Whether you're already running your own small agency or are dreaming of doing it someday, the success of your business depends on you.
...That probably means you’ve got a lot of stress, and huge responsibilities that sometimes feel overwhelming.
You wouldn’t be alone if you started doubting your abilities.
But if those feelings start to crop up, you’re entering imposter syndrome territory—something that if you believe, could actually start hindering your agency’s growth.
This guide will tell you how to beat it, with advice from others who’ve conquered it.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is feeling like you’re not qualified enough to do your work. You feel like a fraud—like you’re selling services that you’re “faking” that you know how to do.
“A lot of CEOs struggle with imposter syndrome, and I'm the first to admit I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time!
But with experience, I’ve come to realise that it's my personal experiences of overcoming challenges that make me worthy. The more knocks you have along the way, the more you grow in confidence. No one else can replicate that."
Do I have imposter syndrome at work?
One report found that 62% of people in the U.K. have experienced imposter syndrome at work.
It’s not just people in the marketing industry, though. Dr. Tiffany Eurich of Tiffany Eurich International explains:
“I was recently at a PhD dedication, where a room full of new doctors, on the most exciting day their lives, got to share some of their reflections on their achievement.
The most common—and shocking—statement was about how each one felt like they were “faking it,” as if each was the only one who had somehow skated by, under the radar.
It was enlightening to realise that at this pinnacle of achievement, even those individuals who had dedicated a lifetime to becoming an expert in a specific field, still struggled with imposter syndrome.”
...But how do you know whether you’re suffering?
If you find yourself displaying one (or more) of these traits, there’s a high chance that imposter syndrome is affecting you, too:
You don’t accept praise
People suffering with imposter syndrome won’t be able to accept praise—whether that’s from your clients or staff.
For example: If someone says “you did a great job on that Facebook campaign!”, you disregard it completely and automatically think “my CPC wasn’t great. I could’ve done better.”
You say “I don’t know what I’m doing!”
You’ve got loads of experience in your industry, but you aren’t confident in it.
For example: Even if you’ve run a specialist PPC agency for years and you know the Google Ads dashboard inside out, you panic and think you don’t know what you’re talking about when you’re asked to deliver PPC training.
You think, “I’m not qualified enough for this”—even if your experience says otherwise!
You’re terrified of failure
Imposter syndrome can be paralysing to the point that it can stop you from doing things because you’re scared of failing.
For example: Even if you’ve run 100 PR campaigns previously, you hold the breaks on distributing your press release just in case something isn’t right. You’re a perfectionist, and you won’t sign off on the pitch unless you’re completely confident with it.
6 practical ways to deal with imposter syndrome from the experts
Feeling like an imposter sucks. You’re in a constant state of limbo—wanting to become one of the best agencies in the country, but feeling too afraid that you’ll fail.
Here are six practical ways you can banish imposter syndrome for good:
1. Recognise why those feelings are cropping up
What tasks, events or opportunities make you feel like an imposter?
A lot of people recognise their imposter syndrome comes into full force when they think about public speaking. You might be afraid of public speaking because you’ve turned down every opportunity you’ve had in the past.
Whatever activities give you that feeling—be it public speaking or managing a large advertising budget—make a list of them, then find the common patterns.
Knowing the situations that spur the feeling of being an imposter can help you battle it.
Dr. Jamie Long, a clinical psychologist, explains:
"To stop feeling like an imposter, we need to separate what we feel from what we know. Sometimes we feel like we’re a fraud but what we know doesn’t prove that the feeling is true.
To correct faulty thinking, we need to get in the habit of running a fact check on thoughts to see if they accurately fit the circumstances. For example, “Do I know for certain that I’m _______?” Could there be other explanations?” “What would I tell a friend if they came to me with the same thoughts?”
Pro Tip: Improving your work-life balance can help with this. After all, nobody knows you better than you do. If you don’t take care of yourself, you have no chance of cultivating relationships with staff and clients.
2. Write down your entire career history and highlight your successes
Take a piece of paper and write down your entire career history, right from the start. This doesn’t have to be your first job; it can be the first blog post you published at university, or the Twitter training you gave to your mum.
Then, highlight the success you’ve had with each.
Here’s what that might look like: “When I was 17, I interned at a social media agency for some work experience. The manager allowed me to run one Facebook Ads campaign from start to finish, and I got the lowest CPC out of every campaign they’ve ever run.”
The beauty of this tip? It works even if you’re young, and your imposter syndrome relates to your age—thinking “I’m not credible enough because I’m so young.”
I felt the same. I’m 21 years old but when someone asked to interview me for their podcast, imposter syndrome set in. I thought I didn’t have enough experience for people to believe what I was saying was true.
Until I wrote out my career history, I completely forgot that:
- A blog post I’d written ranks in the featured snippet box for a keyword.
- People from all over the world hire me because of my talent.
- I run my own business at the age of 21, when most of my friends are still at university.
...All of which banished my feeling of being an “imposter”.
Sean Pour of Sellmax also uses this tactic:
“Often, it seems that we forget the journey that we traveled to get where we are.
I can guarantee you will realise that you’ve overcome adversity and done things that you thought were clever and that you are proud of. If you think of those small wins it will certainly help ease the “imposter syndrome”.
Once you’ve got your list, don’t lose sight of it. Write your achievements on a huge whiteboard, set it as your desktop screensaver, or create a “virtual fridge” to make sure you don’t forget how awesome you are.
