Episode 3 of the Self-Made Mamas Podcast
We’ve all felt it—that nagging feeling that our work isn’t good enough.
Those overwhelming sensations of self-doubt.
Most people are familiar with the concept of imposter syndrome, and these days that’s the go-to label when we share any uncertainty about our success.
Is it always imposter syndrome, though? I don’t actually think so. Today on the podcast I’m breaking down why I think that, how to know if you’re self-sabotaging or simply self-assessing, and why it’s really good news either way.
Welcome to today’s episode. Today I want to have a difficult conversation with you. I say difficult because this topic is something that is going to be kind of hard to hear for some of you, and it might feel a bit harsh at first. First, I want you to know that the purpose of this podcast and really, the purpose of all my content is to help you achieve massive success in all the ways that are actually important to you. When I’m tackling topics like this, I’m doing it with your best interests in mind. I don’t ever, ever want to discourage you, but instead, I want to help you be your best. To get the results you’re actually looking for, I would rather have a hard conversation with you now and rather than see you give up when you don’t get the outcome that you’re pushing for. I believe that’s what a good coach does. Even though this is a podcast and not a private coaching relationship, I really want it to have an impact on you. That’s why I’m going to tackle these topics this way.
I want to get into this idea of imposter syndrome that is talked about so often, and how we need to be really careful about labelling everything as imposter syndrome instead of doing the deeper introspective work that really leads to results.
Defining Imposter Syndrome
First of all, let’s talk about imposter syndrome and what it is. The Harvard Business Review defines imposter syndrome as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persists despite evident success. People who face imposter syndrome suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that overrides any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. That’s kind of a mouthful so let’s break that down.
Imposter syndrome in your business is when you feel like your skills or results, and by association, you, are not good enough despite clear evidence to the contrary.
“Imposter syndrome in your business is when you feel like your skills or results, and by association, you, are not good enough despite clear evidence to the contrary.”
If you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, you might feel like you’re fake, like people are going to find out that you’re a fraud, like you’re just kind of pretending to be good at what you do, even though you have very crystal clear, obvious proof that you are good at what you do. An important question here is, what is clear proof? What does that look like? The answer is different for every niche and every person. Some examples of this could be: really good reviews from paid customers, really positive feedback from people consuming your content, having attracted an engaged audience, seeing lots of sales of your products, or any sales if you’re first starting out. Another example would be obtaining some kind of designation or qualification in your area of expertise.
Obviously, you need to account for the time that has elapsed since you started. You’re not going to have the same amount of proof if you’ve been doing something for three days or three months as you would if you’ve been doing it for three years, right? Everything is relative and you need to be mindful of that when you’re looking for proof.
Different niches have different kinds of proof and different amounts of feedback, as well. For example, if you are in the human services industry, maybe a therapist or something similar, the sort of proof of results is going to be very different than if you are a personal trainer focusing on client weight loss, right?
When I have a client that is struggling with really clear imposter syndrome, one of the exercises we do is to sit down and create a collection of proof they’re really good at what they do, and successes they’re seeing. It’s kind of like the opposite of a Burn Book. It’s a Brag Book, and I ask them to do this so they have something tangible to refer to when they’re feeling those fraudulent feelings.
Now we know what imposter syndrome is, and it’s super likely that you’ve experienced this at some point because we all have it. It might not have been about your business, we can feel it about anything. For me, it comes up a lot of times in motherhood. I often feel imposter syndrome around being a mom. I know I have many friends who have experienced the same thing, and I think we can all identify with those feelings, right? We know we’re doing a good job but we feel like we’re not.
When It’s Not Imposter Syndrome
What I really want to talk about today, though, are the situations in which it’s not imposter syndrome. These are the situations in your business where you’re feeling less than confident about your work and you don’t really have any proof to contradict that. You’re just trying— unsuccessfully—to sell your offers.
There’s this narrative out there in the entrepreneur space that basically says,
“Fake it till you make it”
“Just go for it.”
“Take the leap.”
“You just have to get one person to buy in.”
and all that. I’ve even said some of those things.
