Perception is Everything (or “Fake It ‘Til You Make It”)

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Cameron Olthuis gave me that gem of a tip: “Fake it ’til you make it.” Have you ever looked at someone in our industry and thought “How the hell is this person speaking at conferences?! He’s a moron!”, or “There is no way this person has actual clients”? I sure have. In fact, I’m sure people look at me and wonder how on Earth I get speaking spots and am well-liked in the industry (hint: I’m adorable).

Well folks, perception has a lot to do with it. Neil Patel plays the fool, and everyone loves him for it, yet somehow he mysteriously has a load of clients and gets featured in The Wall Street Journal (or, as Neil himself referred to it, “a Wall Street Journal”). I shake my head at the thought of certain industry folks getting repeated speaking spots, yet they do and the audience eats it up. Why is this?

Because, as Cameron so handily put it, they faked it until they made it (note to Neil, no, I don’t think you’re actually a dumbass, but you play a damn good one on TV). If you convey confidence in what you do, it doesn’t matter that you’re not Danny freakin’ Sullivan in terms of SEO knowledge. People love confidence. They love charm, charisma, and easygoing people, and quite often they’d rather work with someone likable than a boring, stuffy expert in the field (not always, of course, but I’ve seen it happen a lot).

Was I terrified to speak at my first conference? You bet your balls I was, not necessarily because I’d be in front of a large group of people, but because I was nervous that I wouldn’t know how to answer the Q&A questions and people would think “What the hell is she doing up there? She’s a moron.” But you know what? I learned pretty quickly that if you’re confident and make it seem like you’re a somebody, people will think you are a somebody. Then, you “fake it” while you acquire those mad skills and knowledge necessary to actually be that somebody. Ta-da, self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m not saying you should lie to people or pretend to be something you absolutely aren’t. It’s not like I tell people I’m a supermodel (thanks for giving me short Asian legs, Mom!), and I also don’t lie to people during Q&As (if I flat out don’t know the answer, I won’t answer it or I’ll tell them I can look into it for them). My point is that if you’re starting out and are new, just be confident. People pick up on that and will respect you much more than if you’re a Nervous Nelly all the time. Believing in yourself means that people will believe in you, and soon you’ll become that expert you were half-pretending to be in the first place.

Oh, and don’t go overboard and be a pompous prick. You may win over clients, but your more experienced colleagues will see right through that schtick. Just fake it a little until you make it, because a little perception goes a long way.

133 thoughts on “Perception is Everything (or “Fake It ‘Til You Make It”)

  1. Costa

    This post reminds me of my first big presentation during my working days. I was suppose to present to my client why they should use our products when there are so many other bigger and more established manufacturers out here.

    I was kind of shaky at first but when I realized that they were more ignorant than me about the product I am presenting, I really faked it like I am an expert. Of course to do a god fake job, we really should know what we are talking about! LOL.

  2. Jon Kelly

    stop giving away all the good secrets, Rebecca! confidence is king, if you don’t believe in yourself, it’s pretty clear that nobody else will either.

  3. Justin Cook

    Sometimes I wonder – why does this person get to write on Shoemoney’s blog?? ;) :)

    Naw, just kidding. I agree that you need to be confident, but unfortunately too many people in this nascent industry are confident that they know more than they actually know.

  4. MyGoodFinds

    Believe in your self first before anyone else will. This worked for me when I graduated college. I partied during college so I had a transcript that shows that I did. But with my imperfect transcripts, I was able to beat the dean listers for the job we all applied for. :) Well, it helps to be cute.

    It’s also the positive vibe that people like, I myself don’t want to be around grumpy people.

    I was able to snag a better paying job when I said, yeah I know it. Then went home and poured over the books by the time I signed the contract, I kinda knew what I what I was doing. Never say “I don’t know.” There’s always the option of research.

  5. wethead

    Rebecca,

    Great Post , you might know me as “wethead” on drival :)

    Anyhow – I agree, very much, personality goes a long way,

    I recently just started podcasting as well, on my main site and my blog

    I am an expert in my industry ( NOT seo ) but swimming pools,

    I have been applying everything that seomoz staff and shoemoney say to do but with my niche and I have to tell you its been working great !

