Some thoughts on the Business Coaching Pyramid Scheme, and how to avoid being part of it

Marsha posing with handwritten on her fingers yes yes Marsha
Marsha posing with handwritten on her fingers yes yes Marsha

AKA behind the scenes of my ethical dilemmas, and a list of the systems I’m putting in place to try and solve them.

This is the kind of blog I always slightly regret posting (but that I often get a LOT of emails about, because it gives (my) people some VERY! STRONG! EMOTIONAL! RESPONSES!).

Here’s the context:

The other day, I was on a call to my friend Katherine (she off’ve Declare Dominion) and I started having that conversation with her. The one I have with almost all my online business friends whenever we start talking about courses and other lower-priced offerings.

“The thing is…” As I said the words, I wasn’t actually twirling one of those curly landline phone chords, because it’s 2020 and we don’t use them anymore, but that was my vibe. “I just worry that I’m being part of what my friend Sam calls ‘the Business Coach Pyramid Scheme’. You know, where you hire me as a business coach, and I teach you how to be a business coach who coaches business coaches how to coach people on being business coaches that coach business coaches… and there’s no actual end product.”

The reason I felt safe enough to say this to Katherine is because she knows I’m not trashing anyone who is a business coach per se. For years, being one has been a huge part of my own income (whether it’s through showing people with a website how to tell stories and be more themselves online or teaching you how to write sales pages with soul so it would be a bit hypocritical if I was slating everyone else who does this work.

But where I start to get itchy is when I see customers being sold the promise of making millions of dollars, AND where there’s not enough vetting going on, when it comes to who is buying. Meaning those courses and classes often get bought by people who will never make a lot of income from their endeavour.

Back on the call to Katherine, I told her, “I just don’t want to take someone’s money if it’s going to be wasted. Like, maybe you’re buying my course but you’re actually not going to make a success of making money from the thing you want to apply my lessons to.”

Katherine — charismatic enthusiast that she is — said, “You should do a Facebook Live on that! ‘Should you even start a business? An honest look from someone with integrity'”

I liked that idea for about two seconds until I realized that I’d never be bold enough to CRUSH ANYONE’S DREAMS TO THEIR FACE.

But something hooked in me, and I kept talking about it to other friends (like Erika and Uchechi and Patti).

And I realized something that stopped me short:

The people that I worry about wasting their money are those who (like me, 7 years ago) are buying course after course after course and not actually making their business happen. But here is one thing I know that is ABSOLUTELY true about them: if they want even a fighting chance at having their business make them money, they HAVE to be able to answer two questions.

1. What is the problem your business solves?
2. What is the desire your business delivers?

AND, you have to know how to articulate that in the language that your ideal client is using right now.

Especially in this *gestures out at the world* situation we all find ourselves in, in Spring 2020. Because, right now, your clients do not have the bandwidth to buy anything they’re not CERTAIN they need.

Do the answers to those two questions have to be 100% correct and definitive? No!

Can you change the answers if you change your mind about who you want to work with later on? Totally!

But you have to understand that these pieces of information are essential when it comes to selling a service (or product that solves a problem). And if you can learn a mechanism to figure this stuff out, then you can use that mechanism again anytime you pivot and change or blow it all up and start an entirely new thing (business, podcast, commune on a raft just off the island of Bora Bora).

And, as my smart friends pointed out, this is what I teach.

So…how do I make sure I’m doing it ethically?

Other than just putting out free content that’s high quality, if I’m selling a class, how can I make sure it’s only bought by people who

a) will find it useful

b) will ACTUALLY DO THE CLASS and not (like Past Me, before I staged my great No More Courses You’re Not Going To Complete intervention of 2015) just leave it as an expensive guilt-tripper in their inbox?

Here’s what I’ve come up with for my Sales Pages With Soul class

1. I lay out clear parameters of who it is and isn’t for.

For example, if you’re just kind of thinking of starting a business but you don’t know what that would be, this isn’t for you. Though on a close-to-this flip-side, if you’ve done a bunch of coaching/made a few products/released some episodes of your podcast without charging money, but you have solid evidence that what you do helps people, then you’re golden to take the class.

2. I’m Trying REALLY hard to make sure people are live on the calls. I’m doing this in three ways:

A: Offering two times you can attend the class each week (Mondays, 2–4pm ET & Tuesdays, 7–9pm ET)

This way, you can find the one that works best for you in any given week, with your schedule and your time zone.

B: I’m only making the recordings available for a month after the class. You’ll be able to download them, so you can still keep them forever. In my personal experience, when a course gives you access to the materials forever, I tend to put them off and never get around to going back to them.

C: Setting up a check-in system. Each week, I’ll be monitoring who came to class and who didn’t. For those who didn’t, I’ll use my creepy technology to see whether or not they clicked on the recording link. If they haven’t, I’ll send (with an option to opt-out!) a friendly email where I’ll lovingly nudge them to watch the class, or ask if there’s anything they need to help them with that.

3. I’m offering 2 different payment plans.

As well as paying in full, you have the option to pay in 2 or three monthly installments (and it works out pretty much the exact same price as the full price, save a dollar more here and there, for math tidiness).

Some people might think this is excessive for a $497 course, but I appreciate that lockdown cashflow is not normal cashflow.

Oh, and as always with my classes:

4. I have a number of subsidized places for people who otherwise would not be able to swing the class fee and who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx or a member of any other communities of colour and to those in the trans or disability communities. I like to think of it as a small fee for the swathes of privilege I’ve enjoyed throughout my white, cis-gender, non-disabled, coding-as-straight-even-though-I’m-not life :) Just scroll to the bottom of the page to see them.

So there you have it! Inside Marsha’s brain and business and internal ethical wrestling. If you have any thoughts on any of this stuff — or any further suggestions on how I can snake-proof my courses — I’d love to hear it — let me know in the comments below.

And if you read all that and thought, “Hang on, I totally qualify as someone for whom this course would be ethically ok to be sold to, AND I want to have a sales page I’m actually proud of that helps people even if they don’t buy (while making them really want to buy) AND I really want to learn how to nail the language my ideal clients use to make EVERYTHING IN MY BUSINESS feel easier,” then (1) your internal monologue is very chatty, I love it, and (2) here’s the link to join Sales Pages with Soul — DOORS CLOSE THIS FRIDAY AT 7PM ET!

Marsha pointing to the link of Sales pages with soul

Thank you so much for reading. If you’ve been having these kinds of conversations with anyone you know, you can share everything I wrote with them either by clicking one of the round buttons below, or clicking HERE to share on Facebook

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

That session of the class is now over — but there’ll be another soon! Want to find out when it’s ready and get access to Early Bird bonuses? Pop your details in below!*

*You’ll also get my easy guide on the Magic Bullet when it comes to captivating storytelling, and join the Yes Yes Family with free tips on how to Be Unforgettable. It’s free, and you can unsubscribe literally whenever you like. I am not the boss of you.

or take a look at allllll the info for the class here:

(or ask any questions in the comments below, I’ll answer them MYSELF)


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