Panhandling LessonsEntrepreneurship

If you have ever been to New York, you probably have had interesting experiences riding the subway. It is not uncommon for an individual to approach passengers in a train car and solicit money or food. Often times, they are ignored or if they are lucky, they receive some loose change.

A couple of weeks ago while riding the express subway line to Manhattan a man came aboard and started to earnestly speak. He held up his hands like he was speaking into a microphone and was extremely passionate about what he was saying. I could not tell you what his speech was about; all I know is that I heard one word- cheeseburger. Normally, most people ignore the panhandlers, but it always appears that they are semi-listening. In this case, I feel like my friend and I were the only ones paying the panhandler any mind. Each of us had our own reasons. I found it hilarious that this man chose the express train, which moves at such a speed that you have to scream to be heard, to give his speech. My friend just thought that he gave so much effort that it was only polite to give him attention.

As the train pulled to a stop, my friend said to the man, here is some change and proceeded to give him some coins. I wanted to say here is some advice- do not panhandle on an express train. Harsh, maybe, but after years of watching panhandlers move and market themselves, I feel like there must be another way. Maybe entertain: when a trio of dancers performed on the express train last year, they just turned on music, danced, and at completion, walked around with a hat. I saw one man give 20 dollars! In Penn Station, the singers and musicians are able to get people to purchase albums and give money. Should people panhandling use music to get their point across?  Is it delivery or appearance that gives some success and others failure?

As I observe different panhandlers methods, it made me think about my own marketing strategies. I am no different than a panhandler. I have a need and I search for individuals who can purchase my services. The panhandlers have a need and they search for individuals who will give them money or food.  It made me think that despite the differences, all individuals have to market themselves, a product, or a service.  In marketing, there are several ways to get the point across and to obtain results.

Perhaps those who are down on their luck should follow these key Guerilla Marketing strategies by Jay Conrad Levinson:

  • You must have commitment to your marketing program
  • Think of that program as an investment
  • See to it that your program is consistent
  • Make your prospects confident in your firm
  • You must be patient in order to keep a commitment
  • You must see that marketing is an assortment of weapons
  • You must know that profits come subsequent to the sale
  • You must aim to run your firm in a way that makes it convenient for your customers
  • Put an element of amazement in your marketing
  • Use measurement to judge the effectiveness of your weapons
  • Prove your involvement with customers and prospects by your regular follow- up with them
  • Learn to become dependent on other businesses and they on you
  • You must be skilled with the armament of guerrillas, which means technology
  • Use marketing to gain consent from prospects, and then broaden that consent so that it leads to the sale
  • Sell the content of your offering rather than the style; sell the steak and the sizzle, because people are too sophisticated to merely buy that sizzle
  • After you have a full-fledged marketing program, work to augment it rather than rest on your laurels.
Have you ever learned business lessons from an unconventional source?


An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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