I love to talk about the loan shark… I mean payday loan and micro-lending industry. I’m lucky! I receive calls and emails from around the world.
So… I’m talking to Charlie B., a silicon-valley buddy of mine who’s been exploring the micro-lending space for a while. He begins to tell me about his trip to Brazil. I figure it’s another travelogue story and he’ll bug me about friending him on Facebook so I can kill my time looking at his pics. Next, he’ll insist I subscribe to his Twitter feed and follow his tweets through the Rio Airport.
BUT NO! Charlie has a coconut story to share! Yeah, COCONUTS!! (Hang-on payday loan fan, we’re headed your way!)
Charlie speaks Portuguese… has a wife from Brazil. (Probably another great story there but let’s FOCUS.)
Anyway, Charlie strikes up a conversation with a guy pushing a street cart selling coconuts. Having an interest in all things business, Charlie delves into the intricacies of a coconut street cart vending business. Turns out this street cart vendor got a job 15 years ago selling coconuts using a cart he “rented” from the owner of the cart. After about 5 years working the streets of Rio selling these coconuts, the vendor managed to scrape together $500 from savings, family and friends and he bought his own cart. Long story short, 5 years later, Charlies’ new “friend” owns 15 carts. He rents out 14 of them to his “employees” who are farther down the economic food chain. Over the course of the past 20 years, this street vendor entrepreneur has evolved from the bed he rented in a shack 20 years ago, to his own home and a car he owns today! He’s put his 4 kids through school…
Don’t worry Payday Loan Fan, I’m getting there! Sheesh!!
OK, here’s the BIG IDEA!!
Go to your local community college and talk to the professor who runs the web curriculum department. Today, all community colleges teach courses on building web sites/blogs. Tell her you have an “intern program” for a couple of her best students. You’re willing to pay a flat fee (say $300) and provide an opportunity for the students to enter the real world of commerce, work with a “real client” – YOU – and build their portfolios. You want a basic site/blog set up enabled with Twitter, Facebook, Skype, yada, yada, yada… NOTE: at this stage, I’m not talking about a full-blast data base driven, secured application page …. Rather, just a simple, elegant web site (Use WordPress!!) focused on local search and your specific community.
On this site, announce 5% of all gross profits will be donated to an entrepreneur IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITY to help them launch their idea into a business. Setup an account to contribute funding for this. Now the really hard part: Find a local homeless or economically challenged character in your community with an idea who you can serve and mentor. Help them take their idea to the next level. Enable this entrepreneur to LAUNCH. How to discover the right candidate? Get creative! Keep your eyes open. Tell everyone what you’re doing. Find your coconut pushcart entrepreneur! A taco vendor. An artist. A fashion designer. A student. A baby-boomer. Look around you! Place a POS (Point-of-Sale) piece in your store(s).
You, an intern, or a member(s) of your Team – an advocate – will write/Blog/follow up/Tweet/Facebook your efforts and your chosen entrepreneurs’ progress! Stay involved in the process. Advise, counsel, make introductions to a bank, the SBA, a wardrobe makeover non-profit, provide a phone, financial advice… whatever it takes! Do it!! Make mistakes! Evaluate! Adjust! Proceed… Fail. Start again!! Allow your employees and customers to comment on your web site. Enable them to add to the conversation. Make it easy. Encourage it. You probably have someone in your organization who already “gets” and participates in this “social media thing.” Have you identified someone on your Team who will not stop accessing Twitter and Facebook? This is your ADVOCATE! Give her a little direction and let her run with this project. Some negative comment is written about your company or our industry? Address it! Explain our side logically and straightforward. Keep your response civil, informative, factual, gracious and honest. Engage!
You’re a payday loan brick-n-mortar serving the local neighborhood? Then this is a no-brainer for you! Oh, you’re an Internet payday loan company? Look at your DATA! Where do the majority of your payday loan applicants originate from? Detroit? Miami? LA? Great!! Focus on a local oriented campaign/web site to accomplish this new imperative.
This is about INTENT! Your INTENT is to contribute to the community you serve; to make it slightly better. Do not grandstand this. Do not launch fireworks and make a grand announcement. Just allow this to go viral if it can. If it doesn’t? So what? Do it any way! You’ll feel GREAT! And so will everyone you touch.
The payday loan industry gets nailed every day by the media, consumer protectionists, regulators, our competitors (banks and credit unions)… even by our dogs.
And I receive calls every day from payday loan, check cashers and car title lenders who want to know how to improve their business, their marketing efforts, the pride they have in the Team they’ve built and the way we’re perceived by the world.
Don’t run from the light! Don’t scurry off into a dark corner every time our industry is maligned! OUR CUSTOMERS LOVE US! Don’t avoid the media and controversy! Embrace it! Leave the herd! Stand out and take a chance! Do it differently!!! We offer a valuable service, we help our community and we’re proud of what we do! Hell, we even create a few jobs!
NOW! Build your fund, hire your interns, and find your coconut entrepreneur! AND ENJOY YOURSELF!
Got an idea? Need funding? Have funding?
Call… Talk… Explore…