Overcoming ‘Imposter Syndrome’ as a franchisee

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Imposter Syndrome franchisee

Doubting your ability to run a business? Worried you don’t actually have what it takes? You could have Imposter Syndrome – a phenomenon experienced by 70% of people around the world. Here’s what it is, why you get it, and what you can do to handle it.


“I don’t actually know what I’m doing.” “Do I even deserve my own franchise?”

Ever had these thoughts niggle at you, or give you the night sweats? If so, take a deep breath – and relax. What you’re fearing is most likely unfounded. Rather, you’re experiencing ‘Imposter Syndrome’, or the phenomenon of feeling like a fraud.

First introduced by psychologists Pauline Ross Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1973, Imposter Syndrome is characterised by feelings of inadequacy. Like an imposter, you feel you don’t deserve to be where you are. You question your accomplishments and opportunities: surely they are a stroke of luck, not the result of hard work, talent or ability? Any mistake you make in the workplace only proves you’re unfit for the job. And, surely, someone is going to figure out you aren’t good enough.

This self-doubt is normal

Nearly three out of four people experience these doubts, according to the International Journal of Behavioural Science – including some of the world’s most prominent business people.

When Howard Shultz was appointed CEO of Starbucks at age 33, he was hit with Imposer Syndrome. Howard was born into a poor family in Brooklyn, New York, growing up in a community he described as being on “the wrong side of the tracks”. His first job was at a ski lodge, before becoming a salesperson for Xerox. His marketing smarts landed him a role at a then growing coffee company, and a short while later, the title of CEO.

“Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO,” he told the New York Times. “They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”

Despite his insecurities, Howard went on to serve as CEO for 23 years, and is credited as growing Starbucks into the coffee giant it is today.


Why franchisees get Imposter Syndrome

No one knows exactly why we get these feelings, but researchers believe certain personalities are pre-disposed to them.

Perfectionists and high-achievers are the most prone. These people set high expectations and goals for themselves, or apply self-imposed pressure to know everything. They want to succeed in every aspect and so, when they do make a mistake or have a gap in knowledge, they question their competence. Those with natural talent are also susceptible, especially when they’re put in a situation where a skill doesn’t come naturally to them.

For new franchisees, Imposter Syndrome is especially common, for three reasons. First, the venture is unchartered and starting a franchise can be daunting for some, putting you well outside your comfort zone. You could find yourself questioning what you know. Second, many new franchisees feel held to a high standard, pressuring themselves to uphold an existing brand reputation, or deliver on established customer expectations.

Finally, because franchisees can open a business in any sector, sometimes even without any previous experience, it can be all too easy to feel like an ‘imposter’.

The feeling is also not just reserved for newbies. Even long-time franchisees can experience Imposter Syndrome, as they evaluate their current operations. So, while these feelings might never go away, it’s important to develop a healthy, productive response to them, instead of dwelling on thoughts of inferiority.

The benefits of Imposter Syndrome

Read on in Howard’s interview and you’ll see he actually views Imposter Syndrome as a good thing. “The level of insecurity you have is a strength, not a weakness,” he adds. “The question is, how are you going to use it?”

People who feel inadequate are often the most conscientious. Keen to do their job well and thoroughly, they regularly do a stock-take of their performance. This diligence is a great quality – considered one of the key personality traits for success.

Instead of looking for negatives and feeling downtrodden, use your imposter experience to seek out opportunities for growth. There can be many benefits behind imposter thinking, including:

  • Developing a love for lifelong learning: Shift your focus from how you’re performing, to what you’re learning. Learn to differentiate between a perceived flaw, and an actual skills gap you can fill. Then, acknowledge your strengths and continue to upskill yourself. Taking pride in this kind of training is the number one ingredient for being a happy franchisee. At the same time, appreciate that it’s impossible to be an expert in everything, and be open to receiving expertise without devaluing your own experience and ability.
  • Bringing fresh perspective: New franchisees might worry their inexperience in a sector undermines their ability. But not always knowing the answer doesn’t discredit you. New questions and fresh perspectives that others haven’t thought of can be invaluable in building a business, or re-defining an industry.
  • Never becoming complacent: Sometimes, thinking you’re the bee’s knees can turn into comfort and complacency, which can stifle business progress and innovation. Fortunately, that’s a view of themselves victims of Imposter Syndrome rarely hold, rather keeping their abilities in-check and looking for ways to improve. Just don’t drift too far to the other end. Remember to always recognise your worth and celebrate your successes.

Set up for success

It’s important to remember that, as a franchisee, you’re always set up for success. Look up the definition of a franchise, and you’ll see that franchisors are obligated to provide you with support and guidance. You can also reach out to hundreds of other franchisees and experts in your network – like-minded entrepreneurs and mentors full of advice and guidance who can spare you future mistakes. Keep an eye on these articles and resources from our own experts that are here to help.

For Akram Kahn, operator of 37 KFC restaurant franchises, this is the beauty of franchising:

“I like the structure of franchising – I haven’t got the confidence to open my own restaurant. This way, you have the autonomy of your own restaurant, but you have access to expertise.”

As a franchisee, you’re not expected to know everything, or have all the relevant experience. Franchising, by design, is a learning opportunity. It's a growth opportunity – for franchisee and franchisor. It's a way for people who are willing to put in the hard work to run their own businesses at reduced risk. And there's nothing imposter-like about that.

If you’re feeling inspired to tackle Imposter Syndrome and start your own business, take a look at the opportunities available on our UK Franchise Directory.

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