Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales Uncategorized

Spotting Business Scams: 5 Red Flags

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Internet. The ability to share and access information has brought us incredible value, fantastic products, and instant education. It’s also given an incredibly effective platform to a whole new generation of snake-oil salesmen, ready to promise you the world in exchange for your hard-earned cash. Friends, there are vipers in these woods, and those of us trying to go into business for ourselves need to know how to spot them.

I have personally spent more money than I care to type out loud on products that were at best useless and at worst utter cons. That’s money that could have been invested in my business. I want that experience to have some use for my audience, so this is my guide to avoiding less-than-legitimate products. I have wasted my money so you don’t have to, and if it stops just one of you from being cheated, it will have been worth it.

Pardon the heightened emotion, but this topic hits close to home. At Business Republic, we’ve committed ourselves to the notion that being forthright is the best overall business strategy. We truly believe that honesty is the best policy- not just morally, but as a means of making money. Too many online “businesses” have made this approach difficult by abusing people’s trust. Too many of them have put the bulk of their resources into their marketing, rather than creating a product worth buying. Some of them will be very angry about this post.

Here are the five biggest, reddest flags, the sure signs that a product isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. If you see any of these, run, don’t walk, to another website.

1. They make specific promises about revenue. Here’s the truth: no product or service can guarantee any particular amount of profit for your business. There are too many variables beyond their control for that. They can point to people who attribute some of their success to their product, they can demonstrate a spike in sales that correlates with use of their product, but they can’t (honestly) claim to be able to magically bestow a certain number on your bank account.

This type of scammer usually starts the conversation with a promise of how rich you’ll be after you’ve used their product. “Become a millionaire in one year.” “Earn $5k a week!” They’ll even include a screenshot of a PayPal account with the balance garishly highlighted in yellow. They try to seduce their audience with numbers, because seducing is easier than selling.

2. There’s no risk-reversal. If a given company doesn’t offer a trial period, free content, or a money-back guarantee, that speaks to a lack of confidence in the product. When someone truly believes that their product is worth what they’re asking for it, they don’t just say so. They prove it. At Business Republic, we establish our credibility through content marketing and a free course. Other outfits do limited-time trials or trial versions of software. The idea is to take the risk out of the transaction for the customer, because we don’t want our customers to gamble; we want them to win. Whatever the product, always look for some form risk-reversal. If the company isn’t willing to put its money where its mouth is, why should you?

3. They don’t produce free content. Naturally, I’m partial to content marketing. My business model is built on trust, and trust is earned through the conversation in which I engage the audience through blogs, podcasts, and videos. The scammier sort of businesses don’t bother with this- they simply create and launch products. They create, they launch, they sell, they repeat. All the while they don’t bother to let people know who they are. This is because if you knew who they were, you wouldn’t trust them with your money.

In the end, they don’t really give a hoot what their audience thinks of them, because they don’t plan on having a very long relationship with them. Once the money’s transferred, they’re on to the next victim.

4. They’re impossible to contact. One surefire sign of a legitimate business is that they’re willing to engage with you personally. If there’s no feedback form or question submission process, suspicion is warranted. If your emails get no response, or get only auto-replies, whoever’s behind the curtain doesn’t consider you worth their time. Worse, they see your problems as exactly that- your problems.

Naturally, it becomes harder to personally respond to every customer as a business grows. However, many of us still manage to do so, even the wildly successful ones. Myself and my business partner Nicole, Paul Jarvis of, Noah Kagan of AppSumo, and many other business founders still personally reply to emails, tweets and Facebook queries. If we can’t, we make damn sure that someone does- someone human who is authorized to address the customer’s needs.

Anything less would constitute hiding from our audience.

5. They’re not vouched for by other credible supporters. You may notice that in both my blog and my podcast, I regularly reference other leaders in the entrepreneur-empowerment industry. I link to their websites, I bring them on the podcast as guests, and I knowingly help to promote their businesses as eagerly as they promote mine. This isn’t because we’ve made some secret back-room agreement to give each shout-outs from time to time. It’s because we share the same approach to credibility-based marketing, and are happy to help establish each other’s trustworthiness to our respective audiences.

Each industry has a community of colleagues and even competitors who vouch for each other- not just for the sake of mutual benefit, but out of mutual respect. Often, we’ve even used each other’s complementary services, like I’ve used Michael Port’s invaluable public-speaking training to help sell my products. If you’re considering a product, and no one you know or respect is willing to put their name behind it, that might be because the product or the company is new and unestablished. It might also be because it’s well-established as garbage. It’s worth taking the time to find out which.

The Internet is a wonderful and a dangerous place for budding entrepreneurs. Bad actors are unfortunately around every cyber-corner. That doesn’t mean we should be paranoid of unwilling to give new products and companies a shot. As long as businesses in question are forthright about who they are and what they do, we should experiment with different products. Some may be exactly what we need, some may be flawed- and that’s ok.

As long as a given company can establish its good intentions, they deserve a shot. If they can’t, or won’t be accessible and up-front, beware. The enticing ad you see may represent something that’s all wrapping and no gift.