I revised this review in January 2014, as the price of the workbook had significantly increased since I first wrote it in November 2013. I didn't end up publishing it then due to procrastination and perfectionism reasons, so here it is now, in March, imperfect. I've added a detailed description of the workbook as well as updates about Leonie Dawson's Academy refund policy.
As in my original review, I dedicate a fair bit of space covering the topic of membership in Leonie's "Amazing Biz & Life Academy," since a large portion of the workbook is dedicated to promoting the Academy, and at the time I first wrote the review, hardly any critical information about Leonie's products were available elsewhere on the web.
The workbook is very simple (not much text), colourful, with a peace-and-love, positive-affirmation style of vibe. It's a fun exercise for making plans for the following year. This is the first year it's available in print, making it more useful than the PDF versions available in previous years.
It probably should have been printed half the size and double the thickness (i.e. A5 format instead of A4), and spiral-bound, so that it would be easier to write in and easier to carry around in a purse or bag. As it is, it's a soft-cover book roughly 8.5" x 11", about the size and thickness of a magazine. (Note: If you're thinking of buying the PDF virtual versions from the author's website, to print yourself, here are the specs, which are currently not available on Leonie Dawson's website: Life Edition: 74 pages including cover, 9 of which are self-promotion; Biz Edition: 55 pages including cover, 9 of which are self-promotion).
Nearly 8% of the 116 pages in the printed version are used to promote some of Leonie's other "products" which are all virtual. As a former member of Leonie's Academy, I only have the PDF version of the workbook, since she doesn't provide members with the hard copy (even for the exorbitant membership price), so I spent a fairly large amount of time printing, cutting, and gluing the pages into a spiral notebook so I could fill them out. It costs a lot of money in terms of ink, paper and glue (I went through 3 glue sticks), who knows -- maybe enough to justify buying the printed version of the book. No, I don't live near a Staples or other print company, and yes, I looked online for printing options but the prices were $30 and up with shipping included. Leonie's suggestion (written in an introductory page in the beginning of the book) is to put the pages into a ring binder or folder, but that didn't appeal to me.
The text of the 2014 workbook is nearly identical to the text of the 2013 workbook, but all the artwork (page decorations) are different. The 2013 version looks more arty and handwritten while in the 2014 version, the text is typed. If you have an older version (PDF file) of the calendar and are short on funds I recommend just reprinting that one and use it for the new year.
Most of the pages have one or two questions on them e.g. "This year I promise to myself that I will..." and "2014 will be the year that...", surrounded by pretty, female-oriented drawings, and the rest of the space is for the purchaser to fill in with his/her answers to the questions. There is a separate calendar for each edition (Life and Biz), NOT included in this print version of the workbook, which are downloadable from Leonie's website, but I'm not sure if or how the author allows this for non-"Academy" members.
If you do get access somehow, printing the calendars in a way that you can hang them on the wall is a challenge. I first tried to print them as booklets in Preview but that doesn't work, since the pages are formatted horizontally instead of vertically. After some experimentation, I finally printed one-sided sheets that I then glued into the back of the same spiral notebook that I put the workbook into. I then punched a hole near the edge of the back pages so I can optionally hang it on the wall the way a normal calendar hangs, but I'm still filling it out, so for now I just keep it on my desk. Basically, the calendars require extra costs in thought, time and money for printing in a way that's useful, and Leonie really should sell them as a printed item. If you can't get the calendar PDF, just use any standard calendar instead - hers are girly, fun, and hand-drawn and have positive affirmations throughout, otherwise it's the same as most other calendars except that you have to print it yourself so it's not really useful.
Now, on to Leonie Dawson's "Amazing Biz and Life Academy." Currently, the only way you can access the e-products advertised in the workbook is via membership in the "Academy" - i.e. you can't just buy one of them.
I fell under Leonie's spell about a year ago via a blogger friend who wrote an inspiring piece about Leonie Dawson's Goddess Circle. After visiting Leonie's website, I signed up for the free newsletter. Many months later, I allowed Leonie's clever email tactics to finally wear me down and I succumbed to her urgency marketing schemes, joining her so-called "Amazing Biz & Life Academy" (formerly the Goddess Circle) just before the much-promoted price jump from $199 to $497 which took place on October 1, 2013. Just two years ago, the "Goddess Circle" was only $99, for almost exactly the same products and services. I remember spending the whole year waiting for the price to go back down, and when she announced the price was in fact going up, I panicked. I ended up paying twice the price I thought it might be worth at the time -- so the joke's on me.
I now realize that my friend was one of Leonie's affiliates -- getting 50% of the profits from any sales referrals. Too bad for her that I didn't know this when I bought, or I could have used the link on my friend's site so that at least the friend could have benefitted from my excessive expenditure.
