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Shiny Object Syndrome: How to Know When to Invest in a Course

You’ve been there.

I’ve been there.

Another awesome course is released. Another solution to fix all your problems.

Grow your tribe.

Make more money.

Get more clients.

Write better.

Design better.

Everyone you know is taking it, you see blog posts and affiliates and tweets and banner ads.

So irresistible. 

It could be just what you need.

But, it would be the 275th course you’ve purchased this month.

You may have Shiny Object Syndrome.

Here’s The Deal

I attribute a large part of my success to my willingness to invest in myself. The growth of online business & online learning is what makes this new internet world of ours so interesting and gives us the possibility to have this freelance lifestyle we adore (without having to spend 4 years and 100k in traditional education).

Taking online courses is important to me. I think it should be important to you too.

That said, sometimes we get out of control and too deep into S.O.S. and it’s time for a break.

I received an email this week from someone super interested in my course. She outlined her experience with courses lately and I recognized the S.O.S seeping through her words. So I told her – I think this course would be incredibly helpful for you but it sounds to me like you have a case of S.O.S, maybe now is not the best time to take my course. It’s not a done-for-you solution. You need to put in the work. And it’s hard to put in the work when you have S.O.S.

So today, I want to talk about Shiny Object Syndrome and more specifically…

How to decide whether or not to take a course if you suspect you have a case of SOS.

It’s a different subject than any course you’ve taken.

A lot of courses cover the same big topics. Yes, these are usually the biggest pain points of freelancers (marketing, copywriting, etc). But if you’ve already taken a few courses on those subjects, it’s likely you already have the knowledge you need. You just aren’t putting it into practice.

So before buying another course, think back to all the courses you’ve taken and whether or not any of them addressed the same topic. Did you do the work and you’re still yearnin’ for more learnin’?

The subject is your #1 pain point.

As freelancers, we often have several problems, and many things we want to improve upon. There are enticing courses out there for all of them. But when struck with a case of S.O.S., the best way to prevent yourself from buying all of them is to really determine the #1 problem you’d like to solve. Step back, think about all the things you’d like to improve on and choose just one.

If you’re going to buy a course on anything, make sure it will help that problem.

Then actually do the work in the course. Don’t buy another one until that #1 problem is solved or improved greatly.

It solves a problem you haven’t seen any other course address.

Sometimes courses come along, that teach you something you haven’t been able to find anywhere else. This may be your only opportunity right now to learn what you need to know on that topic.

But this is rare, so be cautious. Don’t do the course because just one bullet point is something new to you. Make sure it’s the overarching subject of the course you haven’t seen before.

You’re a true fan of the seller, you devour all the free content they put out and have purchased courses/products/services from them in the past with great results.

There are some people I buy everything from. Ash Ambridge is a good example. I loved her 97k in 2011 when I was first getting into online business, learned some great copywriting tips in Brandgasm and use Small Business Bodyguard with every project I start. So jumping into her Six Appeal Process was a no-brainer for me.

And last but certainly most important, you must put in the work.

If you have S.O.S and you want to take another course:

  1. Make sure one of the above applies.
  2. Commit to doing the work. Really commit. Block out time in your calendar. Do the work.

I can’t tell you whether to buy my course or any other course if you have a case of S.O.S.

Only you can know if you need a break from learning and more time for actually doing.

So ask yourself:

Are you spending more time gaining knowledge than you are actually implementing?

Do you fear that you don’t know enough to make your business work and are trying to learn more and more and more as a way of avoiding actually putting yourself out there?

If so, maybe it’s time to take a break.

If not, awesome, get your learning on!


P.S. I’d love to know about your experience with S.O.S. in the comments. How do you decide on whether or not you should take another course?

P.P.S. If you don’t have S.O.S. and want to get momentum in your freelance business once and for all, check out The FTF Membership. But again, no S.O.S sufferers allowed! (Unless it fits one of the exceptions above) 🙂

Leah Kalamakis Leah Kalamakis is the founder of The Freelance To Freedom Project and a web designer/developer for brilliant entrepreneurs. When she’s not hanging out in the FTF Community, you can find her people watching on the streets of NYC. Come say hi on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

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{ 52 comments… add one }
  • I often fall victim to the SOS. I started a bunch of courses, and implemented only a few of them.
    And these courses are all so different from each other, I switch focus so quickly and what I thought was my #1 problem before quickly falls under the radar when I decide to pursue something else.

