Earlier this week on my PR blog I shared some thoughts on how social media supports liars, giving some examples of how even colleagues in the freelance writing industry have gotten caught up in it. Commenter J. Toman brought up the concept of "fake it 'til you make it." I'm sure you've heard that before. It comes up now and again in the freelance writing community. It's about acting successful early on, in order to become successful.
Is there validity to "fake it 'til you make it?" Sure. But there's also this misconception that the concept justifies dishonesty with others -- that you can flat out lie about things like credentials and experience to make yourself look good, to ultimately get those things so you can be honest later on.
Being dishonest about what you've done and what you can do are unethical any way you cut it. And do you really want to kick off a career, or career change, in such a negative way? You don't have to. You just need to look at "fake it 'til you make it" in a different light. There's no reason to turn into some unethical schmuck just to land gigs. You can succeed and keep your integrity too.
3 Ways to "Fake it 'til you Make it" (Ethically)
1. Highlight the good instead of embellishing the irrelevant.
How would you feel if you hired an accountant only to later find out they turned a job in the filing room of a firm into a supposed accounting career? You might feel scammed. And you would have been. Why make your own clients feel that way (because let's face it -- chances are good you'll be found out)?
Don't turn irrelevant work histories into careers that never existed. Any credibility you legitimately build can be undermined by those kinds of lies early on. Instead, look for good things you can highlight.
For example, even if you're new and without professional experience, there's always something to highlight.
- If you want to be a parenting writer, focus on the fact that you've raised three kids even if you have no writing credentials.
- If you want to be a business writer, emphasize your corporate work experience or success as an entrepreneur even if you've never written a word for someone else.
- Taking some courses in your specialty area? Even if you haven't earned a degree yet, you can still honestly say you've "studied X, Y, and Z" if they're relevant to your writing work.
It's about picking the best qualities to feature; not telling outright lies. You "fake" a professional image by choosing honest things to emphasize while leaving other elements out -- it's about exuding confidence based on what you do have going for you, even if it's not as much as the competition.
2. Create more positives.
If you don't feel like you have enough positive attributes to promote your services as a freelance writer, create some! Take a course. Attend some lectures or seminars.
If you have no work experience that's relevant, you can address that too. Help a friend or family member or a local nonprofit with a small project or two -- just enough to give you examples to show new prospects that you know what you're doing.
Want to be a sales copywriter? You'll probably want numbers to back you up. So go get them. Start with a project of your own. Then you can use your own sales figures based on that copy to back you up rather than using clients as guinea pigs.
You don't have that dream background to promote, but at least you'll have something -- whether it was paid work or not. You "fake" a gig history without having to lie about what you've done.
3. Convince yourself of confidence.
The most important element of "faking it 'til you make it" isn't about faking things to others. It's about fooling yourself. It's about convincing yourself that you're a confident professional even if you're not yet.
Many freelancers start out lacking confidence. They don't think they should earn professional rates because they're new, no matter how much specialty area experience they might have. So they compromise their career and settle into ruts.
You move up and grow your business when you have confidence -- or at least when you can convince yourself that you do. Just don't mistake faking confidence for faking external elements of your career like experience or even basic ability. You need some foundation to back up that confidence. Don't have it yet? Then go back over my first two tips.
You can "fake it 'til you make it" and it can really get your career moving in the right direction. But if you take the approach of dishonesty with clients, it can also send your freelance writing career into a tailspin down the line.
Only you can decide what kind of professional you want to be -- one people can trust or one they can't. Before you consider a dishonest approach (not that I suggest considering it at all), take some time to figure out if you really have more going for you than you think. Chances are good you have ways to twist your honest experiences into the professional image you want rather than making things up.
And hey, if you have to fake a bit of confidence along the way, no worries. The best part of faking confidence is that eventually you'll really have it.