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How To Become a Wizard

How to Become a Wizard

Copyright 2013 – 2022 by Jeff Napier


Table of Contents




Introduction

A wizard is a person of any age or gender who uses seemingly ‘magical’ powers. Once known, these powers can be used by anyone, but until now, they have been revealed to only a few. The wizard can apply these powers for anything from entertaining friends, to attaining wealth, to positively changing the world.

Whereas a wizard can use the magical powers for negative purposes, not many do. The wizards from the dark side typically come to an early and unfortunate end – dying of embarrassment, poverty – or worse. Furthermore, attempting to use the magic for unsavory purposes usually has no effect or can backfire.

This book will reveal the ways of the wizards, so you can use the powers as you wish – simply for amusement, or so that you, too, can create a positive outcome for yourself, your family and friends, or for everyone.


The Law of Attraction in Action

Much has been written about the Law of Attraction, but oddly, the most important parts have been left out. This has unfortunately frustrated millions of people. They tried some of the techniques. The techniques did not work. They moved on. So now it is time to revisit the Law of Attraction, learn what it really is, and how it really works.

The simple explanation:

The law of attraction = what you think is what you get.

In general, if you think affirmative thoughts, you’ll get wonderful results. You’ll be amazed at the positive changes you can make in your life when you employ the law of attraction through some specific, yet, simple techniques. It has failed for many people only because they don’t really know how the mechanisms under the hood work. Knowing that will give you the assurance and patience to take the right steps. This chapter is dedicated to helping you put the law of attraction into action.

Some people will refuse to believe something so simple can actually work until they know how it works. OK, I understand. Here are a couple of ways it works. You’ll find others later on.

1. When you’re in a negative loop, such as “I’m in debt, I’m in debt,” your mind is preoccupied with that thought. It’s as if your neurons have burned a path of least resistance – making it just about impossible to not worry about your debt. You’re also far too occupied with your loop to be creative.

If, you start to look at what you already do have, a nice pair of shoes, a dog who adores you, a warm home, your negative loop is interrupted, and you can start thinking of ways out of the debt. (By the way, if you are looking for ways out of debt – that are fairly easy to implement and actually work – you’ll find some later in this book.) You may also become depressed when you focus on the negative, and people who are depressed can make ineffective decisions. Worst of all, you can go to ‘default’ which is what’s left when you don’t exercise your most potent power – the power to choose.

2. When you stay focused on what you want, not on what you don’t want, you start making small, but important decisions that will move you in the right direction.

3. You may wonder what would happen if everyone got what they wanted. What if lots of people became rich? Would that mean that everyone else would get poorer? No, in fact the opposite happens. When you’re rich, you buy things. The salespeople get commissions, the stores and factories make money, and are able to pay their workers more.

Let’s say you want a new convertible. People familiar with the law of attraction may suggest you put a picture of that convertible on your bathroom mirror, and start wishing for it. I know that seems rather simplistic, and for this example it is, but it actually helps it to work to a degree. Some people create an entire ‘vision board’ filled with photos reminiscent of what they want. It’s known to be more effective when just one wish is focused on at a time.

Here’s how it once worked for me: In my early cash-poor twenties, when I certainly couldn’t qualify for a car loan, I wanted a Land Rover. Back then, a brand new one was $5,000. I went to several car dealers anyway, just to look and wish some more. Poking around in a dealer’s back lot, I discovered a dusty used one that actually still ran, for $400. Quite a surprise! It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was a Land Rover I could afford. On the drive home, it overheated. It set me back $90 for a new radiator. That took a week to save up for, and another week to order. Then I had a Land Rover that actually ran fairly well, but it looked terrible. Although I was quite happy with mine, what I really wanted was a good-looking Land Rover. I had a friend who worked in a body shop who could give me a paint job for $200. A couple of months later, I had the car painted a deep metal-flake green with black trim. In my opinion, it actually looked better than the new Land Rovers, since you couldn’t get them in that color. Thinking others may feel the same way, I put an ad in the newspaper, and sold my $400 Land Rover for $2,800! It didn’t take long to come up with another $2200, and I got my brand new Land Rover, paid for in cash!

OK, you’re probably wondering where that last $2200 came from. Here’s what happened: One day the transmission in my $400 Land Rover broke down. Back then, Land Rovers were rare and I couldn’t buy the parts anywhere, so I bought a used Land Rover, one that was crashed, and took the transmission out for my car. I then sold the windshield, the wheels, the seats, axles, engine, all sorts of other parts. After paying to dispose of the remains, I had well over $2,000.

