When I first moved from being a back-office tax accountant to actually meeting with clients, I was usually in meetings together with the partner of the firm that I worked at. He was an established businessman, who’d had clients for 25 years, and I was the seemingly young, female trainee there to watch and learn. Probably an assistant, they’d likely assume.
To his credit, the partner I worked with never presented me as anything less than a fully competent member of his team in those first meetings. And clients were generally always friendly, gracious, and welcoming toward me. But often I could see it in their eyes, and in the way that they naturally talked toward him in conversation and more or less ignored me: I was the trainee, and probably didn’t have a lot to offer in the way of insight or advice that they were looking for. A natural assumption.
Until I started talking, that is. And then, something interesting would happen: I’d watch the initial startled look on their face at the fact that I was talking at all (by this point they’d almost forgotten I was there) turn to genuine interest at what I had to say, and then pleased surprise at the knowledge that actually, I clearly did know what I was talking about and had something valuable to add. After these initial meetings, it usually didn’t take long before clients would start to come to me directly with some of their questions, knowing that I was quite good at being able to answer their technical tax questions and provide guidance on tax and accounting issues. The whole situation had proven itself to be an advantage, because now the client’s perception had changed: all of a sudden they realized they had a skilled team working for them and not just a skilled accountant, and they were pleasantly surprised.
Being underestimated not only has the advantage of leaving behind a great impression when people realize what you can actually do, but it means less pressure at the outset: you don’t have a reputation to live up to, so you don’t need to worry about disappointing anyone. I’m not going to start going out there and claiming to be the best at something, because I probably can’t live up to that. And honestly, probably no one would care that much if I was the best at something, because most people just want help solving their problems.
In business we talk about having a strategic advantage: what do you have that others don’t and how can you use it to your advantage? Sure, having a well-known reputation for being knowledgeable and good at what you do is a kind of strategic advantage, because you might get more people coming to you for advice. But their expectations will be high already, so it makes it that much harder to give them a level of quality service that leaves them pleasantly surprised. Which is why being underestimated is also its own kind of strategic advantage, because you can more easily exceed your customers’ expectations, and that not only feels great but is likely to bring you more business in the future.
So don’t be concerned if you feel underestimated. Learn to see it for what it is: an opportunity rather than a challenge.