Are You a Newbie or an “Experienced Newbie?”

Freelance writer and happy client bumping fists near computer in office

The concept of “Experienced Newbie” is one of my favorites because it’s such an important one for new copywriters. At first, it may seem a little counterintuitive, so stay with me.

You may be wondering: if you’re a newbie, how can you be experienced? Surely you’re either one or the other.

Well, no …

Every person I’ve encountered starting out as a copywriter has most definitely been an Experienced Newbie.

What I mean is that even when you start something new, not everything about it is new. And you’re certainly not new to everything.

Let’s dive in.

Most of us, no matter where we are in our career trajectory, have held more than one job and/or worked in more than one industry. Some have managed businesses, or known someone who has.

The point is that we all had to start our working lives somewhere, and as part of that, we learned how to do whatever was required to survive and thrive. Most likely, we’ve had to do it over and over.

Our knowledge base and competence is generated from our experiences, by learning from our successes and failures, through trial and error.

I know this from personal experience.

If you’ve heard me tell any of my story, you probably know that I had two jobs after college and then, after getting myself fired from the second, realized I was unemployable. I knew nothing except that I would have to figure something else out.

At that point, I had worked in the fashion industry and the travel industry. I had been a waitress at multiple restaurants and a receptionist at my parents’ factory. Although I didn’t know much, even at 27, I wasn’t a total newbie. In fact, I actually had lots of experience under my belt.

Plus, I had a lot of chutzpah (not to be confused with confidence or courage — more on that in another article) and I had a habit of saying yes to (almost) anything someone asked me to help with, which just added to my experience.

You see, from my point of view, life is one big experiment. And our business or career path is a laboratory to try out all sorts of things.

Plus, from what I’ve read about evolution, we are an exceptionally adaptive species and we constantly re-apply our learnings to other situations that arise.

Still, faced with a new challenge, it’s easy to lose confidence in your capacity to do the new thing. The less familiar thing. It’s easy, and quite normal, to get caught up in the emotional roller coaster of feeling excited and petrified at the same time.

You may not realize that this vast amalgam of experience you’ve acquired throughout your life is at your disposal and available for your new chapter as a copywriter.

It’s all there just waiting for you to tap into it.

That’s why it’s so important to understand that you are not a newbie, but an Experienced Newbie.

When Bridget Gleason first heard the term Experienced Newbie, she was thrilled. In an article for B2B Writing Success, she wrote,

“I’m an Experienced Newbie. An Experienced Newbie. I love that phrase. It was like fireworks going off when I first heard it. It resonates with me because it describes me.

“And sounds real. Almost secure, even. Like standing on solid ground. It acknowledges that I am new at part of this, but at the same time validates the extensive and applicable skills that I bring from my past.”

Seeing yourself in this light helps to counter the onslaught of self-doubt, that, if left unchecked, will run amok in your brain and lead you down the perilous path of self-sabotage and paralysis.

So, if you think about it, you’ll see that you’ve been (and done) “new” before. Each time you started a new job, embarked on a new relationship, changed apartments, or had to buy a new coffeemaker!

And each time you had to do the new thing, you tapped into your previous experience and learnings — usually without even being aware of it. You learned, you practiced, you got better.

Confidence gradually replaced self-doubt.

It’s the same with your new copywriting business, although you may need to do it with intention. Because youre an Experienced Newbie, not a novice. There’s a big difference. You’re bringing a lot to the table.

Also, there’s more to a copywriting business than writing.

Let’s apply this concept to two big things copywriters often feel apprehensive about: clients and money!

Nearly everyone I’ve worked with seems to have a fear of clients — whether it’s about finding them, speaking to them, or landing them.

The way I see it, there are two ways of approaching this. You can either go with the fear, which tells you that you know nothing about clients, which will paralyze you into inaction. Or you can reframe and counter this fear by seeing yourself as an Experienced Newbie.

Think about it.

It would be almost impossible to find a new copywriter who has never ever dealt with a client before, or who has never ever been one themselves. Even in jobs where you didn’t regularly deal directly with clients, most likely you’ll have dealt with internal clients. Or bosses.

We all serve someone!

And in the unlikely event that you haven’t, someone has served you.

You know what it’s like to be a human, you know what it’s like to be a client. You know how to build relationships and how to communicate with others. You do it every day, in a variety of situations with a myriad of people.

This makes you experienced in people. Clients are people. People are clients. Logic!

What about money? Y’all know I love the money conversation!

Like the fear about clients, many new copywriters feel uncomfortable about the money side of things, especially about charging clients for a service you haven’t “perfected” yet.

But, when we apply the concept of Experienced Newbie, you’ll realize you’ve got a ton of experience with money.

You have experience in gauging worth and value. That’s what you do each time you shop. You engage with bank managers over credit and debt. You manage your own money, right?

When talking about money, a key skill is negotiation. If not in your work, then in your life for sure, you negotiate all the time. You negotiate with work colleagues, bosses, your partner, your kids, around salaries, deadlines, workloads, which restaurants, pocket money, playdates, and so much more.

You’ve managed money for years. You’re probably even an effective negotiator — although perhaps you could learn how to do it better.

You also know, or should, that it is you who ultimately determines your worth, and that this worth is intrinsically linked to the experience and competence you are bringing to copywriting, which will grow as you learn and improve.

So, if you look at yourself through this lens, you’ll see clearly that you’re not starting out with a blank slate. Not by a long shot.

To fully embrace the concept of Experienced Newbie, it’s necessary to bring active awareness to your experience and existing skill sets.

To do this, it’s necessary to stop and think so you can take stock of the treasure trove of resources you can tap into to ensure success.

