My little part of the country recently received our second major snowfall of the winter season. Not so little, actually. Millions of people were impacted by the storm that raced across the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New England portions of the United States in mid- and late January. Thousands were left without power and stranded on snow-swept roads. And more is undoubtedly on its way.
As I peered out my living room window to admire the beauty of that snowfall and to take inventory of any challenges it might present to my neighbors and me as we prepared to start our days, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from that picturesque scene…. My buddies and me, maybe 12, 13 or 14, marching valiantly through the freshly fallen snow, shovels in hand, ready to save the days of those stranded in their driveways or on the roads.
Where were those hardy young entrepreneurs, layered in their winter gear with determination in their steps and dollar signs in their eyes?
Yep! I was lost in a moment of nostalgia. The sad truth is that the scene I longed to see is nothing more than a fond memory. I’ll wager a guess that, instead of knocking on doors or racing to their phones to call their friends and organize their crew of winter snow removal warriors, the kids on the particular Sunday morning I have in mind raced to their tablets and game consoles to wage war in pixelated worlds free from the frigid air and wet roads of that day’s reality.
“What a shame,” I thought to myself. Yes, I was mourning the loss of youthful drive and work ethic that seems to have been a 20th-century phenomenon. However, more so, I found myself shaking my head as a marketer. In that same moment, it dawned on me just how much opportunity today’s kids were missing to make some honest bucks. Because in today’s world, they wouldn’t have to patrol their neighborhoods looking for cars to dig out and sidewalks to clear. From their same tablets and smartphones, they and their parents could put the word out via their social media channels, email lists, text groups and instant messengers that they were available for hire. Man, the money my buddies and I could have made during those January blizzards if only we had had Facebook Live, Snapchat or Nextdoor!
Nextdoor bills itself as “the world’s largest and fastest growing social network for neighborhoods.” (I could have said that about the evening-long sessions of Red Light, Green Light my friends and I played up and down our street growing up.) However, times have changed. According to its website, Nextdoor is now active in nine countries, four of which (France, Italy, Spain and Australia) joined its ranks just in 2018.
I’ve been a member of Nextdoor for more than five years. I didn’t use the app very often in my previous neighborhood, primarily because I already knew many of my neighbors and knew where and how to reach the local services I needed. However, when my wife and I moved to our current neighborhood two and a half years ago, I was the new kid on the block and had to start from scratch. Our first full summer, I needed help in ridding our lawn of moles. I went to Nextdoor for help. I posted my need, and within minutes received recommendations. I hired a service based in my general area, and he delivered. By delivered, I mean he caught six moles on my property in three months and advised me on how to keep them away. Moments ago, I went to Nextdoor again to search on snow removal for my neighborhood and found about a half-dozen options, mostly private citizens simply offering up their shovels and snow blowers, either free of charge or to make some walking around money (for when the snow is removed). Of course, my page also filled immediately with roughly a dozen ads for landscaping and snow removal companies.
For safe measure, I visited Facebook and searched on “snow removal services near me.” I received more results than I had time to review, some as recent as just hours earlier and some as old as 2012. Those listings also included videos showing snow removal capabilities.
I even tried Craigslist for my geographic location. I was more amazed by what I found here than on Nextdoor. I saw 10 listings for snow removal of some kind posted within just three days of our impending storm, many of which appeared to be no more sophisticated than individuals offering their services and plows. A few featured photos of a tractor or cleared parking lots.
I’ll take this moment to revisit my childhood. Before I accepted my first “real” job as a teenager, I spent a summer walking my neighborhood asking if I could mow lawns for any of my neighbors. Within a couple of weeks, I had a half dozen or more clients…enough to the point that I had to buy an appointment book to track my customers and my billings. I was in business. I should add that by this time, I was now living in Florida, where the lawn-mowing business lasted nearly all year. I made enough money to keep me in movies, fast food, gas, and car washes.
My point is that if I had had today’s technology, I would have saved time knocking on doors, and instead would have had customers coming to me, especially when they compared my “neighborhood teen with his dad’s lawnmower” rates to those of established landscaping companies.
One last thing: every day, we see or hear stories about young kids who are making millions on YouTube playing with toys or video games because they’re viewed by millions of other kids their age and younger who then know what “stuff” they want their parents to buy them. These child “influencers” are reaping the rewards of the technology the rest of us take for granted. I’m not recommending that each of us launch a YouTube channel or Instagram page for our children so they can start paying for their college and our retirement before they’re out of training wheels. I’m merely suggesting that we leverage the technology they already love to help them learn the value of hard work…also, targeted marketing.
We should do what we can to instill in our kids the notion that using technology can put real dollars in their piggy banks, rather than racking up Fortnite V-Bucks or World of Warcraft tokens. And the bonus for parents might be shoveled driveways…without a visit to the chiropractor.