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Why I Was Arrested at Age 4

Social Media

One day 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 that there was one way I could easily make money: collecting aluminum cans. I noticed that drivers would throw cans from their cars at a fence near our house as they were speeding down the interstate. 

Being an enterprising child and not wanting to miss this 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 in my arms.

For those of you over 40 like me, you know how hard it used to be to both find an opportunity (i.e., the cans) and a customer willing 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 – I just need to do the work required to serve them.” Oh, and not get hit by a car. 

Read more commentary by Spencer X Smith here

The Internet – and specifically social media – has eliminated many constraints that used to limit businesses. Let’s look at three of these constraints: proximity to opportunity, hours of business operations, and distribution of content.

Proximity to Opportunity

No longer do we need to walk, drive or fly to the metaphorical Interstate to collect our cans. Whether you provide goods or services, your customers and prospects can be located anywhere with Internet access. Even trades like plumbing, electrical, roofing, etc., can source sales leads via online marketing and referring/selling those leads to partners in other locations. 

Hours of Business Operations

Your customers and prospects no longer need to see you in person or talk to you on the 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.

Distribution of Content

Your ability to produce content can be magnified through the strategic use of a media outlet you already own: 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. 

Know Thyself

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 in the most unlikely industries. You might not identify yourself as an online company, but that’s what you are. How are you using the technologies most of us simply take for granted to grow your business? 

Spencer X Smith is the founder of He’s a former 401(k) wholesaler, and now teaches financial services professionals how to use social media for business development. This column originally appeared in the Summer issue of  NAPA Net the Magazine.