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.