2/3: My newest self-care practice: creating a virtual fridge of yay (I really did call it that).— Kristen LaFrance (@kdlafrance) July 17, 2019
This virtual fridge will be a collection of amazing moments. From the tiniest interactions to big time firsts, this will remind me of the progress and growth I really *am* making. pic.twitter.com/9H3ZC97biX
Sendible’s Product Manager Rachel Orr also highlights the importance of recognising your achievements as a way to overcome imposter syndrome:
“At times throughout my career, I have definitely felt the strain of Imposter Syndrome.
Questions like “Am I good enough?”, “What if I fail?” and “What if I can’t do it?” have formed part of my thought process in the 10 years that I've been working in IT and SaaS. But rather than let these consume me, I have learned to use them as a positive part of my self-development.
The way I see it, there are always bound to be moments of self-doubt, so understanding your worth, remembering what you’ve achieved and admitting when you need help is the best way to fight those thoughts and feelings!”
3. Compare your LinkedIn profile to someone your age
Sometimes, scoping your competition can feel nerve-wracking.
You’ll feel like even more of an imposter if you find out there are people running credible agencies without the two years of university you have under your belt, right?
Alex Vale of Attio explains how scoping the competition helps to overcome the imposter feeling:
“One practical way I’ve been taught to overcome feelings of imposter syndrome is to read the LinkedIn profiles of people with similar role titles in similar industries as you.
I can be sure that there will be multiple people with worse or fewer relevant achievements than you, doing exactly the same job day in, day out.”
Do this by simply doing a LinkedIn search for your job title (e.g. “agency owner”), or finding the agencies you admire and looking at the brains behind it.
I’ll bet my bottom dollar that you’ve got more experience or qualifications than most.
4. Ask your network for support
Your agency’s team are your support group. Chances are, they know your strengths—and remind you of them when you’re suffering from a bout of imposter syndrome.
Plus, having this community will also help you realise how common the feeling is.
Imposter syndrome affects everyone. It doesn’t limit itself to agency owners; there’s a huge chance that some people on your team (if not all of them!) will be experiencing the feeling, too.
...But what if you don’t have a full-time team?
You can still get this sense of community by joining a handful of Slack groups, such as:
Or, you can take the DIY approach and start building relationships with other small agency owners through social media networks like Twitter. Once you’ve had a few conversations, ask them for a 30-minute virtual coffee date to get to know each other better.
5. Start a “side hustle”
Your agency might be your main business and hobby, but if you’re feeling like you’re not “qualified” to do the work, build up your confidence with a side hustle.
This could be anything from a blog to a YouTube channel that allows you to play with the techniques you’re selling as part of your agency services.
For example: If you’re writing blog posts for your agency’s clients, why not start a blog on your hobbies and play around with SEO techniques? That way, you can experiment without putting your clients’ websites at risk.
I spoke to Ryan Robinson, whose side hustle is so successful that it earns him an extra $50,000 per month:
“When I first started blogging on the side of my day job five years ago, I was just a couple years out of college and didn't feel anywhere near qualified to share my writing with the world.
Looking back at that time, I had major impostor syndrome about the quality of my writing and whether or not I should publish content on my empty blog yet—despite knowing that I wanted to start planting the seeds for eventually having my own online business.
What did I know as a 23 year old kid who'd only worked in marketing for a couple of years, right?
After cold emailing and soliciting writing advice from a few people like Jeff Haden (contributing editor at Inc) who'd been writing for many years, the constant theme that stood out was the importance of just creating a consistent writing practice in order to improve... the end result was scheduling regular blocks of time to sit down throughout my week and write without the expectation of delivering a masterpiece every single day.
My blog became that testing ground where I could build my writing muscle, experiment with different tones and styles, and after a couple of years—start to monetise the small number of readers who showed up through ads, eBooks, online courses and affiliate programs.
Once I got a taste for what's possible with my blog, I took stock of what my most successful content pieces shared in common with each other and doubled down on creating more of what was working best. All along, I kept finessing my voice as a writer and building the confidence I now carry with me today.
6. Say yes to (almost) everything
By this point, you should be feeling slightly better about your achievements. But just like any other type of anxiety, the only way to overcome imposter syndrome is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
Do this by saying yes to almost* anything. (*Obviously things that don’t go against your agency/personal values.)
Kirsty Hulse, the founder of Roar Training, explains:
“All of the research around confidence pretty unanimously points to one reality. If you want to build confidence, you have to put yourself in situations that allow you to hardwire new beliefs.
Saying yes to taking on that project, speaking at that event, starting your own business, whatever it may be, is the primary way in which to really start believing you can do it (within the parameters of our ability and time, of course).
We have tools within us to regulate our emotions and to manage nerves; to breathe deeply and power pose and affirm ourselves, but really we won’t start really believing in our values and success until we have experience that we can draw upon to justify it to ourselves.
It is hard for the brain to deconstruct old habits, but it’s much much easier for us to start new ones. Instead of saying “I must stop feeling afraid...” instead try “I must start to...”
So, what does that look like in practice?
If you’re asked to set up an SEO strategy from scratch, commit to learning about it instead of passing on the opportunity. Book a few hours out of your week and master it.
Say yes to every new opportunity—even if it makes you feel uncomfortable!
If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone.
However, once you’ve implemented the tips our experts have shared—from writing your career history to saying “yes” to everything—there’s no reason why the feeling has to stop you from chasing your dreams of growing a profitable agency
As Gavin Hammar says: “remember that you are good enough, put yourself out there, find your superpower and just do you!”