Sex, money, health — those are the three skeeviest industries in the world. I operate in one of them.

Our class 30x500 is, broadly speaking, a Make Money Online product.

Our business “neighbors” fascinate me. Last week, I spent several hours devouring a 40-page forum thread about one of our (putative) competitors.

Every single person, bar one, had a horror story. Some were customers, others were people who were friends of customers, and some were simply critical observers.

The word was: Buyers did not get what they were promised. Nothing like it. It wasn’t that there was a delay or hiccup or mistake (we’ve all been there). No, the hard work of implementing the promise was all waved away. The content was sub-par, vague, filled with holes, hadn’t changed in years; the vaunted community was full of desperate try-hards, who lacked marketable skills but were encouraged officially to sell to each other; people who asked too many questions were banned without warning; that the $2000 product was sold on “case studies” from “successful students” who didn’t have a web site much less an identifiable business.

And many, many students were brought into the fold by big money affiliates…who never disclosed that they were paid 50% commission.

It pissed me off.

Granted, I’ve had my share of hiccups in serving my students — I’ve made mistakes. I’ve tried to teach in ways that didn’t work out so well. I’ve fallen behind schedule. Actually, I’m kind of behind schedule right now.

There’s a huge difference between being imperfect, and being a liar.

I’m an excellent liar.

And so by choice I do not lie, because I know what happens when you start lying.

That’s why I wasn’t at all surprised when, deeper in the thread, former “students” report that their “teacher” became more and more rage-y, contemptuous, insulting students on their live calls. Or that, instead of improving the product itself, the teacher added “non-disparagement” clauses to the user agreement, threatening dissenters with lawsuits.

This is a natural path for liars.

There’s a trick to being a really superlative liar…the most dangerous trick in the world. It’s to not lie at all.

The trick is to believe what you’re saying. To imagine a reality where what you’re saying is true, and then to fully and emotionally inhabit that alternate reality. To feel it.

And it comes with the greatest cost a person can pay.

Far worse than a chronic illness and, I think over a lifetime, worse than death. It’s believing your own bullshit. It’s the death of caring. It’s feeling dead the entire time you’re alive.

This is why I almost never lie in real life, and never ever lie in business.

Because…if you are a very good liar, and you do it by believing it, you live in a world that doesn’t exist. An unreality. And because you don’t live in the real world, where all the real people live, you can’t have relationships. Everyone becomes like a wraith to you.

You will question everything you appear to have, because it can’t be real, it will feel like a dream. You will be forever alone.

Because you — the real you — doesn’t exist.

Which means what you do doesn’t matter. The quality of your work doesn’t matter. There’s no point in putting forth the effort, except to get yours.

And if you can sell that shit to anyone, they’re suckers who deserve it.

I know about the lifecycle of the lie. The thing about growing up with abusive parents is you can’t afford to go off-script. The script by its very nature requires you to be someone else — to be untruthful about your needs, wants, beliefs, wishes, deeds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

To survive, you murder your very self.

I decided as a teenager that I deserved to live. I decided: I have been a liar, and they made me, but I will not be a liar.

Yes, naturally, I tell little white social lies from time to time.

I don’t lie about who I am, what I do, what I believe, what people deserve from me, or how I treat people. I never lie about my business.

So, I tell our prospective students the truth.

I explain exactly how much hard and sometimes boring work it will take. I turn away students who lack the skills to earn their money back. I share real numbers. I have no secret revenue streams. We have no wink-wink secret affiliates or back-room deals. I don’t exaggerate the wonderfulness of my life. When students fail, I investigate whether it was me or them, and if it’s me, I rework the process. When things go wrong, I don’t hide it, I write about it. Anything less would feel like a lie of omission.

And even though it would benefit me greatly, I refuse to cozy up with less-than-honorable people. Sublimating your values for gain is a particularly tempting kind of lie. If I believe someone does badly by their customers, I won’t talk to them at all. I made that mistake in the (thankfully distant) past and I remember exactly how greasy it felt. If it feels wrong, it’s wrong.

We make far, far less money than the “competitor” above. A tiny fraction, in fact, for which we expend much, much more effort. But we don’t have angry packs of duped students running around writing 40-page threads about us. We can build real relationships with the students we help, and each other. And I know that our empire is built on a secure and trustworthy foundation that will last.

Of course, no one will come out and admit they lie about their business.

(Except sociopaths, who expect — and, confusingly, receive — backpats for being “omg so honest” about their intentional and long-term deception. Humans.)

After all, lying is unethical. It’s wrong. Everyone knows that…and yet, it’s not enough to stop the process from starting. I see it all the time. You probably see it too.

Someone starts small. They inflate. They obscure. They omit. They make friendly with people who would otherwise disgust them. They say to themselves: What’s the harm? This little lie won’t hurt anyone.

But once you dip one toe into that void…you’ll go numb. Next thing you know, you won’t give a shit. You’ll find yourself in contempt of the people you initially set out to help (if you ever cared in the first place). Instead of pouring your effort into your work, you’ll start struggling to cover the lies, to defend them, to justify your exploitative choices.

You’ll convince yourself that not only isn’t it wrong, it’s the way of the world.

The lies will swallow you up, along with anything good you might ever do.

So no matter how innocent it seems, take it from me:

Don’t start.

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