Easy Tricks to Build or Repair Websites for Maximum Profit
copyright, 2017 – 2022, Jeff Napier
Just about any business will benefit from a website. In fact, some businesses can be entirely websites.
There are now several places where you can create your own website by simply cutting and pasting or entering text, dropping in a picture or two, and click an OK button. Wix.com, Blogger.com, and Weebly.com, come to mind. However, if you want to take advantage of all the ideas below, you might want to learn some basic HTML, or just hire someone to help you with the optimization parts.
Whenever you hire someone to help you with a website, make sure to maintain all access. You don’t want the site on some guy’s server. You want it on a big national company’s server such as Bluehost.com or Godaddy.com. Because, what if your webmaster goes broke, leaves town, or has an argument with his wife and shuts down his server?
It is very important to get all passwords associated with the site. You don’t want to have to hire the same webmaster over and over again for each little change that you could eventually make yourself, or pay someone else to make for you. I can’t tell you how many times, I, as a business coach, have had to tell business owners (gently), “I told you not to trust that webmaster.”
The most important thing websites need is visitors. There are three main ways to get visitors.
1. Buy advertising. That mostly doesn’t work. Or more specifically, with enough money you can buy visitors, but that would be fewer visitors than you would need to pay for the advertising. Pets.com that was famous for that. Right before the big tech crash of 2000, this company had a popular website. It turned out that the company had spent millions of investors’ dollars on advertising, and their revenue was far below their expenditures.
There is one form of advertising that can work for many Google AdWords. You can sign up for an AdWords account for free. Once there, you bid on keywords. They should actually be called “key phrases” because most keywords are more than one word. Let’s say your keyword is “Piano lessons San Francisco.” You may find that your closest competitor has bid $2.17 per click on that same keyword. You can bid $2.18. Then, your ad will show up at more websites, and closer to the top of the paid side of Google search results, than your competitor. So, your ad is then shown on random websites. Well, not random. Targeted. This means that if someone has a website that has to do with piano lessons in San Francisco, your ad – and your competitors’ ads – will show up on that site. Or if no one has a site about piano lessons in San Francisco, then you’ll show up on websites about piano lessons, and other sites about San Francisco. When someone clicks your ad to go to your website, Google takes $2.18 from your account. You can adjust maximums, and all sorts of other settings so that if it runs wild, you won’t go broke. You can do things like change your keyword to “Piano Lessons San Rafael (a small city on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge), which may not cost anywhere near $2.18 per click.
AdWords works particularly well because it is well-targeted. Google’s automated software does a good job of making sure your ad shows up on only the most relevant sites, and with only the most relevant search results.
Google also uses a technique that some think of as magical, and others feel is an invasion of privacy. They will display your ads to someone who has shown interest in your product or service. For instance, I was looking at Dremel tools one day on a couple of websites. For the next two weeks, ads for Dremel tools showed up in the ads on many of the sites I visited.
Think about the results: If you’re teaching piano at $30 to $90 per hour, how much would you pay to get another student? Each student would be worth hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars, right? So what’s $2.18 compared to that? Not everyone who clicks through to your website will buy lessons, but the ads are well-targeted, so a good many will sign up for lessons. Especially if your website is well-designed, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
2. SEO – Search Engine Optimization. You can do some simple things to make sure your website shows up near the top of search results in Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines. We’ll talk mostly about Google, because it is the elephant in the room. My guess is that at least 70 percent of all searches are done through Google, with the remaining 30 percent handled by Bing, AOL, Yahoo and many lesser search engines. Then too, if you make a website that works well with Google, it will work pretty much the same with the other search engines.
Google ‘ranks’ pages based on how closely parts of the page match the keyword people are searching for, and on how many other websites link to a page. The first aspect, matching elements of the page to the keyword is easy. The second is more work and takes longer to achieve, yet may be less important.
By the way, don’t let anyone tell you they have a magic formula to get top ranking. There are hundreds of companies out there willing to take your money for search engine optimization that is all smoke and mirrors. What you are going to read in the next few paragraphs is the heart and soul of search engine optimization. Oh, there are some complicated schemes that might bring a marginal increase in results, but these companies that promise the sky do not deliver. That’s guaranteed.
One of their favorite tricks is to show you irrelavent results. Let’s say you’re have a Fish and Chips restaurant. Let’s say your name is “Leslie Fish and Chips Eatery.” If someone were to enter the full name of your company, of course you’ll be at the top of results. But how many people looking for a restaurant is going to look for that? The truer result would be to see where you rank when you enter “Fish and Chips Restaraunt,” and see where you are in the results. Right!
