As a full-time voice over actor, I have the joy of working as a creative all day every day in an industry that I love. You have no idea how many times people have said to me, in my family and in passing, “It’s a shame you aren’t using your degrees.” This always leaves me scratching my head. I am so appreciative that I had the opportunity to go to attend Barnard College, the undergraduate women’s college at Columbia University if you don’t know it, and to go to graduate school at Columbia University. As a small business owner I use all that I learned in my years at Columbia throughout the day every single day. When something becomes part of the fiber of your soul, part of your identity, and shapes the way you approach all that you do, it’s sort of hard to think of how you could exist without it. But still, because this has come up A LOT, let me try to flesh this out a little more specifically.
Writing the Business Plan and Analyzing the Data
From the moment I thought I decided to pursue voice over, the research skills that I crafted at Barnard were used. Before I began actually working in voice over, and well before I began working with coaches and studying the craft of voice over, I spent months researching other industry talents. I was listening to demos and making spreadsheets. I was curious who was booking what. I listened to see where others with voices like mine were booking work-wise. I tracked where certain demos lead certain talents. I had spreadsheet upon spread sheet. This was research that I generated for what I needed to know to ensure that this was a business that would make sense for my family. Where did I learn this creative approach to research? Barnard. Where did I learn how to analyze data? Barnard. And where did I learn how to use the data that I collected in Excel to make a compelling argument in one way or another? You guessed it, Barnard.
But just gathering and analyzing data was only the beginning. I was setting out not to just be a voice over actor, but to be a solopreneur. In order run my own business I needed a working business plan. I remember thinking all those years ago that the business plan would be fluid and would change, but that I needed it to guide the choices I made early on and to make projections about my income. I used a strategy that I learned in graduate school called “Planning Backwards.” Anyone who has ever taught is probably very familiar with this, but I set short term and long term goals for myself and then I wrote a business plan around them. Again, everything that I did in terms of my business was all based on the way I was trained to do in my years at Columbia.
Brand research is necessary when auditioning, when booking work, and when determining which companies to reach out to when direct marketing. When auditioning, it is important to understand the brand that I am reading for. I research their current add campaigns and try to understand the overall gestalt of what they are trying to put out. If whatever I have been sent is a departure from previous work, I try to figure out how that fits in too. When I book work, again, I strive to understand where it fits into the big picture of the brand. I immediately go to the brand’s website and social media pages. When I direct market to companies, I spend a lot of time getting to know a brand so that I can individualize my outreach. Again, all of this thorough research and these strong investigative skills come from my years at Columbia.
Understanding the Jargon
In addition to my commercial work, I do a lot of eLearning. There is a lot of complicated jargon in these training modules.Sometimes I feel like a kids back in school, because for me understanding the text is very important to my delivery. Because I read so much in school and spent so much time in academia, I am thrilled by this part of the job. In addition, I have also taken professional voiceover training to improve my read rate and this has helped with some of the complicated reading. The amazing Kim Handysides has created a curriculum for this, as I confess that in all my years at Columbia we did not do much reading aloud. In fact I can only recall one History seminar taught by the great, late Professor Yerushalmi where he had us read primary source documents aloud in class. Typically, we read on our own and analyzed together, so I find that on-going professional development is still essential in this area.
Running a Business
As a full-time working mom, I think credit my years at Barnard and Columbia with my ability to run my own business. In school we had a very challenging course load every semester, were involved in on-campus activities, and had off campus internships. I was juggling a lot of balls at a young age and I was not alone, I was surrounded by a campus of high-achievers and this was the norm. Those years of scheduling not just my classes, but carefully planning when I would write my papers, study for exams, work, volunteer, etc, well-prepared me for life as a working mom. I did not expect to sit on the steps eating burgers from the law school barbecues without a care in the world forever, I had a sense of urgency that I always had to be somewhere and that my time was limited. I feel that sense of urgency every day now and I am so thankful for the years I had inside the gates on 116th street. They are a part of who I am and I know that I am better for it.