Now I realize you may not be able to do what I did, you may not even know exactly what an axle is, let alone how to sell one, but I’ll bet you have marketable skills, also. You probably have skills that you don’t yet realize can bring big positive changes to your life. This book will help you leverage what you already have.

Just in case you’re still not understanding how I do things, and how you can too, let me cite one more example. This one happened just a few years ago: I started a bookstore in an era when people simply don’t do that. Independent bookstores have been badly hurt by online book venues such as Amazon.com and of course Kindle. But, I felt like it would be a fun project to set up a small store, where I could greet the public, and sell books. So I did it. I did a few things differently, including having a back-room operation where I sold used books online.

After four months, I lost interest. I used to think losing interest in good projects was one of my bigger flaws, but now I’m realizing it has always been an advantage. Can you understand ways in which that may be true? What flaws might you have that are really advantages, if considered differently?

Having lost interest, I sold the store. Initially, I listed it for a price that was three times higher than what I had invested, but my wife stopped me. She advised that since the bookstore was already making enough money to interest a lot of possible buyers, that I could easily quadruple my asking price price. Just four days after placing the ad, the business sold for twelve times the original investment!

In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to teach you how to use the law of attraction (and other techniques) to truly get what you want.

Follow These Three Steps, And You Can Have Most Anything!

1. The first trick is to figure out exactly what you want. Oddly, almost everyone thinks they can answer that question without hesitation, but upon deeper reflection, it can be quite confusing. In time, you may discover things about yourself that you never knew.

A woman with a degree in psychology was looking for something more meaningful than her current job of writing employee psych evaluations for an insurance company. She couldn’t really get a handle on it, until one day she discovered she’d like to work with children. She burst into tears upon making that discovery. She had never given any thought to the idea of working with people other than adults until then.

So, how do you figure out what you really want? Try this trick: Ask a friend to ask you these specific questions:

What do you want (or what would you like)?

Where, when, and with whom would you like to have it?

What will having that do for you?

And what will having that do for you?

How will you know when you have it?

How will it affect your friends and family?

What will you lose that you value when you have it?

Have your friend repeat these questions in any sequence several times over the course of an hour or so, and you may be surprised how much your answers change.

Repeat this technique with a few friends over the course of a week or two.

2. Work out a plan of action. Pretty much anything you want to do can be attained in a succession of little tiny steps. Nothing needs to be difficult. Even designing an action plan can be easy. Especially when you know you don’t have to follow it exactly. Let the universe help guide you. If you make a plan that’s about right, with adjustments as things happen, you’ll get to where you’re going. An example:

I know a couple who were struggling to make their organic bakery profitable. One night their house burned down. You might think: Surely that’s a setback. But they knew about the law of attraction. They knew that what seems like a negative event can often be perceived as positive, and in fact becomes a positive event. They basically had a party in the street as the firemen were putting out the pile of rubble that had been their home. They moved into a teepee on a friend’s farm for the summer, paying no rent, and before winter they had found a better, furnished home that was closer to their bakery and lower rent than what they were paying before.

A couple of months later, the merchant next door made a little mistake and burned their bakery down! They did not have proper insurance. Do you think they worried? No, they didn’t! Within another month or so, they rented a new commercial building, bought a bunch of second-hand bakery equipment, and were back in business. But, this time they picked up a better location. This time, there was room for their customers to park, and their sign could be seen on the main thoroughfare. Their financial worries were over!

3. Be open to receiving. One of the best things you can do is to appreciate what you already have. That puts you in a feeling and position in which new things can come to you. Without that, you may not recognize the opportunities when they come up. Like the joke:

A man was caught in a flood, and had to climb up on the roof of his house. But, he knew God would take care of him. A helicopter came by, and lowered a harness. The man refused it, saying, “No, God will rescue me.” Another helicopter came by, and again he refused it. So he drowned and went to heaven. One of the first things he did when he got to Heaven was ask God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?” And God said, “I tried. What do you think those helicopters were?”

And, it helps to be patient. There’s a story about a gold mine in California. The owners dug and dug, but came up with no gold. So, they sold the mine for nearly nothing. The new owners dug three more feet, and hit the biggest vein of gold yet discovered.

And, it helps to have some supportive people around you that will bring you back to your goal. For instance, if you tell your plan to all your friends, and then you get a bit lazy, they’ll remind you, and get you back on track. And, your friends will tell their friends, and benefits can come seemingly out of nowhere. This is a very big part of the effectiveness of the law of attraction.

