The Dirty Little Secret That All Freelancing Blogs Have in Common (Including This One)
Prediction: this post will be deeply misunderstood and categorized as a “hit piece” or “clickbait.”
I wish it was that sexy.
What I’m going to be discussing here is a different perspective that many people don’t consider — perhaps to their detriment. Rather than having a knee-jerk reaction about what I say concerning your favorite bloggers, take this information as an opportunity to learn and acquire a healthy dose of skepticism.
So, if you’re reading this site, odds are that it’s not the first or only freelancing/entrepreneurial blog you’ve ever come across and it probably won’t be the last (you little tart!).
I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I work as a freelance writer. But I’m also open about the fact that I’m fairly selective about the jobs I take, it isn’t my only source of income, and I don’t view it as my ultimate career path.
And, despite providing people with freelancing advice so that they can do the best they possibly can, I also very clearly state that more often than not they should be doing bigger and better things with their talents. I discuss this in detail in a free report available here called Dear Freelancers, You Can Do Better.
The notion that freelancers can and indeed should be using their skills to develop their own, non-client-reliant sources of income is, not surprisingly depending on your level of cynicism, mostly absent from the majority of freelancing blogs. It might get mentioned here and there, but it is almost never a highlight.
Because the owners of freelancing blogs have a vested interest in you continuing to work (and struggle) as a freelancer.
This usually takes the form of:
1.) Paid single-use products like ebooks or online courses.
2.) Membership forums (rebilled monthly at $25, $50, $100, or more).
3.) Expensive personalized mentoring.
Can you derive value and learn something from these products that will ultimately help you grow your business as a freelancer?
To be perfectly clear, I’m not saying that they’re all garbage or that they’re all a scam.
I do however believe that many of them massively overblow what your expectations of freelancing should be.
If they can convince you that they (and they alone) have the secret sauce to finding ultra-rich clients who want to bathe you in money, then that ebook for $9.97 or private forum for $25 per month starts looking a lot more attractive.
Therefore, it’s in their best financial interest that you continue to believe:
1.) That freelancing is a great lifelong career and only amateurs use it as a stepping stone to fund bigger and better projects.
2.) You’re struggling because you’re missing that one crucial piece of information that they have.
3.) Freelancing can put your life on easy mode IF you know the secret strategies, conveniently available for a low, low fee.
Everyone’s a Salesman, Including You and I
Again, just to completely alleviate the possibility of any misunderstandings, there is nothing wrong with a person selling a product. Everyone has bills to pay, including me, and at some point in the relationship that you and I have as a website owner and a visitor, I will try to sell you something.
The difference is that I don’t want to sell you a dream. I want to give you real, actionable advice, and I want you to realize that if you can make it as a freelancer, you have what it takes to do even more.
Speaking of making it as a freelancer, here’s the “secret sauce” to success:
1.) Understand that EVERYTHING you need to know is freely available information. Pick up a book or buy a product if you must, but odds are you already know what you should be doing if you’ve been researching or participating in the freelancing business for any length of time. Just in case you don’t, follow steps 2-5.
2.) Present yourself professionally. Have a website, portfolio, and dedicated phone number.
3.) Market your services everywhere possible in a manner that relays an understanding of the needs of your target audience.
4.) Have a realistic understanding of what you’re worth and seek out clients who can afford to pay you accordingly.
5.) Do excellent work.
There you go. Those are the broad strokes of everything you need to be successful as a freelance graphic designer, coder, writer, etc. If you’re struggling as a freelancer, examine each of those areas and figure out where you could be doing better before pulling out your credit card to pay a guru.
What This Means For You (And Yes, You Bet It’s Important to Understand)
I debated for a while as to whether or not I should reveal what prompted me to write this piece.
In the spirit of honesty, I’m going to do exactly that.
Carol Tice is a well known freelance writing blogger. She’s successful because her blog has a ton of excellent advice for writers starting out — it really is quite good, and I have very little doubt that you could derive value from reading some of her better posts.
Carol has garnered for herself a large, mostly female fan base, and I’m aware that criticizing her could inspire quite a few people to take up their torches and pitchforks.
As it turns out, I’m OK with that.
To be clear, I don’t think she’s a bad person or a con artist. I’ve read a good bit of her work and found myself nodding and thinking, “That’s a great point,” or “I agree with this completely.”
However, I also don’t think that she’s a freelance writer “just like you.”
She’s a great writer, yes, but she’s an even better marketer.
Carol has a paid, supposedly exclusive members-only forum called The Freelance Writer’s Den (where she brands herself as the “Den Mother”). I say “supposedly exclusive” because she only provides her readers the privilege of paying for a new membership every so often:
This is a fairly basic marketing tactic called artificial scarcity. The idea is to purposefully manufacture exclusivity to give a product more value — “they only let a few people in at a time, so it must be good.”
You know how nightclubs always make sure there’s a line running out the door? That’s not a capacity issue — it’s to appear more exclusive (and thus justify the $20 cocktails).
At the time of this writing, there’s a “shortage” on Kanye West’s “Yeezy” line of shoes, some variations of which cost well over $1,000. Do you really think Adidas is having trouble making enough shoes?
So, let’s examine what Carol is doing and why it works so well.
