Snake oil and the knitted woollen cat

Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment. Before 1920.

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In my early days in business I was offered, at the price of a considerable investment, an opportunity to have a very successful business. At the time it really seemed the way to go and I borrowed what was a lot of money to me to pay to have the opportunity.

Guess what! It tuned out not to be the money-spinner I had hoped for. Subsequently I found out that it was not just a failure on my part to grasp an opportunity. I know many who invested their time and money and none who had the success that was held out as a near certainty if we worked hard. And we did work hard!

Ultimately the investment was not a total disaster. I did make some money out of it and in fact still do, though it has not been without considerable application. It is one of the tools I use but was not the get-rich-quick deal I fell for in those days of extreme naivety as an ex-employee trying to survive on his own in the business world. If I had known then…


Of course I had no context when I went for the deal. I believed that I was being told the absolute truth about the opportunity. With the benefit of hindsight that was particularly stupid of me. The joke is that the same “salesman” is now offering a similar great deal to his past “customers”. However, there is an old saying “Once bitten , twice shy”. I doubt there will be many sales this time.


The lesson is that there are many offers out there, and particularly on-line which promise great wealth, sometimes for only working six hours a week. They sound tempting, but may well be snake oil with no substance. If you have a great offer or see one, always speak to others who have tried it. Find your own and don’t rely on testimonials from stooges of the sales person and especially not from those on the get-rich-quick website. You need proper context.

The cat

What about the cat in the title? Well, I had a dream in which our cats were playing with a green-and-white knitted woollen cat which was every bit as lively as they were. It was ridiculous, but it was a dream where of course I could place no context or knowledge that the concept was impossible.

Snake oil

If you are offered a dream, check the context and the facts behind the offer, and do proper research before committing. There are a lot of people with redundancy money wondering what to do with their lives and how to earn a living. The sharks are circling. Beware!

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How we can raise our credibility as a small business in the service sector


Seeing the product

Anyone who has started a small business will know that it is not always easy to be taken seriously by potential customers or clients. It is probably a little easier if you are in retail because your customers can browse around your shop. Even with an on-line shop it is easier because your customer already knows what he or she wants and is then probably looking for a particular brand and the best deal. You have been found. A successful sale should lead to another with good customer service as a back-up.

Service expectations

It is more difficult if you provide a service. You have no product to show. One question I once had from a client’s wife stopped me dead in my tracks. She asked “Are you retired?” Maybe I was looking a bit old and haggard after a very busy time, but I was rather puzzled. Why did she think I was there with the client? I guess she thought I must be playing because:

  1. the services I provide are the same as those of big corporates, though in my case with the personal touch.
  2. I am of a more mature vintage though not gone entirely gray (well hardly at all actually).

Being taken seriously

There are actions we can all take to gain the credibility we need.

  • Ask for testimonials from our early customers which we can publish, and keep the habit of asking for them.
  • Build our local reputation by going out and networking, but not selling. Just being a person your business friends will remember and talk about will give local credibility. Don’t forget to help your fellow networkers, though.
  • Publish case studies in our brochure or website. Have prospects think “I could really do with something similar”.
  • Write articles to showcase our knowledge – content marketing.
  • Have a polite response memorized in case we get asked a potentially wrong-footing question like “are you retired?” I responded by saying that I had built my business for a number of years and had many happy clients.

There will always be those who would prefer to buy from a large corporate rather than a small business. That is probably their loss in terms of quality of service, but we need to be philosophical and concentrate on our personal brand, which is what counts more than anything in the small business service sector.

Smile and move on. Don’t you agree?

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