The big gurus of internet marketing have amassed large fortunes and learned a lot along the way. So how could it be dangerous to follow them?

Let’s ignore the question of whether they’re stringing you along, giving you just enough information to keep you coming back for more each time they launch a new product, but not enough to break free of them. I’ll leave that discussion to someone else.

The danger I’m talking about could bite you even if you never pay them a penny — even if you’re just taking the freebies they give away or watching and emulating how they work. I’m talking about the danger of believing that what they do and teach is okay — that it’s ethical and legal.

Yes, a lot of what they do and say is perfectly ethical and legal. But unless you’ve been living under a rock without Wi-Fi, you know that the FTC has been cracking down on a lot of common internet marketing practices. Some big name gurus have had businesses shut down and worse. Others have voluntarily backed off of practices they know risk landing them in hot water.

With Gurus Come Cults

The big boys don’t get where they are by sitting in a corner and whispering their sales pitches to anybody who wanders near. Part of their strategy is to build up big followings of groupies who hang on every word they say, and repeat it as gospel truth. That’s smart business. And as long as what they’re saying is ethical, there’s really nothing wrong with it.

The problem is that not everything they teach is ethical and/or legal. But if you venture into their world, you’ll end up so inundated with it that pretty soon the shady stuff starts to look good. It starts to look normal.

Don’t Think You’re Immune

How many auto mechanics do you think there are who would have been perfectly honest if they’d established the auto mechanic market themselves. But because they’re surrounded by people who sell unnecessary parts and repairs, they think it’s just the way business is done, and end up doing it themselves. Surely there’s not some primal force that disproportionately drives dishonest people to be interested in cars, right? The environment has a powerful influence.

As you’re learning internet marketing, and even as you fine tune your business once you’ve got the foundation set, it’s important to keep aware that in our market, a lot of people step over the line. There are plenty of honest marketers, but the lure of easy money also attracts those who are looking for shortcuts, some of whom don’t care who’s lawn they cut across or what damage they do.

Avoiding Group Think

It’s okay to watch the big boys — even those who push the limits. There’s a lot to be learned from them. But I recommend also seeking out voices that talk about ethics — people who speak up when unethical practices start getting accepted. Subscribe to their blogs and listen to what they have to say.

And when that little voice in your head tries to warn you that something isn’t right, take a step back from all the hype and groupthink and consider for yourself whether a method is ethical.

If you simply accept and follow everything that’s said by people who are highly motivated to make a lot of money, someday you may get a knock on your door from the FTC.

Just keep your eyes open.