Income Claim Marketing Is a Recipe For Burnout (and What You Should Do Instead)

You’ve seen it, and maybe even done it yourself:

“I made 5 figures last month, and I can show you how.”

“I run a 6 figure business, so you should take my course.”

“We have a 7 figure company, and we’ve doubled our business year to year, sign up for my programs.”

What do you feel when you’re exposed to these marketing messages?

If you’re anything like me at various points along my journey: probably a mix of jealousy, anxiety that you’re not there yet, and scratching your head asking yourself if there’s something wrong with you or your business.

I get it.

Income claim marketing is prevalent in the digital marketing space, and there’s a reason for it.

In case you’re not familiar with it, income claim marketing is when a business or coach shares how much money they’ve made… in an effort to prove how successful their business has been. Usually, this display of wealth is also used in order to sell something that promises to replicate these results for students.

Am I immune to this form of marketing? Nope. I’ve shared some of our business income milestones in the past.

But sharing income and talking about 5, 6, and 7 figure sums has never really sat right with me.

The Reason Income Claim Marketing Is So Common

If you’re tired of this trend, you first need to understand why it has taken over in recent years and why it’s actually not common outside of the business-to-business space.

1. Businesses teaching “business skills” need to convince you of their effectiveness.

I’ve spoken about how it’s absolutely possible to run a successful online business outside of the “business niche” before. But we’re fooled into thinking it’s not possible, and here’s why:

Anyone who is selling or marketing a business focused program needs to show that it works, and usually the only proof is if it worked for the program creator (before they have any student success stories, especially).

On the other hand, if you run a business that delivers a product or service outside of the B2B space, there’s no reason to share your income. The focus is on helping customers, whether that’s teaching people how to train their dogs, organize their closet, or blend a mean green smoothie.

So the income claim marketing is totally unnecessary in these areas of business.

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2. Money & Numbers Fascinate Us

People are curious. We love seeing behind-the-scenes information – especially when it comes to how money works. Money is even more intriguing because most of our society is hush-hush about it these days.

How often have you spoken about your income or had in-depth money conversations with friends, coworkers, and family members? Probably not often. But any juicy details about the income of other people can help you know if you’re “on track” or not.

And I think it’s also really refreshing to remove the money talk taboo so we can be more honest with how we’re doing – and where we want our businesses to be. At first, this can be a positive of sharing the income of a business. But in a minute, you’ll see why this positive side doesn’t last for very long…

3. Success breeds success

If you see someone who is rocking it out and making a killing, you’ll want to follow along for the journey and maybe even join in the action to see why other people are also flocking to this business.

Call it the “busy restaurant line up effect”, where a successful business keeps getting more successful because it can use the social proof to market even more.

It just takes a small success to then snowball this “win” into bigger results, which allows a business to continue to up their income claim marketing and up their sales as a result.

Why Income Claim Marketing Is A Dangerous Business Practice

I’ve been thinking about income claim marketing for the past few years, and I could never quite put my finger on why it bugged me so much.

On the one hand, it causes lots of crappy feelings for anyone who compares themselves to the businesses in question…

Of course we can reframe that and coach ourselves into being “happy for the business owner,” so that we can manifest the same great thing for ourselves.

(I’ve done that. I’ve definitely looked at other people’s success and cheered them on, because I know that the more of us who are successful, the better. A rising tide lifts all boats, after all!)

And I definitely recommend this positive attitude whenever you see someone else doing what you want to achieve (whether it’s speaking on stages, publishing a book, landing top clients, earning big, etc.).

But here’s the real flaw I’ve come to see with income claim marketing: it doesn’t just affect an audience’s feelings, but it also causes a ton of internal pressure on the business owner to keep performing.

Remember that business is cyclical: there are growing seasons, times of rest, and everything in between.

No business earns exactly the same amount from month to month or year to year… and when we base a business’ success on the income it generates, instead of on the value it provides to its customers, we’re creating false structures that are bound to topple.

When you base a business’ success on income claims instead of value – danger awaits!