So, if people are searching for “piano lessons San Francisco,” all you need to do is put that phrase in the page title – between the <title> tags, and in the< It can be helpful to have a page filename that also matches the keyword, such as www.mywebsite.com/pianolessonssanfrancisco.htm. Google says that as of October 2012, having an exact match page name is no longer significant. However, I have noticed that if you have an exact match domain name, such as www.pianolessonssanfrancisco.com, Google seems to index your page – include it in their search engine listings – within a day or two, rather than within two to three weeks.
So how many people are looking for “piano lessons San Francisco?” It would be important to know that, wouldn’t it?
As of now, 210 people per month are entering that keyword. How do I know? I used the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. It’s free when you sign up at adwords.google.com. Signing up for AdWords is also free. It only costs money if you place a bid on a keyword. You can enter any potential keyword in the Keyword Planner, and it will show you how many people are searching for that. It will also tell you how much AdWords bidders are paying for the keyword and some other interesting information. It will then offer a list of related keywords, in case you find there are already too many websites optimized for your keyword.
Once you are on the AdWords home page, select the “Tools and Analysis” tab, and then “Keyword Planner.” Once that’s in front of you, select “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas.” Enter a keyword in the “Enter Your Product or Service” field, the scroll down and click the “Get Ideas” button.
You’ll see an interesting list, but that’s not the list you’re looking for. Click the “Keyword Ideas” tab. Now you see information for your specific keyword – data about the people who have entered exactly your keyword into Google, and below that, you’ll see a long list of suggested keywords based on what you entered.
So, the next step is to see how many people have already optimized websites for your keyword. Good news, well fairly good: Not many people have optimized sites for “Piano Lessons San Francisco.” When you simply enter that keyword in the Google search engine, several sites come up, some which have the term in their titles, descriptions or <H1> tags, but none seem to be doing it in all four.
As you may know, you can see the source code of any web page by right clicking (or [Ctrl] and click on a Mac) and selecting “View Page Source” in FireFox, or from within a context-sensitive menu on other browsers.
So if you were teaching piano lessons in San Francisco, you could be the top page in Google search results, and most of 210 people a month who are actually looking for piano lessons in San Francisco would click through to your website. Gosh, that could bring you 50 or 100 new students every month! So many that you could raise your rates and pick which students you want to teach.
But, if many websites already used your keyword, there are still some things you can do. You can change the keyword a little bit, checking the Google AdWords Keyword Tool and actual search results, until you get something that has enough people looking, and isn’t highly optimized. Maybe “Piano Lessons Berkeley” (a nearby community) or “Piano Instruction San Francisco,” or “Classical Piano San Francisco.”
You can optimize for more than one keyword. If you have a local business, you can make a whole bunch of similar web pages each focused on one area, or put several area names in your tags. For instance, “Piano Lessons San Francisco, Concord, San Mateo, San Rafael, Sausalito.”
If your business is national or international, such as a website designed to make money by itself leveraging Google AdSense, or perhaps selling rubber reptiles via mail order, then you might use a keyword that addresses a range of similar interests, like “fake rubber snake lizard turtle amphibian reptile.” Of course you wouldn’t put such a non-poetic name in the visible portions of your page, but you get the idea.
Next on the list is backlinks. This thickens the plot a bit. If a thousand websites have added links to your page, Google puts you higher in search results than someone who may actually have better on-page SEO, but fewer backlinks.
This is another place the charlatans go crazy. They tell you they have all sorts of ways to get instant, automatic backlinks, for only $39.95 per month. . . They also tell you that backlinks are essential. However, with a well-selected keyword you can usually ignore backlinks and still end up with lots of hits.
Don’t fall for any of that rubber snake oil. Much of what they do, when they do anything at all, is pure spam, and in the end, may weaken your position with Google. You don’t need to pay money for backlinks, and you don’t need to do spammy things to get them.
Simply asking webmasters to add a link to your site can work quite well. Many webmasters will, without cost, just because you asked. You can also trade links, as long as you don’t mind adding a reciprocal links list to your site. Better yet, you can post in newsgroups, forums, discussions. You can answer questions, or ask questions. At the end of every single post, you are allowed a tag line in almost all forums. Your tag line can contain a few words about what your site is, plus an actual link to your site.
Not only will these be noticed by Google as backlinks, but some real people will actually click through, bringing up your visitor count organically. The trick to not spamming is simple: Contribute legitimately to the discussions in which you participate. You can answer questions, postulate theories, bring up analogies. If you don’t know much about a subject, it is completely OK to ask questions, as long as you are not selling ‘expert service’ on your site on the very subject of which you’re asking questions.
