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Are You Sending Signals That You’re Not Worth Doing Business With?

By July 31, 2013February 1st, 2018Marketing Insights & Strategy
Are You Sending Signals That You're Not Worth Doing Business With?

This post is part of my monthly Word Carnival and the topic is “Impostor Syndrome”.

When I first heard the phrase I thought it was something our group had just made up to convey a point.

Turns out there actually is such a thing.

Impostor Syndrome is the feeling that you’re not as good or as smart as other people think you are – that you’re just really good at faking it, that you’ve been lucky to get where you are and that one day someone will discover the truth and the gig will be up.

In other words, Impostor Syndrome is about feeling pretty certain that everyone else is better than you.

Smarter. Quicker. Better at doing the job that you can only pretend to do well.

Sounds like a pretty miserable mental place to be! And I’m willing to bet that you’ve been there – maybe even are there – and that you’re sending signals out to your customers that might as well be a lighthouse beacon saying, “Don’t hire me! Don’t work with me! You can find someone much more competent.”

And I’m also willing to bet that you have no idea you’re doing it.

Do you know how I know? Because I’ve been there, too. I’ve had moments wondering if I’m really providing the value that I say I am. Whether my clients are getting the best they could be getting by hiring me instead of Other Marketing Person.

And I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on that self-destructive feeling, recognize the ways in which I advertise it in every word and gesture, and root it out.

I’d like to say I’m perfectly well-adjusted now but self-doubt still creeps in. It’s just that I’ve learned how to identify the telltale signs and squash them before they get in the way of doing the job I know I can do.

Maybe you’ll recognize some of these in your own behavior and I can help you get over the completely ridiculous and false notion that you’re faking your way to success.

Using The Word “Simple”

You’ve heard the joke to the effect that a man hires a plumber and when the plumber shows up, he bangs once on the pipe and charges the man $200. When the man is outraged by the cost and challenges the plumber for merely banging on a pipe, the plumber responds by telling the man it’s not about banging on the pipe, it’s about knowing where to bang on the pipe.

The lesson is clear: just because a job is simple doesn’t mean anyone can do it.

People who are experts in their field have spent years learning and honing skills that the average person does not have. Whatever your field, you’ve studied it, practiced it, immersed yourself in it and have gotten where you are – not by virtue of luck or good genes – but by hard work.

That plumber could have told his customer, “You’re right, it was a simple job. No charge.”

But that immediately undermines his expertise. (And if you want to split hairs, cuts into his profit margin by quite a lot!)

True story: just last week my alarm system stopped working. I called the alarm company and someone showed up and within thirty seconds of looking at the wiring, he determined that the reason it wasn’t working was because it was unplugged.

It cost me $165 for a man to plug an adapter back into the wall.

I can’t say I was happy about that but I can say that it was something I couldn’t figure out for myself. I cringed but I didn’t complain. I’d asked a man with a certain expertise to show up at my house and fix a problem. And he did exactly that.

Nobody apologized to me for charging $165 to stick a plug in the wall. Nobody called it a “simple” problem.

But many of us throw that word around as if we feel guilty for charging someone for our expertise.

I used to do it. In fact, Ralph and I have banned the word.

In the past we’ve been quick to reassure clients that a particular job or task was simple (or its cousin: easy).

The client goes away thinking it’s no big deal and then they get a bill and outrage ensues.

The thing is, maybe it is simple – for us. But our clients would not be able to do it themselves. And that’s worth hiring us for.

We don’t need to apologize or undercharge for something that’s easy for us. It’s easy because of all the hard work we put in to learn. Not because it’s easy.

If you find yourself telling your customers that any part of the job that you perform for them is simple or easy, you’re sending out a signal that anyone could do it. They don’t need you. It may not even be worth it to hire you. And maybe they shouldn’t have to pay you, after all.

I bet you don’t imagine for a second that you’re saying all that with one word. But you are.

Wipe both words from your vocabulary and remember that if something were as simple and easy as all that, your customer wouldn’t have come to you in the first place.

Using The Word “Small”

I had this conversation with a friend recently after reading her sales page for a ridiculously valuable course that she described as “worth the small fee”.

The sales page was great but one word stuck out like a sore thumb and that was the word “small”.

Relatively speaking the fee was small. Only a crazy person would think otherwise. But saying the fee was small automatically put her into apology-mode.

She might as well have nixed the sales page entirely and said instead, “Hey guys, I’ve got this offer that I think is valuable but maybe it’s not so I’m only going to charge you a tiny bit, and I’m really sorry about that but hey, a girl’s gotta make some money.”

