In this week's episode, we chat with Kristie Plantinga, Founder of TherapieSEO about how to manage feelings of imposter syndrome.
Where to find Kristie:
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Sarah McDowell: Hello, and welcome to the Women in Tech SEO Podcast. I am Sarah McDowell, an SEO content executive and I will be your host for today. Joining me I have Kristie Plantinga, founder of therapy, SEO and we have them talking about imposter syndrome. Hello, Kristie.
Kristie Plantinga: Hi, thank you so much for having me. This is so exciting.
Sarah: Thank you so much for agreeing to come on and spending your Monday morning for you, isn't it?
Sarah: Monday morning with me. Let's dive straight in and my first question to you, Kristie is, can you tell us how you got into SEO in this world? Then how because, obviously, you're the founder of therapy, SEO, congratulations.
Kristie: Thank you.
Sarah: How did you end up having your own business?
Kristie: Yes. I think everyone in SEO, got started in their unique way. I started more from a writing background, I was pursuing a master's in written communication, which was largely a technical SEO writing Pro-- or sorry, Technical Writing Program and that wasn't for me, I just have more of a creative side. I knew that wasn't going to be a good fit for me. I started learning more about user experience and marketing and I was looking at the job market with a communications degree, which could be tougher to find an entry into the job market but I stumbled upon SEO. I started teaching myself a lot of things as I think many of us do. I always thought it would be so cool if I could work in this but my only qualification is this. I knew how to build websites, and I had this degree.
I was lucky enough to get hired by an SEO agency, they took a chance on me, and I've just been in SEO ever since and with my own business. I always wanted to have my own thing. I loved the idea of building a brand and working for myself and having this flexibility and control over my path. I started my own SEO business. I went full-time about a year ago and I started working on everything about a year and a half, almost two years ago. It's like a simple journey but I do think I started earlier with my own business than probably most other consultants do. I'm sure we'll be talking about that more today.
Sarah: So when you put forward yourself to come on the podcast, you said about how your business is a niche, isn't it? How did that come about and what do you offer as a niche business?
Kristie: Definitely. I work in a niche industry before or a niche agency before. I enjoyed niching because first of all, I'm a pretty practical person, I knew that it would be easier to start a business with a niche. I find that connections and speaking opportunities, and networking, all that stuff comes easier when you're situated in more of a niche community, but also, I knew that I only wanted to work with certain kinds of clients. I think for people who work in agencies or have experienced the agency work or world working with clients could just be tough sometimes, especially think if you have people-pleasing tendencies. I knew that I wanted to work with clients that I felt were more in alignment with me and that I knew I'd get along with more personally.
I chose therapists, actually was studying to become a therapist at one point in my life, but I was like, I'm not ready to do that. I pursued obviously writing and all that other stuff, but I always have had a passion for the mental health world and I just think therapists are some of the superheroes of our society. It just seemed like an obvious fit when I was thinking about starting my own thing. I was like, of course, therapists it's like, I'm so interested in the world, and the more you know about what they do, the more they trust you too. It just seemed like I didn't even have a second thought after that came to me.
I offer full-service SEO. Then I do a lot of consulting individually and in groups as well. Making a few courses just really seeing like, what I think my clients would benefit from. I'm just always seeing what would help them the most and then I just match them where they are, whatever service that takes.
Sarah: For people who are listening to the podcast, and they've been thinking about going niche, what advice have you got? What would you say?
Kristie: I think for obviously, I think if you are more nervous about starting something, I think niching is just a good way to go. I think it's a little bit more of a straightforward path to success. I think one thing I wish that I did even sooner when I started my niche business, is identify who are the influencers in the space. Who are the people that I should be talking to because shared audiences is a huge marketing strategy for me? Connecting with people on Instagram, following people on Twitter, DMing them, making that introduction, I think just connecting with the people that you know your niche clients respect, is a fast path to success.
Sarah: That is blimming wonderful advice. Thank you for sharing.
Sarah: Can I now do some quickfire questions with you?
Sarah: We are here to talk about imposter syndrome. I have to say that when I saw what you suggested, it got me excited because I think this is an important topic and something that'd be interesting to talk about. First things first, how would you describe what imposter syndrome is?
