It almost sounds like a slogan from one of those inspirational posters, doesn’t it? You know… the ones with pictures of eagles soaring over pristine mountain peaks. You can find these pearls of wisdom on coffee mugs, calendars and on mouse pads.
Because some of these truths are so trivialized, we’ve become as immune to them as to the violence in video games or human suffering on the evening news.
If you’ve read the first two installments of this series, “Voice Over Nightmares” and “Our Own Worst Critic,” you know that I’m using Gordon Ramsay’s TV-show “Kitchen Nightmares” as a metaphor. I’m trying to cut through the pre-orchestrated reality drama, in the hopes of uncovering recipes you and I can prepare to boost our business.
Today, the focus is on relationships.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a freelancer, is believing that you are a one-man (or one woman)-band on an island in the midst of a shark-infested ocean. Although it sometimes might seem that way, you’re not all alone in the universe.
This business revolves around relationships: relationships with our clients; with our team; with our significant others and ultimately… the relationship we have with ourselves (or is that too woo-woo for you?).
These inner and outer circles constantly connect and interact. Great relationships can motivate and energize us to do great things. Terrible relationships can suck the life blood out of us and our business.
Before you step up to the mic, think about how many people have already been involved in the project you’re about to work on: the end client and her team, the ad agency, the production company, script writers, animators, translators, your agent or the people at that Voices-site.
If you happen to record in a studio, you’ll probably work with a director and a sound engineer. Once the product is finished, the circle widens again as your voice reaches an audience. All of a sudden, your tiny island has become very crowded… There are a lot of people you need to please!
Whether he’s in the British Midlands or in the heart of Manhattan, Gordon Ramsay always encounters dysfunctional families and co-workers on the verge of a nervous breakdown. To get a good sense of the internal dynamics of a restaurant, he insists on observing how a team deals with the stress of a full service. It’s his chance to find out what really goes on underneath the veneer of polite pretentiousness.
Early in the night, Ramsay will notice three things: the chef/owner can’t communicate, can’t delegate and can’t even cook. Let’s start with the first problem: lack of communication.
Some owners won’t communicate because they have something to hide. Often, their mismanagement has resulted in a financial mess. Not even their spouse or partner knows how much in debt they are, and when these people finally find out, they feel betrayed, dismayed and ready to walk. That’s why “Kitchen Nightmares” frequently turns into a “Relationship Rescue.”
Sometimes, team members can’t be trusted: an accountant cooks the books (a bad thing, especially in an eatery); a server helps himself to the register.
Some chefs are dictators. All they do is boss people around, complain and criticize. It’s always somebody else’s fault. Praise is a dirty word. Compliments are for the weak. A team has to listen and obey. And if you don’t like it, you are free to leave!
By taking the employees for granted, many owners lose the respect and trust of the very people they depend on, to turn their business around.
Then there are chefs and owners who believe that they’re an open book… you know what I mean by that, don’t you? They expect the world to read their mind, and if that world is not on the same page, guess who gets blamed? This type of behavior is based on unrealistic expectations that can never be met, and it’s a relationship killer (in and out of the kitchen).
So, let’s look at the flipside.
If a business wishes to survive and thrive, it needs to be built upon honesty, respect and openness.
Be honest with yourself and dare to ask the hard questions: Do I really have what it takes? How much am I in the red? How many weeks before I have to pull the plug? What’s my plan B?
Secondly: who’s on your team? Can they handle the job or are they sabotaging your success? Have you taken the time to monitor and evaluate their performance?
A year ago, you made an investment in one of those voice-over websites. Since then, you auditioned like never before. Did the staff deliver? How many gigs did you get? What’s the ROI?
Have you heard from your webmaster, lately? He promised to update your demos. What’s taking him so long? And what about your agent? Has she forgotten that you exist?
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
What would your team members have to say about you? Are you stressed, short-tempered and impatient because you’re feeling the heat? Are you willing to listen and are you ready to implement suggestions? When’s the last time you paid someone a sincere compliment? Did you let your partner know how much you appreciate the fact that he or she is there for you through thick and thin?
Now think about your clients. When’s the last time you reached out to all those smart people that have hired you in the past? Why did you neglect them? What could you do today, to reestablish the connection?
When it comes to mind reading, I have news for you: most of us aren’t born with psychic powers. We spend a lifetime figuring out what goes on in our own head; let alone what goes on in the minds of others. All the same, we tend to forget the advice our favorite teacher once gave us:
“Never assume. Always ask.”
Seconds later, we run into the studio, script in hand, and we glance at the voice-seeker’s instructions: “Male or Female, English, enthusiastic but not over the top.”
What’s that supposed to mean? How can you ever arrive at your destination when someone hands you vague directions?
Can you ask the client for specifics? I’m afraid you’re out of luck. The voice-seeker wishes to remain anonymous. So, how do you determine your take on the script? It’s simple: you use your imagination. In other words: you make it up based on what you think the client might be listening for. Two hours later, some stranger trashes your demo after the first ten seconds because it’s not really what he assumes his client wants. That was time well-spent, wasn’t it?
Back in the middle of a Kitchen Nightmare, Gordon Ramsay is still observing service as he spots another basic mistake.
Because there’s no trust or effective communication, the headstrong chef/owner thinks that that he must be in charge of… everything and everyone. He’s running from dessert to entrée while arguing with the front of the house.
Within ten minutes, he’s totally overwhelmed and most of his words need to be bleeped out. Hardly any food leaves the kitchen. A lot is coming back due to poor quality. Impatient patrons have had it and vow never to come back.
I hope it’s not that extreme in your voice-over kitchen. Yet, I know it’s very tempting to believe that you can do it all by yourself. Becoming an “independent contractor” seemed to be the ideal way to escape the 9 to 5 rat race. It’s a dream come true: working from home, pursuing your passion and setting your own hours.
When you wake up, you suddenly realize that you are heading the sales department; you’re in charge of advertising and marketing; you’re designing your own website; you are the chief technician as well as the CFO. And let’s not overlook one insignificant detail: you deliver the goods!
This poor, overworked, idealistic, multi-talented genius is now working 15-hour days in the pursuit of happiness. Heaven forbid this superhuman being should get a cold…
Seriously, do you really need to do your own mixing and editing? Do you really have to master PhotoShop? Are you the best person to handle your finances and legal affairs?
Some people won’t delegate because they believe that “nobody does it better.” Others tell me they can’t afford any hired help. The end-result? Tumbling productivity, deteriorating quality, messed-up relationships and a life that’s seriously out of balance.
Frustrated, angry and alone, you look at that magnificent poster on the wall. It’s the one with the eagle soaring over pristine mountain peaks. Then you read the words written underneath.
All of a sudden, you realize that this familiar truism has surpassed the status of cliché. It has become relevant.
“The success of your business is equivalent to the strength of your relationships.”
It’s time to give that Ramsay-guy a call…
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Less work, more competition, lower rates. Now what? Read the last installment in this series!