I’ve been getting some good results from Craigslist lately. Yes, you heard right…Craigslist. It’s ugly, scary, and yet it’s BUSY! In fact, Craigslist is the second biggest referrer of new customers for my business right behind word of mouth referrals.
I’ve been using this service a lot lately because, well, it’s free. I’ve been trying to take advantage of as many free sources of advertising as possible since my business is still relatively new (less than two years old as a full-time business) and I’m still trying to grow my customers and income.
The World Wide Wild West
A lot of people have negative views of Craigslist. It is seen as the wild west of classified ad websites, where there are no rules and scammers abound. I also hear complaints from other techs that Craigslist is saturated by college kids and others who advertise at impossibly low rates. My peers argue that there’s no way for us legit business owners to stand out on Craigslist without drastically cutting our rates. “Craigslist is full of bargain hunters and people looking for free work”, they say.
While all of the above gripes are true to a certain extent, I’ve found there are ways to circumvent most of these issues and find customers willing to do business with you at your regular rates. And as far as scammers are concerned, it only takes a little bit of diligence on your part to filter out these offenders. Once you know what to look for you’ll be able to filter these out pretty quickly.
How to Use Craigslist to Find The Best Customers
What I like about Craigslist is that it is very heavily used, at least it is in my area of the US. There is a constant stream of computer work being requested and offered. That means there are a lot of opportunities there.
Craigslist boils down to two primary functions for you as a computer business owner: advertising your services and finding customers seeking your services. I’ll go over the strategies I’ve used for each.
Finding Those Who Need Your Services
One way to find customers on Craigslist is to go searching for them. When you first visit craigslist.org, if you’ve never been there before, you’ll be greeted with a list of areas. Browse to your area and you’ll be presented with a list of categories. There’s really only one we’re interested in:
gigs > computer gigs
If you’re looking for permanent employment look under the Jobs section, but as computer consultants we’re not interested in that! Gigs are for one-off jobs, folks looking for consultants or help on short term projects.
You’ll find gigs ranging from break/fix to web design and everything in between. These are posted by everyone from individuals to companies to other techs looking for help.
Keep an eye out for people looking for the specific types services you offer. Make sure to read the entire posting so you don’t miss anything. Sometimes posters will ask for a resume, URL of your website, references, or other specific requirements.
I’ve had success in this area by looking for gigs in niches that I specialize in, such as Google Apps, WordPress, and Corporate Email. I found that I get the best responses when I repeated the person’s problem back to them in the email in order to make sure I understood the problem. I also make sure to outline my proposed solution, before ever mentioning prices. This helps the person know that I know what I’m talking about and will work to help them resolve their issues.
My biggest win from this area of Craigslist has been landing a teaching job at a local university. They had posted a Craigslist ad looking for instructors and, though I don’t have any appreciable teaching experience to speak of, I responded to it hoping they’d give me a shot. Luckily they were looking for people with hands-on in the trenches experience to teach some modules and I fit the bill perfectly. So I can now add university professor to my list of accomplishments thanks to Craigslist!
Offering Your Services
Another way to use Craigslist is to offer your services to the masses. It works much like a cross between the yellow pages and a classified ad. People who are looking for services will browse the local Craigslist listings looking to find someone offering what they need.
The place most pertinent to us computer consultants is:
Services > Computer
This is where people go to find computer help.
In many areas of the country, this is a very popular place for technicians to post and you’ll find the competition is thick. What you’ll want to do is spend a few days watching the postings to see what kind of services are being offered and at what prices. You’ll then have a good idea of what areas are undeserved so you can fill that niche.
Think nationally. Post your remote services and web design services in areas other than your local area. This allows you to play the numbers
I tend to not post my rates on Craigslist so I don’t end up fighting a loosing battle with pricing. Instead, I concentrate on offering niche services like data recovery, remote services, small business and server support, and emerging tech like cloud migrations or tablet and smart phone consulting.
I’ve had a few small businesses contact me based on my ads targeting local small business, but the best response I’ve gotten has been from WordPress work. This is something I never anticipated as offering as a service, but it’s something I’ve been learning more about over the years (because my own websites are built on WordPress) and the demand is high.
Beware the Scam Artists
You’ll probably only run into scams when you post an ad on Craigslist rather than responding to gigs. More often than not, they come quickly. The quickest way to spot them is the fact that they never really mention your specific ad. Instead they may ask you about an unrelated service. For example, when I post web design ads I’ll get a response from someone asking me if I have the capacity to repair 10 laptops. What they all have in common is that they will request to send you a cashiers check for a large sum of money that they will ask you to cash and send back the money. They will never be local. These are the red flags to look out for.
Also, make sure to avoid people that have no intention of paying by asking for a small deposit up front. I always do this because I have been burned in the past by someone who didn’t pay me for work I did.
My Secret Weapon
To have success on Craigslist means you need to stay on top of both looking for gigs and posting your ads. In fact, in many well populated areas, your ad may be pushed to the bottom of the page in a matter of minutes, meaning your ad will be less likely to be seen.
It’s unrealistic to sit in front of your computer re-posting your ad every hour. Even if you could, Craigslist has a safeguard in place which prevents you from posting the same ad more than once in a 24 hour period. On the same token, you also don’t want to be refreshing the gigs page waiting for new gigs to come in that just may happen to fit in with your skillset.
you’re a busy tech, you don’t have time for that. And neither do I. But I’m using a tool that allows me more freedom to post ads and find gigs. That tool is:
Specifically, my Android phone with two Craiglist apps loaded. One, called CraigsNotifica I can set up to notify me when gigs are posted that contain certain keywords. I can choose the area Usually a few times a day a little icon will show up on my phone so I can check it when ever I have time and then reply to the gig no matter where I might be.
The other app is called CraigsPost. This allows me to save a bunch of different ads, sometimes the same ad with different wording, in the app. Then I can simply post that ad to Craigslist whenever I choose. I can also renew ads that have expired. You’ll still be subject to Craigslist’s restrictions on duplicate posting, but if you post the same ad with different wording, you can normally get around this. So whenever I have a free moment, I’ll go into the app and post or renew my ads.
Unfortunately, neither of these apps are currently available in the Android App Market. There seem to be plenty of great alternatives available though, just search for Craigslist in the App market and you’ll find a slew of apps that can help you in the same way. I don’t own an iPhone so I’m not sure if there are similar apps for iPhone, especially considering the more strict app approval process. If you own an iPhone and know of some good Craigslist apps, please post them in the comments.
So I’ve been able to find a good amount of success from Craigslist. It’s a great tool for the money (free!) and when used properly it is a great weapon to have in your marketing arsenal.