If you have your own small business then you may be considering using Craigslist (CL) to reach new customers. Craigslist is used all over the world. It covers every region in the United States. It is well known, even my 70+ year old grandparents use Craigslist on a regular basis. According to their website Craigslist has over 60 million users in the United States alone each month. Most posts are free. The ability to reach 60 million people a month for free can be quite tempting for a small business. However with all these users it’s easy to get lost on Craigslist and waste your time. I have been using Craigslist on and off for business for close to 10 years now. I’ve learned quite a few things and am going to share some of them with you.
The first piece of advice I would give you is that Craigslist probably isn’t going to make you rich. I have spent countless hours posting ads and searching through ads and I now average $400 to $600 a week in sales on there. I have really improved the efficiency of my Craigslist use so that I don’t spend too much time. But it still takes a lot of time with little results. I think of my Craigslist use as a helpful marketing tool. But not something that should probably be your main marketing focus.
Their are 2 ways to use Craigslist. 1) Looking at posted ads requesting work or services. 2) Posting your own ads. I’ll cover looking at ads posted in gigs and jobs requesting work in this article. I’ll write another on posting your own ads.
Looking for work wanted ads sounds like a great technique. These people are already going out of their way and posting that they need some service. If these people are taking the time to post then this should be an easy sell right? Well the good news is that these people are probably going to hire someone so you don’t have to convince them that they need the service that you offer. You just have to convince them to use you instead of someone else. Getting customers that already know they want to purchase a service is ½ the battle right? Unfortunately many of the 60 million users on CL are going to be competitors of yours.
I am a web designer. There are a ton of other web designers using CL too. There are probably more web designers fighting over clients on CL then most other fields. The fact that we make our living online means that virtual 100% of my competitors are using the internet for marketing and many of them are amateurs working with no budget so a free marketing source like CL is very competitive. Hopefully your business is something a little less competitive on CL. But chances are there are a lot of other people using CL to sell the same service as you.
For this reason responding to CL ads is more about quantity then quality. Quantity and timing. If you contact someone within the first hour of their posting you have a much higher chance of getting a response. If you wait a couple of hours this goes down. If you see a CL ad a day or older then it’s probably not even worth your time responding.
After years of posting my own ads and looking at postings in my area I had what I thought was the brilliant idea of going through the Computer Gigs for every city in the US looking for people that had posted ads looking for web design service. Websites is something that can be done remotely so I considered the whole country to be in my target market. I spent 8 to 10 hours going through every city in the United States. I would look through at least the first 25 listings on CL. I would respond to postings that were a few days old. I would spend several minutes responding to each ad. Sometimes up to 10 minutes on each email. Carefully crafting a great email detailing my service and why I was a great fit for their particular needs.
Since I’m better at web design then 99% of the other “web designers” on CL I was sure that these carefully crafted emails to all these people would result in a ton of business. I’m also much cheaper then a company that offers a similar level of work. I am a incredible web developer and a good designer as well. The company I used to work for charged $100 an hour for my services (and paid me about $10 an hour). I offer my services on CL much cheaper then $100 an hour. When your product is better then virtually all of your competitors and you are offering services a 1/3 or more discounted then your competition then you must be in high demand right?
After close to 10 hours and countless emails sent I got maybe 3 replies. None of them led to new business . The thing about CL is that you have a ton of other people responding to the same ads as you. Even if your quality of work is great and you spend a ton of time on a carefully crafted sales response. You are likely to find that the person has already chosen someone else for the job. That’s one of the issues with searching through CL ads. The people that post them are usually incredible rude. Obviously if you make a post and then find someone to do the work then you should remove your post. This benefits you as it prevents you from being contacted after you have filled the service and it helps keep struggling start ups from wasting their time responding to jobs that have already been filled. But this is CL and unfortunately people will make a posting requesting a service and then just leave the post up after they have found someone.
