Work / life balance for freelancers

Overcoming Fear In Your Business

By Brennan Dunn

I want to talk today about fear.

A few weeks ago, I began planning how I’d release my newest product, the Freelancers Guild. And even though I’ve sold millions of dollars of consulting services and hundreds of thousands of products, I was still gripped by the fact that I’d be asking people to pay me money… and this scared me.

You might think that I’d now be over that fear, that selling would come second nature to me. Well, I’m not. Like many of you, I still allow myself to be visited from time to time by doubt.

Yesterday, while flying back to the States, I pulled up my spreadsheet of everyone who has so far applied to the Guild and searched for “fear”. I was pretty surprised to see that 11% of all applications included the word:

“Me. I’m holding myself back. I have a fear of contacting/meeting people I haven’t met before (sometimes even people I have met before).”

“The fear of failing again is a heavy burden. I’m trying to shake it off because I have let too many opportunities pass me by.”

“Also the fear of charging more.”

“I guess the biggest fear for now is how to find clients and sustain my family since I’m the only provider at this point.”

“There is aversion (or fear) of talking to new people.”

“My past career successes have taught me that I am in fact smart and driven enough to build a sustainable business, but it’s tough to overcome the primordial fear.”

“Fear of losing clients and therefore money to support my family.”

“Fear fear and more fear! And I don’t know what to charge!”

The fear of talking with a new client, pricing what you’re worth, selling your services, or even selling something like my newest product are rooted in self-doubt and the inability to see past our own worth.

It’s taken me years to put a value on the work that I do

When I first started freelancing, I feared selling and pricing because I saw the entry cost of getting to where I was as pretty low. I was mostly self-taught: searching around the web, experimenting with Photoshop and code editors, and evenings spent sprawled out, surrounded by thick books, in the “Programming” aisle of Barnes and Noble.

And, truthfully, I didn’t really value all this stuff I spent weeks, months, and years learning. So when talking with someone who needed a website, I had a hard time charging more than what I made working at my mall job back in college.

When I sold my first product, Planscope, the programmer in me thought “this is just code I wrote… for free.. using free, open source software… that writes some stuff to a database.” And when I wrote my first book, “this is just 107 pages of stuff I learned over the last few years.”

“Features”, or why we continue to doubt ourselves

Code that creates records in a database. Words of an ebook. The takeaways from skimming through dozens of technical books at the bookstore.

These are all the features of the value I provide to people. In isolation, they really don’t have much worth. No Planscope customer has ever signed up because I happen to use Backbone.js, nor has any client ever hired me because of my mastery of knowing how to adjust color levels in Photoshop.

So when you see yourself as “someone who has the technical capacity to act on information that’s freely available online”, you just might doubt your ability to charge what the end result is worth to your clients.

And when you don’t value your own abilities, you might start doubting yourself (after all, what’s keeping anyone else from learning all that free stuff from the Internet?), and becoming reluctant to talk to new leads, or thinking that you need to overwork yourself and satisfy every whim of each and every client of yours, as the alternative is your clients move their business to someone else who, like you, has learned stuff online.

Anchor yourself with benefits

When I sold my first book, I got over my fears by knowing that it would help people charge more and, as a result, maybe help them spend more time with their kids, work on their own product business, or whatever else matters to them. By focusing on the benefits, and not the features (the number of words in my ebook), I was able to overcome my own self-doubts.

Likewise, when I grew my company to have a handful of employees, I knew that my clients understood that I was charging a premium on top of what I was paying my employees, so I doubted my abilities to charge anything more than the market rate of a Ruby on Rails developer.

Anytime I’ve ever focused solely on the features of what I provide, I’ve fallen victim to doubting myself. Even two weeks ago, when I opened up registration for the Freelancers Guild, again I doubted that anyone would pay monthly for a forum and an online course. But I cleared up that doubt by focusing the benefits: accountability, community, and a start-to-finish template for running a consulting business.

I have plenty of experience in clearing up self-doubt by focusing on the end benefits, but I’ve been flexing this muscle for years. For some of you, I know you’re not there yet. But you will be, it just takes exercise.

Anytime you begin to doubt your self, your worth, or your ability to survive, ask yourself: “Am I focusing on my features?”

Next week, I’ll talk about some specific ways that I’ve been able to overcome my own self-doubt. And for the 23 of you who mentioned “fear” in your application… fear not! Fear and habits will be the first thing we tackle inside the Guild.