Many years ago, I owned a bicycle shop. I really wanted a metal lathe for the shop which is a very expensive tool. I told people, and one day, a 12-year-old boy came in the shop and said, “My grandmother has one.” I figured it was probably a wood lathe, a much less expensive tool that I couldn’t use, but I called her anyway. Her husband had passed, and she just wanted to be rid of it, so she gave it to me – wouldn’t hear of accepting any cash. It was a metal lathe in perfect condition with a wide array of attachments.

4. Be willing to accept variations. I once went through the exercise in step one with a client who initially told me he wanted to be a millionaire. I asked, “What would having that do for you?” He told me that as a millionaire he could afford a large home. Then I asked “And what would having a large home do for you?” He told me that then he could have a cat. And I asked, “And what would having a cat do for you?” He said, “Well, I would love to pet the cat for hours. I could slow down. I could think. I’d be happy!”

With his new understanding, it wasn’t long before he moved into an apartment where pets were allowed, and got his cat. And he was able to slow down and think. Starting to feel the law of attraction in action, he then turned his focus on having his own business. He started selling fishing equipment at the local flea market. His business grew, and in time he was able to quit his job. Today, he is well on his way to becoming a millionaire, but that’s not so important anymore, since he has his cat.

Exploring new possibilities, and being willing to flex, change, adjust, is the best way to make sure you get what you want. Julia Child, the late famous French chef, tried making hats. That didn’t work out, so she took a class in cooking.

I knew a woman who wanted to be a biochemist from a young age. She worked her way through college and got a masters degree. Her first job as a biochemist involved force-feeding 100 mice. This is a process where you put a tube down their throats and inject liquified food directly into their stomachs. She cried herself to sleep for two weeks. Then she quit her biochemist job. She learned to juggle, tell silly jokes, and make balloon animals. Today, she is very happy. She earns her living as a clown, entertaining at children’s parties. That may not be what you want to do, but it is exactly what she wants to do.

“Long ago I learned that to those who mean right and try to do right, there are no such things as real misfortunes. On the other hand, to such persons, all apparent evils are blessings in disguise.” – P. T. Barnum

Trust, be patient, relax, have fun – live a good life! – Jeff


Overcoming Physical Pain

Pain makes it difficult to concentrate, to have energy to do new things, to be creative. Let’s take care of any pain you, or your friends or family may have, right away!

Here’s a two-part system for dealing with physical pain that works most of the time. This is written as if you want to use it on yourself, but it works great when you use it on others, too. You don’t have to do it exactly right. Just get it approximately right, and do it with the right spirit. It will still work fine.

Part 1: It helps to understand that pain is not bad. It is a message system. It’s your body’s way of telling your conscious mind, “Hey, we’ve got to take care of something,” that your conscious mind might otherwise disregard.

Using the parts of yourself that know how to do it, let your body tell you all about the pain. Really listen to the message. You may be surprised by what your body wants you to know. In some cases, such as a sprained ankle, the message may be simple and obvious, “You’ve got to keep your weight off that ankle so it can heal.”

A message like that can’t be argued with. And, you wouldn’t want that pain to go away, because you probably would walk on it, which would indeed interfere with the healing.

The message may be something like, “Get medical help.” OK, that’s the way to take care of this pain. If you get that message, skip the rest of this chapter for now and get that help, you can come back to this later.

Once you have listened to your pain message, you can work out a solution that your body can accept. For instance, “How about if the pain can be gone as long as I don’t walk on it?” Or, ‘How about if the pain can be gone while I’m sleeping, reading, eating, and only comes back when I need to pay attention?’

Be ready for really interesting messages. And, you may have to be inventive to come up with an acceptable deal.

Part 2: Did you know you can change pain? If the pain is sharp, like a knife, try noticing that it can be duller. Or if it is dull, sharpen it a bit.

So, if you can change that, what else can you change? Go ahead and experiment. How about the size of the painful area? The depth? Does it have a frequency? A color? A temperature or texture? If you’ve never tried adjusting these pain attributes, you might be quite surprised how easy and effective it is, once you get the knack of it.

If you are working with someone else, and they aren’t able to change the attributes of their pain, you might take a break for a minute, and let them discover that they can learn new things of this sort.

Try this: Have them learn to inhale deeply, by asking them to exhale forcefully and fully. To their delight, the deep inhalation then comes automatically. Then go back to adjusting the pain.

