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I hate MLMs.
Call them network marketing, call them pyramid schemes, call them “business opportunities” if you want.
(Don’t actually call these opportunities “businesses,” though; the FCC has rules against this since these aren’t, you know, businesses.)
MLMs are the worst kinds of scams because they sell false hope to the desperate.
The fact is, entrepreneurship and business ownership aren’t for everyone. A lot of people aren’t equipped to take the kinds of risks one needs to go into self-employment.
(There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone plays a different role in the world, and everyone has some unique contribution they can make to our society. We need diversity.)
Sadly, the kinds of people running MLMs recognize that not everyone can run a business… but it’s easy to trick people into thinking they can.
Those who are trapped in their own lives – whether through choosing stable (but unexciting) careers, making bad financial decisions (like accumulating excessive debt, paying it down, then getting in debt again), etc. – are the perfect targets for these MLMs.
The fact is, some people won’t ever make six figures. They simply chose the wrong major, or they weren’t born into the right family, or there’s one of a million other reasons that will keep them exactly where they are for the rest of their lives.
But MLMs know some people want more. They promise lives of luxury, ease, and unfathomable riches. They say, “It’ll be easy!”
They promise, “You can do anything if you dream big enough!”
They have their recruits post photos of themselves holding stacks of hundred dollar bills – but that money is just a prop, meant to “inspire them to visualize their dreams,” and the recruits don’t get to keep it.
Then the MLM makes people pay for their hope, builds them up, then – by design – doesn’t pay out to 99% of them.
But what they never do is get specific.
Real businesses set actionable income/sales goals. These are attainable, specific, and measurable.
MLMs, however, keep things vague. They’ll use lines like, “2015 is going to be HUGE!”
Okay… so what does “huge” even mean? What’s the dollar amount for “huge”?
Odds are, they’ll never tell you, instead reciting the old, “Only you determine how much you make” mantra.
Real business opportunities – ones that actually make their participants any money – don’t waste time with vagaries. They get specific.
Specific is scary. You know exactly how much you’ve failed by if you don’t reach your goal.
But it’s also an indicator what you’re doing is real.
Anyway. I could rant about these unethical, rotten tactics all day.
But if you’re approached for a business opportunity, here are some questions you should ask:
- Do I have to pay any cash for “administrative fees”? Is there a startup cost I have to pay?
- Do I need to make a minimum number of monthly sales to avoid getting penalties?
- Do I need to buy a minimum amount of product per month?
- Is there pressure to recruit others to sell under me?
- Does the company have to constantly explain how it isn’t an MLM?
If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, the “business opportunity” is probably an MLM. You are 99% likely to not make any money from it.
Find something else. There are countless opportunities to own your own business and start making money. It’s not as hard as you think, even if you aren’t naturally business inclined.
But whatever you do, don’t let someone else charge you to have hope for a better life.
You can do better.
Have you ever felt afraid to launch a project because it wasn’t good enough yet?
I understand that feeling well. As a recovering perfectionist, I’m always afraid to push “start” on the latest digital marketing machine I’ve built until I’ve had a chance to make it better.
The problem is, “better” rarely comes.
This makes me wonder, “What if I publish something that sucks? What if I try a promotion that fails? Won’t the internet remember that and think I suck, too?”
Today, I read a post on Groove about how they grew their business to 100 paying customers in 24 hours.
The entire thing is worth a read if you’ve got the time. But if not, here’s the best part:
The first post we had that did well would eventually become the post that inspired this Journey to $500K blog that you’re reading now. It was about how we got 1,000+ private beta signups.
Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing to read. The post would never see the light of day on the blog today, but we took an important first step in realizing the power of content marketing when the post got picked up on Hacker News, and even reached the top spot for nearly half of a day.
See that? Though their current standards would never approve that post, it still got them the traction they needed to grow.
It’s okay to share what you have now, even if you know it’ll be better someday.
You don’t have to be perfect. As Seth Godin says, “Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.”
Trying something and failing is better than being too paralyzed to try.
The internet won’t care that one of your blog posts on your archive isn’t great. They’ll only care what you’re offering now. Everything else is basically ignored as long as it isn’t outrageously offensive.
