Hey there. Gregory Diehl here.
I’ve been a fan of the team behind the Borderless Society since I first met the fantastic duo Jon Lockwood and James Guzman in San Miguel de Allende over a year and a half ago.
Since age 18, I’ve been on a journey of personal exploration of our planet. Learning how to play my ideal role in the world and build my own online business along the way. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to spend time in over 30 countries around the world. During this time I have greatly increased my understanding of location independent entrepreneurship, strategies for residency, incorporation, and banking, and the meaning of life itself as I continued in my journey.
My background stems from education of a variety of sorts. I taught children in the nations like China and Iraq how to speak English and prepare for a global lifestyle beyond the territorial borders they knew as reality. I’ve seen so many ways of living, raising children, earning a living, and expressing one’s self that it has irreversibly changed my understanding of our species.
Today, I’ve worked hard to make my professional life revolve around the one thing I consider most important to the human story: the concept of identity. In order to root my own public identity, I hired a woman last April to help me write, publish, and market a bestselling book on Amazon in a matter of months. It would take me nine months for me to admit to myself that I had been conned and robbed of the $5,000 I invested into this process with almost no work done by the woman I hired, and I was no closer to having my book.
Instead of letting the loss of all this time and money break me down, I decided to use this experience to focus on what I had really hoped to achieve by putting this book out there in the first place. Today, I am in the final editing stages of my nearly completed 60,000-word manuscript, and am already generating presales for the scheduled launch in the next couple of months.
I learned so much in the process of trying to get this book project launched through a third party who ultimately was not qualified to do the things she claimed nor ethical enough to refund my money when it became clear she was never going to deliver. I’d like to share these lessons with you now so that you can benefit from my difficult experience, and if you are inclined find the motivation within yourself to get started on a similar project for establishing your own brand identity in the world.
Culture shapes our sense of identity in strange ways, and nothing has been more obvious to me after spending most of the last decade and my entire adult life exploring as many different cultures as possible. But the concept of identity does not just apply to individuals. Businesses are extensions of the individuals who manage them, and their values, emotional tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses invariably bleed into the presentation of a brand.
In the process of learning via trial how to perform as a writer, salesman, and consultant for small businesses seeking growth, I realized the greatest value I had to offer was to help develop their core identity and key messaging strategy above all else. This is how I became a brand identity engineer in addition to the personal work I developed out of passion for helping individuals find themselves and their place in the world.
The biggest struggle I’ve faced in my own professional growth has been building personal authority in my industry, which is a little ironic when you consider that my job is to help other people craft their own identities and communicate their message. At the same time, I’ve always been a prolific writer with an awful lot to say. The thought of publishing several books has been with me for most of my life, but the sheer volume of work involved both in the creation and marketing of it kept me from seriously considering it as an option for myself.
All that changed when I was approached by a self-described lead generation and conversion expert named Shola Abidoye, the founder of Convertport (formerly Digital Author Labs). Shola claimed that she could not only create a professionally published book for me, but also do the necessary marketing to make it a best-seller upon launch. She also promised a host of valuable auxiliary services including Amazon sales page optimization, professional editing, book category research, press images, access to her own Convertport CRM and email marketing platform, and even the creation of an audiobook version.
Best of all, she could do all this for only $5,000.
In her own words…
“Your authority branding investment is designed to establish 3rd party verification of your expert status (press, book rankings, etc) of your expert status namely
“The world’s #1 Brand Identity Engineer/Brand Identify Engineering Firm according to……..”
“The world’s Highest Paid Brand Identity Engineer according to……..”
Sounds pretty valuable to the right person, right? I was skeptical at first of such a bold promise.
I had originally contacted Shola through an online community for location independent entrepreneurs called the Dynamite Circle about an offer she had made for helping entrepreneurs use webinars to increase their outreach. Instead, she suggested using my status as a bestselling author to justify larger rates for my services as an identity coach. I’d done a lot of professional writing in my life, and I knew $5,000 was an extremely low price for the amount and quality of content which would be required to make a “real” book and have it make the impact I was looking for.
