The Scammers of the Blogging World

State of Blogging Take Yourself Pro

I’m noticing a trend in the blogging world that I really don’t like. It’s where all these people are jumping right into teaching people how to make money, but they haven’t actually done it themselves.

I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s everywhere. People without any online business experience – never created a product or service, launched a course, built a social media following, or even thought about ROI – have put themselves in the spotlight to teach about these topics they know nothing about.

Imagine trying to learn algebra from a teacher who knows nothing about math. Maybe they watched Good Will Hunting and thought, “How hard can it be?”  

I don’t doubt these people have read blogs about successful online business. A quick Google search will turn out pages on pages of these stories. But you can’t teach something if you’ve only read about it. You need experience. You need to be elbow-deep in the trenches.

So I’m just going to come out and say it. If you’re teaching people how to make money and you’re a beginner, jumping straight to that point, I think it’s a scam. Your content is a scam. You don’t have the experience to back it up. You’re not helping people.

Don’t we all want to be the next Pat Flynn?

As much as I’m opposed this scam, I can actually relate to the desire behind it. When I first got started online, I was fascinated by blogs discussing how to increase revenue of SaaS applications, what people were doing with A/B testing and how they were improving funnels. I was obsessed with reading and learning as much as I could about marketing and wanted to jump right into teaching those things. But the problem was I had no experience doing with those topics.

I had run a SaaS app before, but it hadn’t done well. Seriously, my app was only making $600 a month in revenue. And I know we talk a lot about how size doesn’t matter, but I wouldn’t label that the kind of success that warrants an audience’s trust yet. I was in no position to teach from this resume.

So I thought, “How can I do this? If I want to be known for growing SaaS apps, how do I get to the point where I can start consulting around that?”

At the time I was reading case studies from Dropbox about how they grew their affiliate referrals and what Beanstalk and Postmark did to increase account activations and upgrades. I loved those stories. It was all about finding that one weird trick and making money. I so badly wanted to write blogs like that. So I decided to take a stab at it the only way I knew I could- by aggregating the expert’s ideas.

I started with a blog about ways to increase SaaS revenue. Now, I was very straightforward about where all my information came from. I was pulling content from reliable sources and citing everything. But as good as that information was, it still wasn’t my own. I had no personal stories to show authority or prove any methods. I didn’t have the kind of proven and exciting experiences as the blogs that I loved so much.

I realized that I couldn’t jump into teaching how to run a successful business if I hadn’t done it yet myself. The only logical next step was to go back to what I knew.

The art of pivoting.

So instead of trying to teach on a subject that I had only observed and read about, I turned back to my profession, design. This was where I was an expert. This was the place I had a wealth of knowledge and personal experience. I realized that I needed to start there and figure out how to pivot into where I really wanted to be – online marketing.

So I started my own business teaching design.

By building this design business, I could apply all the techniques and tactics I had read about and begin creating my own experiences. As a business owner I was getting first hand experience with all the victories, failures, and continual trial error with online marketing. I finally had an honest platform to teach from.

I was still pretty green, so I didn’t put myself up as expert. However, I could write about what I learned that day. I wrote about money, business and marketing as it happened to me. This kind of first-person narrative got people’s attention and I started building a name for myself in this sphere. With everything I learned while growing my own business, I was able to make the switch from teaching software design to teaching marketing business.

I’m not the only one pivoting.

Pat Flynn did the same thing. He didn’t start with SmartPassiveIncome.com. He actually started out teaching people how to pass the LEED certification exam for architects. He built an audience there and started selling an eBook that grew from $1K a month to $5K and up. Through it all, he shared his journey talking about the money side of business. Now he focuses almost entirely on building online audiences and business.

That’s actually how he makes most of his money these days, but he didn’t jump right into teaching about money when his expertise was LEED certifications. He didn’t just read the experts, parrot their advice, and go straight to teaching. He has his own story. He started his own business and learned along the way.

Sean McCabe also took the same path. He started in the hand lettering world and built a following on Instagram and other mediums teaching people how to do his incredible work. On the business side, he was working as freelancer and building a distribution company selling his prints, t-shirts, posters, and coffee mugs with his designs on them.

From there he produced a course about hand lettering that did really well. His experience creating that course led him teach others about creating online courses. Instead of jumping the gun to teaching, he waited until after he ran the gauntlet himself and found methods that continually worked. I don’t see that as a scam.

I see that as teaching a very valuable skill. Because really there’s no better skill to teach, than teaching people how to make money. It’s like the old proverb – “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” That’s what I want to do for you. I want to teach you to fish.