That may sound extreme to you but it rings a loud subconscious bell that alerts your customers to the fact that you’re compensating for a perceived lack of value by only charging a small amount.

I’ve read sales pages for plenty of courses and products and I assure you some of them were not charging a small fee. Some of them were many thousands of dollars and nowhere in the text did the author apologize for it. None of them qualified or justified the cost with an adjective that was meant to sound unthreatening but only ended up sounding insecure.

I’ve been down this road, too. I know people are budget-conscious, so I’ll downplay the cost of a task or project as being small. And to make matters worse, by doing that I’m setting myself up to undercharge.

I’ve learned that whatever the cost, it doesn’t need a qualifier. It just needs to be value-for-value.

And you know what else? If the cost isn’t small, so what? If it’s worth your time, if you’re the expert, you get to charge it.

Apologizing For Pricing

This goes hand in hand with price qualifiers like “small”. In this case, we apologize for our prices being high (translation to customer: “too high”).

This is one trap I’ve had to work hard to avoid.

We have a spreadsheet that we use to price out most types of projects. It includes tasks we’ll need to perform, our rates for performing them and other specifics. When someone asks us for a proposal we do the math and come up with a budget.

And then I wrack my brain figuring out how to lower the budget because I know my prospect is going to tell me it’s too high.

In reality, what I’m saying – to myself – is, “I’m not worth this cost. Someone shouldn’t have to pay this.”

After I’m done competing with myself and I come up with a budget that I imagine my prospect will find worth paying, I present the proposal.

I then go to work apologizing to my prospect for it. “I know it’s high, but…” followed by all the reasons it has to be that way.

If you can think of a better recipe for business failure then I’d love to hear it.

I’m a whole lot better at this now because I’ve learned that there’s enough competition out there willing to undercut my prices. I don’t need to be one of them.

I’ve stopped looking at prices as high or low and gauge them based on value.

Am I providing a valuable service to my client? Will I be able to do the best possible job within this budget?

There’s no perfect ending to this lesson. I’ve lost business because I wouldn’t compromise on cost. And the reason I wouldn’t compromise is not because I’m stubborn and selfish, it’s because I know the quality of the service that I provide and I know at what price point I’m willing to invest my valuable time and resources into a project.

Other people may try to undercut your prices. Prospects may balk and demand explanations. It’s not your job to apologize or to feel guilty for expecting to be paid for your expertise. It’s your job to exchange your value for monetary value.

Being Too Flexible

This one has nothing to do with pricing and everything to do with your time.

Tell me if you’ve been here: you schedule a phone call with someone and they forget to show up. They apologize and you answer with some version of, “No problem.”

You reschedule and they realize they’ve overbooked themselves and can’t make it. You reschedule again.

They’re on your calendar for 10AM then email you five minutes before and ask you to push it to 11AM. You do, and then at 11 they want to try 12.

Hours or days later you’re still bumping that calendar reminder around, trying to be accommodating, telling the person perhaps to simply call “whenever they can and you’ll make the time.”

That’s not being accommodating. It’s telling your prospect or customer that your time isn’t valuable. You have nothing much better to do so you can keep moving meeting times and phone calls around and be at their beck and call.

It’s telling them, “I understand that you’re busy and your time is important. Since mine isn’t, we’ll work around yours.”

I’ve spent a lot of years trying to be as accommodating as possible. When Mr. 10AM calls three hours and four days too late, I stop what I’m doing to pick up the phone and talk.

The worst of this manifested itself a number of years ago when I scheduled an in-person meeting with someone. I prepared for the meeting, did my research and drove the half hour to her office. When I arrived, the receptionist told me that my prospect had just gone out. The receptionist checked the calendar and assured me that there was no meeting scheduled for that day.

No matter that I’d confirmed the meeting just the day before.

A few days later my prospect called to laugh it off and I made a decision then and there: we would not be doing business together.

Weird things happen, even forgetting a meeting you just confirmed and I suppose I could have laughed it off with her and rescheduled. But a person who had that little respect for my time was not someone I wanted to work with.

Rescheduling a meeting or phone call may seem like a small accommodation. And once or twice it is. But once it even hints of being a pattern, that’s your cue to lay down some rules. It may mean that you sever a business relationship. But do you really want to work with someone who thinks so little of you that they can’t manage a phone call on time?

