Lorrie Thomas Ross Of Web Marketing Therapy On How To Thrive Despite Experiencing Impostor Syndrome
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Put yourself in an advisor role. If you were advising someone who was having these feelings, what would you say to the person feeling like they don’t have what it takes for the job, experience, or challenge? This is why I have clients write things down first. Getting out of your head is key. Then you can honestly look at yourself and help break down the barriers.
As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders were able to succeed despite experiencing Imposter Syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lorrie Thomas Ross.
Lorrie Thomas Ross is the CEO of Web Marketing Therapy Inc., a marketing agency that diagnoses, prescribes, and guides healthy, sustainable marketing solutions. She has worked with thought leaders for over a decade, putting practices in place to help them brand, build and boost business, and leveraging their expertise to help them grow their authority status to reach career goals. Thomas Ross is also the founder and CEO of Wild Web Women, coaching and marketing support to help digital women grow gorgeously, where she leads one-on-one and group retreats for intentional women leaders. In addition to her roles as a marketing advisor and retreat leader, Thomas Ross is also an educator and author.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Happy to! I’ve seen digital marketing through it all…. Starting back in the early “dot com boom” days! In 1999, I had a job I loved, working in retail management when I was recruited by a loyal client to go work for her selling ads for a leading advertising network. I had never used email before that job — I didn’t even own a personal computer! — but I learned the art and science of online advertising and grew quickly. Success in sales aside, I chose to leave the company on the day they went public, handing out my sold contracts to my fellow sales team members (talk about leaving on a good note!) because I was disillusioned by big marketing budgets but no marketing heart.
At 21 years old, I walked away from a 6-figure salary and went back to college. Even though it was a time where dropping out of school to “make money on the internet,” was celebrated, the money wasn’t enough. I wanted meaningful work. Within months of returning to college, I was recruited to sell ads for another web company. After turning them down at first, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I was back in the online ad sales world, this time in the dot-com bust. Tough times aside, I still thrived, helping the company reach profitability. A few years later I was asked to lead online marketing efforts at this company as a buyer (vs. seller) to help the company grow their subscriber base. Leaving sales behind, I had a major marketing “drinking from a firehose” career experience. I was managing display ads, affiliate marketing, paid search, SEO and working with brand managers on web pages, copy, email campaigns, PR and more. This was before there were digital marketing books and classes, so I learned experientially and fast. I found a love for marketing and how all the pieces of the puzzle connected to brand, build and boost business.
When UC Santa Barbara asked me to teach through their continuing education program, my career took a new direction. The challenge of sharing the breadth and depth of web marketing in a way that was digestible to both experienced and inexperienced adults was an opportunity for me to share my passion and help companies of all sizes. While it was scary to teach at first, it became the most rewarding thing I had done professionally at that time. Around the same time, I was recruited to be an internal marketing consultant at an outdoor recreation company that owned multiple brands, giving me another taste for helping multiple businesses simultaneously. About a year later, I got recruited to work for a health company which seemed like the perfect job (marrying wellness with web marketing), but it wound up being a highly dysfunctional organization. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it took a job like that to force me to let go of the ledge and transition to doing what I love — optimizing marketing.
In 2005, I left corporate for good and started my consultancy. One rebrand and 17 years later and here I am now with a dream team and fabulous clients, still fueled by my desire to help great people and organizations implement healthy, sustainable marketing solutions.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of my most memorable career stories was from my retail management days at Saks Fifth Avenue. I answered the phone and spoke with a woman who had called the store several times and left messages inquiring about fur storage and was upset that nobody had gotten back to her. While we didn’t offer fur storage at our store, I was mortified that nobody had communicated with her. There were two problems to address: One — the issue that nobody had been responsive, and two — that while we didn’t offer fur storage, success comes in CANs, not CAN’Ts, so while I couldn’t store them at our store, I felt that we needed to guide her to a solution, even if it wasn’t in-house.