How to pivot.

In Sean’s case, he actually wants to talk about business. That’s his favorite topic and for me it’s the same thing. Business, marketing, audience growth – those are my favorite topics. I actually enjoy them far more than software design these days. But I had to put in that work, Sean had to put in that work, Pat had to put in the work in the core topic to learn those skills for ourselves first before pivoting to talk purely about the business side.

So how do you do it? How do you go from starting in one area to actually feeling like a credible expert to teach people how to earn a living online?

Step 1- Don’t jump straight into teaching people how to make money.

It’s artificial. Just don’t do it.

Step 2- Build a real business.

Pick an area that you have an expertise in or that you’re going to work to build an expertise in and build a business in that. It could be anything from selling t-shirts to starting a Facebook consulting business. Put all your focus on that and turn it into the best business you can. Learn every day and apply what you learn to your business.

The great thing here is you’ll know how your tactics perform because your business will live or die by them. If it lives, congrats! If it dies, start again. But no matter the outcome…

Step 3- Share your journey along the way.

I didn’t think I would pivot out of design so quickly or become know for self-publishing. I was just taking each learning experience I had and writing about it. The byproduct of me launching an eBook was that I learned about stats, marketing and audience growth. I shared my numbers, my tactics, and everything else I learned along the way.

It turned out that those behind the scenes blogs were getting more traction than the original content about design. I was getting asked more about how self-publish a profitable eBook than how to redesign a web application. That’s when I knew it was ok to start making the transition into teaching the marketing and business side without it being a scam.

So put in the work, do what it takes to become an expert in what you know, share your experience and pivot your way into what you’re passionate about. Build on your foundation to get your experience. Yes, it will take time. It might be a difficult road. But if you’re really passionate about the work, the wait is well worth it.

Nathan Barry

In previous careers Nathan has been a designer, author, and blogger. After learning the power of email marketing he gave up a successful blogging career to build ConvertKit. Outside of work Nathan spends his time playing soccer, woodworking, and chasing after his two little boys.

  • Spot on. Ten years ago “internet marketers” were doing the same thing. It all amounted to so much vapour, simply rehashing stuff rather than speaking from experience. Today it’s courses. They don’t want to serve their apprenticeship and that’s no sort of long term strategy either for them or their customers/victims. They’re missing the point that the journey is where the true learning takes place, not imagining you can describe it by reading and rehashing someone else’s guidebook.

    • Pat and Sean did this, but in your opinion, do you still think it’s just as effective/interesting to take this approach today?

      thanks for sharing!

  • StartupBell

    I couldn’t agree more. Many of these scammers have spent a lot more time figuring out their customers pain points than how to actually solve them. Also I noticed online course creation has become a bit of a Ponzi scheme, where more and more people are teaching how to create online courses, to people who want to teach online course creation.

  • Great article, Nathan. Thanks for being candid on your thoughts on this topic.

    I’ve actually been debating on whether or not choosing the “share what I’m learning” or “share as I go through it” route with my current project/biz idea.

    You, Pat and Sean did this, but in your opinion, do you still think it’s just as effective/interesting to take this approach today?

  • I concur. This whole pandemic of teaching things without true expertise or any real degree of success has gotten way out of hand. It has become pervasive in a lot of areas, not just for online marketing specifically. The sad thing is that the people doing this are really only setting up a platform that makes what they don’t actually know more obvious the more they talk. It is true that everyone has to pay their dues somehow, but it is unfortunate that so many people either don’t realize or don’t care that what they are doing is ultimately disingenuous. It doesn’t seem to register that attempting to speak from a place they didn’t truly earn themselves is dishonest because everyone else is telling them it is okay. It is not cool.

  • Erika Couto

    ?? ?? ?? I couldn’t agree more. This isn’t just in blogging, this also runs rampant in other industries where people have no experience and they try teaching other people something they can’t even do themselves. Excellent as usual!

  • People ask me all the time why I waited so long to teach what I teach. I always answer the same thing: “I only know how to teach what I actually know.” Great post sir!

  • Brendan Hufford

    Wow. I did the exact same thing, Nathan. I started a business teaching online business before I’d ever done anything significant. It felt so wrong because I was just spitting back what I heard other people saying around me. There was nothing based on my ACTUAL business. Just empty thought leadership.

    Glad I didn’t go that route.

  • Thanks for this, Nathan! Has to be one of the best posts I’ve read this year, mostly because it’s so relevant.

    When I had my first course launch success, I felt like an imposter because everyone loved using me as a case study but it wasn’t repeatable yet.

