Don't Be a "How to Make Money On-line" Groupie! - a Review of the Internet Marketers, from the Siren Songs of Cunning Con-men and Crafty Charlatans to the Wondrous Ballads of Wannabe Gurus and Triumphant Tycoons
I. Siren songs: How NOT to Make Money On-line
II. Charlatans and con-men, fighting back
A. Nine private initiatives
B. Six official resources
1) Better Business Bureau
2) Federal Trade Commission
3) Postal Inspection Service
4) Attorney Generals Office
5) District Attorneys
6) Internet Crime Complaint Center
C. The Gorilla
III. Franchises and On-line Coaching
B. On-line Coaching
C. Information Marketing
I. Siren Songs
Charlatans & Con-men
Virtually everyone in business is influenced by the Internet. Where else can a company go from start-up to 500 million customers in 3 1/2 years? That is the performance of Facebook. The song of the Internet is ubiquitous. As more songs get sung louder, the number of siren songs increases correspondingly. On its Odyssey, the Strategic Q-Ship needs carefully to navigate between the six-headed monster of global competiton, Scylla, and the whirlpool of corporate transformation, Charybdis.
Ulysses and the Sirens, John William Waterhouse, 1891
You are confident this warning does not apply to you, of sober judgement, or to the modern enterprise. Why, the strategy ship above is so old-fashioned sails alone are not enough. It has to be rowed. It is probably delivering outdated parts, destined for some antiquated firm in a rustbelt (Detroit?). You could never mistake screeching harpies for attractive EBOs (Emerging Business Opportunities).
Realize that if one of the corporate ships (sbu's) has sunk and you, the captain, have barely made it to shore, a siren can be more seductive than you might think. John William Waterhouse (1849 - 1917) also painted a siren who has made a serious effort to appear at her very best. She is particularly seductive for those of the unemployed who are drowning in a sea of debt.
Siren, John William Waterhouse, ca. 1900
II. Siren Fraud Victims
The serious criminals for identify theft, invading bank accounts, industrial espionage and securities fraud are often moving targets. The U.S. ones have IP addresses, which they change weekly, in Russia - or Timbuktu. In turn, the Russian ones have IP addresses, which they change weekly, in the U.S. - or Timbuktu. (Actually Timbuktu is free of Internet crime. It is a small city, population 50,000, in the west African country Mali.)
The issue here is rather that of buying a bad, sometimes completely worthless, product and not getting a refund. Recourses vary from country to country. Those available in the U.S. will be covered here for three reasons. First, it is a major source of Internet products. Second, there is a lot of criminal energy in the U.S. Third, several of the remedies can be applied (appropriately adapted) in many other countries. Below are the steps one can take. The emphasis is on consumer (B2C) transactions, but similar steps can be followed for B2B ones also.
A. Nine private initiatives
1) Follow-up your telephone calls with E-Mail (E-mail lasts forever) and registered mail. See if you can find a cooperative attorney willing to send off a letter on his stationary for a nominal fee.
2) Continue, now mentioning that you are starting threads on the scam forums on the Internet. Among them are:
www.saltydroid.info (rather garish, tending towards ranting)
IM Report Card. IM's reports of the gurus are not particularly incisive. In fact some of them appear whitewashed. The product reviews tend to be more reliable.
Each time you increase your efforts, let the company know of your action. Remind the company of the concept of "lifetime value of a customer" and of the power of the negative referrral. Bad news is indeed more memorable than good. Just ask any newspaper editor. Be sure to ask the company what it thinks the lifetime value is, in terms of lost sales, of a scam report on the Internet, which never goes away, year in, year out.
Suggest you really would rather have a refund. That would be better for everyone in the long run. It would save them money on lost sales, and save you further effort. You will not be going away any time soon.
3) Get serious and go social! Twitter about it. Start groups on Facebook and LinkedIn relating your progress, of course with links to the scam reports. Find Internet forums and blogs where the story is a good fit.
Do not become hysterical, as some of the scam reviews are. Stay factual, as if you were making a professional accident report. Let the facts do your talking for you: names, dates, times. Include screen shots as appropriate.
4) Get really ambitious and make a short video about the situation! The best practices benchmark for a complaint video is "United Breaks Guitars" on YouTube, which went viral with over 10 million views by midyear 2011. (United was scrambling to fix the problem long before 50,000 views.) The video series is now used for instruction about customer service, both at business schools and companies.
