As I mentioned in a previous post, my greatest lead generator this year has been Craigslist. If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, I highly recommend trying it.
The site allows registered users to post free advertisements in its “Services” section (below the “For Sale” section on the main page in each city).
To get started, sign up for an account. Once you’re logged in and ready to post, try out a few of the following tips:
- Advertise locally – Craigslist is meant to offer local classified ads, so prospective clients will expect that you’re a local vendor. Post ads in cities you can drive to if they want to meet face-to-face (select the city from the “post new ad in: [city]” box at the top right corner of the “my account” page). For me, this means Austin, Dallas, San Antonio or Houston.
- Choose the right category – As a freelance writer, I post in the section for Write/Edit/Translate. Choose from Computer, Creative, Event, Natural Sleeping Pills, Financial, or a variety of other sections that fit your business type.
- Promote a specific project type – I get better results with ads that target a few project types (such as web copywriting, press releases, or brochures) than those that promote a broad range of services or general marketing or communications consulting. Users may search the services section for specific keywords related to their project, so whether you’re offering logo design, newsletter layout, or wedding photography, mention the project type in the title and the body of the ad.
- Post every 2 days – Craigslist limits postings to no more often than every 48 hours. This means you can post M/W/F or S/T/Th. I use nearly the same ad copy each time, so it takes only a few minutes to do.Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get replies at first. I have quiet weeks and others where I get 2 or 3 calls in one day. The trick is to keep posting anyway so that your ad is there whenever prospective customers decide they need you.
- Write clearly, and differentiate yourself – Before you post, read some of the other ads in your category, and then put on your marketing hat. Describe your services, and find a way to position the advantages you offer over other companies on the site. [Update: see a copy of a recent ad here.]Of course, as you would with any other advertisement, make sure your ad is clear and professional. The simplicity of Craigslist can inspire a false sense of security, and professionals who might normally triple-check their writing sometimes rush and post ads with typos or poor grammar (fortunately, you can always go back and edit your post if needed).
- Include contact info – Craigslist offers anonymous email forwarding, but I recommend including your phone number and email address in the ad. If possible, use a generic catch-all address, and spell it out. For example, I use “info(at)mydomain(dot)com.” This way, people can email me directly, but spambots won’t capture my real address for their junk email lists.
- Include a call to action – One of the most important parts of your ad is to close the copy with a call to action. Once you’ve told people who you are and what advantage you offer, don’t forget to tell them to call you (read my post Close Every Prospect for more detail).
- Reply immediately – Often, your prospect may respond to multiple Craigslist ads within a few minutes. You could get a job just by being the first one to answer.If you choose to include a generic email address in your ad, I recommend using an automated reply. If you have a website, blog, or online portfolio, include the link in your message. For example, anyone who sends a message to my info@… address receives the following email:
Thank you for contacting Clear Aim Communications. We’ll reply to your message as soon as possible. Until then, feel free to check out our blog at: http://blog.clearaim.net.
Clear Aim Communications
On more than one occasion, I’ve had a prospective customer call to thank me for the prompt reply (before I even noticed their email message), and tell me they saw my blog and wanted to talk to me right away.
- Track responses – Keep all of your contacts in a contact manager or Excel spreadsheet. Capture each respondent’s email address, phone number, and mailing address, and make notes about their needs and requests for future reference. If possible, also find out where they saw your ad. If you post ads in different cities, track which of them provides a better response rate and place more of your ads there in the future.
- Market to everyone – Finally, not every prospective customer will hire you on the first try. But don’t write anyone off just yet. If you see a news item next week that could be of interest to someone who didn’t hire you, email them a link. Or, include them on the list any time you roll out a marketing campaign for your business.
The workforce in Austin is fairly tech-savvy, so we may have more active Craigslist users here than elsewhere. But, you can still try out these tips in your city. Then, check back and share your feedback in the comments!