By Philiy Page
When you are just starting out and trying to set up a creative business on your own, the whole thing can seem…well, daunting! You have to be your own PR person, secretary, web designer, photographer and somewhere in that mix you need to answer emails, design products or find time to answer the phone.
I have worked as a freelancer all my working life, (21 years and counting.) I have set up business, folded some of them and created new ones. Every time I set out to develop a new business, I notice that it isn’t cash flow forecasting, who can design my website, or where I need to network, that are the most important things. I believe that the most important thing that you need to take care of before you start your business is confidence.
We have all compare someone’s middle to our beginning when we are starting out. We spend our time looking at beautiful blogs, analysing what freebies they are giving away, asking ourselves if we can we ever be as brilliant as them. The answer is yes, but you need to take a step back and work on yourself for a moment.
I run a company called Creative Women International, which offers support, networking and business training to women working in the creative industries. I train groups internationally and I am constantly surprised at how little the women believe in their capabilities compared to the men in the room.
We often feel like we can’t possibly know enough about a subject until we have a piece of paper from a University, proving we are an expert. We need to believe in the knowledge and experience that we already have, and learn the rest as we go along. There will always be someone who knows more about a subject than we do, but there will also be people who don’t know anything, and they will look to you to offer the knowledge you have gained from your life experience. As scary as it is, sometimes you need to start before you are completely ready!
School teaches women to be good, quiet and dedicated hard workers. We pass more school exams with higher grades than men, and more women in the UK enter higher education than men, with some UK Universities in 2013 taking double the number of female applicants; but we still don’t believe we are good enough.
I was plagued by shyness as a teenager. I was that girl who was always a foot higher than the rest of the class. I would dip my shoulders over and hang my head until my only view was counting the gaps between the paving slabs. I now deliver courses to rooms full of people, take part in panel discussions, and was even part of a BBC programme where they sent me to a deserted wind swept island and was filmed every day for 13 months. These days Iwork as a production manager running film sets- (yes, that is as scary as it sounds but also so much fun)! Despite all of this, I would still describe myself as shy. Shyness and confidence I believe can go hand in hand. Some of the tricks I have developed include ways of changing the language that I use during negotiations and in emails. It helps me to ‘appear’ more confident, and during the process I actually feel more confident!
Confidence isn’t going to magically make everything possible, but it might give you more opportunities and help you to cope with difficult situations.
Here are some of the things I recommend trying:
Channel your own Wonder Woman
Sometimes it is hard to feel confident when you know the situation that you are about to go into is tough, unfriendly or just down right scary. Often thinking about the situation is worse than the actual event. There is a wonderful social psychologist called Amy Cuddy who talks about the psychology and science of body language. (I recommend watching at her Ted talk called ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are’) It has been proven that our body language really does change the way that we feel about ourselves, both mentally and chemically.
A great trick to try when you are not feeling confident, about to go onto to stage to give a talk, or pitch about your business, is to take yourself off to somewhere quiet and private for only 2 minutes. The toilets or an empty elevator work well. Imagine yourself as Wonder Woman (yes really!), put your hands on your hips and stand confidently with your shoulders back, imagine that great red and blue outfit, and all the sparkles that you are giving off. Think confident thoughts whist standing in this pose. Just 2 minutes actively changes the chemistry in your body and makes you feel less stressed and more confident. I use it all the time, and tell my students to do the same. It might be the difference between you getting that dream job or not!
Say hello to your fear
Knowing what your biggest fear is can actually make it smaller. As children if we didn’t know who the monster was that lived under our bed, how could we know if he was friendly or going to eat us in our sleep? It is the same principle that I advise for getting hold of your fear. Fear is a totally natural response to having to go to a big event, meeting new people or preparing for a talk. We shouldn’t be embarrassed that we are frightened. I see it as a positive thing; it means that we are about to do something big or exciting.
