Business Essentials

Getting to the bottom of imposter syndrome in entrepreneurs

Getting to the bottom of imposter syndrome in entrepreneurs

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

If you feel like you’re ‘driving with the handbrake on’ as you launch or try to grow your business  dealing with the nagging feeling that you don’t deserve your accomplishments or that one day someone will find you out’ – then there’s a good chance you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome.  


First identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, it can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. And for expert Clare Josa, author of Ditching Imposter Syndrome, it is ‘the single biggest block to success’. According to Josathe four Ps – perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis and people pleasing – are indicators of imposter syndrome. And if that sounds like you then take heart, because you’re not alone. Research shows the number of entrepreneurs struggling daily or regularly in the last year with imposter syndrome was 82 per cent, with high achievers particularly likely to suffer from it. 

The impact it can have on businesses can be significant. Research conducted by NatWest in 2019 as part of the #OwnYourImposter campaign showed that 60 per cent of women who have considered starting a business did not due to lack of confidence, not feeling like ‘that type of person’ or feeling they did not deserve to succeed. In addition, 26 per cent cited it as a reason they failed to change career or role. 


The most successful, scalable businesses are run by people who do not run imposter syndrome, or they've cleared it out because otherwise we subconsciously self-sabotage,’ says Josa. ‘Anytime in life that there's an identity shift, imposter syndrome can come up. Becoming a business owner means that you have to shift how you see yourself, because imposter syndrome is that gap between who you see yourself as being and think you need to be.’  


In addition, the personal nature and passion of many entrepreneurial ventures makes for ripe ground for imposter syndrome to flourish.  


‘Imposter Syndrome is amplified when the business is about you. If you're running a shoe shop franchise, you're not going to have imposter syndrome if someone doesn't buy your shoes – because you’re just selling the stock provided. If your business is providing a service or making something you've poured your heart into though, and somebody rejects your product then you’ll take it personally’.  


Self-sabotage can manifest in actions such as discounting your prices before even being asked, trying to market to everyone because you feel you can't turn anyone away, not putting yourself forward for awards and not charging what your results are worth.  Or it can show itself in the opposite way, by being pushy on LinkedIn - what Josa calls the ‘connection pitch’ – where you immediately try and sell to a stranger because you're ‘desperate and fear based’.  


For many people, fear of failure is the leverage used to get past the debilitation of imposter syndrome, but the result of grinding through ‘despite it’ is a state of chronic stress and low-level fear, which research shows diverts the blood flow from the front of the brain to the survival-focused primal part and can reduce your ability to tap into creativity and innovation. The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way – removing your imposter syndrome is not only possible, it’s not as hard as it might seem. Here Clare outlines five tips to beat imposter syndrome and step fully into your own power.  


What you are getting out of your behaviour? 

‘The question I always ask myself and my clients is, ‘what is this behaviour doing for me – what do I get to avoid?’’ says Josa. ‘If it’s ‘comparison-itis’ – comparing yourself unfavourably with people or businesses – does it mean you don't have to go and do that thing yourself? Does procrastination mean that you don't actually have to stand up and be seen?’ says Clare. Once you understand the need that these surface-level behaviours are meeting you can either clear the need for that fear or find a healthier way to meet it.’ Clare’s emergency ABC technique is a powerful way to press pause on imposter feelings when you recognise them. 


Check your feelings around visibility 

Imposter syndrome is often about visibility – people are scared of being judged for sticking their head above the parapet, of losing friends if they’re successful and of criticism if they get edgy, write something interesting and turn into a thought leader. So, they tone down their message,’ notes Clare. Trying to avoid being seen while at the same time needing to be seen in order to sell is an exhausting tension. Ask yourself again, ‘What do I get to avoid by doing this?’ because that will tell you what the real fear is. 


Flip your focus 

It’s not all about you – imposter syndrome can leave you with a lack of perspective, but remember the customer is part of your dynamic. Clare explains: ‘You need to sell because you've got something that people will either enjoy or benefit from, and hiding it from them is actually doing them a disservice. Make it about your customer and not about you, and that will help you to get yourself out of the way. You might be saying Who am I to offer this service at that price?’but really it’s, ‘Who am I to deny my dream customer the opportunity of being helped by me?’ 


Don’t make everything personal 

‘Imposter syndrome makes every action an emotional decision rather than a business decision,’ says Clare. ‘The key here is around how men and women handle imposter syndrome differently: a man will take a deep breath, push it down, push on through – which comes with its own consequences. A woman is much more likely to get lost in 3am self-talk, and then take small actions.’ Taking action on ideas to make something happen should be a strategic business decision – check that you are not putting emotion where it doesn’t belong and identifying too much on a personal level.  


Ditch the guilt on outsourcing 

‘Entrepreneurs are people who can scale up their business to be bigger than they are. Not doing this is partly an issue of worth for many women, but it can also be about guilt around asking for help,’ says Clare. Research has shown that men are more likely to hire an assistant early on in their business and commission out their website building than a woman who is more likely to try and do it all themselves – and that slows down growth. If you're running imposter syndrome, you might think ‘Who am I to have an assistant?’ Being in a position of saying, I want to employ somebody to help me is a really big deal for a woman.’  


SPECIAL DOWNLOAD - everywoman selfmade members can download a free version of Clare’s ‘emergency fix’ technique at 


Listen to the everywoman podcast episode Ditching Imposter Syndrome with Clare Josa HERE 


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