What I don’t see a lot of leaders say is, “Hey guys, if you want to sell something, particularly if you want to charge substantial amounts of money for it, you need to be good at what you do. In fact, if you want to build a profitable and sustainable business around something, I really suggest that you strive not just to be good, but to be excellent. Here’s why I think that…”
Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “When I die, I hope people talk about how I was pretty alright at what I spent most of my life doing.” Nobody says, “I hope someone thinks I’m not the worst option they’ve ever seen and buys from me today.” Nobody wakes up wanting mediocrity out of their day and out of their life. Certainly, I think most people don’t want to be perceived as mediocre, particularly entrepreneurs.
I think if you’re an entrepreneur you need to want to be great at what you do because you’re not Walmart, you’re not Amazon, you’re not the Dollar Store. Those businesses usually have less than 5% net profit most of the time. I’m pretty sure Amazon’s net profit in 2019 was just over one percent, right? Obviously, with the volume they’re doing, that’s still multi-millions, even billions of dollars, but they rely on astronomical volume to sell billions of dollars of low-quality stuff to millions of people.
My guess is if you are here, you don’t have a multi-billion dollar marketing budget. This means that you really can’t get away with selling meh services or products and still create consistent profit. You really have to be great and you have to be always striving to get better. That’s one of the things I love about entrepreneurship because it keeps pushing you to new levels. Not that all jobs are like this, but it’s not a job where you can shun responsibility for the end result. In a lot of really big companies, the people working there are just a cog in the wheel. It’s very easy to not take ownership of your role or the results the company produces. Many company cultures often discourage that, just in the way they operate. As an entrepreneur, particularly a solopreneur, you don’t have that option. Here’s the tough part of this conversation. If you’re not extremely confident in the quality of your work, or actively developing your skills to get to that point, it might not be imposter syndrome. It might be that you need to spend time improving what you bring to the marketplace.
“If you’re not extremely confident in the quality of your work, or actively developing your skills to get to that point, it might not be imposter syndrome. It might be that you need to spend time improving what you bring to the marketplace.”
Now, if you’re feeling immediately offended by that, please don’t run off. I want you to sit here with me for a minute, and just sit in that discomfort. If you feel like I’m hitting a nerve for you right now, it may be bringing up really awkward feelings. Feelings of shame and feelings of embarrassment, and you may have been having a physical reaction to considering this. If that’s the case, I really want you to know that there’s nothing shameful about this. I want to give you permission to acknowledge where you need to improve and strive for those improvements.
It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out in the first few days, weeks, or months of your business, or if you’re a more seasoned entrepreneur, we all have to be constantly improving. If you’re in a place in your business where you’re not seeing proof of success or results, where you have no proof that what you’re bringing to the market is actually competitive, then it’s not going to serve you to keep clinging to this idea of imposter syndrome instead of making what you bring to the market competitive.
Striving For Excellence
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to want to be excellent. That desire is what’s going to drive innovation. It’s what’s going to drive improvement, and it’s going to provide longevity for your business. All of those things are going to create profit in your pocket. Here’s a personal example of how that plays out in reality.
Years ago, I had a cake business, and I was really good at the baking part. Everyone would rave about the taste, flavour, texture of my cakes, all of that. To be brutally honest, though, I was just okay at the decorating part. I wasn’t excellent and I never felt 100% confident in my decorating skills. I was always undercharging for my cakes because I knew they had flaws. They weren’t as good as some of the other things on the market. I was better than some people, but I wasn’t the best and I wasn’t competing with the best either. I just wasn’t at that level. I undercharged and never invested in the tools and the learning that would have taken me to the next level because we didn’t have any cash flow in the business. After adding up all the ingredients and the endless hours of time, I wasn’t even profitable.
If you’ve ever made fancy custom cakes you know they take a very long time to make. Particularly if you’re not actually excellent at it, you’re not running it like a business, and you don’t have a system. People still bought from me, and I had pretty steady customers and some customers that always came back to me, but deep down I felt like they came back to me because my prices were so reasonable compared to the more skilled bakers in the area. I never increased my prices because I felt like I only had customers because I was undercharging.