What’s wrong with spam? Besides the fact that you’re interrupting people, and diluting the value of bonafide discussions, Google has become quite smart about spam, and actually penalizes a website in search results if the backlinks are of low quality.
One of the best sources of good backlinks is social networking, which will be covered in the next chapter. Social networking can work so well, that you may not need SEO at all.
Once you’ve built or updated your website, you can let Google know it’s there. This is especially important if no other websites link to it yet, otherwise Google has no way to know you’re out there, because Google finds websites by investigating links from other websites, crawling the entire Internet every two weeks or so, link by link. However, you can expedite the process through “Fetch as Google” a simple, free and easy-to-use part of Google Webmaster Tools.
If all goes well, you can have a hundred visitors within 24 hours of building a new website.
Once you’ve got at least a handful of visitors coming to your site, you can do some more things to make sure it works.
If you can provide some useful content or positive eccentricity, then people will tell people who will tell people. Your site can go viral. Take a look at hamsterdance.com. Especially take a look at the “Hamster Classics” and then “Interactive Dance.” This one dance page is similar to how the whole site originally looked.
It seems a computer science student made a one-page website as a thesis project. All it did was show lines of cartooney dancing hamsters with some background music. That was in the late 1990s, when it didn’t take much of a website to excite people. There was something about the cuteness of hamsterdance.com that caused everyone to email everyone else, and it went viral almost instantly. Millions of visitors came. The creator saw the potential, and quickly added more pages and advertising to the site.
It will take more than dancing hamsters to impress people these days, but if you can do something sufficiently amusing, or informative, you win the game!
Another example is Crayola.com. There, you’ll find quite a few interesting and interactive things for children. People come to the site because there’s something useful there.
Yet another example is a website where you can buy an antenna for specialized electronics. The site has many charts with exactly the information that radio designers need, so of course this site is where the radio people go to when it is time to order antennae.
Your author has made several such sites. One of the more interesting sites is www.worlds-worst-website.com. Its sole purpose is to cause people to tell people, who will tell people, and so on. If I recall correctly, I have never done any SEO with the Worlds Worst Website. This site has functionality and eccentricity.
Once you’ve got a site that gets visitors, you want to direct their time there. It would be a shame to build a large visitor count, then have all your visitors become confused and leave the site without satisfaction. Or more to the point, you want them to do something that satisfies you, also, like buy your product or service. Think of your webpage, or your website, as a funnel. The top is wide. Lots of people spill into your site. The funnel narrows, directing people downward. Or more specifically, it holds their interest. Someone told me the average web page visitor stays one and a half seconds, unless something catches their interest in that time. The funnel eventually directs them all through the spout. The spout is the action step. What do you want people to do? Click the “Buy Now” button? Give you a phone call? Come to your store? Set up the page to have this effect.
You should have a compelling title, or short bit of text in the upper left corner, since that is where most people look first. The purpose of this top left item is not to sell something, but merely to cause them to feel that your site is worth focusing on. To have them become invested in your site enough to stay on the page and read more, perhaps click through to other pages on your site. Finally, at the bottom of every place they might go within your site, you have your action step – the button to click, the phone number to call – whatever you want them to do. During this process, you may also want to convince them that your site is so excellent they should tell all their friends.
One thing you almost never want is links away from your site. In this book, I can tell you about crayola.com, because you already bought the book. I don’t need to sell you anything. But if I did, I would not risk losing you to Crayola. Besides, I think I’ve got your interest by now. Hopefully, I have you well on your way to starting or improving your own business!
There’s a super-effective trick with the social networking sites that can bring you hundreds or thousands of new visitors, but which is oddly left out of most discussions of social networking. I’ll tell you about it after a brief introduction and ‘how-to’ in case you are new to the whole phenomenon.
The Big Three
The big three social networking sites are Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Some may argue that MySpace is one of the big ones also, but I think it was more than it is now. There are hundreds of others. And then, there are sites that you may not think of social networking sites, but have interactive features and can be used for social networking. These include Tumblr, YouTube, LinkedIn and even eBay.
For this discussion, we’ll just focus on the big three. There’d be little sense in putting much effort into ‘lesser’ sites when the same effort on one or more of the big three will yield ten times the results.
The Big Three
Let’s start with Twitter. The main concept is that anyone can enter messages at any time of up to 140 characters in length. You can also attach pictures, links and videos. But the core of Twitter is these little messages, called tweets. What in much of the Internet world might be considered spam is perfectly fine on Twitter. In other words, stating tiny little trivia about whatever interests you, as often as you like, is perfectly fine.
