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What is imposter syndrome and how can you fight it as a female freelancer?

7 min read
Raubi Marie Perilli

What is imposter syndrome and why should you care? Well, you need one very important thing to be a successful freelancer: confidence.

Confidence in your ability to do great work gives you the courage to start your freelance business, sell to prospects, stand by your work, and push back on clients. And, confidence in your work stops you from experiencing imposter syndrome and seconding guessing yourself into a standstill, unnecessarily revising your work until you’re exhausted, and feeling uneasy every time you send work to clients.

Confidence is key if you want to start, grow and sustain a freelance business.

But for many female freelancers, it can be difficult to find that self-assurance. Insecurities, hesitation and feelings of imposter syndrome can hold us back from being as confident as we should be about our work — and this can negatively impact our ability to succeed and help our clients succeed.

Find out what imposter syndrome is, how it can negatively impact your freelance business, and how to get over it so you can be more confident in your communication with clients — especially when pushing back on their feedback, ideas, or directions.

Related: 11 tips to meet deadlines in your freelance business

What is imposter syndrome?

Have you ever been at a crowded networking event, looked around the room and felt like you didn’t belong there? Have you ever been in a client presentation, recited lines from your proposal, and glanced at your audience expecting them to roll their eyes?

If you have experienced these moments or similar situations, you have experienced imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is the feeling you get when despite being qualified, skilled, educated and successful, you instead feel amateurish, inadequate, or incompetent.

It’s when you feel like at any moment, someone in the room is going to point at you and tell everyone that you’re a fraud, a fake, or an “imposter” who doesn’t belong.

The thing about imposter syndrome is that while you’re feeling it and looking around at everyone else who seems so natural and at ease in their environment, you might not realize that they are feeling it too.

Imposter syndrome is not uncommon, and it’s something that both men and women feel even at the highest levels of success.

Women are particularly susceptible to the feeling because we are frequently a minority in a room, which can make the feeling even stronger. So it’s extra important for women freelancers to know what it is and how to get over it.

Related: The importance of female mentorship in the tech industry

What Is Imposter Syndrome Woman Wearing Disguise

How to get over imposter syndrome

Tina Fey, Sheryl Sandberg, Maya Angelou and Natalie Portman are among the many highly successful women (and men) who have written or spoken about their struggle with imposter syndrome. Michelle Pfeiffer summed it up well when she said this at the height of her career, “I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m really not very good. It’s all been a big sham.”

Knowing that others have the feeling of imposter syndrome is one way to get over it.

Realizing that people you think have the right to be leaders in their industry also feel like they don’t have the credibility to be there can help you see how pervasive and absurd the feeling is.

Here are a few other tips that can help you gain confidence and fight imposter syndrome.

Don’t compare yourself to others at different phases of their business.

You are always going to feel inferior to someone who has been in business for 10 years if you’ve only been in business for one.

Regularly reflect on your past successes.

Document your past client success stories, testimonials, awards or other accolades, and regularly revisit those wins.

Know that failing, being wrong, or not knowing doesn’t mean you’re a fake.

Everyone makes mistakes and has shortcomings. You can’t expect yourself to do everything perfectly or know everything. Realize that finding yourself in those situations doesn’t equate to being a fraud.

Own your errors, and use them as a guide for improvement.

Related: 14 project estimate mistakes that freelancers make (and how to fix them)

Talk to others in your situation.

Hearing first-hand stories about other freelancers’ experiences with imposter syndrome will make it much easier to get over yours. Create or join a mastermind group to gather with others in your situation and share your stories and words of encouragement.

How imposter syndrome can negatively affect your business

The biggest way that imposter syndrome can affect your business is by preventing you from having the ability to confidently push back on clients.

Pushing back on difficult clients — whether it’s when they have an idea you know will negatively impact their project, they want to scope creep past your freelance proposal, or they don’t want to trust your advice, guidance, or expertise in some other way — is an uncomfortable, but sometimes necessary task when freelancing.

And to be a successful freelancer, you need to know how to do this well or it could negatively impact your business by:

  • Producing poor results for your clients.
  • Producing work that doesn’t reflect your perspective, ability, or philosophy.
  • Costing you extra time, money, and resources.
  • Stopping you from raising your rates.
  • Lowering your confidence even more.

How to push back on clients

To succeed in your freelance business, you need to overcome imposter syndrome, and use your confidence to know when and how to push back on clients.

Whether you are a freelance writer, web designer, business consultant, party planner or anything in between, you will find yourself in a situation when you need to push back on a client. Here are a few tips for making that push back on clients easier and less uncomfortable.

What Is Imposter Syndrome Woman Hiding Face

Don’t say “no."

Avoid coming right out and saying the word, “no.” That can feel confrontational and make the client feel hurt or undermined. Listen to what they have to say.

Ask questions.

Try to lead the client to the realization that their idea isn’t the best by asking questions that expose problems.

Always explain why.

If the client can’t find their way to the problems on their own, explain the negative consequences that will result from their bad idea.

Give suggestions and options.

Let the client feel like they are still in control by giving other suggestions (that are in the middle of your two perspectives) or by giving them multiple options for what you can do instead.

Keep clear records.

Document plans and project proposals so if a client tries to change things, you can refer back to your original strategy and outline.

Don’t take negative feedback personally.

Negative feedback, especially on creative work, can feel like an insult to your ability. Never take it that way. Know that your work will always be seen from different perspectives. Keeping this in mind will make you push back on the client more neutral.

Related: Web pro client relations 101: How to ensure satisfaction

Don’t be afraid to walk away.

If a client consistently has ideas or feedback that you firmly don’t agree with, decide if they are really the right client for you. Don’t spend time on clients that don’t align with your vision. Move on and look for more ideal target clients.

Related: How to school your clients on streamlining success

Gain confidence to grow your business

Success in your freelance business will be difficult to find if you don’t have confidence in yourself and your work. So use the tips in this post to push back imposter syndrome and gain the courage to guide clients and your work in a way that will lead to success for you both.