You May Never Feel Confident In Business...
But does it really matter?
“I hate the idea of creating a video. I hate the sound of my voice.”
“I need to write a book.”
“I’m terrified of public speaking.”
“I’m not very technical.”
“I’m fine speaking to people, but when it comes to writing, I’m no good at all.”
All of these problems are symptoms of the same affliction.
Call it a lack of confidence. Perfectionism. Procrastination. Embarrassment, maybe. A fear of what others might think.
This may be just part of the human condition, and it’s something that you may decide to live with or to try to overcome. But when it comes to running your own business, especially if you’re in professional services, this lack of confidence is going to cost you a lot of money. Yes. This will financially hurt you.
You probably already realise this, and you’re wondering how it is that some people naturally feel confident. It seems unfair for them to be able to go through life with things that just seem to work out for them.
Confidence is a huge advantage in business. But it’s not everything.
So, in this minibook, I’m going to share with you a single, simple process to get you beating that lack of confidence.
And as this book is primarily for professionals, people running their own business, I’m going to tie it to your business success.
“Is it just me?”
You may be thinking that you’re the impostor; the only person who is feeling like a fraud. You might be afraid that you’re going to be found out. And you’re living life just waiting for someone to say: “this man is out of his depth” or “that lady is a fake.”
First, be at peace about one thing. It’s not just you. Nearly everyone suffers from this, and it shines through in many different ways.
But let’s get one thing really clear. You may be quite an expert in one area and feel that you completely lack confidence in another area. That is very common.
For example, you may be technically great at graphic design, but when it comes to the business-y side of things - working out what price to charge, for example - you feel guilty and all your creativity and confidence is gone.
Or you could be a very gifted writer when it comes to writing articles, but feel quite intimdate by the thought of writing a book.
Or again, you may be great at making strangers feel welcomed when you’re speaking to them one-on-one, but the thought of standing on stage in front of a group of strangers terrifies you.
Why confidence advice doesn’t work
Perhaps you’ve been told you should feel confident. Maybe people have given you advice to believe in yourself.
“Just do it!”, they say. “Don’t overthink it!”
Although in some cases this is enough to get you fired up to take action, it usually doesn’t last.
And there’s a reason for that, which I’m going to share with you right now.
When someone tells you to believe in yourself, or to live your dreams or follow your passion, you might be encouraged for the moment, but once you get back on your own, without that external push, you retreat into a corner again.
Does that sound familiar to you?
Because deep down, you still feel like a fraud. Or maybe not a fraud. Maybe a perfectionist (that sounds a lot more positive, doesn’t it?)
And you feel like you’re going to make a mess of things. That the result won’t be good enough. Maybe that people will laugh at you.
In fact, the real reason you can’t feel confident is that you can’t fake confidence. Much as you may be grateful for encouragement, you can’t just feel confident and you can’t pretend that you do. Pretending is half the problem, right? You’re pretending that you’re not up to scratch, and then people are telling you to keep pretending, to pretend that you really are confident, when you know that you’re not.
And the more people tell you that the thing you’re finding so hard is actually easy, the worse you feel. “Easy for them”, you’re thinking. “But they have talents or experience or are surrounded by the right kind of people or circumstances. For me, things are different. I just don’t have that sort of confidence. I’m not that sort of person.”
Listen to your own language here. “I’m different.” “I’m not the kind of person who can … “
Let’s reframe the whole question
It seems obvious to me that for as long as you tell yourself that you’re not the kind of person who can do something, then you will never do it. Or, at least, you will never do it well.
Let’s use a simple example here. Supposing you know how to cook a little, but in reality, you’re pretty embarrassed about your cooking.
You either never cook for someone else, or if you do, you apologise about what went wrong. And then you keep repeating to the world: “I’m no good at cooking.”
Do you think you’ll ever be good at cooking with that attitude? Of course not!
So, is the solution to tell yourself that you’re a master chef? Is the cure to your lack of culinary confidence to fake it till you make it? To visualise yourself as the head chef in a top hotel?
No. (At least, I haven’t found that to work.)
The solution, as far as I can see, is to focus on what you can do, and then take the next good step.
Now, imagine I’m a slightly better cook than you [probably not true, but bear with me]. What would I say to encourage you in your cooking?
Here’s how I’d probably start. “You keep telling me you can’t cook. But you just cooked something. And it was actually really nice. Very nourishing, too. Could you do me a favour and stop saying you can’t cook?”
