Sales

Snake oil salespeople: Be sceptical of business coaches who promise you the world

Tristan Wright /

Entrepreneurialism has given us many things of value: lightbulbs, cars and space travel, to name just a few.

However, there is a dark side to entrepreneurialism, and unfortunately, we see it all too often.  

I’m all for turning ideas into profit but I draw the line at self-indulgent greed and fakery.

The digital age has seen us bombarded with this messaging daily and it completely ruins the credibility and reputation of those that actually can offer value. It’s guilty by association.

The barrier to starting a business now is so low anybody can do it. It’s not uncommon to see someone with a social media profile masquerading as a ‘guru’ while trying to pump out their ill-conceived expertise on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

It’s a predictable pattern. Some young kid wearing a plush suit, with perfectly manicured hair, standing in front of a private jet, bragging about how they quit the 9-5 and now make millions every year.

Seriously Google, why punish those that genuinely need help in business with this rubbish?

These people have bought the books and use the buzzwords but that doesn’t give them right to claim to be something they’re not.

I hate to break it to most ‘social media influencers’, but chances are, you don’t have a gift and the world doesn’t need to hear it, despite what your mother thinks.

I bet it’s happened to you before too. You scroll through your social media feeds and you’re inundated with what I call ‘the plague’: young ‘entrepreneurs’ spruiking ways to increase sales by huge margins, turbo-charge lead generation, work a four-hour week and live the life you deserve.

Don’t be fooled by motivational quotes and a backdrop of rented jets, cars, boats, houses and swimming pools — they don’t make the mentor.

This approach is nothing more than a gimmick and it’s disheartening to see the demise of quality business practices. Unfortunately, it mirrors what’s previously happened in the movie and music industries.

I’m old enough (just) to remember the days when a music act got promoted on talent, a unique sound and stagecraft. Now the industry often favours artists with little substance that can be churned and burnt when something newer, shinier comes along. The parallels between that and modern business are uncanny.

It’s only natural that, as a business owner, you will at some point require external help. You’re great at your craft and that’s why you started out in business, but that doesn’t mean you have all bases covered.

Marketing, strategy, sales, client and staff care and management, finances, the list goes on. You can’t be expected to proficiently be across every single thing.  

So, when it’s needed, where can you find the right help?

Fortunately, there are ways to weed out, well, the weeds.

My first tip is not to rush towards those on social media promising you an instant result. If it’s worthwhile, it won’t happen overnight.

The approach you take will differ depending on your area of need, but if you can identify certain things about the person offering their help you’ll sort out the roses from the thorns.

Be direct with them and expect honesty in return. Ask them what they intend on doing for you and how they will achieve it.

Questioning them on this may sound strange, but it’s not uncommon for an ‘expert’ to secure a client with no knowledge of what they need to do for them. Trust me, I see questions posted like this in private business groups on Facebook all too often.

In short, those with runs on the board will know what needs to happen — they won’t look to Facebook for the answer.  

I believe you can get a real sense of somebody’s character and their abilities based on the mistakes they’ve made. So ask them.

The bigger the mistake, the heavier their learning and you stand to gain from that. As a business owner, you will never be perfect but you can avoid making major clangers if you look, listen and learn from people who have gone before you.

This is not what the ‘gurus’ will tell you. Instead, they’ll arrogantly proclaim they made millions of dollars and you can too — if you subscribe to their seven-week online course.

In contrast, the acknowledgement of mistakes and understanding how and why it was wrong is a powerful learning tool. Don’t shy away from others who got it wrong the first time. Just make sure they’re aware of it, dealt with it and have since bounced back.

Honesty in business is refreshing. If you’re in conversations with somebody offering to help and they reinforce to you they have all the answers, it’s a red flag. That typically means any business relationship with them will be one-sided and you’ll miss out as it’s their way or no way.

How would you respond if you asked someone a question and they didn’t know the answer? Would you cut them and move on, or allow that person the opportunity to find the answer?

I believe in the latter. It’s the process of trying to find out that stands out. To me, this shows a commitment to personal and professional growth and that’s advantageous for you.

Logically, you’re the most educated person in your business and somebody offering external help won’t have the knowledge on it that you do. This is great because they offer a new perspective, yet are showing a willingness to grow and prosper with you. Their growth mindset will see them automatically want to seek out what they need to educate themselves with.

Getting the right help in business is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Due to the nature of your business and your personality, you will require different skill sets and traits when seeking external help from others.

The more detailed your questions are, the quicker you’ll identify the help that can actually help. Treat it like a job interview with a potential employee. The only way you find out if they’re competent is by asking relevant questions of them.

Those with value will answer accordingly based on experience and knowledge. Those that can’t offer you the help you need will try to inspire you with a motivational quote or use terms like ‘blue sky thinking’ or ‘thought showering’. 

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Tristan Wright

Tristan is the director of Evolve to Grow.

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