First, they sell you the dream.
Work from anywhere. Break the shackles of the 9-5. Stop making money for the man. Give yourself financial independence while working 4 hours a week. Passive income. Imagine all the things you could do with massive amounts of wealth.
Second, they make you believe it’s possible.
It’s the Instagram photos from a private jet. There are screenshots of income statements. Then income statements from others who have been through this proven system. You too, can take a private jet to Hawaii and earn $57,983 a week working on the beach doing some kind of SEO/Facebook Ads/Amazon/Ebay/Affiliate/Social Media/eCommerce/Etsy/Information Product/Coaching/Shopify/Mastermind/Digital Business thingamajig like a real entrepreneur.
Quick side note: When you see people posting pics of themselves with a Lambo, the car is usually RENTED. That’s just one of the ways Instagram is ruining your life without you realizing it.
Third, they make it sound easy.
Well of course it’s not easy. They’ll say it’s only for *serious* people willing to put in the work to realize their full potential. And that it’s a lot easier to do that if you learn the secrets they’re selling you to avoid the 5 deadly mistakes everyone else makes without realizing it. Or pay a little extra for the group coaching mastermind to give you accountability and help you follow through. It’s fail-safe.
Fourth, they play on your insecurities.
How can you live with yourself working a soul sucking 9-5 job in a CUBICLE? Your life would be so much richer and full of meaning if you were hustling to sell white-labeled kitchen timers from alibaba.com! You’re not building anything for yourself. You’re living paycheck to paycheck. You can’t follow your dreams. You can’t travel. You have no freedom, you’re in a corporate version of indentured servitude. You’re trading time for money. You’re so busy working that you don’t have time to watch Ertugrul.
This gets compounded when these things get Islamified. Imagine having enough money to go on umrah every year! Think about how many masjids you could build! If you only work 4 hours a week, you can memorize the Qur’an! You’re going to change the world and fix the ummah!
The only thing holding you back is your fears! Your real problem is you need to dream bigger. And after you do that, dream bigger again!
Fifth, they take your money and make you feel good about it.
By this point you’re screaming take my money!
They’ll ask you to consider what all this means. What is it worth to you to be able to live the life of your dreams? How much are you willing to pay for the lifestyle you never thought was possible until reading this really long sales page with testimonials from people just like you? It’s priceless.
So they’ll throw out a number. $20k? It’s easily worth 20k to never set foot in a cubicle again. But we’re not going to charge you $20k. Nope, you can live your dreams for the low low price of $497/month for 12 months (or save $967 if you pay in full).
*This is called price confusion by the way. They won’t tell you it costs $5,000 because that’s a number you can easily relate to in your head. Instead they force you to deal with more abstract amounts, increasing your propensity to buy.
And once you get ready to put in your credit card information, there’s going to be a ONCE IN A LIFETIME OFFER. There will be a clock counting down to zero to reinforce it. See, most people don’t have the discipline to go through the course, and they want to guarantee you’ll be successful. So for a measly $199/month (or save $391 if paid in full) extra you can get access to monthly coaching calls, and the ability to actually talk to an instructor over email.
Obviously, a lot of this is hyperbole and tongue-in-cheek. At the same time, a lot of it isn’t. We see some form of this coming across our email, Facebook, or Instagram feeds every so often. The promises are always alluring. They appear to really be solving a major problem I have, so why wouldn’t it be worth it?
I’ve taken a number of online courses. This includes ones that cost $20 up into the thousands. Some of these were well worth the money in the sense of actual ROI. Some courses I didn’t finish. There are some I signed up for and never took. There are others I took excitedly, only to get disappointed and have to ask for a refund. This includes courses on everything from SEO, copywriting, freelancing, fitness, productivity, leadership, personal development, job interviewing, and even how to create/sell online courses.
How do you ultimately decide if a course is actually worth it or not? To answer this question we’re going to walk through something called the WRAPS framework. If you’d like to understand the theory behind this framework, please check out this video/resource page on decision making I’ve compiled.
Widen Your Options
The marketing around the course is designed to make you feel this one course is the only thing that can solve your problem. This is why so much of the sales pages and promotional webinars are geared toward making you imagine what your life would be like if money was not a concern.
