Confidence, cluelessness, and how not to be an accidental rip-off merchant

freelance writing ethics

Confidence is a funny thing.

Most of my work with freelance writing coaching clients is spent boosting confidence, telling really good writers that it’s OK to charge more, OK to say no to crappy work, and OK to brand themselves as the talented freelancers they are. In most cases, it takes a lot to make that message sink in.

Overconfidence isn’t actually something I’ve dealt with before.

Well, not until recently.

Most of my working day is spent alone in my office, so it’s fair to say that online space is pretty important to me. I “hang out” in a number of quiet corners of the internet, and that’s where I get to know other freelance writers, and where I build a lot of my working relationships.

I’ve left one of those spaces this week. And why? I’ll explain.

To Be Confident, You need something to be confident about

Boosting one another’s confidence is an important part of building relationships with other freelance writers – I’ve always said that. Supporting other writers helps them do better, get better clients and charge more. And goodwill comes back – I’m a big believer in freelance writing karma.

But what I’ve also always said is that freelance writers have a responsibility to deliver consistently great service to their clients – that’s what makes you deserve those awesome clients and hefty fees.

To be confident in yourself and your work, you need to have something to be confident about. And that means investing in learning, improving and building up your skill set.

It’s normal, as a newbie, to be cautious about confidence. It’s a healthy thing. You need to have something to be confident about, and that takes time.

So when it comes to cheerleading a fellow writer, should you do it no matter what?

Well, no.

“I’ve no idea how it works but I’m sure I could figure it out.”

These are the words I saw on a post to one of my little online hang-outs this week.

A very new fellow writer had been approached by a prospect asking whether they knew how to run end-to-end Facebook and Google ad campaigns.

The writer had no idea at all how to do the work.

He did what any sensible freelance newbie would do, and he came on the group looking for advice.

But that’s where the ‘Hey, good job!’ stuff ends.

Instead of asking if anyone else would be suited to the work, and instead of asking how to tell the client he couldn’t do it, he asked how to get away with doing it himself.

Did he expect to do a good job?

In his own words, “I have no idea how it works…I have no clue.”

Not one single person told him not to do it.

Cast your net deep, not wide

When you’re new to freelance writing, it can be tempting to cast your net as wide as possible in the hope of catching all those lovely clients who are swimming around out there with their pockets full of lovely money.

It never works.

I had a coaching session with a lovely client recently, and she’d put a whole range of writing and writing-related services up on her website, because – technically – she was able to offer them all.

I did the same thing when I started out.

I figured that if a prospect came to my website and didn’t see the service they were after, I’d miss out, my business would fail, and I’d end up bankrupt. So I listed everything I could do.

But the thing is, clients don’t want a Jack of all trades; they want an expert.

I found that, by:

  • Reducing the number of services I offered
  • Branding myself as an expert
  • Spending time training to be an expert

…I was able to justify charging more and attract clients who were willing to pay more. Then, as my skill set grew, I could offer one or two extra services, using in-depth language to demonstrate that I knew what I was talking about.

I did not offer services I wasn’t able to offer.

I did not claim to be able to do something that I couldn’t.

I did not just say, “Oh, I’ll figure it out.”


Don’t be a rip-off merchant

Freelance writing doesn’t come with a financial safety net. I get it.

But while you might think that snatching up any work you’re possibly, maybe, vaguely able to do – plus jobs that you have absolutely no idea how to carry out – might help you pay the bills, you have a responsibility to your clients.

You have a responsibility not to be a rip-off merchant.

So, I’m going to say this loud and clear:

Clients’ businesses are not your experimentation space. 

If a client is paying you cash money for a service, you damn well better have something more concrete than, “I’m sure I could figure it out…” to bring to the table.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not charging them much (although thanks for driving down prices for the rest of us!).

It doesn’t matter if you’re going to ask other people for advice and Google the hell out of it.

If you don’t know how to do something – like, you have literally no clue – don’t do it.

The Golden Rules

Do not tell clients you know how to do something if you don’t.

Do not accept money for sub-standard services.

Do not, as one person advised the newbie on that Facebook group, “Just say YES – heck, I’m sure you’ll figure it out, even if it’s a bit sketchy.”

You wouldn’t want to hire a plumber or a decorator or a hair stylist on the same basis, would you?

Clients do not want “sketchy” services for their money.

So what can you do instead?

I think it’s pretty obvious this situation has got my back up. And why not?

As freelance writers, we’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed, but that doesn’t entitle us to leave our ethics at the door in the pursuit of money at any cost.

I work so hard to do a good job for my clients because, if it’s good for them, it’s good for me and my business. I offer a limited number of very good services that I’ve trained for years to be able to deliver properly. I’m worth the money I charge, and I often have to convince clients of that.

Situations like this don’t help.

Instead of grabbing at any business you can get your hands on and doing a passable job, invest time in:

  • Branding yourself as an expert in one service or sector
  • Becoming that expert
  • Marketing yourself to prospects who need that service
  • Building your network so you can recommend experts in other fields
  • Strengthening your network so others refer work to you (work you can do)
  • Earning that high level of confidence

Supporting other freelance writers is a good thing. But part of supporting people is also telling them when something looks like a Really Bad Idea.

This is one of those times.

What do you think? Have you ever been tempted to take on work you don’t know how to do? Got any tips for newbies? Share below or come and chat @LorrieHartshorn!

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