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Most of the freelancers I’ve met (myself included) have experienced “imposter syndrome” at one time or another – the fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. This shows up as a lack of confidence, using wishy-washy and non committal language in outreach, hesitation when it comes to billing and a lack of growth into more profitable niches.
So let’s look at the idea of expertise. People think that being an expert means being in the world’s top 10 in that subject, possessing degrees and PhDs and having decades of experience. That’s not what an expert is! I have a slightly different take on what expertise is.
If you’ve read 3 books, 3 blogs and 3 forums on a given subject, then you’re an expert. You know more on the subject than 99% of other people. Those people are your clients – you’re able to help and teach them through your knowledge and skills.
Needing Permission (Approval) to StartImage Credit (CC)
A lot of would-be freelancers get stuck before they’ve even started at the “waiting for permission” stage. That bit of paper that says, “you’re qualified, you have my permission to work in this area.” Aside from a few professions (medicine, law, structural engineering, etc..) you do not need any more qualifications than those that you do or don’t already have in order to find clients that you can provide a service for.
Here’s a personal example… 5 of 6 years ago, I wanted to move away from standard web development and more into high end web security testing. I already had a reasonable level of knowledge, but was scared of being “called out” as a fraud in the industry. Rather than going out and finding clients with web security needs and problems, I decided I needed more qualifications first. I went out and over the course of 2 years, I took (please don’t laugh) no less than 13 high end professional exams and accreditations.
How much extra business did that result in? 0, nothing, nada.
Did it address my “imposter syndrome” fears? Not really. I now had a new list of reasons for why I wasn’t qualified to start offering my services:
- I haven’t had 5 years experience working for large internet security firms.
- I haven’t contributed research papers to the security community
- I still don’t know enough about technology X, Y and Z
Come on! Seriously?!
Of course, there are some industries where you absolutely need that bit of paper giving you permission. Medicine, law, investment advice, structural engineering, and so on.. If you’re in to one of those fields, I’m sure you already knew that. You definitely can’t go advertising your services in those areas without the required certifications. For some reason though, people think that the same thing applies to everything!Image Credit (CC)
So aside from the “protected professions”, you don’t need anyone’s permission to start offering your services. (But if you really want it, here you go… You hereby have my permission to start using your skills and experience to solve other people’s problems and needs).
If you understand and address your client’s needs and worries, and then can back that up with a top quality service to address those needs, your qualifications are absolutely irrelevant. Since I took my own mindset up a gear, I’ve brought in more clients and bigger projects. Not one of them has ever ask me what qualifies me (i.e. who gave me permission) to offer them my services.
Lack of Confidence
A lack of confidence shows up in a relationship in a couple of different ways. The solution is to be aware of when it’s happening, and for now, just pretend that you have absolute confidence. The confidence itself will come with practice.
You’ve just come across a posting from the owner of a small supermarket chain looking for advice upgrading his ABC sales terminals to new XYZ sales terminals. You know all about sales terminals!
“Hi Mr Client, My name is Fred. I saw you posted about needing help with new sales terminals. I might be able to help with that. If you want, I could do some research on the ones you had and give some advice on new ones? I can also come to your premises and have a look at what you’ve already got. What do you think? I can just give you some advice or I can actually install the new terminals. I can also help with your computers if you need?”
What are the problems with this approach?
- Reeks of having no confidence.
- Totally wishy-washy.
- There’s no “call to action” or anything firm for the client to actually respond to.
- Is Fred an expert in installing sales terminals, talking about sales terminals or does he do PC repair too? I don’t imagine sales terminal experts offering PC repair services.
How about this…
“Hi Mr Client, I’m Peter at SalesTerminalCompany.com. I saw you reach out on somesite.com for a sales terminal expert. I’ve helped clients Bob, John and Joe migrate off their existing ABC terminals. Joe migrated to XYZ terminal and Bob and John migrated to XYZ2 terminals.
What particular features of the XYZ do you need, as I might be able to recommend something that better suits your needs. Your point of sale terminals are such a critical part of your business, I know how important it is to get it right first time. Can we get on a call on Skype to discuss? I’m available tomorrow afternoon after 3PM ET.”
- Firm and confident
- Focused and specific
- Call to action is a simple “yes” or “no” question, with a time already suggested.
- Offers that extra bit of value by suggesting other options and asking to learn more about the needs.
Who do you think the Client’s going to reply to?
So before you send your next email, pause for a minute.
- If I was a busy client receiving this message, would I reply to it?
- Am I capable of delivering on this requirement?
- Am I “hiding” behind vague requests or have I been as confident as appropriate?
- Is my email short, concise and to the point?
- Does my email have a short “yes” or “no” call to action at the end, and have I been very specific in my request?
- What’s the worst that can happen? Client doesn’t reply? Client writes back and says, “never contact me again.”? – It won’t kill you 😉
There’s no shortcut to confidence.. practice makes perfect. Act confident, and the confidence will come.