If you’re a growth-oriented person like me (OK, growth addict would be more accurate), you probably consume lots of information products, including books, ebooks, audio programs, self-study courses, classes, workshops, seminars, and more. Once you get started on this path, it’s easy to become a lifetime growth junkie because the payoff from such products can be enormous. One good idea can induce a permanent mindset shift that transforms your life forever.
The downside is that info products can be very hit-and-miss. It often takes a great deal of perspiration to find the inspiration that leads to genuine change. But those inspired ideas are out there, and it’s well worth the effort to find them.
Info products also hit you with a double-whammy. First, despite the abundance of free content on the Internet, the best info products often cost money… sometimes a lot of money. Secondly, it can take a serious time commitment to digest the information. I once bought an audio program that consisted of 96 cassette tapes, and it took about 18 months to finally listen to them all. Fortunately this program was well worth the investment, but I’ve certainly suffered through plenty of duds.
In this article I’ll share some insights to help you make better info product purchases, so you can achieve a better bang for your buck and your time.
1. Allocate some income for info products
In his book Time Power, Brian Tracy recommends investing 3% of your income in personal growth products and activities. Here’s a direct quote from the book:
“Here’s my promise to you: If you invest 3 percent of your income back into yourself, within a few years, you will not have enough time in the year to spend the amount of money that 3 percent represents. Three percent does not seem like a lot, but the impact of investing this small amount will have on your life and career will be so extraordinary it will amaze you.”
Setting a budget for personal growth makes it easier to spend wisely. If you really want to attend an expensive seminar or buy a pricey self-study course, you can budget for it and enjoy the purchase guilt-free. And depending on the nature of your work, some of your purchases may be tax deductible as an educational expense.
Even though my work causes people to send me free info products nearly every week, I still spend money to buy the ones I find most attractive. I’m not super-precise about budgeting an exact percentage like Brian Tracy recommends, but I do find it helpful to think of personal growth expenditures as an investment with an expected return, just as if I were investing money for retirement.
2. Maintain an info products wish list
For years I’ve maintained an info products wish list, and I highly recommend you do the same. It will help you avoid making too many impulse purchases. When I think of a book I may want to buy, I add it to my wish list. When I compare it to the items already on my list, sometimes it doesn’t seem like such a great purchase. Then when I’m ready for something new, I can scan the list for the most appropriate item based on my current circumstances.
Depending on how receptive your social circle is to the idea, you may be able to drop a few hints to your friends and family that certain info products would make good birthday and holiday gifts for you. Many years ago my younger brother, David, started emailing family members his wish lists a few weeks before his birthday, including prices arranged into tiers and locations to buy the items. At first we all reacted negatively, poking fun at him for being so shallow and materialistic. When it came time to buy him a gift though, what do you think happened? Of course we all bought him items from his list because he made it so easy! We even coordinated between us to avoid duplicate purchases. And we couldn’t help by notice that David got exactly what he asked for, while the rest of us tried to enjoy our mystery gifts. It didn’t take long before we all started passing around wish lists, and the tradition has continued for over a decade now. Your initial reaction to the idea might be as negative as mine was, but in practice it’s a real benefit to people like me who are shopping challenged.
If you know someone is going to buy you a gift, consider setting aside your embarrassment and sending them your info products wish list. The gifts may not be much of a surprise, but you’ll get over that quickly enough. People are always free to buy you something off list, but you’re doing them a favor by making it easy to shop for you.
Also see if you can convince your employer to buy you some items from your wish list. An intelligent employer should be willing to spend some money on info products and training, especially if your work has any connection with sales. If you have a good relationship with your boss, give him/her your info products wish list, and suggest that if the company is open to investing in your professional development, you’d consider the items on your list a worthwhile investment. Also ask your boss to recommend potential additions to your list. If your boss reacts negatively to the idea, then unfortunately you’re working for a cave troll. A lack of investment in your professional development is a sign your employer sees you as a replaceable cog. You deserve better.
3. Spend within your means
Last week when I announced the PhotoReading program with a special discount for StevePavlina.com visitors, several people asked me if I thought it was worth the price. These questions came mostly from students for whom a $100-200 info product represents a major purchase. My answer is that it depends on your financial situation. Relative to my income, $200 isn’t a big expense, so I don’t have to think too hard about it. But for a student on a tight budget, $200 can be lot of money.
If the cost of an info product causes you serious concern, don’t buy it. I wouldn’t expect starving students to purchase a $200 info product — it’s too expensive for them. Spend within your means. If your growth budget is minimal, stick with inexpensive books and ebooks. And if you have no income at all, take full advantage of your local library as well as free articles, ebooks, and podcasts online.