    Thanks so much Rebecca for sharing once again!

  6. Garry Conn

    Great post! There is a lot of truth to that. Whatever your business is and whatever you are selling, either a product or yourself, you have got to have confidence in what you offer or present. You can be the fake of fakes or be the real deal… it doesn’t matter unless you have the confidence in what you stand for or believe in.

  7. Dave

    Oh geez. Great advice…hhaha. ‘faking it until you make it’ works if you want to impress morons, but I don’t know what else good it is for. I guess it’s good for people that want to gain ‘clients’ by speaking in front of a group of people, but the people that know their stuff seem to be making money for themselves and not as much taking on consulting work.

    But this is a big reason why i don’t spend much time at conferences. A bunch of quasi experts speaking on the stage. I think i would just scratch my head at why i paid $1k to sit and listen to this guy talk. A perfect example is the entire group who does the SEO 101 show at WMR…that’s a seriously big WTF.

  8. King Jacob

    Confidence is definently key, though when you do make it, that would be a good time to stop faking or you’ll flare out. Kinda like the rich jerk

  9. Dave

    yeah, cause i need to be at a conference to make money. you go to conferences if you’re a newbie, a wanna-be, or someone selling services.

    on the same topic, one thing I’ve noticed is that guys that attend these conferences turn into 17 year old high schoolers when talking about how much they drank. ‘dude….mass amount of alcohol consumed that night!!!’ haha. “Dude, I slept through all the sessions cause i was up late drinking my face off’. “

  10. ShoeMoney

    everyone wants to feel important… just why you came here ;) Same principal. You talk tuff but you show nothing to quantify. I think you make R Kelley’s point

  11. lyricsreg

    Maybe this applies to a dull audience, but I really doubt anyone can fool smart people, especially when it comes to our line of work. You can’t fake it, because you’re not dealing with ignorants

  12. Steve M

    Everyone is just acting out the part of the story that they think they should play. Get some real power by rewriting your own internal story, and tell the world who you really are inside. Confidence is just knowing that you have the right to be yourself.

  13. blogstheme.com

    You cant fake it forever. It’s important to use real knowledge, and just be you. and it’s true that so many people are faking it, with seo services mostly…

  14. CatherineL

    Great post Rebecca. I’m really enjoying your guest posts on here.

    And your advice applies to any business you go into. Customers pay for experience and knowledge and if you go into your first job saying, “this is the first time I’ve done this” they’re going to wonder what they’re paying you for.

    It’s not a case of doing something you’re totally clueless about. Obviously you’re already going to have some knowledge, and you’re going to carry on learning as you go. But, it is smart to be perceived as an expert on your subject from the word go.

  15. WarriorBlog

    It is very commo among affiliates and Internet Marketer if you ask me…I remember when I first began…lol. I don’t know if you should do it but I turned out fine.

  16. Fake interruption!

    Most females such as you actually do nothing but talk and bal bla bla. They just like to show up in the picture while practically- and as a matter of fact- they do not add or create anything. This is the truth and it’s so clear. Stop faking yourself as whatever you are really not and will never be, I think many people are sick of you and your alike writing in other people blogs about other men’s information, work and achievements to show that you belong to their industry which you actually do not, and you absolutely add nothing at all to it!

  17. Michelle

    Image is everything! Despite what my momma used to tell me :)

    One presentation down – now let the floodgates open and you’ll be touring the world!

  18. christelle

    Really inspiring. I never tried faking it until I make it, but maybe I should. I do think perception goes a long way, though. But great for you for believing in yourself!

  19. Gecko Tales

    Good points. We see this in Hollywood often. People that are ugly and can’t act get good gigs because people like them or they have some sort of charisma. Act like you know what you are doing eventually you will – or you’ll fail.

  20. The Foo

    I agree — looking confident and acting like you know it is key. I have many times seen guys talking at conferences that probably know less in certain areas but they are where they are because they are better at talking, selling themselves and acting knowledgeable. People do like the guys that project themselves better as it gives that warm feeling that you have the right guy.