Still, it was the most I had ever invested into my own brand before. The decision to spend this much was the result of the last several years of education in the school of hard knocks what it would take to run a business and make money on my own terms. I had focused so much on skill development and client relations that I had neglected branding for myself almost entirely. I knew that if I was going to take my business to the next level, I was going to have to start funneling time and resources into new areas.
Becoming a Guinea Pig for Shola Abidoye and Convertport
Shola’s plan was simple. She would interview me over Skype for several hours, extracting the content she would need to craft the book. These interviews would be recorded and transcribed, making it easy to put them into book format. After that, all that would have to be done is slap a cover design on there and format it to be published on Kindle or as a paperback through Createspace. I’ve also narrated several other people’s audiobooks, and was already picturing how fun it would be to get to narrate myself.
Shola gave me a 24-hour deadline before the price would increase to accept her offer after sending me a detailed invoice of everything which would be included in my “Bestseller Branding Package”, including the guarantee that I would see a return on the $5,000 I was investing with her within that very quarter. After consulting with several peers and fellow solo entrepreneurs about whether this would be a worthwhile use of my time and money for the growth of my business I decided to man up, bite the bullet, put my money where my mouth was, and start to establish a name for myself in the world with the values I had worked so hard to develop.
Things got started well enough. We met over Skype several times to discuss what the book would be about, and quickly arrived at a working title, Brand Identity Breakthrough: How to Uncover Your Hidden Brand Message and Make Premier Clients Choose You. The book was to be based off of the years of informal experience I had accumulated helping solo entrepreneurs and small business owners learn to talk more effectively about what they were doing.
After meeting together a few times for a couple hours each, Shola stated we now had more than enough content to craft the book. Based on my own experience in writing, I thought that when edited what we had done would prove far too short to form a full length book. One of the mistakes you’ll see me repeating throughout this entire process is ignoring my own better judgment to listen to someone simply because they called themselves an expert.
Ignoring Red Flags and Warning Signs
I should have paid attention to the red flags the moment they started showing up. When Shola first presented the cover design she had outsourced for the book, I was a little shocked at how cheap it looked. It appeared she had just found the most popular designer on Fiverr and paid them $5 to take the most generic stock image she could find and slap my title and name across it. I knew enough about book marketing to know that the cover design was actually a major factor in how people chose what books to buy at first glance, so I was confused to say the least. But at the same time, part of me stupidly was telling myself to ignore my own best judgment and trust Shola because she was the “expert” here and I had never done anything like this before.
I did voice my concerns to Shola in the most respectful way possible that it did not seem like a professional book cover designs to me, and that I didn’t think my audience would think so either. She seemed frustrated right away that I was not appeased by her initial offering, but to her credit she did manage to come back soon with a few more designs that were substantially higher in quality. None of them really blew me away, but they were certainly passable as “real” book covers. I polled some friends and decided upon the design I wanted to move forward with.
I should have predicted at that time that the minor problems we were having at this early junction were indicative of a much larger problem. I should have seen that the woman I hired to create and market my book had no idea how to do what I was paying her for and had no intention of following through with her very big promises to do so.
It was at the six-month mark (already three months past the promised timeline of publication) that our relationship really started to break down. I had a big networking event coming up that I had expected to be able to bring hard copies of my book to and share them with a highly targeted group of fellow entrepreneurs. At this point, I still had not seen an actual manuscript from Shola since we had our initial interviews – just vague promises that she was putting many man hours into it and all the work she was doing was bleeding her budget dry.
It was also at this time that she started limiting her direct communication with me and passing me off to a previously unknown underling named Khan Gurbuxani. Khan never seemed to have a clear idea of exactly what was going on and served only as a node to relay even vaguer promises to me and absolve Shola of having to directly communicate. I should have taken this as another major red flag. Every time I emailed him, he responded days later with another false milestone deadline which their team invariably failed to meet.