At this stage, you’ll probably protest: “But I can’t cook, Anthony! Look at what I just did wrong. And I wasn’t able to cook even something basic that any beginner should be able to do.”
Once again, the negative self talk is taking over.
I don’t think the solution is to imagine you’re a master chef. I think it’s to realign your expectations of yourself. Because, after all, you really can cook something, and it’s not just toast.
So, imagine if your attitude went from what you can’t do to what you did do. And picture yourself focusing on what you could do, just by improving a little. Still not “Masterchef” standard, but a step forward from that habit you have of telling people “I’m no good at cooking”.
How does this tie into business?
All of this sounds like nice motivational words, but how will it help your business? After all, the aim here isn’t to make you feel good about yourself. It’s to stop your lack of confidence from holding back your business.
Let’s start by looking at some typical areas that people feel intimidated or lacking confidence, and then I’ll show you how they relate to business success.
Getting In Front of Others
A usual place that people’s anxieties and lack of confidence shine through is when they have to get in front of other people. This is especially true if you’re going to be presenting something to strangers. And it makes sense, right? After all, you don’t get to be in a dialogue with them. These anonymous people could stay anonymous. They might be trolls online, laughing at you, mocking you, and cutting you down.
For that matter, the troll might be in your own head: someone constantly knocking you down. Criticising your work. Telling you it’s not good enough.
Now, much as you could say: “oh well, people who are haters are always going to hate”, in reality, you’re human, aren’t you? You don’t want to be hurt. You don’t want to feel rejection. And you don’t want people to think you’re not good enough (let alone say it!)
So, what we’re going to do is break down the fear of rejection, and see if we can bring out some of those ghosts or trolls who are lurking behind that screen. They’re anonymous people who you’re afraid to stand in front of.
We’re going to break through that fear with a very simple process.
Unpacking the fear
First of all, when you take on something new, maybe some new marketing channel, for example, or some new method of getting your message out to the world, it’s really important for you to connect that to your purpose. I don’t mean: “I want to get a video up on YouTube”. I mean why is that important to you?
How would a video on YouTube help you in your business?
Step 1: Define your purpose
And so here is where we need to begin. Not with tools or confidence tips. Not with scripts telling you what to say in front of a hostile audience. None of that matters just yet.
What’s important is that you know why you’re doing this thing. Think of it. You’re taking on some new task or marketing method. Don’t you think it’s important that you have an idea what success looks like?
“I want to start a podcast”
Recently, someone I know who sells services to developers (as in people who write code) told me he wanted to start a podcast.
He’d bought a mic and was carrying it with him in his bag at all times. But he was worried about committing to something that wouldn’t get him listeners who would keep coming back. He also wasn’t sure about whether to niche down (and risk too narrow an audience), or go broad (mile wide, inch deep).
Now, there are a lot of pros and cons about podcasting. There are also many good reasons to pick a niche topic. There are also good reasons for keeping a podcast more entertaining while reaching a fairly broad audience.
This person who was ready to podcast wsa expecting me to say: “just do it! Just get started! Don’t overthink this!” In fact, my advice was exactly the opposite.
You see, I could see that he didn’t know clearly what the podcast was for. He has an idea of who it was for, but he couldn’t pinpoing what a successful podcast would look like.
Was he aiming to get loads of listeners, and maybe even get some sponsorship? Or was the podcast aimed at creating a small, but loyal group of listeners?
Was it purely as a lead magnet, so he could sign up some new clients for his service for developers? Or did he want to build authority, with both the podcast and a book, so he could land some paid speaking engagements?
For that matter, the podcast may have been intended primarily as a way to connect with guests that you want to meet, such as potential clients. Also, as one podcaster shared with me, simply having a podcast elevates your perceived expertise.
Can you see how examining the business purpose of the podcast was so important for gaining sufficient confidence to start the podcast and to keep going with it?
In practice, hosting a podcast - I’m told - can be a lot of work. Between planning topics, showing up on time regularly, and all the logistics of lining up guests, having some backup plan when guests don’t show up, then the editing and publishing of the podcast - it can be a lot to take on. When you hit a wall (as you inevitably will) with starting your first podcast, you naturally are going to ask yourself: “why am I doing this in the first place?”
My strategy for addressing that pesky confidence problem is to ask the question up front. What’s the end game here? What am I trying to achieve by taking on this task that I don’t feel confident about?
Breaking Through The Lack of Confidence
This step of identifying the purpose for some new venture is critical to getting yourself moving when you lack the feelings of confidence. It’s a simple tactic to remind you of why you’re trying something new in the first place.
