Recently, in my role as co-founder of Australian Women’s Day, I’ve been sending out notice after notice after notice about the day, connecting with as many women’s organisations as possible.
In the process of sending many emails I’ve stumbled across a form of visibility I’m calling ‘visibility by association’.
Visibility by association works like this; the more connected to a big and established brand you are, the more confident you feel. So for example, when I worked within Government, I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable about calling people, or sending out invitations, or really approaching people about anything at all because my approach came with the gravitas of a government agency behind me. I felt the same when I worked for corporations and for large NGOs.
At the time I assumed that meant I was a confident person. I certainly felt confident in my interactions.
In hindsight, it wasn’t an innate confidence within me. It was confidence by proxy. My visibility by association actually gave me a false sense of confidence. It also meant that when the association was no longer there i.e., when I stopped working in those places, I lost my sense of being comfortable with visibility. It was like I’d had my visibility entitlement taken from me.
When you work for yourself, when you’re in start up, or you’re building your brand from scratch, you don’t have much, or really any, external authority behind you. It’s all in front of you. And so, when you approach people about your business, visibility fears can definitely rise to the surface. Fears like, ‘Who the hell do I think I am starting this from nothing?’, ‘Will they take me seriously?’, ‘Is there space for me and my idea in this sector?’ ‘Am I worth supporting?’ ‘Will they want to support this?’
Visibility fears become even more intense when you start out in business because you’re very rarely going to nail your brand the first time around. Everything you’re building is your 1.0 version of what will eventually evolve into a 2.0 and then a 3.0 and so on.
When you work for someone else, you’re often stepping into their 5.0 or 8.0 or 10.0 of the brand. All you have to do is dress the part. All the hard work has been done to make the place and the people within it look impressive.
As a start up you have to make peace with your 1.0 status if you’re going to make any progress in business. Specifically, you have to find a way to be comfortable with the fact that people are going to be seeing your work for the first time and they won’t necessarily know this is the 1.0 version of your brand.
This aspect of the visibility journey feels a lot like living in houses I’ve bought which I’ve intended to renovate. Over the years I’ve noticed that when people come to visit I have a compulsion to mention everything I’m going to do to change things. I love talking about renovations so I do get excited telling people about my plans, but there’s more to it than that. There’s also the fact that I want people to know that this is my 1.0. It’s not finished. It’s not complete. It’s not yet a reflection of me.
And this is what lies at the crux of our visibility fears when we’re in start up or start over mode; the fear of being judged for something you’re not, for a lesser version of you.
Next time you feel these kinds of things holding you back from reaching out and telling people about your idea, your business, or the movement you want to create, here are some tips I’ve found particularly helpful:
- Work with others. One of the things I find so comforting about creating Australian Women’s Day is that I’m not trying to do it on my own. I’m working in a circle of women and in those moments when one of us feels down or overwhelmed, she has a circle of women to support her.
- Clearing work. Doing the inner work to clear your visibility blocks will always be the fastest path to ensuring your business moves forward with ease.
- Looking at early videos. Sometimes it can be incredibly helpful to remember that every company – Apple, Google, your favourite local bookstore, or cafe – all had their own 1.0. Sometimes you can find footage of these 1.0 versions and watching that serves as an incredibly helpful reminder that no one is perfect right out of the gate. Just the act of remembering that gives you permission to be where you are right now and stop comparing your 1.0 to someone else’s 8.0.
- Connect deeply with your why. This is hugely important when you have down days. You have to know why you’re doing something, otherwise when things feel insurmountable, you’ll be more inclined to stop than to keep going. Connecting deeply with why will really anchor you into your business for many years to come.
- Know your legacy. Australian Women’s Day draws on the legacy of a long line of women who’ve fought for women’s rights; Mary Wollstonecraft, the Suffragettes, the second wave of feminism. I am very aware that with every step I take, I’m continuing their legacy. Therefore, in moments of doubt or fear, I drawn on their strength and inspiration. I don’t want their efforts to have been in vain and I feel it’s my responsibility (along with many other women) to continue to keep the flame they light alive and shining brightly.