Self-confidence, or rather, the lack of it, can be a considerable hurdle for anyone wishing to set up shop as an independent consultant.
However, confidence is a trait that you can build.
In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll provide you with some tips to help you become more self-confident in readiness to start your new consulting business and to continue growing your confidence along with your enterprise.
You Can’t Consult Without Confidence
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of confidence building, I think it’s important to be brutally honest. Without the necessary degree of self-confidence, you will struggle to succeed as an independent consultant. Confidence in yourself is one of the essential prerequisites for this career, so I wouldn’t advise anyone to consider starting up if it’s in short supply.
I’m not saying you have to be so sure of yourself that you believe you can’t possibly fail—there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and the latter is just as harmful as a lack of the former.
On the other hand, it’s natural to be nervous when embarking on any venture of importance to your life and future. The key is to channel your nervous energy into strengthening the skills and attributes necessary to help you become successful. Confidence is one of those skills, and in consulting, you need both to possess it and project it when interacting with your clients.
So before you hang up your consulting shingle, get to work on confidence-building, with the following six tips to help you, and remember to continue actively building self-confidence after launch, and throughout your career.
Tip #1: Seek a Coach or Mentor
It can be challenging to grow self-confidence by yourself. That’s one of the reasons for sharing these tips. I wouldn’t want you to think you are doing this on your own. However, there’s no substitute for having somebody prepared to take an active role in helping you with confidence building.
If your budget allows, engaging a professional coach can be a very effective way to grow your self-confidence quickly. If that’s not a practical solution, though, it may be easier to try and find a mentor from within your network of contacts.
Confidence tends to be contagious. Therefore, by working with someone confident in you (which a coach or mentor will be, by default) and in themselves (which, again, is an inbuilt quality for a competent coach or willing mentor), the pace at which you achieve improved confidence will be faster than through self-motivation alone.
Tip #2: Don’t Stress Over Perfection
You will make mistakes as an independent consultant, and you will experience failure. It has happened to me, and it will happen to you—so don’t let that reality knock your confidence before you even get started.
Here’s another brutal truth… If you can’t approach the prospect of consulting with the anticipation of some fun and enjoyment, you probably shouldn’t be approaching it at all. It’s hard to gain confidence when you take your career, any career, too seriously. So relax a little, be prepared to brush yourself off after something goes wrong, and commit to learning from your mistakes continuously. You don’t need to be perfect to be confident.
Tip #3: Channel Your Focus Externally
Instead of dwelling on possibilities that knock your self-confidence, like the fear of making mistakes or failing, try to direct your focus toward your reasons for wishing to become a consultant—in other words, the benefits and rewards you will enjoy when you help your clients.
Consulting is all about the client, and before you even start practicing, that’s where your focus needs to be. Visualise future successes and satisfied clients—because that will help you find the confidence you need to achieve those goals.
Tip #4: Eye Contact is Everything
Once you get your business underway and start to meet with clients, or potential clients, your eyes will tell them a lot about your confidence. So even if your self-confidence is not at the highest level, don’t let your eyes reveal it.
When you are talking business with someone, look that person in the eyes. Well, not right in the eyes! Focus your gaze on their face at just below eye level.
That will help you exude confidence and give the person some assurance that you know what you’re talking about and are not just blowing hot air. Not only that, but the more you practice using eye contact, the more quickly it will become second nature to do so.
Tip #5: Nurture Your Strengths
We all have our strengths and weaknesses. While it might seem obvious to devote your energy to eliminating shortcomings, it’s not the best way to increase your self-confidence.
The problem with focusing on weaknesses too much is that you’re paying attention to issues that can perpetuate your lack of self-confidence, especially if you perceive little progress or improvement. So it can become something of a vicious circle.
On the other hand, when you put your energy into nurturing and building on your strengths, not only is it easier to see progress and improvement, every small step forward boosts your confidence further. That’s why I recommend focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses in the early days of your consulting career.