How Income Claims Force The Wrong Kind of Business Growth

Growth for growth’s sake is a dangerous mission. It has unsustainability written all over it, and there is no system in nature that can grow unchecked forever.

So why would we think that business is any different? When we look at the stock market, we expect it to just go up-up-up… and the same goes for our business revenues. But that’s not reality.

There are no “linear trajectories” in life or business. Everything is circular or cyclical, and trying to force growth to follow a straight line up is a recipe for burnout.

In order to keep up with expectations like doubling your income year after year, or reaching the next big income milestone, we end up making business growth decisions that don’t align with our intentions for starting a business in the first place.

For some people that means upgrading their lifestyles so that they can add luxury brand marketing to their arsenal and sell the dream using fancy shoes, handbags, and jet-setting adventures.

I know, because I upped my spending on luxury items when my business income increased. Once I started buying fancier clothes, I was perceived differently, but it didn’t fulfill me or make me any happier. To this day, I still have a love/hate relationship with fashion, but that’s a discussion for another day…

Other tricky growth-for-growth’s sake traps that go hand in hand with income claim marketing include:

  • Hiring more team members to keep up with the growth (especially if you never wanted to become a manager)
  • Saying yes to opportunities for growth that aren’t in alignment with your mission and will create more stress and resentment down the line
  • Committing to new offerings just to feed the beast (make payroll or keep your income consistently high)
  • Doing promotions with partners to reach income goals (but that don’t feel good in your heart)
  • Feeling trapped and unable to slow down or create space in your life because the business has taken over

Business Burnout That Looks Like Celebrity Burnout

I think that income claim marketing leads to placing a business owner on a pedestal and can cause issues that many celebrities experience when they get fame quickly: burnout.

When a business owner relies on their income claims to show their expertise and success, it can lead to people chasing similar results like they might chase a popular band or singer. They may not really be there because they love the music, but because everyone else does and it seems like it might work for them.

On the other hand, when you build a community of true fans that love you for who you are and the value that your products and services provide, you don’t need to use your income to market as much.

You can just trust that you provide value directly just by being yourself.

It Doesn’t Show The Full Picture

The other dark side of income claim marketing is that it doesn’t show the full picture. Usually we’re only seeing the “topline numbers”, so we don’t know if a business is profitable.

It’s possible that a business is sharing a huge 5, 6, or 7 figure income but that they spent just as much on expenses to get there. Or even worse, that they’re in debt or owe a ton of taxes.

Again, all of this reminds me of the rosy pictures that we paint of famous celebrities. We don’t really know what’s going on behind the flashy photoshoots and fancy dresses…

That’s why we’re so surprised when we hear of a star overdosing or having addictions.

The Real Solution To Business Growth That’s Sustainable

The solution is simple, and it doesn’t lead to instantaneous success: it’s to put your customers first. To focus on what you can do for them. Irrespective of your income.

Because truly, people don’t care how much money you made as long as you can help them. As long as you care.

So the next time you see a big flashy income claim that’s part of a marketing campaign… think about the value YOU bring, not the numbers that might make you doubt yourself.

I believe in you. I believe in your value.

Let’s discuss this…

Now I’d love to hear your thoughts about income claim marketing. Have you done it? Do you feel burned out by trying to keep up appearances when it comes to luxury lifestyle marketing?

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  • Yes. This. I’m suspicious about the numbers that are waived in front of me, whether it’s income or blog traffic or email subscribers. Some numbers are easy to check, such as social media followers. But the numbers are just numbers. They don’t tell anything about how the numbers were created. Thus, to me, numbers are just numbers.
    Thank you for writing and sharing this!

    • ambitionally

      Such a simple, but incredibly useful way to interpret it: numbers are just numbers! 🙂

  • Nathalie, I love this. It’s a really important discussion to have. I’m a WAHM and I really resonate with the idea of value vs. dollars. I have a set # of one-off and retainer clients I can serve each month. It’s not a scarcity tactic when I say I have a waitlist list, it’s just my reality of balancing my son and my business. And if I was chasing a higher gross number at month end, I would be unable to serve everyone well. I really appreciate you saying this and reminding me that I’m on the right track.