Amateurs use Twitter to tell you they hate today’s homework, Jane wore the wrong dress, the boss said something insane, Frank just took a picture of his basset hound – you get the idea.
Most communication of this type happens among people who have decided to follow each other. For insance, if you start following Barack Obama, you’ll get his tweets about the things that interest him – health care politics, international relations, and so on. When he writes a tweet, only those who have chosen to follow him see his messages. In his case, millions of people are following. But unless you are the President of the United States, not that many people will follow you.
Here comes a big trick with Twitter: You can incorporate hashtags into your tweets. A hashtag is a word or phrase that starts with a number sign. Phrases consisting of more than one word are compounded, like this: #MileyCirus. When you put a hashtag in your tweet, anyone who has elected to see all messages about that subject will see your message. Now, rather than the three people who are following you, suddenly thousands may see your message.
If you pick something too common, no one will be following because the number of tweets are simply overwhelming. For instance, if you do add a #MileyCyrus hashtag, chances are few people will react because there may be thousands of tweets about her every day. On the other hand if you pick something too specialized, there’ll be no one who cares. Something like #RichardBransonHighSchoolDeploma – just isn’t going to bring results. But if you use a hashtag that some people are going to be following, magic can happen.
First, they’ll get your message, and perhaps go to your website to learn more about what you’re doing. Then, if your tweet is compelling, they may start following you, so you can speak to them even in ways in which you can’t incorporate effective hashtags. Finally, they may tell their friends, mentioning you or your website, or at least your tweets, in their own tweets to their friends (called retweeting).
Can you do the same thing in Facebook? You bet. Hashtags work almost the exact same way. You can even link Twitter and FaceBook together (and even several other social networking sites), so that when you post a tweet on Twitter, it also shows up in your Facebook activity.
Facebook has a concept called Groups. There are thousands of groups. These are just what you’d think: People with a similar interest ‘subscribe’ to a group, where the photos, messages, videos, and links are all about the topic of the group. For instance, there are more than 4,000 in a group about juggling. There, you’ll find posts about jugglers who have appeared on television, pictures of people juggling three, four, five and more objects, how-to information, and more.
The magic of Facebook groups is that you can subscribe to a group and post messages that will be seen by everyone in the group. Unlike Twitter, you don’t have to depend on people searching for hashtag terms, and you don’t have to already have made friends with thousands of people. Just post in an appropriate group, and you can have hundreds, even thousands of targeted visitors to your website within hours.
Just like the rest of the world, you don’t want to spam groups. You can’t subscribe to a group about orchids, and post about inexpensive Rolex watches. Well, actually you can, but you’ll probably be banned from the group. Besides, it is just plain not nice. Spam weakens a group. Have you ever seen a group that has lost the spam war? It’s disappointing. You might want to read about a vegetarian diet, but every post is about weight-loss products. As a group is dying, you see nine out of ten spam posts, and have to sort through them to find a little bit of good stuff.
But you can post on-topic material, and leverage your presence in the group. You might find a group about Manchester United. There, you can say whatever you want about the other soccer teams. The Manchester fans in the group will love you for it. Then, at the bottom of your post, you can have a signature line, complete with a link to your website. In fact, you don’t even need a signature line. You can add links to posts – as long as they aren’t wildly off-topic. You don’t even have to do that. Many people will wonder who you are, check your profile, the links you have posted there, and so on.
It is better to stay nearly on-topic, even with your signature and links, if you can. If your product or service is about fishing, you can find many boating and outdoor sports groups in which you can participate in a valid way, and receive targeted visitors to your linked websites. For instance, if you post in a bicycle racing group, you’ll get bicycle enthusiasts coming to your bicycling website. Many of them will because they are interested in everything ‘bicycles.’ If you post a link about bicycling in a mountaineering website, even if your text is a valid on-topic post, few people will actually click the link.
Let’s say you’ve found the paydirt. Perhaps your buiness is buying and selling used violins. You find a violinists’ group, an orchestral musicians group, and a classical strings group. You can’t just post over and over again that you’re buying and selling violins. What you do instead is offer violin trivia, post technical information, state that you particularly like Rossini’s William Tell Overature, and so on. You can answer questions that you’re qualified to answer. You can ask questions if you’re not an expert. You can ask controversial questions which will sometimes keep an active discussion going for weeks. With all this stuff on your wall, you can become something of an authority on the subject. By simply participating in a natural and appropriate way, you’ll bring many visitors to your website and end up trading many violins!
