I woke up this morning with an image in my mind that I'd seen years ago while living in San Francisco. We were in a drought, and people who used more water than they had the same month of the previous year risked significant penalties.

It was then that I noticed the green driveways.

Homeowners who wanted lawns but didn't want to put in the time and money to plant, water, and maintain them would sometimes paint their driveways green. And it looked ridiculous -- nothing like a real lawn. It was like a landscaping combover.

Some people advocate taking a similar approach to internet marketing. If you don't have the skills to do it for real, they say, "fake it till you make it."

It's an attractive idea. You can get started without having to develop the skills first. You can develop the skills by practicing as you go. And if you drink the Kool-aid, you can believe that you might succeed while you're faking it.

Unfortunately, similar to the sartorial combover, the idea is more attractive than the actual implementation.

As an internet marketer, it's important to remember that anything you publish online is like disposable plastic packaging -- it'll be around for millennia after you've been reduced to dust and forgotten. Which means that someday when you've developed real marketing chops, any marketing combovers you try out today will still be archived somewhere, waiting to embarrass you.

And consider this: if you make it as a faker, are you still a faker? Like Paris Hilton or a boostrap guru, you'll be famous for being famous. And the sad thing is that others will try to emulate your success. Unless you pick up some solid substance along the way, what will you have to teach them?

"Fake it till you make it" is a pyramid scheme. Eventually, there's nobody left to fool, and the fools at the bottom will be out of luck.

If "fake it till you make it" isn't a legitimate approach, what hope is there for beginners?

Fortunately, there are several legitimate approaches for a beginner to take.

Reader Comment:
Nick Andren said:
This was an insightful post. A company or person often can't fake it in the long run because people will realize that behind the promises and jazz, they have no real value in what they offer. Another thing to consider is that when marketing, somet...
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First, consider this: even experts are beginners at things they're not experts at. On the one hand, that means that when experts try new things (eg. a PPC expert trying out Facebook advertising or a blogger trying out video marketing), in a way, they're "faking it" just as much as anybody else. Their successes in other areas just give them more chutzpah.

But the practical upshot for beginners is that you don't have to pretend to be an expert in areas where you're not. Instead, focus on your strengths.

If you don't want to grow a lawn, don't fake it with green paint. Put in landscaping rocks. If you don't want to use Rogaine or get hair plugs, don't fake it with a combover -- cut what hair you have short, shave it all off, or cover it with a hat.

Instead of becoming yet another "me too" faker, embrace who you really are and build a USP around that.

If you've got knowledge, skills and experience in craft making, and want to become an internet marketer, don't start off by writing an eBook about marketing on Squidoo. Start off marketing things related to the crafts industry. Your fellow crafters will relate to you as a crafter, and overlook any shortcomings in your marketing chops till you've overcome them.

Someday when you're an expert at both crafts and marketing, you can write a "internet marketing for crafters" eBook. Until then, do the marketing and develop the expertise. If you're not claiming to be a craft marketing expert before you really are, you're not faking it.

Embrace the Combover

The other approach is to fake it, but don't try to hide the fact that you're faking it. Be the guy who's got a combover, knows it looks awful, but proudly shows it off anyway. As long as you find a way to offer some real value (eg. by interviewing real experts), a healthy dose of transparent bluster may be just what you need to stand out from the crowd.