The Business Opportunity Trap

March 27, 2019 ​- 31 Comments

"He made $26K flipping silly little websites!"

This ad copy caught my eye. It's a perfect example of a tempting "business opportunity". In one simple sentence, the ad implies that there's some little-known, simple thing you could learn how to do, that could make you a lot of money.

Thousands of entrepreneurs and wannabe-entrepreneurs fall for such promises. And this leads them down a predictable and ultimately disappointing path...


You'll Find It's a Bit More Complicated Than That

Business opportunities are always highly promising and tempting. "Learn this easy thing! Make all this money!"

But, to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite authors, Ben Goldacre: I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that.

In reality, things are always more complex, slower and less exciting than originally advertised. And herein lies the real trap. You sign up for a way to make easy money, but what you actually get is a job. If you want a chance to make any of the promised money, there's work to do. And more often than not, it isn't work you like doing or ever wanted to be doing.

Consider the Day-to-Day

The key to avoiding the business opportunity trap is to consider the day-to-day. If you ask yourself: "do I want the money and lifestyle that's being promised here?" the answer will always be "yes!"

But the answers will be very different if you ask yourself: "what will my day-to-day look like, if I get into this business? And is that something I want?"

Don't ask “do I want the money and lifestyle this business opportunity promises?” Instead, ask: “what will my day-to-day look like, in this business? Is it aligned with my strengths and goals?”

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It's a mistake to only look at the potential payoff. Of course, we'd all like more money and freedom. But you know that classic mistake of chasing the carrot on a stick? Slaving away at a career for decades so that you can have a lot of money once you're old, only to realize you've wasted most of your life?

Well, getting into a "business opportunity" in which you do unfulfilling work you hate, just so you can maybe make some money and quit your job is no better than that. It's merely another flavor of the same mistake.

What Does This Mean in Practice?

Ideally, we could all do greatly fulfilling work and get handsomely rewarded for it. Ideally, you don't have to compartmentalize your life into "work" (which you hate) and "life" (which is what you need to recover from work).

Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world.

There's no guarantee that what you like doing lines up with what is economically valuable. Plus, passion is often something that grows out of what you do. We shouldn't wait for passion to strike, before taking action.

So, I am (still) not telling you to follow your passion. What I am saying is that it's good to have an idea of your strengths and weaknesses. It's good to know what fulfills you and what doesn't. And I recommend that you align your entrepreneurial plans with those insights.

For example, the reason I create a lot of video content and written content isn't because that's the most profitable thing I could possibly be doing. It doesn't represent the greatest opportunity for me to make as much money as possible. But I love creating things. And thus, creating content is something that helps my businesses and also keeps me sane and happy.

Someone else may be much more content pouring over endless spreadsheets, to optimize the next round of PPC ads. There's a lot of money in that too, no doubt. But for me, it would make me miserable.

An Aside About Misleading Marketing

On the topic of promising "business opportunities": most people will tell you that the reason they promise quick & easy money and hide all complexity is because that's how you get people to buy them. People want the quick fix, right? No one wants to deal with something complex.

Here's a counter argument: I recently launched Course Craft, which is a system for creating an online course business. 

You could call this a "business opportunity" product. However, building an online course business doesn't happen over night. And it's not for everyone. In the sales material for Course Craft, I made this abundantly clear. I never presented it as a quick or easy solution. I explicitly told people not to buy it if they were looking for a business opportunity. I even published an overview "map" of my course, which clearly shows that the course covers a lot of material and I made it clear that there would be homework.

Thousands of people bought the course.

I believe that this shows us 2 things:

  1. Hype and misleading promises are not necessary for selling something successfully.
  2. It proves my point from this post. Maybe I could have sold more and made more money by framing my course as a quick and easy business opportunity. Maybe I could have made more money by making a different course altogether. But I wouldn't enjoy that. I wouldn't like the day-to-day of creating a business based on such a deception. So I don't do it.

With the right strategy, you can succeed without needing to succumb to opportunistic behavior.

Over to You

Have you stumbled into the business opportunity trap before? What can you do to align your business goals with your strengths? What can you do to avoid the temptation of business opportunities and bright shiny objects in the future?

Let me know by leaving a comment!

Shane's Signature

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Excellent observations, Shane, and so true. Enjoyed watching this video.

  • Nata Aliyeva says:

    Thank you! Someone has to say it as it is. I love your approach – think about what your daily routine is going to look it – so true. Everyone talks about lofty goals and achievements and the end game, but it’s the day-to-day that matters. If it were a job, would you apply for it? – fantastic question.

