Allison Smith

My Bad Business Model

My product can’t be manufactured without me physically being in the factory. I’m a shopkeeper who always has to be on premises  to make a sale, and my product can’t be made in advance, stockpiled, or frozen.

I am, in fact, my product. The telephone prompts I voice for telephone systems around the world are, for the most part, made-to-order, custom, and require me to be on site to create them. It’s a pretty bad business model for anyone who desires to vacation, travel for any significant length of time, or, God forbid, wants the luxury of getting sick.

Oh sure, my stock prompts are available for free download ( and they come pre-installed on every Asterisk box purchased ( , but those will only take you so far. Every company—from a handmade soap maker operating out of her basement to a major defense contractor—requires customized, personalized, company-specific greetings.

When I travel, I’m largely out of commission to record. I’ve blogged previously about my mishaps as I’ve attempted to record on the road, trying to maintain the same sound quality to which clients are accustomed. Booking a recording studio while I’m on the road can be prohibitively expensive and kind of defeats the purpose of vacationing, so there we have the dilemma of not being able to take an extended vacation.

It also needs to be pointed out that while I’m not exactly lifting heavy objects for a living, voicing is actually very taxing, physically. While I often push the recommended limits, I estimate that a voice talent can realistically voice for five hours at a stretch (or cumulative throughout the day) and still maintain a level of consistency and safety for the voice. Therein lies the bad business model: I can’t outsource; I can’t hire a staff to man the counter while I’m gone/incapacitated, and I can’t exactly increase production to accommodate demand, when that increases. And it seems to. Thankfully.

No, I’m not presuming to say that I’m indispensable. There are lots of other voice talent who do what I do, and if it came down to it, regular clients of mine could (and do) easily hire one of my counterparts in my stead. But if they want their current sound files to match up with what I’ve previously done and their telephony tree to flow seamlessly, they need me.

It goes deeper than that – I’m at the point where I need to hire an administrative assistant to handle things like invoicing, accounts receivable, basic handling of intake email, and returning phone calls. It should be great news when someone reaches that volume of business when the administrivia should be outsourced, but I have a hard time relinquishing control over virtually any aspects of the business that I’ve run successfully on my own to date.

After years of handling every aspect of my business alone—from constructing my own demos, to marketing, issuing invoices, and following up on those which are overdue—it’s hard to delegate those tasks into even trustworthy hands to free up more time to do the actual job of voicing.

I’m envious of those who have established a business and—with the proper training and an eye to quality control—can actually gradually step away from their business and watch it run itself, giving them more opportunity to enjoy the rewards of having created an entity with its own momentum.


Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, having voiced platforms for Sprint, Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Bell Canada, Vonage, Twitterfone, Hawaiian Telcom, and the Asterisk Open-Source PBX. Her Web site is