Oh, the joys of self-employment!
There's nothing like having full control over your schedule, making your own decisions and working on projects you enjoy.
But that kind of freedom also has a dark side. When you work alone, there's no one to turn to when negative thoughts start creeping in. No one who can help assure us that we're worth every penny we charge. Or that everything will be OK.
It's up to us to find the motivation. To keep pushing forward.
My friend Coach Jenn Lee understands this issue firsthand. Not only is she self-employed, but she also works with many freelancers and entrepreneurs who struggle with negative self-talk.
For those of you who don't already know Coach Jenn Lee, she is a heavily sought after keynote motivational speaker, trainer and coach for freelancers, solopreneurs and small business owners. She's a regular guest on Fox 35 News in Orlando, FL, and on several Orlando-area radio morning shows.
Jenn is also co-MC for Spark and Hustle — a multi-city business conference for solo professionals and small business owners that is put together by Tory Johnson from Good Morning America.
In this episode, Jenn shares some practical ideas and exercises for taming "Negative Nellie." The text below is a condensed transcript of my conversation with Jenn. If you prefer to listen to the full audio (30 minutes), you can listen to it (or download it) here:
JENN LEE: Oh, my gosh, I’m fabulous. How are you, Ed? I’m so glad to be back talking to the freelancers out there, some of my favorite people.
ED: Today we’re talking about Negative Nellie. I think this is a very timely, very relevant and important topic for freelancers, because as solo professionals we’re out here working on our own. And when you work alone your emotions can run very high. Plus, we have no one to help us get back on track.
JENN LEE: Right, right. And that Negative Nellie, she is not very nice, is she?
ED: She’s not.
JENN LEE: She creeps in to that brain of ours and especially … and I’m glad you brought that up because you’re right; a lot of entrepreneurs and freelancers are isolated. They’re working from home and the occasional times that they get out, maybe go to a networking meeting or hit their local Starbucks, you’re kind of left alone with your thoughts and that is a dangerous place to be—especially if you’re predisposed to being unsure about what to do.
The fact is that there are a lot of unknowns when we own our own businesses and when we work for ourselves. There’s not a structure put into place that tells us what to do. The solution involves much more than just saying, “Oh, get over it” and popping in a motivational CD. That will only take you so far.
So the question is, how do you get rid of that Negative Nellie that’s screaming in your head every single day? And I have somebody that I want to replace the Negative Nellie with, Ed. Do you want to hear what his name is?
ED: What's her name?
JENN LEE: Let’s get rid of her and let’s replace her with “Fill ‘Em Up Phil.”
ED: Okay, I like Phil!
JENN LEE: Phil is a good dude. Phil wants to fill up that empty space. If you think about it, when we’re left with our own thoughts and devices, sometimes not such good things comes in. It’s because our brain is vast and wide and when we don’t have it filled with the right stuff, the Negative Nellie comes in. So Fill ‘Em Up Phil basically says, “I don’t want you to have time to think about these things.”
Let me explain how this works by first identifying what running through people’s minds that turn into Negative Nellies. It's those what-if questions, right? Questions like, "What if I’m not good enough? What if no one will pay me?"
ED: "What if they’ll laugh at my rates?"
JENN LEE: Laugh at my rates, right? Oh, yeah, that’s really happening. "What if I’m bothering them?" I hear that all the time. “I don’t want to bother to them.” You’re not bothering them. We’re going to talk about that.
ED: "Or what if they don’t need what I sell, they don’t need what I offer?"
JENN LEE: Right. "What if I don’t know what to do next?" There’s also that fear of success. I was talking to a client this morning, she was like, “I don’t want to send out that email requesting them to purchase some products because I’m going on vacation. What if they actually order? What do I do then?” So it was like a Negative Nellie jumping in on a positive, on a potential positive outcome.
Essentially we have a lot of these thoughts that go through our mind because we’re left to our own thoughts. So I’m going to show you how Fill ‘Em Up Phil can replace the Negative Nellie thoughts with actual action items because you know I’m all about action, right, Ed?
ED: Absolutely. We all know intellectually that we need to do it, but how do you do it? Because we're conditioned to default to Negative Nellie.
