You’ve felt it, haven’t you?
That sick feeling clawing at your stomach every time you think about marketing your freelance business.
You’re worried you won’t be able to convince prospective clients you’re the right person for the job — that you’re the answer to their problems.
You may still feel like an impostor even if you’ve established a very solid level of authority and credibility with your blog.
What if you can’t deliver?
What if clients don’t love your work?
What if your past success has all been a fluke?
Just the thought of it makes your blood run cold, and you don’t know how to make yourself feel better.
You’re not alone.
Lots of terrific writers second-guess ourselves and our abilities.
The truth about feeling like an impostor
Every freelancer I’ve met has experienced the debilitating fear of someone “discovering” she’s a fraud.
Even the most successful freelance business owners experience it.
Just ask Chris Lema.
Chris has always felt like an impostor. He was accepted to a prestigious
joint-college program between the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University. The program only accepts one student each year.
But Chris didn’t believe in himself. He was convinced they’d made a mistake and he was nowhere near as smart as he needed to be to attend the program. So, he left the program before anyone discovered they’d made a mistake.
A few years later, he sold his first start-up to a big firm that invited him to be their Chief Technology Officer. What did Chris do? You guessed it. He turned down the position. He was terrified they’d eventually find out he wasn’t as smart as they thought he was.
Chris calls it impostor syndrome — a term originally coined by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978.
The inability to internalize success
Maybe you’ve received a glowing recommendation from a client, had your guest post published on a massively popular blog, or landed a six-figure contract — anything that’s brought you attention, opportunities, and authority.
Despite these accomplishments, you don’t think you deserve recognition.
Impostor syndrome is the inability to internalize success.
If you’ve ever deflected a compliment about your work, or given credit to something or someone other than yourself, it may be because you felt like an impostor.
Overcoming impostor syndrome
If you feel like an impostor, let me tell you — it’s all in your head.
The good news is that prospective clients don’t know you consider yourself an impostor.
The bad news is that clients recognize when you’re not comfortable in your own skin. They won’t take you seriously if you’re not confident.
So, how do you overcome impostor syndrome and confidently market your business?
Follow these five tips to combat feeling like an impostor.
1. Focus on the client instead of yourself
Don’t talk about what you do or even how you do it. Show clients how you can solve their problems.
For example, an accountant can communicate that she will manage her clients’ finances so they won’t have to hopelessly stare at their computer monitors, trying to balance their financial spreadsheets until their eyes cross.
When you focus on the client, you take the pressure off yourself. Suddenly, the limelight shifts from you to the client.
You capture the client’s attention and educate step-by-step.
2. Perfect your elevator pitch
You’re at a conference, a party, or maybe even a Google+ Hangout, and someone asks you, “So, what exactly do you do?”
Your smile freezes, your heart somersaults, and you silently freak out.
What do you say?
“I’m a freelance copywriter,” you respond, as you hear your inner-critic loudly shout, “Boooring!”
The awkward silence, bland expressions, and non-committal “Oh, that’s nice” comments tell you you’ve just lost your audience.
Conventional advice tells you to have an elevator pitch ready for such situations. It’s just a fancy term for your answer to the “What do you do?” question, but it’s still good advice.
To create a killer answer that’ll intrigue your audience and compel them to talk more, formulate a one-sentence answer to the question.
Instead of answering, “I’m a freelance copywriter,” say, “I help small businesses market themselves online through written content,” or, “I help small businesses increase sales by writing their marketing copy.”
More often than not, you’ll get another question along the lines of, “How do you do that?” or, “What kind of marketing copy do you write?”
Practice your elevator pitch until it becomes second nature.
When you’re comfortable, you’re perceived as authentic.
3. Demonstrate results
Focus on showing prospective clients your work instead of telling them what you do.
If you’re an online content strategist, don’t use that terminology. Show them.
During business correspondence, narrate a descriptive scenario that shows specific results.
For example, you could say, “One of my clients had a blog post that ranked on the fifth page of Google for the article’s main keyword. My strategies helped move it to page one. It generated a ton of traffic and leads for them.”
4. Save all the praise you receive
I learned this career-saving trick from James Chartrand when I took her Damn Fine Words writing course.
One assignment required us to state our limiting beliefs as writers. Guess what mine was?
Yep. It was feeling like an impostor.
I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I mean, who was I to call myself a writer? English isn’t even my first language!
James advised that I collect all the praise I receive and review it whenever I feel like an impostor. And if I don’t believe the praise, she suggested that I ask the person who’d given it to me to specify.
I took her advice and now use Evernote to store praise from clients, writers I admire, and random people who sent me a tweet or an email because they appreciated my writing.
The collection reminds me of my achievements and always makes me feel better.
Save all the praise you receive, and don’t discriminate. Whether it’s from someone popular or unknown — praise is praise.
Fans of your work can also help grow your freelance business. Email them about working together, or ask if they know someone who needs a freelancer.
5. Create your support system
Sometimes, collecting praise and reviewing it when you feel insecure isn’t enough. You also need to find support.
You need someone you can rely on to give you honest advice — someone who would tell you if your work needs improvement or that you’ve done a great job (and you can relax).
Find a friend, business partner, or even another freelancer who is trustworthy and empathetic. Support each other when impostor syndrome emerges.
Over to you …
How do you market your freelance business when you feel like an impostor?
Do you promote your work despite your fears, or do you withdraw?
We’d love to hear how you cope with impostor syndrome and get back on track.
Join the discussion over on Google+ and share your story.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via Dave Appleby.
Editor’s note: This is the second post in Samar Owais’s freelance business advice series. Make sure to review the helpful tips in her first post, 53 Freelancing Mistakes That Are Costing You Clients, Cash, and Credibility.