You could think of it like this. Imagine you have an area of your garden that is overgrown with weeds. Now, you could look at how to weed it - how to get rid of all of the plants that have taken over. You could think about what tools you would use, or the method you would use to get back to that fertile soil, so that you could plant something else.
But if your goal is simply to weed the garden, and you have no idea what you would replace that patch of weeds with, you’re going to find it very hard to keep up your momentum. Why is that? It’s because you don’t have any vision of why you’re weeding that patch.
And if you don’t have a vision, and you don’t have anything good to grow afterwards, then you’re going to find new weeds will grow back, and you’ll be even more discouraged.
But if, on the other hand, you have in mind what the garden will look like; what kind of vegetables or flowers you will be growing there, then it’s much easier for you to keep up momentum. Instead of just running away from something (a patch of weeds), you’ll know your destination. And even if that destination is still a little vague in your mind, you’ll still have much more incentive to keep on weeding because you’ll see what you’re hoping to get as a result.
So, step 1 is to define your purpose, as clearly as you can. By doing that, you’ll be able to tie your effort to that purpose.
Step 2: Define Success
You would think this was part of step 1 (define your purpose). But your purpose is the big picture of your overall business purpose. When you take on some smaller new approach to marketing your business, for example, you do well to work out what it would look like if everything went well.
This defining success is where the rubber hits the road. You get to rein in some of those fears of failure, simply by drawing some boundaries.
For instance, maybe you are determined to make a video. You want it to be slick and polished. You’d like it to go viral. You want to get thousands of views and plenty of likes and comments and shares.
Now, time to step back and ask:
How does this video fit in with my big purpose for my business?
I know someone who wrote an article on LinkedIn and it generated 648,000 views. I think we could say this went viral.
But it didn’t lead to a quality experience for this lady. Did it get her paying customers for her service or people buying her book? No, not so much.
So, ask yourself if the new video or book or speaking engagement will serve your business.
And then define how that might happen.
Perhaps you have in your mind that a book will lead to speaking engagements. Or it will sell well and give you some passive income. Or it will build your authority...even if it doesn’t make sales. It could be the book that would be a classy calling card. You’d be introduced as the author of “How to Prevent Crane Collapses [And how to handle them when they happen]”. Never mind that the Risk Manager of ACME Building Corporation has never read the book. For that matter, don’t worry if nobody actually reads the book. You only need to print one copy (for a photo of you holding the book) and you don’t have to sell any.
Do you see how important it is to define success? You may actually be successful, even if the audience is small.
If you’re creating a video, it doesn’t have to be as polished as a Superbowl ad. If you’re writing a book, it doesn’t need to be a NY Times Best seller. (In fact, maybe it doesn’t need to sell at all!)
By redefining success, you’re making a small win for yourself. You’re setting your own expectations, and you’re moving the goalposts so that you will certainly succeed.
Defining success is one thing, but the next one is just as important.
Step 3: Give yourself permission to fail
Not the sort of advice you’d expect in a book that promises to give you confidence, is it? But that’s exactly what you need to do.
This advice is a natural follow-on from the previous step, where you were urged to redefine success.
Giving yourself permission to fail means you’re detached from the result. This brings your attention back to the process, and stops you from second guessing what people might think of you and your work.
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” - G. K. Chesterton
Hardly the advice to give a perfectionist, is it? Still, it makes a lot of sense. You need to learn the steps along the way. If that means that it’s not quite good enough (to your standards), it’s still something worthwhile.
What is the minimum you can do to get this project across the line, and still achieve your purpose? There are so many components in a project, and they don’t necessarily all have to hold together in version 1.0.
Can you publish the book with a bland front cover?
Can you put up the video without captions or a custom thumbnail?
Can you get the website up without images?
In other words, how minimal can you make it, even if it is (in your mind) a failure?
Just as you looked at the business purpose behind you writing that book, giving that keynote address or posting that video, can you consider why people would read it, listen to it, or view it?
Perhaps the “failure” is all in your own mind. Maybe people who are listening to your advice are deeply moved and are waiting to be helped by someone like you.
Cheating (Business Without Confidence)
So, let’s get down to some specific examples, where you can break through that fear or lack of confidence you may be feeling.
Fear of public speaking
Are you afraid of speaking? Not public speaking (up on a stage, behind a microphone, with a slide deck and a big audience). But are you afraid of speaking at all? To anyone?