We’ve covered artificial scarcity, so next notice how readers are encouraged to sign up for the “waiting list.” The waiting list isn’t a waiting list as one would traditionally understand it. It’s Carol’s general email marketing list which you can sign up for anywhere else on her site.
Note that she doesn’t say entry to the Den is an exclusive offer for subscribers to her list (as seen in the statement “We often only tell our waiting list…”), giving her full license to promote the “doors opening” anywhere else she likes — which she does — while still getting signups for her list.
Another little marketing tidbit is the large bold text that says “Join 1,200 other writers.” This is a tactic known as social proof. The idea is that if so many other people like it, it must be good. It’s why you see sales pages plastered with testimonials.
So, what’s the real benefit here? Why wouldn’t she just let people pay her and sign up for her membership area whenever they want? Does she want to throw money away?
No, of course not.
By getting people to sign up for the “waiting list” she’s actually leveraging her asset to generate even more paying customers. By building her email marketing list, she has the opportunity to, for weeks or months:
1.) Get you used to seeing her name/brand and reading her free content more regularly.
2.) Sell you one of her many other one-off products, such as an ebook.
3.) Make damn sure that when the “doors open” that you’re not going to want to “miss the opportunity.”
I would wager that by closing off access to her membership site, Carol is actually far more successful than she would be if it was available anytime someone wanted to sign up. After all, what’s the hurry in that situation? A visitor could just sign up at their convenience.
Or, you know, they might not be “forced” to make a snap decision and thus might not sign up at all.
Gurus, Promises, and a Little Math
Again, I’d like to be really, really clear and say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what Ms. Tice is doing. It isn’t a con or a scam, it’s just marketing. You’re exposed to this kind of thing every single day. Furthermore, I imagine that at least some people have benefited from what she’s selling, otherwise she wouldn’t still be in business — at the end of the day, if your product truly sucks, no amount of snazzy marketing is going to help you stay in the black.
I just want you to understand what’s actually happening so that you can make informed decisions when presented with “opportunities” like this from freelance blogs, whether they’re about writing or any other freelancing industry, because characters like Carol exist in all of them.
I’ve repeated ad nauseam that you can learn a lot from Carol’s freelance writing advice, but I think the real value is closely observing how she’s built a successful business as a marketer.
If you still think she’s just a nice lady who just wants to help her fellow writers out of the kindness of her heart, let me stop you right there. So far I’d like to believe that I haven’t actually criticized Carol or her work — in fact I think I’ve been very nice — all I’ve done thus far is point out a few strategies that any first-year marketing student should be able to spot.
But, as promised, I said I’d share what prompted me to write this piece and you can bet your sweet bippy it’s a criticism.
Head over to her blog and see how she responded to this fellow’s impassioned plea for guidance.
For convenience, here’s a screenshot:
Reading this gave me a lot of conflicting thoughts.
On the one hand, I get it. She’s got a product to sell and I don’t fault her for doing so.
But it’s also pretty gross how she handled it.
The Miguel guy is clearly a talented writer. He wrote a long, thoughtful comment, reaching out to someone who he presumably trusts and admires.
And her response is pure marketing. There’s absolutely no human element to it whatsoever — Miguel isn’t a person to her, he’s a potential sale.
“Your instinct is correct — you ARE missing something.”
I’m no stranger to marketing. I want to make money as much as the next guy or gal. But if I’m being honest, this disgusted me and I’ve never been able to view Carol’s work in the same way again.
If you email me or comment on this website, I’ll try my very best to treat you like a person and provide you with meaningful guidance — then I’ll try sell you some shit if I genuinely think it’ll help you. I’m totally upfront about this, so don’t bother coming back to this post and calling me a hypocrite if I ever open a private/paid area for this site.
Again, I posit that she presents herself as a freelance writer, but in reality anyone with a calculator can see that she’s a marketer. And a damn good one too.
Remember the “Join 1,200 other writers” statement I pointed out earlier in regard to her Freelance Writer’s Den?
The monthly cost to become a member is $25 (when the “doors are open,” of course).
Assuming her membership numbers are accurate:
$25 x 1,200 = $30,000.
This doesn’t include sales of her other one-off products.
Or the things she tries to sell people after they become members (after all, they’ve proven themselves to be willing to pay up).
Do you REALLY believe that she’s a freelance writer “just like you,” out in the trenches, prospecting for new clients and staying up until 3 AM working on an article about a topic she finds excruciatingly boring?
I’m not saying her products aren’t good.
I’m not saying she doesn’t have great advice.
I’m certainly not saying she’s a bad person.
I am however saying that before giving ANYONE your money, including me, these are the things you MUST understand in order to make an informed decision.
Wrapping it Up
I’ve been mentally brewing on this post for a long time. I even bought entry to Carol’s membership area once, just to check it out. Personally, I wasn’t impressed, but I’m also not a member of her target demographic (as became clear to me when I saw a thread swimming amid a sea of estrogen called the “Men’s Support Group” since so few of her customers are male).
On the very slim chance that Carol reads this post, sorry Carol. I’ve done my best to be as fair as possible.
In truth, I put a spotlight on Carol and her work as an example to illustrate the fact that there’s an ulterior motive behind almost all of the freelancing or general business advice you can read online. This is true for sites targeting writers, graphic designers, coders, web developers, artists, audio engineers, musicians, you name it.
And that’s perfectly fine, because we’ve all got something to sell.
But can’t we just be real about it?