My oldest daughter has always been able to wear hats well. Over the years, when we would be out shopping, she would playfully try on different types of hats, adjust them in the mirror, then spin around to us for reactions. Remarkably, they all complimented her look. Being self-employed in the voice-over business means wearing all the hats. Some fit better than others, but we put them on nonetheless because it’s necessary. Tall or short, comfortable or tight, being your own boss and the wearer of many hats means, regardless of your hat size, you answer to yourself alone.We are business owners who play all the parts literally and figuratively, so we need to run ourselves as a voice-over business; a separate entity, if you will.
There are several legal structures for registering as a voice-over business, which include sole proprietorship, partnership, non-profit, limited liability, and S or C-Corporations. Generally, if you don’t establish a formal legal structure for yourself as a voice-over business entity at the end of the year, the IRS will tax you as a sole proprietor. So, technically, you don’t need to do anything. However, that may not be the most advantageous situation for you.
“Wait”, you say: “I thought it was just me doing auditions and emailing potential clients with my demos. What’s all this?” Don’t panic, you’re essentially correct. If you’re serious about success in VO, you’re investing in training, being produced professionally, and forming a plan to book gigs and create a killer marketing plan. Now, the next step is to form an actual company. Typically, while you should verify this with a CPA since state laws vary, as a voice-over business, you can write off your training, demo production, and home studio equipment as investments in your business.
Partnerships and non-profit status don’t really apply to professional VO talent, so those are out. S and C Corporations are complex and require multiple members on a Board of Directors; plus they’re expensive to set up properly. These are typically viewed as overkill for the simplicity of the “one man band” model of voice-over. That makes things easier and leaves us with sole proprietorships and limited liability corporations.
Limited liability (LLC) structures are often desirable because it carries tax benefits over sole proprietorship and gives you more liability protections under the law since your personal property and the company’s assets are separate. You can also run it all yourself with you as the seat holder for the entire Board of Directors. It’s also inexpensive and easy to set up legally.
If an LLC is what you choose to go with, look-up your state’s Secretary of State website. Here, you will likely find the forms and instructions you need to register as a Limited Liability Corporation. Fill in the blanks on their boilerplate Articles of Organization, decide on your business name (which may or may not be different from your own name; that’s up to you), and pay the filing fee which varies from state to state. You’ll need to pay a small fee annually to keep your voice-over business registered. Depending on your annual earnings, these fees are usually more than made up for with the tax savings you’ll enjoy over sole proprietorship. The state will then assign you a tax ID number which you will use at tax time.
The best thing to do is consult a professional who has expertise in forming businesses to select which is the best fit for your needs, such as an attorney and/or a certified public accountant (CPA). There are also local and national law and business organizations who provide this kind of information and guidance for free or a small fee. Do an internet search for business registration advice in your area to find local resources.
SCORE is a national non-profit organization run by active and retired top level business people and executives. SCORE is dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow, and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Since their work is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and a network of 11,000+ volunteers, SCORE is able to deliver services at no charge or at very low cost. You can find them here: https://www.score.org/
So, how do different hats look on you? Maybe you don’t wear them, prefer to stick with your favorite baseball cap, belong to a hat club (yes, that’s a real thing), or, like my daughter, prefer a different hat for all occasions. Get set up as a voice-over business, and whatever your taste and hat preferences, you should look just fine!
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Brian Thon (pronounced ‘TONE’) is an international voice artist and national producer. He has worked behind the mic and behind the board in studios throughout the US, with up and coming voice talent to published authors and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musicians. For more of his work visit brianthon.com.