Earlier today, someone asked, “Why do you think NOW is the time to launch a business instead of hesitating?”
I thought I’d share my answer:
Why is now the time to act?
Because the right time is never.
Here’s how I think of it: say you’re at a roulette table, and you feel great about betting on 26 black. But instead of placing your bet, you say to yourself, “I’m going to wait until I absolutely KNOW I’m going to be able to win on 26 black.” So instead of betting, you wait until the ball lands on 26 black.
“Once I’ve seen it land there, THEN I’ll bet!” you say.
Somehow, a few spins later, the ball lands on your lucky number. But you’re not there to collect your winnings. You’re on the sidelines, waiting for “proof” it’s the perfect time to strike.
Too many business owners do this. I used to do this. But I learned you have to take a chance. Validate an idea NOW, then start building a list before launch. Set up a site in an afternoon and begin sending traffic to it. Don’t get any sales? That’s fine. You didn’t waste too much time or cash.
The fact is, it doesn’t take a lot of time or cash to try an idea. If you wait for perfect, you’ll be waiting forever, and your opportunity might come before you’re ready to take it and win big.
As a rule of thumb, testing an idea only costs, like, $100, maybe more. (A proper test should run at least $1,000, but I understand some SMBs don’t want to spend that much.)
There’s not much reason to test now.
I saw this example of “native advertising” today, and I thought you might benefit from the lesson it teaches you about strategic content:
Obviously, that native ad was on Lifehacker, a site dedicated to teaching its readers cool tips and tricks to improve their lives.
The information is useful, interesting and highly targeted to the specific readership. So, in all likelihood, it’s not an advertisement promoting the company’s product or service directly.
With that definition in mind, let’s dissect State Farm’s native ad:
- Is the information useful? Not really, other than in a trivia game.
- Is the information interesting? I think so, but you may disagree. It’s definitely got that, “Oh neat!” factor.
- Is the information highly targeted to the specific readership? Not really. I think a tip on how to choose better tires, or something like that, would be more in line with Lifehacker’s readership.
There’s a big disconnect with the fact and the plug for State Farm. It’s like they didn’t quite know how to connect their neat factoid with their insurance business.
Native advertising is going to be one of the big trends in 2015. Learning about how to use it effectively can give your business exposure your competitors won’t even know how to get until they’re too late in the game.
But you have to do native advertising right, or else it will be yet another waste of resources.
(Kind of like how everyone jumped on Facebook a few years ago before really understanding how to use it. Now, many businesses are actually closing their Facebook pages because they’ve realized the ROI is too low.)
PS: If you want to learn more about native advertising, Copyblogger has some all-time great examples of native ads.
The Oscars were last night. My wife and I celebrated by hooking up her laptop to the TV, starting the Oscar Livestream (we don’t have “normal” TV), and livetweeting the whole thing.
It was good fun. We loved reading the jabs at Neil Patrick Harris’s dad jokes or instant memification of creepy John Travolta:
But the most important takeaway from last night was a powerful lesson I learned about social media marketing.
In fact, what I saw completely changed what I’m going to recommend to my clients in the future.
It has to do with how Twitter works, and it should change how small businesses approach social media.
Here it is: Unless you have a big budget or infinite time to spend on Twitter, it’s best to stay away from it as a promotional platform.
Because tweets have a terribly short lifespan.
This piece from readwrite says the majority of Twitter action happens in the first hour of a tweet’s life.
This more recent article from Wisemetrics argues a tweet’s average lifespan is even shorter, lasting only a few minutes. For your science enthusiasts out there, that gives tweets a half-life a billion times shorter than Carbon-14’s.
So what should small business owners do about Twitter?
In my opinion, nothing: ignore it… unless your business matches a very specific set of guidelines.
(I’ll be going over when your business should and shouldn’t use Twitter in the next issue of the TL;DR Digital Marketing Report, including free tools you can use to analyze your customers’ twitter profiles. These tools can let you know in seconds whether Twitter is worth your time as a business or not.)
If your business DOES match the profile of one that would thrive on Twitter…
…You have to know how to reach them.
Stay tuned for strong Twitter strategies soon.