Kristie: Thought a lot about this because it's just so all-encompassing sometimes, but I think that imposter syndrome is feeling like you can't do something even though you have to evidence that you can. Is my just straightforward answer and what it actually is and then from that comes all like the emotional and mental complications?
Sarah: How do you know? What warning signs or how do you know if you have like suffered or you're currently experiencing imposter syndrome?
Kristie: I think first and foremost anxiety. When you are doing something that you feel like you can't do even though you can. Symptoms of anxiety are going to come up for sure. I think the biggest one was the negative self-talk, which a lot of us don't even really ourselves saying to ourselves, but a lot of comparisonitis, negative self-talk, sometimes you just have a deeper fear of success. You get that opportunity and then you're like, "Well, now I'll be seen," so you have this deeper fear of success, which seems really counterintuitive to people who do take risks, but it happens. General risk avoidance. You're afraid of being in the space of discomfort with risk and then also just passing on opportunities because you're scared to fail.
Sarah: Yes, I think we've all been there when there's-- an opportunity comes and we don't feel like we're ready or we come up with excuses, don't we? Or we think, "Oh no I can't do that because of this," I know I've been there so many times.
Kristie: Yes, it's a huge thing and it's so crazy to me because I think so many of the listeners here and women in the group we're all so ambitious, but imposter syndrome and this pursuit of perfectionism, it's the death of progress. As soon as you can just really start working on imposter syndrome and learning how to-- because it's always going to be there I think but if you can learn how to deal with it in the instances that you have, that's just going to help your mental health so much and your career development, all that stuff.
Sarah: Would you say that imposter syndrome is common in both business owners and the SEO world?
Kristie: Yes, and I think it takes different shapes. When I was struggling with imposter syndrome in an agency setting or a company career track, it's hard to get opportunities sometimes. I think when you are a woman in the career track it's not quite set up for us as well yet. That's unfortunately the reality. A lot of what imposter syndrome comes down to in my way of thinking about it is this concept of cognitive dissonance. We have ideas, beliefs, thoughts about ourselves that we think are true, but then the real world, this more tangible evidence that we see is contrary to that so we imagine success for ourselves.
We desire that, but then everyone getting promoted, maybe they're men. Men get raises. We obviously know that they're paid more so I think when you're in a work setting, that's tough because you're not necessarily in an environment that's as well suited for you. Unfortunately, that's reality. I’m excited to see that change over the coming decades but I think all women know that to be true. We've all had instances of that but in terms of business development, I think the imposter syndrome is real because failure is just very tangible. It's like the stakes are pretty high and they are with everything. I think with business, especially if you're doing it on your own at first, it can be very lonely, and then it's even harder to have those positive beliefs about you because there's no manager above you telling you that you're doing a good job, you're doing the right thing. That all has to come from yourself and that's imposter syndrome. We all have to be able to tell ourselves that yes we can, but if you're more isolated, that's even harder.
Sarah: I think also I've experienced this in other roles where it's not until you leave that people come out and say supportive things or they say, "Ah, I'm so gutted that you're leaving, you've done this and this," and even in leaving cards that you get where people put how much they've appreciated you and stuff like that. I think, yes, when we're in a job role, I think sometimes we miss that encouragement, don't we? Often it's not until after you leave, sometimes.
Kristie: That is very true. I definitely can relate.
Sarah: There is a joke, isn't there? In the SEO world that will always answer with, "Well, it depends," if anyone ever asks us anything and I suppose that doesn't help the situation, does it?
Kristie: Oh my gosh. Here's the thing, the times that I've had the worst imposter syndrome, really, really bad, I wake up in the middle of the night, filled with anxiety, heart-pounding and I just think to myself, "Am I going to get results for this client?" A huge part of that is just SEO takes time. The quick wins are just not a thing so when we get back to the cognitive dissonance thing, we tell ourselves, "I'm good at SEO. I'm good at my job. I know what are the right things to do," but then it takes a while for you to see any results so it's like, "Just kidding, I'm terrible at this because I don't have any evidence to back up how I feel about myself," and that has been the biggest killer for me.
I have friends who they're marketing coaches on going viral or they do ads and I'm like, there's such instant gratification with that. It's like, you can say, "Oh, I'm good at this," and then you have all this evidence for it, with SEO, we just don't get that instant gratification and that I think is just a terrible environment in which imposter syndrome just absolutely thrives. It's super unfortunate.