    In short, I need a break from buying new courses.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      It sounds like it! Definitely need to invest in the ones you can commit to getting value out of, but I know that’s easier said than done.

  • I’ve made it my commitment NOT to get sucked into shiny object syndrome this year. You hit the nail on the head – a lot of us know exactly what we need to do, but we’re not doing it. It’s not a lack of information, it’s a lack of implementation. Now, if I get stuck on the implementation part, I take the time to find out why. If it’s a lack of skills that I’d like to learn and do myself, I’ll buy a course. If not, hire someone to GET IT DONE! (case in point: my website)

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yes, great point. We don’t HAVE to learn everything, hiring out things we will never enjoy learning or doing is always an option!

  • I go through waves of total retreat and then SOS! I LOVE this guide you have outlined…it’s like a little checklist for me to go back to next time I get the course itch 🙂 haha!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yes, it certainly comes in waves. Glad this checklist will be useful for you!

  • Holy crap! This is SO me! Or at least it was until I invested big bucks in the current course/mentorship I’m involved in. Now I just don’t have any money to invest in another one. 😀

    But what I’ve found is that, by committing to this one course, I’m actually doing the work required and it’s paying off. Imagine that!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yes- I think the higher the price the better. Unfortunately it’s the best motivator to actually do the work and make it worth the investment.

  • Kim

    I have had SOS my whole adult life! The biggest problem with me is that I get so distracted learning, I leave little time to assimilate and use my own wisdom to come up with my own thang. This blog was extremely helpful- love the part about thinking about your number one problem and not moving on until it is solved! I tend to think I’m going to “miss out” if I don’t sign up for the course.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yes, this is the other side of the problem. Ending up following so many other “formulas” that it becomes difficult to do your thing your way. But I definitely agree with the “missing out” aspect.

  • I recently read “Get Rich, Lucky Bitch” and in it she talked about how we sabotage ourselves financially.

    I realized I love to sabotage myself by investing in courses and coaches. Right when the money comes in – I send it right on out. At the expense of emergency savings, health, other support. So this year I committed to not sabotaging myself.

    I think coaches are AWESOME. But part of the reason I invest in others is because I struggle to believe I can actually accomplish my vision. Now I tell myself “I am the expert”

    I WANT to invest SOOOOO BAD that my skin still itches sometimes.

    What is helping me is that I have a particular coach I want to invest in and she is running a great program in the fall. Knowing I have this investment coming up has been a LIFESAVER. Everytime I’m tempted to buy I remind myself that I’m waiting for this program and the craving to spend subsides.

    Loved this post leah!

    • Farideh!

      I resonated with everything you said. I do the same — when the money comes in, BOOM, it goes out. I always felt it was being spent on something worthwhile because it was for biz, but then again — like Leah wrote — is it really a pain point? Is it something I need RIGHT now? Usually it’s not… but, I figure, I don’t know when this will be offered again! I gotta get it now! (And literally sometimes I’ll keep it for a later time + I never look at it again…)

    • OMG Farideh, I do this too!! Love the frame of financial sabotage, I’d never considered it that way before. So true.

      Great post, Leah — I have to be SO careful to avoid SOS. Thanks for this handy guide!

  • Hi, my name is Janet and I have Shiny Object Syndrome…
    As you well know…lol. Same as Kim, I feel like I’m going to miss out on something I need. I’m currently at my breaking point for courses and just need to get “S” done! Great post – glad I’m not the only one lol – I know it all takes baby steps… maybe now I can say I’m a recovering shiny object syndrome junkie lol!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Haha 🙂 You are certainly not the only one. Glad to know you’re in recovery!

  • A lot of us ditrust our own ability to get things done ourselves — I’ve written about using your heart as your business adviser instead of seeking outside yourself to figure out what the answers are.

    I’ve invested in courses and coaches myself, but I’ve always come back to myself — and slapped myself upside the head when I realized that I didn’t need to do that. But, I like what you say — if there’s ONE specific pain point that needs to be addressed, then the money is worth spending.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yeah, I think it really comes down to confidence. When SOS gets out of control, it’s time to reflect on the why behind it and 9 times out of 10 I think it’s lack of confidence in the knowledge we already have.