    Perception is definitely important — it’ll get your foot through the door. Once you are on the other side, the opportunities are endless.

    Thanks for the good article!

  21. Nick Sullivan

    Definitely. Pereception does go a long way. Even if you’re not an ‘expert’ and not making a mil though I think you know… you can still be pretty knowledgeable and provide value to people. And then soon enough you may be making a mil.

  22. Billy

    There’s certainly a lot of BS in the industry, but a little BS goes a long way especially if you can backup some of the BS when questioned. Good BS always gets the job done when the fluff can be substantiated.

  23. nick Morlan

    I remember hearing steven tyler of aerosmith saying the same thing about the band when they started out… fake it until you make it.

    I also like ‘dress for the job you want, not the one you have.’

    Good words.

  24. Rebecca Kelley

    Dave, obviously it’s cool if you make money on your own and don’t go to conferences. I was just saying that for those of us who do go to conferences or present to clients, it’s something to keep in mind.

  25. Rebecca Kelley

    Wow, nice comment. Certainly all I do at SEOmoz is blog and make coffee and cookies for the MEN in the office who do the REAL work. It’s not like I have any actual, “men-only” tasks like site reviews, kwr, consulting, landing page testing, account management, etc.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go bake a pie and sew some curtains.

  26. JoeTech.com

    This article hit home. When I was hired for my first Unix SysAdmin job for a large company, I didn’t know much about system administration, but I am a fast learner, so I went in with confidence and started work soon after. I immediately accepted any challenges and servers that people didn’t want to manage (some that people didn’t know how to manage) and soaked up as much as I could, which is a confidence builder on its own. When it came time for my 1 year review, I was given a 43% raise. If you find yourself faced with something you know you’ll be able to handle soon enough and you can fake your way in, the results can be very rewarding.

  27. King Jacob

    Thats a pretty good way to ensure job security, you never fire the person who provides the food and drink.

    @mr.sexist: If you want to keep that attitude you probally should move to a field that isn’t very heaily populated by women doing “mens” work. what field is that? you ask, I think sperm donors the only “men only” job, Luckily sexism isnt hereditary.

  28. LeGo

    Lo que no entiendo es como uds responden cuando es obvio con el nombre “Fake interruption!!” que esta una chiste. No es como trabaja con Don Draper de Sterling Cooper, bueno quien sabe.

  29. Gecko Tales

    I heard Bono from U2 say something like that too. He said that they had to play their own songs because they weren’t good enough to play anyone elses.

  30. Tracy Robinson

    That makes me think of my first internet marketing seminar and I thought, man these guys are total dumbasses, how are they getting this much money? Too bad I couldn’t make it to Elite Retreat, wherey all the people there either a) knew their stuff, or b) are really good at faking it.

  31. rkelley Post author

    Nonetheless, LeGo, even if it’s a joke it’s a pretty lengthy and negative comment for a “joke’s” sake. It can often be difficult to detect sarcasm when it’s written. The dude could have thrown in a winky face or a “j/k” if he were indeed joking.

  32. rkelley Post author

    To each his own. I wouldn’t call myself an airhead per se, but I personally like going to the conferences for the invaluable networking opportunities. I’d like to think that if I ever decided to leave SEOmoz, I’ve built a nice list of contacts to approach for a job.

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  34. UK Site-Ads Matchmaker

    Rebecca, do you carry around little photographs of you on which to sign autographs when asked, and if so what pose? Also, if I sent you a bicinni top with my logo in it would you show a picture of yourself wearing it on your website like the shoemoney t-shirt deal?

  35. LeGo

    I am just saying it was labeled as a joke (from what I can tell)… I do agree though that a ;) would make it more clearly a joke. And you are correct it is not appropriate just because it was labeled as a joke.

