Have a dream? Here are red flags and green flags to look for when hiring people to help you achieve it.

Published by Peter on

If you have a dream, someone out there already thinks of you as their prey.

Whether your dream is to start a business, find love, publish a book, land your ideal job, be the best leader/parent/partner possible, or whatever else, someone out there is eager to take your money by promising to make that dream come true.

There are a lot of good people out there to help you. There are also a lot of charlatans as well as overconfident, under-skilled people who overcharge for bad service. They prey on people’s gullibility and naiveté.

Here there be dragons

I’ve written before about certification being an important qualification for a professional coach.

While certification from an industry body is a strong marker for legitimacy, not all areas of life have certifying bodies. And not all certifying bodies are truly trustworthy.

Entrepreneurship is one of those areas. I’m beset by three or four spammy solicitations every day from people (bots?) promising to supercharge my flailing small business and make me rich through their secret method that will guarantee remarkable success.

These things are loaded with red flags. And even knowing how much of it is no more than polished bullshit, I am not immune to the pull of FOMO and the seduction of magical thinking. 

I can understand why people give in and drop their good money on these bad services.

When you’re in a well traveled area, it’s easy to forget how dangerous the wilderness actually can be.

One of my long term quests is to push for truth and transparency in professional coaching.

This is not only to protect coaching clients and ensure integrity of the profession, but also to protect the people who get into coaching. It’s hard for an honest person with a good heart to compete against liars and thieves.

That’s one of the reasons I joined the board of directors of my local chapter of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). ICF is the primary accrediting body for professional coaching.

It’s also why I’m leading an expert panel at the upcoming San Francisco Writers Conference on red flags and green flags when hiring people to help you achieve your dream.

Looking for red flags and green flags

Publishing is another field filled with well-meaning incompetents, liars, and thieves.

Whether someone dreams of being a “best-selling author” or just being published, that dream makes them a target for bad actors. This has been true since forever. Vanity publishers have taken fortunes from the unwary over the decades.

As a book coach and seller of writing- and publishing-related services, that drives me nuts.

I know a number of highly ethical, high-quality service providers who charge reasonable fees for their work, yet every day I hear stories of people paying thousands of dollars for something they could have gotten cheaper (or free!), and of far higher quality.

I’ll be moderating a panel of those highly ethical, high-quality service providers at February’s San Francisco Writers Conference. My panel will help aspiring writers learn to pick out the good actors from the bad. We’ll talk about the red flags and green flags to look for when hiring a service provider, from design to editing to publishing and more.

No beige flags here, sorry.

Beyond writing, there are some pretty tried-and-true, universal things to look for when considering hiring someone to help you achieve your dreams, whether that’s an editor for your book or a professional coach for your career.

It’s easy to forget these or brush them aside when the charlatans come with their sweet-talk and sugar-coated empty promises to seduce you out of your money.

Generally speaking, look out for pitches that poke at your insecurities and appeal to your idealist. The most compelling pitches make you feel like there’s a secret that others know that is holding you back.

But as Kate Sanborn famously said in 1893, “genius is inspiration, talent, and perspiration.”

There is no reliably repeatable secret to success, unless it’s having a solid plan and then working that plan.

Here are things that should be red flags when looking at service providers:

  • Astounding promises
    If a pitch seems too good to be true (“In just six weeks you’ll bring in six figures of new business”), then it probably is. If their system is so good, why do they need your business so badly?
  • We have the secret formula!
    The secret formula is usually not so secret. They took it from a book you already read, tell you what you already know, and if it doesn’t work for you then they’ll say it’s because you didn’t do it right.
  • Your competitors are all more successful than you
    Scammers are highly skilled at invoking your FOMO. Success is hard. People seem far more successful on social media than they actually are. Our fear of falling behind is strong, and charlatans capitalize on that.
  • Super cheap or super expensive
    Even in markets as wide open as coaching and writing, there are still natural harmonic points in pricing. Research a number of providers. If someone seems far too cheap or far too expensive, be extra skeptical. It doesn’t mean they’re scammers, but it’s worth caution.

Just as there are signals to be wary of, there are also positive signals that a vendor is someone you can trust. These don’t guarantee they’re the right vendor for you, but they are all in the plus column for making the odds better.

  • Longevity and a track record
    Even the best have no track record when they first start out, and longevity doesn’t guarantee quality. But as a general rule, if a business has been around a while and has a solid track record, that’s a good sign.
  • Testimonials and ratings
    The buzzword these days is NPS, or Net Promoter Score. Basically, if someone likes the business enough to recommend it publicly, especially with their name attached, that’s a strong statement about the business’ quality and reliability. Reviews and ratings can be gamed, of course; due diligence requires digging in to the reviews and applying the good old smell test.
  • Transparency
    An ethical business that knows what it’s doing will be transparent about costs and methods. Transparency means different things in different businesses, though, so there’s no hard-and-fast rule about how to measure it. For example, a company may have pricing clearly stated on their website, but they may also have a lot of hidden fees after you sign up. The more transparent and up-front a company is, the more confident they are that they are going to provide you appropriate value for the price they charge.
  • A lack of disingenuous guarantees
    Vendors who use clear, plain language and offer solid value should get a mark in the plus column. Know what you want to buy, and don’t get suckered into buying sizzle when what you need is steak. For example, how much would you pay to be able to call yourself a “best-selling author”? I can guarantee that for you. It’s not actually that hard. You don’t even have to write something worth reading. But I don’t sell that because it’s meaningless.

What red flags and green flags would you add to my list?

I’m also offering free consultations (again)

One great reason to attend this year’s writers conference is that I’ll be providing free consultations and coaching to attendees. (If you recognize this video, that’s because it’s from last year… but equally applicable! And worth watching if only for the brief stock video montage in the middle.)

I can help.

I work with top executives and middle managers to improve their leadership skills, their workplace culture, and the effectiveness of their teams. Also, I help individuals identify and achieve their personal goals. Would you like to become more aware, be more effective, be more empowered, and feel fully prepared for your next steps?

Let’s talk.

You can help.

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Stay super smart and well informed.

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