Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Young Man & The Sea: How To Survive in International Waters

-By: Taji

Consider if you will this new world we live in, where communication is close to instantaneous, and one can work for years with someone without ever meeting them. The world is still suffering in the wake of the last financial crisis. A few people have come to the conclusion that if we are to survive the tsunami that passed, we must establish something that will survive the tempest ahead.

This article will contain some references to religion and politics. So if either these subjects offend you... please read on.

What wisdom is this?

As a Muslim (one who follows the religion of Islam) there is a tradition (saying) of the Prophet Muhammad that has always helped ease my worries when it comes to financial woes.

The Prophet said: Do not worry about starving to death. Instead, look to the bird who leaves his nest everyday with nothing and is able to feed itself and its chicks by the will of its Creator.

That saying goes well with the concept of bounty in Islam. Subsistence (rizq) and the wealth that God has, which he will give you, have been predetermined. So, if all the wealth that you will ever collect in your lifetime is predetermined, that means a number of things:

1. That the job that you really wanted and got. That was meant for you. No one would have ever gotten it but you because it is your destiny to hold that position.

2. That fact that the wealth you will get is predetermined does not mean that you sit at home and just wait for the money to come knocking at your door. That's not how it works. You work and you make money and that money that you made was predetermined to be yours.

3. Never forget that there are things more important than money... like family. Work to Live; don't Live To work.

I mention this tradition as a prelude to the article because between the lines and intertwined within the words of this article is the strong belief that your wealth is there if you earn it.

Swimming in International Waters

It takes a long time to build an empire that lasts. That is how I see things. I hope my voiceover business lasts a long time so that I can enjoy working in it for more than just the hours after my day job.

I am not a full-time voiceover actor. I wish I were. I think that this business has the potential to be more than just a great side job, and I am working to build it as a brilliant career to make my empire last.

For those who don't know who I am: My name is Mahmoud Taji. I am an Arabic Language voiceover talent based in Cairo, Egypt. I also run a voiceover business out of my home studio here in the land of the pharaohs, and although some aspects have proven to be challenging, I have been able to successfully forge some fruitful relationships with voiceover casting agencies worldwide.

So what is the secret to swimming in International waters?

Plan Ahead

If you were going on a trip to a foreign country... you'd go online and take a look at reviews of the more famous sites. You'd see what the most economical way to get around is, and what the traditions are in that country... like when in Turkey, don't blow your nose in public!

If, on the other hand, you are planning to do business with a foreign company then you will need to educate yourself in the business traditions of that country. Find out what the norms are when it comes to talking about payment, deadlines, or what the etiquette is during telephone conferences.

As for myself, I've worked in 3 different continents: Africa, North America & The Far East. Each is very different from the other, and in each area I was looked at differently (whether due to my ethnicity or people's perceptions of who I am, etc.).

To run a successful business that caters to an international market, you have to be aware of how to speak to people. I can't teach you how to do that. In my case, I have just absorbed the differences between the different markets and automatically adjusted my speaking tone to the different nationalities. I suggest that you read as much as you can about foreign business markets before even considering contacting them. It could prove to be of great benefit. Respecting their views and traditions will help streamline your business and endear you to these business partners (as well as make you a better human being).

A Lasting Foundation

Once you have decided on a business plan, you need to then decide on how much you need to invest into representing yourself online.


If potential business partners have a means to get more details on you, then in this day and age the only logical place for them to go is your website.

First impressions are everything. If your website looks like rubbish to them... then you are rubbish. If you are not interested in maintaining your global image by keeping your website updated and enticing ... then you might as well just forget about catering to the global client.


That stands for Pay to Plays. Those are websites like Voice123.com and Voices.com that list you in their directory and send you job leads daily. For me, the P2Ps leads have never really panned out. What has worked for me though is their brilliant SEO (search engine optimization). Why reinvent the wheel? If they already have a website with great SEO (high visibility on search engines) then you don't have to really waste your time and money trying to match your personal website's SEO to theirs. Don't get me wrong... you need a little of it in there... so for God's sake don't commission an all FLASH website since the SEO for flash is almost nonexistent.