It’s a series of yes/no questions. When you get to a “no” answer, try to break down exactly where you make the jump from what you can do to what you can’t do.
Are happy to speak one-on-one to me (a stranger)?
If we were speaking, and someone who you know well joined the conversation, would you be happy to keep speaking?
What if a third and a fourth person came along, and we all joined in the conversation. Would that be okay?
What if we got up to seven people, and when it was your turn to speak up, we handed you a microphone.
At what point in that exercise does speaking to people become “public” speaking (which you so dread)?
Is it having a microphone? What if you have a lapel microphone?
Is it being on stage? What if you were mingling with the audience?
Is it having a lecturn? (Or not having one?)
Is it preparing a slide deck? Or just the moment you step onto the stage?
All we’re doing here is breaking down the fear to the very point that you make the transition from “I can do that” to “I could never do that”.
I had someone tell me that she hated public speaking, but she’d be find doing it if she could walk around among the audience rather than be up on a stage. Problem solved.
Unable to write a book
There are so many people who say they’d love to write a book, but they can’t do it. At least, they may have started writing the book, but they never seem to finish it.
Perhaps they blame the technology, or the logistics of getting a book to a publisher, or getting it self-published.
These are often people who have written many articles and are happy with the positive response they get.
But a book seems another dimension, doesn’t it?
So, here’s an easy way to solve it.
Write a bad book. Go through the motions of publishing the book on Amazon as a Kindle. Write under a pseudonym. Make it a collection of your articles. But once you know the process is something you can handle, it will start to give you confidence (not that you need it!) to write a better book.
A few days ago I came across an article by someone who had given some very practical career advice. It was a long article, and I asked the author why she hadn’t published it as an eBook. She thought it wasn’t long enough. I told her it was certainly long enough.
But still, she may not have known the process of creating a book ready for sale on Amazon.
So, I created a video showing her exactly how to upload her book, create a very simple cover and posting it for sale on Amazon. It took me nine minutes. Was it slick? Not at all. (In fact, I didn’t actually hit “Publish” at the end. I just wanted to show her that I could do it in 9 minutes).
Getting Confident on Video
Many people tell me they’re no good on video, or they could never go on video. Now, as I work online as a business coach, many of the people telling me this are doing so over Zoom - a video chat tool. I remind them that they actually are on video already, speaking to me.
“Oh, but that’s different.”
Really? Because it’s being recorded for strangers?
If you are recording the video of yourself, it can be very difficult. Think about it. You’re playing a lot of roles in the creation of that video:
That’s a lot of people to satisfy, and if you’re your harshest critic, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Don’t do it that way.
Instead, here’s what you can do.
Record a video with a friend. (Someone like me!) Have them ask you some questions without recording and then answer those questions again, but this time with recording.
Create a YouTube channel and post the video as a private video.
As YouTube Help explains:
Private videos can only be seen by you and the users you choose. Your private videos won’t appear to others who visit the "Videos" tab of your channel page and won't show up in YouTube's search results.
Alternatives are to record a video without your face on it (a screencast, for example, where you speak while showing something on your screen).
What if you hate the sound of your voice? Unless you’re going to take a vow of silence for the rest of your life, you’ll have to get used to your voice, video or no video.
“I’m not very technical”
You may not need to be very technical. You could get someone else to do the technical work.
I often find, however, that the “not very technical” explanation is actually an excuse, or at least an indication that someone hasn’t thought through the business purpose behind a task.
You don’t have to turn into a technical whizz to be able to get some of your work into the hands of the public.
“I’m fine speaking to people, but when it comes to writing, I’m no good at all.”
This is very common, especially among people who are really good at building relationships. They can’t translate into writing the rapport that they can build face-to-face.
There are a few options here. One is to record a video when you are with someone in an engaging conversation.
Another is to get the videos or audio recordings transcribed.
And another is to create a list of very short answers to some very basic questions. Even cutting and pasting from an email or a social media comment can be enough here.
Unlocking the Key
The key to confidence when you’re running your own business or creating content is not to give it too much importance.
You don’t necessarily have to feel confident. If you’re a perfectionist, ask yourself what it is that you have ever done which was perfect.
If you’re good at problem solving, then solve this problem for yourself: when I go from “I can do this” to “I can’t do this other thing”, where does that happen? What part of the journey am I not just feeling fear but actually saying: “I can’t do this.”
Nail that, and you’ll suddenly have unlocked the key to your journey in business.