As for me, I almost never answer the phone unless it’s pre-scheduled. I never ask someone to call me when they have the time. Whenever I need to speak to someone, I plan a time and date, it goes on the calendar and either it happens or we have ourselves a little showdown.

Stop saying, “No problem” when being devalued is a pretty big problem.

If you’re too accommodating and bend everywhichway to make things easy and convenient for others at the expense of yourself, you’re letting them know loud and clear that your time is not nearly as important as theirs.

Stand up for yourself. Don’t be afraid to call someone on their unacceptable behavior. If they’re worth doing business with then they’ll show some humility and be willing to work on the flaws.

Tell me… did you see yourself in any of these examples? Did you have any light bulb moments where you recognized your own self-sabotaging behavior? Can you think of any other ways that you might be sending the wrong signals about your worth? Share with me in the comments!

This post is part of the monthly Word Carnival series of posts. This month, our carnies tackle the topic of “Impostor Syndrome” or feeling like other people are smarter and better than you. Check out more of the Word Carnival series here.

Join the discussion 35 Comments

  • OMG this post rocks! You always manage to find and share some concrete examples that illustrate exactly your point. How do you DO that? You must be an expert! And yes, you are totally worth all that money you charge. Seriously, good stuff. I especially liked your point about undercharging: “I’m a whole lot better at this now because I’ve learned that there’s enough competition out there willing to undercut my prices. I don’t need to be one of them.” Hear, hear!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      I did it by magic! Or luck. (Bad luck, always having all the crappy stuff happen and learning the hard way, lol)

      As for examples, one of them cost me $165. And yet look how useful it was!

    • SandyMcD says:

      Agreed Tea, that’s the point that just flew out of this post and socked me between the eyes. Why had I never thought about it that way before? Brilliant.

  • clarestweets says:

    GREAT ADVICE! For business for life! Charging what we are worth in a market that looks for deep discounts and feebies is an art and you have mastered it. Thanks Carol Lynn.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Well I don’t know that I would say “mastered”… haha. More like “constant struggle” but no doubt I’ve gotten a lot wiser about it!

  • Kathy Lindert says:

    Hi, thanks for the great article. I did see myself in the “being to flexible” and will definitely have a new approach. Glad I got the opportunity to see your newsletter.
    Kathy Lindert

  • Love these tips, Carol Lynn. I especially like the part about making sure clients value your time. I’ve had some challenges with that occasionally, but learning when to say no and stick to it has been a valuable lesson.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      That’s quite common. We tend to be a lot freer with our time but it’s very easy to turn “available” into “doormat”!

  • YES! I have passed this on.

    I was shocked at the content of the article, pleasantly surprised I will say. Being too flexible is an innkeeper’s curse. When we deviate from our policies we are walked all over and then the same guest expects other inns to do the same. Thank you for this article! SMALL CHARGE is great insight, thank you for that too.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it and appreciate you passing it on! I totally agree about policies. It seems like sometimes we put them in place just to break them, doesn’t it? The best policy is: stick to your policies!

  • Angela Moore says:

    Yikes, you nailed it! Great post, I plan to share this and re-read it often.

  • Were you in my head and I didn’t know it….or were we having private conversations as you were writing this cause I swear you talking ONLY about me. I love this…great minds are always in alignment. I hollered when I read the part of scheduling your time. I use to have a client that did that EVERY time she scheduled time with me…AND she would call 10 minutes after her time to let me know she was almost ready. She would call me at 11pm on Saturdays in a panic because of some computer issue or iphone issue she was having…THEN after 7 years she decided we are on different pages because I finally had to set some boundaries…I will miss the $ for a minute, but not the interruptions of my time. Trust I charged her for all of it, but it still was not the price that it actually cost…I LOVE your post as USUAL!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Thanks Michelle, it’s awesome when you get that feeling of reaching into someone’s brain and totally getting it! You hit the nail on the head when you said you’ll “miss the money for a minute”. It will be a short minute though because you’ll be getting so many back when you stop bending over like a pretzel to suit someone who definitely ISN’T getting it.

  • SandyMcD says:

    Fabulous post Carol Lynn. That quiet certitude I was talking about over on my site – this post proves the point. You just have a way of navigating through complex territory and nailing it by the end.

