As professional speakers, we are the softest target for touts posing as helpful opportunity givers and service providers. They claim to give us the required visibility, paid gigs that can help create and uplift our speaker brands.
Some of these offers are so well crafted that you find it hard to differentiate between genuine and fake ones.
In this blog, I share a few such examples of how you know whether they are genuine or not. How can you identify which ones to engage with and which ones to avoid? How can you find out if they will deliver or not?
Most often, you get approached as an expert primarily in three ways.
Personal Referrals: This is the most authentic of the lot.
It could be an opportunity to speak at an event, get featured somewhere, or get connected to a tried and tested service provider for your needs. I often get such referrals from my tribe. Recently I got referred as a speaker for MSMEx by one of my fellow speaker colleagues. The experience was beautiful, safe, and secure.
In such cases, you don’t need to do a background check. All you need to do is get the details right. In my case, I had a detailed call with organisers and had a mutual expectation setting done. And I was sorted.
No doubts, no hesitations, simple secured action!
Pitches on Email: This is more difficult to judge their authenticity.
As my official email address is mentioned on my website, Srijatabhatnagar.com, I get many emails daily. These offers range from cheap and best website development, social media management, digital marketing, office assistance, requests for guests on various platforms, participating in multiple events, collaboration with numerous platforms, and many others. I also get partnership offers from publishers, corporate gifting companies etc.
Not necessary all of them are junk. But the real question is, how to find out which is genuine, and which is not?
Here are some red flags that I look for to validate the offer’s authenticity and act accordingly.
First Red Flag: Check if the email has landed on the junk folder of your mailbox or in the primary mailbox. Email providers of today have a robust way to differentiate potentially threatening emails from genuine ones. However, not necessarily every email landing in the junk folder is useless. That’s when the second red flag needs to be validated.
Second Red Flag: Look for the email ID of the sender. Often, genuine emails will be sent from company-specific domains. For example, all our emails go from the srijatabhatnagar.com domain. If the email is from potential fraud, it will be from a generic email domain, such as gmail.com. Again, not all emails from generic domains are spam. It’s time for validating the third red flag.
Third Red Flag: What is the content of the email? Does it talk about something where you need to pay money? If so, you need to be extra careful. Does it spell out some irresistible offers that seem too good to be true? Well, time to validate them. Does this sound and feel right to you or not? Use your six senses to judge the authenticity of the message. Once all the first three red flags are validated, time to check for the fourth red flag.
Fourth Red Flag: Do you have a pressing need for the offer? If yes, only then proceed to the next step, to take the conversation forward. Otherwise, politely refuse the request and move ahead. Afterall, your time needs to be preserved like you protect your money.
If you follow this four-step process, you will save a lot of time and stress.
Pitches on social media: The most difficult to assess the authenticity.
These are the pitches that are the most dangerous of the lot and simultaneously the most lucrative ones too. Often, I receive incredible offers on social media and sometimes the lousiest of them all.
Then how do you differentiate from the ones that are useful vs the ones that must be rejected right away?
Here are some of the rules I apply to validate the proposals coming on social media and qualify them.
Rule One: How precise and clear is the first message that comes?
I receive many messages on my LinkedIn where various service providers offering multiple things reach out directly. I will talk about three such messages I have received recently.
The first message is from the CEO of a Virtual Assistant Services Company.
I hope you are staying well and healthy. We are a group of Virtual Assistants who LOVE doing any repetitive administrative tasks you may have.
Our full-time package costs a little over 5 USD an hour and will work for you for FREE for 4 hours to prove if we are a fit.”
The second message is from Project Specialist from a Media Publication House.
“Hi Ms. Srijata,
This is XXXXXXX from YYYYYYY an International Media Publication House. We got a recommendation of your name for our upcoming exclusive edition as you are a Global Speaker / Author / Board Member / Leader and much more!
Curious to know more about you.
Let’s connect & discuss this in detail.”
The third message is from a Business Analyst at a forum that provides sustainable platforms for speakers and coaches.
I can see you are well placed in public speaking space. Let me know if you are looking for more engagements and public speaking assignments. Know more about your branding too.”
Now, tell me, which among these are the most authentic, clear, and precise?
If you guessed the first one, you are right. Therefore, whenever you receive a social media message from unknown sources, look for clarity and preciseness in them.
Rule Two: How dependable is the profile of the person sending you the message?