    That’s why I tried a few different types of courses, and ultimately why I launched Notable Themes. Credibility comes from experience, so I’m pursuing that directly.

  • Cathryn Lavery

    Yes! Agreed on all of this.

    The people who launch these courses without real expertise give the online course industry a bad name.

  • My biggest pet peeve about people who found success selling whatever in X niche, is that a lot of them immediately after jump to “Grow your e-mail list in 30 days” but at the same time, it’s so lucrative because people always want to make more, it almost makes sense to teach how to make online once you’ve figured out how to make money online.

  • 100% agreed. What’s scary is that some of these no-experience types are *really* good smooth-talkers who take to marketing naturally, and end up relieving people of a fair amount of money while providing questionable value. It’s gross.

    Great write-up, sir!

  • There’s only one use case scenario I could think of in which someone could teach even as a beginner. Setting out on a journey to learn and taking people along for the ride—Like a journalist. Interviewing people, learning and testing things, and then teaching or starting a conversation with others about it all. Much like Tim Ferris does on so many random topics. Although I know he had a business before building his online platform too. So maybe he’s not the purest example but I’d be curious to hear from someone who’s first business was using this kind of approach.

    Either way, this post was on point!

  • Great post Nathan – concur whole heartedly – experience is what truly drives true content. In the great words of Indian Jones “It’s not the years…it’s the millage.”

  • Loved this post Nathan. There is a very unsettling trend in the “spiritual” industry where people are peddling their wares with little experience or know how but with the dubious goal of making money as a priority.

  • Rikki Ayers

    I just wrote about this very same thing, though from a different angle: people offering advice that they either don’t follow or haven’t tested (ie, experience). It’s all well and good to teach…if you have the experience. I think a good test is if you were put in a room with a bunch of people for a 2 hour Q&A session, would you be able to answer most of the random questions based on your experience?
    Such an important topic right now as the ecourse world explodes. Thanks for writing this!

  • cr_chris

    Great points Nathan. I think some fail to realize that in some cases even icons like Pat Flynn only make a small percentage of their overall revenue from the businesses they’re teaching their followers how to build. Sometimes we all get so caught up in their financial success that we fail to dissect the numbers in their income reports.

    You see this trend happening in every online niche too – “learn how I made $XXXX in 6 months doing this – buy my training for only $97”. People are essentially selling case studies.

  • exactly what I needed. thanks for this awesome post. 😀 I felt kinda guilty now, jumping into teaching about online marketing where in fact I haven’t mastered it yet.

  • Kelly George

    Agreed, agreed, agreed. I now screen everyone who claims to be an expert, before I read anything of theirs – 99% fail the screening. On the upside, it means that those who have expertise really stand out, and I recommend them constantly.

  • Denyse Whillier

    Well said! I’m really fed up seeing people doing the whole ‘Instabrag’ thing. But what gets me is why people don’t do their due diligence? Success leaves clues, and an online footprint. So why don’t people make a few simple checks before getting caught up in the hype of online launches.

  • I like to joke with people that the easiest way to make money online is to blog about blogging, create courses about making courses, or to make YouTube videos about how to make money on YouTube. It’s obviously a joke, but there are a lot of people out there, like you mention, that are making the leap into those things before they’ve actually done it themselves, which as you mention, is basically a scam. However, by that same definition, couldn’t we consider a marketing course taught at a university by someone with no marketing experience to more or less be a scam as well?

    • RecoveringAdjunct

      You make a strong point, Joe, re: folks ‘teaching’ without ever having done anything. I’ve been on the teaching and learning side of marketing in higher ed, and can assure you that while there are some folks who lack any real world expertise (and who just focus on the less-tangible theories of marketing), many also introduce case studies from actual businesses and NGOs that are worth reviewing, discussing and analyzing. The issue at universities is that you often wind up with an SME (subject matter expert) who knows more about their specialization than how to translate it into actionable insights for students.

  • Love your writing style Nathan, thanks for sharing your story.

  • Love this so much, Nathan! This subject has been bugging me so much lately, so I’m glad to see someone addressing it, especially someone whose business I respect and look up to so much. Thank you for sharing this wake-up call with everyone!

  • thanks for sharing your story

  • thatwritingchic

    Thanks for this! It’s authenticity that builds an audience. Just like I don’t trust my hair to someone whose hair looks horrible or don’t trust someone to give me fashion advice who dresses like a homeless person – even moreso should we be leary of the “6 Figure” Syndrome – people who haven’t even made 5 figures “coaching” others.

See ConvertKit in action.

Join one of our experts on a live tour and get the answers you need.

Request a Demo