Sarah: Yes, I suppose we're feeding it, aren't we? When we're talking about imposter syndrome, I'm picturing this monster or--
Kristie: It's like a disease. I picture init infectious disease.
Sarah: It's like I'm sorry to bring it up, but when you talk about COVID, you picture this being with scary teeth? I'm feeling the same with imposter syndrome. Earlier you said that most of the time it's not a case of, we can't get rid of these feelings or they're not feeling that go away and it's more about managing feelings. Advice, tips on this?
Kristie: Yes, imposter syndrome is funny in that, I think if you are an ambitious person, you just have to get used to imposter syndrome and it's almost kind of the sign that you're on the right path because if you're not taking any risks in your career, it's going to be hard to just get farther. I think complacency, and maybe you get to a certain point in your career and you know that that's the place that you want to be, but I think if you are an ambitious person, you are always going to be bumping up against this. In that sense, no, it cannot be cured. It is not a disease that we can cure, but managing it, I think the most helpful thing for me, if anyone is just to take away one thing from this is addressing your fears and looking them straight in the eyes and really asking what's the worst thing that could happen?
If you can own that and understand that. For me as a business owner, the worst possible thing could be, I didn't get anything done for this client. They're super mad. The worst thing that could happen, I guess I boiled it down to, I give them a refund. For me I'm just like, that's just money. My reputation isn't going to go under, my business isn't going to go under, I'm not going to be just an embarrassment or anything. It's just money. If we all can stare our imposter syndrome down and reduce it to the deep fear that we have and just come up with the solution for it, it's like, that's not that bad. If this all goes to shit, then I have a plan for it.
I think in the same way, where if we are going to be always bumping up against this, if we're ambitious, just feeling more comfortable and feeling comfortable with the discomfort of something might not go perfectly. That's a therapeutic technique often used for people with perfectionism. Just getting comfortable with this discomfort, getting comfortable with failure too, and just knowing that you likely have more to gain than lose, I think are the mantras that I've told myself to get through these times of really, really intense stress.
Sarah: I suppose also with failure, it's how we perceive it. Failure, that word is quite negative? Everyone wants to avoid that, but from failure, you can actually learn things, can't you? The more times you fail, the more learnings that you have, and as you're doing something new, we all know that SEO isn't a one-size-fits-all for all businesses or sectors so you're going to be trying stuff, aren't you? Things aren't going to be working, some things are, but it's just about like measuring that and tracking things that you are doing and being okay with failing, I suppose. Once you've been okay with that, and that feeling, it's like, okay, what is the learnings from this? Would you agree that there's a changing of our thought process about it?
Kristie: Definitely. I mean, I know that the greatest lessons I've had in life have not been from success. There's not much to learn when you succeed. It's like you did it right. There's really no lesson there, but when you do fail, that's when you learn something. What could have gone better, whether for myself or the environment that I was in? You're right, SEO is about experimentation.
If we think about anything we try as an experiment, instead of, you try this, and it was a contest, and you failed, instead, having more of a curiosity, what's going to happen? How is this going to happen? How can I learn from thOne one of my former bosses told me this, and it's always stuck with me. We'd have clients calling us in the middle of the night, and he'd always say, "There's no such thing as an emergency in marketing."
That has struck me over the years of just if someone's losing it, take a step back, and be like, "You know what? If this page is a 404 for the next four hours, I think we're going to be okay." Just stop taking everything so seriously, I think is another thing too, and just really reframe what failure is, I agree.
Sarah: Do you think having a label for this because there could be some arguments that this is just part and parcel of being in SEO or having a business, and some people might argue that having a label might make it a bigger thing. What are your thoughts like that? Do you think it's good to have a label for it or can it hinder us?
Kristie: I think just working adjacent to the mental health field, I think there is more popularity recently in identifying with different diagnoses, because people, there is so much power in having a name for something. If you're suffering in silence, like imposter syndrome is one of those things, again, I just picture this old disease in a petri dish, it thrives in shame and silence and loneliness. I think the fact that we're calling it out, and everyone just sharing-- The most successful people we can imagine, they have this too. I think there's so much power in labelling it because then we can share it and then we don't feel alone.
