How to Avoid Gurus and Find a Course That’s Actually Trustworthy

Vincent Wong Updated on July 22, 2021

How to Avoid Gurus and Find a Course That's Actually Trustworthy

As every ecommerce owner knows, it takes time to build a reputable brand while finding product-market fit. Yet at some point, there comes a time when every entrepreneur feels their growth is too slow.

What’s interesting is that a quick Google search on “how to grow my business fast” pulls up some pretty solid advice, such as creating a loyalty program or building an email list. But there’s barely a mention of paying someone who will teach you how to scale your business.

This was an apparent opportunity for gurus to rise up and create a range of info products in order to sell quick solutions to a long-term problem. Typically, the range of infoproducts on offer include courses, paid seminars, expensive private coaching, and other failing business solutions.

The true measure of an info product’s success is whether it actually helped entrepreneurs progress in their growth journey. With fake gurus, it’s usually the case that they fall well short of the mark. Their products just suck.

It may have crossed your mind to buy such a course based on an advert made by an alleged ecommerce expert who promises to teach you how to take your business to the next level. But does that sound too good to be true?

How can you tell if they’re just a fake guru who is selling you pipe dreams and will leave you none the wiser while out of pocket? Are all courses part of a ploy to get you to part with your money?

Are All Ecommerce Courses Bad?

This is a good time to say that we don’t believe you shouldn’t take a course offered by an industry expert. There are some great courses that can teach you a lot in a short space of time.

The issue is that for every good course with solid content, there seems to be five fake gurus who are dressed as entrepreneurs and claiming the same things.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a fake guru is someone who has allegedly cracked the industry code and become insanely wealthy in a very short space of time. The rise of the term “fake guru” has only really seen the light of day in recent years. While fake gurus have been out there for much longer than that, the online business community has only recently started calling them out.

A growing number of content creators on YouTube have dedicated their channels to exposing fake gurus who rely on exploiting vulnerable people who are looking to get rich quick.

In fact, check out the interview where Justin and Joe spoke with Mike Winnet, whose “Contrepreneur” series analyzes the patterns of fake gurus.

These bad actors give ecommerce courses a bad name, as Anton Kraly of Drop Ship Lifestyle shared.

I started Drop Ship Lifestyle back in 2013 after seeing sketchy ads on business forums from people claiming to be “eCommerce experts”. They were making ridiculous income claims and they didn’t have the results or experience to back them up.  

I had hoped this type of marketing would be phased out as people caught onto it, but the opposite has happened over the past decade.

Many people agree with Anton that we’d all be better off without these fake gurus. So how do they still gain attention? Why are they still a thing?

It can be tough to spot a fake guru because the deceit can be subtle. However, we’ve noticed that fake gurus tend to share several common traits in their messaging.

Ultimately, they set up false expectations, give false hope, and at their worst, they flat out lie. To help you avoid paying for a course that turns out to be a dud, we’ll debunk some of their most common claims so you can identify bad advice that could hurt your business.

Selling You a Dream Through a Fake Persona

One of the standout traits of a fake guru who is desperately trying to convince you to take their course is to impress upon you that their method has made them wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.

We’re talking Lamborghinis, huge houses, luxury yachts, and beautiful partners hanging off their arms while they film their video during a brief respite from travelling between countries.

What they’re saying is that if you take their course, all of the above could be yours. Instead of sweating away in a 4’x4’ office cubicle or trying to build your business bootstrapped, you’ll leapfrog your way to wealth and success.

What if their promotion is actually just smoke and mirrors?

The reality is that most of these entrepreneurs flashing their bling and amazing lifestyles are unlikely to truly own any of those things. In the event that they do, they were probably won through selling sleazy courses rather than actually being good at ecommerce.

It’s actually pretty easy to look rich if you have the time and nothing better to do, as one YouTuber shows in this comprehensive step-by-step guide. While this video was made in jest, the reality is that many fake gurus employ the same tactics.