People need to feel seen and heard, so I immediately apologized for her initial calls going unanswered and let her know that moving forward, I would be her direct point of contact. I also informed her that while we did not offer fur storage, I knew the Beverly Hills store did (which was 90 minutes from Santa Barbara where I worked) and I was going to connect with them to find out how we could best help her get her fur down there. I asked her to give me a little time and I’d be in touch within a few hours with options. While I am NOT a fan of fur, and personally wouldn’t wear it, this wasn’t about me or my opinions. This was about customer service and making a client feel like a VIP. I was able to coordinate with our shipping department and the Beverly Hills fur salon to have her fur delivered within 24 hours. All the client needed to do was get them to our store. Solution identified! Or so I thought. I called her to give her the news but she said she preferred that someone come pick them up. I found out where she lived and offered to personally pick them up on my way to work the next day (this was before GPS days, so I had her directions on a yellow sticky note taped to the dashboard of my red Ford Escort!). When I arrived at the house, her husband opened the door and invited me into the living room where I found a rolling rack of not one, but 8 coats and 4 huge fur hat boxes! Internally, I was gasping “oh my gosh!!!” but I was smooth on the outside. We crammed my little 2-door car with all of the coats and hats and I made my way to the store, unable to see out my rear window! It turns out that this woman was a Platinum client of Saks nationally (in 1998, that meant she spent over $30k/year) and became one of my top clients. I shopped for her from head to toe. Makeup, fragrance, evening gowns, vacation wear, lingerie, gifts, you name it, often shipping things like fragrance to all 4 of her homes so she didn’t have to be bothered traveling with it.
The lesson here is that we always need to be thinking beyond service and looking at solutions to grow business. No matter what business you are in, you are in the people business first. Finding solutions and communicating them to serve and support your audience is the key to success.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One of my favorite stories that sums up why my company’s work stands out comes from an experience working for a client who became, at that time, my first BIG client. He hired me to help him optimize his website for better search visibility. I drove to the kick off meeting and met with my client, his business partner and got a tour of the office. On the walls were numerous awards, photos of them with big-name radio hosts and a ginormous 3-ring folder that was packed with love letters from extremely happy clients. While we got into the geeky science of SEO, nailing down key phrases that they wanted to rank on, I also asked them about the heart of why they started this company. Listening to their story was so inspiring. This company was very different from their competitors, not only in the results they delivered, but in their approach and how they operated. I drove home, excited to get to work. This was an easy SEO optimization project. But, the more I geeked out on the code changes and structural stuff to make the site more search friendly, the more I kept thinking back to the awards, client success letters, how much they were investing in radio etc.. After taking a good, hard look at their website, I realized that all the SEO in the world to their current website wasn’t going to be their best investment. Their site at the time was good, but it had so much more potential to marry credibility, usability, visibility, sellability and scalability.
One of the many things that makes my company unique is that we focus on solutions, not problems. We educate and empower our clients so they know how to prioritize “need to have’s” over “nice to have’s”. While a rebrand and new website was not part of the project I was hired for, I paid one of my designers (on my dime) to do a mockup of a new/improved website as well as logo concepts to show them how a more credible, professionally designed site could look, explaining that they needed more than SEO. They needed an elevated logo, website, user experience copy and content marketing so all of the puzzle pieces came together and clicked. As per our contracted agreement, I had done all the SEO work and had that ready, letting them know we could do the SEO as planned, OR we could wait to add it to a more “on-brand” and “on-purpose” site to take marketing to a whole new level. The costs for the graphic design were on me to show them vs. just tell them how effective a new site could be.
These two partners sat there after I shared my observations, recommendations and options for next steps and were silent. I was still pretty new to being an entrepreneur and worried I had overstepped by speaking up about things beyond what I was hired to do. Then the partner opened his mouth and said “Wow, you really care about your work.” I breathed a sigh of relief. He went on to say that for years, they had countless vendors make promises and under-deliver, and that this was the first time that they had someone really “get” their business who could put all the marketing puzzle pieces together.
