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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Even Panhandlers Need To Know Business Basics

Panhandler sign funny
Source: Broke-Ass Stuart
April 8, 2014 - You don't need a degree from a fancy business school to understand the basics of sales and marketing. In fact, a lot of panhandlers understand them better than a lot of CEOs understand them. Most of us know those biz basics, either by instinct or from years of being exposed to them. Think of any company, whether a local mom-and-pop diner or McDonalds, and they all want to (1) satishy customer needs, (2) project the right image, (3) pay as few taxes as possible, (4) be in the best location available, (5) use an easy-to-understand message to tell about their products and services, (6) keep their costs down, and (7) find the perfect method of operation that will stand the test of time.

One successful panhandler, a guy named Eugene, shared his street business wisdom with writer Bill Murphy, Jr. In an article at Huffington Post, Murphy nicely outlined those steps with brief but thorough explanations. As a homeless panhandler myself, I have to say that Eugene - and Murphy - got it right.

Let's look at some of Murphy's seven strategies, with my own comments based on nine months of my own panhandling:

Satisfying "a compelling customer need," writes Murphy, "is most important -- for panhandlers or any business."  I'm not sure this could be called a "strategy" for panhandlers; it's just an unavoidable part of the task. And what is the need that a panhandler fills? "I suspect," writes Murphy, "it's mostly because they want to help others, but maybe for some it satisfies other deep-seated need." I must agree, and add that it can be the only reason people give to a panhandler.

For My BMW Fund Panhandler Sign. Photo by Kate Good.
It's humor, folks.
Whatever any "other deep-seated needs" might be, they must involve helping others. The only thing they get in return from the panhandler is a "thank you" and maybe a "God bless you," and maybe a grateful smile. Whatever good feeling they get comes from within themselves, but the panhandler gives them the opportunity to connect to that.

I often use humor in my panhandling signs. Currently I am using one that says, "For My BMW Fund." This makes a lot of people smile and laugh, and it's amazing how many give money just to go along with the joke. "Hope you get that Beemer," some say. One woman, in a Mercedes, gave me a $20 bill. "You made me laugh, and that's worth something," she said, "but you should really consider a Mercedes instead." Some people have actually given me $5 to have their photo taken with me.

Another strategy:  "Project the right image." A white panhandler I know often makes over $80 in two hours. He has an unfair "advantage" over me, though: One leg is amputated just below the knee, he has no teeth and, frankly, he looks a bit brain damaged (he's not). The pity factor is hugely in his favor. Another panhandler friend is a black Vietnam veteran who walks with a limp, is missing a few front teeth, and looks every bit of his 64 years of age with a white beard and ripped jacket or shirt. He also pulls in around $80 within a couple of hours.

I've found the hard way how important image is for panhandling. I am 59 years old but stand 6'1" with good posture. I'm white, have good teeth and have no visible handicaps. I have noticed, however, that my own beard has helped me. When I began panhandling in July, 2013 I was clean shaven. I look 10 years younger without a beard. I have not shaved since last November 27, and the donations I get seem to have improved to the point where I now get between $20 and $30 within three hours on some days. Not great, but enough to keep me alive.

"Communicate a simple message" is another strategy listed by Murphy. I've noticed that a lot of panhandlers put way too much information on their signs (which are often illegible). Don't write your life story on a sign that most people have only seconds to view. One of my best signs says, "Please.... Thank You.... God Bless." People get it. They don't need to see a resume. Drivers know why you're standing there, and many give without even reading the sign. For those who do read it, keep it sharp and not boring.

A strategy of my own, that Murphy did not touch on, is respect. Don't act like an ass while you're asking people dig into their pockets to help you. One of my pet peeves is panhandlers who walk through lanes of cars waiting for the light to turn green. They walk right up to drivers' windows or stand in front of cars, not understanding that this is intimidating to many people. I stand at the curb and never go into traffic unless someone in the next lane over signals to me -- and even then I have waved them off with a smile if I thought it was too dangerous. It seems that a number of people size me up, see that I'm not a threat, and then roll down their window to give.

For more, read all of the "7 Effective Business Strategies From A Successful Panhandler."

Also See:
Panhandlers have many strategies....to make money Tampa Bay Times
The Unexpected Email I Received From A Panhanlder Today Kate Good
Broke-Ass Career: Panhandling Broke-Ass Stuart

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