When I finally got Shola on the phone after missing such an important release date, she admitted to me in a fit of anger and frustration that she made a mistake by selling me the book launch package six months earlier, and that she was no longer interested in offering these types of services. I was genuinely empathetic to her situation, as every entrepreneur has had situations where they overpromised and could not live up to the expectations they set.
I kept waiting for the part of the conversation where she would offer me a refund, since it seemed she was not capable of or willing to deliver what I had paid for. Instead, I got more ranting about how much work had already gone into it, and a specific deadline in November of when it would be up on Amazon, along with even vaguer promises about “extra services” she would throw in to make up for the lateness.
I wasn’t interested in arguing with her any further, despite the fact that it seemed like her only priority was to absolve herself of any responsibility for failure to deliver. She mentioned several times, without any prompting by me, that her goal was to make sure that when this was all over that I would only say positive things about working with her. Her excuses for failing to deliver mostly revolved around the claims that she had put more time into the project than what she usually spends on $20,000 clients, or that I had already received $15,000 in value just by the process of her interviewing me for the book and helping with the title, etc.
I didn’t really know how to respond to these claims without insulting her professionalism with a rudimentary lesson in the subjective nature of value and the basic ethical importance of doing what you say you are going to do. I ended the conversation making absolutely certain she knew all I expected from her was the completed book and bestseller status I was promised. At that point we would be free to part ways peacefully, holding no hard feelings about the delays.
The Curtain Comes Down and Shola’s Fraud is Revealed
November came and went with no additional update or delivery from Shola and her gang. At the end of the year, I had run out of patience and demanded to see the result of what I had paid for. I was given another deadline of when the book would be published (this time in January), and a quick mockup of what the first few pages of the first chapter of the book would look like.
“Disappointing” would be an understatement.
It appeared she had just taken the direct transcription of some of our conversations together, slapped them on a page, and summarized the parts that didn’t flow without context. In doing this, she even changed some information, such as saying that I had spent years working in China, instead of the truth that I had been in China for only a few months some years ago. When I confronted her about the false information and overall shoddy quality, she denied everything and refused to even look into the matter. She claimed that having to edit her “final version” would be too costly and I would just have to accept it as it was.
After being ignored and talked down to for the past nine months, this was the final straw of negligent behavior that I was unwilling to put up with from her. When she ignored my requests to see the whole manuscript and put my own time into making the edits required to bring it up to a standard I could feel comfortable putting my name on (and remove any other factual errors she had made), I bluntly told her that if she were to publish false information about me without my consent I would sue her for damages.
Boy, did that finally get her attention. Ms. Abidoye does not respond well to threats.
In a matter of minutes following my ultimatum, Shola managed to send me all the completed transcripts from our interviews nine months prior. When I asked her where the completed manuscript was, she blocked my email and Skype accounts. I left several messages on her phone, and got no response. It slowly dawned on me that despite her many claims otherwise, it appeared that she had stopped working on the project almost immediately after we began our work together. She had told me just enough and baited me with just the right amount of deliverables and promises to keep me satiated until the 180-day dispute limit had passed on Paypal, and she knew I could never get them to reverse the $5,000 transaction.
That realization felt pretty shitty. I attempted to reach out to her again several times over the next few days outlining as professionally as possible what I was promised in comparison to the very small amount I received so that we could calculate an appropriate partial refund and go our separate ways peacefully. I was willing to forget the nine months I had wasted waiting for her to follow through. I received no response except highly defensive accusations of attempting to take advantage of her services and not being a “real” professional so in her mind her failure to deliver didn’t matter anyway.
Whoa. Clearly, I was hitting a sore spot and civil conversation was not going to be possible past this point. She was intent on keeping my money and extricating herself from the situation she had created as quickly as possible.
Where I Screwed Up
It wasn’t just about the money.
