Design Domination Podcast Episode #75: Squash Self-Doubt and Own Your Expertise

So many designers are afraid to call themselves an expert. They lack confidence, and that creates a snowball effect in their business: not charging enough, losing out on work and more. Find out how to squash self-doubt and own your expertise.

Show Notes

I see so many designers who are afraid to call themselves an expert—or step up and act like one—in whatever work it is they are doing. If you’re one of them, this is for you.

You lack confidence. Lack of confidence creates a snowball effect in your business.

You don’t realize how much you know. You don’t own what you do know. Even though you know you can do the work, you don’t necessarily come across confidently. If you lose out, you take a hit to your self-esteem, and that just sets you back mentally, which doesn’t help you get the next project.

You end up agreeing to work with bad clients, who may bully you or question everything you do. This only further diminishes your self-esteem.

You’re afraid to raise your rates because you’re unsure if your skills are good enough to justify it, or if clients will pay those higher rates and because you think there are thousands of other people more qualified than you or who will quote less for the work. After all, clients could go to Fiverr, right?

But if you charge too little, that is a red flag to clients who expect to pay more. It will make them question the quality of the work if your pricing isn’t in alignment with their expectations.

You fear you can’t prove that your work gets results for your clients. But your client still plays a part in running their business. The success of their business—the results they get—those are not all on you.

Maybe you don’t want to charge more because you can get it done so quickly, or you love what you’re doing.

“If I can design that logo in an hour, why should I charge $5,000 or $10,000?,” I see some designers ask.

David C. Baker recently tweeted:

“There’s this weird thing that happens in your brain. You hesitate to charge as much for things that require your deepest expertise…because they are easy (for you)…and you raise value objections that don’t even occur to your client. You’re your own enemy, my friend.”

This is so true. If you become more of an expert in something, you will be better and faster at it. So why the heck would you charge less?

Will you call yourself an expert only after you take one more course or get whatever certification?

What will it take for you to call yourself an expert? Of course, what that really could be is you seeking external validation because the confidence isn’t coming from within. I get it.

It pains me to see designers in these scenarios because I lived these scenarios for so many years.

It often seems like everyone else is winning bigger, better work. Work that you want. Work that you are also qualified for.

After all, there are more-qualified designers out there? Not necessarily even better designers, but designers with not-so-great design skills making good money.

Listen. A lot of these are business issues that are actually symptoms of a bigger problem—a confidence problem, a mindset issue. Once you can get over the mindset shifts that need to happen, your business will transform.

My Journey to Owning My Expertise

I know this from experience. I had self-limiting beliefs I didn’t even know I had. Several years ago, I ended up joining a coaching call that was part of a paid online community I was a member of. A leadership coach was leading the call.

I happened to be the only person on the call at that moment. Let me tell you: this was a time when I didn’t show my face or get on and talk on these kinds of calls. I kept the built-in camera on my computer covered. I was always a bystander.

Anyway, since I was the only one who was on the call at that time, she just so happened to ask me a few questions about myself and what I did. When I told her I was a graphic designer, she was like, “Tell me what you do.”

So I told her about what I do and how long I’d been doing it. Then she asked me why I called myself “just a graphic designer.”

I said I’d never thought about it. She restated how many years (decades) I’d been doing this. Why would I not call myself a creative director or something that reflected my expertise more accurately? It had never occurred to me actually. It seemed to describe what I had been doing, after all.

She asked me where these self-limiting beliefs could be from.

Then I started thinking about how my accomplishments when I was in school weren’t really celebrated. When I got B’s, it was, “Why didn’t you get A’s”? I never felt like I was doing enough, accomplished enough.

I was bullied in grade school, a private school. I didn’t want to participate and answer questions in class unless forced to when called upon, for fear of being criticized. Why would I put myself out there? Why would I want to show that I knew the answer to the teacher’s question, when I’d be teased about it later?

Grade school was a very toxic environment for me. I felt sick having to go there every day. Some days, I actually did get sick before leaving for school, from my nerves. I couldn’t eat before school because my stomach was always bothering me from the stress.

So, anyway, with her help on that call, I was able to identify where these self-limiting beliefs had come from. You can hear more about that in the podcast episode with her on imposter syndrome.

At some point, a few months later, I joined a different online community at the suggestion of someone I knew from the other community. It was one that I had access to as part of a course to help you have a better business. It too was life changing.

At first, in the community, I was afraid to step up and participate. I mean, what if I said something that didn’t align with what was taught in the course? I hadn’t finished it yet, so I didn’t want to give out bad advice.

Even though I had almost 20 years of experience at that time, I still felt like my expertise wasn’t enough. And I knew of people with fewer years of experience who seemed to be more successful. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. It just seemed to be that way.

They were clear on what they did for their clients. They seemed to be enjoying their work. They were charging more than I was at the time.

Meanwhile, I was drowning in a business that was controlling me. I wasn’t getting jobs from prospects that I was well qualified for. Clients were paying late. I hadn’t raised my rates with some clients in like five years. Yes, five years. I was miserable.

I didn’t trust my decisions, even though they were good ones. I mean, after all, I had been making a good living since going out on my own in 2003.

I was a people pleaser. I was subconsciously seeking approval, like I had in my school days. But now it was with clients instead of fellow students.

The more I started realizing this, the more I was able to identify certain behaviors and change them.

I started waking up more and more and seeing where I could take action to fix these issues because, darn it, I was supposed to be in charge of my business, not anyone else in charge of my business.

Why the heck am I putting up with this client? Or this one? And why am I continuing to take on this particular type of work that I hate?

I fired bully clients. I let go of ones who weren’t a good fit.

