How to kick self-doubt to the curb and become your biggest cheerleader
When was the last time you went outside your comfort zone? I mean, really? Or do you – like many freelancers and small business owners – shy away from opportunities for fear of messing up or looking daft?
It’s a common problem – and it’s holding you back.
Many years ago, I watched a Derren Brown show about luck. His point was that people who thought they were unlucky were closed off to opportunities. Like stepping over a stray £20 note on the pavement, they simply didn’t see them. Meanwhile, those who thought they were lucky spotted opportunities All. The. Time.
I decided there and then that I wanted to fall into the second category.
And it works. It really does.
When you open your eyes – and your mind – opportunities are all around you. Whether you grasp them with both hands and use them to develop your skills, your network and your career depends on your mindset.
Perhaps there’s a chance to collaborate with another business owner on Instagram, you’re invited to take part in a live event, or there’s a niche that’s begging for an online course that’s just your speciality.
Without the right mindset, these opportunities will pass you by.
Because of fear, self-doubt and imposter syndrome.
You know imposter syndrome. It’s that nagging feeling that you’re inadequate, incompetent, and generally undeserving of success – and it runs deep in the world of self-employment.
Sometimes imposter syndrome shows up as a mean voice in your head: “You think you can succeed in business? Who are you kidding?” or “You can’t charge that! Who do you think you are?!”.
Sometimes it’s the crippling anxiety that accompanies the start of a project for a new client. The fear of failure, of disappointing people, and of not being good enough.
Sometimes it’s a feeling that you’ve been faking it and you’ll be exposed as a fraud at any moment. That you don’t deserve success, and you’ve only got where you are today by sheer guts and chance.
Imposter syndrome and self-doubt stem from a fear of being found out or not measuring up – despite evidence to the contrary.
Of course you know what you’re doing. On a good day, you might even admit you’re damn good at it. Yet still they lurk around the corner, waiting to stop you in your tracks when you least expect it.
If you’re not careful, these powerful feelings will keep you stuck.
They position you firmly in your comfort zone, stops you taking risks, and prevent you from doing those things that are good for business.
The perfection connection
Imposter syndrome’s big sister is perfectionism. As Winston Churchill once said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress,” – and it’s easy to see why.
You can always spend more time polishing that presentation, faffing with that website or sharpening that course content but remember – done is better than perfect.
Whatever it is that’s getting in your way, remember – it doesn’t have to be life-changing or world-class or revolutionary. There will never be a perfect time, and you’ll never be truly ready.
Sometimes you just need to put your big girl pants on and put it out there into the big wide world. Because only when it’s out there can you get feedback, improve, rinse and repeat.
So just do it.
“But what if I fail?”
Here’s a thing – what if you don’t? You can’t make a success of self-employment without taking risks. You may fail big, you may fail often… but failure is how we develop as both individuals and business owners.
We fail, we learn, we grow.
Make fear work for you
It’s easy to feel the fear and freeze, like a rabbit in headlamps – but the flurry of butterflies that descends when we step outside our comfort zone reminds us we’re alive.
Any time you have to do something brave and uncomfortable, like a talk or presentation, remember that being nervous and being excited feel just the same.
Tell your brain you’re excited to be doing something new – something bold – and you’re more likely to enjoy it, and to do well.
Show that fear who’s boss
Being aware of the situations and circumstances that trigger self-doubt can help you feel more equipped to deal with them. A few simple strategies – described in detail in Survival Skills for Freelancers – can help you keep self-doubt and imposter syndrome in check:
- Accept mistakes
- Stop comparing yourself
- Keep negative self-talk in check… and keep talking
- Reward yourself for taking risks
- List the things you’re good at
- Celebrate your successes
You’re not alone
It’s easy to feel like you’re alone with these fears but you’re not. There are hundreds of thousands of small biz owners out there just like you. The secret to facing – and embracing – them is to find those likeminded people.
And when you find them? Reach out, connect, learn, support, collaborate and grow.
You’ve got this.
This post first appeared as a guest blog for the female entrepreneur community, Found & Flourish.
9 survival tips for freelancers (or how to go solo without going loco)
In the 20 years since I set up my business, I’ve learnt a thing or two about how to make it as a successful freelancer.
It’s about time I shared some of my secrets to help you rock the socks off freelance life.
Success. Funny word.
Success to me means I’m financially secure. I have the time and money to do the things I want to do.
Being a single parent for 12 years has made financial independence even more important to me – but success isn’t just about the money.