This extends to all different businesses, not just cakes, but this is my personal example. Now, when I see my friends and clients who have baking businesses and I see the things they make, I’m just blown away because their skills are so far beyond mine. They have the sold-out books and profit to show for it. They are excellent and people see the value in paying them $6 a cookie or $100 for a tiny little cake because they’re producing incredible products. Jaw-dropping cakes and these incredibly intricate cookies, and things that your average Joe cannot recreate. People see the value in paying them a higher ticket for those items, and they can easily build a six-figure baking business because they’re the bomb at what they do. If they ever feel inadequate, they have bucketloads of proof that’s not the case. Could they always learn more and improve? Sure, like we all could, always. What they’re bringing to market right now, though, where they’re at right now is amazing.
I want you to know that it’s okay if your work is not amazing yet. What’s important is that you know that, and you’re working towards it. I believe that working on your craft is never a waste of time. Bringing better offers to market is never a waste of time.
Putting the blinders on and blaming your lack of results on imposter syndrome is a waste of time. The whole time you’re doing that, you’re not striving for the excellence that is going to unlock the outcomes you want. Again I really believe that if you’re an entrepreneur, you have to want to be excellent. Otherwise, what’s the point?
“If you’re an entrepreneur, you have to want to be excellent.”
For entrepreneurs, so much of it is innovation and bringing new solutions to problems that people have. If you don’t feel driven to do that right now, it’s okay! I really, really want to stress that there is no shame attached to any of this. There’s absolutely nothing to feel shame about. Maybe you’re an artist or handmake something and are just getting started. You’re just honing your skills and looking at your work right now going, “Ugh! I don’t know if I can sell this for what I want to sell it for. I don’t know if it’s worth that.” You don’t have the proof to suggest that it is, and nobody’s biting. Maybe you’re a new coach or consultant and you do something similar to what I do. Again, you don’t have the proof, you don’t have the experience and the confidence. I don’t want you to feel any shame around that because everybody starts somewhere, right?
I think that you need to pat yourself on the back, first of all, for going for it. Putting yourself out there and starting a business and deciding to go out on your own and take your skills and market them in the open marketplace. That’s really scary and I think you deserve huge kudos for doing that. If you’re not seeing the results that you want, then I think you need to put your lab coat on and look at why. Take the ego out of it because that’s where the shame is coming from. Shame is driven by our ego. Take your ego out of it and sort of zoom out. Put your lab coat on, look really analytically and clinically at what’s going on. Do you need to improve somewhere? Are your prices too high for the quality that you’re bringing to the marketplace right now?
Remember that this is all temporary. Just because you don’t have a certain level of experience to charge a certain price point, or you’re still finding your style and developing your skills, figuring out what the market really wants right now and how to hone that so you can produce it, that’s okay. Where you are right now is not where you’ll be tomorrow. It’s not where you’ll be 10 days, 10 months, 10 years from now. What’s important is that you don’t stay where you are today. Even if you are bringing something excellent to the marketplace, if in five years you never improved, it’s not going to be excellent anymore. True entrepreneurs are always innovating. They’re always bringing new or better things to the marketplace.
Keep Innovating, Keep Improving
Every niche is evolving and innovating all the time. A good example of this is brand design. Calligraphy-style logos were super popular five or six years ago. Most higher-end designers and experienced designers will now advise their clients against using those elements and types of scripts. The same goes for glitter, unnecessary florals, and weird colour combos The good designers will advise their clients against using things that are no longer considered excellent because they want their clients to get excellent results. They want to produce something incredible, something excellent. The market has evolved. If you were a designer 20 years ago, you might have been making logos using Comic Sans. I hope no one’s ever actually used Comic Sans for logos, but it happens. Let’s say 20 years ago, you were making logos using Comic Sans, and everybody loved them. You were making so much money and everything was great. Today if your portfolio was full of logos using Comic Sans, nobody would hire you because it wouldn’t be excellent anymore.
I really want to stress, even if you are in a good spot right now and feeling confident with lots of proof of your work, we all have to keep striving and improving. If you’re someone that, again, doesn’t have that proof, hasn’t been able to make the sales, isn’t feeling confident, it’s not just you. You’re at the beginning of this journey. All you have to do is take that first step. It’s to start improving now, and you’re going to be better tomorrow than you were today. You’re going to be better next week than you were this week. Over time your confidence is going to grow and the faster you learn and the faster you improve, the faster you improve.