    • Thank you! I think the day-to-day question is really useful. It took me long enough to notice this and apply it to my own decision making. :)

  • Great video Shane!
    I see these business opportunity webinar ads/emails all the time. I attend a few, but just to grab any pieces of information I can use in my business.

    I always wonder how many people take the bait and sign up for these programs, and what percentage see any level of success. I imagine it’s low.

    • For sure the success rate must be really low. With how much over-promising some of them do… I bet there are many with an effectively 0% success rate.

  • Hi Shane- How do you add those animations in your video? is this something you show in focus and action?

    • Hello Zaid,

      The animations are generally just templates (from marketplaces like MotionArray) added in Premiere.

  • Hey Shane, I jumped into the online course creation world about two years ago. Simply a slow learning curve :-)

    I would like to learn more from you about your experience in online business.

    I have looked ahead and asked where I want to be in my 50/60’s. What do I like doing? How do I want to spend my time? with who? where?

    Then filter decisions through that grid.

    • Yes, that sounds like a good, strong filter for what to spend your time on.

      One of the reasons I started this year with releasing online courses again is that I simply want to spend more time teaching. It’s not primarily a business decision, it’s primarily a decision about what I want my day-to-day to look like.

  • Joan Altres says:

    Great post! I’m kind of aggressive with my promotions to my subscribers, but it’s plr stuff they can resell or software tools.

    I really hate the whole MMO range of “products”. Every one of these sellers use the same promise lines: “Newbie friendly”, “No website needed”, “Get set up in 30 minutes”, “Start making money in as little as 24 hours”, “Just 3 simple steps”, “It’s copy and paste easy”, etc.,

    And sadly those are the big sellers of the week 9 times out of 10, not the solid training courses.

    I don’t agree with Seth Godin, however, that the people buying these products secretly want to fail and be let down.

    Personally, I feel like most people just have a difficult time with the technical aspect of things and with knowing in general how to market a product of their own effectively. So they buy into these lame mmo schemes with hope that it will give them a shortcut to success.

    It’s a bit like putting money into a slot machine. They know it’s probably not going to pay off, but “maybe this time” they’ll get lucky.

    I think creating a course is a good idea for some of these people, and for others they should develop a skill and do freelancing work first, for local businesses or online…and then they can create a course about how they succeeded at developing their skill and getting clients…

    Seniors especially feel overwhelmed, but many of them are the ones who will put forth the most effort to actually do something. Sustaining a productive mode of operation is very tough for seniors, however.

    For me, as a person who sells software and promotes a lot of stuff as an affiliate, I find it discouraging that most of my subscribers are still struggling, and some have been with me now a long time.

    It really makes me sick of this whole business to be honest, and as soon as I can transition away from it into something else, I’m gone. I’m tired of achieving nothing for nobody else and still promoting the same type of courses over and over again…

    It makes me money to do it, but I’ve been wanting to see people succeed, and they have not…so it’s not fulfilling for them and not for me either.

    I’m completely burned out as an Internet marketer and have been for well over a year now, but it’s how I make money…

    • Thank you for sharing your experience so openly. Have you thought about what it is you want to do next? You have a clear idea of what you DON’T want and strong reasons for it. That’s good. If you can have an equally clear vision of what you want to do instead, that could help you move towards it more effectively.

  • Hi Shane
    I enjoy reading your posts because you are well-grounded in this world of internet marketing. I have chosen to run a marketing agency for the past 20 years – and if I had asked myself at the beginning of it all if I would like the day-to-day – I would never have gotten into it. Your advice is stellar. People don’t always realize that the day-to-day is the most important part. Thanks for your insight.

    • Thank you for your comment, Catherine. So, are you trying to get out of the agency business?

  • I have watched many videos from you, Shane, and this is possibly your best yet! Really touched a chord with me. When I left my previous job and looked at business opportunities, I saw these shiny objects, eg. Amazon FBA, but quickly realised it wouldn’t make me happy to do the things that would be involved, day-to-day. Creating is what makes me happy, so I am developing information products and I love my day-to-day!

    • Thank you for your comment, Mark! I’m happy to see that this message really resonated with you. :)

  • Karen M McCamy says:

    Yes, Shane! Great observations, as always! :D

    I think the key here is something you addressed toward the last few minutes of your video…

    The “tunnel-vision” focus on ‘money at all costs’ perspective…

    I have personally known people who have this very attitude…

    Without exception (in the small sample size of my personal knowledge), they all had a “gaming the system” attitude, and underneath it all had very low self-esteem: they believed they ‘couldn’t get hired’ or ‘hold down a job’ & were like petty thieves…ie., getting money at any cost… No scruples and no ethics! (Hence, my “petty thief” analogy, not to imply they were all criminals…yet!)

