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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sank My Foot in the Internet Marketing Quagmire

I just lost my job last week. It didn't come as a surprise, but neither was I prepared for it. I had just updated my resume and was starting a job search when the axe came down.

I've held many different types of jobs in many different places over the years, and like so many others must be, I'm sick of the job-searching/resume tweaking/interviewing/hiring rigamarole. I'm tired of putting on my best face and pretending to be interested in playing the respective corporate politics to be underpaid for work I'm sick of doing.

And despite how much the government and media fudge the numbers, the economy is still the worst it's been since the Great Depression, so you really have to jump through hoops to find a job now.

And I'm not getting any younger.

So the missus gives me a call a couple days ago. One of her former co-workers and a Facebook friend posted a link to a video. The guy had health problems and lost his job recently, but thankfully he discovered this work from home opportunity that grew his business to the point that it was now paying his bills. That's the story I initially heard.

By-the-by, I've been wishing I could get a work-from-home job. If I HAVE to work for somebody else, that's how I'd prefer to do it. Bye-bye working in the Florida heat, sitting in Florida traffic and being at the mercy of out-of-order restrooms, etc. And the closer I am to my computer, the faster I can get back to writing when the work day is done. In theory, anyway.

So anyway, wifey watches the video, and says I should. If we didn't know somebody that vouched for this deal (let's just call him Dreamer Dude for short), the red flags would have trumped my curiosity, desperation and wishful thinking. I've been exposed to scam artists before, and would have assumed this was just another one without personally knowing somebody involved in it.

I watched the video. It's a new company that just started 20 months ago and has made billions for the folks involved and is going to get even bigger yada yada yada. But what really got my attention was the part about their blogging support program.

For those who don't remember the whole saga with Virtual Pulp Press, I got in over my head when I attempted to upgrade the website from 1994 technology. I used Wordpress, watched a ton of tutorials, took advice from different people "in the know,"bought themes and plugins...then pretty much pulled my hair out trying to make the software do what I wanted it to. I had a guy who agreed to help, but he flaked out. I knew what I wanted the site to do was not unreasonable, and experts told me it Wordpress could definitely do it.

In fact, what I wanted was fairly simple: An online store where I could advertise the stuff I sell as an affiliate, with something like this blog incorporated into it. But the plugins that sounded like they should help me accomplish this actually were designed to do something else. There was a language gap with a learning curve that was just taking forever while I was working a full-time job with lots of overtime, travelling a lot and dealing with more than my share of domestic drama.

Finally, while I was transferring my domain name from Go Daddy to Host Gator, calling Host Gator back-and-forth and it wasn't done, wasn't done, wasn't done... the domain name expired and somebody in the former USSR bought it. Not to use it--just because they realize somebody else wants to use it and they don't have the intelligence or imagination to come up with their own ideas, so they're hoping I'll pay them to get it back.

Not gonna happen. I cut my losses.

Well, the guy in this video says his company's marketing gurus and software developers have perfected a selling process that have made all these people all this money yada yada yada. And there's an affiliate program and this program and that program but I could concentrate on selling my own product if that's what I wanted.What got my imagination sparked was his claim that his staff of experts would walk me through setting up a blog custom-tweaked to sell my products, then if I followed their 8-step business plan my stuff would sell like flapjacks. After all, Hoodie Thunkitt and Joe Shit the Rag Man did that and were turning in record profits, blah, blah, blah. This staff of professionals were waiting to hold my hand through the process and I could be completely computer illiterate and still succeed because they were all about helping people as well as making money.

The cost of the program I wanted (the custom blog) was $25 a month (reduced from X amount because they're all about helping people, see). Well, I've blown more than that on advertising and other stuff, with absolutely no effect on book sales for me or anyone else. Not an unreasonable deal, if they delivered on their promises.

I have product to sell, and I've got more time on my hands right now than I have in many years. And this expert help getting my blog set up? That's exactly what I needed months ago when trying to build Virtual Pulp Press into a modern online store. I'd gladly pay $25 a month for the use of that expertise. After all, Dreamer Dude was using this system and his business was taking off, even though the product he's selling is far more specialized and niche, if not obscure.

So I signed up and paid.

This company has probably thousands of videos. Every new page that loaded had another video to watch. I watched a few of them because they all promised some kind of powerful marketing technique if I would only keep watching. I even watched an hour of a live webinar by them (later found out it went on for three hours) also promising some powerful new information. In the case of the webinar, the startling revelation is that people can blog and post video from their smart phones. I forget what the other powerful info was because cumulatively, it accounted for probably about 45 seconds amidst all the hours of video I sat through. Everything else was instructions from the company founders to upgrade to this package and that package for only $100, $500, $1,500, $3,500, etc., which are such bargains because you'd have to pay X more to get this important info anywhere else.

That's where the familiar old bad taste really began setting in. I already paid you, numb nuts, why are you still greasing me so hard? How do I start setting up the blog already?