The friend privately admitted to me that she thought the new Academy prices were too high for what was offered. She had only paid $99 for the same products and services, back when the Academy was more appropriately branded the "Goddess Circle." I can only imagine how many of Leonie's affiliates are out there, promoting her products but not actually receiving any of the 50% promised, because it may take a week, months or even a year of getting Leonie's newletters for people to finally take the bait. Leonie promises a free "Biz and Blog Star Workbook" if you sign up for the newsletter, so of course most people will sign up for the newsletter and end up buying direct from her site, even though it was someone else's post that led them there.
About those newsletters... she uses pretty much every unscrupulous sales tactic in the book. She starts with the basic recipe of appealing to all the insecurities and negative feelings a self-help junkie might have, covers that up with a dose of 'I'm-just a super-generous hippie who figured it all out and now I want to spread my love throughout the world,' and then fires it with a dose of urgency -- so that in case money's tight, you'll be sure to get on that train. Here are some direct quotes: "The train is leaving the station. Are you on board sweetheart? Less than 24 hours to get in!!!" Thinking you can't afford her big price tag? She wrote a whole newsletter on how you should choose to "invest in yourself": Direct quote: "Instead of saying: I really want to do this but I can't afford it. Say: I really want to go to do this AND I will work out a way to afford it!"
If you happen to be in a depressed period of your life and are grasping at straws, she just might make you feel as though you'd gladly pay 500 bucks just to be in regular contact with what seems to be such a vibrant and caring individual. She writes: "The Academy is EVERYTHING I can give you to help you at the most GENEROUS, AFFORDABLE price I could possibly offer. Why did I set it up? I hate seeing you in pain. I hate seeing you struggling. I hate seeing you not being able to have your own gorgeous, peaceful, happy life. I hate seeing you creatively blocked. I hate seeing you struggling with creating an income from their gifts. I hate seeing you crazy overworked, underpaid, energetically depleted. I hate it because I KNOW it can be different. It is absolutely doable and possible."
This is a classic case of a seller that over promises and under delivers. Leonie says again and again that she only works a couple of hours per day. It's obvious now that most of that small amount of time is spent on marketing, mostly via her newsletter -- not actually improving some of her now out-dated products which were originally created years ago, when blogging was a new concept. Looking back, I now realize I was getting way more out of the newsletters than I got when I was a member of the "Academy." When you read her newsletters, you feel like you're her best friend. But if you join the Academy, you soon realize that she doesn't participate in the forums, except to promote things.
Leonie says she is constantly updating her products. Last year, as far as I could tell, two new items were added:
1. a video showing how to make a felted wool angel - a one-hour video that took longer than took half a day to download, and of which 60% or more featured her interacting with her toddler (cute but not relevant - fine to post for free on youtube but this unedited home movie is certainly not worth $21, as she said when she "gave" it to us members).
2. an e-course on how to run a 6-figure team. This one, unlike some of the older e-courses, is typed in an easy-to read font and is mainly text-based rather than artwork-based. The meat of this "course" is a 60-page "guide" that lightly covers topics such as when to hire, when to fire, and how to make your key staff members fall in love with you and never leave you. It's not terrible, but most of this information can be found free online. Also, the title of the book would be more relevant if it left out of the part about 6-figures. The 6-figure bit is just marketing hype since the book doesn't really talk about the difference between hiring a regular business team vs hiring a 6-figure team. About 10% of the book is dedicated to describing how she hired and managed to keep her Chief Operations Officer, Melissa Bracke. Ironically, Melissa Bracke mysteriously disappeared from Leonie's "team" after the publication of this e-book. The book, being only 60 pages, doesn't go into a lot of detail on any of the subtopics. For example, in the section on how to hire, Leonie writes "So I asked Marissa to come up with a sound, logical, analytical system for hiring. Which she did (AND LOVED CREATING, BY THE WAY! Oh the joys of having someone with opposite gifts to you!)" ...but unfortunately this hiring system is not shared with us in the book.
Her other e-books, or rather portions of books separated out into e-course format (since that's the way they used to be offered before Leonie formed the Goddess Circle / Academy) are downloadable PDF's, many of them using a large handwriting-style font, with lots of drawings and decorations. Pretty to look at onscreen, but not readable on Kindle. Expensive to print (uses a ton of paper and ink for not much content), and inconvenient to read -- who likes leafing through a stack of A4's? None of the old products have been upgraded to make them readable on Kindle or other reading devices - so you're stuck reading them on your computer screen or printing them all out, which is extremely costly. With the massive increase in membership price, you'd think Leonie could shell out a few bucks towards that project, since it likely won't be her doing the upgrades what with her minimal work hours.
