You DO NOT Have to Do It “Their” Way to Succeed in Business (AKA, Online Business Practices That Kinda Make My Skin Crawl)

I have this annoying habit of reading certain emails, certain websites, and certain articles that I know are going to make me angry, and yet, I read them anyway. It’s almost like I actively want to feel aggrieved.

And I’m not just talking about articles on the terrible death spiral our country has been in since the 2016 election, either. Though I must admit, I read my fair share of those too.

No, I’m talking about the emails, newsletters, websites, and blogs that tell us all the things we “must” do online to succeed in business.

But Do You, Really?

I subscribe to many newsletters and read many blogs about marketing, copywriting, list-building, traffic generation, and multiple other topics about doing business online.

As someone who writes marketing copy for solopreneurs and small businesses, and advises on web marketing, I have to keep up with these things. Heck, I want to keep up with these things. I genuinely find these topics interesting. I’m a nerd like that.

But many of the things on the online business success “must do” list make my skin crawl a little. Which is to say, they would be out of integrity for me to do, but that doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad, or that the folks who employ these tactics are “bad.” They simply don’t jibe with the way I like to do business.

(There are a couple things on that list, however, that I find straight up unethical. I’ve placed an asterisk next to any of those practices on the list below.)

What I want to stress about the following list is that you DO NOT have do any of these things to succeed online. If you want to try some of these tactics, that’s cool too. The point is, you do you. Do what feels right and comfortable for you.  

Don’t feel pressured to do what some so-called “expert” says to do, just because it worked for them. Heck, don’t feel pressured to do anything I talk about on this blog either, for that matter. Unless it makes sense and feels right for you.

(The exception to this is ethical, legit marketing, sales, or business practices that you know would move your business forward, but make you feel uncomfortable or scared, or feel like too much work. We all gotta do that stuff that makes us feel uncomfortable to make progress on our dreams.)

BUT – just because some online “guru” says you must use push notifications, or do a retargeting campaign, or buy Facebook ads, or “invest in yourself” by joining their program, or do this or that “hack,” doesn’t mean you’ll fail if you don’t.

It absolutely, positively, does not mean you’ll fail if you don’t.

Online Business Practices That Make My Skin Crawl

#1: Calling people who teach online “gurus.” In my mind, a guru is a spiritual teacher or guide (yes, I know a word can have more than one meaning, and yes, I know I used the word “guru” above.) The word has been overused to the point of becoming a giant cliché to describe those hawking their wares online, and has therefore become meaningless.

#2: Light bullying and/or shaming, disguised as a “sales technique,” i.e., when people selling their courses or programs tell you if you don’t invest in their program that you’re not committed to investing in yourself, or that when you say you can’t afford it, you really can, it’s just that you’re not prioritizing your success. Or you’re afraid of success. Or failure. Or digging in and doing the work. Or a handful of other lame BS.*

This kind of sales “tactic” always strikes me as light bullying, or at the very least, light shaming. Which it is. It’s also the height of privilege and arrogance. If you tell a single parent with $27 in their bank account and no other financial resources to draw upon that they just don’t want success bad enough, I mean, C’MON. WTF?

Sure, there are times we tell ourselves we can’t afford something when in fact it’s just not a priority us for right now. I get that fear, not affordability, sometimes keeps us from doing things that would be good for our businesses. That dynamic exists.  It’s happened to me.

On the other hand, there were times early on in my business when I wanted to invest in a course or program, yet only had enough in my bank account to pay that month’s bills. And shelling out $600 or $2200 or $3600 (all amounts I’ve paid for training and courses) would have meant I couldn’t pay for the really important things that month, like rent, or health insurance. And yet, if the copy on the course creator’s sales page is to be believed, I just didn’t care enough about my success, or believe in myself, or want it badly enough.

When I send a sales email for my own services, I say something along the lines of, “If this is right for you, great! I’d love to work with you. And if it’s not the right time, no worries.” I often say things like, “there will be no arm-twisting to get you to buy.” What I don’t do is try to make someone feel in any way “less than” if they don’t want to buy, have other priorities, or simply don’t want my thing, whatever it is.

#3: The language often used to describe potential clients and customers. For example, referring to real, live, human beings, with thoughts and feelings and wishes and hopes and dreams and fears as “leads,” “prospects,” “conversions,” or similar. Now I’ll admit, I’ve used the words “leads” and “prospects” in my blog posts and in my weekly newsletter from time to time. I wish I could say I hadn’t. But I haven’t done it with any real frequency, and not in a long time, once it started to get under my skin how dehumanizing it felt to refer to flesh and blood people that way. I typically use the term “potential clients” or similar.

What I find truly heinous though, is blog posts with titles like, “Best ways to push prospects down the marketing funnel.” Really? I don’t want to push anyone anywhere, and especially not “down the marketing funnel.”