    • ambitionally

      I love your focus on serving your customers well – that’s what will make you successful in the long run, which is what I think we all want!

  • absolutely LOVE this post, Nathalie.
    As both a buyer of online courses and in my accounting/vcfo business, income claims have always made me feel “some kinda way” when I see them in marketing. There are so many factors that go into achieving that milestone… and I’ve rarely seen it replicated by their students. And my #1 issue is that it’s usually the top line/gross income number (not the bottom line/profit number). #NumbersNerd  

  • I love this. Just the other day I had a talk with my own coach -I also coach people but about marketing because there are soooo many claims and I am getting a bit tired of all the big numbers but also all the “You can have a loving man in 3 weeks or a 5 figure business in one year – because YES that does happen but for most people it takes time to build up, to get ready for the right partner after a breakup. I would love to see someone value time being honest about the time It can take to really get the life or business they dream about. Tony R ones said that people overestimate what they can do in one year but they underestimate what they can do in 10. And about money, I love to hear people talk about the success with money but again I would so much rather hear about their every day. And also here being honest. I loved when Marie Forleo and Gabby talked about how stressed they often were and how they also forgot them self sometimes – yes we are human and I think that is what will sell in the future so THANKS for this blog. Very spot on and inspiring <3 Love, Line

    • ambitionally

      Yes – it’s not all about the “polished outside” of our businesses, but it’s also about what it takes to get there… and sometimes that means being stressed like you mentioned. Or it means a few years of hard work before it really “clicks” and pays off (there’s no such thing as overnight success).

  • Thank you SO much for this discussion, Nathalie! It has been bugging me for some time, too. I actually jumped on and blogged a response to your post, it hit such a home run with me!

  • Thanks Natalie. As a coach I really just want to help people be the best of themselves (which is why I resonate with a lot of your content – we’re on the same page) but even when I’m conscious of this, it is still easy to get drawn in and feel the pressure of this type of marketing. Thanks for calling it out!!
    This year I’ve decided to go the other way and cut back a day in order help my wife shine in her coaching and performing work – and it’s working! Working smarter – not harder and serving others is often the unsung path to success. Thanks for all you do 🙂

    • ambitionally

      Congrats Andrew on focusing on what matters to you and your family – and that working smarter not harder is the solution. I love it!

  • Wow, Nathalie! So much wisdom and insight packed into one post! Very encouraging and very enlightening. I really appreciate it.

  • I love this! I’m one of those people who read the income report and then feel bad because I don’t make that kind of money and wonder what I’m doing wrong. The fact is that we can’t compare ourselves to those other businesses and we can’t expect exact results because we’re each different. We’re in a different stage of life. We have different demands on our time. We reach a different audience with our businesses. So we can’t expect to exactly replicate someone else’s results. I love that you emphasize that what we need to focus on is how well we are serving our customers with our business.

  • Really enjoyed this article Nathalie. Like you, I agree that it’s refreshing to see people removing the money taboo. One of the things we encourage as part of our business is talking about money in a healthy, open and constructive way.
    The biggest issue I have with ‘income claim marketing’ is that it is often “positive” sharing rather than “authentic” sharing of the income of a business. I’m all for authenticity, but hyped up claims aren’t helpful to anyone.
    This type of marketing also ignores the fact that many people I know aren’t motivated by money, beyond having enough to be free of financial concerns. As you said, striving for more may not be aligned with a person’s deeper intentions and values, and therefore not lead to the result they want.

  • I loved reading this. So glad you said it. I’m so tired of these marketing campaigns. Also they really don’t work for b2c. I addition there is a big difference between income and NET income. A basic P & L report shows my income in the mid 6 figures. The NET income is 85k. Most of my op expenses are rent and payroll. I rarely believe the income claims.

