One of the best people you can possibly befriend in this freelance world is Paula Hendrickson. Paula is a sharp, intuitive, and skilled writer who is as fun as she is generous. You’ve read here about the LOI? Paula introduced me to that method. In fact, her first post here was teaching us all about the letter of introduction.
Plus, Paula has helped me out a few times on the blog — once when I was out of the country on business and the other when I was laid up in a hospital for nearly two weeks.
Paula’s also someone with a finely tuned BS meter. Recently in a conversation, she related some of the things that bothered her about a good number of self-proclaimed experts — the inflated resumes, the one-sided conversations, the focus on profits rather than service, etc. Somewhere in that email conversation, I asked Paula to put her insights into blog post form.
Here is that post. Thank you, Paula. Once again, you’ve taught me something valuable.
Three Steps to Vetting Experts
by Paula Hendrickson
Back when I started writing, there were only a few ways to get expert advice on launching a writing career: magazines, how-to books, workshops, and seminars.
The authors and editors of those books were big draws at the workshops and seminars, and often served as expert sources cited in the magazine articles.
That made it fairly easy to determine which experts were worth following.
Today anyone with a blog or a website can pose as an authority on pretty much any topic. Some charlatans are obvious, but with others the sizzle can be so strong it’s hard to tell if they’re selling steak or blowing smoke.
The internet has made it easier than ever for slick marketers to make a quick buck off eager freelancers. Some marketers provide valuable information, others don’t. Before you decide to pay for a webinar, class, or e-book, take a moment to vet the people trying to lure you with their expertise.
A few years ago I encountered someone who was so desperately trying to position herself as an expert that she claimed to have written for a publication I’d contributed to for over a decade. I searched the publication’s online database for her byline, but her name never came up. Next, I Googled her name and discovered she had far less experience than I had at that time. Yet she was—and still is — charging new writers a hefty price to get small doses of her supposedly vast knowledge.
Before you believe the claims of so-called experts, do a little homework. Here are three simple steps to help you vet the credibility of an expert before clicking “send” on PayPal.
Step 1: Do a quick online search of the expert’s name and/or claims.
Let’s use Lori as an example. She won’t mind.
Search “Lori Widmer” and you’ll find a link to her professional website. It looks good. But it’s her website. Lori could say she’s the Shoe Queen of Ireland, or claim to be a New York Times best-selling author if she wanted to. Click over to her Project Successes page where she lists several clients and publications. Click one or two of the links and see what happens. Where have her articles been published? Who are her clients? Now go to a couple of the publications’ websites and look for her articles. If there’s a byline, is it hers? Check, check, and check.
Lori’s LinkedIn profile also shows up in the search. Is she connected with anyone from the companies or publications mentioned on her website? You bet she is. (If she didn’t have any such connections, it would be a clue that some claims on her website might be false, or at least greatly embellished.)
Our initial search also shows a link to an author’s bio for one of the publications Lori says she writes for. That would not exist if she weren’t a contributor.
Now switch the search parameter to “by Lori Widmer” to see how many clips come up, and when and where they were published. Impressive, huh?
Lori passed Step One of the litmus test. Can she pass Step Two?
Step 2. Evaluate the expert’s social media accounts.
Yes, anyone can have active social media accounts. But having thousands of followers doesn’t make anyone an expert. Now you’ll glean valuable insights — and spot possible red flags—by checking the expert’s Twitter feed.
What’s the ratio of Followers to Following? The numbers don’t need to be equal, but if someone has a couple thousand followers, common sense says he or she should be following a couple thousand in return. When a non-celebrity has 10,000 followers but only follows 500 people, that disparity is a good indicator the person is more interested in boosting his platform and marketing his next book, webinar, or event than in interacting with his followers.
View the Tweets & Replies. How many tweets are self-promotional? How often does she interact with her followers? When was the last time she shared a link to something other than her own site or blog? Does she thank people for retweets? If most of her tweets are self-promotional, she’s probably not worth following.
You can take a similar approach with other social media accounts. On Pinterest, does he re-pin and like lots of things, or just his own products? On LinkedIn, is he active in any groups? If so, how do other members react to his comments, and how does he respond?
By following at least as many people as follow her, engaging respectfully with others on LinkedIn, and keeping self-promotional updates to a minimum, Lori easily passes Step Two as well.
Step 3. Dig into the expert’s blog.
At one time or another, most people who blog about writing have found their posts pop up on random blogs. Sometimes the posts have been outright stolen. Other times another blogger made a couple minor changes before plagiarizing it or using it in a “mash up.” Occasionally perhaps even re-blogged with proper attribution. Unless you’re intimately familiar with both writers’ blogs, you might never know if the content is original or has been pilfered. But blogs hold other clues about the integrity of their owners.
Look for click bait. Every blogger wants to draw more page views, but a blogger who favors misleading or sensationalistic headlines is probably more interested in getting click-throughs than providing useful information.
Read the comments. If everyone seems to agree with the author about a controversial subject, chances are dissenting comments have been deleted. The only people who delete non-spam comments are those who are overly concerned with their image. You know the type: know-it-alls who hate being called out when they’re wrong.
Sift through a few posts and pay attention to how often the expert says “I,” “me,” or “my” compared to “you” or “your.” It’s a subtle, but often accurate, indicator of whether they’re out to help their readers or just themselves.
What do you know? Lori passed Step Three as well!
I’m sure there are dozens of other ways to investigate the veracity of so-called experts’ claims. When freelance writing experts spend less time writing than marketing their expensive webinars, books, and courses — especially when one is a stepping stone to another —chances are the bulk of their income comes from their expert sales skills, not from selling their actual writing.
How do you differentiate between actual experts and false prophets?
Paula Hendrickson is a full-time freelance writer whose byline has appeared in dozens of publications including Emmy, Variety, American Bungalow, and Creative Screenwriting. She also provides copywriting and editing work for a select group of clients. Instead of trying to sell her services as a mentor, she freely offers her advice to new writers — sometimes whether they want it or not. Follow her on Twitter @P_Hendrickson.