The forums are practically dead, as there is a no-negativity policy. Leonie has written a whole newsletter on how to get fired as her client, and in the welcome video for new members she spends a fair bit of time (surrounded by an angelic background glow) begging us to understand that she will not tolerate negative comments of any kind. Some members complained about the lacking services and their memberships were instantly revoked, with no refund provided (google GOMI Leonie Dawson for more details). It felt like a scam or a cult.
Leonie's interaction on her own forum is virtually zero so don't expect to connect with her by joining the club. Her academy guides, which appear to be mostly volunteers, run the forum topics -- which means to say, they try to instigate conversation, but also end up providing most of the responses, since not many members actually interact -- a fact that I think is due to Leonie's no-negativity policy, and due to the general unspoken lack of satisfaction on the part of most of the members, who are forced to remain silent if they wish to remain members.**
NO REFUNDS: When I first wrote this review in November, there was an absolute "no refunds" policy. Since then, it has been brought to Leonie's attention that her policy went against Australian law (people have talked about it on GOMI). Leonie has recently updated her policy slightly to make it more legal - now the policy is officially "There are NO refunds for Academy memberships except where required by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Law." But if we think about it, any self-respecting e-course provider will back legitimately useful products and services with a satisfaction guarantee. I consider myself duly educated -- no satisfaction guarantee equals no satisfaction, guaranteed.
*** Note: see the end of this review for an another update on the refund policy
One thing I've learned is that if I want to run a successful business that retains its integrity and thus allows me to retain mine, I simply cannot follow Leonie's pyramid-style, swindling business model. Her business goddess course includes "the magic money making kit." The key concept of the "kit" is a simple formula - the key question being "How much money do you want to make this month?" And the main part of the answer being "how we can make other numbers (number of people, number of price, number of income streams) add up to that number. like monopoly, or sudoku, or connect four. lining up the pieces, dots, paper, numbers. it's just a number, whether it is $200 or $20000. and it is a fun game to play in. There is no wrong answer when it comes to this question. You can play for $100. Or you can play for $10 000...." She continues on to explain how to make your income meet this goal. Mainly, by increasing product prices.
But this doesn't make sense. Pricing should be based on a balance of cost (how much it costs to make and deliver the product), market demand (how much people want the product), competitor pricing, and desired profit. It has to be reasonable. You can't just think, this year I want to double my income. What should I do? Well double (or quintuple) my prices of course! This solution is not sustainable. You'll have people giving in to your marketing hype, then regretting their decision, and ultimately writing 10-page negative reviews in hopes of warning others about a potential scam. (Case in point.)
Thank you Leonie, I did learn something from your "Academy" after all. If I want to truly help people and make a positive difference in the world, I won't get greedy and won't oversell. I won't be too lazy or too busy with my personal life to improve my business, yet expect people to pay exponentially increasing prices for it. Karma will always get you in the end.
The worst of it is that at the time I rewrite this review (January), Leonie has just sent out a mass email imploring people to refer non-profit organizations that she could "donate" her PDF (non-print) workbooks to. Maybe she thinks this will make her seem generous and charitable. And perhaps it would, if she were sending the print version instead of the PDF version, and if she didn't include nearly 10 pages of product promotion in each workbook. Instead, it seems she is now preying on those that are least fortunate, and most likely to fall for her "life-changing" marketing ploys. Those people who have the least resources to be able to support it.
The lovely "Goddess Circle" concept that Leonie started with has morphed into something else - something, it seems, more akin to an empire of greed.
In a nutshell, if you want to learn how to swindle thousands of struggling entrepreneurs (or any other hopeful dreamers) out of a few hundred bucks in order to make your millions quick, and you don't mind inconvenient book formats, you should definitely fork out a few hundred of your own and join the author's "academy". Otherwise, steer clear.
Previously, my advice was to buy the workbook, but skip the membership. Now that the workbook is priced at nearly $30, I say skip it all. Save yourself some heartache and a lot of money. There are other planners out there, more affordably priced.
Google "GOMI Leonie Dawson" for some uncensored opinions on the "Academy."
** Update March 2014 - as I understand it, Leonie is currently moving the forum to Facebook, and may close her forum on the Academy website.
*** Update March 2014 -- After months of heartache over having felt swindled by joining the "Academy," I wrote a short polite email to Leonie's team (obviously no threats, also no mention of this review) stating that I was unhappy with the membership and why, asking for a refund. To my extreme surprise, I was granted one within a few hours, in spite of the "no refund" policy. Something for those of you in a similar position to try...