Your own video does not have to be that sophisticated! Bad news sells well, and people will watch stories of consumer woe. Make sure the video is adapted for easy viewing on smart phones and link it into your social media actions as well.
5) Find a computer maven to link your social campaign and video to the firm or guru you became a victim of. Then a Google search for that firm or guru will also show your story.
6) Now there is enough in place to interest your local newspaper and radio station. The media are always on the look-out for some kind of disaster story. Local press coverage gives you content for your social media campaign as well.
7) You can suggest arbitration or mediation at some point, in which case you would want re-imbursement for the time and effort you had to spend on this matter. Demand to be paid for your social media campaign attacking the company!
8) Litigation is usually a poor option, "throwing good money after bad." The exception is if you feel many customers have a similar complaint for a product with substantial sales. In that case you might be able to have an attorney threaten a class action suit.
9) Lastly, for those who have deep pockets and are truly enraged, you can hire a Public Relations firm to launch negative publicity at your target. In the U.S. the PR firms that have prepared smear (muckraking, mud-slinging) political campaigns have considerable experience in this area.
To control costs, you might have the PR firm prepare for you a plan of attack. You then implement the attack by outsourcing it to India or the Philippines.
B. Six official resources
While you are doing the above, also inform the authorities. In the U.S. the main ones are:
1) Better Business Bureau (BBB) The BBB forwards your complaint to the company, and gives it 30 days to reply. The organization has a good reputation and many companies prefer to stay in its good graces. Therefore the statement on its website is credible that a good 70% of customer complaints are resolved after the BBB gets involved.
2) Federal Trade Commission (FTC) The FTC is the nation's consumer protection agency. On its landing page it mentions econsumer.gov1, where one can submit complaints about companies that are outside the U.S. A nice feature of the site is that it is in seven languages, including German.
3) U.S. Postal Inspection Service If you received any product shipped by the U.S. mail (not by, say, Federal Express), you can submit a complaint of mail fraud. That is a federal crime with severe penalities.
4) The Attorneys General Office The link is to the National Association of Attorneys General and lists each state's attorney general with complete contact information. You would want to submit the complaint both to the attorney general of the home state of the company and, if you are a U.S. resident, to the one in the state you live in.
5) District Attorneys The link is to the District Attorneys of the U.S. Department of Justice. They serve under the direction of their state's Attorney General. The U.S. Attorney is the chief federal law enforcement officer in his jurisdiction. There are (2011) 94 of them in the U.S., including those for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
6) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) IC3 is a partnership of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. They are unlikely to be interested in your (by their standards) inconsequential "storm in a teacup." However no-one is keen about being brought to their attention.
C. The Gorilla
The 800 lb. gorilla of the Internet is Google. If you can figure out a way to contact the right people at Google to take action on your behalf, you have a powerful weapon indeed. The precedent is copyright, in which Google has, in fact, played a role in pursuing violations.
Internet entrepreneurs are always nervous about the dreaded "Google slap" vaporizing their businesses. Therefore a "friendly suggestion" from Google to resolve the dispute may well have more impact on someone than his being served papers by a District Attorney. After all, hiding from a District Attorney is going to be a whole lot easier than trying to hide one's Internet activities from omniscient Google.2
III. Franchises and On-Line Coaching
From Bricks to Clicks and Back Again
The comments below introduce three subjects. The first short section is about franchised coaching, which has attracted entrants for business coaching but not yet (2010) for psychology-based executive coaching.
The second section is about on-line (virtual) coaching. In the subpage "Internet Gurus Who Coach" nine of the more prominent ones are discussed. Interestingly on-line coaching reflects both the high ($ 5,000 per hour) and the low (perhaps less than $50 per hour) end of the fee spectrum.
The third subject is offerings for Information Marketing, which is instruction in on-line marketing. The seperate subpages treat a dozen "Internet Gurus Who Coach" and ten "Internet Gurus Wno Do Not." (The final subpage, "The Real Internet Tycoons," treats the founders of major Internet enterprises such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.com.)
