Every now and then I receive a text, an email or a Facebook message asking me, “Hey, what do you think of [Person], that marketing and business guru that’s all over Facebook/YouTube/Instagram?” It can be difficult to determine if any given business expert or marketing guru is the real deal merely by looking at their social media profiles. I recently came across one of these people in a Facebook group that I frequent and thought it would be a good opportunity to highlight some telltale signs that you should not take someone’s business advice or buy any training products or coaching they have to sell.
Do not get me wrong. I am not saying all coaches, consultants, mastermind operators or online course sellers are con artists. I have learned from a ton of people that have podcasts, sell online courses, and have paid mastermind groups over the years. The Rhodium Weekend mastermind group, Smart Marketer and the Digital Marketer team have all made a meaningfully positive impact on my business over the years. Even the very foundation of MarketBeat’s business model came from listening to the Internet Business Mastery podcast back in the day.
Unfortunately, not all of these experts are on the up-and-up. Some people have no underlying business experience that backs what they are teaching through their coaching and online courses. Instead, they sell people based on the lifestyle they are living, or the purported business results they have achieved.
Here are some classic signs that a business coach is not on the up and up:
1. No Underlying Business
When you listen to John Meyer’s Leadmore podcast, you know that podcast comes from his underlying experiences running his business, Lemonly. This is also true of Smart Marketer, whose team runs an eight-figure cosmetics company called Boom. When an expert is selling their experience building businesses as a reason for you to hire them, but you cannot really tell what kind of business they run other than their “pay me money for my expertise” business, it should be a major red flag.
I am a big believer that you should only take advice from people who have done what you want to do. If someone cannot point to an actual successful business they have built, don’t hire them or take their advice!
2. Selling the Lifestyle
The “business expert” I recently came across on Facebook had photos of expensive watches, exotic cars and tropical vacations plastered all over their social media pages. The unstated message is “hire me, so that you can have my success.” Looks can be deceiving though. In many cases, these extravagant lifestyles are manufactured using fake watches, rented exotic cars, and rented mansions.
3. Lack of third-party social proof
When you Google an expert’s name, does only their website, their social media profiles and press releases they published come up? Fake experts often use manufactured social proof as a way to tout their success. This was a dead giveaway in the Tobias Ritesman case for me. He was supposedly a world-renowned business expert, but he had never been featured in or interviewed by any news outlets. There was also a business award that he supposedly won that was also won by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates (seems unlikely?).
Real experts are often featured by magazines, websites, newspapers, and other media outlets that they have no tie to, because they’re actually experts. If you cannot find a media mention of an expert on the first few pages of Google, maybe they’re not an expert.
4. You can pay for their time.
The most successful people I know understand that time is their most valuable commodity. They build systems-based businesses that generate income whether they are at work or not. They do not sell their time for money, because of the limited earning potential of trading dollars per hours and because they value their time too much. You simply cannot buy their time for $500.00 per hour because they do not need the money and are busy doing other things. If you can hire someone as a coach for an hour monthly call, that tells you that they need your money to get by or have only achieved a certain level of business success. Many truly successful people are either (A) simply too busy to meet with people or (B) are willing to mentor upcoming entrepreneurs for free as a way to give back.
5. They Make Excessive Claims and Promises
Fake business gurus and experts want you to believe they have a magic formula that will make anyone successful in business. They will have rags-to-riches testimonials on their websites and make statements like that they have a “system that will work for anyone.” The reality is, that business is hard. Most people that try to start a business fail and not every business model works for every person. If someone is trying to make it sound like running a business is easy and they will show you how to do it, be skeptical.
6. They Have Negative Reviews on BBB, Rip Off Report, Trust Pilot
If a fake business guru cons enough people, eventually some of their victims will start to trash them on online review sites. Fake gurus know this, so they will actively monitor these websites and try to remove or rebut negative reviews. They may even try to generate fake positive reviews of their own, so you cannot necessarily trust a handful of positive reviews either.
6. They Get Defensive When Asked Questions
Whenever I have engaged with one of these gurus in the past, they get defensive even when you ask basic questions about their business experience. When they do give answers, they are usually vague and cannot be verified. They may refer to you as a “hater” for questioning their business expertise or otherwise try to make you feel like bad for questioning them.
It is easy to get taken in by the promise of an extravagant lifestyle and quick business success, but there’s almost never shortcuts or free lunches in building businesses. Falling for the offerings of these fake business gurus will only leave you with fewer dollars in your pocket.
If you want to learn from someone else’s experience, my rule of thumb is that you should try to learn from someone that has already done what you hope to do to. If you want to build a specific type of business, try to learn from someone that has already built a business in the same industry as you. Whether you listen to their podcast, but their courses or hire them to mentor you is less relevant. Get the expertise of someone who’s “been there and done that” however you can get it.