I can pick and choose who I work with. I can make life easier for people who are in the same position I was in way back when.
Most of all, success to me means I get to do a job I love – day in, day out.
It’s bloody great. And not a day goes by that I don’t remind myself how lucky I am.
A word of warning…
All this stuff. It’s easy for me to say – I get that.
It takes time to build a reputation for being great at what you do – and the recommendations that back that up.
If you’re just starting out, having someone tell you you should choose who you work with, charge what you’re worth and invest in your business… it might seem unrealistic. Hell, it might even piss you off.
But if even a bit of my advice helps to make your freelance life – or even your day – a little better, I’ll be happy.
So let’s crack on and dispel some of the myths about solo working.
1. “I like my own company. I don’t need anyone else.”
I say you’re wrong.
Being a sole trader doesn’t mean going it alone.
I’m pretty extrovert. Based on what I’ve learned from the copywriting conferences I’ve been to over the years, that’s unusual. But that’s not the point.
However independent, self-contained and introverted you are, everyone – even you – needs to know they’re not alone.
Freelance life can be damn hard.
And it’s even harder if you’ve no one who understands just how damn hard (and lonely and isolating) it is.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Common ground is a great starting point for lasting friendship and support – and it’s out there. You just need to know where to look.
Whether you join a networking group or professional body, find a thriving coworking space, mix it up by attending various different events or simply go all-out on social media, finding your people – your tribe – is a great way of feeling less alone in your freelance life.
For example, there’s an active #copywritersunite community on Twitter that spills out into real-life socials and conferences, where we all get to meet in person.
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
2. “I have to do it all: sales, marketing, admin, accounts, IT…”
Trying to do everything yourself is the fast train to burnout.
To become successful doing the thing you love, you need to surround yourself with good people.
Hire an accountant to file your tax returns and handle your VAT. Find a virtual assistant to do those annoying admin tasks you hate. Use an IT support company who’ll be on hand every time your computer begs you to throw it out the window.
You’ll save SO much time, headspace and frustration.
Straight up? It took me 15 years to get to the point where I was willing to pay other people to do the jobs A) I loathe and B) I suck at. I’d spend longer procrastinating about doing my tax return than it’d take my accountant to do a year’s worth of accounts. It’s a no brainer.
Here’s a simple equation:
as much time as possible doing the things that make you money
as little time as possible doing the things that don’t
It’s a game-changer. Don’t take as long as I did to see this.
3. “I’ve got an eight-year-old laptop – that’s good enough, right?”
It really isn’t.
To become successful in business, you need to invest in technology.
If you’re a professional photographer, I trust you aren’t snapping away on an iPhone 6 (no offence to iPhone 6 owners).
If you’re a graphic designer, you probably don’t make do with a copy of QuarkXPress on a vintage Apple Mac.
You need up-to-date, reliable software and hardware to do your job properly.
If you’re using an ancient version of Microsoft Word that crashes every five minutes, or a printer that jams so often you’re tempted to chuck it through the nearest window, you can’t do your best work.
And if you’re not doing your best work, you’re not providing your clients with a professional service.
Keeping your technology up-to-date can give you the edge over your competitors.
Failing to invest can mean getting left behind.
4. “They want me to do the work, they just don’t have the budget right now.”
Listen up: this is a big one.
We all know who I’m talking about. Those tricksy so-and-sos who promise you exposure in exchange for services.
They’re going to be big. Huge, in fact. Working for them will be SO good for your career! They just can’t afford your prices right now…
Seriously, step away from the tight-arsed client. You’ll end up cursing the day you met them.
They’ll micromanage every last detail. They’ll chase you endlessly (despite the fact you’ve never missed a deadline). And they’ll never be satisfied.
I don’t know why the clients who question costs end up being the biggest headache – they just do.
Charge a fair price that reflects your skills and experience and have the confidence to stick to it.
(Do your research if you’re not sure what to charge. Most industries publish rate surveys to give you a benchmark.)
Just remember – freelance ain’t free.
5. “I’ve been doing this job for 20 years now. I know everything there is to know about marketing/dentistry/accounts.”
The minute you stop being curious about the world you work in – the second you nod your head with satisfaction and think “I’ve got this. Now I can relax” – will be the moment in which you fail.
Never, ever stop learning.
Invest in yourself and your business by attending conferences and events, and squeeze the living daylights out of them.
Take notes, type them up so they sink in, read and reread them.