In the above three examples, the first sender has a full-fledged LinkedIn profile complete with company profile, relevant links, featured articles, many years of experience in the work they are offering, recommendations etc.
However, the last two senders have a half-baked LinkedIn Profile. Much of the critical information is missing from their profile. They have no relevant links, no featured articles, a few months of experience in the work they are offering, no recommendations and in some cases, no profile picture too!
Rule Three: Is there a correlation between the social media message, the website, and the email message they sent?
After I completed the validation of rules one and two, I replied to all the three senders saying that I wanted to know more about their respective offers. I asked them to share their respective websites and a detailed email with the offer’s specifics, what I would need to invest, and how much. (Time and money both)
The first sender came back with a detailed list of services, their respective charges, and samples of earlier work, along with client testimonials. They also requested, if the information seemed satisfactory, to have a one-to-one call with them to understand my needs better so that they could help with a customised solution.
The second sender came back with a list of deliverables, explaining how excellent their services were, dropping big names as their clients. Also, they sent proof of their past work. But they refrained from sharing the client testimonials and the monetary or time investment required for availing the services. They also insisted on having a one-to-one to discuss further.
The third sender sent an email with how great the organisation was and its website link, seeking my one-to-one time with them.
While going through their respective emails, I could see focus and clarity in the first senders’ emails and other collaterals.
The second senders’ email seemed more like boasting. Also, they were slightly hesitant to share ‘what does it mean for me as a client?’ information in the email. Even though we had a couple of email exchanges, they insisted on having a one-to-one conversation.
There was quite a discrepancy in various message formats of the third sender. The social media message promised something, the website had some other claims, and the email messages talked about something else. I was pretty confused with it all.
But I still wanted to be sure about what it is all about and if I should give them the benefit of the doubt or not!
So I retorted to rule number four.
Rule Four: How do they approach one-to-one conversations?
BTW the rule number four is an optional one. If it’s already evident whether the leads are genuine or not by the time you have validated the first three rules, there is no need to take this further.
As I wanted to be 100% sure, I went ahead and scheduled one-to-one calls with all three.
The conversation with the first sender’s team was a brief one. The discussion focused on my needs. They were keenly listening and chalking down how they could help me fulfil them. They even offered a free trial period to see if my needs and their services align or not. Remember, they had spelt out the investment after the trial period in the first message itself. I knew what I was getting into.
The call with the second sender was quite a dragged one. The person kept talking instead of asking me what my needs were. They kept showing proofs of their past work and boasting about the benefits of availing of their services. When I interrupted to check what would it mean for me, they again dodged the topic. They also got another senior person into the call to convince me that their services were unmissable. Finally, after 25 mins of boasting, they spilt the beans.
An award and a full-page media feature will make me poorer by 100 thousand INR! Remember their first email? They had mentioned I have been ‘recommended’ for this award. If someone recommended me and felt I deserved it, why would they charge for an award and a feature? Plus, I am someone who doesn’t believe in paid awards and features.
I needed to talk to someone who had already collaborated with them before. This is where rule five comes into the picture.
When I spoke to the third sender, their website was down. As I alerted them, I could hear their side talks to make the website live. Thankfully, the website wasn’t working, which forced me to check their social media pages. And that’s where I found some weird similarities between this organisation and another organisation with whom I had an unpleasant experience in 2020. When I asked them about their relationship with that company, the call was transferred to someone senior with a more authoritative voice. He casually told me that the new company had acquired the old company.
Hmm, another point of suspicion. But the offer they gave seemed to be too good to be true. Well, again, I felt the need to invoke rule number five.
Rule Five: Can I speak to someone who has collaborated with them before?
I identified a couple of known people who have collaborated with the sender two and three before. I reached out to them for a one-to-one conversation and picked their brains on the solutions provided by the organisations.
After having a heart-to-heart conversation with them and understanding the reality, I chose to stay away from sender two and sender three’s services.
Either they weren’t dependable enough to engage, or I didn’t need their services at this point. I am immensely thankful to such amazing colleagues who shared their opinions without holding them back and saved me from falling prey to the same mistake.
Should you wish to safeguard your best interests, keep these rules in mind whenever some unknown people approach you on social media. At the same time, do not blanket ban social media leads. I have received many lucrative and beneficial leads from social media, so can you.
Have you ever experienced something like this? How did you deal with it? Do let me know in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS: I read all my emails and respond to them regularly. Feel free to share your thoughts. Let’s create a safer and more productive world together for each other.