What is the problem you are trying to solve, and what are the different ways you can solve it? As they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
Let’s say you’re trying to write a book and you need to pitch it to a publishing company. Now you come across a course that’s delivered by someone who used to work in the publishing industry for 20 years, and has laid out a step by step plan for first time authors to get book deals. In this case, yes, it seems like you’ve found a course that solves a specific problem. Now you can assess further whether it is the right course or not, but at least the first step is correct.
The problem with lifestyle entrepreneurship courses is they are not solving a specific problem. They’re geared toward making you feel like your life sucks (because you have a 9-5 job), and then promising you an abstract dream of living how you want.
If the problem is that you need to make more money, then start smaller. Can you freelance and earn $500/month extra? Can you set up something as simple as an Amazon affiliate that generates $100/month? If you can’t, then you probably don’t need to spend $5k on a course that’s going to teach you to be an “entrepreneur”. Remember, entrepreneurship is a skill. See if you actually have the aptitude for it first before putting all your eggs in that basket.
Many would benefit greatly by adopting the mindset and studying the examples from $100 startup (yes, that’s an Amazon affiliate link to try and generate passive income). If you want to learn photography, you can start with basic tutorials. You don’t need to dive right into a $12k course on advanced videography and cinematics. First master the free tutorials on YouTube, chart your progress, then find the material (whether it’s an article, free videos, book, or paid course) that best fits the next level you need to get to. The same goes for any other topic like learning SEO, advertising, or cooking.
We usually rush to the expensive course because there is a feeling that the premium price will bring premium service. It instills a trust that the experts did all the work to synthesize and filter all the information, and now I can quickly plow through it and get results. This could be entirely true. But is the price worth it, and can you easily afford it? Is it worth the sacrifice? And is it actually what you need at this moment in time?
The marketing will always make you feel like it is. You have to fight the cognitive biases and emotion pushing you in that direction.
Reality Test Your Assumptions
What are you assuming when you’re signing up for a course?
- Credibility of the teacher(s)
- Proven results from previous students
- Success rate of students
- Total cost of investment
- …and lots more
When I’ve pulled the trigger and bought an expensive course online, it was never random. Each time, it was from someone whose work I had been following for literally years. This meant that I had a thorough understanding of what they teach, how they teach it, what value they provide, and how that benefits me.
The best credibility marker is a body of work. In the information product space (which is where most online courses fall), there should be an abundant amount of free and valuable material put out by the person or company. Why would you buy information from someone if you don’t know what kind of information they provide? At the least you should be able to find blog posts, podcast interviews, maybe even a book. Go through these materials carefully and see if you actually get actionable value from it. If you don’t, then their paid material probably won’t give you much either. If you find that all a person can talk about is general benefits or selling a lifestyle without telling you how the sausage is actually made, it’s probably not going to be a successful course.
If I want to study SEO, and I find someone who has YouTube tutorials I can follow, I will do that and see what results I get. Then I might subscribe to their email list where I get more information. I apply that information and see results. Now when this person sells a course, I can be fairly confident the course will be worthwhile.
A huge red flag is when people refuse to discuss the details of what they do. So they want to teach online entrepreneurship, but they won’t actually tell you what they sell online, or what their previous businesses were. This means they’ve got a severe scarcity mindset, or what they’re selling isn’t as unique as they make it out to be (and probably a bit of both). So is the person really an entrepreneur? Think about any successful businessperson you’ve met. They tell you clearly what they do. They own a fast food restaurant, or laundromat, or a car wash, or they write books, or they sell clothes online, or any number of other things. The bottom line is, they don’t hide what they do because there’s no reason to.
When someone’s business is so secret that they can’t tell you, this should be a sign to run. They will play to your emotions and convince you that it has to be a secret precisely because it’s so successful. When a business doesn’t have a unique value add in the marketplace, then it often means the person doesn’t have a business at all. They simply own their own job. Here’s a simple way to figure out which is which: Could this person pitch their business on Shark Tank?
Another assumption that needs to be looked at is why is this person selling a course. For some, an online course is a natural extension of their overall company or brand. This makes the most sense for successful online courses. Be careful with ‘how-to’ courses. There’s a saying that during the gold rush, the people who made the most money were the ones selling the treasure maps. If someone has a 7 figure business and they work less than 20 hours a week, why are they hawking a $5k course online teaching you “how” when they could easily make significantly more money by working to double their business? It’s probably because the business isn’t that successful, and the course is more lucrative. And if their reasoning is altruistic, or community service, then the price should be substantially lower.
