I’ve shared the story of how I left teaching and real estate in 2006 and came online to become an online entrepreneur and achieved great success, many times over the past year. But I’ve omitted a part of my story that I am finally going to tell here. It’s a story of hopes and dreams and goals not yet achieved, and a person who was wide-eyed with wonder at the thought of being able to create a business that could be run from home or from wherever in the world one might be, with only a laptop, an internet connection, and an idea.
The person is me, of course. I almost did not succeed, and that would have been a terrible shame. Instead, I used the experience I’m going to share with you here as my “reason why” I had to work hard, stay the course, and not let anyone keep me from achieving my goals and dreams. And these days I pay it forward by helping others in their quest for entrepreneurial success.
The year was 2005. I was weary from long days as a classroom teacher in the inner city of Los Angeles. I loved my students and their families, but the system left much to be desired. Test scores were down and the school district took away everything we engaged in as joyous and character building so that we could only teach to the standardized tests that were given twice each school year.
In my spare time back then, I also worked as a real estate broker and residential appraiser. I did this in order to earn enough money to have my own home and to financially help my elderly mother who was attempting to get by on about six hundred dollars a month from Social Security.
After nineteen years as a teacher, and more time than that working in real estate, I yearned for a new life. In April of that year, after waking up one morning and feeling like the time was right for me, I began attending evening and weekend seminars and conferences. Looking back, these were self-improvement and personal development events, but they were positioned as business training in order to attract more attendees.
It was at one of these seminars where I signed up for a program that included a large package of CDs. These were recordings of talks by people who had presented at the live events over the past couple of years. I proudly carried my package out to my car that night and placed it safely in the trunk. My plan was to add six of the CDs at a time to my six CD changer in the car to listen to the talks while driving back and forth to work each day and to my real estate appointments.
My plan to resign from my teaching position and to give away my real estate clients was launched. My last day in the classroom was on Friday, June 30th, 2006. I had already begun the process of introducing my real estate clients to people working in this career full-time, and by the end of the summer everyone would have been reassigned to someone they work with comfortably, and with blessings all around.
I returned to the CDs I had received at the seminar, and other information via email I was receiving from the man who had months earlier opened my mind to what was possible online.
The information was fascinating and uplifting and made me think. Then I got to one about how to make money online with a simple website, an information product, a sales letter, and a downloadable file. I was mesmerized by the words the man was sharing and I joined his list by visiting the website he mentioned throughout his talk.
Once I was on his list, he began sending me emails about his products, courses, and programs. As much as I wanted to learn more, they were too expensive for my budget at that time. One day I visited the eBay website and searched for his name. Sure enough, he had a presence there and I placed a bid on a package of his training CDs. For a fraction of what he was selling these for on his own website, I awaited their delivery to my front door so I could jump in and learn from him.
The information he had recorded on these CDs was intoxicating. He included just enough detail to whet my appetite. Much of it was outdated and all of it was incomplete, but I didn’t know that at the time and it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway, at that point in my journey towards entrepreneurship. I checked my bank account balance and knew that the check would be arriving soon with the money I was cashing out of my CalSTRS (California State Teacher’s Retirement System) account. I was taking it all, so the burning of the bridges began.
I called him at the home office number he had stamped on the CDs and also within his email messages and his website. The woman who answered asked me to hold for a moment and he came online to discuss my future as an online entrepreneur. He was kind and funny and straightforward with his approach. He told me all about his program and his business and the Retreats he held periodically at his home that were included for his mentees. At the end of his pitch, he asked me if I was ready to commit and give him my credit card information.
No, I wasn’t ready to do that. The only credit card I had at that time had a limit of five thousand dollars. I owed about a thousand and was making the final payments that summer to be out of debt. I promised to put a check for his five thousand dollar fee in the mail to him, once he had emailed or faxed me a copy of the contract he had mentioned.
I know he honestly believed I had no intention of following through and would never sign a contract or send that check. When the email with the contract quickly showed up in my inbox, I printed out two copies and took them with me to my Rotary meeting. I was new to this group and knew they had attorneys and CPAs (Certified Public Accountants) with whom I could discuss this. I introduced myself to an attorney who specialized in contract law and a CPA who worked closely with him and set up time for an appointment later in the week.
They read the contract and had made some notes when I showed up at the offices. They told me it was a well-written, solid document. They pointed out that it was a bilateral contract, meaning that each of us had to fulfill our promise in order for it to be valid. This is what we were agreeing to:
He was agreeing to teach me everything he knew about internet marketing. This was the subjective part. He was also agreeing to work closely with me to create a an information product that could be sold online for twenty dollars or more, and to help write an effective sales letter. He agreed to send an email to his list to tell them about me and my product. Finally, he was agreeing to interview me by phone about what I was doing in my new business, and to provide me with a copy in two digital formats, an .mp3 that could be shared online and a .wav file that could be burned to a CD.
In return, I was agreeing to pay him fifty thousand dollars after I reached two hundred thousand dollars in gross earnings, payable in increments to be agreed upon later, and in full within two years of reaching this dollar amount of income.
Upon hearing this and with the approval of the CPA and attorney, I signed the contract, had my signature notarized, and returned it to him via certified mail, along with a check for five thousand dollars, drawn against my new business checking account. I waited for his response, and none came.
First red flag… Once he cashed my check my emails didn’t seem to get through to him and he was never again available to speak with me by phone.
I called his home office number and his assistant answered the phone on the first ring. No, he wasn’t able to take my call; yes, he did know I had joined the mentor program; yes, there were regular training calls for those in the group and I could log in to the membership site and see what was there.