That was a new beginning for my company. From there on out, I led with my distinction — using my breadth and depth of marketing expertise to diagnose, prescribe and guide healthy sustainable marketing solutions.This turned into our five-factor success framework that we layer over all our work — advisory, training and marketing management. There is an art of marketing and a science of marketing, but when you approach marketing from a place of heart, everything falls into place. We approach our clients in a way that focuses not on selling marketing services, but solely on supporting them with strategic solutions. Super custom, solution-centric marketing. Optimization first.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
One of the most influential people who helped me get to where I am today is a very revered industry colleague (who will remain nameless). This person was so kind to me when I branched out on my own, taking me to lunch, giving me advice. She had a very successful one-person agency at the time, worked extremely hard and was very intense. On paper she was successful, but not the kind of success I wanted. I wanted a quality company and a better quality of life.
Over one of our lunches I excitedly shared with her my desire to rename my business Web Marketing Therapy to align with our diagnose, prescribe and guide approach. She shut the name down immediately. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was along the lines of; “Oh no.” “Nobody is going to like that.” “There is a stigma around therapy.” “Don’t do it.” But I wasn’t upset or deterred. In fact, I felt even more inspired to rebrand (my original name was Lorrie Thomas Web Marketing) because everything I was was the opposite of this person. She was hard, my approach was heart-centered (tough love as needed, but less intense). Her approach was formulaic, mine was very custom. Her clients were demanding and commanding, I wanted clients who valued their relationships and were a pleasure to partner with. Her nay-saying my brand name was one of the most influential moments for my company’s marketing, changing the course of my company’s future. Being shut down can be such a gift. It reinforced why I wanted to do this, helped me better articulate who we are, what we do, whom we serve and reminded me that I needed a brand that would connect with my ideal clients …and she wasn’t one of them!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?
Impostor Syndrome is when someone, regardless of their age, education, experience or achievements, experiences feelings of self-doubt and/or lack of competence. While Impostor Syndrome can impact anyone, it’s often prevalent among high-achieving people. People with Impostor Syndrome feel like they aren’t ready for opportunity, even if it’s handed to them, and usually find excuses to be “unqualified.”
Years ago, when I was asked to teach a marketing class for UC Santa Barbara — an opportunity I had coveted for a long time — Impostor Syndrome kicked in. Instead of immediately saying “yes”, my first words to the person who invited me to teach was that I only had a Bachelor’s degree (at that time, I have a Master’s now), shutting the opportunity down. Looking back, I cannot believe that I had admired other colleagues who had adjunct teaching jobs, dreaming of my own opportunity, and when one fell into my lap I almost blew it because of Impostor Syndrome! Thankfully, she didn’t take no for an answer and told me something like, “You are an industry veteran, that doesn’t matter. We need experts in the field who can teach.” I was perfectly qualified to teach, but I almost allowed Imposter Syndrome to let me pass up on a dream.
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
Impostor Syndrome is a self-imposed barrier which can completely inhibit someone from leveling up. I liken it to the FEAR acronym — False Expectations Appearing Real. It’s one thing to have “optimal anxiety,” a psychological state where performance and alertness are optimized (like right before you make a presentation) but it’s so debilitating when you believe that you can’t take advantage of an opportunity “until _____” (I get that degree, take the class, get more experience, etc.)
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
I find that when someone experiences Impostor Syndrome, they often act one of two ways. They either project those feelings of inadequacy onto others, which can manifest as criticism, negativity, demotivating others, or jealousy, or, it can be the opposite, where those with Imposter Syndrome put people with the same qualifications as them on a pedestal, unable to see they are an equal.
