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State of the Industry Survey: The Results

In May 2021 I gathered responses from over 100 online business owners to discover what is and isn’t working in our industry. The results were illuminating, which is why I want to share the biggest take-aways with you, so you can make mindful choices about the kinds of offers, messaging, marketing, and mindset you want to align with.

What’s not working

  1. Unethical marketing

When I asked you, “What do you hate about our online business industry?” the overwhelming response (around 80%) came back as some version of “sleaze”. The biggest trend we saw was a sense of exhaustion and a desire to do business more ethically. 

You called out the general trends like “Fake promises and playing on people’s fears” and “fluff and hollow offer”, to more specific tactics like fake FOMO, scarcity, urgency, vanity metrics and fear-based copy. You mentioned our industry feeling like a “MLM” and “Pyramid scheme” several times.

The results show a general problem with authenticity — or more accurately fake authenticity — to manipulate an emotional reaction. One respondent said what they most hate is, “Not knowing who to trust and listen to, who’s authentic and who’s just shouting the loudest, got the most connections and biggest marketing spend.”

Several people mentioned marketing that doesn’t make it clear who the service or product will work for and unethical onboarding for people who aren’t the right fit. You’re tired of shiny objects taking up so much space when you just want to get the business basics down. 

  1. Straight-up lies

Some version of “lying” came up consistently in your answers, with one respondent hitting the 7-figure bullseye, saying “Fads, fakery and finger-pointing” was the biggest annoyance. It seems many of you see through what you call the “smoke and mirrors” approach of fake claims and “coaches teaching coaches to coach the way they coach and the way their coaches coached them.” (which would be funny if it wasn’t so true).

  1. Quality of offer

Your answers revealed that many of you are seeing not enough of things that matter to you like: qualifications; actionable and practical info; and transparency about true profit. And you’re seeing far too many people selling a one-size-fits-all approach and “This ONE thing will change everything!” style cookie-cutter strategies. You’re tired of “Coaches who are style over substance, see their clients as pound notes and don’t deliver on their promises.” 

  1. Money-based marketing 

Around 25% of answers mentioned some version of money-based marketing as their biggest annoyance. This ranged from the ubiquity of “rags-to-riches” stories to people who market using “6-figure business in 1 year” or “I made £10K in 10 minutes” messages or the 7-figure coaches claiming to show you how to do it too.  As one respondent put it, “I’m not interested in being a celebrity coach. I just want to earn a good income from helping my clients grow and scale their businesses.”

  1. The pressure to be “always on” social media

This was a big response from so many of you. Around 30% of answers cited social media as a source of stress, with answers ranging from feeling exhausted from constantly chatting to people and checking notifications to second-guessing yourself on whether the right message is going out there. The jury is in: you’re tired of the demands of social media to keep up with trends and produce high-quality content.

  1. The online popularity contest

One respondent brilliantly likened the online space to feeling like they were “back at high-school looking at the popular kids and wondering what they have that I don’t.” This was echoed in lots of answers with comparison more generally coming up in around 10% of answers.

  1. Feeling overwhelmed by technology and online skills

Around 15% of you said that technology, algorithms, platforms, ads and automations were your biggest problem, with lots of your answers mentioning overwhelm, lack of trust, and visibility fears being at the root of this.

  1. Loneliness

Unsurprisingly given the lock-downs we’ve endured, around 4% of you mentioned things like missing having co-workers, in-person contact and “isolation” as a big concern. 

  1. Treatment of service providers

Concerns about customers questioning your pricing and feeling they can negotiate rates came up a couple of times, as did limited brand loyalty (compared with corporates). The most shocking finding here was around pricing assumptions some people make for service providers from the Philippines or any Asian country. A couple of people said they hated micromanaging, unrealistic expectations and treating service providers like employees. 

What is working

When I asked you what you ‘love’ about this online business industry, there were three main themes that showed up throughout your answers.

  1. Flexibility and Freedom

Without doubt the biggest response to the question of what you love about our online business industry was flexibility. Around 70% of answers mentioned the ability to do work you love wherever you want and whenever you want as a huge win. Some people mentioned “less driving”, others specifically mentioned being able to fit work around family life, and some of you love being able to work remotely in different countries. Sentiments around “being your own boss” came up multiple times, as did being able to choose who you work with. It seems you absolutely love the sense of control you have around your schedule and lifestyle that online business can bring.

  1. Connection 

Similarly, connection and community came up in over 50% of answers. You love connecting with like minded souls all over the world and collaborating with inspiring people. Connecting with a global audience and being able to share your work with people virtually was a huge trend throughout the survey.

  1. Scale of impact 

It was beautiful to see how many of you deeply care about helping people far and wide access what they need. Some version of “More opportunity for people to heal” came up time and time again, with many of you simply loving the potential to reach millions of people. 

  1. Inspiration

Lots of you mentioned the sense of possibility in the online space as being inspiring, as well as the ability to learn about new subjects so easily. Seeing women supporting women came up a couple of times too, as did the sense that anything could happen and how exciting that can be.

Final Word

Clearly, there’s a lot to be grateful for about the online business industry and, judging by your answers to this survey, most of us simply want to do great work, make a great living, and have a balanced lifestyle.

It seems our work now is to find ways to minimise “the noise” of social media, celebrity coaches, and unethical marketing so we can do just that.

I run these surveys annually to check the feeling amongst my audience and use these insights to better serve them. From this survey we will specifically be looking at how to do business without as much social media (something I’ve been asked for consistently for some time inside of Consistency Club – and I have a roadmap for this coming soon) and our messaging to ensure we speak to our ideal client, but also leaving out those elements of messaging that cause stress and discomfort. 



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