Well, you need to start off with the 8-step path to success, see. And if you don't go there voluntarily, it will re-route you there when you click on the button to set up your awesome blog. Guess how the 8 steps are presented? More videos, of course.
The first step is to buy into their affiliate program for an additional $19.95 a month. I skipped Step One and started watching the other videos. By the third or fourth one I began skipping ahead to see if there actually was any useful information. Nope. I'll summarize the content of every video:

  • Our stuff is great, and cutting edge, and people are getting rich off it.
  • You're a wussy if you don't follow our instructions.
  • Your next step is to do X.
  • Buy this additional package and we'll tell you how to do X.
  • Go "all in." (Buy everything we ask for money for.)
  • Don't be a wussy.
  • Did we mention how great and cutting edge our system is?
So much for the 8-step path.

With the help of their "badass" customer service reps, I overcame a glitch and got to the blog dashboard, finally.

Hmm. Wordpress. Wordpress blogs are free for anybody. Well, after all, my $25 is for their badass team of experts that will help me customize my blog and maximize its selling psychology, handle SEO and all that, so hope is still alive. On a friggin' resperator and defibulator, with a priest standing in the corner mumbling its last rites, but still alive.

I take a look at the dashboard. Hmm. Looks bare-bones Wordpress to me. Where are all the widgets or whatever to advertise my products? I click on the link to see the blog as a customer would see it.

Well, the ads are already there. There are banners and stuff everywhere--so many that you couldn't squeeze more on the browser display if you wanted. I don't know if all the hype about the marketing psychology is true, but it does look slick. Problem is, every single ad is for THEIR stuff. You know--what I already paid for. Plus the affiliate deal, plus the increasingly expensive (tiered) packages they've been hard-selling me from the beginning.

This can't be right. I just know they don't expect me to pay them $25 a month, spend my time and effort, tapping into my imagination to create blog content... to sell their pyramid scheme. No doubt plenty of folks are content to do that, trying to make money by recruiting human building blocks to fill in the pyramid underneath them. Hey, whatever floats their boat, but that's not what I signed up for and not how the blog deal was pitched.

Where are the widgets to replace their ads with mine? Nowhere I can see. Where is the army of badass programmers and marketing experts who were able and willing to help me customize the blog to sell my product, even if I'm computer illiterate (because they like helping people so much) that I heard about in the first video? Nowhere obvious.

I called customer service. Already irritated with the whole experience so far, I asked the above questions as politely as I could. No problem, says the "badass" representative--she's sending me an email with instructions.

I follow the link in the email, and there is absolutely no information of value to me. Oh, I can change the theme so their blog selling their stuff (that I'm paying for) looks different. I can change the mugshot from the company founder's to mine on their blog selling their stuff. I can do other basic Wordpress stuff like add text and images in the blog section (create content to draw people to their blog to sell their stuff). But it's painfully obvious by now that they expect me to both pay them money and do all the work to pimp their packages to other suckers.

I'm wondering by now if anyone on the pyramid has made a dime of profit or sold a damn thing other than these "badass" packages that hard-sell ever more expensive packages.

BTW, at some point during this process I spoke with Dreamer Dude on the phone. Turns out he's not yet making enough to pay the bills, though he is buying more and more of their packages to get "all in." I took a look at "his" blog to see if he found something I missed. Nope. Looks exactly like "my" blog. He's been blogging faithfully, but even if I was looking for the specific product he's selling, and stumbled across the blog in question, I'd still have no idea I could purchase it through him. I don't want to call him a liar, but I'm extremely skeptical that any of the money he's allegedly made came from sales of his own merchandise.

The refund policy is three days. I called to get my refund the evening of the same day I bought in. Was told I'd get an email with a confirmation number. No such email came. I called back today and was told that they don't do confirmation numbers. By the time I hung up the "badass" sounded close to tears exclaiming, "Don't worry--you'll get your money back!" Makes me wonder how many other irate people have called him for refunds today.

What's the lesson in all this?

Well, first of all, nobody with a slick sales pitch on the web is trying to make an honest buck, or to help you to make one. I kind of knew this already, but hope is a persistent cuss that keeps coming back to life like the villain in a suspense thriller.

Second, the average internet business person will work much harder to scam you out of your money than they'd ever work to produce something worthy of your money.

Hundreds of thousands of gullible people around the world will flock to these kinds of swindlers, even though the swindlers don't have a single original thought and have absolutely nothing to offer the world. They produce nothing; they innovate nothing; they understand nothing but how to use others. Hmm. Sounds a lot like the politicians we're allowing to run our government, doesn't it?

There's a familiar old saying that goes, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Though certainly accurate, that adage also falls short of the whole truth. If it sounds like a reasonable deal; if it sounds better than the unethical SNAFU we've gotten used to; if it sounds like somebody put reasonable thought and imagination into a system that could feasibly benefit anyone besides the entity asking for your is definitely too good to be true.

Sadly, these dirtbags must know that people are gonna see them for what they are. But as long as there are potentially more who will fall for it, they're gonna drive the hell on.

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