Everything she told me that day was true, except for the use of the word “regular” in regards to the mentee training calls. It turned out I would need to log in every day, yes… Every. Single. Day. to know if the call was to be held that evening. And I did just that. Usually there were only three or four of us, and I soon realized there weren’t many more than that in this man’s program and of those who had paid the five thousand dollars to join, only a handful were willing to log in daily to find out if the call would be happening that night. Throughout that year of mentorship, he held fifteen calls and I attended all of them.
NOTE: On Day 366, I was taken to a page where I was asked to re-up for another year by entering my credit card information. No thank you very much, I’d had quite enough of him by then.
In the beginning, I was brave and shared what I had been working on and what was working for me. But each time I was shot down and soon I remained quiet like the others were doing and just listened to him bragging about how big his list was growing and how much money he was making. It went something like this:
Me: I wrote three articles this week. I added each one to my blog and then submitted them to the article directories. And this week I have five new people on my list.
Him: Those short articles are a waste of time. Don’t be lame. If I only got five new opt-ins to my list, I’d blow my brains out.
All of Us: Silence
When it came to the membership site trainings he provided to the mentees, they were mostly outdated, inaccurate, and incomplete at best, but I was brand new to the world of online business and didn’t realize that. But I made a schedule for myself and watched the videos, listened to the audios, and read the articles. His articles were a thousand words or more and always contained offers to products, courses, tools, and services from people he was an affiliate for and recommended. I took copious notes and stayed organized with color coded pens and spiral bound notebooks.
I soon noticed that even if he was recommending someone through an affiliate link, he usually gave them what is referred to as a “back-handed” compliment. He would say something about them being knowledgeable in one area or another, but then quickly knocking them down for not doing something he was doing better. And he’d always add something about “buy what I’m recommending, but don’t get on their list or follow them.”
This brought out the rebel in me, I guess, and I would not only buy but also get on the list of each person. And over that year, I found the people I knew would be there to help me grow my business. I’m connected with most of them to this day and count them among my friends and colleagues.
During my year in his program, I was invited to spend three days at his home Retreat. I received a phone call from his assistant about this, and she told me he had room for one more person a couple of weekends from then. I accepted, and made the trip. He lives in the South, and I can still remember coming out of the airport after picking up my suitcase and being engulfed in cigarette smoke.
Those three days were eye-opening for me. There were two men I knew from the not very regular mentee calls, and the four of us sat at a table in his living room and worked on sales letters for our products. My product was an eBook about caring for small dogs. Of course, that was not a good choice for a product, but I continued to get the practice of writing and the experience of publishing an eBook online.
During this time I felt terrible about my poor choice with paying this man so much money to help me. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and humiliated. I did not share this story with my family and friends until years later, and when I did they were loving and supportive of how I turned the situation around to make the online world of business work for me.
He and I went our separate ways after that year and I continued to build my business with the help of the people he had inadvertently led me to and then warned me against. At some point he realized that I’d created a profitable business in spite of him, and that’s when the first email arrived, followed by a certified letter.
In it, he reminded me of the contract I’d signed back when I first joined his program and paid him the five thousand dollars. He demanded immediate payment and warned me that his legal team was ready to take the necessary actions to collect in full.
This time when I called his office, he was able to come to the phone. I remained calm and reminded him of the terms of our contract. I told him that if he was willing to fulfill his part, I was more than ready to pay him in full.
I think it was at that moment that he realized the mistakes he had made. Let’s break down what he had agreed to do for me…
- to teach me everything he knew about internet marketing – subjective, but doable
- to work closely with me to create a an information product that could be sold online for twenty dollars or more, and to help write an effective sales letter. He did do this, even though the eBook on dog training wasn’t the best idea for me.
- to send an email to his list to tell them about me and my product – This one could have been simple for him to do. He bragged about have more than a hundred thousand people on his list, but that list was segmented. That means he could have sent a glowing introduction of me and my product to a list of one – to ME – and I wouldn’t have known the difference.
- to interview me by phone about what I was doing in my new business, and to provide me with a copy in two digital formats, an .mp3 that could be shared online and a .wav file that could be burned to a CD – This would have taken an hour or so of his time, and there was no reason not to do this for me. When I asked him several times during that year about when he would do this, he told me that I was “recycling” other people’s ideas and had nothing to offer the people on his list.
I then put all of what I said to him on the phone that day in writing and showed it to the attorney and the CPA before emailing it to him, along with printing it out and sending it to him via certified mail.
The attorney had this to say…
“You can bet he feels pretty stupid right about now. He could have so easily fulfilled his part of the contract with you, but by not believing you would ever succeed he gave up his rights to fifty thousand dollars. Who’s lame now?”
This man continues to have an online presence, but few know his name. Over all the years and with all of the people who paid him to help them, fewer than ten of us have achieved great success in spite of our time with him. And all of them, except for me already had an online business when they went to him for additional help. There is much more to this story, of course, but nothing more that would be beneficial for me to share here.
My advice is to be careful who you connect with and interact with, online and off. If someone seems like a sexist, racist, narcissistic bully, know that your gut feelings and experiences are valid. But most importantly, know that 99% of the people working online are wonderful and respectful and have your best interests top of mind. If I had allowed this experience to keep me from moving forward, I would not have been able to create this lifestyle by design that has changed my life.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, devoted to helping others to find their voice and share their knowledge and experience with the world as they build and grow a lucrative, life-changing online business. Let’s connect and see what happens!