Fear Factor – A Business Model

I’m naturally a bit of a worrier. I used to think this was a good thing – I mean, surely if I worried about all the potential (negative) outcomes of a situation then that would somehow cushion the blow when things didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, right? Sending a new pitch letter to a client? The fear would kick in with “Oh they’ll probably not even respond”…so if they didn’t, I could tell myself “I knew that was going to happen”.  Submitting a proposal for a new job? My response…same as above. I’m not sure why I found such comfort in being a negative know-it-all. Confirmation of my fear didn’t make me any less disappointed, that’s for sure. Perhaps by feeling like I knew the outcome I thought I could trick fate/the Universe into surprising me with good news. But really?

I was absolving myself of the need to challenge myself.

I was putting a message out there (and into my own head) that it didn’t matter what I did, the hand was already dealt, I just hadn’t seen it yet.

What a load of rubbish.

And yet I believed it. If things went my way, it was good luck, or I felt I’d somehow “tricked” a client into saying yes. If things didn’t – it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t anything I did. It was just bad luck, or not meant to be or…Mercury was in retrograde (<–I think that is actually a thing though.)

Excuses excuses

Operating in this way meant that I could excuse myself from trying to improve, from striving to exceed (my own) expectations, and from challenging myself with new ventures and new opportunities to build the life and business I wanted. But something shifted. I started to put into practice the tips and tricks I employed for clients into my own writing and communications. I started to respect what I did, and value it. And then, and this is the key….

I started scaring myself.

On purpose.

On a daily basis.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? I should probably clarify what I mean here, in case you think I started borrowing my kids’ Halloween costumes (they’re aged 2 and 3, so actually, that would be quite scary.) But no, I started to make a conscious effort to move out of my comfort zone, into a mildly uncomfortable realm, then through to definite fear and finally, to abject terror.

Sounds fun, huh?

Weirdly, it is. I read recently that Eleanor Roosevelt said that you should “do one thing every day that scares you.” (I could’ve sworn that it was Baz Luhrmann who said this in his Wear Sunscreen song, but I guess Eleanor got there first.) But it’s besides the point who said it first, what matters is we’re still saying it and, more importantly, doing it now.

fear factor

I started off pretty small, first of all having the confidence to revise my CV (click here if you’d like some tips) and removing every academic course I’d ever taken since starting formal education (that’s an exaggeration…but not a huge one), then I moved on to another form of my client communications: my email. I started daring to include calls to action in my pitch letters, or, as I like a slightly softer approach, I called them questions to answer (or QTAs as I have ingeniously named them.) What was my logic here? Well, let’s see how you can apply it to your communications….

You do your research and identify a client you want to work with.

Got them? Good.

Next you craft your email to them, carefully outlining the problems you can solve (did I mention the importance of doing your research? I’ll say it again – do your research), and the benefit they’ll get from your service.

Still with me? Super.

You know it’s unlikely you’ll have emailed at the precise second they need a 100 page White Paper translated, so your goal of this initial contact is exactly that – initial contact. You want to establish a relationship with them and strike up a conversation.

What does a conversation imply? Communication back and forth.

And how do you start this off? Ask a question.

Giving your potential client an open-ended, thoughtful question to answer not only shows you are interested in their business, but also demonstrates that you’ve done your research. A question to answer is a call to action in itself, the action you want them to take is answering your question…don’t make it difficult for them to do this by forgetting to ask it (or avoiding asking it.)

These minor changes made a big difference for me. On the surface, they were tiny tweaks to my pitching process. But making these modifications was critical in moving me towards the conversations I wanted to have with my clients – i.e. actual conversations, rather than monologues.

You know what else scared me?

What people thought of me. Would potential clients think I was pushy or “marketing-y” if I sent the type of emails I talked about above? Would clients balk at certain clauses in my contracts? What about family and friends? Would they think I was weird and too-big-for my-boots-y if I told them about some of my ideas and plans? But you know what?

I made the changes anyway. 

The adjustments to my CV and emails were the first in a long line of things I’ve been doing to challenge myself. Tightening up my contracts, “putting myself out there”, hosting events, building an email community, putting on my big girls pants and breaking up with clients, developing a course for translators….and always, always striving to improve my translation and writing skills. Does this long list of fear-inducing challenges mean I was under-performing before? Not living up to my potential? Or perhaps, *whispers* being lazy? I hope not. But that’s the past. I’m worrying (in a positive way) about the future, because, after all….

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” (Abraham Lincoln)


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  • Marco Diaz says:

    Thank you for this great article, Jo. I am exactly at this point of my venture where I need a push out of my comfort zone. I think we all somehow experience this fear that blocks our minds and prevents us from seeing past the aspects we need to improve. This is good inspiration. The adjustments that you mention are becoming items in my to-do list. It’s the only way!

  • Nikolaos says:

    Good article sometimes we need to wake up and make things happen. Everywhere there is fear but is up to us to motivate ourself. Keep going Jo!

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