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What is predatory marketing, and am I using it—maybe without even knowing it?

Updated: Apr 5

(Thanks to Megan Kranzler of Olive Ridley Studios for this question.)

As solo/entrepreneurs we can be so vulnerable to the voices, recommendations, and workshops/courses/lead magnets/offers of others, people we consider authorities in their field.

But who’s more of an authority on your business than you? Nobody. Seriously: no one. So try listening to your gut feelings and intuition, and not marketing trends.

If you’re following the current rules—promoted broadly and assertively by the majority of marketing folk—and feeling even the slightest degree of ick when you’re promoting your services, you might well be using some coercive and/or predatory practices that go against your own values and principles. Which would, sadly, line you right up with industry norms. 

Pain points, anyone? 

Are you following that rule, the one where you focus on your potential client’s struggles?

This tactic is so popular it’s become standard, a given. I’ve been part of some tough conversations (in group settings) about those effing pain points. Eyes bug out when I suggest there are alternatives.

Tell me: are we hunters, seeking to use our advantages to attack, dominate, and slay our prey? Are we stalking clients with our tactics and manipulations, so they will fear us and bend to our will—i.e. pay us so we can end their suffering? Ugh emoji

Don’t get me started on those pain points. [Pulls out soap box and megaphone, takes deep breath.]

Why are we always being told to focus on the suffering of our potential clients?

Luring people to your services using pain points is forcing an imbalance in the relationship: ‘Only I can end your suffering, only I can give you what you want.’ Why would we start here, and promise this? And why would we want to? Honestly, this is bullying.

[Hello, patriarchy! Nice to see you and your pal capitalism extracting what you can.]

Are you pointing out your potential client’s suffering?

‘Burned out? Overwhelmed? Hopeless? Feeling useless and incapable?’

And then offering your paid services as a solution to that suffering? Ew.

If you’re forcing action through bullying, that’s predatory: people are being pressured to react from a place of fear. Do you want scared clients?

Think about times when you’ve felt pressured, less-than, needy. Yuck, right? You might, in fact, have made that commitment or purchase—and did you feel good about it later?

Now think about the moments when you’ve felt seen and heard as an individual. When you’ve resonated with someone or something. How might your ideal client feel about that, vs hearing, for the nth time, about their overwhelm, their inability to cope, their fears and worries?

The flipside of this is toxic positivity, which is mind-numbingly awful in its own way. I am not a badass, I don’t give a shit about being beautiful, and stop calling me a boss.

How ‘bout we focus on building real relationships, not oppressive ones. party time emoji!

On reaching out with an open hand, an open mind, and generosity. No coercion, just conversation.

This can look, in part, like meeting potential clients where they’re at, which is very likely in the very colourful middle, between the black-of-overwhelm and the white-of-beautiful-boss-bitch.

Can you recognize the struggles your ideal client may have, and present solutions, what ifs, and possible positive outcomes, rather than focusing on the negative? What might that look like?

Instead of messaging that says, ‘Are you feeling overwhelmed, lost, scared?’ how about language that gives, ‘How would it feel to be on top of your game?’ or ‘Let’s work together to get you exactly where you want to be.’ (These examples are deliberately vague, to convey the idea only. Truly good communication requires more specific knowledge of your audience.)

I’m always, always happy to talk about this with anyone. Please share your thoughts and questions by commenting here, or reaching out to me at

You can also book some time to chat here.

TL; DR (too long; didn’t read)

Are you being manipulative in your marketing by focusing on pain points?

Aim to generate curiosity and trust, not fear and shame.

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