Finally, we have LinkedIn(www.linkedin.com). This social venue works nearly the same as Facebook, but has a clientele that leans more toward entrepreneurs and upwardly mobile corporate professionals such as department heads and managers. This is a clientele that often has need for web development
Google also has something called “Groups” but it is not the same as Facebook groups. This is an extension of Usenet newsgroups.
In the early days of the Internet, before the WorldWide Web took off, there was another division caled Usenet, also known as Usenet newsgroups. Usenet still exists, but most modern Internet users are unaware of it. There are more than 100,000 newsgroups, covering a huge variety of topics. A newsgroup is a list of messages by individuals. You can click titles to read messages, answer messages, and post new messages. It is a lot like email, except every message is addressed to the world at large – anyone who wants to subscribe to the groups. Just like email, messages could have files, attached. Most of the time the files were pictures. In the past, you had to download special software, and put up with funky free access, or pay money for a subscription in a ‘newsreader’ service to gain access. Now, Google has made it much easier. Anyone with a Google account can go to groups.google.com and participate. The messages show up in your web browser – no special software required. There are two major differences: Google doesn’t support attached files. With Google, it’s just about text messages. And, there are even more groups, in addition to the Usenet groups.
So, if you want to publicize something, you find appropriate groups, post messages, and add a tag line at the bottom of every post. Or, in some groups, you can blatantly advertise. Of course the ones you can advertise in directly don’t have much valuable content. They are often called “spam traps,” I experimented with some, such as alt.test.test, and alt.announce, misc.forsale, and sure enough, there are a number of people just idling around there who will read pretty much anything interesting, and click through to see what you have.
Let me give you a concrete example of how you can use Google Groups. Actually, you can use this same technique in Facebook groups, on Twitter, and even on YouTube.
I wanted to publicize an idea about bike safety. I found a group called ba.bicycling. After reading a few messages, I figured out that the group is about bicycling in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place I have lived. There is a popular bicycling road that goes out to the rural edge of west Marin County called Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. It is dangerous because it has no shoulders, blind curves, and trees casting mottled sun and shade, making visibility difficult at times, especially since it heads due west into the sunset in the evenings. So I said so. I created a brief post stating that Sir Francis Drake was dangerous, and exactly why. At the bottom was a link to my bicycle safety website. You’ve gotta remember, I just told a bunch of bicycle lovers that the place they like to ride is dangerous. That was very controversial, just as I thought it might be, and so I was able to keep the discussion alive for a week. On the first day, 400 people came to my website. By the time the discussion died out, 1,000 visitors clicked through. And, these were exceedingly targeted customers – the very bicycle advocates I wanted to come to my site. My site was actually of international interest, but I happened across a Bay Area newsgroup, and remembered the problem on Sir Francis Drake, and so was able to make my little splash.
Letting eBay Spread Your Message
I’ve listed some things for sale on eBay, and noticed that hundreds of tire-kickers may come by before anyone actually buys a thing. How can you leverage this? You can post things that are not designed to sell. If they do sell, that’s just frosting on the cake. The reason for posting is to get a couple hundred viewers, who will then click through to your website.
Now, eBay frowns on sellling things outside of eBay through an eBay listing. So you can’t do that. But you can mention a non-competing website in your listing, and you can direct people to your ‘about me’ pages on eBay.
YouTube is another great website that you can use in a social networking sort of way. People love videos, especially ones that explain something or eccentricities. Right in your video, you can include links to any site you want. YouTube even gives you ways to monetize your videos directly. Let’s say you have done something weird enough that it goes viral, like this one:
For those of you who are reading this on a device that can display web pages, you can click the picture to see the video. Otherwise, you can go to this link to see it on another device: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItZyaOlrb7E
The drummer is Steve Moore, known as The Crazy Drummer. When this was first uploaded to YouTube, it sat around for two years and got only a few hits. Then the name was changed to “This Drummer Is At The Wrong Gig.” Suddenly, it went viral. As of today, it has been viewed more than 23 million times.
If that were your video, you could have YouTube supply advertising within and around the video. Their advertising is linked to Google AdSense, which is no surprise, since Google ownes YouTube. AdSense places context-sensitive ads automatically. Ads will be displayed that are related to the subject matter, (probably “drummer” and “gig”), and also to what the viewers have shown an interest in. For instance, Google must be hip to the fact that I have been interested in Dremel and Foredom tools lately, because these are among the ads I see. Or, you could embed your own links.