  36. Men's Health Board

    hehe, confidence was my secrets in highschool years ago…
    my favorite hobby was to include totally historical facts during my oral test and convince that teacher that they were true cause i heard them on history channel ;)

  37. Harrisburg Web Design

    Too true – this phrase is completely accurate, and it’s not even necessarily related to lacking knowledge. People want to believe the person they are working with is an experienced expert, so when you start out in a new field, you can let them believe that. Don’t lie about what you’ve done, but project confidence and they’ll be far less likely to inquire about your credentials. Before you know it, you won’t have to rely on just that confidence because you’ll have tangible results you can point to.

  38. rkelley Post author

    If you really want an autographed photo, I suppose I could make that happen; however, I’m an awkward geek, so I’d probably just pose as me standing there waving like a moron.

    Also, it’s October–too cold for bikinis right now.

  39. wethead

    haha…ypur just jealous cause Rebecca is HOT, and you probably are some looser that hides behind his lcd, and NOT a real man!

    Put that crappy statement on Video pal , Show us who you are you cheap coward that likes to pick on girls,

    Go Rebecca !

    ~Wethead :)

  40. Tyler Dewitt

    That was too good I love that post. Every word you was saying reminded me just of what my father use to tell me when i was growing up and his friend which is not a multi millionaire and started a fortune 500 company which was called bcw or something like that they sold the company.

    My father is a company owner, and grandfather, but the way you worded that reminded me of a lof of things I use to get told when I was growing up.

    I remember my dad telling me you could be the worse technician in the world, but if people like you they will bring you there vcrs to work on (he was using that as example), and then he said you could be the best technician, but if people don’t like you then they wont’ bring there stuff to you.

    Which I understand though when you say fake it I understand the ethics your are trying to promote, or write about. Your not saying do anything negative to people or anything by that, but in other words promote your self as someone that can do it and get it done reguardless who you are if you always promote your self like that then eventually success will roll in as long as you can back up what you say, or I should say back up what you can do for the people.

    If you ask me its branding :) hard to explain though, but what you said makes a lot of sense.

  41. Tyler Dewitt

    Hmm i remember my father use to always tell me if you don’t believe in your self then who will.

    Odd I feel like i know you I mean I do from Rands blog, but good write up :)

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  43. Dave

    Yeah, I can see the value in conferences for networking if you’re at that place. But I think conferences are a little over pumped to newbies as a great way to network, when most of them just need to get to work and start something.

  44. Geordie

    It’s much better to spend your time collecting free advice from blogs written by those giving back to the industry and “newbies and wanna-be’s” conferences etc…I wasn’t aware that Shoe trolls conferences for “clients”

  45. Mike

    shoe doesnt take clients he is to busy running his own companies from what everyone says. I tried to hire him several times =(

  46. nemrut

    ‘Perception *is* everything’ which is true but i think you misunderstand the real meaning behind this statement, which has more to do with character than the level of confidence or likeability one conveys.

    What your post is really talking about–even though you may not realize it, is how to be a good at sales. There’s nothing wrong with that, but savvy business people rarely rely on sales people for ongoing consulting or services. Everyone in business reports to someone, and those in positions of authority understands that the role of the sales person is to be likeable yet aggressive in selling a product–nothing more.

    So in the end confidence and likeablity is good as it opens doors, but to be successful, you need to demonstrate compentency and value-add to the bottomline. Otherwise, you will just come across as a good sales person–one who says a lot without saying much at all.

  47. Nick Sullivan

    Or maybe… determination more so I’d say. Persistance, determination and confidence as well of course, believing in yourself and ultimately carrying out what you preach and think with persistant dominance :P

  48. Dave

    get what. is the secret to success hanging out in a bar with neil patel? Maybe you should put that in an ebook.

  49. Gopi

    There are 3 kinds of people in our industry – those who are rich & famous, those who are famous but not so rich (all the seo/ppc gurus working for someone’s company) & finally those who are relatively unknown but super rich (worth >$10 million)…

    Most of the ‘fake it until you make it” people are in the 2nd category which IMO is not the best place to be :)

  50. sama

    I think “Fake it ’til you make It.” is bad advice — You fake something that you don’t know, and you’ll look stupid to everyone who has any knowledge.
    BUT I think that was just a bad example, and what you really saying is “Confidence is king” – and I think everyone agrees with that.