Let Your Weaknesses Wait
There are other ways to handle your areas of weakness, rather than going all out to eliminate or reduce them. For example, you can:
- Outsource activities at which you don’t excel, or which you don’t enjoy doing
- Build a plan to address your weaknesses and work on it a bite at a time
- Ask somebody to coach or mentor you in the reduction of your weaknesses
- Find ways to minimise the application of skills, traits, and qualities in which you perceive weakness
I would recommend most of the above actions, except for outsourcing, only in the early stages of launching and growing your consulting business.
Once your confidence has grown, it makes sense to become more active and aggressive in addressing your weaknesses.
Outsourcing, though, is a great way to counter your weaknesses over the longer term, as you can, for example, work with virtual assistants who are especially strong in the areas that you are not—and exploit that facility to enhance your business.
Tip #6: Don’t Get Gripped by Imposter Syndrome
If you are making a move from an employed position in which your skills and knowledge are taken for granted, to self-employment as a consultant, it’s all too easy to start suffering from imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is the term used to denote the fear that you are taking on a position for which you are in no way qualified, and that you are somehow “faking it”.
It’s a pervasive issue for people starting up professional services enterprises—and consulting in particular—and can be significantly detrimental to self-confidence.
You’re going from an environment in which your professional qualities are known, or readily accepted by those you work with, and probably your employer’s customers too, to one in which you must demonstrate those qualities, and market them. You might also be facing the need to apply skills that you possess but didn’t regularly use in your previous job(s).
You know that your clients will be expecting you to guide and advise them, which can place plenty of psychological pressure on you. That’s when you can start to feel like an imposter.
If You Feel Like an Imposter, You’re Almost Certainly Not
If you feel imposter syndrome starting to set in, know this… Real imposters never suffer from imposter syndrome. For example, I recently read about how one con artist took on a senior role with a struggling non-profit organisation.
After joining the organisation, he single-handedly turned its fortunes around, and had everybody there believing in him—before absconding with the contents of the organisation’s bank account.
This guy was so convincing, simply because he was so convincing. In reality, he knew nothing about the role he was employed for, but such was his façade of confidence that he managed to dupe everyone. You can be sure that one thing he never suffered from was imposter syndrome, despite being a fake and fraudster.
The moral of this story is that if you find yourself doubting your abilities and feeling like you might be less than knowledgeable/skilled enough to be a consultant, you are the real deal, and not an imposter at all.
Don’t Try to Beat Imposter Syndrome – Ignore It
The imposter complex comes from all the time you’ve spent around similarly qualified professionals in your previous role(s) and your human tendency to compare your abilities against those of others.
Don’t doubt yourself, because nobody is infallible, and nobody knows everything about their subject matter. Instead, be honest with yourself and your clients.
Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” as long as you follow it up with “but I will find out”. And above all, recognise that imposter syndrome is common among professional people, especially when embarking on a new venture, and don’t let it nag at you and erode your confidence.
Confidence is Key to Consulting Success
As you will probably know if you’ve been following this blog, I’m always telling my readers that there is so much more to successful consulting than just knowing your subject matter.
Marketing, business management and administration, communication, selling, speaking, writing, and now, here I am, telling you that you need self-confidence too.
Well, I am only telling you that because it’s true, and if you have the will and desire to strike out on your own as a consultant, most of these skills and abilities can be honed as you go. Rome, as they say, was not built in a day.
However, if you lack self-confidence initially, everything else will be more of a struggle from day one. It’s for that reason that I recommend you begin working on your confidence immediately, and I hope that the tips I’ve provided above will be instrumental in helping you to do that.
And finally, don’t worry… Confidence ebbs and flows in us all, and there have been times when I’ve needed to dig deep and even call on others for help and support. You will too, but the further you go along your business journey, the more your confidence will grow—use my tips to get a jump start, and you’ll be fine.