A. Franchising: Bricks
The business model of franchising can also be applied to professional services firms. (Franchising is further discussed at "Franchise Facts and Fallacies" at Papers.) Two of the better-known franchises are:
a)The Growth Coach www.thegrowthcoach.com out of the U.S.
b)The Action Coach www.theactioncoach.com out of Australia
Both franchises offer business coaching aimed at SMBs as opposed to executive coaching. The distinction is that executive coaching is generally aimed at managers who, if they do not actually have an MBA, typically have business related education, such as in accounting, engineering, or law. Executive coaching is often psychology based and concerned with issues such as leadership (e.g. 3600 feedback, on-boarding), developing high potentials and retaining key employees. Business coaching is generally at a more "nuts and bolts" level, dealing with issues such as time management, cash flow and customer acquisition. Of course there is considerable overlap between the two coaching designations.
B. On-line (virtual) Coaching: from Clicks to Bricks
A new breed of Internet "coaching" entrepreneurs is taking the stage. A key driver for their businesses is to have a large E-Mail list, 100,000 people and up, to whom they can send offers. They generally follow the same basic business model, consisting of the following steps:
1) They advertise -- on the Internet -- that they will teach you how to make money on the Internet. (Click)
2) When you respond (by E-Mail), you receive free content, which is often solid. Usually the theme is that the best way to make money on the Internet is to offer programs to teach people on, you guessed it, how to make money on the Internet! (Click)
3) You are asked to upgrade to paid information: webinars, group coaching and private on-line or telephone coaching. (Click)
4) Finally, you are made an offer to attend a live seminar and/or receive face-to-face coaching. A weekend seminar may cost $2,000 and up (seems reasonable) and private coaching as much as $5,000 an hour, which does not. (Brick)
C. Information Marketing
Another popular theme is to teach you Internet marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The purpose is for you to go to small businesses in your community and help them with their website presence. The assumption is that a business really needs to land on page one of Google (and other search engines) for the website to attract customers. (This assumption is often legitimate.) Variations on this theme are offers to teach you how to teach others to use the social media, how to make money blogging, etc. These programs all start with free content, from which you upgrade to various levels of paid content, including group or one-on-one coaching.
Sometimes the coaching moves into psychological waters with inspirational and motivational content. The 800 lb. gorilla of the "inspirationists" is Anthony Robbins out of California. With a height of 6 ft. 7 in. (201 cm), this former high school janitor has been estimated to earn between $30 and $50 million a year. Clients for his personal coaching (lifestyle, work-life balance issues) have included a slew of celebrities, among them President Clinton. However he is not an Internet gurus, rather making his money with huge "stage seminars" held in arenas.
There are a number of Internet entrepreneurs who offer coaching as a sideline to their other on-line offerings. There are, one presumes, several dozen more or less prominent Internet gurus. From the U.S. these include Brendon Buchard, Brad Fallon, Mike Filsaime, Eben Pagan, Howie Schwartz, and, in Australia, Yaro Starak. (In a blog Yaro Starak has made very credible comments on the real effort it takes to succeed on the Internet. A link is given in the section about him on the following subpage "Internet Gurus Who Coach.") Thirteen of them are treated in the following subpage "Internet Gurus Who Coach."
Another nine U.S. Internet gurus, followed by a sample list of a couple of dozen other individuals active in Internet marketing, are treated in the subpage "Internet Gurus Who Do Not."
1 The site should not be confused with econsumer.com, which (in German) gives helpful links for making consumer purchases.
2 Between Google and Cloud Computing, an old computer joke is becoming closer to reality. The IBM scientists have just completed the world's fastest supercomputer. They have agreed on a first test question: "Does God exist?" Some time later the computer screen flashes: "Not enough processing power."
The scientists decide to network the computer with all the other supercomputers and mainframes in the world. A year later, the gigantic project is done. Expectantly they again ask: "Does God exist?" Considerable time later, the screen flashes: "Not enough processing power."
This time the scientists leave no stone unturned. With new Internet algorithms, they network all the world's computer power, from supercomputers to desktop and laptop computers all the way down to the chips in smart phones and calculators. Ten years later the mamouth task is complete. "Does God exist?" The screen promptly flashes: "I do now."
*© Ulysses and the Sirens and Siren by John William Waterhouse (1849 - 1917) pnotographic reproduction of original art, public domain, age; Gyan Web Design 2010