“Start improving now and you’re going to be better tomorrow than you were today.”
Don’t sit here stagnant and cling to this idea of imposter syndrome, telling yourself, “I am amazing. It’s just that I feel like I’m not but I am and my offer is perfect. People just aren’t buying it and that’s their fault.” These are some of the things that our ego can tell us and we’ve all felt like that at one point or another. The reality is that your ego is not going to fill your bank account. Bringing an excellent offer to the marketplace and continuing to innovate so you’re offering what people want, with a high degree of quality, is going to fill your bank account.
If you are feeling like you’re stuck in that spot, I want to give you permission to take the blinders off. To release any shame that you’re feeling around your lack of confidence or around not producing the quality of work that you would like to be producing. I just want you to start improving. I want to give you permission to just work on it. If you’re still actively trying to sell while you’re working on it, then talk about that. Learn transparently in front of your audience, in front of your customers. “I’m taking a course to improve this aspect of my service. I’m always striving to bring you better service and better products.” If you sell products you could say to your customers, “We’ve had some feedback about product X and we really value your input and your concerns. We’ve pulled this off the shelf for now and we are looking for a higher quality replacement. Let us know what you’d like to see.”
You don’t have to hide in this shameful hole of working in the dark trying to get better. Learn out in the open. Improve out in the open. This is going to build incredible customer relationships when they see that you’re committed to excellence. When they see that you are committed to innovation and bringing them the best of the best, whether that’s through your services, through your products, through your experiences, whatever it is. When they see that you’re committed to that, it builds a lot of trust. They might not be ready to buy right now. Maybe they are looking for something more polished, more finished, or better quality. They will watch you grow, though, and they will have so much respect for it. When the time comes, when your offer is a fit for what they’re looking for, you’ll be the first person that they think of.
That’s what I want to leave you with today. I hope this is helpful for you, and not too hurtful if you’re feeling a little bit offended right now. I just want to let you know that it’s okay to not be where you want to be right now. We’re all constantly improving. We’re all constantly working towards being the best that we can be. I want to give you permission to do that, and permission to do that in front of your audience, in front of your customers. You deserve to be excellent and your customers deserve for you to be excellent.
A. Do you struggle with what feels like imposter syndrome? Identify if this is truly imposter syndrome or actually something else.
B. Is it truly imposter syndrome?
- Do you feel like your skills or the results in your business, and maybe even you yourself, are not good enough? Despite clear evidence to the contrary? Do you feel like a fake or a fraud, even though there’s proof you’re not? Sounds like imposter syndrome.
- Dig up the proof for yourself. Whatever that looks like at this stage in your business, it could be rave reviews from customers, a product or offer that continues to sell out, an audience that is engaged with you and your content, or a qualification or designation in your area or expertise.
- Create this collection of proof and successes that you’ve been seeing in a Brag Book for yourself, so you have something tangible to refer back to later anytime these feelings of imposter syndrome come up again.
C. Is it actually something else?
- If you’re not extremely confident in the quality of your work, or actively developing your skills to get to that point, it might not be imposter syndrome. It might be that you need to spend time improving what you bring to the marketplace.
- The desire for excellence drives innovation and improvement which will provide longevity and create profit for your business. This can be seen in any niche, but it’s broken down in the real life cake making business example above.
- If you’re not seeing the results in your business that you want, it’s time to examine why. No shame, no ego, just purely look at why you’re not getting results. Are there areas you could improve? Are your prices too high for the quality of the product you’re currently offering?
- Improvement and innovation are necessary because every niche is evolving, and we can always be working to bring new and better things to the marketplace. Give yourself permission to start improving now, and do it out in the open and learn in front of your audience if necessary. Bring them into the conversation and communicate with them. This builds trust and respect.
Thank you so much for joining me for this episode of the Self-Made Mamas Podcast. You can find more information about working with us at theselfmademama.com or connect with us on Instagram at @selfmademama_. I can’t wait to chat.