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Starting Over

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Charlotte man starts over with 'voice-over' business

By Greg Thomas
Special to the Observer

More Information

  • Greg Thomas at work
  • Starting Over: More in this series
  • Some wisdom on starting over, from Greg Thomas

    “When you decide to start your own small business, you’ll get a mixed reaction from friends, family, and associates.

    “Some will be very happy for you and support you every step of the way, (read: your Mom. )

    “Others may have a more cynical view. ‘“Shouldn’t you just get a real job?’

    “Some friends may frankly ask: ‘Do you know the odds of failure?

    “The truth is, lots of small businesses fail. Everyday. But if we all walked away from our dreams and ambitions just because of someone else’s opinion, this country would be pretty boring. Imagine if Christopher Columbus had said ‘I guess you’re right, that is a long way to ride in a boat. Let’s just stay home.’


  • Share your story

    Know someone with a great "Starting Over" story? Email Roland Wilkerson at rwilkerson@charlotteobserver.com. Want to take a crack at writing about your own journey? It could be about downsizing your home or lifestyle, starting a new family or career, or simply making a change in your life. Tell us about it in 700 words or less. Include your address and daytime phone.



Being laid-off was the best thing that ever happened to me.

In 2008, my position as assistant regional manager for a national realty company was downsized. In one day, 13 of us were let go via a phone call from the corporate office. Not even a handshake goodbye.

I was 33, and my wife, Elizabeth, and I were responsible for three kids. And a mortgage on our home in Charlotte. The real estate market had crashed, and nobody was hiring in my field. Daddy had to do something, and quick.

As a kid, I’d been obsessed with movies, radio, and acting. My parents allowed me to join The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, where I began the discovery of theater and art. Throughout my teen years, these remained my passions.

But somewhere in my 20s I put aside those dreams and focused on something that would pay the bills. I found a paycheck in apartment management and leasing, working my way up for 13 years.

Being laid off hurt. I had worked hard for that company and was then tossed out like yesterday’s donuts. But like so many others, I had to move on.

I finally decided to pursue my childhood ambitions as a radio announcer and voice actor. I launched my own website – GregTheVoice.com. I began contacting local radio personalities, asking questions and auditioning for jobs as a voice spokesman here and there.

No, it wasn’t easy or quick

It was rough. I went from bringing home regular paychecks to no checks at all. We went through about $10,000 in retirement savings to pay the mortgage. To lower our debt, we took our vacation savings and tax returns and paid off our oldest car.

The traditional Friday-night dining at Cheesecake Factory was now dining in the kitchen with cheesecake. While it was all a blow to our finances, it was a more painful blow to my ego. The man of the house wasn’t feeling so manly anymore.

Elizabeth – who had been taking care of three kids in three different schools full-time – was forced to go back to work, leaving me with Mr. Mom duties during the day.

I quickly learned she’d been working harder at home than I ever had at the office. From 5:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. I was cleaning, feeding, picking up or and dropping off kids and lunches and book bags. Give me my 9 to 5 job back. Please.

At the same time, I was auditioning for and calling on any voice-related job I could find. They were not plentiful, and I spent a few months without a single callback.

One day, I responded to an ad: It paid $200 for the best pirate impersonation left on the company’s answering machine. A car dealership was looking for a voice artist for their upcoming Labor Day radio commercial. “Harrgghh! To the dipths of the ooocean with hoigh proices...” I cackled.

I left my message, and they called me back within a few hours. I got the job!

Now, how was I going to record this thing?

I didn’t have a real studio, so I was forced to record from our tiny laundry room. To make matters worse, both of our neighbors had loud dogs, so recording during the day was impossible. (Nobody hires the voice guy with barking in the background).

So there I was – midnight, with blankets on my head to dampen sound – squatting on the floor of my 6-by-5-foot laundry room belting out my best pirate impersonation into a mic I’d rigged up. I managed to wake up my 4-year old daughter, who was a bit creeped out by the buccaneer bellows wafting in from the dark.

The next few jobs didn’t pay nearly as well.

I narrated a 45-page training manual for $65. It took me nearly an entire 40-hour work week to produce that voice-over. I made $1.63 an hour on that one. I learned quickly that this new career of mine was not so much about the art and theater that I had assumed. It was all about the business: Learn and adapt, or be eaten alive.

I had help. For starters, my wife never gave up on me, which she could have easily done. Becoming a successful voice-over artist with no connections or experience was a crazy plan. But friends and family supported my newfound madness as well.

Some timely help and support

My brother-in-law helped me create my website, and to optimize its ranking in search engines like Google. It was stuff I knew nothing about, but would be instrumental in my coming success.

And before long, the voice opportunities began coming. I found my clients returning. And again. And sometimes they brought along associates that also became clients. I could now see a light at the end of the tunnel. This might work out after all.

I’ve proudly worked for companies including Time Warner Cable, Turner Network Television and Marvel Comics Publishing.

Today, I’m happy where I’m at. I’m not a millionaire and probably not on course to be one. But I have some piece of mind. The mortgage is paid up months in advance, and we own the cars outright.

For the first time in my life, I wake up excited about work. I’m not just Employee No. 521 anymore.

I’m Greg … The Voice!

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