I’m sure marketing is something that other small business owners struggle with all the time. I bet they don’t have the same kind of marketing problems I do. You see, most businesses struggle to find the right way to get their name and product or service communicated to the public. They’re constantly trying to find the best way to reach the most people and then draw those customers in. They run ads in the paper or on the radio or maybe even a local TV ad. They typically use mass media to get their message out. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury.
My small business is illegal. I sell pot. Weed. Ganja. Dope. Whatever you want to call it. I can’t place an ad in the paper — I might as well turn myself in to the cops. Unfortunately, I still need people to know that I sell pot. I have to pay the bills too, you know. I can’t use traditional media to advertise my business so I have to rely solely on word of mouth. Every marketer knows that word of mouth is one of the best kinds of marketing because it’s free and it results in a much higher rate of return than any other kind of marketing. However, you can’t make anyone pass along a recommendation for your business. There are plenty of strategies for trying to increase the possibilities of word of mouth marketing — like good customer service — but that’s a topic for another time. Word of mouth marketing was the original “viral” and that can be a problem for me. I don’t want everyone to know that I sell pot, just the people that want to buy pot. If too many people find out that I’m the guy that sells pot then it doesn’t take very long for police to find out. That’s how my business gets shut down.
Instead, I have to carefully balance my marketing tactics. I can’t simply sell pot to one guy and tell him to tell all of his friends. I don’t want him to tell all of his friends. I just want him to tell some of his friends. In fact, I only want him to tell his friends that won’t tell all of their friends but just the ones that are interested in buying pot from me. It sounds simple, but it’s much more tricky than you might think. I can’t just tell the guy I sell to to only tell his friends that will only tell friends that will want to buy from me. You follow? You see, pot smokers are paranoid (I don’t smoke the stuff myself, I’ve been sober for three years). They get freaked out if you act like what you’re doing is illegal. If they think for a second that the cops might be on to you, they’ll go elsewhere. So, what do you do? You play it cool.
Part of being a good pot dealer is earning the trust of your customers. This takes work and it’s not always the kind of work you like to do. It requires that you put yourself in situations where you’re hanging out with people who like to smoke pot. You have to go to their parties and drift into the circles of pot smokers and let it be known that you’re cool. You see, pot smokers want to buy their pot from people they think are their friends. That way they don’t think they’re getting screwed. You have to become their friend. You hang out, you offer to pack their bowl with some of your weed. Once they hang out with your for a while and smoke your stuff, at least one of them will ask you where you get it. There’s your customer.
Like any good drug dealer, I give him a little for free — because we’re friends now. I make sure he has my number and I let him know that I’m available to hang out whenever he likes. At first I make the customer come to me so that I can spend some time with him and get to know him. This allows me to figure out if he’s a talker. Once I feel comfortable that he’ll keep it quiet, I’ll tell him that he should bring a friend or two next time. Inevitably he does. Again, it gets dicey. I can’t hard sell his friends the first time they show up or they’ll all get paranoid and I’ll lose everyone’s business. I let them make the first move and make it seem like they’re lucky that I just happen to have some extra weed around. Eventually, everyone begins to understand that I’m a dealer, but they never come right out and say it. It’s an unspoken agreement. Soon enough, they’re not hanging out anymore. They come to get what they need and leave or, more frequently, I meet them somewhere (there’s that customer service I’m talking about).
Most of my clients understand that I’m always looking for new customers but that if they bring too many new customers my way, I’ll start to get suspicious and cut them off. I’m not sure how they know this because I never say it outright. Maybe they get the hint when I say, “Thanks for the business, you don’t need to do that.” Maybe they want to only tell select people and keep me a closely guarded secret like their favorite little-known band that they’re afraid will sell out if too many people know about them. Maybe they’re just paranoid enough to realize that having a high profile dealer puts them in bad situation, too. I don’t care how they know, I’m just glad they do.
I know my marketing “plan” won’t show up in the Harvard Business Review. Hell, it probably wouldn’t even be original enough to show up in the High Times Magazine business section, but it works for me. I’ve got food on the table and I’m not writing this from jail. That’s about all the success a pot dealer can hope for.