By throwing in a ridiculous sob story about how they were “once like you” and worrying about how to get out of debt, they’re subtly persuading you to compare yourself to them.

“At 18 years old I had no idea what to do. After I discovered [insert unlikely claim], I paid off all my debt at 20, and by the time I was 21 years old, I hit my first million dollars.”

The reason this type of copy or advertising works is because we’re hard-wired to compare ourselves to other people. The moment we take any claim into honest consideration, we start asking, “Why am I not as successful as this person?”

Take caution if you come across an ad where the core content unfolds against a backdrop of material success. Everyone’s journey is different, and someone trying to convince you that you should have met certain milestones by a certain age is likely a fake guru.

Guaranteeing Outrageous Results

In the midst of showing off their wild successes, these fake gurus will also throw out some insane numbers to indicate just how successful they have been.

Their message is simple: if you apply these same tactics, you’ll see the same results.

Anton has noticed the same trend in the past few years.

The rise of Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube Ads, coupled with the fact that those who flaunt the most are rewarded with the most social engagement, has led to an onslaught of shady marketers who continuously try to one-up each other.

Bigger income claims, faster results, and more lavish lifestyles make up the majority of ads served to anyone who the platforms identify as interested in eCommerce.

It’s a ploy to get you into their sales funnel. Once you’ve bought a course, they’ll try to upsell you by saying you can progress even further by signing up for other info-products, such as personal (and overpriced) coaching, or attending one of their seminars where you’ll learn pretty much nothing.

These fake gurus usually say things like “you won’t believe how much I made in just 7 days!” It might be a $10,000 profit made after only a week or $100,000 after a month. While these claims are extreme, someone promising you that you’ll 5x your revenue in six months is setting you up to fail.

Whatever their metric, there are a couple of issues here.

The most glaring problem is that you have nothing else to make your assessment outside of how much money was made.

Even if the numbers are true, are they based on a couple of sales or thousands of sales? You also need to factor in whether the numbers being flaunted relate to profit or revenue. If it’s the latter, then the fake guru may be operating at a loss if their cost of goods sold (COGS) is extremely high.

Another major issue is if the fake guru is extremely vague about what you’ll be learning when you attend their course.

Becoming successful should be about learning skills rather than the be-all and end-all.

Mike Winnet discovered that some fake gurus employ shady and unethical tactics, such as review swapping with an insider. These tactics could destroy your business if you are selling on Amazon or similar platforms, which don’t allow black-hat growth tactics.

You might gain some short-term traction, but is it worth the risk of being delisted when you could use a tried and tested method, such as Amazon Vine, to get authentic reviews?

“My Course is a Shortcut to Success”

If you hear this claim, you should run for the hills. A fake guru who is guaranteeing success through their course—no matter how much experience you have—is categorically false.

As Miles Beckler put it, how would you react if someone said they could teach you to be as good at boxing as Mike Tyson in just 90 days through their course, even if you’ve never thrown a punch or done any exercise in your life?

As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a single course out there that can effectively condense 10 years of experience and knowledge into a 30 or even 90-day course (if there was, I’d be the first to sign up to it!).

Like it or not, building a successful ecommerce business is really difficult to shortcut. Most of the wins come slowly over time and usually after you’ve made a ton of mistakes. Throughout your journey, you will need time to figure out what actually works through a lot of trial and error. From there, you can bounce back from adversity to build an even better brand.

Believing you can bypass or condense this into less than 90 days is outright nonsensical.

“Everything is Under Your Control”

One of the more subtle signs of a fake guru is perpetuating the idea that everything that happens to your business is completely within your control. While there’s a lot that you can implement to improve your business, there’s a degree of luck involved, too.

Some things will simply be out of your control, such as unexpected issues with your manufacturer or a global pandemic causing interest in your niche to decline.

Luck can also work in your favor. You could develop a product brand that just so happens to become a massive trend and you just so happen to become one of the earlier product offers on the market.