Oh, and an aside: Referring to it as their pain, gives them ownership of it. I don’t think they really want to own ‘their’ pain.

The most interesting attribute of pain is location. Can you move the pain one inch higher? To the left? So, if you can move it an inch, how about further? How about moving it to another part of your body? How about somewhere outside your body? Isn’t that a nice solution? When it’s outside your body, you can still have the safety of the awareness that it exists, but it doesn’t have to bother you any more.


Object Manipulation

Picking Things Up

Unlike muggles (non-wizards), you’ll never have to stoop down to pick things up again after reading this chapter and practicing a bit.

For spherical objects such as oranges and tennis balls, you can trap the item between your heels and kick it over your head. Jump up and kick your heels behind you as if you were trying to kick yourself in the butt. The item will go up over your head to be easily caught in front of your body. If this doesn’t work at first, make sure the item is far back between your heels, not between the arches of your feet.

Another way to kick up a spherical object is to scrape the item onto the top of your
dominant foot with your other foot, and then lift your knee and kick forward, causing the item to come straight up. Because it is difficult to balance round objects on the top of your foot, the entire operation is combined into a quick, smooth movement so you kick up as soon as the object rolls on top of your foot. This rapid action also makes it look like a very nifty trick. This takes more practice than the heel kick.

A one-foot variation that’s slightly harder to master is to place the front of your foot on top of the object, then slide your foot backward rapidly and stop as your foot hits the ground. The object will spin backward, onto your foot, at which point you can quickly lift your foot up, causing the object to fly into the air.

Tennis players pick up tennis balls by trapping a ball between the tennis racket and the outside of a foot. The ball is swept up while trapped between the racket and foot, to where it can be easily caught in the hand. Again, fast movement is the key. In this case, the fast sweep gives the ball upward momentum so you don’t have to put much stroke into the sweeping movement.

If your object is a bouncy ball and you are near a wall, you can also kick the ball against the wall so that it bounces back, right to your hand.

But what if the tennis racket is on the ground?

Linear objects can be kicked up even more easily than spherical ones. Scrape one end of the linear object onto your dominant foot with your other foot. Your weight should be primarily on the non-dominant foot, but what weight is on the dominant foot, should be on the heel, and the toe should be tipped up off the ground slightly. A point a couple of inches from end of the object should rest against the bottom of your shin or the top of your ankle. Then, kick upwards in a sweeping movement. The sweep should be outside and backward, as if you were planning to kick yourself in the butt, not forward as you would think. This will hook the item between the bottom of your shin and the top of your foot, lift it up, and cause it to spin in the air, where after a single revolution, it can be easily caught in your hand. This works best for objects between 18 and 30 inches long (43 – 76cm), such as umbrellas, yardsticks, firewood, and of course, tennis rackets. If this does not work for you at first, think about kicking out and back, not up. Once you have practiced this, it is a very impressive trick. You want more impressive? Kick it harder, so it goes high into the air and spins two or even three turns before you catch it. With practice, you can kick up shorter objects such as a rolled up newspaper, or longer ones such as a baseball bat.

Tossing and Flourishing

You may have seen a chef who has mastered some visual display techniques. Sometimes people will crack crabs with two small hammers, throwing the hammers in the air between hits, even alternating hands. Perhaps you have seen some amazing pizza spinners. Have you seen This Drummer is at the Wrong Gig on YouTube?

You don’t have to be as proficient in manipulating objects. In fact, you can be a wizard with no object manipulation skill at all. But, whenever you handle a tool or object with a little flourish, it gives the illusion of confidence and control. If you are in any sort of public display, a musical performance, a lecture, a little kinetic art goes a long way. I knew a math professor who would occasionally teach his class on stilts. The material that he taught was the same, but the students really paid attention and remembered it. The head of the National Cash Register Company felt his salesmen weren’t listening to a speech he was giving, so he grabbed a sledgehammer and smashed up a cash register on stage. That got their attention.

If object manipulation interests you, you might start with a simple flip. The ideal object to practice with would be straight, 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm) long, have a diameter of an inch (2.5 cm) or less, weigh about five to ten ounces (1/4 to 1/2 kg), have no sharp edges, and be easy to see. You can make a practice object by cutting a wooden dowel, rounding the edges, and painting or covering one end with tape. The colored end is so you can easily tell the difference between half and full spins.