Speaking of reading…
Read voraciously. Read about your trade, about business, about psychology. Anything that feeds your imagination, inspires you, and helps you to be a better freelancer – and a better person.
6. “Everyone’s an expert. I don’t know why I bother!”
“Why should I pay for a copywriter? I got a B in my English GCSE.”
If you’re a freelance copywriter, you’ll recognise this attitude.
Because everyone’s a writer – right?
I decided some years ago that I didn’t want to work with anyone who doesn’t already appreciate the value of professional copywriting.
I’m not interested in trying to convince anyone that they need me. I don’t have the patience. And there are enough business owners and marketing managers out there who DO get it.
It doesn’t matter what business you’re in – this applies whether you’re a photographer, graphic designer, accountant, decorator…
Good people are crying out for what you do.
So, unless you want to spend your days convincing potential clients of all the reasons their lives would be easier if only they’d step away from Microsoft Word/Adobe Photoshop/the Dulux trade emulsion* and let a professional take over, don’t waste time on the ambivalent.
*delete as applicable
7. “Something just doesn’t feel right… perhaps I’m being oversensitive.”
Success in business is all about finding the clients (and colleagues, and suppliers) who are a good fit.
These people make your working life SO much better.
You look forward to their calls, leave meetings feeling energised, and you’re excited about the prospect of working with them.
Conversely, you know on some subconscious level when someone isn’t the right fit for you.
It starts with a hunch.
Perhaps their business goals are out of sync with your values. Maybe their attitude doesn’t sit well with you. Or perhaps you just don’t feel comfortable with what they’re asking you to do.
Your heart sinks momentarily when their name pops up on your phone, and you end the call with a sense that something isn’t quite right.
If you had to articulate what you feel, you probably couldn’t. But there’s usually a good reason it exists.
The trick is to get really good at listening to the niggling feeling you can’t define.
Tune in to your instinct, and don’t be afraid to say no.
Pro tip: find another professional to partner with so you can pass their details on should you need to. You’re turning down the work, but presenting the client with a solution, not a problem.
8. “I owe HOW much in tax?! But I’ve spent it all!”
I grew up in a family where money was tight. Like, really tight.
My mum gave up her job when she met my dad (don’t get me started – it was a different era). My dad lost his job when the US took over the airbase where he worked and was unemployed for so long that my parents ended up becoming collectable toy dealers – but that’s a whole other story.
The good thing about being raised in an environment where every penny counts is that you make damn sure you have enough to get by.
Sure, I can spend when I need to (I love to travel, and I’m always first in line for the latest iPhone) but I’m a saver at heart.
Always have been. Always will be.
I got my first part-time job (behind the record bar in Woolworths) when I was studying my A Levels, and from my very first paycheque I saved 25% of everything I earned.
If more people did this there’d be a lot less debt. They should teach it in schools. In fact, it’s such good advice that Nationwide have started a campaign – Pay Day = Save Day.
You may not be a natural saver like me, but if you can get into the habit of paying yourself first, you’ll find those brown envelopes from HMRC a lot less sinister.
9. “I’m doing a job I love. Every day should be a good day, right?”
If only it were that simple.
Even if you were to follow all the tips in this article – and let’s be honest, it’s taken me the best part of 20 years to adopt them all – working on your own can still present challenges to both your wellbeing and your mental health.
I’ve suffered from anxiety and mild depression at various times in my life so I know how important it is to look after yourself and recognise the signs of burnout before it’s too late.
When it comes to keeping your head above water, everyone has different coping mechanisms, and it takes time to learn what works for you. Below are a few examples.
(The same strategies also work brilliantly to reboot your brain and clear writer’s block. Win–win.)
- go for a walk/swim/run/bike ride
- listen to music – loud (singing at the top of your voice, optional, but it works for me)
- dance around your kitchen
- do a jigsaw
- bake a cake
- get out in nature
- above all, get plenty of good-quality sleep
Don’t be afraid to be human and admit that you’re struggling.
Reach out to colleagues and peers for support and empathy – you’ll get it in spades.
We’ve all been there – even the most seemingly together, sorted and grown-up among us.
Pro tip: believe it or not, admitting your weaknesses makes you more likeable. It’s called the pratfall effect.
(I experienced this for myself when I left my suitcase on a train earlier this year. I arrived at Manchester for the Creative North conference, and my suitcase arrived at Nottingham!)
I hope this advice helps to make your freelance life a little bit easier.
Which tip is your favourite? Email me to let me know, or to share your own advice for surviving as a freelancer.