$5,000 is a good chunk of change to most anyone, but it wasn’t so large that it was significantly going to affect my lifestyle or business. What really bothered me on a psychological level was just the level of trust that was abused. I had up until this time considered myself an “amateur professional” for lack of a better term. I had learned the ropes of how to make enough money on my own terms to fund my unconventional lifestyle around the world. Best of all, I had been able to keep the overwhelming majority of people who had enough faith to spend their money with me happy and coming back for more.
So when I turned to someone who existed on what I perceived as a professional tier higher than my own to help bring me up to her level, it was a major philosophical shift for me. After years of practice and study, I was finally ready to go where ambition directed me. To see it turn out to be such an obvious con felt a little bit like finding out that Santa Clause isn’t real. I had to grow up rather quickly and take my professional identity into my own hands. I had to stop trusting quick fixes and too-good-to-be-true promises from people who were just experimenting with ways to make money off me.
So what exactly had I done wrong here?
Mistake #1: I ignored my own judgment countless times and overlooked several major warning signs of fraud and incompetence
This has actually been a running theme in my personal life. I can be far too naïve and trusting, especially due to the nature of the circumstances through which I came to work with Shola. Because we were both members of an online community which places heavy emphasis on relationships and reputation, I thought there was zero chance she would ever mislead me or rip me off. It simply made no sense to sacrifice the many connections she had within the community and potentially elsewhere just for a few thousand dollars. I believed that a smart businesswoman would realize that she stood to lose a lot more in potential new business than the amount she was withholding from me once she had been outed as a thief.
For not the first time in my life, I failed to take the factor of personal pride into account for how people make their decisions. By the time I told Shola that enough was enough and I needed to see the fruits of what I had paid her for, she was too deep in the hole she had dug. She had made too many false promises to back out of them now. There was simply no way for her to keep her ego intact if she were to come clean and admit she had been lying to me since very shortly after we started working together.
That pride ended blowing up in her face and in mine, as I was actually perfectly willing to forget that the whole unfortunate situation had ever happened if she were just willing to apologize and refund me for the services she did not render. Pride would not allow her to take that route though, and I should have done a better character analysis of her before trusting her with my money and time.
Solution: If something doesn’t feel right or make sense in your mind, don’t move forward until it does.
Even if you don’t have much experience in the area you are getting involved in, a true expert should be able to demonstrate the logic behind what they are doing and validate all of their claims every single step of the way. Demand to be shown exactly what is being done and why it is being done that way. Silence and misdirection are the con artist’s allies.
Learn enough about the processes you are hiring them for so that you will know when something isn’t going according to plan. Car mechanics are infamous for taking advantage of people who don’t understand how engines work. The moment I learned enough to be able to tell when my mechanic was making things up, I started saving a lot of money on car repairs. This leads into my next error.
Mistake #2: I did not understand what I was getting into
Although I knew a bit about what goes into publishing and marketing a book, I should have researched the process more to understand the full scope of the work involved. If I had, I would have quickly realized that $5,000 was not nearly enough to cover the amount of work a professional would need to make this happen. The low figure should have been an immediate sign that Ms. Abidoye had no experience with this and was not prepared to deliver on the extremely large promises she had made.
For perspective, Tucker Max charges $10,000 through his company, Book in a Box, just to create the manuscript of a book, and $30,000 to have it professionally designed and published. Shola Abidoye offered me all this and marketing it to the point of being a bestseller for less than half of what Book in a Box’s entire team charges just for an unpublished manuscript. If I had bothered to shop around before accepting Shola’s offer, I would have known how unrealistic what she was promising was.
Solution: Be skeptical of everyone you work with until they have proven themselves through real delivery of what they are attempting to sell you.
Get references and talk to people who have gone through a similar process with the people you hire. Set specific milestones and only release the money in chunks as they are achieved on the schedule given. Most of all, know the market for what you are getting involved with. If you respect your hard earned money, research the options and general successful practices of others who have come before you.