What I mean is, use the P2P websites as a gateway for clients to come to your personal site. That means that your budget will have to include at least $500 for the $200 preferred membership with Voices.com and $300 for the standard membership with Voice123.com.

Like I said you might not get that many jobs off the sites... but your profile page on their sites can easily filter some real clients to your personal site... and then to you.

Social Network Sites

Sure, you might want to Tweet about your services and maybe eventually someone will contact you about a job through your Facebook page or your LinkedIn page. Personally, I use social networking websites to get to know other voiceover talent around the world. I am a strong believer in the "Pay It Forward" ethic, and I don't mind helping 20 or 30 people and never hearing from them again. But one of these people will remember you, and one day when you least expect it your Rizq (refer above for what that means) will catch up with you and the person you helped out last year will be asked by a casting agency if they happen to know an Arabic Voiceover actor. They might just remember you.

Taji's Voiceover Casting Directory

I did mention that I'm a big fan of the "Pay It Forward" ethic right? Which is why I setup a directory on my blog that has 230+ links to voiceover casting websites worldwide. Not all these companies I listed were interested in adding me to their roster of voiceover talent. They might have already had a resident Arabic voiceover guy that they're quite happy with. That doesn't matter... because the directory is there for everyone. Use it to plan your takeover of the international voiceover market and then when you have done so... pay it forward.

Many Hooks, One Boat

If you take anything out of this article then take this: Be smart. Don't go quit your job and sit at home scratching your head trying to figure out how to "Break Into" the international voiceover market. Instead, understand that you have to first get the ball rolling ... and then when it's time... and the snowball is big enough... hold on for dear life.

Part of being smart is putting out as many hooks into the international waters as possible. The more hooks, the better. Keep your day job, and keep fishing. Follow up with those who don't mind you following up (refer to what I said about international work ethics). Don't spam anyone with unwanted mail. Be polite and courteous and never... under any circumstances accept ridiculously low rates.

Payment Options

It doesn't matter how good I am at what I do. If clients cannot pay me then there is no point in even contacting them. Thankfully I was smart enough not to close my Paypal account when I left North America, which has allowed me to receive payments and be a far more appealing freelancer than the other Arabic speaking guy who doesn't have a Paypal account set up. Paypal not being available in Egypt is a political decision. Ironically, you can have a Paypal account in Saudi Arabia but not in Egypt. Go figure.

Another thing to keep in mind is currencies. Consider creating a rate card for different countries. If you are able to get in contact with a local voiceover talent (preferably specialized in another language) and asking them what the normal rates are, you can get a better idea of what is the accepted norm for voiceover work. But keep in mind that if you are offering a unique product (an uncommon language, for example), then you can probably keep your rates as is and not sell yourself short.

What Goes Around Comes Around

If you sit and do nothing... nothing will happen. If you go out and do everything... but that everything is not well thought out, then you might have been better off staying at home and not doing anything at all.

The world is your oyster, and being able to work for people thousands of miles away is no longer a problem. The problem now is... what are you going to do about it?


  1. A very well thought out essay on working with clients in different cultures. Yes, it is important to be 'sensitive' to the customs of a particular country. And yes, it's very important to have a means of 'collecting' for work performed at such a long distance. I wish you well, Taji.

  2. Thanks Dan,

    I should have added something about being sensitive to different timezones but I had already submitted the article before I included that... then I got busy.

    Oh well.

    All the best,

  3. Hi,Taji, I enjoyed reading your artical. I am very new to voice overs .I am working with suchavoice.com to make a demo and am in their Master class. However, I have obviously been thinking about where I could try to get work that would be unique and interesting to me.. and the forgein market , particularly the Middle East was what I had come up with , hence my interest in your artical. I am British , live in the USA, but was born and raised in East and West Africa. I am very cognisant of a counties cultural sensitivities, and hope that my experience in this area will help me find work abroad.Thank you, Angie