If you offer a service with a lot of competition on CL such as web design. Then don’t bother responding to ads over a day old. If you offer a service with less competition then you might extend this a little but don’t ever waste too much time with older ads. If you don’t get a response to your initial reply then move on. As a test to see how much competition I had in my home city I posted an ad stating that I needed an ecommerce website. I had one person reply 3 or 4 times. I never responded to a single one of their emails (I know this was a little rude of me to post a fake ad and leave it up for people to waste time on, but I wanted to do this for research). 10 days later I was still getting replies “Yea I still haven’t heard back from you. I just wanted to know if you were still looking…” This is a field where you have virtual 0% of a response if you respond to an ad over 24 hours old but this person was still responding 10 days later after no sign of interest from me. Time is money so even though it is free to respond over and over to the same ad it is still an epic waste.
When you do respond keep your responses brief. I don’t advise a copy and pasted form letter. Some of the responses I got for this ad were clearly off of a template with no individualization to my ad at all. This is probably a little to impersonal and easy to spot. I have a pretty basic response I follow when I respond to ads. I personalize the first part of my email to them. I state what kind of website they had requested and how my experience and services will fit this. Then I follow this up with a little more generic paragraph with links to my portfolio and references. I spend 1 to 4 minutes on each response. Really working to keep that closer to 1 minute. There are 2 reasons for this. First is that with the low success rate you will have with responses to these ads it is just a waste of time to work on these responses too much. The second is that it’s vital that you are one of the first responses to the ad. While you are wasting time crafting an awesome reply to the ad someone less skilled then you is firing off a quick response, initiating contact with the poster and getting the deal sealed while you are still writing. Responding to ads is about the quick and the dead. Not about quality.
The biggest thing to success in Craigslist marketing? An rss feed. Even after I learned to cut down on the amount of time I spent responding to ads and only looking at the most recently posted ads it still took me about 3 hours to cover the Computer Gigs for every city in the US. This is just too much time. Even if you looped right back to the top of the list as soon as you finished you would still have ads that are 2 or 3 hours old before you made it back. Ads that old might already be filled. But with an rss feed of every city in the US I can quickly view the latest postings and respond to them. I had tried a few systems that notified me when their was a new posting. But these were usually quite limited with how many cities I could watch. If you offer a physical product or service with a small marketing region then this is ok. But if you offer an online service like me where the whole world is your target market then there are less options.
An rss feed that pulls from every city in the country is the best thing I have found. A lot of rss feeds limit how many times you can refresh due to bandwidth issues. I usually wait a minimum of 60 minutes before I refresh my feed. It then takes 30 to 90 seconds to check the recent postings. If I respond to 1 to 4 ads I spend 3 to 5 minutes and then I have an hour till I’m on CL again. I went from getting maybe 1 response for every 3 hours of searching and responding to getting 3 to 5 responses for just 30 minutes of work. This allows me to actually work on current projects and doing other marketing techniques and then just take a quick break every hour to work the CL marketing. This is the key to Craigslist marketing. Not focusing time and energy on it. But just spending a few minutes a day. If I work 14 hours a day checking every hour that’s 45 to 60 minutes a day. Comes out to less then 5 hours a week and averaging 1 sale for $400 to $600.
I looked online for a source of CL rss feeds. But I ended up going through every city in CL and getting my list manually. But now I am offering my list on my website Craigslist RSS Links. So you can get it for free. If you need to search several cities or more for potential clients then I advise this method.
In summary Craigslist probably isn’t going to make you rich. But if you spend a few minutes a day working it in a very efficient manner then it can boost your profit a little bit. Respond quickly to ads. Don’t waste time on older ads. Once you have fired off a quick response then move on to the next ad or something else. Realize that you probably aren’t going to get any one specific project. But that if you respond to a lot of very fresh ads then you will eventually get one of them. If your market covers a large number of CL cities then use an rss feed to efficiently work your market. Stay tuned for part 2 of my article covering posting your own ads to CL.