Mistake #3: I allowed the “expert” I hired to move goals posts in order to dodge accountability
As much as I did not fully comprehend the extent of everything I was hiring Shola Abidoye to do for me, at the very least I should have been dead set on holding her accountable to what was explicitly stated on the invoice she provided. The moment tension flared up, she attempted to “move goal posts”, meaning she redefined what success meant on her own terms without my agreement. She attempted to change the narrative so that what I hired her to do only included what small amount of work she had already done, and the rest was my fault for having false expectations.
Solution: Have a more detailed contract outlining the exact deliverables the seller is obligated to provide, and the recourse which will be provided if they are not.
Although the invoice itself was pretty specific, especially when supported by all our emails, Skype exchanges, and recorded calls, I could have insisted upon much more detailed written terms so there was no weasel room on her part.
Since this whole incident came to light, several of our mutual connections have tried to reach out to Shola to either get her side of the story or mediate a peaceful resolution between us. Based on what they have told me and some erratic public exchanges with her, it seems her only response is to overwhelm whoever she is talking to with a barrage of angry bloated claims that she never agreed to deliver the things I said she did and that I am making everything up to try to get my money back.
Better documentation would make it harder for Shola to attempt any defensive claims whatsoever, although it wouldn’t deter a truly determined fraudster.
Mistake #4: I did not try to get my money back from Shola Abidoye fast enough
I paid Shola the $5,000 through a PayPal invoice she sent me. PayPal, as you probably know if you use it in your business, has a 180-day limit on disputing any services paid for which have not been delivered. When I spoke to Shola on the phone at the six-month mark (which was already three months past the timeline she promised me), she created the false impression that the book was just about done, and even gave me a specific date in November when I would see it up on Amazon.
Remember, I had not even seen a manuscript at this point. The only proof I had that she had even done any work on the book was the cover design and some cheap press releases she had sent out for a book that still didn’t exist. I stupidly took her at her word because I just wanted the book done at this point. I wasn’t even mad about the delayed timeline. I was only mad that my expectations kept being played with.
I should have opened the dispute with PayPal at this point and left it open until the book was up on Amazon and I had all the other things which were promised to me, including bestseller status.
Solution: Set clear payment terms and consequences for missing deadlines. File disputes or contact your credit card provider as soon as the other party fails to live up to their agreements.
I can only blame myself for still being naïve enough to believe that she was going to deliver even after all the signs of her negligence were present. I guess sometimes I just see the best in other people to a fault, and this is not the first time I’ve been burned because of it. When someone pays me money, I take it as a sacred obligation to work to their satisfaction according to the terms we have outlined.
But some people need to threat of not getting paid in order to shift themselves into action. I believe that if Shola had only received a small sum of money and was at risk of not getting the rest, she would have had much greater reason to communicate better with me and stick to deadlines. And in the end even if she wouldn’t deliver, I would only have risked a much smaller amount of money.
Mistake #5: I did not take control over my own creative process
It humbles me to admit that the biggest mistake I made actually had nothing to do with Shola’s fraud directly.
I should never have been relying on her in the first place to take the reins on my book in the first place. I don’t mean I couldn’t have used the help from someone more experienced (which Shola was not) to get the book made and promoted. I mean that I should have laid the groundwork myself in crafting my own message and telling my own story.
Even if she had lived up to everything she promised in her initial pitch to me, the product she produced could never have been as true to my core message as something I created myself. Only I know what message lies within me waiting to get out to the world.
While Ms. Abidoye did do an acceptable job in the very first stages of our work arrangement by asking me some useful questions in the interview process, I know now from looking over our written transcripts that it was very much tainted by her own arbitrary ideas of what would make a good message for me. It was a half-measure, and I should have gone for completion from day one.
Solution: Take on the task of writing and editing the book myself (mostly).
Even for someone like me who has done an awful lot of writing professionally for other people, managing a 50,000+ book manuscript all on your own is a different beast entirely.
