Sometimes life can throw us a curveball, and it’s bound to happen in the early stages of your career path. But when you embrace who you are and potential roadblocks in your way, you can find a unique opportunity to have your voice be heard. And in the case of Sheli Baez, her voice is heard both figuratively and literally!
Sheli is an accomplished voice actor featured in commercials, television shows and radio ads across the globe. As a bilingual voice actor, you can hear Sheli in both English- and Spanish-speaking roles. Here at American Family, we’re proud to have Sheli’s voice bring our brand to life as a voice-over actor for our animated explainer videos (you can check one out here).
We asked Sheli to share her story and expertise with us so we could learn how she got to where she is today, how her identity as Latina millennial impacts her career, the pros and cons of being an entrepreneur and more. Let’s get started!
How Sheli Became an Entrepreneur
Some people know what their dream is from a young age, while others may find it later on in life. In Sheli’s case, she always dreamed of making her voice heard – she just didn’t know exactly how.
“I was born to perform — as my grandmother would tell me,” Sheli reminisced. “I was a very chatty, drama kid. I always liked performing and I went into college with the intention of performing in some aspect.
“But after college, I actually started working in the advertising sales department at a Spanish TV and radio station. There, they would sometimes ask me to read copy to clients for local commercials because they hadn't found the right voice. So, in a way, I stumbled into the field. I wasn’t paid extra to do it at the time, it was more like helping out the team. That’s where I got the bug for it.”
Sheli found a path to pursue, but that doesn’t mean she switched careers overnight. Instead, there was a slow buildup to her professional pivot. She said, “A couple years later, I went back to New York, and when I got back, I decided I wanted to start taking acting classes and ended up in an intro to voice-over class for animation.”
“That class really reawakened my desire [to do voice acting] and I decided that I’m going to take it seriously this time. So, I started training a lot and spent pretty much an entire year just taking classes and learning technique. I eventually cut my first demo reel, which is basically the resume of the performance world.”
She continued, “I slowly started to market myself, but it wasn't until I hit the ground running that I hit my stride and was able to start booking more consistently. It wasn’t until the pandemic that it really skyrocketed.”
How to take the leap into becoming an entrepreneur
Sometimes, life has a way of giving you the push you need to fully pursue your dream. In Sheli’s case, the coronavirus pandemic was what made her take the leap into the entertainment field.
“Up until January of last year I was doing voice-over roughly 75% of the time, but I also I had a survival job to keep me afloat,” she explained. “But that job was completely shut down as soon as COVID-19 hit and suddenly I became 100% a voice actor. That meant I had to ramp up my marketing, look out for opportunities and really put myself out there.”
Not only did Sheli put her voice out there, she utilized her home studio as a unique selling point to potential clients: “I’d reach out to people and say, ‘Hey, I have a home studio. I can work for you from home. People can’t come into the studio and I’m prepared already, just send me the script and I’ll get it recorded.’”
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.”
When looking for unique ways to market your small business, think about what will resonate with your target audience. Something as simple as emailing a company that could benefit from what you offer can help both you and the client!
Resources for entrepreneurs
As covered earlier, being an entrepreneur means you wear a lot of hats — you’re the head of marketing, accounting and everything in between. But Sheli shared some pro tips on how she and other entrepreneurs she knows mitigate the stress of managing it all.
She explained, “So for invoicing, you can use platforms like PayPal or Quickbooks. There’s also a company called Wave, which helps with bookkeeping as well. Me personally, I just use a good old-fashioned online spreadsheet to track what comes in, what and when something is supposed to be paid, statuses and so forth. There are also things like Wix where you can make your own website easily. That’s how I made my website. Overall, I think there are way more resources out there where you don’t need to be a webmaster to make a good website.”
While your small business is unlike any other, the challenge you face as an entrepreneur may not be so different from others! If you’re feeling stuck, see what’s out there online!
Reflecting on achieving your dream with gratitude
Pursuing a dream as an entrepreneur is one thing, but what happens after you achieve it? According to Sheli, the sky is the limit when it comes to her dreams!
“When you put your dreams out there and then you reach them, you just feel like, ‘Wait what? I already got there?’ So, then you just keep climbing and sometimes you don't even realize that things you accomplish along the way were dreams. Maybe they weren't a dream to you until it happens and then you realize that was something you would’ve really wanted.”
Sheli advised anyone who achieves their dream to keep gratitude in mind, “I try to remember that not everyone could be in my position. I’m very grateful and very aware to be grateful. Gratitude is absolutely number one on my list of priorities.”
Sheli says she owes a lot of her success to her grandmothers, sharing, “I’m really proud to represent the Latino community and I have a lot to thank my grandmothers for that. I was born learning English and Spanish simultaneously thanks to them, thanks to my grandparents. On my mom's side, my grandmother insisted I only speak Spanish with her. My grandparents moved to the United States in the 60s, and I think holding on to the language was a way to keep their culture alive. Spanish, or language rather, is such a big part of a culture that sometimes gets lost.”
5 lessons learned along the way
We can learn a lot from Sheli’s experience when it comes to making a change in careers. To summarize Sheli’s lessons:
Follow your passions. Do you have a certain hobby that you enjoy? You don’t have to separate what you love to do from your career — look for opportunities to bring them together to create something you’re inspired by!
Embrace your identity. As a millennial Latina woman, Sheli uses her identity as a way to create representation and diversity in her field. This also stands out to potential business!
Prepare for the unexpected. While it’s impossible to predict everything, it’s good to stay prepared for anything that may be an obstacle in your dream pursuit. Whether it’s saving files to cloud or backup storages or saving up money for a home studio, protecting yourself from the unexpected can save you big time.
Once you’ve found your dream, work for it! After Sheli caught the “bug” for voice acting, she didn’t just go right into it. She went to classes and worked at it continuously (and she still goes to classes to this day). Getting into a growth mindset and working on your skills can be the difference between having a dream and pursuing your dream.
Practice gratitude. No matter where you’re at in your dream journey, make sure to take the time to reflect and appreciate those that helped you along the way! Remember, who you are and who you represent matters. And when you embrace your identity and home in on who you are — that’s when you can truly become the dreamer you’re meant to be.
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