By now, you’ve probably heard the concept that “investing in yourself is always a good idea.” And what that advice is usually referring to is paying for training, coaching, and other “learn and grow” info products.
I really hate this advice.
It’s not that I don’t agree; in many cases, I do agree. I’ve spent a lot of money over the years — even when money was exceedingly tight — “investing in myself” to get the training I needed to do better than I’d been doing previously.
It’s true that you can lose your stuff but you can’t lose your education. (Losing your mind, however, is something we’ll get to in a bit.)
There are definitely times when getting yet another course, watching yet another webinar, taking yet another 5-day or 2-week or 30-day challenge via email, joining yet another mastermind, and the like, are anything BUT a true investment in yourself.
Want to invest in yourself? Great. But don’t get it twisted: sometimes what you actually need to do to “invest in yourself” is put your head down and just do the actual work in front of you.
The “invest in yourself” myth
One of the things that really bugs me about all these people around me who casually talk about how they “invest in themselves” when what they mean is they drop major bucks left and right on every training program they see is that there’s no boundary. No guideline. No measuring stick to decide when it actually makes sense.
Nope, just wallets hanging open to be raided and bumper-sticker advice for the rest of us to do the same.
For example: one of my friends has built his entire blog on budgeting and financial flow and getting out of debt and raising your rates as a freelancer — all the “smart money stuff” that has to do with freelancing. And then he let his “invest in yourself’ mentality go unchecked and racked up thousands of dollars in debt to get coaching and training and who knows what else.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not my style.
If there’s one thing I learned when I was barely scraping by as a relatively new freelance writer, it’s this: the single greatest way you can invest in yourself is to build a solid business.
Sometimes training is absolutely the right way to do this. Sometimes it’s bringing in a coach for some pointed questions, deeper insights, and accountability to actually do what you say you’re going to do. Sometimes it’s the resounding chorus of feedback and ideas that a mastermind group can provide.
But many times… it’s just rolling up your sleeves and doing the work.
The trouble with sales pages (aka tribbles)
Ever seen the classic Star Trek episode about tribbles? I never really got deep into the original series, but I loved this particular episode. Sales pitches have become sort of like tribbles in my mind. They keep popping up everywhere, with no end in sight. The problem is getting bigger and bigger and, if you’re not careful, they’ll eat all your chicken sandwiches and coffee… er, I mean profits.
Here’s what I mean by all that:
These days everybody and their mom are trying to sell stuff online. It was ebooks for a while. Then high-ticket coaching and mastermind. After that came the influx of training on connecting with influencers. Now everyone is freaking out about courses and Pinterest and a few other things I lost track of.
Every time I turn around, I’m getting pitched. It’s like these sales pitches are popping up out of nowhere. Facebook, emails, invitations to webinars with someone I’ve never heard of, you name it and there’s probably going to be a sales pitch on it popping up in the next 15 seconds.
You know the #1 guiding principle behind every single sales message you ever see?
(If the copywriter is any good, that is….)
It’s to grab your attention, find your exact pain points, and then mash them as hard as possible.
(This is why people think marketing is sleazy, by the way. Truth is, it’s not really that sleazy most of the time.)
Anyway. So you click a link, you read the sales page, and then you’re right in that spot… your heart’s pounding, your ears are ringing, and you’re practically foaming at the mouth because all your issues have been triggered in one sales pitch. Not to mention the fact that everyone around you is seeing the same stuff and feeling the same tugs and chattering about it in your mutual groups.
Between the psychological triggering and the social pressure, how could you not buy in?
It’s much easier to throw some money at your (perceived) enormous problem and hope that it’ll go away. And while the person pitching you might genuinely want to help… they also genuinely want to make some money, which is why they crafted such a winning sales pitch to begin with.
To quote my favorite pointy-eared hob-goblin, “Obviously tribbles are very perceptive creatures.”
The only love (or status) that money can buy
The bad guy in the tribble episode works his way in by finding a woman who works closely with Kirk, pressing her pain points (loneliness), and then giving her a tribble to ease the pain, saying that a tribble is the only love that money can buy. And Uhura, who is usually brilliant, falls for it!
