your client – email and telephone follow-ups, telegrams, megaphone outside their office window etc – and they’re not paying.  I should point out that clients come in all shapes and sizes and it’s up to you to make the call as to whether whatever excuse/reasoning your client is giving you for not paying is valid.  Not all late payers are bad apples.  Some legitimately run into a rough patch or are overwhelmed for one reason or another.

THE NEXT STEPS

But if you’re not “buying” their excuses or worse, they’re not communicating at all, where do you go from there?  Look for clues as to who *their* client is.  If you have a copy of the script, it might be on there somewhere.  It may have been a corporate video narration for Microsoft but their client is more likely to be a local ad agency or production company.  There is nothing wrong with taking your squeaky wheel routine to a 3rd party.  Example: A client wasn’t paying my agency for some home show radio spots.  Getting nowhere with my client, I phoned the marketing department of the home show itself and simply explained that we had not received payment for commercials that had already aired.  Within 24 hours, I heard from my client who was, shall we say, perturbed that I had contacted *his* client but not as perturbed as the home show clients were at him for not paying his bills.  They loved the voice talents on the spots and were planning to record more spots in the fall.  Miraculously, after these phone conversations, I received full payment in 2 days.

Be polite when calling a 3rd party but don’t hesitate to use this phrase: “It is illegal to air commercials without paying the talent.”  IT IS ILLEGAL.  Three words that get people’s attention!   Also, do not character assassinate when calling a 3rd party.

Acceptable: Dazzle Productions has not paid the talent who voiced these commercials.

Not Acceptable: Dazzle Productions are assholes who never pay their bills.

(This would be the place where I would normally put an asterisk beside Dazzle Productions and you would go to the bottom of this blog entry and see that the asterisk indicates the name has been changed.  But no, Dazzle Productions is a terrible company and they do not pay their bills and therefore I am happy to slander them here!   Don’t ever do any work for Dazzle Productions.)

When talking to a 3rd party, just stick to the facts.  Don’t editorialize.  This is for legal reasons mainly – you don’t want to give your client ammunition to come back at you with any kind of defamation of character charges.  And you don’t want the person on the other end of the line to think you go around bad-mouthing people in the industry unnecessarily.  As long as you tell the truth, you cannot be accused of character assassination or economic interference.

There is also no harm in calling the radio or TV station where the spots aired to let them know you haven’t been paid, if they are in your city.  They won’t necessarily be able to do anything but you want to get your client’s attention and the more people somehow connected to the work you did that you inform, the better.  Again, be straight forward with the facts and don’t hesitate to use those fun 3 words: It is illegal!

Other tidbits when trying to collect from deadbeats:

When you follow-up by phone, call from different numbers or block your number.  Call your client’s cell phone rather than a work phone.

Call at odd hours.  Not 2:00 am but why confine it to business hours when they are expecting you to call.

Construct an e-mail to their clients detailing how unprofessional they have been in dealing with you.  Tell your client the e-mail goes out on Friday if you haven’t received payment.

Spread the word in the VO community or at least talk with others to see if they have had similar experiences with this client and how things got resolved, if at all.

Never lose sight of the goal of getting paid.  Your job is to be as persistent and annoying as the situation calls for in order to get your money.  Without physical threats of course.  I look at clients like this as shoplifters.  They have taken something and not paid for it.  Make them pay – literally!

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One Response to “Secrets of an Agent Man: Cheques and Balances”

  1. Dave Bisson Says:
    January 31st, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Just caught your podcast at voices.com, & wanted to say thanks for the wisdom! I’ve been doing non-union VO work for about 3 years now, and although I’ve yet to encounter a deadbeat client, it’s nice to finally have a game plan for if & when that scenario rears its ugly head. Thanks again!

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