[Editor's note: this is a re-post from January 2011. Part 2 of a series of year-end posts I write each year. When we migrated to the new site design, all the old posts were archived.]
It FINALLY happened to me.
I purchased an online course this year... and I didn't complete it.
You have to understand how RARE that is for me. As a Fusion creative, I'm a learning machine. I'm consuming and assimilating information ALL THE TIME. That's how I improve, how I get great results for my clients. I shorten their learning curve and save them thousands of dollars every year by processing this data for them so that they don't have to.
But this year a switch flipped.
This year, I saw too much crap being passed off as an "online course" that simply didn't deliver the goods. It happened a few years ago with books, and a few years before that with ebooks, so it was only a matter of time before online courses took a similar hit.
Don't misunderstand, there are PLENTY of fabulous online courses that deliver exactly as promised. This is not a slam against online training. In fact, I strongly encourage you to save your pennies and DIY as much of your business training as possible when you're in the early years of growing your company. That kind of bootstrapping will serve you well when the lean years return later in your business (and they will, it's just a matter of time).
But markets mature, and by that, I mean more people get into the game when they think there's money to be had, even if they don't belong in the market in the first place.
The double-edged issue with most courses is that you're learning a tactic, a skill. Learning skills is great and an important thing to do. But often what you're learning may or may not actually help you grow your business if you don't have some other pieces in place first.
But you wouldn't know that because you've been wooed by great copy, snazzy marketing, and flashy sales videos that tell you how much you NEED their course to solve your problems.
One of the great lies of business is the old saw "ask people what they want and give it to them."
Why? Because often, people don't really know what they want. At least, not at a deeper level. They merely see a symptom, and then want it to go away:
Not making enough money = wants to make the dolla billz rain!
Not booking enough clients = wants to book more clients!
Not feeling satisfied in their work = wants to feel happy about their work!
So marketer dude will sell you a course that promises to show you how to get that thing you want. And you buy it. And two weeks into it, you realize there's something else you have to deal with first. Then, you get stuck. AND NOTHING CHANGES.
These are symptoms of a deeper issue. Maybe you're not making enough money because you're not actually asking for the business, or you're not reaching the right audience with your offer. Maybe your product is crap. Maybe it's under-priced. Who knows? If you don't know what the real problem is, you'll spend money on learning tactics that may not solve the problem.
A 6-week branding program might make your website all sparkly and pretty, but it won't do jack to drive traffic to that new website. An online course can't help you refine your message and find your right audience. That takes monitoring the work outside of class - something most DIY courses won't help you with. In fact, depending on where you're at in your business, it can take 6-12 months just to refine your voice and start generating real revenue... but the course creator won't tell you that. They'll just invite you to come back and "re-take" the course next year when enrollment opens again!
And to be fair, they don't have to tell you. If the course is worth its salt, they've done their part; They've taught you the skills. How you implement them (or don't) is entirely up to you. After all, they can't guarantee your success if you don't do the work, right?
I know that's a hard truth to hear. But you need to hear it if you want your business to thrive.
It's not about tactics or courses. It's about seeing things differently and asking better questions to get better results. If revenue is a problem, why? Do the work and really look at what's going on. Don't band-aid the situation with another tactic or course. Get to the root of the issue.
When I was working primarily with Direct Sales professionals, one of the big mantras was to "be duplicatable." Roughly translated, that means only do things that your team can copy, so that they can see the same success that you've had.
But there's a problem with that logic: not everything I do will work for you. You have to tailor things to the way you best show up. Plus, the things that make me unique are my key advantages in the marketplace!
If I'm a single mom, I can crack jokes about my kids and relate to people based on that area of interest. But if you have no children, that will be hard for you to do authentically. The lesson here isn't to crack jokes about kids, which is what I might do, but rather, find a common area of interest outside your product offering and relate to your audience that way.
I know an online marketer who raves about how facebook ads made their business and how anyone can be a facebook ads ninja if they just take their course. What they fail to mention is that they had a $20,000 credit limit on one of their credit cards and a relative that was well versed in developing audiences for Facebook ads... neither of which come standard with their online program.
I'd guess that if you had $20k to throw at a problem, you could probably figure it out, too, right?
Often times, however, the omission is less overt. You simply don't realize your natural gifts and abilities that make some things easier for you than others. I know I'm a great conversationalist, so when I train sales conversations, I HATE giving word choices because the words I use won't be authentic for someone else. Instead, I train on why you say what you're saying, so that you can find the words that are best for you, and create sales language that is authentic to the way you actually talk to people.
Look, I bought into and perpetuated this lie for years. I really believed that there was no excuse for failure if you just followed the step-by-step, brain-dead simple blueprint or plan. Until I realized that it was either too simple, left out too many considerations, or simply couldn't work for a person in my situation. The more accurate statement should be "If you're like me, and I can do it, then you can probably do it, too."
But all too often, we're NOT like that teacher, that guru, that influencer. Should that diminish our results?
Again, not if you think differently.
Instead of expecting a cut-n-paste approach to success, look at ways to translate their success to your business model. Instead of looking for a blueprint (unless you need a tactical tutorial), be willing to do the harder work of analyzing your own business from the inside out and doing the work to improve it. Ford doesn't look at a Corvette to figure out how to make a better Mustang. In fact, Corvettes were around for almost 10 years before Ford debuted the Mustang. They didn't just jump on the sports car bandwagon. Ford does their own market research, and looks at what's already going on inside the existing car before deciding what's next.
Not everything has to be hard, but if you're skipping the hard work in favor of learning new tactics, you're killing your business.
Instead, take the time to do the work up front. Get the clarity you need to move forward. It's not as sexy, it's not as fun, but it's important to the health and longevity of your business.
Sometimes that means getting an outside eye on your business. Sometimes that means getting support and accountability to keep you on track. And sometimes that means getting hands-on help to manage the day-to-day tasks of your growing enterprise. Don't be fooled into thinking an online course can solve your problems. Sometimes they can, but most of the time, there's deeper work to be done.
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