JENN LEE: Oh, good. I’m glad you said that because I would say that we’re really conditioned to take care of ourselves, but mostly in emergency situations. So let’s think of it this way. How many times does this happen? There's a car fire on the side of the road and some good Samaritan stops, jumps out of his car, runs over to the car that’s on fire and pulls out the woman or a child that are in a car.
Then they interview the Good Samaritan calling him a hero and they say, “What made you decide to do that?” And what do they normally say?
ED: “I don’t know. I didn’t even think about it. I just ran for it.”
JENN LEE: Right, “I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t have time to think about it, I just did. The act of or the notion of not doing anything didn’t even cross my mind. Of course, I’m going to do that.”
So I want everyone to kind of start thinking about their business and how they perceive spending their day as an emergency situation. This is an emergency. If I’m not making the money that I want to make, I’ve got to, like, jump in and do what I want.
So the only reason we know what to do in those emergencies is muscle memory. We know how to open a car door, we know how to pull somebody out. We know that if they stay in that car and it’s on fire, that’s danger.
So we want to do the same thing in our own businesses. We know if we don’t make those sales calls, we’re not going to get any clients. We know that if we don’t follow up on a good lead, they’re not going to say yes. Right? We know that if we keep thinking they’re going to laugh at our pricing, we’re just not going to quote the project. And if we don’t quote, we’re not going to make any money. Or if we quote too low, we’re not going to make enough to survive.
So we know these things already, it’s kind of muscle memory. We can write it out. That’s the logic behind it, right? So let’s teach ourselves, let’s create more muscle memory in our businesses. And that’s what Fill ‘Em Up Phil is going to do.
ED: How do you do this? How do you retrain and create new muscle memory?
JENN LEE: So let’s take the five that we just talked about—not good enough, they’re going to laugh at my pricing, they won’t pay, I’m bothering them, what if I fail and I fail big. Let’s take them one by one.
So the “I’m not good enough.” One of the things that everyone can do right now is I want you to write out all your accomplishments. Everything you’ve accomplished in this arena—how many clients have said yes even when you weren’t a freelancer, if you worked for someone before or if you had a big contract with somebody.
I want you to take a few minutes and just write out everything that you’ve done. Go back and look at that great logo that you created or that amazing copy that the customer was thrilled over. The copy that helped their business thrive because their website copy now really sings and has power behind it. Go and list your accomplishments.
I be that by the time you get to number four or five, that Negative Nellie will go away and Fill ‘Em Up Phil will start patting you on the back. You are good enough. You just don’t realize it because you haven’t reminded yourself of it.
ED: Yeah. That is a great … I’ve actually done this and it’s very powerful. I have to do it sometimes because Negative Nellie, she has the key to my office and she gets in, I don’t know how. She’s like Houdini.
JENN LEE: And the thing to remember is that just because it’s easy for you to do your work doesn’t mean that’s easy for everybody else, including your clients. And I think that is one of the biggest things that the freelancer world probably suffers from. It’s a natural gift, but you assume that it's just as easy for everyone else to write copy or to design a website.
ED: I think writers particularly suffer from this, because designers, at least they know that you need expensive software to design websites, brochures and logos. So there's somewhat of a barrier to entry—buying the software and then learning how to use it.
But everyone has Microsoft Word or some sort of word processing program. So writers really struggle with this because they sometimes tell themselves that anyone can type. And the ability to type is not the same as the ability to conceive great copy. Or to write powerful narrative.
JENN LEE: And I think that writers may have inadvertently created a Negative Nellie for themselves when they charge by the word or by the hour. So you’re already told that your value is based on words or time, and really, your value is based on quality and content and ability to engage.
But if you tell yourself that you'd love to get $2 a word but you don't really believe in your heart that you're worth that much, it creates conflict. And that opens the door for Negative Nellie to come into your world.
But if you were to sit down and say, “I know this copy is going to fill a great need because good copy is what drives traffic to this online publication website and we know the more traffic that they receive, the more they can charge for their banner ads or sponsorships or what have you.” Without that good content, they can’t do the rest. So it starts with you and what you tell yourself.
JENN LEE: Same thing with great photography, great graphic design, writing training materials. If you’ve got anybody that does that. I mean, my heavens, that’s so important. You are good enough.
In fact, let’s go back to this "good enough" idea. Sometimes when I’m not feeling really great, I pick up the phone and call a happy customer. And just chat with them for a few minutes and just say, “You know, I’m thinking about changing my services a bit. What was it about what I did, what I provided for you, how did that really help your business?” And they’ll tell me and then that gets me right back on track.
