Ongoing education is critical to success in our business, but with so many “gurus” online – from individuals to big name trade publications – peddling conferences, advice and information products, how can you be selective and avoid falling victim to mediocre professional development offerings? Independent communications consultants work hard for their money, and few of us can afford to waste any of it! The 7 steps that follow will help you make sound investments in your business’ future.
While building the popular Solo PR PRO Premium online subscription site (the Premium companion to this blog), we’ve researched and heard from members about countless offerings – we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Unfortunately, there are some shady people out there who do a great job of masquerading as nice guys, and some well-known companies that rely on their big names to attract purchases (and then fail to follow through with quality content). The good news is there’s a ton of amazing content – both on an offline – so we don’t have to settle!
Before you pay an “expert” (person or organization) for professional development, first consider the following:
1. What, specifically, are you looking to get out of the product, service, or membership?
Too often, we blindly signup for an offering thinking, “this person must know what they’re talking about, so let me see what they have to say” (I’ve done this more times than I’d like to admit, myself!). But if you know what your explicit goals are, it’s easier to find the learning opportunity that meets your needs.
For example, if you have a new client that wants you to manage marketing programs you haven’t handled in a while and you’re looking to brush up on current best practices, you may want to look at MarketingProfs. If you know you should raise your rates and want to know what others are charging and how you can get there, or if you’d like help brainstorming new client initiatives with a community of experienced PR pros, you may want to consider Solo PR PRO Premium. Use a business-minded approach and spend your dollars where you’ll see the most ROI.
2. Ask your friends if they (or someone they know) have experience with the outfit
Research shows that personal recommendations from people we know are the biggest drivers of new purchases, and that’s no accident. If you’re considering a new product or service, ask your network if they’ve bought anything from that organization before – you can do this on Facebook, and invite them to contact you privately. In addition, some online sites have testimonials, profiles and/or lists of members (for example, you can search members of Solo PR PRO Premium here) – check to see if you know anyone and contact them to find out their experiences.
3. Is there a more cost-effective option?
As we know from our own consulting businesses, cost-effective doesn’t necessarily mean cheapest. For example, there are cases where paying a fee for all the materials you need in one place will save you so much time (versus searching for multiple free alternatives) that it’s well worth it to purchase.
Also remember, high price does not equal value. Some one-off publications and courses cost hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars more than many membership-based offerings. Membership sites like MarketingProfs and Solo PR PRO Premium, and associations such as PRSA, are examples of dues-driven models that provide large amounts of content and benefits – and all cost less than $300 a year.
The webinar that costs $795 may be worth it if it provides you with the information and tools you need to make an extra $2,000, but don’t automatically assume it’s better than the content provided at a more affordable price.
The opposite is also true, of course! You may think paying $25 for a webinar and another $25 for a download won’t break the bank, but if you aren’t getting value out of those purchases you may be better served by a $25/month subscription to a more expansive, all-inclusive membership site, or by saving up those dollars to attend an in-person conference.
4. Don’t buy because you think you’ll get personal attention from one big wig
There are many online courses and membership sites that promise you direct access to a high profile “thought leader” as part of your purchase price. Sadly, I’ve heard of many situations where the big wig bows out before they were supposed to – leaving the purchasers feeling ripped off. Ask yourself: would the offering still have value if the big wig wasn’t involved?
5. Has the person (or people) had a lot of different, unrelated offerings in recent years?
To me, this is a huge – often overlooked – red flag. Not only is this a sign of a potential dabbler (not an expert), but it’s also a key indication of a person who’s trying to earn a living – by any means possible – online. If one online product or business doesn’t work, they move on to the next. There are people with full speaking schedules and enormous social followings who do exactly this – don’t let the number of Twitter followers sway you! Personally, I’d rather learn from someone with real clients actually earning a living in the area they’re teaching, not an Internet marketer.
6. For events, pay attention not just to the speakers, but also to what they’ll be speaking about
In recent years, we’ve seen a number of widely-promoted online, virtual conferences. As you consider them (and their offline counterparts), look beyond the headliner names and headshots to see what the presenters will be addressing as part of the agenda. Is it a collection of book authors giving their “book talks”? If so, you can often find those presentations elsewhere for free. And many times, you could even buy all the books themselves for less than the cost of the event!
7. Beware of conflicts of interest when looking at “endorsers”
The world of online influencers can be a very clubby/cliquey place. If you look around for a while, you can easily see connected groups of people who always support and promote each other’s efforts. Often, these folks are getting an affiliate fee based on your purchase of their friend’s products or services.
When properly disclosed, there’s often nothing wrong with affiliate arrangements, and it’s human nature to be supportive of one’s friends. But don’t use these endorsements alone as the social proof you need to plop down your money – dig deeper, using the other steps in this post.
As you consider your professional development options, keep in mind that value is in the eye of the beholder – what’s immensely useful for one person can be a complete waste of time for someone else. Only you know the kinds of education and experiences that will be most useful for your business – use these tips to help find them!