This is provoked by three things.
First, the daily torrent of lies from people who claim in various ways that they think of nothing, night and day, but making me rich and successful - and I won’t have to pay a penny to find out.
Second, a recent exchange with one of the few people who have really interesting ideas and express them well. Howie Jacobson, the co-author of Adwords for Dummies told me he didn’t enjoy being in the same business as so many grasping charlatans.
Third, an old book I found on my shelves about Bernie Cornfeld, one of the great fraudsters of the 20th century, called Do you seriously want to be rich.
All this took me back some 20 odd years when I went to a big direct marketing jamboree in Wembley, London.
A lady at the bar said to me - with the kindest of intentions, I am sure - “It’s great that gurus like you come and talk to the rest of us.”
I had never heard the word guru used about a trade as lowly as direct marketing, thought it ludicrous – and still do. But it has caught on like the Black Death. Nowadays anyone with the slightest competence is a guru, and those who are quite good are hailed as visionaries and geniuses.
This is absurd.
But people regularly ask me what I think of some of these guys.
How can I say this one is a rogue, that one a liar, the other should be in jail, the fourth seems a bit mad, I wouldn’t trust the fifth as far as I could throw him and am amazed that anyone sane would give money to people who can’t be bothered or don’t know how to write good English?
When someone asks you (after the usual freebies or discounted offers) to pony up thousands to be "mentored", or belong to their special circle of friends, or step up to the next level, first ask yourself who else they have helped?
One man I know makes many claims, but doesn’t mention that (as I discovered with a little research) one of his chief skills seems to be putting companies into liquidation. He has done it 10 times.
Another seems to run his business from accommodation addresses or in one case, from an address that didn’t actually exist.
Another takes the fairly simple business of selling stuff and makes it seem so complicated people think he’s a genius. I asked two delegates at one if his seminars if they understood what he was talking about.
“No,” they replied.
“Nor do I” was my response.
But people think if it’s hard to understand it must be brilliant.
I would say if you can’t understand it, how the hell can you do it?
Others in this piratical crew shower you with testimonials from ecstatic customers or say their copy has worked miracles. But testimonials from whom? Copy for whom? People you’ve never heard of. Firms of no account. Small-time local businesses, or highly specialised ones.
That is relevant. Not because helping small businesses is easy. Nor because writing good copy doesn’t matter. Not because it’s easy to do well in a special niche. But because it is not the same as playing in the big leagues, and you shouldn’t be paying big money for relatively small thinking.
But people are so eager to succeed that they fail to notice these things. They sincerely want to be rich.
But wishing will not make it so.
I’m sorry, but the man who tells you he is dying to make you rich and successful is far more interested in doing so for himself.
The man who says you can be a highly paid marketing consultant after just a few lessons is talking rubbish.
The man who promises you can coach others to succeed without having succeeded yourself is a liar.
The man who claims you can become a writer and make money when you don’t even know where to put an apostrophe is taking the piss.
But there is a good way to protect yourself.
Just ask: does this sound too good to be true? Because if so, it usually is.
And study the process, which is as old as the three card trick.
In that trick, sometimes called Spot the Lady you see a man who is swapping cards around and all you have to do is bet on where the queen has ended up. Other people seem to be winning money. It seems easy.
So you have a go, and you lose your money*. You didn’t realise the “winners” you saw were what they call shills - confederates of the operator.
In the same way you don’t realise when you see the people who have allegedly made fortunes from some guru’s advice that they are either the rare ones, the exceptions or sometimes just friends of the person selling to you.
Nothing changes, really.
Bernie Cornfeld ran what they used to call a pyramid scheme. Some people made money. Most lost it.
Today pretty much the same thing is called MLM – multi-level marketing. Only 2% of those who try it succeed.
The same principle applies to nearly all these things. Be warned.
But also profit from what you see. These people are extremely good at what they do: take money off people. By studying that you can indeed learn a lot - and it won't cost you all that much.
* In his book In for a penny my now-retired client Peter Hargreaves of Hargreaves Lansdown tells how he was taken in by the three card trick.
But he also tells how he and his partners built what I am sure is the best financial marketing-based business in this country. You will learn a lot from it