It is only when you take an intentional inventory of each skill, of each competence, and appraise your experience objectively that you cancel out that creeping self-doubt that thrives on your anxiety and gets in your way.

So, take out a pen and paper.

Now, look back over your life and intentionally remember all your starting points. List all your accomplishments, skills, and the challenges you successfully navigated. This will nip all that self-sabotaging, internal dialogue in the bud!

When you practice this, you’ll notice a shift inside you, confidence will replace self-doubt, which in turn will help you to better harness the excitement necessary to push forward and take the actions you need to take to build your new career.

So don’t forget, you’re also experienced at being new!

You’ve got this!

Do you have any questions about getting started as a copywriter? Please share with us in the comments so we can help.

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Published: November 29, 2021

23 Responses to “Are You a Newbie or an “Experienced Newbie?””

  1. Ilise, thanks for referring to my comments on the concept of being an Experienced Newbie. As you note, this was a fundamental shift for me and has made my copywriting career so much more approachable!

    And for anyone considering taking one of Ilise's programs here at AWAI, I'll say: Just do it!


  2. I'm a female veteran, adaptive and full of life. I want to tap into my creative process through writing and explore new opportunities. How do I find or create that special niche?


  3. A couple years ago I started a “Blogger” blog but didn’t stick with it because I did not develop a framework to organize my ideas around. It was just a diary.Maybe an inventory of my writing past (like the blogging experience)will be helpful.


  4. I really needed this blog today. I am that I feel I can have a different name of experienced newbie. I have delved into new things everyday of my life. I forgot that. I delved into this organized writing gig and became confused and uncertain that I had maybe taken on more than I had the ability to do. I now plan to go back several years in my thinking to "it's just another new thing," take a deep breath and move forward. Thx.


  5. Wow! I enjoyed reading this blog. I hope to learn more about my own style of writing and build a business that will take me into the future. Thanks again!


  6. Wow! I enjoyed reading this blog. I hope to learn more about my own style of writing and build a business that will take me into the future. Thanks again!


  7. 10-13-22 Oh my, this was excellent; brought me way back in life, as...I'm now 74. I do remember how I began writing just about anything when I was a child. What memories!!! And later I found out how I just loved English. My classmates wanted help with their assignments, I helped them and enjoyed it! Gosh; this really gives me food for thought and a new perspective. Thank you so much! It's one of those things I will never forget!!!

    Desert Rose

  8. Having just entered my 60th year in this physical incarnation, I do consider myself an Experienced Newbie. Throughout the scores of jobs, adventures and travels I have experienced, both positive and negative, deliberate and unintentional, I have gained much knowledge and experience to draw from as I embark on this new journey. Thank you for reminding me of this. This blog has reminded me all one needs to do is look back on their life to realize just how experienced they actually are.

    Marty T

  9. This is a great practice that I will incorporate into my daily activities for about 10 days. I hope it will help me to gain confidence in my ability to succeed in copywriting.


  10. I am new to AWAI and the Barefoot Writer and see that I have a lot to learn. While writing is something I have always loved to do, I have only written, staff reports, Minutes, policies and guidelines in my professional career. I now want to branch out and use my writing skills as a freelance writer. I am looking forward to learning everything I can.

    Anne Russo

  11. I really needed what this blog had to say.I have been very skeptical of my ability to actually become a paid writer.It's something I have longed to do but always felt that this was just a dream,something that others could obtain but not me.I worked in marketing for many years,but until reading this article hadn't realized that those years could help be today to reach my goal,thank you


  12. This is the motivation I needed to get started on approaching and landing clients. Of course, I enjoy the learning process which aids in building confidence.


  13. I enjoyed this blog. All writers bring their own experiences and uniqueness, which provides their voice. In my opinion, the key to good writing is knowing your own voice and to use it.

    Michael W

  14. I am happy to embrace the title of Experienced Newbie as I begin my journey towards the life of a Barefoot Writer.


  15. I truly enjoyed this blog. For once having a writing career seemed attainable. Everything else I've been seeing in studying the craft seemed more like driving down the Vegas strip than actual writing. Please don't get me wrong I think it all has its place in the marketing strategy. I just have to find my niche.

    Michael Madden

  16. 4-29-23 Wow! I never thought of it that way! Thanks for the insight!!!

    Desert Rose

  17. I guess "Experienced Newbie" = Person with Transferable skills; Its a good angle to look at surely.


  18. I am gladly adding Experienced Newbie to my resume. Thank you for the walk down memory lane.


  19. I can't be more confident than I am now, at accepting the title "Experienced Newbie. I am also experienced at being New, as my adventurous self keeps leading me into exploring new opportunities. Haven worked in various unrelated industries; this blog post has reminded me that all it takes is to look right inward to draw the stored-up resources plus AWAI's hands-on training, to take up the challenge.

    Lilian Chudey Pride

  20. I am an 'experienced newbie' loaded with experiences to be unlocked by AWAI!


  21. I enjoyed this blog and the term "Experienced Newbie" is great. It makes you feel like your not so new because you have had many experiences being "new" before you got to AWAI. I honestly feel a little more at ease after this read.


  22. Hey there “Experienced Newbies” I am so glad to be a part of all this. I have always loved to write different things and now to have help learning how to make money from it. This is great. I feel so free, the thought of going back to my 9-5 makes me sick to my stomach. Good luck Newbies, I look forward to working with everyone!!


  23. An interesting read on Experienced Newbie. Thanks for sharing this insightful piece.
    Signing on to the Barefoot Writer's program is a dream come true. I hope my writing career blossoms in no time.


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