I had some interesting thoughts this morning that I wanted to share with you. I’m what you’d call a “professional voiceover talent”, meaning I make my living by recording myself speaking. I do audiobooks, commercials, narrations, even a podcast or two. But that sort of raises the question of how you define a “professional” in this business.
Who Is a Professional?
There’s a lot of navel-gazing in the industry about what it means to be a professional. Are you a professional if you have a “day job”, but do voice work on the side? Are you a professional if you’re working but living off your spouse’s income while you get your business going? I have met established pros that I wouldn’t trust to take out my garbage. I’ve also run into people who have done less than ten hours of voice work in their career that I would trust implicitly with any job I might send their way, knowing it’s going to be done right.
Allow me to explain what makes one a pro:
Behaving professionally. Take yourself seriously, take your customers seriously, and conduct your business like a professional.
Does a shot of me behind an expensive mic mean I’m a professional?
That’s it. No rules, no messy creams or gels. Taking yourself seriously and behaving as a professional makes you one. But it’s surprising to me how many don’t understand this simple precept. This isn’t a lemonade stand or a paper route you’re running here. This is a business, and if you want to be taken seriously, it starts with taking your customers seriously. They’re in business to make money just like you are and make no mistake, you are replaceable.
Think about your interactions with your clients and those who would consider you their client. When you work with someone to obtain a product or service, who do you go back to time and again? The ones you can trust and know will take care of you. Cost is not as much of a factor for most of us as is service and value. Give your customers good service, good value and remember that they’re paying you to do something for them. Do it right!
Now, am I suggesting that you “fake it until you make it”? Absolutely not. You should never misrepresent yourself- that in and of itself is unprofessional! But you don’t have to be a full-time voice talent working with a U87 in a $200,000 studio every day to be a professional.
Professionals honor their commitments, own their mistakes, take care of their customers, take their customer’s needs seriously, and operate their business like they expect to be taken seriously, no matter where they are in their career arc. Just starting out and auditioning on P2P sites, getting a couple of $50 jobs every few weeks? Recording IVR prompts for the local dentist? Maybe even doing pro bono work for Librivox? It does not matter what you’re doing, or whether it pays well (or even at all!). Take it seriously, respect your customers, set a goal and work toward it.
Professionals keep working and growing, amateurs quit when it gets hard.
Working With Professionals Is Its Own Reward
Part of what started this train of thought was an interaction I had this morning with a client I’ve had a relationship with for some time now. It was a simple thing, just sorting out some paperwork. It was routine, but what struck me was that it had been routine since the very first interaction I had with this client. There was never any confusion about what expectations were, deadlines were clearly communicated, they have always been responsive and helpful- in short, they’re professionals, in every sense of the word.
I realized that I enjoyed working with this client, not merely because they send me money- which, of course is necessary and good- but for its own sake, just because it’s nice to work with them. I like to hear from this client, because my day gets better every time I get an email from them- and that’s not a joke or an exaggeration. They are fun to work with because when I get something from them, it’s on point, concise and tells me exactly what they need from me.
There was a lesson to be learned for me in that- when I work with other people, I want them to look forward to hearing from me. I want them to be happy when they see my name in their inbox, and I work hard to make sure that when I work with my customers, they get what they need. I’m not trying to be their friend, I’m trying to be their professional service provider. Look at your customer interactions through that lens, and I believe it will serve you well.