Voice & Power

This story is part of a new series on BBC Capital called Voice & Power, which analyses the relationships between our voices and our incomes, our careers and our power.

Nadia Finer hosts the Little Voice, Big Business podcast and works with female entrepreneurs. But to achieve her own success, she had to confront her own deep-rooted fears.

I remember the first time I realised there was something odd about my voice. I was 15, in a French lesson, and we’d just got fancy new tape machines.

You spoke into the headset and recorded your voice so you could listen back and check your pronunciation. I loved French. So I happily recorded myself and then pressed play.

All I could hear was this little kid talking. Who the heck was that? It took me a moment to understand that it was me. I was mortified. From that day on I vowed to keep this little voice of mine under wraps.

I shrank, determined to be inconspicuous, afraid that people would judge me or laugh at me.

Yes, I could run a dodgy phone sex line if I was ever strapped for cash, and the guys at the Thai takeaway know it’s me when I call.

I might have been born to do cartoon voice-over work but my voice has always made me feel insecure, like people wouldn’t take me seriously.

It’s hardly surprising given that roughly once a week, when someone calls our house, they hear my voice, get confused and then ask to speak to my mum. I am the mum!

And of course, as an entrepreneur, it’s been a bit of a problem.

I might have been born to do cartoon voice-over work but my voice has always made me feel insecure, like people wouldn’t take me seriously

My preferred working position is hidden away behind my laptop. Given the chance I would avoid speaking on the phone. I’d give all forms of photography and video an extremely wide berth. And public speaking? No, thank you very much.

My constant crisis of confidence caused me to enter into a business partnership with someone bigger, brasher and ballsier than me so that I could hide in the background. 

Bad decision. Although the business looked big and successful on the outside, I was stressed out, unable to sleep and constantly on edge.

I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. The perfect vision of a shiny female entrepreneur.

One day things came to a head, when my business partner started to lay into me on the phone.

“You’re playing small. You’re holding us back!” The aggression in her voice was ugly. “Nobody takes you seriously. You’re a joke. You don’t deserve to get paid the same as me,” she said.

My head was spinning. This was the business I had started on my own. My business. My idea. I could feel everything I’d worked for come crumbling down around me.

I felt a molten volcano of rage rise up. A steely voice I didn’t recognise said: “It’s over. You can expect to hear from my lawyer.” I put down the phone, hands shaking, and started to cry.

Yes, I could run a dodgy phone sex line if I was ever strapped for cash, and the guys at the Thai takeaway know it’s me when I call

What if she was right? What if I really was playing small? A small-time player with small ambitions and smaller talent? This was the fear that had haunted me all my life.

After a few weeks wallowing, I felt a glimmer of strength inside me. I knew that I didn’t need her. I knew I could start again on my own. I’d done it before.  

But this time it would be different. I was going to do things my way. I was going to put myself at the heart of my business. I was ready to break free from fakery and kick fear in the face.

But how real was I prepared to be? Would I have the courage to face up to the thing that made me, me? And if I did, would anyone take me seriously?

I was reminded of a quote by Joseph Campbell: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

My little voice was my cave. The very idea of being open about it gave me the fear. But somehow I knew it held the key to everything. 

I decided to take the leap, and that night it came to me: ‘Little Voice. Big Business.’ That would be my brand.

And you know what? Since I decided to be myself in my business and embrace the thing that makes me unique, I haven’t looked back.

I may not be a multi-millionaire, a celebrity or a business legend (yet) but what I have done is create a business that allows me to scale. It’s little, but it gets big results.

When limiting beliefs have your business dreams in a headlock, it’s so tempting to hide yourself away. But that thing you’re hiding is probably the thing you need to shine a light on.

For me that big personality came from my little voice. I started to see my voice as my strength. I realised it’s what makes me unique.  

So what is your unique gift? Is there something that you’ve been hiding? The world needs you to stop hiding and to stop trying to be like everyone else.

When you are truly you, good things happen. Your personality, your experiences and your vibe will draw people to you. Your work will flow and it’ll be more fun. And your business will go from strength to strength.

That’s what happened to me. My people loved the fact that I was sharing from a raw, real place. They loved that despite my fears and insecurities, I was willing to show up, be seen and build a big reputation online.

How visible are you in your business – on your website or in your marketing? It’s one thing to be yourself, but if nobody can see you, what’s the point?

Before I got my act together, I would hide behind my business. I had one photo of me, from when I was 22, which I would use over and over again. So silly! After all, business is built on relationships. People buy people. If you’re hiding, it’s impossible to make that connection.

Play to your strengths. If you hate giving talks, don’t. If you’re a writer, write!

Find out what works for you and do it, a lot. Sadly, it’s not enough to show up once and run off and hide again - it has to be consistent. No ditching it after five minutes!

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. We are all different and so are our businesses. 

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