  • I am rarely impressed with courses, and I tend to have that “I can figure this out” attitude. BUT, Ash impresses me so much every time, I didn’t even read the sales page! I might actually be too demanding!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yeah Maria, I think that’s a really good attitude to have….but to a limit. There is nothing wrong with learning new things from others who are experts in it and it can save so much time and help you grow so much faster. And yes, I’m pretty much the same with Ash stuff as I always get a lot out of it.

  • Great post Leah. I’m sure many people will relate to SOS, myself included! At my worst points I’ve signed up for multi-course bundles (there’s a fairly famous one) in the belief I’m getting value for money, when really I only need/want one or two of the offerings. I haven’t ever looked at some things that were included.

    That said, I’ve also signed up for courses that have been incredible – well worth the investment and really helped me move forward.

    Your tip about taking action is spot on!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yeah, I’ve gotten caught in the “bundle” thing a few times. Unless you would for sure buy one of them and it’s would be the same price to get the others, it’s usually an impulse purchase!

  • Love this, Leah! I used to be a total course-a-holic, but I’ve definitely slowed down in recent months. I love your tips about focusing on one specific area of weakness and only buying a course if it’s going to help in that area.

    I bought SL&I because a lack of systems was seriously ruining my business – it was driving me crazy, costing me lots of time and probably repeat clients, too. SL&I was def the right choice for me and I’ve loved every minute of it. xo

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Oh I’m so glad Erica! It sounds like you were able to really clearly see that pain point and when that’s the case, investing in a solution is oh so worth it.

  • I think it’s absolutely great to invest in yourself and take courses that will help you improve your skills or learn something new. I honestly do A LOT of homework on the instructor, the course, and what I can get out of it before I hand over my money. Maybe that is because I wasted thousands of dollars in college and it wasn’t beneficial. However, I’ve spend a few thousand in programs and ecourses and gotten a lot out of it. I think that is so interesting.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      I hear you on the college aspect. I’m still shocked everyday how much I’ve learned and made in freelancing compared to what I got out of college.

  • I always WANT to take ALL the courses… but yours is actually the first I’ve ever taken! I’m still at a point, financially, where I can’t afford a ton of classes or coaching. Soon, though… and then I will suffer from S.O.S.!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Oh wow! I’m honored. I hope it lives up to your expectations of online courses 🙂 SOS happens to the best of us, but if you’re already good at controlling it, you’re off to a great start!

  • I have bought three courses in my life, two of them were in the early days of the solopreneur, the very beginning of the super long sales page, the incredible promise, the insane price tag… one was for publishing, the other for some sort of mind-yoga for creatives. None of those programs exist anymore, the former creator has completely disappeared from the internet. The second is actually asking for donations to survive.
    The third course I bought online was a WordPress development class. I bought it because I’ve been following the developer’s blog for a year. Her knowledge is solid, she shares a lot of stuff so when she offered a class I jumped at the opportunity. She didn’t even need a sales page. She quietly announced on twitter she had a sign-up page. When she launched I was at the beach and I ran to the nearest wi-fi and signed up. An hour later it was sold out.
    So… all this to say, that I have become super skeptical about classes online unless they are backed up by either a reputable company (Coursera, Skillshare) or the blogger has demonstrated their solid knowledge through their posts.
    I have never felt sillier than after buying that brain-yoga thing that promised me to help me break creative blocks… so I don’t suffer of the SOS with courses… but with books… that’s another matter 😛

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yes! That’s exactly what I mean with the point of it being someone you love and trust and your story about the blogger is a perfect example of that. Sound like you have a pretty solid personal strategy in place that SOS will never be an issue for you. Brain yoga sounds super interesting though! 🙂

  • Blimey this has come just in time – I think I have SOS! I need to implement the actions from the courses I’ve got piling up… Thanks so much for the handy guide – I won’t be buying anything else until I’ve consulted it 🙂

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Haha. Yes, take a break from buying and start finishing!