I think if we feel alone with these feelings, then again, that evidence builds up. It's well, successful people don't have imposter syndrome. It's quite the opposite. I love that it's being talked about more and I do not think that it's making it a bigger deal than it is because I think people in SEO are very logical people. We're quick to dismiss our experience as humans, whether that's how our bodies react to something, or how our feelings are affected. Just taking your body reaction as evidence for that this is real, that is legitimate. You do not need someone outside of yourself to approve your feelings of imposter syndrome. If you feel them, they're there. That's real and that's okay too.
Sarah: I think also by having a label, you can also normalize these conversations, can't you? Which is a bit like another thing that we need to be doing with this, isn't it? If we're normalizing this, and people are talking together, it's more like a thing that we're talking about, then that's only going to be a positive thing, isn't it?
Kristie: Yes. What a great way to be brought together with different people. I think just more acknowledgement of this in general and in the SEO industry, that's just a deeper thing that brings people together. I don't know, that's me, I'm always looking for-- I hate small talk. It's like I'm the person who's looking for these real connections with people. I love also to read articles on case studies and how interesting that is, but I think just because we're working in an agency, or we have our job, it can be isolating depending on what your work environment is like.
I think just knowing that other people have that too, and not even necessarily talking about it, but just the knowledge that you're not alone in this, I think that humility is just going to lead to just greater connection and more humility. There are some egos in every industry, including SEO. Just knowing that we all started in the same place, and we all face these things together, I think that's beautiful to accept.
Sarah: It is very beautiful. Any resources or what would you-- Is there anything that you can recommend people read or look into or research about what we've spoken about today?
Kristie: Yes. I think thinking about resources, one of the ways that we unhealthily combat imposter syndrome is going to this conference, reading this book, getting that promotion. Then we feel like if we, again, stack more and more of this evidence that we're not imposters, we won't believe it anymore.
The reality is, the greatest resource against imposter syndrome is yourself and relying on other things and people is the antithesis of what you should be doing to start managing this and knowing that there is no end goal. Again, it's just managing the thought patterns, the feelings. I will say that whenever I have struggled with it, and it's okay to not always have the internal resources, that's a pretty unrealistic expectation. It's okay to ask.
I text my friends sometimes or my boyfriend. I'm just like, "Am I good at what I do?" They're like, "Are you serious?" I'm just like, "Of course," because sometimes you just need to hear it. It's okay to ask. I also really love reading stories of people who said, "Why not me? If they're doing it, why can't I?" We all have that, we all have those moments where we can choose, if they did it, I can do it. Those kinds of inspiring stories help me.
Sarah: Yes. I wish we had longer to talk more about this.
Kristie: This is like an hour-long conversation.
Sarah: It is. I feel like we've covered quite a lot in this short space. You've given wonderful, very-- I think this episode is going to be very helpful to a lot of people. Is there anything else that you wanted to say about what we're talking about today?
Kristie: I guess I think my heart is more with Junior SEOs just because I'm, honestly, in the span of a career, I'm still Junior, but I decided to do something that I likely was not ready for. I think for any of the juniors out there, there is no one path to success. Don't feel like you have to fit into a certain path, because that makes imposter syndrome even harder when you feel like you have to be in one place.
Maybe if that's at a job that you don't feel supported in or maybe it's even a different type of SEO. It's like, if you don't like one part of SEO, that's okay. I think just knowing that there is no one path to success, and don't let that get in the way of you getting to where you want to be, I guess.
Sarah: Thank you very much for that. Yes. Are you ready to round up with a bit of fun, a little feature?
Sarah: Unfortunately, that's all for this week. A huge thanks to Kristie for joining us and sharing your wonderful knowledge. If people want to carry on the conversation, how can they do that? Where are you?
Kristie: I think my Twitter would probably be best. I forget my handle, but no one else in the world has my name. I've checked different times. If you search the name I should come up. I think that's where I connect most with people in this world and I'm trying to be more active there. I'd love to connect there for sure.
Sarah: Wonderful. Blooming love Twitter for the SEO world.
Kristie: I know that's where I give my information. I'm like, "Who needs school?" I have Twitter now.
Sarah: Also thank you for tuning in, our listeners, and listening. New episodes go out every Tuesday and we are available on all podcast playing platforms. Visit womenintechseo.com to find out more about the community. You can also find out more about this podcast, things like speaking and sponsoring opportunities.