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What I discovered after blowing $2000 on a stupid online course

Have you ever wasted a load of money on something stupid?

Hurts, doesn’t it? And the pain never really goes away. Lost money is lost forever. At best you learn a few lessons. You don’t make the same mistake twice. At worst you get eaten alive with guilt.

18 months ago I tanked $2000 on an online-business course. No, I’m not naming and shaming. The course itself was okay. It doesn’t deserve a disparaging online rant.

The biggest problem was me.

I was in turmoil, obsessed with doing something huge before turning 30. I wanted to make my loved-ones proud of me. I was in a lot of pain.

This leads me to …

…Lesson 1: Awareness. Know when your emotions are making you buy. 

An online course cannot take away your emotional pain. (Even a really good one.)

However, a decent marketer can tickle those emotions which make you pull out your wallet and buy. I’m a copywriter myself. I knew all the tricks being used. And I followed along.

I imagined a life where I woke up…did whatever I pleased. I imagined my wife quitting her job. I imagined us travelling around the globe.

But here’s the thing…

…Lesson 2: An online course is NOT a step towards your dreams.

When you pay for an online course, it’s normal to feel like you’ve accomplished something.

You haven’t.

You have just spent a lot of money. The real work still needs to be done. And if you bought it on pure emotion, you’re likely to get stuck while working through the content. The answers you need are not on the inside.

The same applies to coaches and mentors.

They can be terrific for giving you new ideas and solving physical problems. I have met some coaches who completely changed my fortunes…and others who were little help at all.

The difference, again, was usually me.

A mentor can show you the path, and help you move forwards. But you have to be the one willing to move. A mentor is not a messiah. So make sure it’s a path you actually want to walk along and…

Lesson 3: Know what you really want

I thought I wanted a Ferrari.

I thought I wanted a boat.

I thought I wanted a big house with tennis courts and a swimming pool.

I put it all onto a ‘vision board’…

…Just looking at it annoyed me. Truth is, I have never once dreamt of owning any of those things. I’m crap at tennis. Owning a tennis court would just make me angry.

It was all somebody else’s dream. I was stuck wanting stuff I was supposed to want.

‘Why do I want – or need – a big house?’ I wondered.

I hate heating bills.

I hate maintenance.

I HATE paying taxes.

Why would I ever buy something which gives me more of the problems I hate?

I love my family. I love time. I love writing fiction. I love going to new places.

I love this plant…

…He cost me $6 and lives in my bathroom.

A mansion does nothing for me. Neither does a Ferrari. Neither does a boat.

This is not settling. It’s not giving up.

I’ve just found the more time I spend DOING what I love, the less time I spend WANTING material possessions. It’s had a huge impact on me – especially when investing in myself. And for the record:

I am NOT against online courses…

Heck, I’ve even helped create 2 or 3, and still get the occasional royalty from one of them.

However, I would never want to make a dime off somebody’s desperation. So here are a few tips I recommend, the next time you’re pondering whether to buy one.

1. Study the free stuff first: Not online stuff. Most of that’s just confusing and conflicting. Find out the top 5-10 books in your topic of interest. Who were the genuine experts?

See if they’re at your library.

What’s astonishing is how much of the same information at big-ticket seminars is readily available in books.

I once attended a $2500 seminar with the advertising wizard Steve Harrison. (My seat was free, thankfully.) Brilliant as Harrison is, I noticed his talk was just an outline of his book, How to Do Better Creative Work. 

He even told a couple of the same jokes!

2. Go specific, not broad: My $2000 ‘online-business’ course was too broad. There were tons of potential variables I’d experience. The lessons were difficult to apply, because so many different things could happen.

Recently, I went more specific. I wanted to pick up some more freelance copywriting clients. So I bought a $200 course on…

‘How to get freelance copywriting clients.’

Everything in this course applies to me. Everything is actionable. And the steps are super simple.

The more specific your online course, the easier it is to follow.

3. Invest in your strengths. Outsource your weaknesses: Ever heard of the Pareto Principle? It states that 20% of your inputs account for 80% of your outputs.

Your work/ambition probably involves all sorts of different skills. But which one really delivers the payout? Which is your big strength?

I realised some time ago that I’m a pretty mediocre businessman. I should be a millionaire. (My copy has made plenty of other people millions.) Yet for some reason, no matter how hard I try, the business-side is always a struggle.

Same with social media, blogging and what-not. I blog because I enjoy it. But I never do it with any hope of ‘going viral.’ For some reason, social media stuff just doesn’t click with me like direct-response copy.

I started seeing better results – and enjoying myself more – when I focussed on this strength. And on being a better writer.

If you’re good at something, invest in becoming an expert. If you’re an expert, invest in becoming a master.

You will never be more than tolerably good at your weaknesses. So you may as well save your time and have someone else do these jobs for you. Focus on your strengths.

4. Always buy cold

Avoid getting whipped into a super-hot fan-buying frenzy.

If you’re considering an online course, or any other big expense, journal your reasoning. Write why you want it, what you’re likely to discover. What your actual problem is, and how you expect it to help.

Read the reviews. Not ‘reviews’ with commission links. Impartial reviews.

Try to understand what is holding you back, and how this purchase could help you move forwards. And please…please…

…5. Do not hero worship anyone online.

Listen to them, by all means.

Take what you need and put it to good use.

Soon as you start hero-worshipping, your logical brain is switched off. You’re buying on pure emotion.

And what a lot of money that could cost you.