Interestingly, the quality of a video is not nearly as important as the content, or the subject it addresses. Many successful YouTube videos were shot with cellphones, and not edited very much, if at all. But what all the successful ones have in common is that they do something people want to see. They are informative or eccentric.
And there are the other websites. You can post photos or artwork on DeviantArt.com, Pintarest.com, PhotoBucket.com, you can make interactive blogs on Tumblr.com or Blogger.com.
In these websites, or any social networking or similar websites, memes can be effective.
A meme (pronounced ‘meem’) is a unit of information that carries an idea from person to person almost in the way that genes carry physical traits from generation to generation. Shortened from the Greek mimeme, which means “imitated thing,” the term was coined by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, in 1976. Modern memes can be a written phrase, an image, an animation or sound clip.
Bumper stickers might be typical memes. Remember the one that had a picture of a golfer and said, “Don’t drink and drive. Use a 7-iron.” Hopefully, this meme made driving a little more safe.
It’s easier to create memes these days. You can just upload a little something to Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, you name it. And if your meme is successful, everyone will share it with their friends and associates, and soon, your meme will be seen by millions. A typical image meme would have a photo or drawing, and a bit of text. There are no standards – yet. Your meme can be any size, any of the standard Internet formats – .jpg, .bmp, .gif, or .png), and of course it can contain anything you want. All you do is make your meme, including a link to your website or whatever you want to convey, upload it somewhere, set back, and watch the business roll in. At least that’s the idea.
It would be pretty hard to make a text-only meme. The closest I came is this: “If all the toilet paper used in America was on one giant roll, we’d be unrolling it at 7,600 miles per hour, roughly ten times the speed of sound.” This could be uploaded to some trivia websites, or into various groups on Facebook, along with a link to whatever I’d want to link.
The problem is that text memes will tend to get separated from their links when people spread them around. So, the answer is imbed the text and link in a picture, so it is the picture that gets passed around, not just a line of text. Besides, the picture may enhance the concept of the text.
You can also make video memes, with or without sound. They have the advantage that they more completely involve the viewers. The downsides are that they take a bit more effort to produce, they don’t run consistently in all environments, and people have to sit and watch them before they get the entire message. In this information-rich society, the attention span is said to be one-and-a-half seconds. If your animated meme doesn’t catch people in that amount of time, it isn’t going to be an effective meme.
I wanted to tell you about a couple of Craigslist tricks that are important to many kinds of businesses.
If you have a service business such as teaching or repairing, I have a tip for you farther along in this chapter, but let’s start with merchandise business ideas on Craigslist.
If you buy and sell things, great opportunities exist in the space between Craigslist and eBay. You can often buy things for less on eBay than they can go for on Craigslist. That’s because people often will not trust things they can’t personally see and hold before buying. This is especially true of musical instruments, since people want to play them, to hear them, before they commit. Then, you can sell these same things at a profit locally on Craigslist to people who you will let see and hold them. These people are also more likely to buy locally because they can have their items right away. Many folks don’t want to wait a week or more for their purchases to arrive. Others don’t really understand and trust eBay, and would rather pay cash to an actual person.
On the other side, people who are moving out of town, don’t want to pack and ship things, and who want immediate cash will sell things for much less then they would be worth online. They can’t get the full value for these things, because the market is limited to the local community. So of course you can come along, swoop these things up, and list them for a profit to all the national or international buyers on eBay.
First, let’s talk about a couple of tricks for selling things on Craigslist.
When you list an item for sale on Craigslist, it scrolls down the list as other people add the things they have for sale. In a busy community in a busy category, such as Computers in Seattle, your ad can scroll out of sight within a few hours.
So, here’s what you do: Every couple of hours, add a different item. Let’s say you are selling used clothing. You can put up an ad for a sweater at 1pm. Then at 3pm, you can put up an ad for a pair of pants. Then at 5pm, a jacket, and so on. Each one of these ads carries a link to your website, saying something like, “much more clothing available at mywebsite.com.” You might even have thumbnails for your other clothes at the bottom of each ad. This is not spamming, because every ad is for something different.
As you may know, with craigslist, you are welcome to ‘renew’ an ad every 48 hours. This means that your ad will reappear at the top of the list. So, after you’ve built up a sufficient number of ads, you can start renewing them, one at a time, every couple of hours, so you always have something near the top of the list.
