Monday, May 16, 2022

Seminars on how to make money, or money-making seminars?

Many so-called gurus have a cult following but leave their members disappointed despite the thousands demanded in fees.

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About 10 years ago, Azizul Azli Ahmad went with a friend to attend a business seminar in Ipoh, organised by a marketing guru.

At the time, he was continuing his studies at the PhD level.

The seminar that day was free of charge. But half the day’s session was taken up by the speaker sharing testimonies of his success stories.

“At the end of the session, he opened a paid seminar for those who were interested in learning about marketing,” Azizul told MalaysiaNow.

He said everything the speaker had touted throughout the session could be found in books on motivation and finance.

“People are just too lazy to read, so they’re willing to pay thousands of ringgit instead,” he said.

“If they just read a few books, it would only cost them a fraction of that amount.”

But it would appear that few agree with him. In many cases, speakers have a cult following, with the number of “self-made” gurus on the rise especially with the prevalence of social media.

The so-called SOPs at their seminars appear mostly the same. Audiences are entertained with singing events before the “sifus” begin peddling the stories of their successful students.

They then offer basic tips before giving participants the option of “upgrading” to more expensive packages.

At this point, many have become enamoured with the speaker’s charisma and gladly fork out the extra money.

“I don’t know when this culture of ‘upselling’ began,” said Azizul who now teaches at a local university.

“But I feel sorry for those who truly come out of a desire to learn business skills and are willing to swipe their credit cards to pay whatever they are told to in fees.”

‘Fake PhDs’

The slick marketing tactics used by these speakers to create credibility include the touting of suspicious or fake PhDs. Sometimes, politicians and even ministers are invited to events as well.

Their faces are also featured on billboards far and wide.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, entrepreneur Suhaila Mahmud recalled how she was enticed into joining a free seminar after watching an advertisement on television.

“It only ran for half a day and was more about motivating participants,” Suhaila, who operates a food truck business, said.

“After everyone was there, the speaker started offering paid seminars costing RM999 to RM3,999.”

She said these seminars were geared towards encouraging participants and giving them ideas about how to expand their business.

After a certain point, she was able to open a business supplying food and beverages.

But this came at a steep price. Excited about the growth of her business, Suhaila began attending paid seminars as a member, with fees as high as RM60,000.

The payments could be made on an annual or monthly basis.

Membership fees alone cost as much as RM15,000.

And eventually, the shine began to wear off for Suhaila, who said the huge numbers of people joining made it difficult for the mentors to pay attention to everyone.

“I began to get upset when the mentors focused more on entrepreneurs who were already successful, or who at least had a big business but were not sure of how to run them,” she said.

Stocks, forex

The craze for seminars extends beyond marketing sessions, with speakers aplenty in the stock market field and even on foreign exchange.

Many of them are experts at strategising and painting themselves as celebrities, with at least two stock gurus involved in producing music videos alongside artistes as part of efforts to boost their visibility among retail stock investors.

Speakers in this field became a dime a dozen in 2020, during the movement control order period which saw a rise in the number of retail investors.

The trade volume on Bursa Malaysia reached an all-time high on Aug 4, 2020 with 15.62 billion shares traded.

Ahmad Aliff A S Ahmad Shariffuddin, co-founder of online database service provider Scrut and Interepo, said these gurus use misleading advertising tactics coupled with compelling write-ups and e-book sales to encourage people to invest in stocks.

“Not all of them trade stocks, and they did not become rich by trading real stocks,” he told MalaysiaNow.

He also said it was difficult to understand why those who made money by trading stocks would want to offer classes on it.

His advice for those keen on attending such classes is to first ask the speaker for his or her trade achievement record for the past few years.

“If they are reluctant to reveal this, let them continue trading on their own,” he said.

“Don’t invite others to suffer losses along with you. If they themselves are failures, what can they possibly have to teach?”

He also challenged such speakers to provide their preferred counter on a daily basis to allow an open evaluation of their options as well as their trading techniques or methods.

“Technical analysis in stock trading requires a knowledge of statistics and probability,” he said.

“It also involves data that can be substantiated through the tabulation of profits and losses. It’s not 100% accurate but the amount of gains must vastly outweigh the losses in a significant ratio.”

In any case, it is difficult for authorities to act on seminars as technically speaking, these gurus are not involved in illegal activities even though the backgrounds of some are completely unknown.

Suhaila spoke of instances where speakers who demanded thousands in fees were unable to answer even basic marketing questions.

When pressed, they would give vague replies that did not truly answer the question, she said.

Her own story did not end well as after a month, thousands of ringgit went up in smoke and her mentors were unable to help.

“They scolded me and accused me of not following their advice,” she said.

Eventually, unable to pay rent or employee contributions, she was forced to close shop.

For Azizul, the use of social media has played a significant role.

“These people sell inspiration by showing off their lifestyles and showcasing their success,” he said.

“Some of them are willing to rent luxury cars to boast about on social media, but if we reveal their tactics, they threaten to sue us.”

His own observation has been that many attend classes on stock trading in the hope of changing their luck.

“But in the end, a large number of them lose out. Only the gurus who sell their classes get rich and reap profits.”

Suhaila meanwhile decided to close the book on her mentors and cancel her membership in 2017.

Looking back, she said, entrepreneurs should look for experts in the field of their choice.

“If it’s food and beverages, look for an expert in that. Different business fields have different challenges.”

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