ED: That’s great.
JENN LEE: And that’s a tip, too. Call a happy customer and the second you get off the phone with a happy customer, call that customer that scares you to death, that prospect that you’ve been avoiding because you’ll go from that high and it will help you in making that scary phone call, that next scary phone call or sending that scary email.
ED: Yeah, I love that. All right, so that’s the first one. Let's address the "No one will pay me this much" self-talk.
JENN LEE: Well, we kind of sort of talked about it. The answer is that they WILL pay, and those who don’t want to pay aren’t your customer. Move on. You have an option to maybe go back and kind of try to show them the value. But if someone doesn’t really see the value, don’t try to be a square peg in a round hole. All that does is feed Negative Nellie. That Nellie gets really good and fat off of that person. And so we don’t want to feed her. Fill ‘Em Up Phil basically says, “Oh, no worries, I’m moving on to the next person.”
So the answer is to value your services and tell them why. Sometimes we have to do the work on telling them why our services are exactly what they need and how they’ll benefit from it. And that’s a good exercise to work through: ask yourself how clients benefit from your services. Write that stuff out so that you can read it often, which will help you keep the Negative Nellie out of your head and will also help you in that sales presentation.
ED: There are plenty of clients who are willing to pay a lot more, and they’re willing to pay what you’re worth. It’s just the longer you spend with the bad ones, the less you believe that high-paying clients actually exist. So get out of there.
JENN LEE: I love the next one, and I get this all the time, too: "When should I follow up? I feel like I’m bothering them."
This is so sad. And I don’t know what to tell you, pumpkin ... but they’re not really thinking about you. I mean, they’re not sitting there at their desk going, “I wonder if Jenn’s going to call? I hope she doesn’t call me today. I’m tired of Jenn calling me. I don’t want another email from Jenn.” Nobody is doing that. You’re not bothering them.
You have to get used to the fact that you’re the one who's controlling the process, not them. So have a good follow-up game plan for each and every contact. Not necessarily the same one for everybody. And, Ed, I know you’ve got some great emails that you share with people on how you follow up from conversations. But the bottom line is that you’re not bothering them. Just remember they’re really NOT thinking about you. They’re not all that into you. It’s not like a big part of their conversation. So get that out of your head and do some professional follow-up.
ED: Well, you know what, here’s something else you could try. Stop the guess work. So when you submit the proposal or when you say, “Okay, look, I’m going to send you a quote tomorrow. By the way, when should I follow back up with you on this?” Just ask them because you might be thinking, “Oh, they’re probably going to tell me two weeks” and they might tell you, “You know what, so tomorrow is Friday. Why don’t you check with me first thing Monday?” Wow, if you hadn’t asked, you would have waited two weeks even though they’re ready to make a decision.
ED: So ask them. Put the burden on them. Let them tell you when to follow up. You'll be less nervous when you do make that call.
JENN LEE: All right, so how about the “What if I fail?” question. Here's a great exercise that can help drive out Negative Nellie when this question creeps up. We do this at the Spark and Hustle conferences. I want everyone to get out a piece of paper and answer this question, “My business failed because …” and keep answering that question.
For instance ... my business failed because I didn’t make enough sales calls. My business failed because I didn’t deliver quality service. My business failed because I didn’t manage my expenses, whatever that is. Write them out until you can’t think of any others. That gets it out of your brain because you’re already thinking about it right now and the Negative Nellie, she chomps on that all the time. She loves, loves, loves the “what if I fail” question. Because it’s going around in the back of your mind, anyway.
So once you get it written out, then put together a game plan to kind of close the gap. If one of the items on your list is that you failed because you didn't make enough sales/prospecting calls, ask yourself: What do I need to do to make sure I make those sales calls? You know sales calls are the reason why your business may fail, so what can you do?
Well, that quick answer could be to make three sales calls today. Or maybe to follow up on two pending opportunities. And what happens is that when you ask yourself these questions, you can kind of see the roadmap to failure. So all you need to do at that point is flip the two around and take those potential pitfalls and failures and create a specific action plan based on the simple actions you need to take.
ED: I love that. Then you see if they’re in front of you and okay, well, this is it. I mean, these are all the reasons why it could happen. So why don’t I take that action?
