If I see one more self-proclaimed expert hocking their newest “masterclass” or online course, I might explode.
If you want to learn something, there is so much content being given away thanks to people who forcefully believe in the power of content marketing. We create more content than you could ever consume that is all about how to do stuff.
So Google it.
Seriously. Have a question? Want to learn something? Curious about a topic, want to learn a skill, need to understand how to accomplish as specific task or project?
Do some research and teach yourself. It is possible to do this, no special skills or previous knowledge required. What it does require is time and effort. (Meaning, heaven forbid, you might need to look past the first page of search results or perhaps play with your inquiry to generate different results.)
Content Marketing Makes Information Crazy Accessible
To me, content marketing — which includes writing content to publish on this blog — should achieve the goal of making people seeking answers aware of problems, solutions, and options for action. I can tell you everything I know for free and you can go do all the stuff my business offers yourself.
I want to educate people to empower them. I want to be the answer you find after doing your Google search.
And nope, teaching someone else how to do exactly what I do is not going to cost me any business. Because the people who want to be taught aren’t the people I work with.
I work with people who have a gazillion things to do and they would rather set their own eyebrows on fire rather than add the arduous task of “learn content marketing” to their to-do list.
I’m happy to teach people what I know. But I don’t believe in making my money by charging someone $999 for the dubious pleasure of going through a series of slides I recorded with my voice droning over the video.
Content exists to provide value while asking nothing in return. That’s my philosophy, anyway. And enough other people believe in it to fill the Internet with more content than you could possibly read in your lifetime.
So if you want to invest in your business, I suggest finding other ways to do it than paying for bullshit online courses.
And if you want to learn something, I’ll say it again: start Googling. The information you need to teach yourself is out there.
No, Not All Online Courses Are (Total) Bullshit
Before I get ripped apart by all the people who make a living teaching online, let me state that I don’t think all courses you find online are complete shit. But here’s an easy way to sniff out which ones totally are:
- Anything that promises some sort of “6-figure launch!!”
- Courses based on individual success. Watch out for language like “I did X and now I’m showing you how to do it, too!” No one can replicate individual successes, because no one can replicate every factor that went into that success.
- Training that is super-meta (“sign up for this webinar to learn how to run a webinar!”)
- Online courses offered by people with absolutely no training, experience, education, or certification. While all of these factors aren’t necessary for someone to be a good resource or teacher, a lack of all of them is a red flag. Anyone who is 100% self-proclaimed is unlikely to provide a lot of value.
- Anything that promises to give you something extremely intangible, like a “money mindset” course, or something painfully broad, like “how to make money as a creative.” Be honest with yourself: is a self-guided course done through recorded video online really going to teach you this?
- On a similar note, courses that promise to deliver you a set of skills that typically require years of study, practice, and training should trigger red flags.
Ultimately, my rub with most online courses out there is that they promise fast fixes and easy solutions to complicated problems. No one course is going to magically leave you a master at.. well, anything. There are no shortcuts to mastery.
Some exceptions exist, of course. And a good way to vet any program is to look for a money-back guarantee. If they promise to refund your money if you’re not happy, it’s a sign of a higher-quality product.
Another way I like to vet people is to explore what content they give away for free. ByRegina.com is a good example of something that might normally trip a few red flags.
But I really like her and her products because she’s committed to giving away a ton of value up-front through free courses, ebooks, and a great blog. She allows her audience to try — a lot — before committing any money to her products.
Know Thyself for a Better Way to Invest in Your Business
I don’t think people who pay for online courses are suckers. Or if they are, then I’m one, too.
In the last three years, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on training and courses provided online.
I used to spend pretty indiscriminately. If a course had a good sales page, it probably got me. I was lured by all promises of learning something new that would allow me to build a better business and make more money.
But then I learned a few important things:
- There are good courses created by experts who understand principles of education — and there are shit products where some self-proclaimed pro with no understanding or experience in teaching others cobbled together already-published content from their blog or concepts you could easily Google to find in a single result. And then they charged you $299 for it.
- Things that sound too good to be true are too good to be true.
- Businesses that exist to teach other businesses how to run better businesses are, by and large, crap. If it gets meta, it’s probably not a good solution.
Most importantly, I learned that this was not a good way to invest in myself or my work because I didn’t have time to dedicate to the courses that promised to teach me something I previously knew nothing about.
The best courses I invested in were from HubSpot (of which many were free of charge) and Digital Marketer (which are pricey, but thorough). In both cases, the courses were highly relevant to my work and built off what I already knew.