Don’t de-stabilize your finances in the pursuit of personal growth. Apply the strategy of intelligent asset allocation by keeping your growth investments reasonable relative to your income. As your income increases, you’ll be able to afford better info products, but there’s still plenty of value to be gotten for free.
4. Spend the money you’ve allocated for growth
Once you’ve set a budget for info products, spend the money. While overspending is foolish, so is under-spending. I think Brian Tracy’s quote is a bit exaggerated, but I do agree that investing in personal growth pays off handsomely in the long run.
Given the ubiquity of free material on the Internet, why would you ever want to spend your cash on info products? I’ll give you four solid reasons.
1) Better quality. First, commercial products are often of higher quality than their free counterparts. The profit motive can allow authors to justify putting more effort into their products, including professional editing, formatting, fact checking, and indexing.
2) Less risk. Commercial products that have been selling for a while already have the approval of the marketplace, especially if they enjoy considerable word-of-mouth sales. You assume less risk of wasting your time when buying a best-seller vs. downloading an obscure ebook.
3) Convenience. Commercial products are usually easy to find, whereas you can waste a lot of time trying to track down an equivalent freebie. The time savings can easily compensate for the financial cost.
4) Access. Money can grant you privileged access to the latest and greatest ideas that haven’t yet reached the free markets. New and exclusive ideas aren’t always better, but sometimes they are. Some valuable ideas are almost exclusively expressed in proprietary works and rarely circulate in free forms. This is especially true of hands-on experiential training where it would be cost-prohibitive to duplicate the experience for free. For example, try learning to pilot a plane without spending any money; the fuel cost alone can be considerable. What about music lessons? Martial arts training? A college degree? Free can only get you so far. As Earl Nightingale said, “Nothing can take the place of money in the area in which money works.”
Seminars in particular can provide amazing learning experiences if you can afford them. In a single weekend you can gain knowledge that might otherwise take years to acquire. Learn from experts who’ve mastered their respective fields.
When you pay good money for information, you’ve also made a stronger commitment to learning the material. If I pay a lot of money for information, I often give it more weight than something I’ve obtained for free. I think it’s human nature that we need to extract enough value to justify our purchases.
5. Look for strong money-back guarantees
The nice thing about buying a book from a bookstore is that if the book is lousy, you can return it for a full refund (at least at most bookstores I frequent). Shipped products are a little less convenient to return, but if the money is significant, it’s nice to have that protection.
Many years ago I spent $1000 to buy some Jay Abraham seminar recordings. That was a significant amount of money to me at the time, but Jay offered a strong guarantee that minimized my risk. I fully intended that if I didn’t get at least $1000 of value from those tapes, I’d return them for a refund. Jay’s guarantee said that by applying his ideas, I’d earn at least $10,000 extra within the first 60 days. I thought that was just marketing hype, but to my delight I actually got that result. Since then I’ve probably made back 100x my original investment by continuing to apply Jay’s ideas. Even though I could have found Jay’s ideas online for free, the value was in adopting his mindset; it took some immersion to fully internalize the concepts to the point where I could comfortably apply them.
A guarantee is only as strong as the person or company behind it. Usually you won’t have problems with reputable companies that have been around for many years; unknown ebook authors are more of a risk. I’ve bought a number of info products I felt were so weak that a return was justified, and with reputable companies and individuals the refund policy has always been honored. Just be careful not to go overboard and abuse this policy, or companies may decline future orders from you.
A liberal return policy is a form of risk-reversal. It takes the risk of loss off your back and places it on the shoulders of the seller. Take advantage of risk-free offers liberally, and let those product prove their worth. If you don’t get the value you expected, then by all means return the product before the guarantee expires. But also be open to the possibility that you’ll find the product worth keeping, if only because you feel the author deserves to be paid.
If an info product doesn’t include a money-back guarantee, I generally regard that as a bad sign, and I’d advise you to do the same.
6. Filter intelligently
Before making a purchase, consider the reputation, background, and experience of the product’s author. I also suggest you favor practical real-world experience over academic knowledge, assuming your goal is to make real-world improvements.
Perhaps the most reliable filter is to seek out personal recommendations, especially from people you know. You’ll still have some misses due to differences of opinion, but you’ll safely avoid the obvious duds. I’ve bought literally hundreds of books based on recommendations from others. For example, I bought Power vs. Force because Dr. Wayne Dyer gave it a glowing endorsement during one of his speeches, and I wasn’t disappointed.