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
My first brush with Impostor Syndrome was when I was in retail management. I was a super strong salesperson and had grown my business to levels beyond what the store had anticipated. One day, I was asked to come up to the general offices to meet with store leadership. I sat down and was immediately offered a promotion to take over an area in couture within the store. The pay increase was almost double, a huge income opportunity for me, but I turned them down. All the Impostor Syndrome feelings rose up: I felt I wasn’t qualified to work in couture because I didn’t have the same experience that the current employees in that department did. I also felt like I’d be pretending with the extremely high net worth clients who shopped in that area. I proceeded to tell the store manager why I was not the right fit. She cut me off and told me that they needed someone like me who had a background reviving struggling businesses within stores (which was true, that was my jam) and they wanted some young blood mixed in with the seasoned professionals to shake things up. Thankfully, I shut up and took the position. And, I crushed it!
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
The first couple of weeks in that new position weren’t easy. I had a lot of self-doubt, which only grew as I got to know my new team and learned that some had client lists beyond anything I’d ever imagined, one was a former model who had collaborated directly with designers and some used to be designers themselves! Here I was, a 21-year old whose experience was working at JCPenney and a cosmetics line, and was now the one at a luxury store tasked with reviving couture. Thankfully, I had a super supportive life partner who reminded me of why I was selected to do the work and reminded me to take things one day at a time. But what I found to be the most helpful in mitigating the Imposter Syndrome was trusting my leadership. They were smart people, they wouldn’t have given me the opportunity if they didn’t think I could do it. And I had done it for other brands, so I started small and snowballed the business…and got promoted again! It turned out they didn’t need a couture expert, they needed a marketing expert, and that was me!
In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Step 1: Feel the feelings. This is part of the growth process. It’s never healthy to suppress emotions. See it, hear it, forgive it, then move on. The mind is for thinking, not storing, so get it out of your head and on paper. Let’s say you want to write a book but you feel like an impostor. The feeling might be “I don’t have what it takes to write a book” or “I don’t have enough experience to be qualified to write a book on ___.” Or, my personal favorite that came from a narrative fed to me in my childhood (which is a whole other interview lol) “Who do you think you are?”
Step 2: Write down why you feel this way. For the above example, it might be things like:
“I’ve never written a book”, “I don’t have formal education in this subject to write this book” or “I’m never going to be able to finish.” Get it all out. Even if it feels silly, get all the reasons why you feel like an impostor out.
Step 3: Read through all of these. Then ask yourself, are they really true? Any author who has a book had a point in their life where they too, had never written a book. Many people write books who may not have a formal writing education or education in that space. As for being able to finish, it might make you laugh to read that.
Step 4: Ask yourself what is really holding you back. Be honest. This could be fear of failure, ridicule, having to work really hard, letting people down. In the coaching work I do with entrepreneurs, I’ve heard things like “I’m not as attractive/educated/experienced as other people on stage giving these kinds of talks” emerge as underlying reasons. A lot of people who experience Impostor Syndrome deal with perfectionism. This is a callout I want to make because this is a big issue that holds so many people back from trying. Remember, nothing is perfect — life is a creative process!
Step 5: Put yourself in an advisor role. If you were advising someone who was having these feelings, what would you say to the person feeling like they don’t have what it takes for the job, experience, or challenge? This is why I have clients write things down first. Getting out of your head is key. Then you can honestly look at yourself and help break down the barriers.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to inspire a movement of women asking for what they want — clearly, confidently, unapologetically. This movement will elevate relationships, family dynamics, the workforce and the world. The world needs more feminine power. Growing up professionally in a man’s world, it has taken me years of education, coaching and personal work to uncoil from trying to survive in a man’s world vs. thriving as a woman and making an impact by tapping into my feminine power. I want to see more women get rooted so they can grow in gorgeous ways. It’s time.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
I adore Diane von Furstenburg. I read her book “The Woman I Wanted to Be” and was beyond inspired by her positivity, story and passion in her life and work. She is a goddess of reinvention and staying relevant. She is a great example of the type of woman who asks for what she wants without hesitation.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!