“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure,”  wrote Mark Twain. If you run your own business, Twain’s words probably resonate in many ways. “Ignorance” perhaps because it can sometimes feel better to not know what can go wrong (the Ostrich effect); but “confidence” because without it, few of us would ever take any risks—like setting up our own business –or feel we have the chutzpah to sell ourselves and whatever it is we make or provide.

What is confidence?
But what actually is confidence? We’ve all heard about sportspeople suffering from a crisis of confidence. The penalty kick that balloons over the bar in a high pressure football fixture; the putting yips that can turn even the best golfers into basket cases; the underarm serve in tennis…But confidence is more than simply holding your nerve in a pressured situation. It comes from a combination of factors ranging from what you know, how you look, what you say and how you behave, and how others react to you.

Confidence is an intangible quality that is hard to capture. Someone telling you to ‘be confident’ for example can be unhelpful. If it was that easy to be confident wouldn’t we all simply assume a state of confidence at all times? A better approach is to focus on particular areas that can contribute to building confidence.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Speak slowly and don’t uptalk: Various studies suggest that the actual words we use in our communication make relatively little impact. It’s the way we deliver those words combined with our expressions, how we look and body language.  A simple verbal step we can take,  for example,  is to avoid the rising inflection at the end of each sentence – also known as uptalk. It can have the effect of communicating to your audience that you’re not quite sure of what you’re going to say. It helps also to talk more slowly – barristers are taught to slow down their delivery to add gravitas to what they’re saying.

  • Look the part: If you don’t feel confident in what you’re wearing, how can you expect to be confident? If that suit doesn’t feel right, change it
  • Prepare to be confident: Few of us can continually ‘wing it’. Prepare properly for each meeting and the confidence will come from knowing you are in control of the facts. 


Confidence is a combination of factors
Don’t think of confidence as one single thing. It’s a combination of factors. Think like an athlete for example and look at how they prepare. And one last thing; confidence can fast disappear if you work in a solitary environment for long periods – an occupational hazard for many starting out on their own. Make sure you do something every day to counter the confidence sapping isolation; call a friend, or call a client instead of emailing them. And don’t be afraid to regularly put yourself in uncomfortable situations such as attending networking events – it’ll give you a great chance to practise some of your new found confidence tricks.