Quick Tip: Look Beyond Your Bubble for Freelance Writing Advice

Last week Paula Hendrickson wrote a great guest post for Lori Widmer's blog on vetting writing experts. This topic is near and dear to my heart because I've had more new writers come to me looking for help after taking horrible advice from pseudo experts than I can count. I feel for those writers. It's easy to get sucked in because some of these charlatans are masters at hyping themselves up (and that's about all they've mastered).

Paula's article gives you three ways you can vet freelance writing experts before deciding to follow them, hire them as a coach, or take their courses. I'll be honest. I didn't agree with all of those tips (mostly one about Twitter follower ratios due to my social media consulting experience and knowing how people often game the system). But overall it's good advice and I hope you'll check out the post.

What does that have to do with this week's quick tip?

Paula's post inspired a private conversation with three other freelancers. That post, coupled with one I found on another blog shortly after, got us talking about not only pseudo experts and their affect on new freelance writers, but also the way some newer writers are living in bubbles.

Here's the gist of what we've witnessed:

You'll see a group of five to ten newer freelancers (generally freelancing for one to five years, often on the lower end). They're friends. And they seem to get their writing advice from each other, or very few sources outside that group.

They essentially operate in a bubble. When they need to tap someone for advice, they reach out to these friends of a similar experience level. They start referring to each other as "experts." And the scary part is that they start to believe it.

They often then launch blogs offering their own "expert" advice on freelancing. Or they focus on publishing guest post after guest post with writing tips, thinking that alone makes them an expert on freelance writing. Guest posts do not make you an expert freelance writer. They help you build more exposure when you've already put the work in.

Much of the advice on these blogs is simply regurgitated. I've had writers ask me for advice privately and then turn around and give the same advice on their blog as though it was their own idea, never crediting their source. I've also seen writers parrot what they just learned in a course as if hearing something from a more experienced professional made them qualified to teach others. In addition to those kinds of posts, some are little more than them sharing an experience they had and thinking it represents a larger trend or that it's easy for others to replicate.

It's a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. They act like experts because their friends tell them they are. And then even newer writers buy into that hype and get their advice from inexperienced freelancers. This is a great example of why you need to vet your writing experts. Make sure they're experienced in what they're teaching -- whether that's writing style and grammar or the business side of freelancing.

What's the problem with this?

Look. It's absolutely cool to have a group of friends you network with more than others. We have that at all experience levels. But don't launch an "expert" blog when you're years away from really being an expert.

Instead, launch a blog targeting your ideal clients. Use it to land more, and better, freelance writing jobs. And when you have more of those under your belt, then start offering advice to newer writers. You'll be in a much better position to do so.

If you really want to start a blog on writing, go for it. There's nothing wrong with that either. Share your personal journey. But make sure it's clear to readers that's what your blog is about -- not giving expert advice before you're qualified to do so.

On the flip side, if you're one of those writers living in a bubble, break out of it. I'm astonished when some of these newer writers, who often have "expert" writing blogs of their own, tell me they've never heard of some of the most experienced writers around. If most of the freelancers you get advice from have been at it for fewer than five years, try to get out a bit more.

Finding More Experienced Freelancers

Here are just a handful of more experienced freelance writers you should be aware of:

  • Peter Bowerman
  • Ed Gandia
  • Anne Wayman
  • Bob Bly
  • Kelly James-Enger

That doesn't mean everything each of these people says will apply to you. Find the ones who have the kinds of careers you want to build, and focus on what they can offer.

Not all people qualified to give you advice to grow your freelance writing business have blogs and courses. So also get out in networking groups. Join forums where more experienced professionals hang out. Make an effort to meet the pros who write for your ideal publications and other markets (social networks are great places to start).

Please, don't get caught up in a newbie networking bubble. It only holds you back. I get that it's more comfortable to stay around people in a similar position to you (and it's what leads some more experienced pros to unfortunately avoid meeting newer writers too). Those are valuable contacts to have. Just don't let them be your only contacts when you need freelance writing advice.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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17 thoughts on “Quick Tip: Look Beyond Your Bubble for Freelance Writing Advice”

  1. Great advice, Jenn. I’m amazed at how many “experts” there are out there. And the people who really have expertise don’t spend a lot of time on the lable – they just lead by example.

    Oh, and though you’re too modest to say so, I’d add you to that list, especially for the techie side of writing. 🙂

    • Exactly. I remember a while back (must have been at least five years ago now), one of my readers asked me why I didn’t update my blog as much as a certain other freelance writer with a popular blog in the niche. It was the kind of question that left me wanting to bang my head against the wall. This other blogger didn’t actually work as a freelance writer at the time. They repeatedly mentioned this on their blog. How you could follow this person and not know that was beyond me. So the answer to that question, though I was much nicer about it at the time? “Because I’m actually busy writing for clients.” I don’t know if it ever clicked with that writer, but I always hoped they paid a little more attention moving forward.

