How small business owners can help banish imposter syndrome

Editorial Team

8 min read
Woman rubbing eyes under glasses

As a small business owner, you know your business cold–whether it’s making cupcakes or cutting hair. But the job of a business owner also calls for many other skills. Sometimes, you can find yourself wondering if you bit off more than you can chew by opening your own business. Or, you may fear that others will think you’re an imposter–that you don’t know everything you should about running a business.

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If so, you’re not alone. One study found that about 84 percent of entrepreneurs and small business owners experience imposter syndrome (IP) at some point in their careers. What’s more, it may be that simply being a self-aware and high-achieving person causes you to doubt your own abilities. You’re in good company. Case in point, Albert Einstein, Serena Williams, Jennifer Lopez, Natalie Portman, and Lupita Nyong’o are among those who’ve shared feelings of self-doubt.

The other piece of good news is that IP is not so much a diagnosis as a state of mind. That means you can overcome it. 

The scoop on imposter syndrome

Understanding IP is the first step to overcoming it. And, since there’s power in naming a tendency or problem in order to face it and banish it, take a look at 5 types of IP as described by Valerie Young, imposter syndrome expert

The Perfectionist

Perfectionists tend to set impossibly high standards and goals for themselves and then criticize themselves harshly for the slightest mistake or slip up. The problem is twofold. First, they set themselves up for failure by setting unrealistic standards. Then, instead of acknowledging their hard work and successes along the way, they zero-in on their failures—even if minor. Perfectionists also tend to procrastinate because they’re  afraid of failing. 

Overcoming Perfectionist IP

You can counteract perfectionist IP as a small business owner by:

  • Hitting the pause button on critical inner monologues. Instead, take a moment to acknowledge all the things you’ve done well. Remind yourself that not everything needs to be perfect.
  • Sharing your successes out loud with other people. Perfectionists are often afraid that they’ll come across as proud, as conceited, or as bragging if they articulate successes. Truth is, most people enjoy hearing success stories. Not only does sharing your success with other people help get the word out for your business, it also helps rewire your brain to see yourself as strong and successful–imperfections and all. Social media is a great way to get the word out to colleagues and customers about your successes. 

The Natural Genius

Like perfectionists, natural geniuses tend to set high standards for themselves—but they also expect to succeed on the first try. Natural geniuses perceive struggle as weakness or failure. Often, kids who were labeled as “gifted” when they were young grow into adults who struggle with natural genius imposter syndrome. 

Overcoming Natural Genius IP

For the small business owner who encounters a host of unfamiliar demands, this form of IP is particularly difficult. These steps can help nip the natural genius IP tendencies in the bud:

  • Remind yourself how far you’ve come. When you recognize critical self-talk, step back and take note of what you’ve accomplished. You’ve likely already made great strides–and you may even impress yourself with how far you’ve come.
  • Seek a mentor who’s had similar experiences and struggles. Natural genius types may dislike the idea of having a mentor because they often believe they should be able to do things on their own. Yet, having the perspective of someone who’s been down a parallel path can help you with your own journey. You may even find yourself laughing and commiserating—and that’s strong medicine when things get hard! 

The Superhuman

Superhumans are convinced they’re phonies when they compare themselves to their peers. As a result, they push themselves to the point of exhaustion in an effort to “measure up.” Superhumans often appear to others as workaholics. However, they’re more often seeking validation from others–not necessarily measurable success on the job. 

Since they have to deal with lots of different demands in different areas of business, small business owners can easily fall prey to the superhuman form of IP–and that can lead to burn out. 

Overcoming Superhuman IP

Here’s how you can fight Superhuman IP, prevent burnout, and be your own hero.

  • Automate! Stop trying to do everything yourself. Instead, consider automation. Clover, for instance, can help relieve you of frustrating, time-consuming tasks outside the core of your business. Tasks like juggling employee schedules, updating inventory, or calculating the sales tax you owe can be automated. Simply put, automate–and do less!
  • Schedule time for joy. Identify activities that bring you joy. Remember: your business is a marathon, not a sprint. So, you’ll need to refill your tank occasionally if you’re going to make the long haul. That means, calendar time for yourself and activities that bring you joy. By scheduling time for you, you send yourself the message that you and your time are as important as the business and time on the job. And, refilling  your joy bucket can help you be a better business leader. 

The Soloist

True to their name, soloists believe they should be able to do everything themselves. Like several other types in this list, soloists compare themselves to others. Unlike some of the others on the list, they fear that asking for help makes them look weak or exposes their phoniness. 

Like superhumans, soloists push themselves extra hard out of fear of asking for help and exposing what they perceive to be their weaknesses. 

Overcoming Soloist IP

Like  the  superhuman type, soloists can benefit from automating as much as they can. Here are a few additions ways to overcome Soloist IP: 

  • Delegate! If you have employees, delegation doesn’t just help you, it helps your business and your employees. Delegating tasks is a great way to integrate employees into your community, build employee trust, and strengthen employee skills. 
  • Build a supportive network. Networking is not just for finding a job, it’s also important for understanding that you’re not alone. Hearing from others in similar positions helps put your situation in perspective. What’s more, it’s important to acknowledge that the most successful folk had a lot of help along the way. You can find interesting connections through social media and by reaching out to small business owners in your area. And, you can read inspiring stories about business owners in our Meet the Merchant series. 

The Expert

Experts tend to focus all their energy on something they know well or are proficient at doing. They feel ashamed if they don’t have all the information they want all the time–and they tend to compare themselves and their accomplishments to others. Often, they cringe when introduced as an “expert” because they fear having to prove themselves and their worth.

Experts tend to stay busy taking classes, training, or getting certified in areas in order to fill perceived gaps in their knowledge or qualifications. While helpful in some ways, constant training can lead to burnout, as well as procrastination on business-related tasks. And that could affect the health and success of their business. 

Overcoming Expert IP

Overcoming Expert IP calls for facing the fear of inadequacy head on. Here are a couple of key ways to do that:

  • Mentor.  Taking time to mentor junior colleagues or to volunteer can help boost your self-esteem. Sometimes it’s hard to see how much you already know until you’re in a position to share your expertise with  someone else. Even better, you’ll be helping others in the process.
  • Practice “just in time learning.” That means learn what you need when you need it–rather than trying to take in lots of information that you may or may not use at all. What’s more, because you’re learning something immediately relevant to you and/or your business, your recall of what you’ve learned tends to be better. And this positions you and your business better for success while reducing your potential for burnout. 

IP is real. Fortunately, there are also a few simple ways to help overcome it: Automate, delegate, recognize your thought patterns and accomplishments, and seek a mentor. 

Clover POS can help you automate your business. Be sure to check out the Clover App Market for some great apps and ideas that could help you boost your business and kick IP to the side. And, keep tabs on our blog for even more ideas that can help you and your business.


This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional mental health advice. For additional support with mental health, readers should contact their medical care providers or visit MentalHealth.gov.