Then I accidentally ended up working with a coach who really shook things up. And I mean that. It was like they gave me a virtually shaking.

I say “accidentally” because I wasn’t even looking for more coaching. I met one of them through another online community, where I happened to post some business questions. She saw my questions, sent me some other questions and discovered that what I wanted was much more deeply rooted than it had appeared to me.

After working together, my business—and I—changed so much. I was more confident in talking with clients. I was charging what I should have been all along. I honed in on services I wanted to provide.

I rid the business of the bad clients and only worked with people I wanted to work with.

It was a complete transformation all around. In other words, my business issues were not all business issues.

Then, a couple years ago, I was talking with someone who owns an outsourcing company to help me hire someone. What I thought would be a conversation about getting clarity on what I was looking for in hiring someone ended up being a “what do you really want to be doing/what do you want out of life” conversation.

My mind was blown. I told him how, for years, I had had this idea to help designers. I really wanted to help them build their confidence, teach what I knew, share my struggles and what I’d learned, and so forth. I just didn’t know how to go about it.

He told me to start a podcast to reach this new audience—you. I told him that podcasting was up there with planes and public speaking—the 3 Ps I called them—things that made me cringe. They were on my never-do list.

But, seriously, why would I put myself out there? It had never felt good to do that in the past.

But the fear of not trying this—not doing something I really wanted to do—was bigger than my fear of doing it.

So I started the podcast. I was terrified. I was expecting that people would say I was dumb to have put up with some of the clients that I had put up with, or that I wasn’t giving good advice or whatever.

In fact, the opposite happened. I got amazing feedback from the very beginning. People tell me all the time how much what I’ve shared has helped them, how they relate to my stories, how they’re charging more as a result, how they’re not taking on potentially bad clients who aren’t a good fit. Lots of wonderful feedback that I never could have imagined. I wasn’t used to that.

Squash Self-Doubt

I share this with you to show you that mindset issues affect your business. They are what will hold your business back. They will keep you from being confident. They will keep you from being more assertive and setting boundaries with clients. They will prevent you from charging more.

They will keep you stuck. They may even keep you in fear or doubt.

You only have to know more than the client to be the expert.

We’re all always learning. There’s always going to be someone ahead of us or behind us in terms of how much we know on any give subject. There might be different ways of doing things and not necessarily one set path.

Even the big-name experts who seem to have it all figured out have had coaching. There are experts at different levels. You don’t need to be number 1 in everything at any given time. You don’t need to know everything. No one does.

Stop comparing yourself to others and what you think you know about their situation, and own yours. Everyone’s always at a different place in their career or mindset or level of skill. Own where you are now, at this moment, with the knowledge you have.

Ways to Show You’re an Expert

Demonstrating your expertise doesn’t mean talking about what you do in a boastful or salesy way. It’s simply sharing what you know. You can do this in so many ways.

  • Speak at a MeetUp. I know public speaking can be daunting, but you don’t have to do it in a large group, and you can do it with only colleagues you know, if you want.
  • Get involved in discussions in Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups or industry-related online forums. Answer questions people have. There are people out there who need your expertise.
  • Write blog posts.
  • Repurpose those articles on LinkedIn and Medium.
  • Share them on social media.
  • Hold a webinar on a particular topic that would be of interest to your potential and existing clients. Have a colleague who offers a complementary service join you, if you like.
  • Create case studies for your work on you website. Remember: no one wants a design just to have something that looks nice. They want what it will do for them. You have to show that you understand that aspect of the business side of design.
  • Anticipate clients’ needs instead of waiting for them to come to you and ask for something. Be proactive and reach out to clients rather than waiting for them to bestow work upon you, which can put you in more of the order taker position.
  • Focus on talking about the type of work you do well and want to get more of, instead of on everything that you’re capable of doing. It won’t make you memorable when the time comes that someone has a need.
  • Don’t talk about work you don’t want to get. Because you’ll end up getting that work, and then you won’t have any passion for it and may not care as much about doing an excellent job. That will hurt your confidence and won’t be good for the client either.

When you do these things, it does many things:

  • You come across as caring and helpful, not as trying to sell anyone on anything, which is a huge turnoff and puts people on the defensive.
  • You show some of your expertise that others can learn from.
  • You educate potential clients about why they need your help. They may not otherwise know they have a problem that needs to be fixed.
  • You stay top of mind when you do these regularly.
  • You see how much others (which could be other designers or clients) learn from you based on the feedback on your posts and comments.
  • When your posts get some likes and comments, they gain traction. They get seen by more people, which increases your reach.


When you start sharing your expertise, it will help you own your expertise. You will realize how much you actually know that others don’t. You will become more confident as a result.

When you’re more confident, it helps you attract better clients, ones who respect your expertise. You’ll realize your value is greater than what you thought and find clients who are willing to pay for that. You’ll be more selective with the clients you work with, instead of working with anyone who comes along. So you’ll work with those who are a better fit and respect you and your boundaries.

You may even start to realize other positive things about yourself in the process.

Resources to Help

If you need help with your confidence or another freelancing issue, you can inquire about mentoring sessions with me.

If you are looking to enhance your expertise, check out my Brand Identity Builder, which gives you a brand identity process, from sales to showcasing the final work, that will allow you to charge more and be seen as a strategic expert. You’ll have more confidence having a process and knowing which questions to ask and what to do when, at every step of the process.

Also check out my Accessible Branding and Design course. This will really enhance your expertise and help you stand out from other designers because most designers are not talking about accessibility.

Was this helpful to you? I really hope it was. I’d love to hear from you, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you shared it with others.

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