The other trick, which I already alluded to above, is that you can have a website that has a larger list of your inventory. Every one of your Craigslist ads can link to your website. It seems to work well to have a vertical table on your website, with thumbnail images of each item on the left, descriptions to the right, and prices to the far right. I used to do this with bicycles, although you could do it with clothing, musical instruments, computers, furniture, or whatever you want. I kept an inventory of about 18 used bicycles and each was pictured on my website until sold.
I have to admit I didn’t stay up to date with posting on Craigslist. I usually only managed between one and three ads per day, and skipped some days altogether. This was because my bottleneck in the bicycle business was getting bikes, not selling them. Unlike most many other product lines, all except high-end bicycles are too big to buy profitably on eBay – due to the shipping cost, so I had to depend on a local market. And there too, I have to admit, I could have done things to purchase more bikes locally, but had other business interests at the time. Still, I sold 20 bikes per week with an average profit of $75 to $100. So this could work the same way for your business. After doing it for three months, I moved on to other pursuits, but during that time, strictly from craigslist exposure, my bike inventory website had received over 20,000 unique visitors.
When an item sells, it is appropriate to delete it from Craigslist as soon as you can, but I think it is better to leave the listing on your website for a day or two, marked “Sold,” leaving the price visible. When people see that your business is active, an unconscious impulse causes them to want to buy something ‘before it’s too late.’ It also keeps browsers coming back. They want to watch the activity, and eventually when they need an item, or have a friend that does, where do you suppose they’ll look?
One of the best ways I could have increased my purchasing of bicycles at the time would have been to keep an ad active in the “Items Wanted” section telling people that I buy used and broken bicycles. This would have the added advantage that my wanted posting would also link to my website, so people who see that I want bikes, will also see I have bikes, in case they are upgrading, or looking for a bike for any reason.
The impact of such listings grows with time. Several months later when Fred, who doesn’t need a guitar, hears that Jenessa wants a guitar, he’ll remember the ‘guitars wanted’ ad on Craigslist, and direct Jenessa to the linked guitars-for-sale website.
And of course, on your website with your list of items for sale, you can mention that you are also a buyer.
One of the best ways to let people you’re buying things on Craigslist is to let them know you’re selling things. Whereas you could post multiple similar ads such as “Cash paid for sweaters,” “I buy name brand bluejeans,” and “I want your quality used clothing,” this verges on spam, in fact it pretty much is spam, in the “Items Wanted” category. Not only does spamming make a mess out of a good category, and is unethical, and will probably get you a bad name, but Craigslist users will probably get in the habit of flagging and deleting all your ads.
A much better approach is to sell things in the proper “For Sale” category. In each ad, you also happen to mention that you buy things. Of course, you can have a single ad announcing that you’re buying in the “Items Wanted” category at the same time. You might be able to expand in the items wanted category if you are careful. You could run an ad that you are buying upholstered furniture on Monday, an ad that you are buying wooden furniture on Tuesday, and an ad that you are buying office chairs on Wednesday.
If you are in a service business, such as repair, entertainment or lessons, there are a couple of problems. First, you can list only in the “Services Offered” category, which fewer people see. Oh, they may be better targeted, but still, few people browse that category. The other problem is that it is difficult to post multiple ads in the Services category.
The only way you can post multiple services without spamming is to break your services down to specifics and advertise each one. For instance, if you tune and repair pianos, and give lessons, that’s three ads, isn’t it? Lessons, Repair, Tuning.
But that’s awfully close to spamming, and probably not enough exposure. So here’s the plan:
Now that you’ve read this book, you have a good idea about how to buy and sell things at a profit. I’m going to suggest you dabble a bit in used items, even if that is not your primary business. If you are into pianos, buy a couple of investment pianos and put them in your garage or whatever. Or, as you teach lessons, perhaps the very pianos you teach on are always for sale (as long as you keep a spare piano, ready to use). Now, you can put ads in the Musical Instruments section of Craigslist for your pianos, doing the tricks stated above. But your objective isn’t to sell pianos, although that could be a good income on the side. Your ads are there mostly to present the links to your website where you sell the lessons and repair services that you offer. If you don’t really want to mess around with buying and selling (but who wouldn’t?), you can keep your prices too high. The point is that people looking for used items are often the same people who want lessons or repairs. This is where they’ll be, in Items for Sale, not Services Offered.
Finally, on Craigslist, you’ll notice that there are forums at the left side of the home page. You can participate in those forums. You can teach what you know. You can answer questions. You can ask questions about what you don’t know. But at the bottom of every posting, you can have a low-key link to your website. Keep in mind that some of the forums are national, so you’ll want to notice that before you post a link for local service or large items for sale.
