The hottest new influencer isn’t the gym bro or food guru. It’s the affiliate marketing mom of two working from her pool deck. If you’ve stumbled upon her Instagram, she’s most likely bragging about her two-hour workday and the new house she just bought with her six-figure income stream. And you know she’s got a link in her bio directing you to the class she took to learn it all.
These new “entrepreneurs” are flooding social media. Some have just a dozen followers, others hundreds of thousands. But they are all part of a new scheme that promises to make you millions working from home as a freelance marketer. The catch — the course they’re selling is how they’re making their money; they’re not actually using it to build a business. And their advice for you? Resell the course they just sold you!
You might think, “that sounds like a pyramid scheme.” Come on, don’t be so pessimistic!
Affiliate marketing itself is a valid if less than lucrative career. It’s an advertising model in which companies offer third-party marketers, usually those pursuing it as a side-hustle, a commission on sales. Bloggers, YouTubers and influencers receive a unique link from companies to a product that they advertise on their social media platforms. Any revenue generated from the link means cash for the content creator.
In theory, affiliate marketing benefits the company more than the freelance marketer, since companies don’t have to pay for advertising until a sale is made. Some of the biggest corporations, including Amazon, have affiliate marketing programs. But some influencers have found a way to maximize their profits using the magic of multilevel marketing techniques.
Most of these affiliate influencers don’t sell products that they use around the house. Instead, they sell classes that teach you how to become an affiliate marketer — or at least how to become one for the class. In many cases, by the time you’ve completed the class, the only thing you’ve learned how to do is to sell it to the next unsuspecting reseller. Very few appear to use the class to learn how to build a business.
The extent of this new multilevel marketing scheme is not apparent until you realize that most of the accounts commenting on these classes are selling it themselves. And once you stumble upon such an account, more start popping up in your feed.
The mastermind behind one such course is David Sharpe, the CEO of Legendary Marketer, a multi-million-dollar company that teaches marketing through online classes and mentorship programs. Sharpe, who has his praise plastered in the likes of Inc. and Forbes, sells himself as the face of the new American dream, having gotten rich working from home on his laptop. The nine-to-five system is broken, and we have “been lied to,” according to Sharpe. The solution: his online classes.
Many affiliate influencers are themselves affiliates for Sharpe’s $7 “Fifteen-Day Online Business Builder Challenge.” The course promises to have your online business up and running in just two weeks. Sharpe and his army of affiliates say that it will save “countless hours, weeks, months, even years from sifting through the insane overload of information online from shady sources.”
But those who have taken the course have a different story to tell. According to one Reddit user, Legendary Marketer is the suspect source. The user says the $7 class relentlessly upsells a $2,500 “Business Blueprint” to users. Progress in the tutorials is hindered by mandatory meetings with Business Plan Advisors who are notoriously hard to schedule and who do little more than push the pricier classes. Even playback on the videos is disabled.
Some affiliate influencers working for Sharpe have become successful enough to capitalize on his business plan. Chelsea Ouimet and Kayla Hutchins, two friends with over 550,000 Instagram followers, launched their own mentorship program on Facebook. They charge $75 a month for access to the private group that includes four one-on-one calls and live Q&As. But what business experience do Ouimet and Hutchins have that comes with such a high price? Aside from the Fifteen Day Challenge, they don’t appear to be affiliates for anything.
But success comes with its downsides. Ouimet and Hutchins are now the victims of fraud accounts posing as the influencers. They recently issued posts warning their “followers to be aware of scammers.” Sage advice indeed.