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  52. jim

    Don’t lie about what you’ve done, but project confidence and they’ll be far less likely to inquire about your credentials. Before you know it, you won’t have to rely on just that confidence because you’ll have tangible results you can point to.

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  54. Jack

    I am in technical sales. Most of my customers are engineers or “C” level executives. I have a degree in RATV, so my technical education is self-taught. Yet I am consistently in the top performance in my company. Why? Because I walk into calls, presentations and meetings with a high degree of self-confidence, know my audience and know my material. After that, I pass along a lot of “I will look into that for you” etc.

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  59. Yuri

    Not sure if you’ve worked with clients on your own Rebecca, but faking it with them often leads to misunderstanding, too high expectations and such. Surely you’d rather be honest with clients instead of faking it?

  60. Glenn -- Write for Blogs

    Audiences certainly can tell when you’re bullshitting them or dancing around a question. Don’t even try it. Go with honesty every time, and keep the focus on what you do know. Get busted and they’ll eat you alive.

    When I started teaching writing in college, I was terrified that some snippy girl in the front row would start peppering me with grammar questions I couldn’t answer.

    Turns out I wasn’t stumped all that much, but when it happened I quickly learned to say, “I’ll have to look that up and get back to you.” And then followed through.

    (That girl was there in the front row, but she was pretty nice.)

    My take is Fake the funk at your own risk.

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  66. atlanta wedding photographer

    it really is about confidence….it is the same with relationships or at least geting to know someone. How many times is it that the shady dude wins over the more respectable because of his confidence to the girl. It is perception but at the sametime you have to be prepared. Speaking at conferences can be very stressfull but if you approach it as I tell you what I know and if I don’t I’ll find out for you and get back with you then you are coming across as someone like them who know a little bit more or even percieved as a n expert and has the resourses to find out anything at anytime. I need to find someone to stop me from running . . .

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  68. Luke

    Too bad I suck so bad at faking. I’m like the worst faker in the world. Everyone knows I am bluffing. I don’t know why they stick around…

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  71. Terrance Charles

    Good post… I don’t agree with people that don’t practice what they preach, because they lead other people in the wrong direction, but I do agree with people who have confidence about themselves and portray themselves as good at what they do, because afterall, how do you determine who the real expert is…

    Terrance Charles
    http://www.twitter.com/TerranceCharles

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  74. Cabmgmnt

    You’ve got to envision the success before it happens, I understand that “fake it ’til you make it” means just that.
    Picture your success and the money you will eventually earn, live like you have the money and the success and it will eventually happen as long as you are taking action on a daily basis to make it so.
    Confidence, wit, smarts and a little bit of cockiness can take you a long way!

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  76. sikiş

    well I am glad there are other non-morons who realize that this guy markus is a douche. and a liar to boot. to date I have had 3 profiles auto deleted from the site for contacting the delusional fish.

  77. swinger

    Great list. I regularly create WP based sites for clients and I’ve been wondering if there are more things I can do to make them more user friendly. Definitely checking out Leopard Admin and some of the other stuff.

  78. Don Lawrence

    Love the saying “light travels faster than sound, this is why some people appear bright until you here them speak”. Of course the opposite is preferable. But either way, you are right, perception gets you the audience in the first place.

  79. Inboxnetbiz

    It’s difficult to have confidence while faking it. It will show somehow, either through body language or eye movement and people can sense it. More so with a little bit of clever questioning. To have confidence you still need to need to be prepared to have some know how or skill so its not empty bs. But I do agree that those in the sales and film industry can really fake it. Probably after intense training and role play.

  80. SOCIAL MEDIA NETWORKING FOR BUSINESS

    I am fairly new in this business and really want to succeed and know that confidence is the answer, but it is really hard to get up and continue doing something when you start questioning youself. Asking if you made the right decision. I do not want to be loaded like some of the success stories I hear about, I just want to pay my bills. I am willing to work as many hours as it takes, but I start asking myself if I made the right decision in going into this line of work. Dave

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