While it’s highly unlikely that there’s a sinister Klingon plot behind any sales pitch you’re reading, it’s entirely possible that you’ll be feeling some pressure on your own pain points when you read a good sales page… even if the pain point is just a desire for status.
What I mean by that is, when you enroll in a course, join a paid mastermind, or hire a coach, you have (on some level) “arrived.” Even if these opportunities aren’t something you necessarily need, the offer to snag them plays into your desire to “level yourself up” and join the ranks of people who are learning and implementing this important stuff while you leave everyone else in the dust. In other words, improve your status.
But (perceived) status and success aren’t the same thing. Status is very feelings-oriented. You feel good about yourself, people feel that you’re worthy of some level of status, or whatever. Success, on the other hand, can easily be measured in dollars (or free time, or whatever your currency of choice is).
Status won’t get the bills paid. It won’t land the clients for you. It certainly won’t get your deadlines met. So if you’re struggling with your business, it’s not only possible but entirely likely that what you need to do has nothing to do with your status and everything to do with the effort you’re expending on the actual work of work.
I get questions all the time from readers who want to learn all the nooks and crannies of some niche or technique or whatever, and they get bogged down in “figuring it out before they put more energy into it.” A good 9 times out of 10, the advice I give them goes something along the lines of “Stop trying to be an expert in something you’ve never done. You’ll never truly figure this out until you start actually doing the work.”
In other words, they want to figure out how to break into a new niche and make bank right from the start, when they’ve never even sent a single pitch. They want to land a column at Inc. when they’ve never spent more than 5 minutes researching Inc. and 0 minutes coming up with anything that the Inc. audience would even want to read. They think that figuring out how to DIY a flashy $2000 website is going to be what lands them blogging clients, when they’ve never actually written a professional blog post before.
And if that’s the case for you, too, then the latest, greatest info product is probably going to be another expensive distraction that gets you further from your goals. What you need to be doing is putting your head down and doing the work you already know you should be doing (but are avoiding for some reason).
What’s the true investment? What about the return?
When not selected carefully and wisely, the training and programs you buy are going to be expensive distractions at best… and major threats to your business resources (which include you) at worst.
I, for one, love a good training program. I love the worksheets and the lessons and the feeling I get when I finish a module and start implementing something that had been shrouded in mystery before. There’s even something about the thrill of completing checkout and thinking about how much better off I’ll be when I’ve finished the program. New horizons! Problems solved! Skills enhanced! Exciting!
Except… I haven’t always followed through. I wouldn’t make the time, or a lesson would be particularly difficult so I’d stall out, or I would just lose interest.
And here’s the thing: an investment is only a good investment if it gives you good returns.
You’re struggling to find great clients so you take a course on finding clients, implement the material, and ladder up quickly? Great investment. You’re struggling to find great clients so you take the FB Ads course everyone is talking about so you can build a list of warm leads and you realize 3 weeks in that you don’t actually want to build an email list so you abandon the whole thing? Crappy investment.
These days, I use a pretty rigorous vetting process before I buy into any kind of professional development. My husband and I have 2 little mouths to feed and another one on the way, after all, and they need clothing and shoes more than I need to pat myself on the back for learning some non-critical skill.
So what’s my methodology for evaluating whether or not to buy a course? It’s basically a series of questions I ask myself every time I’m caught by a compelling offer. I’m sharing my methodology with you so that you don’t end up wasting your own time, money, and brain power on stuff that’s ultimately not going to help your business at all.
The goal of these questions is to get me to pump the breaks on some emotional spending before I open my wallet and give someone else my hard-earned money. As my friend’s story above goes to show, if you don’t keep your spending on courses and whatnot in check, you’ll find yourself buying stuff left and right because you become habituated to hitting that ENROLL button (that’s probably been split-tested to find the color with the highest conversion rates).
You know what you get when you feed a tribble? A whole bunch of hungry little tribbles.
Same goes for professional development payment receipts. Resist the urge to feed the beast, even if it’s the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen. Start by asking yourself these questions:
1. What’s the real cost?
I take a hard look at what the real costs will be if I sign up for this thing I’m thinking about, whatever it is. Important questions to ask:
- How much time will doing the program itself take?
