A guide for freelance copywriters, content marketers and creatives
This article was originally published in June 2017. Refreshed: November 2019.
When I started my business in 2017 I’d never heard of impostor syndrome. The first time I came across this phrase was listening to an episode of the Copywriter Club podcast. They were interviewing a business coach and she was discussing the 12 lies of impostor syndrome and how to overcome them.
As I listened, I was thinking, ‘OMG, this is what I get!’ But I referred to them as my ‘blue working days’ and dismissed it as going through a bit of a low-energy and low self-esteem patch. This is what I called it when I originally wrote this article.
Everyone has blue days. The important thing is knowing how to boost your self-esteem when freelancing, so you can turn those low-points into something more positive.
After hearing that podcast and spending time in networking groups full of freelancers and copywriters, I learnt that impostor syndrome is sickeningly common. It’s something many of us wrestle with at one time or another. Worst of all it’s indiscriminate, infecting new and established freelancers alike.
What is impostor syndrome?
Although impostor syndrome isn’t medically recognised many freelancers experience feelings of self-doubt and anxiety about their work. Myself included.
I like this definition on verywellmind.com:
“It is the experience of feeling like a phoney — you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud — like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck.”
Full-time employees and freelancers can experience impostor syndrome but I think I’ve felt it more since being self-employed. Picking myself up on down days and finding the motivation to keep going when I feel less than adequate is harder when working alone. I miss having colleagues to bounce ideas off or get a second opinion from. Or having a manager who gives a knowing nod when I’m doing a great job.
From personal experience and networking with fellow freelancers some of the more common symptoms of impostor syndrome include:
- Feeling like you never know enough so continually sign up to courses/grab downloads and resources.
- Struggling to accept praise or unwilling to acknowledge your successes.
- Convincing yourself you never have anything useful to offer because there’s always someone who’s done it before and done it better.
- Believing nothing you create is good enough, causing you to become a perfectionist and agonise over tiny details.
- Spending too long dwelling on mistakes and things you haven’t done, rather than looking at what you’ve achieved.
These feelings creep up out of nowhere, throwing off your day, week or even your whole working month. What’s needed is self-esteem boosts that shove impostor syndrome back in its box.
6 ways to boost your self-esteem and become a confident freelancer
When I feel the tentacles of self-doubt start to suck away my confidence, I try one of the following tactics to pick myself up and reaffirm that I am actually a good writer. Perhaps one of them will work for you too?
1. Testimonials are important
Not just because they can lead to more business, but because they’re testament to how bloody great you are at your job. There’s no shame in re-reading some of the lovely client compliments about your work. You could even print a few out and pop them in around your work space.
Are you a bit low on testimonials? Then it’s time you created a schmoozy email and send it to former or current customers. Ask them if they’ll write a sentence or two about you and the work you’ve done. For clients who are time poor you could template it so they fill in the gaps and it’s a two-minute job.
2. Revisit your favourite project
Some jobs are more fun to work on than others. And some projects turn out better than others. Naturally, you end up with a few favourites: the stand-out pieces of portfolio-worthy work that are perfect examples of how the sun really can shine out of your arse. When your self-esteem is a little low pull those projects out. Take a little time looking at it and remembering how it all came together. Listen to the voice that’s saying, “Look! You made this! And you can do it again because you are awesome!”
3. Take a social media break
There have been many reports into social media and mental health so I’m sure we’re all aware of the negative effects of social media. When feeling low seeing how great everyone else is doing is the kick in the shin your self-esteem doesn’t need. If possible, avoid social media for a day, a weekend, a week or longer if you can. Give yourself a break from comparing yourself to others and regain a bit of IRL perspective. Let your confidence in your own life and achievements grow before logging back on.
4. Chat it out
Vocalising anxieties can be a big help. If there’s someone you can talk to — a work mate, partner, fellow freelancer — then get them on the phone, Skype, email, whatever and chat it through. **Sigh** And even though I said in the last point social media is really shitty during times of low self-esteem, I’ve come to learn that there are pockets of goodness. As a freelancer it may be where you find a lot of freelancing colleagues. If you’re part of a warm, welcoming and friendly group then I concede social media can help. Whether you have IRL connections or online the point is still the same: know that you’re not alone with this.
5. Set realistic goals
If your confidence has taken a knock because you don’t feel like you’re making progress with a project or in your own business then stop. Overwhelm gets the better of all of us and, from my experience, only adds to impostor syndrome. Re-evaluate how much you’re biting off. To help, I often make lists of achievable goals for that week, day or sometimes just for the next hours. It’s a list of goals and tasks that I’m 100 percent certain I can complete. Then I get on with them. It’s amazing how ticking off tasks like this can boost confidence levels and reassert that you got skills!
6. When all else fails…
Eat cake. Not that I’m an advocate for trying to fill a confidence void with unhealthy snacks, but treating yourself to a slice of your favourite cake is at least worth a shot for a short-term fix.
6a. Listen to Nick Cave
Not so much his music on this occasion, but his wise words in this post on suffering a crisis of confidence. This was shared a while back in a copywriting community I’m part of and I love it. In it, Nick reassures you “the harsh inner critic that you speak of is in no way unique to you,” and describes it as an “evil little gnome” before explaining how to turn your negative inner critic into a force of creative good.
Know another way to boost self-esteem at work?
These are just a few suggestions that I know work for me when I’m freelancing and need an ego boost. I’m sure there are heaps more, so I’d be keen to hear how you up the confidence levels when they’re feeling a little low. Leave me a comment and I’ll put them up for others to make use of.