The kids are finally asleep, the decaf coffee is hot, and you have a list of prospective freelance writing clients pulled up on your hand-me-down laptop…and then the panic sets in.
What if this person laughs off my email pitch?
Who’s possibly going pay me to write for them?
What makes me think I could be good at freelancing?
Congratulations. You’re officially a freelance writer because you’re dealing with a bout of impostor syndrome!
Impostor syndrome is a well-documented psychological phenomenon in which someone who’s qualified in a field starts to experience extreme feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy about their performance.
And without years of experience to reassure them they’re qualified, newer writers often succumb to impostor syndrome to the tune of decreased performance, accepting low rates, or even giving up on their business before it gets started.
And that’s simply unacceptable.
Let’s look at four ways established freelance writers overcome impostor syndrome whenever it pops up — even long after their newbie days are over.
As a freelance writing mentor, I’ve noticed a major problem in how new writers develop confidence. When new writers experience fear, they often think it’s a sign you’re doing something wrong, when in fact it’s just a sign you’re doing something new.
Far too often, we think of confidence as our permission to do what we’re doing, Gina Horkey, the entrepreneur behind the 30 Days Or Less to Freelance Writing Success course, says. But that’s the opposite of how real life works.
“Confidence is just the belief that I can do something,” says Horkey. “It’s not proof that I’ve already done something. It’s the possibility. And when it’s low, it means I’m letting fear win. When it’s high, then I’m letting my belief in myself win.”
The next time you feel fear and you wish you were feeling more confident, remember that confidence is a result of success, not a cause of it. It’s up to you to step forward and try new things, even when you’re feeling afraid.
Take action to scare away fear
When Andrea Emerson first started freelancing, she wasn’t worried about finding clients because she knew how to get into her prospect’s head. In her previous job, she’d been in charge of hiring freelance writers.
But she was worried about generating enough work to sustain her in the early days of her business, and keeping her workload consistent over time.
Her solution? Taking action.
“I’ve found that taking action is a great antidote to fear—even if you start with teeny tiny steps,” says Emerson. “In terms of keeping my workload consistent, I persuaded clients to move to a retainer arrangement as soon we’d completed a successful project or two and I sensed they had a recurring need for content.”
Horkey agrees that taking action is a huge part of not feeling fear. Her husband quit his job to be a stay-at-home dad the year before she made the leap from predictable income to variable income, so it was all riding on her.
“I try to always do something when I get scared, because I know that fear is paralyzing,” she says.
“Taking that next step forward is the only way to work through fear. I don’t think I’d have gotten to this point without constantly busting through fear, doubt and uncertainty,” Horkey admits. “Fear will always be there, it’s just stronger during some times more than others.”
Reframe your fears
“Mindset is huge when you’re your own boss, and often the defining factor between success and failure,” Emerson says. “Prospective clients can sense confidence or fear in their interactions with you. They’re incredibly drawn to the former, and repulsed by the latter.”
Emerson also emphasizes the extent to which confidence is rooted in knowledge and training.
“Confidence comes from recognizing your skills and the tangible value they can deliver to clients,” she says. “It’s also a byproduct of understanding your prospects — what they need and how to deliver it. It turns out, for instance, that content marketing generates 300 percent more sales leads than traditional marketing. Prospects with big marketing budgets know that, and also know they can’t get those kinds of results without writers. That bit of industry knowledge is a great confidence booster.”
While much of a newbie freelance writer’s opportunities and client interactions might change from day to day, Horkey credits staying positive as one of her top fear-busting habit recommendations.
“I used to focus on ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’” she says. “But now, I’ve flipped it on its head to ask, ‘What’s the best thing that can happen?’ Now I’m not expecting the worst; I’m wondering if the best thing that can happen makes it worth it to try!”
Combine fear with persistence
At the end of the day, that rad cat poster from the 1980s was right: You just need to “Hang in there!” But more than a passing motivational tip of the hat, you need to make a personal connection with persistence.
As a generic phrase, “Be persistent” is annoying and trite. But when you look at day-to-day struggles, it’s an effective in-the-moment practice to say to yourself, “This intimidating client phone call is a small blip in my journey. This situation will be over soon, and I’ll be glad I stuck it out.”
What’s at the heart of this fear is the drama of not knowing you’ll make it through, the “Will she or won’t she?” of every movie. What you can do today is decide you will, which eliminates the sense of conflict and allows you to focus on the long term.
“I’m not ‘fearless’ because I’m making money online,” says Horkey. “Often my fears are now bigger than ever. But I’m not about to let them stop me.”
The cure for impostor syndrome will be different for every writer. But it’s vital that we all understand that it’s normal to experience, and there are indeed cures out there for each of us to try.
Do you struggle with impostor syndrome? How do you boost your confidence?