Have you talked to students who have been through the course? What was their experience? Are there any hidden costs? Some courses that teach eCommerce fail to disclose that you’ll need an additional few thousand dollars in capital to source and buy product to sell.Do you know how to account for product refunds and defective inventory? What about shipping and customs?
Testimonials can be misleading. I have seen one course that has dozens of people’s photos and testimonials. At first glance, it looks credible. If you read the testimonials however, they are all talking about previous ventures, or excitement about taking this course. That is marketing hype, not proven results. And even the proven results need scrutiny. Someone may say they made $100k from taking a course. They usually will not specify what the actual profit on it was (if it’s not mentioned, it is because it’s so small that they’d lose credibility).
What are the realistic results from the course? What is the time commitment required to attain the promised results? Have you read reviews about courses similar to this one? I’ve seen one course that was advertised as a follow up to a previous one with additional materials to help students because 90% of their previous students hadn’t “followed through and finished” the previous course. That’s certainly one way to respond to a 90% failure rate.
How likely are the results? Remember, you’re not going to be a statistical anomaly. Eventually, things regress to the mean. The top 1% (yes, that 1%) of people in the US earn over $400,00 a year. How realistic is it to expect to earn millions? Yes, you might invest $10k, and make $100k – but have appropriate expectations of the results and workload before signing up.
What are people doing 1 year after taking this course? 2 years after taking this course?
How accurate are the testimonials? I personally know a Muslim business owner whose testimonial is being utilized by someone selling such courses to the Muslim community. When I asked him about it, he told me he wished they would take it down, that the testimonial was rushed, and that they would never again work with this individual/organization. Do your research.
In short – look for everything you can to disprove what the course is selling before committing such a large amount of money.
Attain Distance Before Deciding
Pretend you buy the course, how does this affect your life 6 months down the road? If a course cost $2k, and in 6 months you have an emergency, are you going to be in financial distress? If you are, you need to reconsider. If not, then you have more freedom to take risks.
This one is tough because online courses are designed to create a false sense of urgency. Limited seats!! Really? Since when is there a limit on how many people can watch a video course? What would happen if you utilized free resources around the problem you are trying to solve, and then took this course next year?
But wait, what if it’s not offered next year?!? Then that is a sign that this course is a fad not intended for long-term results. Reputable courses are there year after year (yes, even if the price might go up – so be it).
Think about the impact 10 months from now when you’re making your 10th payment of $499. Look at the actual date on the calendar and think about how it will feel to be paying $499. If it creates major discomfort/regret, then it’s a good reason to take pause and re-assess.
Look back at your own personal history. What else have you signed up for that was similar to this course? Did you complete it? Did you get results? What is different this time around that makes you think it will be different?
Pretend you’ve got a friend considering this course. Based on what you know, would you recommend them to take it or not?
Prepare to be Wrong
What is the refund policy on the course? What benchmarks do you have in place to gauge whether you’re getting results before that refund period ends?
If you don’t refund the course, what are the results you need, and in what time-frame, to continue investing time and effort?
In other words, pretend you did everything correctly. You did your research, you exhausted free material, you found a credible course with realistic results, it solves a specific problem, and you can afford it without any issues. This is not enough to guarantee it will succeed. You must establish regular checkpoints to make sure you are progressing like you are supposed to.
How will you guarantee that you’re going to put in the work required to take this course? Everyone fully intends to take the entire course and do the work, and yet more than half of the students still don’t finish. What is your course of action if this happens to you (and statistically, it probably will at some point)?
The above steps are meant to help you think through the process the best you can (tie your camel). After that you have to relegate your trust to Allah (swt). Pray istikharah before committing payment to any course.
It’s important to mention in closing that this is not meant to paint all online courses with the same brush. I myself have been a consumer of a number of online courses, and there are plenty that are extremely high value and worthwhile. Unfortunately, there has been a trend recently of low-quality courses being promoted to the Muslim community under an Islamified banner. My hope is that the process here helps a person make an informed decision with confidence.