It's how I felt. It's how many of my colleagues felt and still feel.
I can remember when I decided I was going to be an independent educational consultant. I began making lists of what I needed. I knew, I needed business cards, a website, a price and a client.
I felt satisfied with how much I knew about the higher education underbelly (enrollment management), that I could open up shop. I’ve always been good at offering vision and scaffolded guidance but I eternally stink at business plans. I can haggle a price at a bazaar but beyond that I like everything straight forward. I hate sales, marketing, and the acts thereof. I hate business. Instead, I like purpose!
These are not the traits of a successful sole proprietor. I didn’t have the natural instinct or the head for business which meant I began to see my business as a side gig. I made my vision smaller. I would charge less, I would take fewer clients, I wouldn’t worry about business stuff because my practice was small and unencumbered. This is what I thought and for a brief moment it all made sense. Until it didn’t.
I’m good at what I do, my client list grew, I didn’t say no and I took on more clients. I began making adjustments per client need, spending far too much time helping. I would not track my time because I couldn’t differentiate between chargeable time and my own professional development time. Instead of charging people for the work I did, I posted my price through an emotional value system. One year my tax preparer said to me (and this is what she actually said) “No more! This is ridiculous. You are actually losing money and working full time!” I said “But I don’t want this to stressful and I’m just learning…” She snapped back “Do you want to eat? Do you want your family to eat?! Make some money!”
Oh Right! I completely forgot, this is a business! Dah! It was time to stop kidding myself. I knew I wanted to take on the clients, I liked the work. It was time to get serious. I needed to own up to being a business owner and gather the skills necessary to do the job. With all the fire of enlightenment I gritted my teeth and got to work! Ha! No I did not. Instead I let this go on, unchecked.
My entire vision was undermined by me! In the beginning of my practice I gave away my time knowingly. I was so shy to ask for payment that one family forced their payment into my hands before I brought up the topic. Another family gave me a pep talk one night about how much I SHOULD charge. What a mess. Times have changed but getting there was Not pretty.
I cleaned up my act. For each of my services, I have common steps I take each client through my delivery of services. Because my delivery of services are mapped, I am able to formalize those steps and quantify for my clients where they are within my services. When we reach the last step, we both know services have concluded. Having these steps standardized allows me to free up my brain power for each student. The quantifiable services (essays, LOR, resume) becomes routine and takes little of my attention away from the part I enjoy most, counseling. Charting my client’s journey through my services allowed me the opportunity to see my practice from a bird’s-eye view. From there I could identify the quantifiable steps and make those routine. Which provided more time and space for me to tailor my counseling per student.
Still, I felt unsteady out there, selling my product. It felt weird to provide help and ask for payment. When a family wanted a discount or forgot to pay me, I floundered for how to respond. I took advice from colleagues who spelled it out straight in big bold letters - GET PAID. Still, I undermined myself. Then I remembered a tactic I have used in many other circumstances in my life. Fake it till you make it!
When I first started in student affairs I was a student myself. There was an emergency on campus that ended with a room full of parents and the housing director introducing me to “explain” the happening. No one would say I am shy but I was absolutely out of my element. In that moment, I pretended I was sure of myself. I faked it. Twenty Five years later, I barely think about it when I am in front of people. I figured it was this tactic I would need in this new business owner persona I wanted to master.
If you are feeling like an imposter, I encourage you wholeheartedly to embrace being an imposter. When I felt like an imposter, I kicked myself into learning how to make my business workable and profitable. That step organized how my business runs. However, I still felt sheepish about owning up to my own business. The business owner persona who I wanted to embody was much more sure of herself than I was, so I pretended to be her. Today, I am still an imposter. I continuously seek out projects I want to be part of while simultaneously wondering if I am ready. My experience has taught me that ready is not reality. The reality is we have to believe we are who we want to be, FIRST and the rest will follow. If you feel like an imposter, then I am proud to stand next to you. Let’s fake it and make it together!
Written by: Margaret Rothe: Visionary Extraordinaire, Entrepreneur, and Founder of CounselMore 29 years of higher education experience, a Master of Higher Education Student Affairs, and owner of HigherGrounding, a college consulting firm; Margaret’s latest endeavor-CounselMore, a college search and student management tool.