Sheli thought back and said how her home studio launched her career, “I think one of the greatest things that I did prior to the pandemic was getting the gear together for a home studio. I put the studio together originally for auditions, but it wasn't like I had the top-of-the-line equipment to begin with. I would upgrade things once I could afford to and I’m so glad I did because voice acting became my sole income. I’m so grateful I was lucky enough to be prepared for something like this. It definitely flipped over my career.”
How your identity can shape your small business
When you own your own business, who you are and what the business is are practically one and the same! Why? Well, as an entrepreneur, your business is a reflection of who you are and what you value. So how you identify greatly impacts the business’s identity, especially in Sheli’s case as a voice actor.
Sheli shared how being a Latina millennial woman impacts her business, saying, “When it comes to my business and identity, I’m in a really great position because not only am I available to speak Spanish, but I’m also bicultural. Sometimes people can be bilingual because they went to college for Spanish and got their masters in Spanish, and they are brilliant at it, but they speak it textbook. Or maybe their accent is pretty flawless, but they're not bicultural.
“There’s still a specific culture and that’s where my specialty is. I’m Dominican American, both of my parents are Dominican immigrants. So having that heritage allows me to connect and communicate to my people, whether it be in Spanish or knowing different slang from the Caribbean that maybe someone from Spain doesn't really use.”
Sheli is also a millennial, and while being a young entrepreneur can be intimidating for some, Sheli embraces it and positions herself as an expert in the millennial voice.
“As a millennial, it’s about knowing the intonation of millennials. We are such a very specific generation where even the way that we speak is very unique. We have ‘vocal fry’ where you’re letting words kind of sizzle in your mouth. Or even ending a sentence that isn't a question, but millennials will put a question tone at the end of the sentence anyways. A lot of these little things only happen because you're in that community, and so I think both as a Latina bilingual and as a millennial I can reach that demographic, because I know how to speak their language — I mean that literally and figuratively.”
When starting your business, think about all facets of who you are and all the different communities you can represent. Your unique identity can be a huge boon that can empower your small business!
The Pros and Cons of Owning Your Own Business
Since Sheli left the corporate world to pursue her new dream of becoming an entrepreneur, she knows what it’s like to work in both worlds. If you’re contemplating leaving the nine to five to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams, we can help you weigh those pros and cons thanks to Sheli’s expertise!
“The best part is being able to set up your days any way you want,” said Sheli. “For example, at the beginning of the month I moved to a different apartment I didn’t have to ask anyone for time off. I just said, ‘Hey, the studio's closed from this day to this day. If you have any projects, I can get them in right before I move, but I need to set up the new studio.’ Having that flexibility is amazing and those are things that you can't do under nine to five.”
However, making your own schedule can have its downsides as well. Sheli warned that being an entrepreneur means risking burnout: “On the bad side of owning your own business is sometimes you do end up overworking yourself or feel pressured to always be working because, you wonder how else are you going to financially support yourself?”
“When you work a salary job for a company, it’s normal to get those little breaks during the day where you can chat with coworkers or grab some coffee. But as a business owner you end up feeling a little guilty sometimes if you're not always being productive.”
Another tough part of the job? Being the CEO of your own company can also mean you wear more than just one hat. Sheli explained, “One downside is doing all the financial things that you have to keep up with because you're the business owner. I do miss the days of just signing the papers and HR taking care of it. I was a communications major and I was never a big fan of math. To do all the finances is just the bane of my existence, so the admin stuff can be a downer. But the plus side is you get to be the master of your timing and of your company!”
Being your own boss means you call all the shots — even if sometimes you don’t want to! But overall, Sheli assured us that for her, the pros outweigh the cons.
“I pinch myself sometimes. I can't believe I’m doing this, not everyone gets to live out their dream. Not to say that it's not hard work — it's very hard work — but it's 100% worth it.”
When it comes to your company’s brand, it’s important to think who you want to market to and how you want them to feel or think when picturing your small business.
Sheli is still navigating her brand quest — which can take some time to get just right. And that’s okay! She shared her experience with us, saying:
“I’m still on the branding journey and working on trying to narrow down where I want to go. I did start voice-over with the intention of eventually doing animation, like most voice actors. I was always a drama kid and performer growing up, so I thought that’s where I would be. But as I got into the business, took classes and started booking jobs, I started realizing that actually the business industry within the voice-over community was where I fit in even more.
“So, I started doing a lot more commercials and explainer videos and industrial work. My brand has changed a little bit, so it started out very much like let me market myself being super bubbly, effervescent and whatever they want with hopes of getting into animation, and now it’s been leading into more of the fact that I’m just really flexible. I’m kind of like a jukebox in a way, like the mixtape of voice-overs.”
Remember, don’t be afraid to pivot and adapt as the market changes. As long as your brand is as authentic as you are, it’s great to be aware of your opportunities and what you’re drawn toward to decide how you want to make a change.
Starting a business is one thing, it’s another thing to get business! Sheli’s advice? Try something new (or old) when it comes to marketing:
“So, there's traditional and there’s unorthodox marketing — which is really what I’ve done. The traditional being there are sites where you can post your demo reels and there's a casting site, so you'll see different auditions available.
“On my end, I have been very successful with networking and direct marketing. Most of my bigger clients and gigs, including American Family, have come from referrals. I’ve had friends or people introduce me to others and I tell them what I do and suddenly they put me in front of a client. So it's like a case-by-case scenario.”
She continued, “I mostly do direct marketing and will reach out to postproduction houses, agencies and creative agencies. I’ll cold email — like the good old days — and say ‘Hey, I’m a bilingual voice actor, and these are my reels if you would like to see my past work. If my voice is a good fit for your client, please reach out. I’m happy to help!’ I position myself as someone who is offering a service instead of an actor trying to catch their big break. I’m just a service provider and if you need my service, I’m here for you.”