Getting to know your fear will help you to take control of it. Make a list of all of the things that you are frightened of. List the reasons why you are frightened, and what the worst-case scenario would be. Take each worst-case example and research the likely hood of that happening. List what it would mean to you if that happened and how you would deal with it. Really visualise it in your mind. Quite often when we have visualised it or proven that the chance of it actually happening is very small, we relax in the knowledge that we have already got a back up plan if the worst thing happened, because we have already thought it through.
Preparation is key
Remember those days at school when we had to prepare for a test or project? I want you to channel that inner school girl in the days leading up to a big networking event. I still get nervous about attending these events, but doing your home work can really help with your nerves.
If you are frightened of not knowing what to say when you meet someone new, and your worst fear is that you are going to stumble over your words or appear inexperienced, researching who is going to be there and who you want to talk to will really help. There is usually a participant list that the organiser can give you. If that isn’t possible you can ask for some recommendations on who would be interested in the work that you do. Make a ‘hit-list’ of people that you really want to talk to when you get there. You can ask the organisers when you arrive to introduce you to some people. A simple line like “We haven’t met yet, but I have been reading about your amazing X” will get the conversation flowing. And if going it alone is just too scary, partner up with someone and make it a game. Decide from the crowd who you are both going to meet next and head over to them in your pair. I have had some fun evenings with a colleague doing it this way, and we met some people we wouldn’t have had the chance to speak to otherwise.
Watch your language
Now I have helped you with the meet and greet experiences, I want you to focus on your emails. Have another look at emails you have sent when trying to negotiate fees or make a new client. Do the words, hopefully, would it possible, just, but or sorry appear anywhere? I want you to have another look at that email, and what would happen if you struck those words out?
We want to think of ourselves as equals with every email we write. I am not asking you to come across as arrogate, I am asking you to come across as confident. Words like hopefully or sorry put us in a lower position to the person that we are talking or negotiating with. When we use words such as just, we are telling the other person that we are unsure about something or that we don’t value our own question- ‘I just need to ask you ….”
The word but is also a word that you should try to avoid in your emails. It is a powerful and negative word that immediately makes the reader feel uncomfortable. Have a play around with other ways of getting your question or message across without using it. You will end up with a more open dialogue, which makes it easier to negotiate with.
My final tip is about the word sorry. You don’t need to apologise all the time (unless you have done something really bad, and if that is the case don’t write an email, pick up the phone!). I’m from the UK and the word sorry is over used every day. I can walk out of my door and someone might step on my foot and they would apologise to me! This is what a sorry in an email is. You haven’t done anything wrong. If it took you 3 days to get back to them, then that is what it took. Don’t say sorry, instead explain why it look three days to get back to them, if you think that is relevant. Sorry is a word that makes you appear less confident. You are a worthwhile human being, and I want you to write and think that way too.
We are all humans
My final thought will help you when you feel like you shouldn’t be somewhere. We all know that feeling when we think someone will tap us on the shoulder and ask us to leave. Even top-level entrepreneurs feel this way. It is more common than you think, and is called ‘imposter syndrome’.
The reason this happens is that as you create an amazing career for yourself, you will start to realise that no one actually knows anything and they are all making it up as they go along! We all had to start somewhere. I want you to remember that, even your boss was once a little girl or boy. They had to start at the beginning and figure things out. So when you are worried that you shouldn’t be there, take a moment to look around the room at the other people. Look at all of their faces and picture them as a small child. This is where they started out as well. We are all human beings, and we don’t all know the answers. The best thing we can do is to help each other on the way and share our knowledge with each other.
Philiy Page has been a freelancer for over 21 years, with her first professional photograph published in the press when she was only 19. She has worked as an award winning photojournalist for The Guardian and Marie Claire (to name a few), a writer and publishing assistant, a documentary assistant producer for the BBC, a camera woman, a University lecturer in social media marketing and entrepreneurial skills for BA and MA students, and more!