In another example of language I find troubling, a recent email from a successful copywriter I respect and admire kind of floored me by talking about how people with “unrelenting standards” are often “easy prey for good salesmanship” due to their competitive nature. That’s more than a little distasteful.*

I don’t think of the people who might be interested in my services as “prey.” They’re either right for what I offer or not, and if not, that’s totally cool. I’m not on the “hunt” for folks who might be an easy mark, and I would hate to feel like someone became a “casualty” of my sales campaign. Goodness gracious.

I’m sure there are plenty of A-list marketers and copywriters who would laugh at my naiveté or unwillingness to go aggressive, or to use tried-and-true copywriting and sales techniques like the ones described above, but that’s ok. I do what feels right for me, and you can do the same.

#4: Push notifications on websites. Ok, ok, call me too sensitive. I know some people love to receive push notifications, but when I’m on a website and that little notice appears at the top of the site asking me if I’d like to receive “push notifications,” I instantly click no. [While thinking, “No, no, hell no, not in a million years, NOOOO!”] I think it has something to do with the word “push.” Language is powerful, my friends. If were called something less aggressive, like “updates” or similar, it wouldn’t bother me.

#5: Retargeting Campaigns, otherwise known as being stalked relentlessly, unceasingly, and annoyingly all over the internet by a marketer/website owner whose site you may have visited once, in a brief moment of curiosity, which has forever doomed you to seeing their ads all over the internets.

Here’s a more “official” definition of retargeting from Moz.com: Retargeting is “a form of marketing in which you target users who have previously visited your website with banner ads on display networks across the web.”

Let me just say there are many people online I respect and admire who use retargeting. Which is fine for them, but it’s just not my cup of tea. It feels predatory, aggressive, and a little desperate. Like a party guest you made pleasant conversation with for two minutes, who then follows you around the rest of the night at said party, butting into your conversations, invading your personal space, and otherwise attaching themselves to you like a barnacle. Maybe, even, asking for your number, though you are clearly not interested, and following you out to the parking lot when you leave. You just can’t get away from this leech.  All because you expressed the tiniest bit of attentiveness during your initial conversation. But you were just being polite. Yep, that’s what retargeting feels like when it’s being “done” to me.

#6: Overly aggressive/demanding or trying-too-hard-to-be-provocative email subject lines.  I’ll admit it, I don’t like being told what to do. So when I see a subject line that reads “Urgent, open up!,” I will not. Unless it’s from my doctor, an email with a subject line like that always gets an instant delete from me. Because your course or program or sale is going away at midnight tonight doesn’t rise to the level of an emergency; I wouldn’t even consider it “urgent.”

Ditto, subject lines like, “You’re not going to like this email.” My first thought is, “Good, I can delete it then!” And then I do.

#7: Countdown timers. Again, there are people online I adore, whose products and programs I’ve happily purchased, who use countdown timers on their sales pages and in their marketing emails. They work. Yes, I know you need to use urgency to get people who could really benefit from your program off the fence, blah, blah, blah, I know people tend to procrastinate until the last possible moment, blah, blah, blah. But they’re just not my jam. And there are other ways to communicate that an offer is going away, by, for example, saying the offer is going away.

#8: List posts. Yes, yes, yes, I know they still work to a degree. Heck, some people have even made a big name for themselves online and gotten a 6-figure book deal out of writing what boils down to list posts. All good. I’ve written what might be considered a “list post” on this blog a few times. But I’d never want to make a habit of it, as it can feel derivative and cliché.

#9: “Hacks.” Am I the only one tired to near death of “hacks?” Hack this, hack that. Marketing hacks, growth hacks, content hacks, copy hacks, conversion hacks. I’m weary just writing this sentence. Make it stop. [By the way, Paul Jarvis wrote an excellent article about the practice of growth hacking called, “I don’t wanna grow up to be a growth hacker.”]

#10: The white maleness and tropes of online marketing. Hoo boy. This is a BIG topic, and deserves a fully dedicated blog post all its own. In fact, I’ve already started writing it. So I’ll leave elaborating on this one for another day.

Filters

When it comes to online marketing and business practices, I often think of those people and businesses online I adore, respect, and admire, and how they do things. And I might use those people and businesses as a filter when considering a tactic or technique I want to try.

The top three that come to mind for me are Ash Ambirge [The Middle Finger Project], Alexandra Franzen, and Danielle LaPorte. They all have wildly successful businesses, yet none of them employ any of the practices above.  Which is one of the reasons I love ‘em so.

The bottom line is, you can do things your way, ignore all the tactics, techniques, “hacks,” and whatnot online marketing “experts” tell you you must do, and still be successful. Wildly so. And at the end of the day, still walk away with your integrity and dignity intact.