    • ambitionally

      I was just thinking about you this morning when taking care of the little one. Hope you’re doing amazing – and I totally agree on the net vs. topline numbers. Sending lots of tai chi love your way Natalia! 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing this! Something I have felt to be a little incongruent and you articulated why so beautifully! Every point you make is spot on. Awesome post (as usual)!

    • ambitionally

      Thank you so much Lauren – glad it helped to shed some light for you! 🙂

  • I’ve had a mini epiphany about why the online business world doesn’t always sit comfortably with me! As I’m offering online alternatives for services traditionally provided face-to-face in the corporate world, I find that much of what’s preached only seems to make sense to online entrepreneurs selling to one another. Most of my ‘tribe’ speak another language, and find ‘income claim marketing’ claims shallow and tacky. Thank you for this thoughtful post Nathalie. You’ve also reminded me about how I want my end customer to feel.

    • ambitionally

      I’m so glad this is helping you focus on how you want your customer to feel – and great point about online entrepreneurs selling to each other. I do think there’s value in communities doing business with each other, and that feels natural to me… but I also see the downside of operating in a bubble!

  • This is what resonated fir me: “Growth for growth’s sake is a dangerous mission. It has unsustainability written all over it, and there is no system in nature that can grow unchecked forever.” You hit the nail on the head. And, luxury items don’t bring happiness, they just add to the items and an artificial lifestyle that OWNS you. Think: Having to keep up with the Joneses. I love your post and that you’ve been brave to air this issue. I’m a fairly new blogger and in the successful bloggers I’ve been following or observing who quote huge numbers I’ve been noticing and thinking they have reached burnout. I have a goal in my head of hiw much I’d like to earn from blogging to fulfil our needs. I don’t believe having more brings lating happiness. Lots of times it destroys you. What saddens me is that so much of society is based on growth for griwth sake. If only they took on board your mantra…business is cyclical, the world would be a better place. I say this from the heart, not for appearances or to get points for commenting Thank You again.

    • ambitionally

      I love your point about luxury items that end up owning you. So true!

  • You’re SPOT ON with this post Nat!!! Thank YOU for writing it. I couldn’t agree with you more on every point. <3

  • Nathalie,
    I totally hear what you are saying – and I do think the income claim marketing (love the term) is overdone. The reason of course must be because it works.
    But the downside is that it can make people feel inferior. Sometimes reading all those claims pumps me up because I see possibilities and other times it gets me down because I can’t keep up with the Joneses.
    I never thought much about the pressure it puts on the publisher to keep producing – but you are right – you are creating your own big shoes to fill.
    Pursuing your purpose and your passion with a mission to serve authentically is the best path, I think.

    • ambitionally

      Yes Neena, I feel you – sometimes it can feel motivating but other times it just takes the wind out of your sails. So glad this resonated!

  • Great article! Income Marketing Claim has been around forever. It’s just packaged differently today. Think of the snake oil salesmen coming through town with the circus making all kinds of claims. It’s nothing new. Anyone with a B.S. radar can see these people for who they are. They are inauthentic and lack substance. They appeal to a certain type of consumer – naive and inexperienced. Keep up the good work!

    • ambitionally

      You’re right Brenda and there are certainly other industries that have a similar vibe, even if it’s not talking about income claims… There are certainly some info-mercials that make me think of circus salespeople. 😉

  • Thank you SO MUCH for this Natalie, you nailed the reasons so weel why this is such an obnoxious and unhealthy practice. I often get the heebee jeebees when I see this tactic. I LOVE celebrating victories with those who have their hearts in the right place. Though, as an empath I feel the incongruence and manipulative energy behind things and feel concerned for all those who get sucked into this approach. Thanks so much for calling it out so elegantly:)

    • ambitionally

      Thanks for sharing your insights as an empath – I sometimes get bad vibes about stuff too, or at least my spider sense tingles. But it can be so seductive like someone else mentioned here in the comments, and that’s where it’s tricky!