I know myself well enough to understand I’m not going to devote time and energy to something that’s entirely novel at this point. I want to invest in building something specific: in this case, my business.
If you paid for an online course, I truly believe you tried your best to invest in your business by growing your knowledge.
Nothing wrong with that. The problem comes in when you don’t know yourself well enough to know when there’s a better way to invest in your business — and in yourself.
I could take my ideal client, sit them down, and teach them exactly how to manage their own content marketing. They would then turn to me and say, “how much can I pay you to do this for me?”
I’m not being facetious. I’ve seen this happen over and over and over again because I stubbornly tried to convince myself that I knew what the people I wanted to serve needed.
I was determined to teach folks to fish instead of slapping a freshly caught and cooked trout in front of them as my offering. But as it turns out, showing up just for the meal without any of the prep work is exactly what people wanted.
(Helpful tip: listen to your audience and they’ll tell you what they need. Don’t tell them what they want.)
My clients know themselves really well. They understand a number of things about their own realities:
- They are too busy to teach themselves something new.
- They are too busy to implement what they learned about a new subject.
- They can get more out of their time and business by focusing on key areas they are experts in, instead of investing time and energy into becoming experts in new areas.
All of this makes outsourcing certain tasks a better — and less expensive — investment than trying to first learn and then do everything themselves.
If you’re honest with yourself about what you want, where you’re at, and what you can actually commit resources (like time and money) to, a better way to invest in your business will be easier to spot.
Useful Alternatives to Getting Lost in Online Course Pitches
People who create online courses know they need to convince you to earn your dollars, so they pitch you hard with clever, brilliantly written sales pages. If you ever want a lesson in copywriting, find an online course landing page and analyze it.
But then step back instead of getting sucked in, and remember the advice from above: know yourself well enough to recognize when a course is not going to serve you or your business very well.
The easiest alternative is to outsource what you don’t know instead of teaching yourself. I practice this myself, although it took a long time to realize how much more efficient this is (and how much better the end result winds up).
For example, I no longer mess around with my website. The first three years I operated this site, I taught myself how to install and customize themes I bought on a marketplace like ThemeForest.
But I didn’t really know what I was doing and while I loved the idea of learning how to actually design and code a website, that wasn’t realistic. So I hired Zach Swinehart to create a custom product and I’m thrilled with the result.
And when something goes wrong with my site, I don’t tinker and try to fix it. Honestly, I don’t even think about it anymore to the point where I’m downright lazy about it.
Instead, I just email Grayson Bell and say, here’s the problem, please fix it because you know everything.
And if I need something designed — be it a badass business card or a fancy guide to give away to the people who join my community — I don’t laboriously scrape something together in Photoshop anymore.
I focus on other work like producing content for my clients, so I ask Melody of Finicky Designs to help make my vision a reality in just days.
All of these things interest me to some degree. And they are all tasks that require a lot of education and training to execute at a high level of professionalism. I still dream of going back to school one day for a graphic design degree.
Maybe I’ll do that eventually. But in the meantime, loading up on $10 to $99 courses online that promise to turn me into a design genius with a set of 10 videos is not going to cut it for what I actually want to accomplish: real mastery.
That’s how I draw the line in where I buy online courses now. I ask myself, “Is this course promising to give me the same skills as someone who spent years and thousands of hours honing their craft?” If that’s the promise, it’s a load of bull.
I also ask things like, “Will this course build on existing knowledge?” “Is this something realistic to attain through this format (or, again, is this something that actually requires years of hands-on study and one-on-one instruction)?” and “Do I have the time to devote to spending at least 10 hours per month learning the material?”
If I can answer yes, it’s worth a closer look.
I used to bootstrap everything I could by doing it myself. Then I tried to invest in my business by teaching myself so I would be better at everything I was trying to do myself.
But I’ve realized that the best way I can invest in my business, the best way I can improve it and grow it, is to admit when I don’t have time, knowledge, or patience to do everything that interests me and outsource to an expert instead.
It saves time, effort, energy — and ultimately, money. I don’t spend my time (which has a dollar value) trying to learn everything and then struggling to implement it. And I don’t literally spend money on courses to teach me, especially those with unrealistic promises.
Experts can get better and faster results than I can, so I invest by hiring them instead. It feels like a big leap to pay other people to do work you’re convinced you could (eventually) figure out yourself, but I think it’s the best way to invest in your business if you’re ready to take it to the next level.