Small business advice: How to use your big mouth to make big money

Got a big mouth? Or a voice that people love to listen to? You’ll be amazed at how much money you can make working those mellifluous tones, says Irvine Green in his latest blog aimed at small business entrepreneurs.

Irvine provides examples of a whole range of South Africans who have survived, and even become quite wealthy, by using their verbal talents.  Many of them have worked on radio; others are performers like singers and comedians. Motivational speakers have been a major hit, too.

Regardless of whether you’ve got what would be considered a good voice, though, you should work on your verbal communications. As Irvine reminds us, your voice is a major marketing tool. “If you don’t pick up the phone and market yourself, you deserve to be an unknown,” he says. – JC

By Irvine Green

The voice that’s loved…

Irvine Green as young boy.
Sing for your supper! That’s the message from Irvine Green (pictured here as a small boy) to people who want to make a fresh start in the New Year.

Oops. Just discovered my ‘road map’ was out of date. There’s ONE MORE fork to explore down the road of ‘forced entrepreneurship’ – a rewarding one and the cheapest to start.

What’s the first thing we make real use of when we’re born? OUR VOICES. Violence starts in the operating theatre when the gynae gives us a klap to start breathing..! And we respond verbally and noisily (luckily for the gynae,  often a woman, we don’t know the right word as yet so just complain… LOUDLY).

Lots of people are blessed with a great voice – which they use for singing, radio work, as master of ceremonies, acting and motivational training. (It’s radio and motivation I want to dwell on this time around).

Many readers of this column will recall Robin Alexander – a radio presenter who started broadcasting life, age 17, in the ‘ back-room’  as studio techie (controlling audio levels, mixing, drama show sound effects, setting up records, etc). At age 19 he took a chance on asking to audition as a presenter. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The VERY selective panel, not knowing who he was (initially listening to unidentified tapes), loved his voice and gave him a slot – only discovering his age later and that he was already an employee of the SABC (as above). He became the youngest person ever to be appointed for a presentation position (this was 1957).

Robin worked for the English service as a news reporter, took the plunge to work at LM Radio from 1960-1963, came back to SA to work in the advertising world for a while and then joined Radio Highveld (in the infancy of FM broadcasting) in 1965.

He was immediately a big hit with regional listeners. But being a bit of a restless soul he resigned from full time work at the SABC in 1970 and went freelance. ‘FOOL’, many said… But it seems Robin was a ‘forced entrepreneur’ at heart.

He ended up ten times as busy (and did very well from the outset). He undertook fashion show presenting (his wife Ros organised them and his sons were among the models), show jumping and general sport commentary, radio shows (Springbok Radio AND Highveld), MC’ing at events, audio-visual show scripting and reading, and MORE.

He loved doing night slots (Radio Orion, midnight to 6 am, for example) as then he had the day free to do everything else. Include jol a bit (waterskiing was his passion) and do lots of well paying freelance work.

Robin touched on the motivational side of ‘voice work’ too, working for the Dale Carnegie Institute for a while and also presented effective studying courses at Wits University in the early 1970’s (which I had the privilege of attending in Feb 1973 before starting my B. Comm).

Freelance work was Robin’s joy – and it stayed that way until his retirement in 2004. A top notch ‘forced entrepreneur’.

There are other voice related ‘forced entrepreneur’ opportunities. Motivational speakers. Those types who can convince you a R10 note can be parlayed into R1 million if you work at it and take the right approach and stay positive and meet the right business people who do big business. True – this outcome is possible, but not for everyone.

Leaving the latter out of the equation, motivational speakers, scenario planners (Clem Sunter), MCs (such as Aki Anastasiou and John Robbie), entertainers (comedians, such as Trevor Noah), children’s show producers (Punch and Judy, stage shows and such) and others are ALSO voice related ‘forced entrepreneurs’. And it doesn’t mean they are uneducated or unable to hold down professional jobs.

Something in their DNA has a sequence that runs ‘V-O-I-C-E-U-S-E-R’ and unless they DO THAT, they become unhappy little grey people in a grey uniform in a little grey office… until their brain kicks them in the butt one day at 3 am (as it does with all entrepreneurs, forced or not) and they realise their true worth – either by an opportunity coming up via someone saying they have a great voice or would be great motivators, and give them a break.

So next time you hear YOUR voice on a video you did on holiday, don’t cringe… It might be the NEXT BIG VOICE someone is looking for…!

I too have had my ‘voice’ days… ( I sense you thinking, what on earth HASN’T this guy done… ? !) Firstly as a radio ham. Yes, granted, that’s just a hobby. But the microphone confidence one gets as part of talking to other radio hams worldwide is invaluable – and led to me presenting a radio ham show alongside Stan Katz on Swazi Music Radio (precursor to 702 – same station, different broadcasting location and format) in 1974 and 1975 – then ditto on Radio South Africa (prior to what became SAfm) during 1981 in my SABC days, in the 4-6 pm slot called Audiomix with Peter Mellor. Remember HIM? The suave, really suave, TV show and sports presenter who made most women swoon).

To close, I TOO was ON TV – at age 16, in the then Rhodesia. Again, to do with ham radio. We were on holiday there (May 1971) and the daily children’s show was having a series on ‘Kids with interesting hobbies or things to tell’. I phoned in and said my parents were radio hams, as I intended to be too one day… ‘Yesssss, ohhhhh yesssss,’ said the Producer. “See you tomorrow”. I was interviewed by another name you should know – Victor Mackeson.

So, at age 16, I TOO had MY TV/VOICE moment (7 minutes worth) explaining ham radio in front of a camera during a peak viewing slot. Long before South Africa announced the coming of TV in Nov 1971.

This anecdote leads me to the NEXT blog’s main point – if you don’t pick up the phone and market yourself, you deserve to be an unknown. You have a voice – use it as your main tool to success. You started life off using it (complaining to/about a violent gynae).

There are current voices/personalities you know well from listening to the radio or watching TV. Or reading widely. And this week TWO of them made BIG bloopers…

“South Africa has a history of corruption for a long time to come”. So said Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Finance, on Lotus FM Newsbreak Talk, Sunday Dec 8th 2013. (I kid you not, that was a COMPLETE sentence – not part of one, which would then place it out of context. Listen to the podcast).

“Education doesn’t solve everything.” A closing remark by Jay Naidoo  (you ALL know of him) in the Redi Tlhabi show, on 702, between 10 am and 11 am, Monday Dec 9th, 2013. (The discussion at that point had been centred on improving the education system and student pass rates to ensure Gr. 12 school students – and Uni students – were employable post their studies. Again, find the relevant podcast).

Lesson of the week for voice based entrepreneurs – first, think clearly, THEN open mouth.



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