JENN LEE: Right. I mean, take the question, "What if I fail and then they laugh at me?" No one’s going to laugh at you on the phone. I've had people laugh at me because I’m cute and funny. But I've never had a situation where I proposed something to a prospect on the phone and they responded with, “Are you kidding me? Get out of here!” Laughing. No one does that.
ED: It’s interesting the stories we tell ourselves, isn’t it?
JENN LEE: It’s a story with visuals and emotion and music. But, look ... I don’t want it to feel like, “Oh, your thoughts are silly.” That’s not it at all, but I want you to see the silliness in these thoughts and then realize that the reason those thoughts are there is because they’re not filled with the thoughts that are going to get you really where you want to go.
We all have fear. We all shake a little bit when we press enter on the computer after we’re quoting the biggest project of our lives. “Gosh, I sure hope they say yes to this.” And we all do that. But, we want to have less fear, not more, right?
ED: Yes, absolutely. What I’m getting here is that when you fill your mind with these other thoughts, then that naturally drives Negative Nellie out. When you go through these exercises, Negative Nellie can’t get in. Because you haven’t made room for her.
JENN LEE: That's right. Some other things that you can do—and these may sound silly but they really do work—I always like to start my day with reading something positive. I'm not talking about reading and staring at a motivational quote on your wall. I mean reading something like Entrepreneur magazine or CBS MoneyWatch or the Success magazine blog, or watching a TED video.
You know how breakfast is the most important meal of the day? First things you put into your mind will set the tone for your day. So it's not about watching the news first thing in the morning, with all the terrible financial things or anything that scares you. Let’s start with things that get you thinking well.
ED: I love that. I’ve had a morning routine on and off for years but I’ve had a very solid one for about six, seven months now that I just love and my day just is not the same if I skip it.
JENN LEE: Yeah, it puts you in the right frame of mind, which is important when you work in isolation. But watching a TED talk or reading something positive and inspirational—Negative Nellie doesn’t like that. She wants you to be isolated and alone and fearful and we don’t like her. We need to get rid of her and replace her with Fill ‘Em Up Phil.
And here's the thing: The consistent choices that you make on a daily basis is what will give you success over the long term. Consistent smart choices on a daily basis. And I’m hoping that some of these Negative Nellie thoughts, these what-ifs, if you replace them with the stuff that we talked about today, she’ll be out of there like nobody’s business and down the road to your neighbor, where you really want her to be. You don’t want her to be with you.
ED: I love it. And you’re right, Jenn. I’ve found the same thing. This takes practice, right? The more you get into the habit of doing these things, the less she frequents your home office because it's just not even worth it for her to pay you a visit.
JENN LEE: Yeah, absolutely. Good.
ED: All right. Well, this has been wonderful, Jenn. Hey, tell us about your new app!
JENN LEE: Yeah. So I have an app for both iPhone and Android that gives you one place to connect with me via LinkedIn and Facebook and all that good stuff. I’ve got my favorite tunes that I listen to, my "MOGO" tunes. I put my MOGO invasion e-newsletter on there. There’s a lot of other stuff where I’m speaking on.
But the thing that everybody likes about my app is you always want to say yes to "push notifications," because every single day we send out a little notification to you. It’s less than a tweet. Like, today’s was “soak up the summer sun and let your business catch on fire.” So it’s just a short little daily reminder of how to keep yourself going. Everyone loves it, everyone talks about it all the time. Sometimes you get that one little daily MOGO and it’s exactly what you needed to hear that day.
I also have a CD, which would be a great way for you to start your day. It's called "30 Ways in 30 Days." It’s $25 and the way it works is you listen to it every day for three minutes. And each day I’m going to give you a, "Here’s the obstacle that I know you’re running into, here’s how to overcome it and then here’s your challenge for today."
It kind of walks you through a lot of stuff, setting really high standards for yourself and strong boundaries, and getting over the failure and just a whole bunch of stuff. And you can find that on my website as well. So yeah, thanks. I always forget to talk about that. It’s really good,if I do say so myself.
ED: Super! Thanks again for coming on, Jenn. It’s been a while and it was great having you back on. Fantastic topic, I really enjoyed this.
JENN LEE: Thank you, me too. You all go get them. I know you can do it!