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SMALL-BUSINESS MAKEOVER

Audio tech needs sound advice

January 31, 2008|Cyndia Zwahlen | Special to The Times

Every company loves landing a hefty job, but what happens when the big client goes away?

Immersed in a years-long recording project at his Tustin studio, Bill Trousdale of AudioVision Production Services was almost glad that business from former clients seemed to be drying up.

Now that the five-year job to create audio Bibles -- some with music and full sound effects -- has wrapped up, the 54-year-old engineer has discovered that some of those old clients are gone for good, victims of sweeping changes in the media production business.

Taking a hard look at his 18-year-old firm, he has found that he needs to drum up new clients and update his business image. His website is well written and informative but dated. The most recent news release posted is from 2002.

Trousdale also wonders if he needs to make a big investment in the latest equipment for his 2,000-square-foot studio.

"I guess I need to reinvent my company," he says.

Before the business owner took on the Bible job for Zondervan, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based unit of HarperCollins Publishers, he kept himself and one or two contract workers busy in his studio with audio production work for corporate clients such as Safeway, Southern California Edison, Ingram Micro and several local medical companies.

Equipped with a high-end Fairlight digital recording system, he also did radio and television work, including audio for infomercials, and a variety of voice-over jobs, including books on tape.

The phone rang with jobs from producers and companies referred to him by satisfied customers.

It was a valuable network of contacts that Trousdale had built almost effortlessly, even before he opened his own studio in November 1989 with an established client list.

Previously a freelance audio engineer, he rented time in other studios in Los Angeles and Orange County to mix and work on projects for his clients. He was talking to people in the business daily, keeping tabs on potential new work, competitors and the industry in general.

Because his need for more sophisticated audio equipment eventually outstripped what he could find in the studios he rented, he decided to set up his own shop.

His informal network, word-of-mouth recommendations and high-end audio gear continued to fuel his business.

Even during his recent major project, he tried to take any job his long-time clients needed done. Gradually, though, as he let his marketing efforts and networking lapse, sales cooled.

He still handles a large share of the audio needs of a major local infomercial production company but worries about relying so much on a single client.

Last year, sales at his business totaled $190,000, down from a recent high of $254,000 in 2005.

Despite declining sales, Trousdale hasn't lost his passion for the business.

Ever since he was a boy and visited the informal garage studio of a neighbor who worked for Hanna-Barbera, he has considered audio engineering "the most unbelievably cool job. You get paid to listen," he says.

"Other kids were saying, 'Let's go play tetherball,' but I just wanted to stay and watch," he says. "To see him create the final product right before my eyes, to see him playing the whoop thing or whatever sound -- that was an 'aha!' moment," says Trousdale, who grew up in Orange County.

As a successful business owner who has kept the doors open for almost two decades, he knows that his love for audio work is not enough. He also needs to be flexible as trends roll through his industry.

Many corporate-communication videos, for example, have been replaced by PowerPoint presentations or moved to the Web, where the focus has not been on audio quality, he says.

And, as with many an industry veteran, Trousdale is concerned that the Web business is being dominated by a younger, hipper crowd that might not value his trained ear, people skills and record of success.

"I don't have any tattoos or ear-piercing or any of that, so how will I relate?" he says, only half joking.

Trousdale has taken some recent steps to recharge business. He's three-quarters of the way through an overhaul of his website, www.AudioVisionPS.com.

He has listed his company in the Voice Over Resource Guide, a twice-a-year industry directory. The guide color-codes industry players, including recording studios, by their locations. Eventually his listing will show up in the online version.

He also plans to run a small ad in the online version that will include his new 800 telephone number.

He joined the OC Ad Club, an organization of advertising professionals based in Irvine. And he has called several video-editing facilities in the area to ask about client demand for newer high-definition audio equipment.

He worries that it's not enough.

"My biggest hurdle is I'm not a very good schmoozer," Trousdale says.

"I'm not really good at blowing my own horn. I've probably had other people doing that behind my back, but now I'm starting to figure out that I need to do more."

cyndia.zwahlen@latimes.com

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If your company could benefit from a free makeover, to be published in The Times, send a brief description of your company and its challenges to bizmakeover@latimes.com or to Business Makeover, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles CA 90012. Include a daytime phone number.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

AudioVision Production Services

Business

Audio services for radio, TV, corporate video, books on tape, infomercials

Owner

Bill Trousdale

History

Founded: November 1989

Start-up funds: $60,000 loan from equipment leasing company, $10,000 credit line backed by his parents

Company snapshot

2007 sales: $190,000

Employees: 0

Customers: Video and TV production companies, independent producers and corporations

Headquarters: Tustin

Main business challenge

To reinvent the business after a five-year recording project for a single client

Goal

To develop consistent sales, increase client base, upgrade equipment and polish the business' image

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