It started with a "personal" invitation I received in the mail encouraging me to reach for the American Dream; to get out of debt faster; to make money in my spare time; to get on the road to potential wealth, security and financial freedom. All I needed to do was attend a free, three-hour financial clinic. There was even a toll-free number to call.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. The classified section of any newspaper is filled with promises of making unlimited amounts of money at home-while putting in part-time hours. Radio stations air alluring advertisements for one-day-only seminars, and every day, thousands of "urgent" express letters are mailed, inviting recipients to achieve financial success in their spare time. But are the invitations just an entree to a massive rip-off scheme, or do they represent legitimate opportunities to make money? We wanted to find out.
Armed with a healthy dose of skepticism, a good sense of humor and a little cash from Entrepreneur, I set out to discover exactly what's offered at these so-called business opportunity seminars or, as the state of California calls them, assisted marketing plans.
The afternoon seminar I attended was held at a reputable local hotel, and the 15-person audience was composed primarily of people in their 50s and 60s. The speakers were articulate and the sales pitches laced with facts and figures quoted from such sources as Time magazine, research firm IDC, Egghead Software, J.C. Penney-and even President Bill Clinton.
The presenter, a professionally dressed woman who freely shared her experiences (all wonderful, of course) as an owner of all three business opportunities being offered, avoided the most typical high-pressure tactics. She did, however, create a sense of urgency by stressing that the homebased business opportunities being bundled together would only be offered at the low price of $499 at the seminar.
A second presenter offered a bonus business in addition to the other three, as well as the opportunity to obtain a merchant credit card account. At the end of the seminar, quite a few people, including me, plunked down between $499 and $649 to purchase the business oppor-tunity package of vending machines, Web sites, and personalized stationery items including business cards, sports trading cards, calendars and post cards. These investors were then invited to return the following week for a three-hour training seminar.