  • I’ve definitely been guilty of S.O.S before and am currently undergoing a 12 step program to conquer it 🙂 Like others have said, there’s almost a fear of missing out, as well as a desire to ‘know it all’.
    I do take action on things though, so that’s a start at least! Your SL&I course is actually the only thing I’ve bought in about 6 months as I was looking at revamping the systems and processes in our business and it was perfect timing. Could I have gotten by without it? Sure, but it will save me heaps of time and that’s more than worth it in my book!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Exactly. As long as you do the work, courses are a HUGE time saver in the end. If it’s been 6 months I think you are well out of SOS territory, good work!

  • The last point! The last point!!! A while back I found myself in all these communities and all this programs and was completely inundated with messages that I realized… I wasn’t even doing any of the work! I wasn’t nearly as committed as I should have been. I returned some of the programs I had purchased and tried to weed out anything that wasn’t absolutely essential—I’m the better for it. And don’t even get me started on Udemy or SkillShare…

    • Andrew, Ah, Skillshare! Haha, the list of courses I have purchased on there I think I’ve done like…10% of them.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Haha, yes Skillshare. The price point makes it irresistible, but they do tend to stack up!

  • Hahaha. I feel like I have SOS with workout crops and shoes :P; courses not so much. However, I whole-heartedly agree that taking online courses is important; they’re often more cost-effective than traditional education, and often times are more practical. Although, you do only have so much time, and SOS can quickly contribute to feelings of overwhelm – choose wisely. In most cases, you can always come back to a course you passed on previously!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Great point about cost-effectiveness, and I think that’s very true. And overwhelm is a big issue in business- that we often by courses to help with, and as you said, it can do the opposite.

  • CHYEAH! I’ve spent thousands and thousands investing in myself over the last couple years, and I LOVE spending money on my business and I really credit that willingness to my biz growing fast- but I’m in a totally different realm now and know how to hit the brakes. I invest if it’s a huge pain point for me at the moment, OR I feel like that service/product/course could be a great resource for my consulting clients- and I never recommend anything without trying it out myself first!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      I’m right where you are Kacie, and I feel like it’s a great place to be in. As I said in the post, I too credit my biz growth (or biz existence!) to how much I’ve been willing to invest in learning. Just have to get to the place of knowing how to hit the brakes. And great point about courses to recommend to others, I think that’s a huge bonus of learning new things and passing the resource on to others it can help too.

  • I can definitely see how easy it is to fall into this trap! If only people would stop creating such great content! (Leah!) I actually weighed the benefits of taking your course pretty carefully before I enrolled and decided it was worth it. And now I’m on a course hiatus until next year.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      I do have to say, as an aspiring quitter, this is the period where learning new stuff is the most important for you. So maybe don’t take a full 8 month hiatus, but choose wisely!

  • So true! I usually wait for a while before I hit the ‘buy now’ button. However, even then I’m guilty of dropping (some programs) half way. :/

  • I usually wait for a while before I hit the ‘buy now’ button. However, even then I’m guilty of dropping (some programs) half way. :/

  • Not only is this post amazing but I’m also impressed by you telling someone truthfully to bow out of the course! I’d love to be in the abundant position to be able to do that.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      It’s not necessarily abundance, but the desire to help people you can truly help- and avoid refunds!

  • Ah! It’s sooo easy to suffer from this! And it’s so hard because I wouldn’t be doing any of this without the first design classes I signed up for. So, when new ones come along, I think “gasp! what if I can’t do this without this one either!”
    I’ve found that my husband is a great help to this though, if I can’t satisfactorily explain to him why I NEED to take this class RIGHT NOW then I know I probably don’t need to take it and should wait. So glad I’m not the only one 🙂

  • 🙂

  • What a great post, Leah! I definitely have SOS but for the moment my lack of finances is keeping it firmly in check. To be honest I’m pretty frugal when it comes to spending and I highly recommend budgeting and giving yourself a certain allowance for investing in these things to avoid overwhelming yourself, mentally and financially!

    My favorite tip of yours is to identify what your #1 painpoint is. A lot of entrepreneurs are creative grasshoppers and LOVE to try to overhaul their entire life/business all at once, which of course is pretty tough and leaves them exhausted and beyond overwhelmed (and, most often, back at square one and very disappointed).

    Finding the #1 thing you need to focus on right now can not only help you choose a great course, it can also help you finally take some action in the right direction and stop fidgeting around trying this and that and wondering which one would be best to focus on (which, again, so many of us do).

    P.S: Typo in “It’s solves a problem” 🙂

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