The Hammer #1: Avoiding Dangerous Guru Myths

Welcome to The Hammer!
This is the Slow Business Adventure's regular column on busting the myths of business.

Because acting on bad advice can:

  • Slow entrepreneurs down

  • Cause you headaches

  • Waste your money

  • Corrode your confidence, and

  • Keep you from finding out what works for your business


Today I'm going to talk about some of the «make money online» gurus that are out there, and some kinds of programs you should avoid if you want to keep your confidence and make the right decisions for your own vision.

First, I want to sing the praises of moving some (or all) of your business online.

Digital business has a lot to recommend it. The overhead is low, it's generally environmentally friendly, and it lets you test ideas at small scale before putting in a lot of cash or time.

Web-based business has just one problem:

There's a ton of terrible advice out there about running digital business

Don't misunderstand me: There are plenty of excellent business and marketing teachers out there, too. (Those are the kinds we will try to introduce you to!)

But there are also still a lot of «guru» types looking to prey on inexperienced would-be entrepreneurs.

And the gurus tend to be very good at making themselves highly visible.

First, I thought it might be useful to point out a nearly-universal trait common to «guru» marketers who want to sell you business advice:

They try to manipulate your self image and sense of worth

The first way is by trying to make you feel like a big shot.

They flatter you with grandiose notions of the money you'll make, the attractive people who will find you irresistible, the life of luxury you'll lead.

They emphasize outward signals of importance as measures of internal worth.

The most obvious offenders will load up their marketing with pictures of Lamborghinis and private jets.

But it's not always that obvious. Lower-key gurus still make lots of references to the luxury holidays they're taking, the giant house (or houses) they live in, the Manolo Blahnik shoes they´re buying, and the important people they talk with.

A manipulative «guru» almost never talks about working hard, the time it takes to be an «overnight success», wrestling with challenges, developing a strong team, or limiting their financial growth to focus on more important things.

The message is,

«Buy my stuff and you can be a big shot like me»

But the deeper message is, 

«Your worth comes from status that only I can grant you»

This is reinforced by constant references to their «secret» systems to make money using detailed, step-by-step processes that only they can teach you.

Most of us can recognize this foolishness when it's obvious. But it can also show up in subtle ways.

For example, the gurus often paint an exaggerated picture of how little work goes into digital business.

If you fly on private planes and own your own island but still only work one day a month, you must be a pretty special person, right? Just sign up for their 100,000-euro program and you can be just like them.

We don’t advocate becoming a workaholic. You can seek balance without falling for this myth.

Digital business is business. It takes time, careful thinking, and a certain number of tasks you don't enjoy, at least until you have the cash flow to delegate them.

A clever observer once said,

«An online marketer is someone who works 18 hours a day so he can make money while he sleeps.»

So, while we do recommend a balanced approach to business,  we also don't encourage people to think that real business owners spend most of their time at the beach.

Tim Ferriss doesn't work a four-hour work week, and while you're running an active business, you probably won't either.

But not every guru tries to make you feel like a big shot. There's an insidious marketing technique that's even more damaging:

They make you feel like trash

The flip side to over-inflating your ego is to mock and belittle people like you, so you feel you need the guru to «redeem» you.

There's an unethical dating tactic called negging — insulting people to make them vulnerable to a pick-up line.

It's horrible behavior in the dating realm, and it's horrible behavior in marketing.

Some «marketing experts» routinely insult people who:

  • Currently work for someone else

  • Don't have aspirations to make millions

  • Take more time to build a business

  • Put family and health first, even if that means slower growth

  • Feel uncomfortable with high-pressure selling tactics

  • Have political, environmental, or social values that are more important than profit

And of course, this is only a partial list. There’s no end to your shortcomings!

If they can frame you as a «loser» for any of these, they can manipulate you into accepting their expensive program as the way to redeem yourself. 

These two approaches — making you feel like a big shot, or making you feel like trash — seem like opposites. But they're actually just two faces of a single coin.

Both techniques try to hijack your self image, positioning the marketing «expert» as the savior who will give you worth.

The more money you invest with them, the more worthy you will become.

This is the logic of a cult. Your worth flows from your devotion to the cult leader. 

Your success can only come from their rules, and can only be on their terms. 

And if you ever distance yourself (by, for example, unplugging from their «money getting system») your worth will plummet to zero.

So is there any such thing as an ethical marketing teacher?

Some people believe that any teaching about marketing or digital business must be some kind of scam.

I can understand the frustration, but it just isn't true.

Otherwise, the only people who could run businesses would be those blessed with some kind of «business gene.» 

And that gene does not exist.

There is no «selling» gene, no «marketing» gene, no «business gene.»

Business is a set of behaviors. It's a skill, and you can learn it.

The people who seem like they have that «business gene» simply grew up in environments surrounded by certain skills and attitudes. They're not fundamentally any different from you or me, they just have a different background.

If someone's marketing makes you feel sky high ... or rock-bottom low ... they may be trying to manipulate you into accepting them as a savior who can make everything better.

But you are the one who makes things better in your business.

  • You make the decisions

  • You decide what values will drive your actions

  • You decide the right way to implement business advice

  • You are the one who actually does the work

  • And you decide what matters to you, and how you'll make that happen

Good marketing and business teachers leave you feeling confident and supported. They respect your goals, they don't try to bend you around to theirs.

And while we might get a little euphoric at the Slow Business Adventure event, that's mainly the fresh air and all that hiking. :) 

Bottom line:

Here are some myth-busting takeaways we hope you will keep in mind when you look for business or marketing teachers:

  • Business ability isn't some kind of innate gift. And it's not going to flow to you from a cult-like marketer with a «secret system»

  • Learning to make your own decisions will always lead to more meaningful success than following anyone's rigid program.

  • Healthy marketing advice and training will make you feel confident and supported.

  • If someone's marketing makes you feel bad, or wildly hyped up, that person may be trying to manipulate you.

  • Real marketing and business teachers are guides — not gurus.

We'd love to know what myths you want us to bust in future columns!

Leave a comment to let us know what you’d like us to write about … or to let us know about your own experiences with «guru types».


Sonia Simone

Sonia was a founding partner of Copyblogger Media and is the owner of Remarkable Communication. She led the editorial direction on the Copyblogger blog, as well as developing the content and email strategies that supported the company’s software and e-learning lines of business. She sold her interest in Copyblogger in 2019.

Today, Sonia teaches writing for content marketers and works one-on-one with clients at Remarkable Communication.


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