The real story of my business: part four

Previously, in Part Three of The Scandalous Truth (aka: my business story)… 

Finally—the sweet taste of success! After working my booty off to build a solid reputation in the marketing industry, I finally managed to start lining up clients consistently. Then I started teaching mini classes on PR, marketing, and business topics, and that’s when things really started blowing up. Tons of small biz owners wanted to learn from me—more people than I could actually take on! My client docket was filled to the brim, and I knew it was time to evolve in a new direction. I needed a new business model, some new programs and services, some new… something or other. But what?

If you missed Part One of my business story read it HERE, Part Two is HERE. Part Three is HERE.

Here is Part Four…

Now we’re heading into 2010. Not that long ago. But the Internet was a very different place back then. There weren’t many professional bloggers, and there weren’t that many people teaching classes online. A few mavericks here and there, but nothin’ like what we’ve got today.

I was one of those early adopters. I taught most of my PR and marketing classes online, and I had a small but enthusiastic following. Of course, I wanted to get even more students in my classes—who wouldn’t?—and so, like many entrepreneurs, I started poking around the Internet, hoping to learn some hot new marketing strategies. “There’s always more I can learn!” I figured.

And yes, I learned quite a few things!

Mainly, what I learned is that… things are not always what they seem.

Let me preface this by saying I’m not shaming “Internet Marketing.” I use the interwebs – every single day – to market my business. And there are tons of legit people doing amazing things online. But, as in every industry, there’s a dark side.

One day, I went to a business conference and attended a seminar called something like Build Your 7-Figure Business in 7 Weeks or something ridiculous like that. The instructor got onstage and started gushing about her 7-figure business explosion. She had a photo of her brand new Ferrari up on the screen. She was so delighted that her Internet marketing riches gave her the ability to buy her dream car.

My skeptical nature kicked in. “Is this real? It can’t be real. Can it?” But as I looked around at all the hopeful faces in the audience, I realized I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to believe. I already ran a pretty successful business, but maybe the marketing techniques that this woman was sharing… maybe this would catapult me to the next level! Maybe!!!

I turned to the woman sitting next to me and started a conversation. She quickly told me that she followed the exact same marketing method that the speaker was describing—and she’d started an online business teaching people to make cake pops. She didn’t know anything about cake pops and she wasn’t a baker. But she bought a bunch of cake pop cookbooks, soaked in the information, re-purposed it into an online video class, and sold it. Apparently cake pops was a high searched/low traffic keyword. Within one year, she made $500K in sales. And she claimed to work just 5 hours a week on her business, mainly tinkering with online advertising.

I was floored. NO WAY.

If this woman who wasn’t even a professional baker could earn half a million dollars a year selling cake pop tutorials online, just imagine what might be possible for someone like me!

I decided to learn as much as I possibly could about Internet marketing. Mailing list automation. Sales funnels. Conversion rates. Eye-tracking studies. Website optimization. I wanted to learn EVERYTHING. I came from an old-school, traditional marketing background, so this was a whole new world for me. It was like… the Wild West. I went deep, deep, deeeeeep into the Internet marketing abyss.

But most of the info I found just didn’t feel right. There was all kinds of wacky advice. Like, “The uglier your website, the better for sales.” Huh? And also, “You can be an ‘expert’ in anything as long as you believe in yourself and read enough of other people’s work and just repurpose it slightly.” What? In the Internet marketing universe, I met tons of people who were allegedly very wealthy, but chose to spend their weekends in drab hotel conference rooms teaching other people how to be rich, too. Hmm. Doesn’t add up.

I kept feeling weird and icky, but I ignored my gut. I kept telling myself, “I’m new to all of this stuff. These people are the experts, not me! I should follow their advice, I guess…”

So I trotted along, running my business, and trying to implement all of the Internet marketing advice I’d been absorbing. But instead of creating the sales explosion I’d been hoping for, everything went in the opposite direction. I launched a new class, followed all the steps the “gurus” had laid out, and I didn’t have ONE SALE. Literally not even one.

Crushed and depressed, I turned back to the cake pop gal that I’d met earlier that year. I was hoping to pick her brain. Maybe she could give me a pep talk. I emailed her and the email bounced back—undeliverable. Hmm, weird. I visited her website—gone. Social media pages—removed. It was as if this woman and her $500K business had completely vanished. Did she ever really exist?!

Then, while doing some research for one of my clients who worked in the auto industry, I happened to stumble across a photo of a shiny, brand new Ferrari. THE EXACT SAME PHOTO FROM THE CONFERENCE. I realized in that moment that I’d been duped. That speaker at the conference gushing about her successful online business and her new Ferrari—it was all smoke and mirrors. The photo of “her car” was actually a stock photo. OK, I guess it’s *possible* that this woman loved her car so much she took professional photos and decided to sell them on a stock photo site. LOL. But my hunch is that it was never her car in the first place. And considering she has vanished from the Internet just like the cake pop lady, I suspect my hunch is right.

After that, I decided, “Enough. I’m not going to follow these particular ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’ because a lot of their advice is just… terrible. I’m going to trust my instincts. I’m going to keep marketing my products and services online, sure, but I’m going to do my own “thing.”

That was a huge turnaround moment in my career. I felt liberated—but I also felt lonely. I had awesome clients and students, but I didn’t have very many mentors or peers that I could really trust.

Even though I loved being self-employed, a part of me missed my ol’ marketing agency days—back when I got to work with smart, creative people face-to-face, in the same room, rattling off ideas on white boards for big, splashy campaigns.

I needed to find a new tribe. Different peeps, who marketed their business online with love, compassion and integrity. People who really understood me and who wanted to do business differently.

But where were all of my business BFFs hiding out?!

Click HERE to read about the next chapter of my career… including new friends, mentors and a life-altering trip to Sweden!