Why I was arrested at 4 years old, and the surprising business lesson it can teach you

In 1980, I was dropped off by a police officer at my parents’ house for a reason that may never have happened in all of history, except for that day.

As a 4-year-old kid growing up in Milwaukee, I learned there was one way I could easily make money — collecting aluminum cans. Near our house, I noticed drivers would throw cans from their cars along a fence as they were speeding down the interstate.

Being an enterprising child and not wanting to miss this golden opportunity, I walked the two blocks to the interstate, climbed the fence, and started collecting cans. I didn’t have a bag or anything to carry them because what 4-year-old would think that far ahead?

A kind police officer, fearing for my safety, pulled over, asked where I lived, and escorted me home. When my dad answered the door, he saw me standing there, holding the cans between my arms.

For those of you over 40 like me, you know how hard it used to be to both find the opportunity (the cans) as well the audience to buy your product (the recycling center).

Having experienced the creation and growth of the internet, I now look at social media and think, “Wow, this is where my audience is all the time, and I just need to do the work required to serve them.” Oh, and not get struck by vehicles to boot.

The internet — and specifically social media — has eliminated constraints by which we were all limited in business before. Let’s look at three of them individually:

  1. Proximity to opportunity: No longer do we need to walk, drive, or fly to the metaphorical interstate to collect our cans. Your customers and potential customers can be located anywhere with internet access, regardless if you provide a good or service. Even trades like plumbing, electrical, roofing, etc. can source leads through online marketing and referring/selling those leads to partners in other locations.
  2. Hours of business operations: Your customers and potential customers no longer need to see you in person or talk to you via phone to proceed through your sales process. Today’s customer is more educated than ever before, and you can engender trust through your use of digital marketing and social media. How? Simply answer commonly asked questions on your website and your social media channels. Produce written, video, and/or audio content intended to help them make a better buying decision, and watch as you gather more leads through your thought leadership.
  3. Distribution of content: Your ability to produce content can be magnified through a strategic use of the media outlet(s) you now own, namely your social media accounts. Despite the decrease in organic (read: free) reach across social media channels, opportunities still abound for those willing to invest the time. Instead of simply broadcasting commercials, use your social media accounts to engage in conversation with your followers. Answer their questions, and if they’re not asking you any yet, use your posts as an opportunity to prompt conversations.

The power of the internet and social media is almost impossible to estimate. Despite working in this industry every single day, I’m constantly surprised by the disruption created in the most unexpected methods and in the most unlikely industries. Although you might not identify yourself as an online company, you are. How are you using the technologies most of us simply take for granted to grow your business?

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