Self-doubt and freelancing

Why would anyone hire you?

Seriously, why would anyone pay you to do anything? You don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re not an expert and you have zero experience. You’re a joke and you know it.

Sound familiar?

Chances are if you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer (or already are), it’s your own brain that has said this stuff to you (and not another person). It’s called ‘imposter syndrome’ and it’s a psychological pattern where we doubt our abilities and even worry that we will be exposed as ‘frauds’, regardless of whether we’re newbies or high-achievers.

Freelancing can be scary as you’re out in the big world all alone with no one but yourself to rely on. And that’s why this imposter can creep in and start playing havoc with your decision making. Even the very first decision you make: to become a freelancer.

So what can you do to overcome self-doubt and start freelancing? Well, here are a few tips that will suppress the negative thoughts and help you take your first, positive steps into freelancing:

Keep it business

A great method for keeping the negative personal thoughts away is to think of your freelancing as a proper business. This works in two ways:

      • Decisions feel less personal.
      • You feel more professional.

By adopting a business mindset, you will feel less vulnerable. The business becomes your freelancing alter-ego: a shield to ‘hide’ behind. Especially if you give your business a name which isn’t your own. You don’t have to put your name out there and this will help reduce any bruises to your ego when you face rejection. But using a business name can also add prestige to your freelancing making you appear more established that allows you to charge more for your work. It also helps keep work and personal life separate.

Feeling professional will give you the confidence to be bold. And this may help you stick to your guns when it comes to negotiating a good rate for yourself and avoiding that race to the bottom on pricing.

If you’re committed to freelancing, it’s important to run things as a business anyway. But always thinking with your business hat on will make you – and other people – take you seriously.

Go all in

Start a portfolio website, update your social media work status, and add your freelancing job title to your email signature. Tell your friends and family and refer to yourself as a freelancer in conversation. If you say it often enough, you’ll start to believe it.

Heck, get a t-shirt with “I’m a freelancer” on it.

This doesn’t mean quitting your day job – yet. But starting to think of yourself as part of the freelance economy will help that transition. Plus, it may even get you a gig or two. Getting work through friends and family can be a great way to get started and give your confidence a boost (but it shouldn’t be a long-term strategy) and start that all-important portfolio of work.

This approach will help reinforce that business mindset and help you believe in your capabilities.

Facing rejection

Fear of rejection is a powerful emotion that likely comes from a survival instinct. For our early ancestors, being rejected by the family tribe/group meant the loss of safety and becoming vulnerable to predators. So it’s no wonder that the fear of rejection is a big factor in many decisions we make and the chances we take in our lives.

Rejection as a freelancer is hardly comparable to being forced out of the family clan or even being dumped by a romantic partner. You will not be fed to the wolves figuratively or literally. Nobody is going to phone you up to laugh at you if they aren’t interested in your portfolio.

At best it’s a polite “no thanks” and at worst it’s just no reply at all.

So, if being rejected is a big problem for you, you have two options: Either don’t be a freelancer or be a freelancer and address that fear with some free exposure therapy.

Make a list of your strengths

If you’re having a particularly bad day, write down everything you’re good at and everything you’ve achieved thus far. I learnt this from a freelance friend who suffers from anxiety and panic disorder (not a great combo for a freelancer). This was one of her tricks to keep motivated on more gloomy days.

By making ourselves think about the positives, we can fight any negative emotions that might be getting in the way. Plus it acts as a reminder that we have a lot to offer.

And whilst you’re writing that list, sit up straight.

Confidence can be faked

I’m not talking about deception or lying on your CV. This about projecting a positive version of yourself, whether that’s face-to-face or over written communication. Small changes in the language you use and your body posture can have a big impact on how confident you appear. And a confident pitch is more likely to be successful.

The great thing about confidence is that if you keep faking it, eventually you start believing it! So don’t look at this as pretending to be something you’re not because it’s actually training. You are practising being confident, just like you might practise learning any skill.

So when training yourself to be confident, make a definite statement on your abilities:

      • Don’t say:  “I think I can…” or “I might be able to…”.
      • Instead, make a positive assertion: “I can…” or “I will…”.

Be open with your body language:

      • Make eye contact
      • Don’t cross your arms
      • Use your hands when you speak
      • Have good posture

That last point is important and is most splendidly backed up by science. A study showed that by sitting up straight when writing about our abilities we actually write more positive things than when we’re slumped over.

In other words, good posture not only changes what other people think about us, but it also changes how we think about ourselves.

So even if you’re sat at home unshowered and still in your pyjamas, sit up straight when you’re pitching for work.

Turn self-doubt into self-improvement

Negative emotions are important and shouldn’t just be immediately dismissed. They often help us identify problem situations that have the potential to cause us harm (emotionally or physically).

So it’s important that we recognise when negative emotion is actually doing us a favour. In the context of freelancing, this could be identifying an area for self-improvement.  

If your self-doubt is making you question how much you know about a subject or technique – use it. Read up on a topic or take a course. Let that doubt make you a better freelancer.

Freelance does not mean ‘expert’

Being a freelancer doesn’t mean you have to be an expert (but you may be). Instead, you are a specialist. You offer a select set of services that allows businesses to stay nimble and responsive by utilising your offering rather than having to hire a whole and expensive employee to do the same job.

So the next time you doubt your abilities, remember that you are saving a company’s money – even by merely being competent at what you do.

Do it anyway

Even if your imposter is telling you that you’ll fail, send them out for a coffee and just do it anyway.

So, now I’ve got you sitting up straight, there’s nothing to stop you from overcoming any remaining doubt and start freelancing.

Except, of course, the fear of success…

Published by Nicola Hasted

I’m an SEO health content writer who provides digital content marketing services to healthcare businesses. This means I help SMEs and start-ups, like you, with online marketing by adding valuable and helpful content to your websites and digital media.

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