It’s not just the sheer volume of content and the many man hours that go into creating it. It’s being able to organize it all together in a way that is internally consistent and tells the story you want your book to tell. Yes, even in non-fiction, everything comes down to good narrative. You want your readers to begin in one place and end up in another after overcoming a series of strategically placed obstacles.
In my case, I simply have too much I want to say. I have struggled to get it all together into a comprehensible format that will stay true to my message but remain easy for my target audience to digest.
I say I have “mostly” taken this on myself because I am still working with a trusted group of beta readers to help me see the finished product from their eyes and make surgical edits as needed. This is invaluable feedback. No matter how good of a writer you think you are, no one is completely unbiased about their own work or immune to errors.
Additionally, I am working to crowdfund presales of the book through a relatively young platform called Publishizer. Publishizer is a crowdfunding platform for book presales for bootstrapped and self-published authors to get the funds they need to complete and promote their manuscripts, while also getting early exposure and making bestseller status much more achievable. It remains to be seen how much prelaunch success I will find with Publishizer, but so far I found their staff very knowledge and helpful to me.
Creating the Book on My Own Terms
Brand Identity Breakthrough has taken on a life I never could have envisioned when I started on this journey last April. And despite the many obstacles, delays, and setbacks I have experienced since then, I have high hopes for its future. These events have actually forced me to think very deeply about exactly what I want my name attached to, and how I want the world to perceive the value and passion I have to offer. It’s a whole lot harder to write 60,000 words of content on something you aren’t fundamentally passionate about, so the process of writing this has been an exercise in self-discovery for me.
The book has come to represent a unique combination of my own personal philosophies on the meaning of identity, the purpose of business in society, and the unconventional advice I’ve learned for getting others to share your vision through tactical communication. From the moment you open your mouth or they read anything you produce, it is possibly to instantly transfer a unique narrative and set of values to the right person in a way that instigates meaningful action. The book can help small businesses and prospective entrepreneurs hone in on what they are really trying to accomplish and build a successful business around their core values.
My hope is that the lessons I’ve learned by first being scammed and then hustling to learn the logistics of writing, publishing, and marketing my first book will go on to aid me with other books I already have in mind on subjects like personal identity development, lifestyle design, unconventional child rearing, perpetual travel, self-education, and much more. For the right kind of person, I believe that publishing a book is an opportunity to get your voice out in a powerful way that makes a special kind of statement regardless of how well it even sells. Being able to say “I wrote a book about that” or give a physical copy out in the right situation is bold and impressive.
I’m glad I put in the time and resources to figuring out how this works and putting my foot down in the world of personal branding. I still hold out hope that Shola Abidoye will come to her senses and refund me for the work I hired her to do but she never delivered so we can properly terminate our working relationship. The important thing though is that I have learned not to let those initial feelings of resentment I felt by getting scammed get in the way of my own professional progress. I have learned to focus those negative feelings into a source of motivation for completing the book and catalyzing my values into a permanent part of my brand.
Hopefully, I will still be able to get my money back, as the way I see it that money is not meant for me to enjoy a more lavish lifestyle (I tend to live on $500 to $1000 a month most anywhere I go in the world). It is money my future kids will not have to make their upbringing more healthy and secure. It is money I will not have to feed, heal, and rehome stray cats as I travel. And that thought motivates me much more than just the pride of wanting to see a higher number in my bank account.
If you’d like to check out the progress of my book’s prelaunch campaign on Publishizer or secure your own copy of the eBook, paperback, or audiobook at a discount rate, just go to: www.publishizer.com/brand-identity-breakthrough
You can also join the email list, get regular updates, or read case studies for Brand Identity Breakthrough at: www.brandidentitybreakthrough.com
And if there’s anything I can do to further help you learn from my experience in getting scammed, releasing my book, world travel, or helping others develop compelling brand identities, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me through my key messaging strategy consulting company, Market Fit.
All the information and tools you need to succeed with branding are out there. You just need support from the right community of people who genuinely have your best interests at heart. The Borderless bros know that, and we can each play our role in making the world a more secure and connected society every day.