you could be here ... or not
It was a fabulous opportunity. A gold mine. The money would practically make itself. It would change my life. I’d sit on a beach and only work as much as I wanted and the possibilities were limitless. I’d be stupid not to try. There was nothing to lose, the promo said.
So I watched the video.
It was one of those presentations that feels shady from the start - heavy on emotional appeal and light on substance. It featured success story after success story - people who have grown so wealthy that they eat chocolate-covered lobster for breakfast and have enough leisure time to lounge in the sand and sleep-off the stomach ache. “This could be you”, it said. But, the secret to this proven system was always just around the corner. “In just a minute I’m going to tell you the key to how it all works”. After 20 “just a minutes” I checked the progress bar and saw that I wasn’t even halfway through the video.
The “opportunity” was writing direct-mail sales letters. “Can you tell a compelling story in a short form?” the headline had asked. “Yes”, I thought. I’m a church communications guy. I cram 30 announcements into the Sunday bulletin every single week. Short Form is my middle name.
I am totally qualified for this kind of work. I have the necessary skills: I can write letters, and I can sit on a beach, so I’m perfect for this job. The only skill I don’t yet have is raking in the profits. I’ve never done that kind of raking before, but I think I could learn pretty quickly - I’m rather sharp that way.
So I watched the rest of the video.
Well, sort of. I can tell when I'm being fed a baloney sandwich, and it was a disappointment because I stumbled onto this “opportunity” through a website of writers’ resources that I generally hold in high regard.
I fully understand the old marketer’s maxim of “selling the sizzle, not the steak”, but half an hour into this video, I was pretty sure the meat was imaginary. I doubted that they were ever going to lay out the program in a forthright way and my attention wandered to other things. I only kept the video going because it was so poorly done that it became a parody of itself, and I had already started putting words together for this essay and needed to see how it ended.
I started multi-tasking. As the video continued to play, I moved it over to the far side of my computer screen where I could keep an eye on it while also doing more productive things. I tapped a shopping list into my phone. I responded to a couple of emails. Played a game of solitaire. On the left side of my screen I opened youtube and started a second video of a garbage truck on fire which was so dramatic I watched it twice.
After investing almost an hour into this video that promised to change my life by launching me into the lucrative world of direct-mail letter writing, the amount of information that was actually useful would have fit nicely into four bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. It was a three minute presentation that they managed to stretch out to 48. I learned more from the burning garbage truck.
I know I can write letters. I can write all kinds of things: video scripts, essays, press releases. I wrote these very words that you’re reading right now. I have complete confidence in my abilities to write. The one question I have, and have had for the last 48 minutes is, “how do I find clients willing to pay me to do this?”.
Well, if you watch all the way to the end, it turns out that information is too valuable to share in a video. They want to know you’re really serious about writing letters and sitting on the beach before they tell you how to do it. And the only way that they’ll know you’re serious is if you pay them two hundred bucks to join their exclusive writer’s club.
Now, there are lots of things I can see paying for to advance a career: education, a list of qualified leads, a necktie. But membership in an “exclusive” club of people whose real dream is of laziness? The gold mine looks more like a gravel quarry to me, and the beach more like a sandbox that the neighborhood cats crap in.
In my experience, most of these “fabulous opportunities” end up being sales jobs or pyramid schemes and that’s not what I’m looking for. Maybe it really is legitimate, but if so, why did they work so hard to sell me the beach-sitting lifestyle?
No, of course I didn’t send them any money. I didn’t join the club, even though they claimed to have a money-back guarantee, and I wouldn’t mind having my 48 minutes back, too.