How to overcome imposter syndrome when you feel inadequate

Insecurity. Imposter Syndrome. Feeling inadequate. We’ve all experienced it, right? From those little jittery moments before an inquiry call with a potential client to a panicked feeling of dread as you wait for feedback on your work, insecurity is a plague most creative entrepreneurs face… myself included. Once upon a time, when I was first…

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Insecurity. Imposter Syndrome. Feeling inadequate. We’ve all experienced it, right? From those little jittery moments before an inquiry call with a potential client to a panicked feeling of dread as you wait for feedback on your work, insecurity is a plague most creative entrepreneurs face… myself included.

Once upon a time, when I was first starting out as a copywriter, a prospective client approached me with a project. This client wanted me to take his notes and use them to ghostwrite his book. He was referred to me by a former client, and he had reviewed my website and read the testimonials on my praise page. He was pretty confident I could do the work, and he was ready to let me give it a try.

I wish I were as confident. At the time, I was honored by his confidence in me. I was also terrified. I’d never written a book… I didn’t know anything about his subject… and I didn’t know how I would even price the work, let alone complete it.

Have you ever been in this situation? Overwhelmed at the thought of quoting the project… and struggling to even contemplate doing the work? Add to those feelings a lot of unpaid bills and the need to book the project, and you’ll have a clear picture of my situation. 🙂

Sometimes in life you just have to act as if you know what you’re doing. You just have to muster all your courage and pretend to be confident. You know – fake it until you make it.

Here’s how…

Quote with a plan to complete the job.

My husband believes in my ability to do just about anything. I’m not sure where he acquired this belief, but I’m grateful. His feedback was just what I needed to shift me from “I’ve never done that before” to “what would be my first step.” He moved me from insecurity to curiosity… the first step for finding confidence. Because of his prompting, I decided to create a plan to complete the job.

Rather than give in to insecurity, I used curiosity to imagine myself doing the work. I made a list of all the process steps I could identify. Once I determined where I might start, I turned my attention to what logically came next, and so on. I used a legal pad and a pencil, and created a plan based on the information I had at hand. Then I created a list of questions I need to answer in order to do the work. These two steps gave me the confidence I needed to quote the work.

Was my quote accurate? Not really. I didn’t charge enough for the work, partly because I underestimated how long it would take and in my inexperience I missed a few process steps. But, just putting together the quote was a step forward.

Make an honest evaluation of skills.

Next, I made a careful evaluation of my strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to know exactly how my skills measured up against the demands of this project. It was tough to be honest with myself… not only did I need to admit where my skills were lacking (actually the easy task), I also had to discover the expertise this prospective client recognized and embrace it.

Often we are our own harshest critic. I know I am. I see all my faults and remember every mistake, but frequently fail to recognize the skills others notice.

My guess is that you struggle the same way. When clients approach us with a new challenge, it’s quite possibly a sign that we’re ready to grow. The client sees ability that we miss somehow. That was the case with me.

Let me be clear here. I was honest with myself about my weaknesses and areas of inexperience. I was also honest with the client – both about my skills and about my excitement in the face of the challenge. I said, “While this will be my first project of this kind, I’d love an opportunity to ghostwrite your book.” I shared my plan for completing the project with the client, and made sure we both knew what we could expect from the process.

Consider acquiring skills to be an investment in the future.

Once the project started (and yes, the client did hire me), I set to work developing my skills. Because I had taken time to make an honest evaluation, I knew exactly where I needed to focus my efforts. I read books, studied, and asked questions of other copywriters.

The time I spent building my skills was my own investment in the future. I didn’t bill my client for it or ask my client to shoulder the burden of it. Instead, I used the opportunity to develop myself professionally and improve my writing and project management skills.

Just as a side note, I still use this approach as a good rule. Research related to a topic or directly related to a project is billable to a client. Learning to improve my skills so I can complete a project is a cost of doing business. Learning how to write a blog post, for example, is skills development. Learning background information specific to the post itself is billable to the client. See how this works?

The process was difficult. It took persistence on my part to refine my skills, overcome challenges as the work moved forward, and get the book written for my client. But I did it… and I learned a lot as a result.

Confidence comes with practice.

Honestly, ghostwriting isn’t really my thing. There’s an awful lot of work involved, much of it rather boring. Next time I write a book, I want my own name on the cover. However, I’m very glad I pushed through and completed this project. I’m glad I quoted it and discussed it and started the process with this client. I’m glad I didn’t let insecurity keep me from the challenge.

See, I’ve learned that true confidence comes with practice. It comes from knowing that while something might be difficult, I can push through. Confidence grows with each project I complete, each difficult conversation I navigate, and each challenge I overcome.

Confidence comes from pushing yourself to learn more, do more, and achieve more. Push yourself a bit. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

How to overcome imposter syndrome when you feel inadequate as a freelance designer.

Author: Michelle Hunter

Michelle Hunter is a business strategist and copywriter with a gift for connecting entrepreneurs and their clients using great writing. She is a regular contributer to the DtD blog and co-creator of Designing Success Bootcamp - Helping designers create a strong marketing engine to power business growth. Visit MichelleHunterCreative.com to contact Michelle or learn more.

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