It happened again.
Even after I rehearsed my one-line introduction. Even after I wrote it down three different ways so I could switch things up and sound natural.
I still got stuck.
I was stumped by a simple follow-up question: “Who are your ideal clients?”
What was I supposed to say?
Why was my heart racing?
The woman smiled, patient and kind, as I stumbled my way through a non-answer, and she quickly moved onto the next conversation.
I don't belong here, I thought.
All the "ummms" and "uhhhs" and "I don't knows" didn't cover up the imposter syndrome I was feeling. My networking nightmares were coming true.
First impressions went out the window. I introduced myself as a freelance writer and the immediate follow up was almost always, "Oh, what kind of writing do you do?" or "Oh, would I know any of your stuff?"
And it only got worse from there. Everything that came out of my mouth was jumbled and uncertain. Was I an editor? A freelance writer? A little bit of everything, depending on who accepted my Upwork proposals?
Without a success story to tell, I felt like I didn't have any ground to stand on. I just knew I was a complete fraud. Doomed for failure and embarrassment.
So how can you save yourself the embarrassment and get through your imposter syndrome as a new freelancer?
Moving Beyond Imposter Syndrome
It’s easy to walk into a room of strangers and assume you’re the least capable and the most awkward. Whether you’re looking for a new job or you’re putting yourself out there as a new freelancer, imposter syndrome starts to sneak its way in when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and into the unknown.
The key to moving beyond your imposter syndrome is understanding your professional path to this point and having an idea of where you're headed.
To start building your confidence as a new freelancer, you need to understand who you are and what you're bringing to the table. Ask yourself:
What are my strengths?
What experiences in my professional career have led me here?
What are 3-5 (or more!) skills that I've developed in my career so far?
What knowledge or expertise can I bring from my previous roles?
Now, go ahead and exhale that fear of committing to something long-term. You're not picking all of your services and offers and client personas right now. You only need to reflect on your career to start getting an idea.
Think about your unique value and interests. Ask yourself:
In my past roles, what work-related tasks or projects were my favorite to complete? How can I offer those same types of tasks to future clients?
What tasks/projects do I never want to do again? How can I avoid those with future clients?
What kind of results did I produce in my previous roles and how could I replicate them?
Understanding your career journey is the foundation you need to help you move through imposter syndrome and start narrowing down your niche. What's stopping you from picking a direction?
Why You're Avoiding Choosing Your Niche
A lot of us go into freelancing so we can have the freedom to choose, and the idea of making any kind of choice feels so final—What if I get stuck? What if I don't like it?
What if I'm tied to this kind of work for 6 years, like I was at my corporate job?
You tell yourself, "I haven't had enough experience to know what I want to do." And when money is tight and you're desperate for projects, you think it's better to keep your options open.
Even though you know on some level that narrowing your niche will be more effective for your business, choosing a direction feels like you're closing yourself off and limiting your opportunities.
How to Find Clarity and Choose Your Direction
Deep breaths. Don't panic. You don’t have to pick your direction and stick with it for all those years like you did at your last job. Your direction can grow and evolve as you explore your market and get more experience.
1. Give yourself permission to pivot.
No need for an all-or-nothing mindset. Allow yourself to be open and willing to pivot your business if you need to. No one is keeping score of how many SAAS vs. Education vs. Healthcare blog posts you write, so if you try out one niche for a few months and you realize you're more interested in something else or notice a gap in a different market, give yourself the space to explore some more.
I know. I hate myself too. But did you really think I would mention the word "pivot" without using Ross as a guide?
2. Stop with the excuses.
It took me over a year and a half to choose my direction. That is bonkers. A whole lot of excuses and not a lot of action.
I didn't want to pick my niche too soon. What if I changed my mind?
I didn't want to pick one deliverable or writing service. What if I hated it?
I didn't have enough experience to choose my ideal client. What if I picked wrong?
More than anything, I was scared of getting stuck. There was this voice in the back of my head that said if I picked the wrong direction, I'd get stuck in a situation I didn't want to be in and my only way out would be failure. Or worse, I'd botch the project because I chose a niche outside of my comfort zone, and everyone would find out what a failure I was.
How can you expect to make any progress without taking a single step forward?
3. Pick before you're certain.
No matter how many lists you make, you're not going to be 100% positive on what to choose. No amount of research or scrolling through "How-to" blog posts will bring you any closer to the "right" choice.
If you wait until you're certain, you'll never start moving in the right direction. You don't have to be married to the same field for the rest of forever.
So pick a niche and stick with it for the next week or two. Try it on for size and see how it feels.
Imposter syndrome sets in because you don't have that laundry list of client success stories yet. But that's okay. It's important to remember that you have all the skills that you need to deliver what you promise. You've made it this far.
Choosing your niche is less about what you do, and more about your why.
Why do you want to provide this service?
Why does your past career make you the right person for this?
Why are you trying to provide this specific result for this specific type of business?
Knowing your "why" helps you communicate who you are and gives you the confidence to name your niche aloud.