The BS Litmus Test for Freelance “Expert” Vetting

I like to cruise Twitter to see what freelancers are talking about. A few days ago, I was doing my usual cruising. Maybe I’m just ultra-cynical these days, but it seemed to me the thing people were talking about was themselves.

Specifically, they were bragging about how they had the secret to boosting their freelance writing career and increasing their earnings.

And they were telling you how to do it.

For a fee, of course.

While there’s nothing wrong with a freelance writer selling their wares to other freelancers, there’s a disturbing trend lately.

Newbies are acting like veterans. And they’re convincing other newbies to part with their cash in order to learn their “secrets.”

There is something very, very wrong with that.

I’ve talked about a BS litmus test before, but always connected to new clients and projects. However, it seems we need one to vet our so-called teachers.

When you come across one of these “secrets” courses, books, or other paid-for things, ask yourself these questions:

Does this freelancer have the experience to teach me anything? I’m going to be blunt with you: if your “teacher” hasn’t been successful at this for at least five years, someone is bullshitting you on the usefulness of their “secret.” They may indeed have been successful at making $3,000 in their first month or have doubled their income doing one thing they want you to pay to find out. What they haven’t been successful at is showing a track record of that success. Anyone (and I mean anyone) can luck into one fantastic month or a phenomenal year. It’s happened to me when I wasn’t trying. What you need is staying power beyond four years or more. And just so you know, these “secret” methods are probably methods others are using and talking about, and like everything else, even the current method stops working after a while. Save your money on courses and books that will teach you a more comprehensive approach to building an actual business.

If this freelancer is so successful, why is he/she having to sell their secrets? For me, this part has never jibed with the “I’m soooo successful” claims. It’s a rare freelancer who’s so freaking successful at the outset that they just have to sell you their course or book because you can’t live without it. Look under the surface — if that freelancer is successful at all, it’s because they’ve convinced people like you to put down good money for their “secrets.” It could be that their entire careers — or large portions of them — are based on selling to other freelancers. How exactly is that going to help you earn money with real clients?

Where the hell are they getting their info? I pray you’re asking this question. Who taught these people? Where did they learn their methods? Ask them. If the answer is they came to it themselves, run. There are no new ideas, period. There are variations on the same themes. Don’t believe me? I challenge you — locate five courses or books. Look at the titles. What are they really selling (not what great adjectives are they using to make it sound different)? I’ll say this right here: selling a variation on a theme is perfectly fine. Just make sure the person selling it to you has the expertise to back it up, and not just their “Hey, look what I did” approach to your success. Remember, no one business person will be successful using the same rules or methods. What works for them may not work for you.

Are those testimonials real? Honey, I’m about to blow your mind — some of these freelance “teachers” are offering free stuff in exchange for a testimonial. Course discounts, free books, you name it, but the point is someone is being given a super deal in exchange for a glowing review. (And yes, you can be honest and say it sucked, but if someone’s padding your wallet, chances are you’d feel bad doing so.) Don’t base your decision on testimonials you read. Ask questions of other freelancers, possibly even those listed who say things were fabulous. Ask what they liked, what they didn’t like, etc. If there are no names, go back to the course instructor/bookseller/whatever and ask for direct contact info.

Are they socially active? I don’t mean are they constantly touting their own blogs, courses, books, blah, blah… I mean are they engaging you or other freelancers in actual conversation? Are they sharing bits of their day or sharing things unrelated to what they’re selling? For example, I share sports stuff, insurance stuff, funny things, thought-provoking articles, and whatever catched my attention. Is that freelancer sharing or just hogging bandwidth? Why that matters: you’re not building a relationship because this person isn’t interested in it. They’re interested in selling to you. Period. That in itself is a red flag, no?

Writers, how do you vet courses, books, and most importantly, those offering to sell their wares to you?
Any advice to writers thinking about buying courses or books?

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  • Paula Hendrickson July 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Oh, those types are experts all right. Just not about writing.

    There was one back in the day whose own website was so riddled with basic grammar and punctuation errors—more than could possibly be typos—that she pretty much was laughed out of a LinkedIn group geared to professional writers. Well, maybe she wasn’t such an expert promoter back then, since she obviously didn’t take the time to study the audience she was trying to sell on her services!

    Somehow she’s been able to attract quite a following of newbies over the year. While I wouldn’t take a single piece of writing advice she has to offer, if she ever started teaching the secrets of her marketing success, I might pay attention. (No cash. Just attention.)

    • Paula Hendrickson July 13, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Years. (Mentioning a typo only guarantees you’ll make one.)

  • Devon Ellington July 13, 2017 at 11:13 am

    I like to read the person’s writing. Do I like it? Do I relate to it? If I don’t like the style, I probably won’t like the venues where it appears, and vice versa. Does the writer have substantial credits? What is the website like? Is there more interaction than just trying to sell me something on the social media pages? All of that weighs in.

    • lwidmer July 17, 2017 at 9:43 am

      That’s a great test, Devon. I wish I’d used that about 12 years ago. Took an AWFUL course on fiction writing — it was supposed to be good as someone told me. However, it was a waste of $24 (first red flag should have been the price). I’ve never seen a more verbose course instructor. She had required readings per day — four items or so. Each one was anywhere from 7 to 17 pages long. Plus homework. Plus posting in three or four forum threads.

      I dropped it not because I’m a quitter — I dropped it because it was ridiculous. I wasn’t learning a thing except how badly that woman needed an editor. And I was wasting billable time.

      You are so right about what we need to include in our decision to “hire” these instructors. Maybe if we started with the notion that we’re hiring them, we’d make better choices.

  • Sharon Hurley Hall July 25, 2017 at 9:49 am

    This really annoys me. There’ve been a couple of newbie experts who’ve been on my radar recently, selling info they’ve gleaned from 18 months of freelancing. They’re good at marketing, but I’m pretty sure they can’t deliver the long term value they’re promising. Sigh.