    The saddest part of this scenario is these people (in my small sample size, at least) would never be interested in working hard, or asking the tough questions you posed: would I like the day-to-day work?

    The above is an interesting, if sobering, perspective that *I never considered until watching YOUR message on this…*

    It takes a lot of inner strength to do the introspection and hard work of self-assessment and be really honest with yourself!

    Thanks for a great approach, and illustrating that is IS possible to combine what you like to do with what makes a profitable business! :-)

    • Thanks for your comment!

      That’s an interesting point about feeling like they can’t get hired. I’d never thought of that perspective.

      On the other side, I know some people who absolutely love gaming the system. It’s like an ongoing, challenging puzzle and some people absolutely thrive in doing this. This is why self knowledge is so important. If you get a kick out of this kind of problem solving or out of doing data analysis and fine-tuning tests and stuff like that, then some of the things that I personally can’t stand are just right for you. It’s also a reminder to myself to not treat my own experience as a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.

  • Firstly, not so keen on the outro music hahaha

    But more importantly awesome comments on a HUGE trap I admit I’ve fallen into a few times – super important thing to stay away of so thanks as always Shane ;-D

    To answer your question, the way I’ve finally managed to keep focus on my one business for long enough to be seeing some progress & success is I have a bi-weekly accountability group where we have to state our “One Thing” for the week, and we all check that aligns with our “One Thing” for the quarter & year… and about every other week someone in the group calls someone else out for ‘chasing the shiny object’ so this is a very real thing we know we need to be aware of!

    PS. The “Login with Facebook” button next to this comment box I’m getting an error:
    “App Not Setup: This app is still in development mode, and you don’t have access to it. Switch to a registered test user or ask an app admin for permissions.”

    • Karen M McCamy says:

      Hey Gun,
      That accountability group sounds great! :-) I’m still looking for a Mastermind or accountability group in my area (So. Calif. — You’d think there’d be lots of groups in the “greater LA area” but so far all I found were marketer-lead groups that are trying to sell some “new strategy” (rolling my eyes…just what I need :-/)…

      Would love to hear about how you found your group…and how you vetted the different groups to find out what fit your needs!

      • I recommend paying as much as you can justify / afford to join a group. The higher the price the better, as it pre-vets the other participants for you.

        That being first, second I would choose a group that you resonate with their marketing, as then it’s likely that other people similar to yourself also resonate with their marketing, and there’s a good chance you’ll get along and relate to the other participant’s wants desires, pains & frustrations.

        I have continually paid a large percentage of what I make towards such communities, courses, groups & live events to push my ‘normal’ and colleagues that I associate with as high as I can, and I don’t regret a cent : )

      • Karen M McCamy says:

        Thanks, Gun!

        I appreciate your input! :-) I had no idea “paying to join” was the standard practice! :-o

        I’ve been thinking about starting my own Mastermind group, but wasn’t sure how to start… Maybe checking out these existing groups will give me the background info I need to do just that…

        We’ll see! ;-)

    • Hi Gun,

      This accountability group you describe sounds really good. Picking a priority and being held accountable for it is powerful!

      Regarding the login thing: thanks for the heads-up!

  • Hi Shane

    What an excellent way to look at this.

    This whole time I was focused on “Will this help my business?” which seems like a reasonable criterion but now of course I have a bunch of trainings and software I haven’t even looked at yet.

    I was actually considering buying a $500 training earlier today which could definitely help my business (if I did it) but now that I’m considering the day-to-day I’m gonna pass.

    Thanks for saving me from myself again Shane

    All the best

    • Thanks for your comment, Ricky! I’m glad to see you found a way to apply this advice right away. :)

  • Hi Shane,

    I have found that achieving small and easy targets are better than running behind something big which will eat out your whole life savings.

    I have beein doing it from last couple of months and its giving great results. the best part is i feel happy and worthy.

  • Having recently bought Russell Brunson’s Click funnels system after seeing a lot of fast talking videos and catchy headlines, it feels like I’ve arrived at the doctor’s dispensary for truth and wisdom.

    Thank you for keeping it real Shane. Right now I’m just relishing the simple production values, the clear thinking and honest sharing of your experience.

    I’m looking forward to considering what it is I’d like to spend my day doing. That’s an excellent place to start. Good question.

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