When they’re available I give a lot of weight to customer reviews. I know fake reviews sometimes get posted, but usually I can get a good feel for a product if there are at least 10 reviews total. And of course this works for a lot more than just info products. I recently bought a Casio G-Shock atomic, solar-powered wristwatch from Amazon based on the strength of the reviews (4.5 stars average), and I’ve been very happy with it. I also upgraded to an 8GB iPod Nano to replace my 1GB model, again due to the strength of the reviews (4.5 stars). If these products had gotten only 3 stars, I wouldn’t have bought them. When buying info products from Amazon, I rarely buy anything with less than 4 stars.
Unfortunately there are a lot of information products that don’t have reviews, but with a simple Google search you can usually find some information on them. In the end you must still make up your own mind, but a quick background check can make your decision easier.
7. Filter efficiently
Some people are so paranoid about making a bad purchase that they’ll spend 5 hours researching a $20 purchase that would only take them 4 hours to digest. If you’re potential purchase represents a significant expense, then by all means do your homework. But don’t waste time over-researching a product if the cost is inconsequential.
I recommend using timeboxing for product research. Timeboxing means you allocate a certain amount of time for research, and by the end of that time you must make a final decision. For example, you might spend 10 minutes researching a product, and when the time is up, decide.
8. Ignore marketing fluff
What I dislike most about info products is that so many of them utilize fluff-ridden, highly exaggerated marketing. Watch nearly any infomercial, and you’ll see what I mean. The worst ones are those having to do with wealth building. As Seth Godin says, All Marketers Are Liars. Everything is fast and easy, and results are supposedly instantaneous. Reading sales copy for such programs is the one thing on this planet that makes me suicidal.
The truth is that no single info product is going to solve all your problems overnight. But even products with overblown marketing can still provide genuine value, so refusing to buy them isn’t the best filter. I’ve gotten meaningful ideas and insights from products with hideous sales copy, and I’ve gotten poor results from products with very humble copy.
My recommendation is to do your best to look past the marketing silliness. Don’t give it any weight whatsoever. Often the sales copy is written by someone other than the original author, someone who may not truly understand what they’re selling and who genuinely believes that flagrant exaggeration is good for sales. With practice you can learn to tune out the fluff and get a reasonable sense of the actual product features.
Sometimes you’ll encounter sales copy that’s 100% fluff. It promises vague benefits and tries to arouse your emotions, but the actual features are never listed, so you never get a clear idea of the product’s true identity. As a general rule, I suggest you avoid anything marketed like this. More often than not the product will be junk. Don’t throw money away just because you’re curious.
9. Accept that you’ll buy some duds
No matter how intelligently you filter your purchases, sometimes you’re going to miss. You may even miss most of the time. This usually doesn’t mean the products were intentional rip-offs — they may have just been unsuitable for you.
Unfortunately your hit ratio may not improve much as you gain experience. Although you’ll get better at picking quality products, the downside is that it will be harder to find original ideas you haven’t already seen. Because I’ve digested so many personal growth products, I often run into the same ideas again and again. The ideas may be excellent, and reinforcement can be helpful, but I don’t gain much additional value from hearing the same concepts 100 times over.
It’s perfectly OK to miss. But when you do miss, cut your losses and get out. If you can tell a product is a loser from the first chapter or the first CD, stop reading or listening. If there’s a money-back guarantee, return it. In my experience it’s extremely rare that a product that makes a bad first impression will turn itself around by the end. If the first 10% is weak, it will probably just get worse as you go along.
10. Enjoy some unusual products
Some of my most rewarding growth experiences came from investing in unusual products I wouldn’t have normally purchased. When browsing through a bookstore, I’ll occasionally force myself to visit a section that feels alien to me. Other times I’ll accept recommendations I’d ordinarily resist.
For example, I normally don’t read much fiction (I’m at least 90% nonfiction), but Erin is an avid fiction reader. She frequently recommends fiction books to me, sometimes practically begging me to read them, but I almost always turn her down because I feel non-fiction is a better use of my time. But when I finally do succumb to one of her suggestions, I often enjoy a lateral growth experience I’d have otherwise missed. At the very least, I enjoy sharing the experience with Erin.
My opinion is that the very best place you can invest your hard-earned cash is in your personal growth. Your money may come and go, but when you invest in yourself, you lock in your gains by converting cash into practical knowledge and skills. Investing money in personal development is like spending golden eggs to buy the goose that lays them. Pretty soon you’ll have a nice collection of golden geese at your disposal. Consider the long-term value of being more skillful, more disciplined, more courageous, more productive, more focused, and so on. The more you invest in your own growth, the more secure you’ll feel because your greatest assets will be internal. But the most priceless reward of personal growth is that it increases your ability to help others. Gaining knowledge for yourself is all well and good, but your true potential can only be realized through sharing and contribution.