  • Hi Nathalie,
    I’m in your challenge and love your authenticity here!
    I have never personally done it but I have to admit I’ve fallen (more than once) into marketing programs that used this tactic and I felt the pressure and comparison to learn from them so I signed up. What ended up happening, both times, was that they offered a one-size-fits-all solution that worked for them, but felt totally NOT GOOD to me and my business! It makes you feel like a failure and upset for spending your money and falling prey. So I appreciate this.

    • ambitionally

      Thanks so much for sharing that Alexis. I know I’ve fallen for it myself too! One time I bought a marketing training program without looking closely enough at the content and just focusing on the numbers… and it ended up being all about promoting products I had no desire to sell. Now I’m a lot more careful. 😉

  • Thanks Natalie! I’ve never felt comfortable with this kind of marketing but just hadn’t taken the time to articulate “why”. In one of the points you mention, that you may have to hire additional team members, keep pumping out new products and other activities that ultimately lead to business burn out. It’s so true! If you have a business that supports your family and your dream lifestyle, spend your days serving customers you love the monetary value you can put on that is…PRICELESS! The ups and downs of financial income are just a fact of life in business and the more people who speak about it, the more other entrepreneurs can have a clear understanding of what its takes to stay and succeed in business. Thanks!

    • ambitionally

      You’re so welcome Jana! I think we can all benefit from sharing the realness of the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. It’s not all roses, but it’s so worth it! 😉

  • This is a timely message Nathalie. I just asked a blogger if her income claim is really true. I wanted to know since I was considering enrolling in her class. I wanted to know if she was the real deal to help me grow my blog. So I did. And she wanted to take my question and answer it too, for her other readers.
    I personally have never done income claim marketing. But I do feel the “pressure” that you talk about. I want to be successful in what I do, but I don’t want to fall because of it. That’s something that I’ve always been fearful of. You make great points. A business should always focus on providing value, whether through products, services or entertainment. Thanks for writing this. It’s an important thought to ponder.

    • ambitionally

      I’m glad you reached out to the blogger in question and that she wanted to address it, too! At the end of the day, we’re looking for something real, and we can usually do that when we focus on the value, for sure. 🙂

  • Thank you for this post, Nathalie! This has been a trigger (and barrier) for me for a while. Even though I have confidence when I talk to other people or clients about their marketing, the truth is I’ve been really insecure about marketing our own business (Cultivar Designs – website design & dev).
    Maybe this isn’t quite the same thing?… While I haven’t felt as pressured to share what we make (not nearly as much I think people perceive we do), I HAVE felt continually ‘pressured’ to market ourselves based on the financial results of our CLIENTS after they get their new website from us. My focus keeps coming back to “if can’t clearly demonstrate how our sites make our clients money, then where is the value for us to market?” Like, if we can’t prove the financial benefit of our clients, we have no other value to offer. Or at least, no other value that’s as powerful or important.
    In moments of clarity (and after reading your post!) I know this is not true.
    We’re not professional marketers and we tell our clients this. We make sure they know that their website, while it needs to have a marketing mindset with how it’s put together (valuable and enticing optins, email funnels, etc) still requires them to do marketing on their end to achieve results.
    Your post helped remind me where our value lies, even if I’m still struggling for the perfect words to describe it – we make our clients feel GREAT about their website. We make them feel like they have support backing them up and empowered to be creative and work on their sites (because they are!). And we genuinely connect with them, listen and hear them where they’re at, and offer thoughtful ideas, recommendations and even coaching that addresses them as a WHOLE person.
    Thanks for your insights and for keepin’ it real! <3

    • ambitionally

      I love this aha moment Shayna! And it’s so interesting to me that we feel like we need to prove things, and even prove things through our clients, too. As opposed to focusing on what we DO bring to the table. You’re awesome, and you provide such an amazing service to your clients!

