7 Ways to Tell a Scam from a Really Good Service
As a small business ourselves, one of the things that dismay us more than anything else is that we’re inundated on daily basis with lies – all of which come from those selling us the promise of something. We’re all familiar with the guru who will transform us “if you just take his course” or the snake-oil salesmen who will relay to you that secret to making 7-figures if you just sign up. But it’s also those who overpromise on everyday services they provide. Some might call this “good marketing.” But there’s nothing good about it if the service was set up to be a scam or doesn’t deliver on a consistent basis. You work too hard as a business owner to deserve the con artists we all seem to encounter.
And we’re not just talking about Theranos here either. We’re talking about everyday scams, especially the ones that involve marketing. We’ve seen some of our own small business clients get suckered in by promises that other firms have made such as:
- “Getting in front of an audience of 1 million investors”
- “You just sit back and get all the leads”
- “Buy these 100+ backlinks to your website at the push of a button!”
- “I want to see you 10x your income. Just follow the link”
If you just take a step back and consider those statements in isolation, you probably would be immediately skeptical. After all, 1 million investors? Who exactly are those people? And why would all of them be interested in investing in my product? Second, anything that suggests we can sit back and enjoy life while someone else does the work for us (at especially a low cost) is, sorry to say, fraudulent. Third, if everyone could just buy 100 backlinks (to boost SEO) they would, if it actually worked. (It doesn’t.) Lastly, 10x your own income? One of the recommendations here was literally learning to start with the right car (to impress people.) If that isn’t a joke, we don’t know what is.
But the truth is, we often get suckered in. Because that’s what opportunists do – they prey on our desire to make things better or easier for ourselves.
The tough part is that it can be hard to tell the difference between a valuable service and a scam. For that reason, we wanted to tackle here the 7 ways we’ve found to uncover a scam, something we hope you can apply to evaluate any product or service you buy.
No. 1: Ask the Company About How the Product/Service Works in Detail
Any good product marketing team will work to put a product or service in the best light. They’ll make sure the landing pages, brochures or anything marketing-related addresses the core audience challenges and pain points. But as a business owner, we always recommend taking the next step. When you talk to a representative from the company, ask them detailed questions about how the process works. How do they justify the price? If it’s low, ask yourself what the value really is or what automation is there that allows them to cut the cost? Does that automation make sense for your business? Ask them basic questions about jargon you don’t know. Can the representative explain it things in layman’s terms? If they can’t explain it well, it’s likely been made up. What really happens if you do this or that with a particular service? Finally, not every product or service will do this but see if you can take it for a test drive. As you dig in, if you’re not comfortable with the answers or what you find, it might start to smell more like a scam.
No. 2: Ask Your Friends, Not Theirs
Testimonials from the company are fine, and the assumption we all make is that such individuals aren’t just made up, so hopefully real people have been impacted by the product or service. But it also pays to ask your own friends in the same industry or area if they have used that that particular product or service. What did they think about it? Was it worth it? You can often get a lot more insight this way than you would on your own.
No. 3: With Leads, If They Promise That You Can Sit Back and Just Watch the Leads Come In, Be Afraid. Very Afraid.
We often see a lot of turnkey products and services, especially when it comes to website development, SEO, lead generation and marketing automation. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with such services on the surface. If you can get a low-cost website built (even if it’s more templated), one that understands the needs of your business with tools that allow you to customize it and connect to a marketing automation platform, that’s great. So far, so good. The problem, in our view, comes when you hear promises of automated ads that will allow you to “watch the leads roll in” or SEO optimizations that will increase your page ranking for that same low cost. If you start to hear that, be afraid. Very afraid.
Because lead generation and SEO, in particular, are complex and in most cases, still require a lot of manual effort (or human touch). Let’s take advertising as an example. Having a built-in, design template is great, but that’s just one part of the process. There’s copy, targeting, budgeting, dayparting, tracking, the image quality, the call to action, and your own narrative as a business – each of which can mean the difference between something that works well and something that doesn’t. A machine or a low-cost offering won’t be able to do those things well for you or be able to provide you that personal touch.
Similarly, SEO is all about attention to detail. And we mean little details that require hands-on adjustments to on-page factors and off-page tactics. If you do come across a low-cost SEO service bundled into an offering, ask them what you really get for the money. Does it makes sense? And why they can’t do an optimization once, then check in less frequently (assuming you have a smaller website).
No. 4: Watch Out for Subscriptions That Lock You In
Subscriptions to ongoing services can certainly be a great thing. We love, for example, Canva, which is worth every penny of the $12 a month we pay for it. But we’d be wary when it comes to paying for ongoing subscriptions for something such as a website (which really should be a one-time cost even with more complex integrations) or, as mentioned above, SEO. That’s because if SEO is done right for a small business in particular, there are probably limited ongoing things that need to be done. If it’s link-building, OK, as long as it’s legitimate but there are many illegitimate offers out there. This is where even a low monthly cost can add up over time. One thing you can do here is step back and think about what you’re paying over the entire year or if you do it for two years or three years. Will it be worth it rather than spending to do it once?
No. 5: Know Yourself and What You Have to Do Within Their System
It’s probably true that the same product or service that can seem fraudulent to one individual, might be transformational for another. A lot of that has to do with the individual doing the buying. A few questions to ask yourself here:
- Are you willing to do what the product or service requires?
- Does the product or service really fit into what you do every day? Or will you have to make a big transition in terms of how you operate? Are you willing to do that?
- Does it just make life easier for you (which we all would love) or are there harder things involved?
- Are there things that you’re annoyed by? Does the product or service have anything that would suggest it could trigger you in a negative way?
Remember, products or services can only be transformational or helpful for you if you’re willing to change yourself in some way. If you’re not, you might consider another alternative.
No. 6: Does the Company Produce Its Own Content? Is It Any Good?
When we say content, we don’t mean they do a fancy video on Instagram that promotes their services. We mean real thought-leadership content – a book, a regular blog, a series of videos or podcasts that you can look at to know the company truly is a leader in the space and have thought about those issues that are pertinent to you. In other words, is there any meat behind what they do or are they simply a shell of a company that hasn’t really considered the customer in any deep way? If they haven’t and don’t produce a lot of content, it might be there is also nothing behind the actual product that is worth paying for.
No. 7: If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is
It’s certainly an old adage but it’s appropriate in cases such as these as well. Few companies are out there underselling the value of what they provide. True, it might be the company is new and / or trying to bring on new customers so you might be getting advantageous pricing or great value for your money. But make sure again to ask the right questions. If your first instinct is to believe something is too good to be true, it probably is.
We hope this has been helpful. Too often we see small businesses and individuals getting scammed by too many con-artists or deceitful companies selling a bad product. Are there other ways you can sniff out scams? We’d love to hear about them.
If you need help with anything in marketing, we at Marketing Nice Guys are happy to conduct a free, no-obligation consultation. We can discuss your marketing challenges how we can best help solve them. Straight-up, no scamming involved.