    Of course! Pricing is exactly where the majority of us feel like a fraud and look therefore for ways to justify what we charge. I wonder if that is not what birthed the other side of the coin. You know the $20K of value for just $2K stuff which probably does hide an impostor 🙂 Thank you, this one needs Pearling and Pinning!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Interesting perspective… I’m sure there is some real fraud going on there! People who want to make something sound super expensive when it’s really not worth that much in the first place. But yes, I can see how doing the discount thing could send a message that you feel like maybe it’s not worth the cost…. even if it really is. We’re nuts, seriously 🙂 As long as there is some pearling and pinning going on, I guess it’s ok… though I would rally be an impostor if I said I knew what pearling was!

      • SandyMcD says:

        Indeed we are! Pearltrees. Lovely little platform that allows you collect and categorise your internet pearls. I know you can do that with Evernote, but I just love the graphics and drag and add features in Pearltrees. It is somewhat under-rated I think.

        • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

          How neat! I’m going to check that out!

        • Loralee says:

          cool tool!

          I’m so glad someone linked me to this post today! Great topic that I really needed to read today & awesome commenters too.

  • BizStartupCoach says:

    Loved your post!

    I do believe you’re the first person (besides me) I’ve heard admit to almost never answering the phone unless it’s pre-scheduled. I whole-heartedly applaud you!

    My philosophy for many years has been that just because a client or prospect is trying to contact me NOW doesn’t mean that I have to respond NOW. In addition to showing that my time is valuable, that boosts my productivity because I don’t stop and start multiple times and can stay focused on my work.

    I’ve said for years that my favorite clients are the ones I never see and rarely have to talk to (seriously). I do most of my work via the Internet and for the types of things I do I find that written communication is usually much clearer than verbal and provides important documentation about scope of work and decisions made.

    One of my current challenges is when a client wants to schedule a phone call for a “quick question.” Experience tells me that even the shortest questions can have long involved answers; I need ways to handle that which
    respect my time AND provide good service to my clients.

    Got any tips for those situations?

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      The phone is one of the worst distractions. Not only does it ring often but whenever you pick it up you have to shift mindset into something else which usually takes you out of your flow and leaves you less-than-responsive to your caller anyway because your mind is still on something else.

      And as I’m sure you know there is almost never a “quick question”! I would say treat those just as you would any other scheduled call. Put it on the calendar and if they ask why you can’t take a quick question “now” just tell them that in your experience, quick questions usually have longer answers and you want to be sure you have the time to sit and talk and provide them with the best you can.

      If it’s a billable issue, I would answer with “the short answer” and let them know that it’s really something involved that would need a consulting session (billable and scheduled!)

    • Loralee says:

      raising hand here. I haven’t turned the ringer on my phone on, for years. I don’t answer the phone unless it’s a booked appointment, period. I used to be more wishy-washy about this. Now I make no appologies. The phone ringing rattles my cage & takes me way off task. I love my clients, but I’m not willing to drop everything for phone calls – ever again.

      I ask clients to write me a note with their question (or turn on the mic on their phone, record it and send the mp3 file) & I respond with a screencast video answer (I often use Jing or Screencast-o-Matic)

      Most questions can be answered in less than 5 minutes when I have visuals, and they love the personal touch.

      • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

        What a cool idea to have people send you questions that you answer with video. I bet you have a nice little library of questions you can repurpose, too! I agree that the phone can be a huge distraction. If I’m in the middle of a task I will generally not answer the phone because the interruption can really throw you off. Sometimes you gotta stick to what works and not be so accommodating!

        • Loralee says:

          And from the flip side of things. When I do answer the phone while I’m in the middle of another project, I’m not fully present to help the person on the other end of the phone. Booking a time to talk makes so much more sense. We don’t just pop over to peoples houses unannounced (or most people don’t). 🙂

          And yes. Last count I was getting close to 400 short videos in my library. Currently doing a bit of cleanup though, to reduce storage cost fees for videos that will likely not be useful to someone else. It started out as a time saver & is now a huge part of my brand.

          • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

            Absolutely!! And that’s how you sell it to clients 🙂

            Also, I live in dread fear of someone showing up on my doorstep unexpectedly. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, the house is usually in a state of particular disarray so it all seems so much worse….

            As for your videos, why not post them to YouTube? You can always make it a private channel, but then you don’t have to worry about paying for storage and streaming.

  • Michelle Nickolaisen says:


    I think these are some of my favorite parts:

    “We have a spreadsheet that we use to price out most types of projects. It includes tasks we’ll need to perform, our rates for performing them and other specifics. When someone asks us for a proposal we do the math and come up with a budget.”

    My inner organizational nerd (well, she’s not really well hidden, so outer nerd, probably) just squeed out loud. That is SUCH a good idea and I have no idea why I’ve never thought of one before.