  • Great thoughts about running a happy business. Really made me think. I’ve benefitted at times by listening to more in-depth explanations one entrepreneur has shared about how she got to 7 figures, when she broke it down. And also been perplexed by repeated posts stating outlandish income results in a short time again and again. I love what you mention, taking the “taboo” off talking about money. That’s a button for me. Great to remember that your customers primarily care about whether you can help them. Great reminder to focus on not doing things just to chase the dollar that you don’t want to do. Not to get caught up in a cycle. That’s big for entrepreneurs who are supposed to be all about doing what really makes them happy. I’ve got a close CPA friend who has made similar observations ever since I started mentioning some of these bigger claim posts I’d seen. He’d always say, “I wouldn’t believe half of them. You don’t know the real story or how long it took or what it cost them to get there.” And he pointed out an example of when I posted about a large sale I’d made that was gratifying (in a salesperson’s group who shared helpful tips) and then the next day it turned out the client thought the initial deposit was the cost of the whole project! So we had to re-negotiate.

    • ambitionally

      Thanks so much for chiming in here with your example Katie, and also the perspective from someone outside our industry is really helpful too. You rock 🙂

  • This is a very thoughtful article, Nathalie. There have only been a handful of instances where I’ve found income marketing helpful. It’s always been in the “profitable blog” space where the owner wasn’t selling a course or program. No promises are made, it’s just “This is what I made this month. Here are my expenses and this is how I did it.” In this instance, I appreciate the transparency and idea of a blueprint where I can see month to month growth or lack of. Other FB ad, “infomercial” landing pages, and over-the-top income marketing with just a course price tag and a promise is just annoying.

    • ambitionally

      That’s a great example Shannon of someone sharing their income and expenses (that’s also key, I think!) so you can learn how they’re doing it.

  • Natalie, I love this post so much! Income claim marketing has also been a bugbear for me too because it feels like if you’re not doing it, you don’t get noticed. It has never sat well with me and I don’t use it. Growth is not linear and I agree, it does push more stress and strain…it also begs the question, when is enough, enough?
    Social proof is very powerful and very seductive and as we see more and more of this type of claim, we have to be so careful not to fall into the trap. No two businesses are equal and people have different skill sets and knowledge.
    What worked for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else.
    Thank you for saying this!

    • ambitionally

      Absolutely Yasmin! Thank you sharing your perspective – social proof is so seductive, and we can use other methods (like delivering great results to our customers!) to market. 🙂

  • Thanks for your insight on this Nathalie – it’s becoming an increasingly interesting topic of discussion for sure. One aspect of ‘income claim marketing’ that personally doesn’t sit well with me are new people on the scene who had success ONE TIME (like a $10k month for example – which seems to be everyone’s holy grail’) THEN they market themselves as someone who can help others do that. What I am not in alignment with is that this person has not yet figured out how to repeat, duplicate or make that amount consistently.
    Also, I believe a lot of ‘coaches’ coming onto the scene the last 3(ish) years have seen SO MANY income claim marketing messages that they ‘believe’ that’s the ONLY way people are going to be interested in what they have to say…not necessarily because they truly desire to market in this way, they think that’s what the consumer wants to see.
    Personally, I do like hearing from top level coaches, mentors, consultants, experts, online trainers, etc. how much they are making….BUT, at the right time in the marketing message AND after it has been made solid, sustainable and stable.
    I can also see your point about the business owner being under pressure to continue to sustain the level of income they are claiming – it’s pretty easy to be a one-hit wonder. Again, goes back to repeating, sustaining, consistency, earning the right to share an income claim BEFORE using that form of marketing.
    Thanks again for your insight and bringing this up for discussion.

    • ambitionally

      Thank YOU Megan for sharing your viewpoints. I totally agree that the one hit wonder and turning around to teach using that as your “resume” is murky territory.

  • THIS: “The solution is simple, and it doesn’t lead to instantaneous success: it’s to put your customers first. To focus on what you can do for them. Irrespective of your income.”
    I loved this piece and am so glad that you wrote it. I’ll be sharing it in my weekly email and podcast because I know this will resonate with my people! Thanks for your honesty and for handling this in a way that’s still kind and not tearing down people who might do this.

    • ambitionally

      So glad this resonated for you Kirsten, and thank you for sharing too! 🙂

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