The Sure-Fire Millionaire
As I indicated in the last chapter, partnerships are expensive. I mean really expensive. I’m not saying don’t get partners, I’m just saying you should consider expensive options carefully, weighing them against potential profit.
For instance, you might think the decision to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks is simple – just do it. But what if I tell you that cup of coffee will cost you $42? Would you still buy it?
Let me explain. If instead of that $3 cup of coffee, you put the money in an investment such as a mutual fund, and leave it there for 20 years, it will, on average, turn into $42. I knew a fellow who understood this so well that he made millions of dollars, yet he worked for nearly minimum wage.
When I met him, Brian was 48 years old. He had retired with several million dollars two years earlier at age 46. When he was 26 years old, he got a job for Sears, driving a van, and repairing washing machines and driers in peoples’ homes, which pays just a bit more than minimum wage.
At one home, Brian met a couple who told him that he ought to ‘pay himself first.’ He asked what they meant, and it sounded like a good idea. So every week, he took 25 percent of his paycheck after taxes, and put it in a savings account. Then whatever was left went to rent, food, and fun. That wasn’t very much, but he wasn’t making very much in the first place.
Week after week, Brian kept it up, until he had $10,000 in his savings account. He knew he’d have to learn something about investing. Even though he didn’t feel like learning about that, he went to the library and started studying up – this was before the Internet. He learned about mutual funds, municipal bonds, money market accounts, and even some things that didn’t begin with “m.” He moved the money from the savings account into better investments.
Brian was content with his job at Sears, and not really qualified for anything else. He kept ‘paying himself first’ year after year. In fact, in the first years, his investment fund grew frustratingly slowly. Yet, early on he remained what you might consider painfully careful about spending money. He could certainly have purchased a 35-inch TV, or even a 60-inch TV, but he knew how much that would actually cost. He felt his 21-inch TV was just fine, considering the bigger picture.
He learned to buy only the best car he could buy with cash – no payments. At first, this meant he had to keep his old car a few years longer than he might have.
He couldn’t really impress people with material goods. (He did impress people with his common sense.) He couldn’t buy fancy clothes. It had to be Wal-Mart, and only when necessary. Sometimes he bought clothes at the thrift stores. After twenty years, he retired. He can now have pretty much anything he wants. He dresses well. He travels when he wants. Brian has a new Jaguar that cost $88,000, paid with cash, of course. Now, he can really impress people with material goods!
I think you can see that Brian was patient. Patience is a wonderful attribute in business. Just about any business you start, if you are patient, if you are willing to accept the occasional setback, grow it slowly, stay interested, you’ll be successful. Maybe even beyond your wildest dreams!
The Psychology of Making Money
Here’s another little story about patience in business. Steve was a science-fiction writer. Or, well, he wanted to be. He figured that if he could co-write with the big names in science fiction, he’d succeed. He pitched ideas to Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein and other big names in science fiction, and some of them accepted the idea of co-writing with him. For eighteen years, he wrote with these famous writers. One after another, the books flopped. The publishers would pay a small advance, then no royalties came in. To make ends meet, he taught English at the local college. Eventually, Steve’s name became poison in the industry. No one would co-write with him any more. All these great writers knew that if they wrote a book with Steve, it would fail.
Out of desperation, he wrote a book by himself. It became an international best seller.
Now, eighteen years is extreme. I tell the story only to illustrate patience. For you and I, just a few months can seem like years. But if you can stick it out those months, you’ll probably see some level of success. Even if your success is slow, you can stick with it, and eventually you’ll have your major success.
Also, note that the story didn’t go the way Steve figured. He thought he had to co-write. Turns out, a little adjustment made all the difference. Don’t force your story to go the way you figure. Allow for some flexibility. Look around the edges of things. See what you can experiment with. See what you can change. Have fun. You’ll do fine. Better than fine! For instance, in my first bicycle store, I totally ignored used bikes. They were ‘beneath my dignity.’ I wanted my place to be a ‘pro’ store, and the way I saw it, used bikes didn’t fit the paradigm. Somehow, in my second bicycle store, I had loosened my grip a bit, and started dealing in some second hand bikes. Guess what? They brought four times more income than the new bikes. Furthermore, the ‘pro’ customers were attracted to the secondhand bikes, and bought and sold some very high-end used bikes with me.
You probably heard about the three gold miners in California. They staked a claim where they were fairly certain they’d hit a big vein, and dug. And dug. And dug some more, but no gold. Finally, they gave up, selling their mine for nearly nothing. The new owners started digging. They went three feet (1 meter), and hit the biggest gold vein yet found in California.