Start with single spins. With practice, you’ll find you can do double, and eventually triple spins, which are progressively more impressive than single spins. Use both hands, so you can learn to easily flip from hand to hand. Then you might want to fool around with flourishes. Try rolling the object around among your fingers, or moving it in a figure eight pattern while held loosely, using a lot of wrist movement. More accomplished object manipulators can spin objects on their head, manipulate one object in each hand, put together complex patterns combining tosses and flourishes, and of course, manipulate the actual things they work with. A mechanic may manipulate wrenches, a carpenter may throw and catch a hammer, a tennis playing wizard might do all sorts of fun things with tennis rackets, balls, and tennis ball cans.

To give you an idea of what’s possible, and not even all that hard to learn, here’s a nifty tennis serve: At the same time you throw the ball high in the air, you throw the tennis racket up for two spins. You catch the racket just before the ball returns. As the ball falls where it would for a normal serve, you serve the ball, using your normal swing.

Perhaps you’re more into baseball than tennis. Take a look at any accomplished baton twirler. Which baton tricks could you learn with a baseball bat?

Juggling

Kind of reminds you of juggling, doesn’t it? Here’s a shortcut for learning juggling. The trick is to understand the pattern. Start with three balls, two in your dominant hand, one in your other. Throw one of the balls in your dominant hand to the other. The throw should be about two to three feet (60 to 90 cm) high. Now, just before the ball arrives to your non-dominant hand, throw the ball that the non-dominant hand is holding back to the dominant hand. Before that ball arrives, throw the last ball to the non-dominant hand. And you are juggling. Do you see the pattern yet? You are really throwing only one ball at a time. Just before it arrives, you throw the one that occupies the hand that’s going to catch it, so that the catching hand is free. Every time you throw a ball, it goes to the opposite hand.

Three points to remember when learning to juggle:

For many people, you need to overcome a habit of handing the second ball to the other hand. The second, and every subsequent throw must be as high as the first – about two to three feet (60 – 90 cm).

Don’t try to do everything at the same time. Each throw follows the other after a small delay.

You will tend to move forward as the pattern starts to develop. This is a natural tendency. All your life, you have learned to protect your face, so you naturally tend to avoid throwing things near your face. You throw forward. You may even find yourself running forward by your ninth or tenth throw. Do not worry about this habit, it will diminish with time. If you are concerned with breaking the forward habit, practice in front of a wall.

One reason juggling – or a similar object manipulation technique of your choice – is important to wizards is that it teaches patience. Amazing things can be accomplished by allowing your body to learn fine motor skills over time. This is also true of mental pursuits. Learning an object manipulation skill teaches on a deeper level. You learn that you can trust yourself to learn in a way that merely reading about it never really imparts.

Other Skills

Isn’t it interesting that parents love to have a child take an interest in music, but then they are horrified if the child announces that s/he wants to become a professional musician?

The reason they (used to) teach music in schools is that what they are really teaching is a can-do attitude. So, yes, if object manipulation is not your thing, learning to play music is a good way to expand as a wizard.

Skills such as music, ballet, basketball, ice skating, or anything that you enjoy, will help in all your wizardly pursuits. Going a step further, you can investigate less common pursuits – such as Irish step dancing, unicycling, speed chess, or kung fu, which are easier to become recognized in because there are fewer people doing it. Therefore, you are more likely to go the top, to become a recognized expert, for a powerful ego boost. Yes, a bit of ego can be a good thing. It reminds you, it guides you, into doing, performing – being better. So, if you spend two years trying to be the best basketball player you can be, at the end of that time, it is quite likely you won’t have a video like “This Drummer is at the Wrong Gig” made of you, since your skill may not be particularly noticeable, and you may not feel as accomplished as if you had spent the same time doing something fairly unique. Still, you will experience a great deal of pride and the joy of doing something you love – whatever that may be.


Creative Listening

A wizard using Creative Listening asks carefully designed questions to help people think about things in new ways. The results can be fantastic, resulting in inventive solutions to problems, overcoming frustration, worry and mild depression, or for learning new ways to relate with friends, family, and co-workers.

A creative listener does not have to be an expert in anything except asking questions. You can use creative listening not only in general ways, but can also help those who are in very specialized fields. You can use CL with a neighbor in your local coffee shop, in a professional session, or anything in-between. You can use it with friends, family, clients, customers, associates – anyone young or old.

The wizard using creative listening does not tell you what to do. The purpose is to help you sort things, make sure nothing is overlooked, take mental leaps, help you see and really feel the lighter side when necessary, and come away with a new perspective and hopefully with a renewed sense of purpose.

