I’ve been reading a book called The $100 Startup. While my criticisms of the book are legion, it’s a fun read with useful ideas. I’m starting a new “side hustle” that I think qualifies as a $100 startup. It’s at an embryonic stage, but I’d like to share it with you.
When I was in university, I spent a lot of time on campus radio where I did a weekly news show for four years. After university, I continued my program into a fifth season. I’ve been off-the-airways since 2010, save for a few call-ins (e.g. News 95.7). But I miss radio. And goodness knows I have the face for it. (To prove it, and just in case you hadn’t read the Globe and Mail article, here’s the pic that made me a recognizable celebrity among the type of people who read the investment section of the G&M:)
I don’t want to claim that I have a golden voice (because I don’t, that’s not my speaking style) but, when I’m scripted and focused I certainly have a marketable range. And so this is the idea for my new side-hustle: voice overs (radio ads, phone systems, whatever).
What was the first thing that I needed to do? I needed to buy a piece of equipment. I understand that businesses can be capital-intensive. FedEx couldn’t have been a $100 startup. Bill Gates was frugal but still needed computers to start Micro-Soft (and those were kind of expensive in the 1970s). But I attempt to start side hustles on a shoe string, because I’m not trying to create the next FedEx or Microsoft. That way, if it’s not working I can bail and avoid throwing good money after bad. This site’s up-front investment was way under $100. Nothing irks me more than seeing a new “Entrepreneur” go out and buy business cards and a new iMac before they’ve even made a sale. Not only is it all likely to be a waste, but it’s distracting. Focus on adding value and making sales.
The piece of equipment I really really needed was a proper microphone. No, you can’t do voice-overs using the built-in microphone on your laptop or a $10 plug-in. Well, you can, but nobody will ever pay for the garbage that you produce. Based on my radio experience, I previously thought I’d need to invest hundreds of dollars in equipment to start a voice-over business. A good condenser microphone runs more than $200. But I learned that, nowadays, there are a few excellent low-cost USB microphones available. God bless capitalism.
Here’s the beauty that I picked up: a Yeti model produced by Blue Microphones. Thanks to FreeAt33.com’s Derek Knight for introducing me to this mike at Christmas time. I bought one for under $120, all-in. My business already has a laptop, I downloaded free software (Audacity), and now I had a proper mic at my disposal — everything I needed. (Yes, the investment was more than $100 and it required a laptop so it wasn’t truly a $100 startup. But most examples in the book cost more than $100 and required that the owner have other equipment.)
The next step (which I’m still working on) is to put together a portfolio. Thanks to an introduction from a good friend who, per their request, will remain nameless, I was able to get a job recording an interactive response system (a phone system) for a really cool tech company. I negotiated a low rate on the condition that I could use any of the resulting material in a portfolio (and there’s often follow-up work with a phone system anyway, since it’s more affordable to add a couple new options with the same voice than to order a full batch of new recordings).
I then set about recording each required clip in multiple styles. I used the most rudimentary of sound proofing (my partner took our lovely-but-often-loud daughter into town). I also implemented some slightly more sophisticated (but just as makeshift) acoustic dampening (let’s just say that this involved cardboard and clothes). The acoustic dampening was important, by the way, because I learned during this process that plaster echoes really badly.
I’ve completed one job. What’s the path forward?
- I need to add to the portfolio. One gig isn’t enough. Although I’ve been asked to do overlay for another company’s promo video, that production may be a while off.
- I need to setup a website where people can listen to my sample track, find information, and place orders — that step will only take a few hours.
- If the market continues to respond positively I’ll buy a few more items that will add a lot of value, e.g. a pop screen and a shock mount (items #1 and #2 on my list).
- I’d also like to connect with a sound engineer who does good work with fast turnaround so I can offer integrated end-to-end services to customers.
And if anybody needs affordable male voice talent (I’m discounting my rates until the portfolio is done!), my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.