      With some “experts” all they care about is selling that self-declared expertise instead of actually doing the work they claim to be experts at. It’s fine to market yourself. It’s fine to sell things. But if that’s all you do, while the information you’re selling is about teaching buyers to do something else, it’s time to move on, be honest, and just promote yourself as the internet marketer you are. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s what you prefer.

      And thanks Sharon. You’re one of the ones I miss most (as far as freelance writing blogs go). I’m just glad I know where to find you even though your own blog isn’t being updated anymore (unless I missed something?). 🙂 For those who don’t know, Sharon owns Get Paid to Write Online. Spend some time in her archives.

      • No, you didn’t miss anything, Jenn. I’m updating the occasional post and adding on a presentation or infographic, but I’m mostly posting on sharonhh.com. However, I’m still guest posting about writing (occasionally) on a few blogs. 🙂

  2. Jenn, you’ve nailed a trend that’s been worrying me lately. I follow some “entrepreneur experts” whose advice is along these lines: If you know a bit more than others, you’re an expert. Don’t wait till you know everything to build your authority site. Just do it. Because there’s money to be made by building an authority site. Serious money. Look at Expert X, who makes [insert large $$$ amount here] a month!

    So how does a newbie distinguish between real expertise and fake? I’d love to see some more posts on this.

    • There’s certainly value in having an authority site. And yes, it helps to start building one early. The issue is in the type of content they post. I’ve seen people start “journey” style blogs where they simply share their own story and progress. It works. It makes people connect with you. And eventually those sites do tend to swing towards advice and tutorials. It’s a natural progression (and it’s actually how this blog started — a group journey-oriented blog under the SixFigureWriters.com brand). So they can start an “authority site” early without it being an issue. It just shouldn’t be about giving advice they aren’t yet qualified to give.

      The only other time this could work is if they write very little content themselves and instead only feature interviews and posts from actual experts. The problem? They’re usually too inexperienced to know who the real experts are — they’re attracted to the loud-mouthed marketers like the ones you mentioned, or they go to their friends who are barely more experienced than they are. They don’t even know how to find more experienced pros unless those people are shouting from the rooftops. And that leads to an even bigger bubble effect where the same few people are tapped to say the same few things all the time. Snore-fest.

      As for readers trying to tell the difference? Before taking anything a new blogger says seriously, read a few of the posts and see if you get a bad vibe or see something that you know is inaccurate. Read their About page to see if they mention how long they’ve been in business (and the type of writing they do to make sure their posts will be relevant to you). Better yet, if they have a client-focused site (and they should if they’re advising other freelancers), visit it. You’ll probably get a better feel for their experience there. I know, it sounds like a lot of work. So I’d probably only recommend bothering if it looks like a blog you’d want to follow — so make it a pre-subscription ritual. 🙂

      I’ve seen good things come out of a few young writers over the last couple of years. And I go out of my way to connect with the ones who seem to be on the right track (relationships I wish more experienced freelancers would actively pursue, to help them rather than act above them). I understand they’re looking to build their own authority sites. But there’s a right way to go about it, and there’s a misleading way to go about it. And given that my primary concern is helping other new writers build successful businesses, I’ve been getting extremely frustrated at how many are taking the latter route these days.

  3. Great discussion, Jenn. And I love your comment, Sharon ~ And the people who really have expertise don’t spend a lot of time on the lable – they just lead by example. Amen. 🙂

    As I alluded to on Paula’s post, don’t mistake sharing with expertise.

    • That’s a great way to look at it Cathy. Those experts who make a point of helping newer freelancers out will certainly be present. But if they spend all of their time telling you how great they are instead of actually working, it’s a clear warning sign.

      On the other hand, you also don’t want to bother with “experts” who think they’re above newer folks — the ones who think they’re too important to interact with blog readers or answer emails without being paid for every little thing (rather than understanding how to network like the professionals they supposedly are). I’ve had conversations with “experts” in the past who say one thing to colleagues privately and then tell newbies something totally different because they don’t want more direct competition. And I’ve seen others openly admit they withhold information to keep those newbies coming back to buy their next “expert” e-book, course, or coaching session. Of course they can’t respond to everyone about everything if they’re bombarded. But the “pay me or you don’t exist to me” mentality is just as bad as the “I’m still figuring this out, but I’ll advise you on running a successful business” one. When looking for advice, try to find a happy medium.

  4. If I’m looking for an expert in something, I usually check their portfolio or testimonials page to see what they have actually done and how recently.

    And I agree with Jenn that there’s a happy medium between those who have forgotten what it was like to be new and those who don’t have the chops for “expert” branding.