    “I’m a whole lot better at this now because I’ve learned that there’s enough competition out there willing to undercut my prices. I don’t need to be one of them.”

    SO TRUE.

    I just sent one of the largest proposals for one off service work that I’ve ever sent in my career yesterday, and while the thought of them not wanting to work with me based on price was scary, I also knew after doing the math that it was definitely a fair price both for the amount of work me/my team would be doing & for the value she’d be receiving. The original price that popped into my head for same service package was almost 40% lower, and while said potential client might be more likely to say yes to that, I also know that there’s a very solid chance it would have wound up being a total f-ing nightmare that went way out of scope.

    ALSO, the scheduling stuff! Zomg, so true. I am working on a client policies page to link to from my services page and this is straight off of it:

    “When we’re working together on a project, I will do everything in my power to respond to emails within 48 hours (if a response is required) and like to expect the same from my clients. If a 48 hour response time isn’t kept, it’s not the end of the world, but it might mean that our timeline gets thrown off a little. If I go over a week without hearing from you at all, the service agreement will be considered terminated without refund (barring serious extenuating circumstances – emergencies, etc.). If there are such extenuating circumstances, I totally understand (life happens, yo!), and all I ask is that you keep me posted on them, and understand that when it comes time to pick up our project again, my ability to pick it up might be delayed based on my other work at that moment, and the likelihood is that I won’t be able to go from 0 to fully-invested and re-working on your project immediately.”

    That has been a consistent issue with past clients – not replying to emails for a week or two at a time, and then replying suddenly with a list of demands/changes, and expecting me to be able to drop everything and get right on that. What?! Also going on that page: rescheduling policies.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Whoa, Michelle, I think you may need to write your own blog post on the subject (because you just did!) I like your idea of client policies. One of the hardest things we struggle with is the client going MIA. we have a stipulation in our contracts for that but ultimately there’s not a lot you can do but wait. And the longer you wait the more money you lose. It does pay to have that conversation up front though. The better you can set expectations, the better off you’ll be.

  • Aliza Stein says:

    Great article! I have officially made peace with how much I charge and will strike the words “small”, “simple”, and “easy” from my vocabulary when it comes to discussing or describing my work! Thank you, Carol!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Thank you, glad you liked it! And yes, get rid of those “small” words that can end up saying big, bad things!

  • Envisi8 Solutions says:

    This article is so on point! Thank you so much. I’m about to make some vocab changes ASAP!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Do it! I bet you’ll start to look at yourself and your services differently, too (ie: more valuable!)

  • There’s so much truth here that it should be scrawled on bathroom walls.

    “Simple”, “Small”, being apologetic, and too flexible… these things are on the mark. Everybody’s heard that story about Picasso and the 5 minute sketch that cost the asker $5,000 because Picasso knows the value of his own time. Small is one we use often in context to make a project seem like less of a burden but what it does is cuts our legs off when it comes to pricing.

    “But I thought it was just a small fix?” Arg.

    The flexible thing: I have literally lost clients because I *never* meet them face-to-face the first time unless they come through someone I know. I almost always meet with them on the phone unless they can come to a specific location and a specific time.

    I had to ceaselessly bitchslap a few clients via email whenever they schedule multiple in-person meetings across the span of a week outside the normal range of what I’d promised; it causes a lot of strife because there’s important info to be gleaned, but also because they feel like they need that facetime to get value, meanwhile I’m ticking the time away not delivering the stuff they really need to succeed.

    I once submitted a few pages of a weekly planner, shaded in with crayon, of the number of hours dedicated to meetings and travel vs actual work to demonstrate where a client’s billable time was going. They were absolutely livid until I pointed out that by consolidating meetings from 5 days to 2 days per week, they would have 3 “extra” hours available.

    Anyway, I’m off to go deface some walls now with the truth of this post.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      lol, Nick… we must have recycled some of the same clients between the two of us. I really dislike the face-to-face thing and it’s not because I don’t want to meet or talk, it just turns into a huge time suck. Especially for new people, you spend time prepping, driving somewhere, maybe picking up coffee, they talk you to death then you give them a price and { }….. then you realize what a gigantic waste of time that was.

      I love your crayon thing. I may have to adopt that one. Nothing like a little reality to get people acting more efficiently. Part of the problem is people don’t think they have to pay for meetings. It’s just a thing you do. So we soldier on and write posts like this and hope people listen!