A request: The perfect Craigslist ad

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Craig Newmark
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark (2006 — from Wilkpedia

Some time ago, I received this email (I have removed the contractor’s name because he didn’t ask for me to post this publicly):

You probably here from people like me all the time. I am very good at what I do and I love to build pretty much anything. Over the years I have taken the building trade to the next level. Unfortunately I am out of work, as most people in our trade. I really want to work from my home (I have spent the last four years working out of town), but in my area there is little in big construction going on (I have been a superintendent and project manager for the last 15 years). I want to put my tools back on and create things for people. The problem with that is I have a penchant for doing things right which makes me more expensive than any of the other “small outfits” in my area. I need advice on how to advertise on Craigslist (to start as money is extremely tight) and not sound like a local “I need work” handyman. I have no clue on how to do this. Marketing and advertising have always been my weak point. I have been lied to and cheated so many times because of creative marketing that I am afraid to sound like that and become hypocritical. I was searching the Internet and came across your blog, which I found very informative. Do you have any suggestions for someone like me?’

My response:

I’m not able to answer your question specifically — at least in a free, brief response.  If you are asking me to write or suggest how to write a free, powerful and positive Craigslist ad which will draw just the clients you are seeking, you would need to pay me a hefty fee and accept a fair bit of trial and error.  We might get lucky right off the bat, but it would take more effort and knowledge of you, your community and your market than anyone can attempt in a free consultation.

Undoubtedly, Craigslist can be highly effective.  Yesterday, in a search for freelance writers, I posted two small and not terribly inspiring ads in markets where we are seeking some writers.  The ads were a long-shot, but, heck, they were free.  Much to my surprise, I received six responses, all of whom were from qualified writers with proper credentials and work samples, and I could find three willing to work within our (low) budget requirements.   But that’s the rub.  I posted the ad in the “Gigs” category, seeking to pay for specialized services — and discovered three wanting what could be seen as fair and reasonable compensation, and three (with satisfactory qualifications) willing to work for much less.  I’m contracting with the lower-cost suppliers.

Your circumstance is different.  You want people with money to pay, in fact premium money to pay, to respond to your message in a marketplace which attracts bargain seekers, but I agree (in 2011) not just that.  But you are playing in a marketplace where a large percentage of the potential clients are indeed looking for the best possible price.  You probably can write an ad which will convey a more effective image to attract the better clients you are seeking, but this won’t be easy.

Your challenge is to validate and prove that you are worth the extra money and the best way I know is through really good third-party client testimonials.  These need to be genuine, not fake.  Video testimonals are best.  They should of course reflect the work you have actually done and which is actually relevant to your market.  The more recent and more locally relevant, the better.  Videos can also show your work quality.  These do not need to be “advertising quality” or slick — in fact that may be counterproductive.  They should show you as you are and your work as it is.

You also need a decent, well designed and high quality website.  You can do this yourself if you have patience and some web design skills, but you may have to pay for some talent to achieve the results.  Sometimes local high school or college design students can help; sometimes you can do it offshore.  You could also contract with specialist service providers for the contracting industry.

Consider forums such as contractortalk.com and remodelcrazy.com for “free ideas”.  Best not to post questions or introduce yourself until you spend some time lurking and getting to know the lay of the land.

Finally, I would look at your relationships and place in your own community.  Community service/involvement especially among your community leaders will generate much goodwill and build the relationships and connections among the people willing to pay a premium for your service.  This is indirect marketing at its best.  Relevant associations and groups could include arts and culture organizations, neighbourhood associations or (if you want to get more risky) political groups.  You focus on how much you can help using your relevant skills and qualities and don’t worry about “marketing” at least in the direct sense.  The indirect results flow.

However, I don’t think you want these solutions.  You want someone to show you the “perfect” Craigslist ad, and have qualified people phone or email you right away, ready to pay your price, without you worrying about that “marketing stuff”.  And you want the information and guidance for free.

I can’t quarrel with your intent.  A lot of the marketing advice and materials you’ve been “sold” is crap.  In my case, at least last night, Craigslist provided a quick and easy solution (much to my pleasant surprise).  But I was buying, not selling.  This isn’t an easy solution for you. And I won’t do it for free.

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