  5. Great post, Jenn!

    I’ve even seen some newbie freelance writers who have only been in business 6 months themselves, and they’re already offering $400 writing courses! It has become crazy – everyone thinks they’re an instant expert.

    It’s like when I see the same writers posting ‘helpful’ articles on LinkedIn virtually every day – it doesn’t make me think of them as experts, it makes me wonder: if they’re so good, how come they have all this spare time on their hands to write endless non-paid ‘expert’ posts? Why aren’t they working? I’m too busy making money as a writer to even have time to start my own blog at the moment!

    And I agree with your list of freelancers worth following. Bowerman’s “The Wealthy Freelancer” and Bly’s “Secrets of a Freelance Writer” and “Copywriter’s Handbook” are extremely useful resources. Indeed, just going to Bob Bly’s website, looking at his extensive list of information products and checking out the copywriting he uses to sell each one is an education on its own!

    I make enough money as a freelance copywriter so I only have to work 8 months a year, and spend the other 4 travelling the world (although I hugely admire Bob Bly, I don’t want to work 5 days a week, 12 hours a day for 35 years like he does!).

    Newbie writers should spend more time focusing on getting better quality clients, and less time listening to pseudo-experts trying to sell eBooks and courses. A targeted mining of LinkedIn contacts has worked for me: for example, I just finished writing 10 long-form blog posts for a client last week, at $500 a post.

    I didn’t need an expert to tell me how to reach out to this client – I just needed to get off my butt and do it (I actually wrote my first-ever article for them while on vacation, sitting with my laptop on the shores of Lake Bled, Slovenia).

    Thanks for a great post (I’ve always liked your BS-free writing site)- I see so many writers spinning their wheels and agonising over peripheral stuff. Just go get clients, do great work for them, and all the good stuff will follow on from that.

    Kevin Casey

    • Thanks Kevin.

      You bring up an excellent point about just getting out there and finding the work. Some newer folks act as if there’s a shortage of gigs, but that’s just not true. There’s a nearly never ending supply of prospects out there who need writers. But when you expect them to come to you, or you wait around hoping the “perfect” gig is posted on some job board, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You have to do the leg work.

      I’ll admit, I’ve been wanting to spend some time on LinkedIn publishing. The old social media pro in me wants to test it out as a platform tool. But I’m facing that very issue of not having the time yet. I run a three-prong business — freelance writing, indie publishing, and web publishing. So for me, time on my own sites and blogs is a must. It’s an income-generator. And I’m a big supporter of using blogs in building a platform. But I agree. Some newer writers are putting far too much time into it (though oddly not usually on their own client-focused blogs, but rather on social networks and guest posting — if anything I’d spend a little more time on owned platforms which have longer-term benefits).

      And I’m totally with you on not wanting to be a workaholic type. Been there, done that. I went from working 60 hour weeks as a norm to a 28 hour per week schedule (earning an even better full time living because I wasn’t burnt out all the time). There are weeks when I put in extra hours. But it’s rarely because I have to and usually because I have a project I’m excited to be working on (I still push myself too hard occasionally). Every week now has a three-day weekend (great for short trips whenever), and I’ve set aside one working day each week exclusively for my own projects. And when I want to take time off, I take it. It never ceases to amaze me how many freelancers forget to account for personal days, sick days, and vacation time when setting their rates.

      It’s liberating to have control over your schedule and time to do things other than work. I’ve been in a position where I could take months off at a time when I needed to. And it was because I was charging enough year-round. Once you see the value of higher-paying clients on a personal basis, you’ll never go back just because some gigs are easier to find. It doesn’t matter if the good ones take a little extra work up front. You don’t need nearly as many, so it tends to even out anyway.

    • Hi Derek,

      I’m not sure if you’re legitimately asking what she meant or are trying to play grammar police over the typo, but I’m going to assume the former. 🙂

      The point I believe she was making had to do with people focusing more on the label or title of being an “expert” than actually putting time into building expertise and behaving like authoritative professionals. Real experts are out there doing the work. They’re the ones newer freelancers should look up to. Pseudo-experts tend to spend more time talking about themselves and hyping themselves up to look like experts because their work rarely speaks for itself.

  6. I found the article insightful. I think many of the people commenting are writers too. I just want to pass my gratitude. Thanks.

  7. Great as always.
    When starting my own service I found so many “expert’s advice” in the Internet! Some of them were quite silly. So decided to do everything on my own by trials and errors. Thanks for the list of writers, though I didn’t hear about them before, I’ll read them

  8. Thanks for the list, I’ll have to check them out. Glad someone is writing about this topic. Like Olena said, so many tips on the internet but most of them either aren’t usable or don’t work for you.


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