Internet marketing gurus and advertisers, in general, have ruined the English language! They both use click-bait titles containing words that people can’t resist, like FREE!!! Everyone wants to get products for free as long as the receiver sees value in that product. According to the Cambridge Dictionary FREE when used as an adverb means: “costing nothing; not needing to be paid for”. Notice there are no conditions placed on the word FREE. It doesn’t say if the purchaser does XYZ then the product is free.
“Ethical bribe” is a euphemism marketer’s use when they offer a ‘free PDF of valuable cutting-edge information” in exchange for your email address. They actually mean “I am going to spam you daily with super long emails that direct you back to my website so I can get my visitor count up while I try to sell you something that is massively overpriced and essentially useless to you but you gave me your email and I am going to abuse it 😊” The moment you put “ethical” in front of “bribe” you created an oxymoron. In the case of most internet marketing types, there are no oxen around.
How does that apply to us honest street vendors that are trying to make a living? We all, at some point, look to others doing the business for advice, examples or just commiseration. Sometimes we search the internet for help and that is when the snare is set. The website owner is lurking in the shadows waiting to hear the “click” that springs the trap, sending an avalanche of emails all seemly written for just you. They aren’t. They were written months or even years ago and automatically sent by a service that just inserted your name based on programming. Here are two examples of fellow street vendors that fell for the “it’s free, what have you got to lose?” lies.
“Tom” (changing the name to protect the swindled) is a hard-working hot dog cart vendor on the streets of a small Kentucky town. Tom works every weekend often driving 100’s of miles to serve his food at county fairs or other shows. Tom thinks ahead on nearly everything he does and plans every penny he makes. He takes off every winter to be with his family and loves being a vendor.
One snowy evening last December, Tom sat down to finalize his bookkeeping for the year. He discovered after paying all his business and personal expenses, he had a few hundred dollars left to spend. Tom decided to cruise the internet, looking for equipment or training to improve his business. He ran across a website touting the “best on the planet” private vendor group and read all the information, choking when he got to the price. “$400 dollars a year!”, no way he thought and promptly looked elsewhere. A couple of days later he ran across a video by the “vendor guru” saying the group fee is really “free” because it is tax deductible as an education expense for your business. Tom thought “Free works! I’ll have my money back by mid-February!” and with that he pressed “buy now”.
Remember I said Tom always thinks ahead? He has done his own taxes since he started working and doing his business taxes is no different. He input the cost of membership on his Schedule C and went to cipherin’ (figuring math for city folks).
That’s when I got the call.
“45 dollars, that’s it, 45 dollars!” Tom screamed into the phone. “What!?” I asked. Tom went on to explain what had happened and the $45 was the increase in his refund. A far cry from the full price he paid. After I calmed him down, I explained the difference in a tax deduction (which only lowers your taxable income and returns a percentage of the deduction as a refund based on your tax bracket) and a tax refundable credit (which you cannot get for most business expenses). He was not happy. Basically, to encourage a purchase, the video maker heavily implied the price would be offset by tax savings, effectively making the purchase “free”. Most American’s depend on other people or software to figure taxes and really do not understand the system, it’s terminology and how it functions. People are thrilled to get refunds, not realizing they actually made an interest free loan to the government. Tom figured his taxes with and without the deduction to see the difference. That’s when he discovered he was taken.
Another friend, “Tony” was a complete newbie and asked me about a “free” training day being offered by another “vendor guru”. It involved receiving a day of training with an established vendor. Except you had to pay $300. “How is that “free”, I asked Tony? “Well, when you order a cart you get a $300-dollar credit.” After I picked myself off the floor, I explained that is not “free”. Free means “no cost”, paying for a cart to get free training is still paying. It is like saying “free mustard” and then charging a dollar for a handful of mustard with a promise of a dollar off a hot dog in the future. Major cart sellers across the country understand they have to offer support and training to prospective buyers. Otherwise, the failed businesses create a used cart market glut driving down the sales of new carts. Some manufacturers offer manuals and limited training, others offer commissary and licenses assistance and others have boisterous spokesmen offering the moon to get you to buy. When you offer a strange, unusual product training has to be a part of the package. For instance, cars in the early 1900’s were sold with driver training that we all “just know” now-a-days. The training included such informational gems as:
“to explain velocity and centrifugal force and why when drivers took corners at high speed their cars skidded or sometimes "turned turtle" (flipped over).”
Of course, a cart or trailer seller needs to offer some semblance of training, it makes good business sense. What does not make good business sense is wrapping your products and training in hype and confusion. Stating “I have trained thousands” of vendors is a fisherman’s tale. Writing a book or selling a “training” course is no more actual training than someone having read Gray’s Anatomy (the book not the TV show) and calling themselves a doctor. Training requires demonstration and feedback, but only a real trainer would know that.
After I talked Tom and Tony down off the ledge, I offered real training to Tony in person with demonstration and real-time feedback. I encouraged him to buy used and work his way up to bigger and better. As for Tom, I told him to check with the seller for a cancellation policy and anytime he felt like he needed training to call a real trainer not someone with a salesman’s agenda.
Tony plans on buying a used cart and using my “used Cart Inspection Checklist” download to get a great price. Tom plans on joining Facebook groups for information and running ideas by me before spending money. After all, 40 successful years in the food business has to mean something.
The moral of story is: If someone offers “free” with any conditions. RUN THE OTHER WAY. Because if they can’t speak straight about free how can you trust them when your money is involved later?
I have had a passion for helping people since an early age back in rural Kentucky. That passion grew into teaching and training managers and owners how to grow sales, increase profits, and retain guests. You’ll find a ton of information here about improving restaurant and food cart/trailer operations and profits. Got questions? Email me at Bill_Moore@live.com