Afraid you’ll be exposed as a fake?

Afraid you'll be exposed as a fake in your consulting business?

In this post, I want to talk about a fear that many of you told me about in last week’s survey: the fear that you’ll be exposed as a fake in your consulting business. Nearly half of you listed this as a fear you have.

Before I dig into why we’re afraid to be exposed as a fake (and ways to deal with that fear), I want to share the results of last week’s survey, which, incidentally, created quite a big response. Apparently it touched a nerve, which is OK, because now I can address your fears and challenges.


2014-01-Survey - consulting or day job

About half of you currently have a day job but want to consult (either full-time or part-time), while the other half is already consulting.


2014-01-Survey - How anxious are you about consulting?

This is interesting. Virtually everyone is anxious about being a consultant. Why would you do something that makes you uncomfortable? Well, lots of reasons, actually: to earn more money, have more flexibility, have more freedom, get out from under a job you hate, etc. But the level of anxiety here is interesting, and I’m going to dig into in this and future articles.


2014-01-Survey - Experience in your consulting niche

Even more interesting. More than half of you have more than 5 years experience in your niche market, and more than 75% have at least a year of experience.

Why is that interesting? Because you’re still anxious about consulting, even though you have years of experience in your field.

And finally:

2014-01-Survey - How long have you been consulting?

What we see here is that more than half of you have been consulting a short time, under a year. And nearly 80% of you have been consulting a relatively short time, under 3 years.

Why are you worried about looking like a fake?

We’ve already seen that most of you have extensive experience in your field, and yet still have a lot of fear about consulting. Yes, it’s ironic, but it turns out that it’s perfectly normal.

Here’s what some of you said. Notice the variations on the “faker” theme, since it comes in many disguises.

I also worry about looking like a “faker” or not knowledgeable enough.



Getting in over my head – selling a client on services/results that I am not able to deliver.



I am worried that someone will ask me a question I don’t know the answer to.



Do I have enough experience? Would I consider myself a subject matter expert? [Afraid] that I might be assigned complex project for which I do not have the experience or knowledge to manage.



If I don’t meet the expectation I might get a “bad” reputation which might severely harm my business/earning potential.


Notice what Lori said just above, since other people voiced it too. The fear is that by not meeting expectations, you’ll damage your reputation, and therefore hurt your business and livelihood. Pretty scary stuff. I know I certainly felt it starting out too.

Your thoughts sabotage you (and how to reprogram them)

As Henry Ford famously said: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

Good for Henry Ford, but what about you? How can you get to a place where you believe you can do something like consulting?

For starters:

  • Realize that you’re not perfect. We all make mistakes. Yes, you’re going to make mistakes, and it’s going to be OK.
  • Remember: clients don’t expect everything to go perfectly–they know that’s not how the world works.
  • The important thing is how you react after you’ve made a mistake. What do you do to address it? Clients want to know that you’re responsive and will make their biggest problems go away. So long as you’re doing that, you’ll be fine, even with the bumps along the way.
  • It’s natural to feel scared when you attempt something new and unfamiliar. Even if you’re doing the exact same work tasks, doing those tasks as a consultant instead of as an employee feels VERY different.

Key takeaways

First, remember that you aren’t alone in feeling scared that you’ll be exposed as a fake. Virtually every self-employed person, consultant, and freelancer has wrestled with that fear.

But ask how realistic is it that someone’s going to call you out as a fake. In all you years of working, have you ever seen it happen? I know I haven’t, and I’ve been in some pretty crazy meetings.

In fact, when I worked at a software company, on a conference call, I once heard a client–the managing partner of a large law firm–rage to the sales team, “I feel like I was promised a fine French pastry, and instead, you gave me a Twinkie!”.


But what happened? Despite all that anger, history of broken promises by the software company, etc., that law firm continued to be a client–and yes, things eventually improved for the firm.

The lesson? It’s possible to recover from missteps, even big screw-ups. People and organizations do it every day, and so will you.

Action steps

  • Realize that feelings are caused by thoughts. What thoughts are behind your fear?
  • Acknowledge the feeling. Sit for just a moment, even 10 seconds, with it. Realize that it passes (unless you stack on additional reinforcing thoughts to it).
  • Ask: What will happen if you give in to the thought/fear?
  • Imagine someone a lot like you, but who doesn’t have that fear and the thought that causes the fear. How is their life different than yours?
  • Realize: What got you here won’t get you there. Do something different to get a different result.
  • It’s not the smartest who succeed–it’s the ones who work the hardest, and who focus on the best strategies–strategies that have been proven to produce results.

What’s next

I want to thank all of you who took a few minutes to complete last week’s survey. It was big outpouring, and I feel privileged that you let me in on the things going on for you.

I’m going to keep focused on helping you get clients over the coming weeks.

For now, ask me your biggest question about how to get clients. You can include your question in the comments below or email me.

I read every email & comment, and will respond with my answers next week.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Roger - January 23, 2014 Reply

Greg, thank you for this article – already just knowing that some (many) face the same fears that I do helps. The most comforting thought there was the that things are rarely “perfect” – you’re going to make mistakes, but everything will be OK.

    Greg Miliates - January 23, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for your comment, Roger! Yes, absolutely, rest assured that MANY other people are scared of being exposed as a fraud. It’s completely normal, but people rarely talk about it.

    And yes, we will make mistakes, but we’ll be OK so long as we strive to make things better.

Tony R - January 24, 2014 Reply

Great post! I will visit it often as I try to get my consultant business up and operational.
In regards of how to get clients, my question is what resources are there to get my name and services out there? I can build web sites, get the business cards, join the chamber and things like that but I find there is a huge hurdle in just getting noticed initially.

Latrea - January 24, 2014 Reply

My question is very basic…….how do you get clients especially if you are new to the field but not new to the services you are providing. Should I be reaching out to the specific client base I want to target???? I don’t feel all that comfortable just calling people

EcoTeagen - January 24, 2014 Reply

How do you stage or prepare your “pitches” to potential clients? Is “pitching” even the correct term and are their strategies to maximize the effectiveness of a pitch to a potential client? Cold-calling and warm-calling I’m okay with, it’s the face-to-face that I often feel under-prepared for. And thank you for your thoughts on how to overcome the feeling of being a faker. I am going to actively work towards recognizing the fear and moving through it positively.

Roger Williams - January 24, 2014 Reply

Great stuff, Greg. I am new to consulting. Although I have experience in the area, I never bothered to collect referrals. Now, I am trying to qualify cold leads, and afraid that I have no portfolio to prove my worth. I am trying to do work for free to get referrals, but even that is hard to get without a portfolio.

Barbara R - January 29, 2014 Reply

My consultative business is promoted primarily through web (I have a website and write a monthly blog; the services are promoted on both). What additional complimentary online promotional channels might I use to attract new clients?

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