You’ve heard it a million times: “Fake it until you make it.”
Every entrepreneurship guru and personal development expert loves repeating this.
And they’re completely wrong.
I agree with the idea of not waiting until everything is perfect to get started. And I agree with pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.
But here’s the problem with “faking it”: it leads to false bravado. And whenever there’s a gap in honesty, it opens the door for mistrust.
In this article, we’re going to go over five alternatives to “fake it til you make it” that will boost your confidence and grow your business.
Why this is such an important conversation
Before we dive in, I want to explain why this is so important to your success as a digital agency owner.
Say a client asks for help implementing a piece of software you’re unfamiliar with. If you fake that you know how it works, the first time you make the tiniest mistake they’re going to wonder, “Wait a minute, why did this happen? Are they lying? Or are they incompetent?”
Does that mean you can only take on projects you’re an expert in? Do you have to become a master in a certain field before you can offer a service?
Of course not.
In fact, being able to figure things out and move up the value chain for your clients is absolutely critical. In our business, we jump out of the plane and build the parachute on the way down all the time. (And we still provide amazing service and we generate huge results.)
But there’s a way that you can be completely transparent and actually create more trust and rapport at the same time.
And the good news is that when you do this, your confidence goes through the roof. Rather than having to hide the truth from your clients, you can turn your perceived weaknesses into strengths. Suddenly you become bulletproof.
So if you ever feel imposter syndrome creeping in…
If you ever worry that you’re out of your league…
If the negative voices in your head tell you your clients would fire you if they only knew…
Start using these five strategies.
1. Defer to your client’s expertise
We’ve all been in this situation before: a client asks for a quote and you have no idea what to charge.
The “fake it until you make it” mindset says, “They want to pay as little as possible and I want to charge as much as possible. I need to portray myself in a way that I can maximize my price.”
But then you start worrying, “What if this number is ridiculously high? Or what if it’s ridiculously low?”
It’s nerve-wracking, and we’ve all been there.
Here’s a different approach that is so crazy that it actually works: say something like, “To be honest, I’m not sure what the price should be, but I know you have a ton of experience in this area. If you were me, what would you charge?”
Crazy, right? But here’s why it works…
You’re disarming the client. Rather than creating an adversarial relationship where one of you is trying to win, you’re removing the power dynamic completely from the equation.
You’re boosting their ego. You’re recognizing their knowledge and experience. And now they get to teach you and demonstrate their wisdom. Everyone likes being acknowledged and having the opportunity to show off their mastery.
Sure, the wrong client could take advantage of this and burn you. But you don’t want to work with those kinds of people anyways.
The right kind of client will feel more connected to you. Because now you’re on the same side of the table, and you’re working together to solve the problem.
This doesn’t just work in negotiations. Whatever your client is good at- managing teams, hiring freelancers, writing proposals, mapping out campaigns, or a million other things- defer to their expertise and watch how your vulnerability actually strengthens your relationship.
2. Ask for feedback
Faking it until you make it as all about keeping up pretenses. You want your clients to think you have everything figured out.
In most cases though, pretenses only matters to you. Your client doesn’t care about your perceived image, they just care about results. They care about the finished product.
A great way to take advantage of this is to ask for feedback. Once a month or once a quarter, send an email asking, “How is this working for you? Is there anything I can change to make this an even more satisfying experience?”
You can even go one step further and create a survey they can fill out.
Rather than faking it, you’re doing the exact opposite: you’re being 100% real. And just imagine the impact that would make on your clients. They’ll think, “Wow, this person is so committed to providing a great service that they’re willing to hear about any shortcomings. And they’re actively trying to improve the process to keep me happy.”
Once again, this goes a long way in building rapport and establishing trust. Especially if you actually act on the feedback and make necessary changes.
The best part is that barely anyone else does this. Most people want to hide their flaws, not actively expose them and address them. By doing this you’ll put yourself miles ahead of the competition.
3. Give your customers what they want
Here’s a scenario I see all the time: a client sends an example of work they like. “I’d love for our website/video/landing page/etc. to look like this.”
And then what does the agency do? They think, “Well I can’t make the final product look exactly like that, because I want to show them how great my skills are. I don’t want them to think I’m just a copycat and not capable of making awesome things myself.”
So they use the example as a starting point and try to add all kinds of bells and whistles. They try to turn it up to 11. But as a result, what they make ends up looking nothing like what the client asked for.
Instead, put your ego aside and give the client what they want. After all it’s not about you, it’s about them. And if they’ve already told you what they’re looking for, the easiest way to make them happy is to give them exactly what they want.
If you want, send over a few mockups. Make one look exactly like the example they shared, and then give a few options that are slight departures. But in most cases, letting them see their own face, logo, or brand in the style of someone they already admire will be incredibly exciting.
Once you’ve built a relationship and the client is happy with your work, then you can start pitching more ideas that show off your creativity and your unique talents. But in most cases when a client tells you what they want… listen!
4. Find the answers from an expert and get them excited about it
Every agency owner will experience this: a client says, “I love what you’ve done for us with ____. I also need help with ____. Can you do that?”
You don’t want to say no. Not only do you want to get the business, but you also don’t want to make them look for another agency. It just makes more work for them.
But what if you don’t have the knowledge or expertise they’re looking for? Do you lie and say yes and hope you can learn on the job?
Here’s a strategic way where you don’t have to: find a course or training that teaches how to do what the client needs. Try to find it offered from a big name or a business in their industry they’re sure to know.
Imagine if you told your client, “Actually, there’s a huge name in your industry that has an amazing course that teaches people how to solve that exact problem. It’s incredibly effective, just look at some of the testimonials. I’ll use their exact strategy and implement everything for you.”
By leveraging someone else’s name power, you essentially get to say, “You’re not buying my expertise, you’re buying the expertise of someone you already look up to. You don’t have time to go through the course yourself and implement, so just give me the green light, and everything gets done.”
Instantly the perceived value of your work shoots through the roof. Plus the client becomes excited. Their belief and confidence in the strategy skyrockets too. And they get to tell people they’re following the teaching of a huge name in their industry.
5. Set expectations, and tip the scales in your favor
Often a client will come to you with a vague goal in mind, but they don’t have the exact gameplan for exactly how they want to achieve it.
Very rarely will they say, “Here are our exact requirements. We want you to follow these steps exactly.”
Usually the conversation is more like, “We’d really love to accomplish ____, is that something you can help with?”
In these scenarios you can steer the conversation towards your expertise.
For example, say the client wants to create social media images. You’re not a great graphic designer, but you enjoy video. You can say, “Yeah we can talk about images, but I actually just saw this study from Hubspot about how video gets astronomically more engagement than images.”
By using case studies, testimonials, celebrity examples, or other forms of social proof, usually you can get your client excited about an idea that is more in line with your skills.
And the most important part is to be very clear about expectations and the definition of success. For example, say you’re designing a new logo for a client and they make a comment about ROI.
I would quickly speak up and say, “I just want to be clear, I’m not promising that your new logo will lead to more sales. What I’m promising is a beautiful new logo that you and your customers will love.”
Getting clear upfront will prevent bigger problems down the road. And this is also why it’s a great idea to use contracts with all of your clients, to clearly explain the scope of the work and the definition of success.
These ideas are all helpful for landing clients and delivering great work when you’re outside your comfort zone. But the goal is to obviously get to a place where you have a proven track record and you can confidently deliver results.
The good news is that when you use these five strategies, you’ll have raving clients that will give you amazing testimonials. Not to mention you’ll have new expertise and skills.
Now you can when the next client asks if you can do something you’ll be able to say, “Yes, I can do that. And I’m great at it!”