- How much time will doing the homework/implementing the steps take?
- What’s the overall monetary cost? (I’ll also compare any monthly plans to the paid-in-full price.)
- How much paid work am I going to have to defer to be able to do this program the right way?
Because my working hours are extremely limited right now (I try not to work more than 15 hours a week, total), the time vs. money vs. deferred income is a big factor for me. If you have all day every day to spend on your business, these considerations might not be as significant for you.
2. What’s the anticipated payoff?
Remember, good investments end up putting more money back in your pocket (or giving you the equivalent in training or experience to be totally worth the costs).
Great professional development should teach you a valuable new skill, give you a more effective approach to your business (including overcoming mindset issues), or otherwise allow you to leapfrog your way to improvement much faster than if you just figured everything out on your own. So ask yourself:
- What’s the main skill I’ll learn with this?
- How will that skill help me move my business forward?
- Will it affect my bottom line positively to implement what I’ll learn?
- Is what I’ll learn in line with my goals or vision for the businesses?
- Is the anticipated payoff really worth the overall price tag of time and money I’ll have to put in?
Sometimes you may find that the $2,000 course is absolutely worth the money and the $67 webinar series is definitely not but that a $12 book would probably do the trick.
3. Judge past performance (including your own)
A key step toward deciding whether the Next Big Thing is worth it for you, take a hard look at what’s gone down in the past, both with the product and in your own work life.
- Have you picked up any books, training, or even free stuff on this topic before? If so, did you make use of any of it? (True story: I very nearly plunked down $1500 recently for a list-building program and then remembered that I’d paid about $70 for one a few months ago that I’d started but never finished. Guess who didn’t spend $1500 that day?)
- How does this particular product compare to other ones on the market? Look for reviews, ask around, see if there’s a related Facebook page with any of your friends listed as members, etc.
- How long will this information actually be good? There are some truly evergreen professional development programs and training courses (mindset work, client hunting, copywriting, etc.), but many others are going to be outdated in a year (FB ads, Pinterest strategy, list building, anything involving a specific software or platform). You need to be ready to implement immediately, or wait until the offer comes around again.
4. The reality check
This is the part where you’re most likely to do some self-deluding, but it’s also a critical element of the mindful decision-making process. Pay close attention, and don’t accept any excuses with these furry critters, or your grain stores are going to disappear in like 3 days:
- Is the problem that this solves actually a problem that you’re experiencing right now?
- How much time have you spent thinking about the problem that this solves?
- Have you looked for other solutions to this issue already? (These first three questions help you get a good sense of how genuine your need really is.)
- If not immediately, is this a problem you’ve identified on the horizon and there’s a compelling reason to buy now instead of later (for example, a getting great discount, bonuses you can start using now, a once-a-year offer for the best program available, etc.)?
- If you buy it for later, when exactly are you going to start it? Will the information still be important then? (This is the part where I usually tap out, because I can’t predict the future.)
Wrapping it up (and getting on with your life)
The main thing I want you to remember next time you’re thinking about buying into a new course or program is that everything comes at a cost, and the cost goes beyond the amount of money you pay. When you commit to a course, you’re committing not only money but time and brain power. This commitment needs to make sense.
Sales pages and other ads are written specifically to override your logical brain and tap into your emotions. Sometimes this is a fantastic thing — when you’ve been struggling with an issue and you’ve finally found a service provider who can help you solve it, it’s a glorious thing. But when you’re simply being affected by persuasive copy and creating a problem for yourself just so you can buy this solution, it’s probably not a great idea.
The most important thing is to take a long, hard look at what you’re buying and whether it will truly serve you.
Spock and I have one thing in common: we like practical. So when he complains about how impractical tribbles are and McCoy snaps that tribbles are nice, soft, furry, and they make a pleasant sound, Spock fires back with “So would an ermine violin, Doctor, but I see no advantage in having one.”
That, my friends is the approach you need to take every time you’re considering paying money for someone else to teach you something. Is this truly meeting a need, or are you about to buy yourself an ermine violin?