A marketing expert who is vocal about companies responsibly marketing themselves has called for the property industry to be doing much more to self-regulate, to prevent get-rich quick schemes touted by bogus ‘gurus’.
Lewis Hackney, the founder and chief executive of Etch’d, a bespoke marketing agency focused on clients operating in the property, finance and investment sectors, argues the way in which property investment ‘gurus’ and coaches irresponsibly and falsely market themselves and their courses to the most vulnerable in society (including the young and financially susceptible) is an industry crisis.
He insists that much greater transparency around their offerings and conduct is desperately needed, with greater action required from industry bodies and trade groups to stamp out these ‘dangerous marketing practices’.
For years, Hackney says, the property industry has been beset by bogus ‘gurus’ peddling get-rich-quick property investment courses, promising to make participants millionaires overnight.
Thousands have fallen victim to the empty promises, sometimes with tragic consequences. Earlier this year, for example, it was revealed that a former soldier had killed himself after he lost his £13,000 life savings on a property training course that had promised to make him ‘financially free’.
The family of army reservist Danny Butcher, 37, told BBC News that he never made the money he thought he would.
Dozens of people are seeking refunds from Property Investors, the company at the heart of the scandal, which has been described as operating in the manner of a ‘cult’.
The firm, run by former illusionist Samuel Leeds, insisted that ‘people should only purchase courses they can afford’. Leeds himself said at the time of Butcher’s death that he was ‘heartbroken’ at what had happened.
Leeds is a highly controversial figure who has been heavily criticised for his actions in an ongoing spat with Property Tribes co-founder and former MTV host Vanessa Warwick, which even led to Leeds being interviewed under caution at Guildford police station.
Here, we speak with Lewis Hackney to see what can be done to ensure get-rich quick merchants are kept at bay in the future.
You say the property industry has been beset by bogus ‘gurus’ peddling get-rich-quick property investment courses for years – can you explain more?
I think society in general has seen a real shift towards a dangerous ‘get-rich-quick’ culture in recent years. Partly that has been inspired through the rise of Instagram and other social media platforms, through which many ‘entrepreneurs’ or ‘gurus’ showcase a quality of lifestyle that isn’t reality, or as obtainable as it’s made out to be.
The property sector hasn’t been immune from this, with investment in property having often been spun or portrayed as a way to get rich. These courses promise to teach you how to flip cheap properties for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds profit.
What can be done to prevent this sort of thing happening?
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the only answer is regulation. Essentially, anyone looking to sell a course or offer mentorship around property investment should have to go through a strict process which proves they can do what they promise and that their advertising does not mislead.
I also believe other property entrepreneurs and mentors – the genuine ones – have a responsibility to step up, counterbalance misleading voices and be more vocal about the realities of property investment. The message needs to be that, yes, there is money to be made, but it is not as easy as it often looks and there are risks that have to be taken.
How can companies market themselves and their services responsibly?
Honesty will always be the best policy. Short-term gains can be attractive - especially in times such as these - but if you want to build a brand, and not just a company, that comes with trust and time.
Being transparent and honest about all aspects of the property investment world may seem counter-productive – after all, no-one wants to talk negatively about their offering. But in the long-term, you can’t put a price on the credibility that will deliver.
What are some of the tactics these property investment ‘gurus’ and coaches use?
There is a whole range of tricks up their sleeve. Often, there is a backstory along the lines of: “I was in your position…I came from a poor background…I had £7 in my pocket.”
This makes these people seem relatable and ‘one of us’, and it makes it seem like anyone can easily invest in property and make millions.
The ‘gurus’ will also often over inflate the usual price of their course, saying the course is worth thousands of pounds but is currently available at a fraction of the cost.
Another trick they will use is to upsell on free seminars – they offer a free seminar and then use the three hours to pitch their course.
How can the young and financially vulnerable be protected?
Essentially, it comes down to education and regulation. Regulation I have mentioned, but education is equally important. This is why we need genuine experts – who are actually used to making money in property (and not just talking about it) – to highlight the real dedication that is needed to make a living out of property.
It simply isn’t something you can do in your free time, or as a side hustle. It is a full-time living that requires 100% dedication, and I believe the industry needs to be better at getting that message out there.
How can greater transparency and higher levels of conduct be achieved? Is this industry in any way regulated at the moment?
There is currently effectively no regulation in selling courses in the property market. Selling a course with no value, such as a degree, wouldn’t be allowed – so why should it be in the property world?
Some of the courses cost tens of thousands of pounds. In one case last year, a 37-year-old former soldier who was in debt paid £13,000 to go on a property course that promised to make him ‘debt free’. Of course, it didn’t, and he tragically took his own life with all his money gone.
Only officially recognised universities or colleges can offer degrees, and I believe we need the same level of care in the professional training market.
How can people spot a ‘property contrepreneur’ – is it a case of if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is? Are there certain things to look out for?
Of course, as with most things, if it seems too good to be true it probably is. As previously mentioned, it would be advisable to look out for the common tricks of the trade – the invented backstory, the unbelievable course discounts and convincing free seminars.
Often these contrepreneurs will promise insights into their investment ‘secrets’ – none of which are secrets at all, but are free elsewhere online or are just common sense. They’ll be well-dressed and will want you to get involved or participate in their seminars so you feel emotionally connected.
There is a well-known YouTuber called Mike Winnet, who has worked to expose contrepreneurs. He has devised a formula called ‘the contrepreneur formula’, which essentially explains that contrepreneurs focus on selling people what they want (wealth, health or happiness).
Those who are feeling more vulnerable in life are also more likely to sign up. His videos are an excellent starting point for those looking to better understand how to spot a contrepreneur.
Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background in the industry?
I’ve worked with ex-athletes in helping them build their personal brands, and more recently started working with CEOs in the property and finance space in helping them build their own personal branding through my agency, Etch’d Media.
My mission, and my passion, is to ensure society has better, more authentic role models from a wider range of business sectors and lifestyles as we tend to have on the likes of Instagram and TikTok today.