Interestingly enough, after interviewing several contrepreneurs and analyzing dozens of fake gurus, Mike Winnet found that they never acknowledge luck as a contributing factor to their success at all.

There are several things you can do to set yourself up for success and increase your chances of getting lucky. Still, you should pay special attention to ecommerce entrepreneurs who give you the impression that luck doesn’t matter at all.

Trying to Sell You on One Niche or Product Offering

Just one product or niche as a business base is a sign that a guru doesn’t have real ecommerce chops.

For example, a guru might have made “millions” in ecommerce by selling supplements and creating a course on how you too can create your own supplement brand. They may try to sell you on the growing market demand for supplements, and make it seem easy to find the right supplement to sell.

What they’ll omit is that they got into the supplement niche when it was first starting (see above, “luck”) or before it became more heavily regulated. They might also omit that they didn’t actually go through all the groundwork of developing their supplement, which could take years for other entrepreneurs to achieve.

That’s not to say that the supplements niche isn’t great, because it can be. But there’s a clear distinction between building a brand in an evergreen and profitable niche, versus finding a single product that sells quickly in an “easy” niche.

Anyone who sells you on one niche or product is likely only trying to speak from their own limited or narrow experience. They want to sell you on what they did, not help you grow your skill set in order to build your business.

If a course’s promotion gives you the feeling that the guru is more concerned about showing off their success than teaching you transferable skills, there’s a good chance they only have their own interests in mind.

“Other Courses Suck / You’ve Been Doing It Wrong”

One of the most effective copywriting tactics to convert leads is by playing on fear.

Fake gurus employ this method in spades. They’ll convince you that the other available courses are missing something special and you won’t be getting good value for money. Anton puts it nicely:

This is a massive problem because not only are those who are actually seeking to better their lives wasting their money, they’re also wasting their time by investing it into an opportunity with unrealistic expectations.

This leads to eventual failure, and a new belief that everything is a scam so they shouldn’t even try.  This hurts people at a much deeper level than financial.  It can change their entire path in life and take away their future potential as an entrepreneur.

Fake gurus quickly put down other courses or business models in order to strike fear into you and make you feel as though you’re making the best choice with minimal risk by going with them.

The truth is that all businesses come with risk. Attending one course won’t “fix” your business or make all the risk go away. Good courses can teach you how to mitigate risk and help you identify what you need to watch out for, but any entrepreneur worth their salt can agree that risk is an inevitable part of the journey.

Entrepreneurship is about taking risks. Psychologists have found that entrepreneurs who are more optimistic tend to be more successful in their business ventures.

This doesn’t mean ignoring risks carelessly and rushing forth with reckless abandon. Effective positive thinking allows you to assess each situation carefully and make the best decision based on what you know and can affect. If a fake guru is telling you to start your journey from a foundation of fear, you’re not going to get very far.

Striking a Balance Between Experience and Mentorship

Buying a good course is cheaper than buying a business, but the reality is you’d likely need many good courses to get the hands-on lessons necessary to run a business yourself.

If you’re interested in online businesses or have one of your own and want to progress, it’s natural to want to avoid making rookie mistakes. But the hard truth is that everyone has to graduate from the school of hard knocks.

Sometimes, buying a digital asset within your budget and skill range is the best way to really teach yourself everything you need to know about running a business—entirely guru free.

You can increase your chances of success by acquiring a high-quality business from a curated marketplace like Empire Flippers (registration is free!). You’ll have the support of experienced business advisors who can help you find the right deal that meets your goals.

That being said, courses can be a great way to help you skill up. You can learn several important skills that will make a difference for your business’s bottom line in the long run, such as ad optimization, SEO, and affiliate marketing.

Just make sure you do your due diligence before committing to a course in case it’s run by a fake guru in the wild.

If what they’re promising sounds too good to be true, the chances are that it is, and that’s your cue to steer clear.

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