Movie star, statesman, and bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger made an interesting point when he talked about first coming to America, describing it as “the Land of Opportunity.” We hear that phrase often, and I think visiting another country can really hammer home that sentiment. Arnold reflected on how difficult it was to start one’s own business in Europe, as most people wouldn’t have a chance with all the red tape and bureaucracy; in 1980’s America, he went to a courthouse, paid for an LLC, and boom—he began his career as a brick-layer. Despite the fact that he had never laid a brick prior to that!
This model still holds true, and nowhere in the world is it easier to become something than America. Actually, scratch that. With the Internet now an inseparable part of our world, anyone can become what they want to wherever they are.
What’s my point with all this Governator talk? The point is that if you want to become a freelance writer, the barriers to entry are this low. You might hesitate and say that you’re not ready, but lemme let you in on a secret: you can fake it ‘til you make it.
Wanna know more? Let’s take a finer look at this concept of “faking it.”
What’s This Fake All About?
Let me be blunt about this from the get-go: you are NOT lying about your expertise. Don’t do that. The problem there is that you are downgrading your own abilities from the beginning and stunting your capabilities before a single word is ever set.
Take it from me, most contractual work can be performed with little more than a bit of confidence and the right attitude. It’s up to the freelance writer to bridge the gap between their projected ability and their actual ability. To be a bit facetious, that’s what us writers call “a deadline”. If you can string together a coherently-written piece based on a client’s specifications (ex. “I need 750 words on why grass-fed beef is the best”), you’re more than halfway there. Everything else is just posturing.
It shouldn’t be “fake it until you make it”, but “I’m as good as I say as I am.” Presenting your abilities on a silver platter for hungry clients can be a pretty emasculating experience. A woman/man must know his/her limitations, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. Actually, once you realize your areas of weakness, you can either work within those limitations or work to improve those areas. I know that I excel at crafting articles, but my PR abilities reduce me to 3am cursing and smoking too many American Spirits. I’ve realized my limitations and I’ve adjusted my workflow to match what I excel at.
A Little Bit of Math
The law of averages dictates that the more projects you undertake or editors that you send your query to, the wider the scope of your future projects and the more likely that you will be employed. Think about it: I’ve cited an example in the past on how I became knowledgeable about writing for clients that specialize in insurance without having professional certifications. What the hell do I know about the intricacies of HOA laws on Long Island? If you’re reading this, it may be of comfort to know that I view my writing abilities are borderline “eh” with a touch of “whatever.” Nevertheless, I write for money and my bills are always paid on time.
Going back to the insurance example, my role was to be the mouthpiece for a person who did have certifications—they just couldn’t put together an article to save their life. That, my friends, is where writers come in handy.
Turning Fake into Real
The funny part is that once I started writing for insurance, it wasn’t a huge stretch to start writing about other financial fields, including real estate, law, currency exchanges and startups. I’m not necessarily an expert, but I do have more than a beginner’s knowledge. Most of all, I have the willingness to learn. In my case, faking it didn’t make it—I just said I could do the job and I did.
Your willingness to learn and bridge the gap is what separates you from the pack. Once you knock out the first deadline you’re in. Everything after that is just following directions. If your client decides to look elsewhere, good for them. You already have published examples and you can start the process over again—this time you have examples of your work that separates you from the pack. Garnering clients just became 100% easier because you don’t have to “fake” it anymore—you are “it”.
A Willingness to Learn
Freelancers today have it easy. The Internet offers extensive information on just about every topic, with the ability to cross-reference your sources, reach out to experts directly via email, and create real work that is indistinguishable from supposedly expert opinions. Here’s a tidbit: those experts that you may have held in high-esteem beforehand? They’re just as clueless as the rest of us. They just fake it better than everyone else.
This never used to be the case—as late as the early 90’s you had to spend hours in the library or on the phone, tracking down elusive sources between operating hours that weren’t mitigated by holidays. While you don’t want to just lazily rewrite an article and hope it passes Copyscape, you should have your own take on the facts. They’re out there in abundance.
Want to expand your skillset? Today, you can be an “insta-expert” in little time while watching a few Youtube videos. Don’t know WordPress? There’s a video for that and it’s free. Forget being an expert; that’s reserved for self-proclaimed blowhards that may or may not be proven wrong down the road. Your job, above all, is to transmit thoughts via the written word. If this is unsettling to you, then may I question why you became a writer in the first place?
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The point is that freelance writing is more about mindset than knocking out your clients with an extensive portfolio; in fact, that might ward off the more money-conscious ones that think they might not be able to afford your unique abilities.
Every project presents its own unique challenges and I hate to break it to you, but you’ll never be ready. NEVER. The only comforting words I can impart to you is that the anxiety before projects eventually morphs into an eagerness for the unique challenge each project determines. So, fake it ‘til you make it. Your client and your bank account will thank you.