Trust is built when someone is vulnerable and not taken advantage of.

~ Bob Vanourek

As conscious business owners it goes without saying that we want to cultivate trust with our audience. We want to be of service and have our clients’ and customers’ best interests in mind. We’re all about having a positive impact on the world so the idea of doing something that would erode trust between us and our audience is abhorrent to us.

But here’s the thing, as conscious business owners, we are bombarded with messages from online business experts and marketers that in order to succeed we must use strategies that do just that. Erode trust. We know that these tactics don’t feel good, in some instances they feel downright icky but when we so desperately want to get our message heard and share our positive gifts with the world, in the absence of a more conscious alternative, it can be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking they are a necessary evil.

In this post, I’m going to share with you 4 such strategies so that you can avoid falling for them as you navigate the online marketplace and be more mindful of using them with your clients.


1. Using false scarcity to pressure buyers 

We see this all the time in online marketing. It’s not uncommon to be told we have 24 hours to buy or the offer goes away forever, only to head back to the same page a few days later to see that the countdown time has reset.

Sometimes it’s the early bird or registration deadline and a big deal is made of this looming deadline, which, we learn shortly afterwards, has actually been extended.

Sometimes it’s claims about limited spaces left. I’ve even talked to people who have actually been told by a business coach to make claims like this, even when they have no sign-ups at all, purely to encourage people to buy.

People use these strategies because often in the short-term, they work but once we catch-on to the lie, the damage to the relationship between business owner and client can be irreparable. As the saying goes:

Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.

There are of course times when scarcity is legitimate. There is a deadline because your program or course starts on a specific date or there is a limited number of spaces because there are only so many people you can accommodate at the venue you’re hosting your talk. Sometimes we choose to limit numbers because we want to make sure we can give each person adequate personal attention. All of these reasons are valid. What is not valid, is using false scarcity as a “tactic” to pressure people in to making a quick decision to buy.


2. Playing on people’s Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) 

“Last Chance” “Don’t Miss Out” “There’s No Time to Lose!” “ONLY 1 DAY LEFT!” I got all of these statements from emails in my junk folder today. Playing on our fear of missing out is so prevalent these days and when it’s used for something you’re genuinely in two minds about buying, this tactic can be anxiety inducing to say the least. Just as with scarcity, there are of course legitimate points at which the potential buyer may miss out on making the purchase if they don’t buy. But there are also times when FOMO is played on when it’s not legitimate just to force the sale.

What’s definitely not okay is when business owners play on your fear of missing out by insinuating that by not enrolling in their program or signing up for their service, you will be missing out on that which you are trying to create or realise. Mark Silver of Heart of Business says this:

“When a marketer is pushing you around not losing out on realizing your hopes and dreams, that should be a caution flag. There is a way to mention this as a point for folks to consider: Is there a dream they’ve been putting off? This is a problem endemic in a broken culture – deferred dreams, and is a legitimate consideration for someone…If, however, the marketer is implying or saying that the only way to stop deferring your dream is to enrol in their program, that is wrong.”

If you are considering a purchase and find yourself feeling anxious because of the marketing messages coming from the business owner, consider this a sign that FOMO is being activated. Consider whether or not you want to invest in a business that uses this to pressure you into buying.


3. Making unrealistic promises or guarantees

Working within the business coaching industry, I’m only too aware and often aghast by all of the “Six weeks to 6-figure” messages we see these days online. “Work with me and I’ll show you how I went from broke to making six figures in six months” often accompanied by filtered images of said business owner living the good life, working on the beach for only 2 hours a day.

For business owners struggling to break even, working every hour god sends and battling self-doubt and fear, promises like these can be seducing. Who wouldn’t want to make money fast and live a life of freedom and reward? But so much of this is, at best seriously exaggerated and, at worst completely fake. If it were that simple to get rich so quickly and so easily, everyone would do it. Seriously. What’s happening more often than not is a pyramid scheme of people making good money from selling people the dream of making good money and how to sell that dream to others.

Whenever you hear a promise that feels too good to be true, the chances are that it is. Don’t get me wrong, there are people whose businesses grow fast, but even that is not necessarily something worth chasing. Slow and organic growth, rooted in integrity and service, rather than tactics and manipulation is a far safer bet in the long term for you and your audience.


4. Dressing up your sales pitch as “free” content or training 

This is a strategy that really erodes trust. We’re offered something free, a webinar, a training series, an article or e-book, only to discover that what we are receiving is in fact a thinly-veiled sales pitch.

How many webinars or free trainings have you watched or listened to which dedicate the first 20% of the call with the host bragging about their credentials and success, 20% of the time at the end pitching a new program or product and the rest of the time full of taster content that’s not substantial in itself but gives you just enough to whet your appetite for more. This is a tried and tested model and for many it works because when combined with time-sensitive offers using false scarcity and playing on FOMO, as buyers we’re really getting clobbered on the manipulation front.

How about offering good quality, meaningful, (truly) free or truly affordable content instead. Wouldn’t that make you want to invest in someone’s services, more than the former approach?


“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

~ Stephen R. Covey


Have you used one or more of these tactics? How did you feel about doing so? This post isn’t meant to judge but rather inform, I myself have used some of the above, before I got wise to the fact that a) they don’t benefit my audience or my business and that b) there is another way. It’s the mission of my business these days to empower and educate other business owners how to do business differently.

I’m curious, what unethical marketing and business strategies have you come across? I’d love to know, so please take a moment now to add to my list by commenting below.  



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