Creative listening is free and unrestricted, takes about ten minutes to learn, and can be super-effective in so many ways:

* Helps others understand things they’ve been thinking about in entirely new ways, often resulting in perceptions shifted, problems solved, attitudes adjusted, and progress made.

* Understand things you’ve been thinking about in entirely new ways.

* Quickly establish rapport with clients, customers, teenagers, parents, etc.

* Express criticism in a constructive way without offending, and elicit changed behaviors.

* Help people feel better about themselves and their lives.

In just a few minutes, you can learn enough to communicate more effectively with family, friends, and yourself. In just a few hours of practice, you can use it professionally, adding your skill as a creative listener to your set of wizardry tools.


Easy Steps to Creative Listening

Step 1

Respectfully challenge ambiguities.

You’d be amazed at what people leave out of conversations. Interestingly, many of these details have never really been analyzed by the speaker. So, when you ask for more detail, very interesting new thoughts can develop.

For instance:

If the person you’re listening to says, “Everyone says.” – You might ask: “Who specifically says that?

It can’t be done. – What exactly prevents it from being done?

She hates me. – In what specific way does she let you know that she hates you?

The relationship is in trouble. – How is it in trouble?

The situation is hopeless. – What is the situation, exactly? Or, What lets you know it’s hopeless?

You might think this rude or offensive, but in most cases, when you respectfully ask for more detail, the speaker is honored – knowing that someone truly wants to know what they are thinking.

Step 2

Ask questions that cause people to think about things in new ways. For example:

What would you like? This is a good place to start in many cases. Variations can include: What’s on your mind? What do you want?

What would having that do for you? This will often cause the speaker to zoom out and see the bigger picture – often for the first time.

And what would having that do for you? Sometimes the degree of zoom isn’t enough – even when you think it is. You’d be surprised what comes up when you zoom out twice.

How will you know when you have it? A surprising way to zoom in for a closer look.

When you have it, what will you lose that you value? This will typically bring the speaker to a dead stop for a minute, and can bring up all sorts of useful objections. Knowing those objections will reveal reasons for procrastination, hesitation, and de-focusing activities.

What’s the opposite of that? Another viewpoint that many people have never considered in ideas they may have thought about often. This can get them out of a loop.

How will your friends, family, or significant others react when you have it? Another way to find hidden blocks.

What stops you? This can bring a new perspective.

If your _____ was a bathtub to fill with something, what would you put in it? This is just an example, you could use all sorts of similar questions here – ones that the listener doesn’t expect, which will jump them off their typical track – often with spectacular results. It can often help them to do something more useful or more productive.

Now that we’ve discussed it a bit, what would you like? Don’t be surprised if the answer is quite different from the original answer the first time you asked this question.

What good things come to someone who _____? Generally, this is a twist that opens new channels of consideration. The blank is often filled with what the person is doing now. For instance: What good things come to someone who does not start a camera store?

What would someone have to believe _____? Much like the question above, you can twist it backward, and be ready to hear some very interesting results.

What’s the first step to getting _____? This is a good way to zoom in, and see the first and most immediate objection.

What needs to be written in my notes? This often elicits a more honest self- appraisal.

In asking all these questions, leave plenty of time for answers. Although at first awkward, you can wait even 15 seconds without saying another word. The person with whom you are speaking will feel the need to fill the silence, and may come up with something very interesting indeed, if given enough silent time.

You can ask these, and other questions, in any sequence that seems right. Indulge your curiosity. Don’t be afraid of questions that seem too personal or prying. If you ask these well, and follow the steps below, not only will you get the answers you seek, but the person with whom you are speaking will feel quite honored that you care enough to ask such deep things.

If the conversation veers off-track, you can steer it back by saying something like, “Thank you,” or “Yes, I can see how that would happen,” but then ask for specific information to get the conversation back on track. For instance, if the person starts talking about exactly how he built a bookshelf, you might say, “I see you really enjoyed that project. So, what would you…?”

You can guide the conversation to what’s called a ‘well-formed outcome.’ Ultimately, you’d like the person you’re conversing with to state a desire in the positive, and have it be something s/he can realistically initiate and maintain.

For instance, “I’d like my mother to stop nagging me,” is not a well-formed outcome, because it is stated in the negative, and it depends on the mother changing.

A better outcome might be something like, “I’d like to start creating harmony between my mother and myself.”

Step 3

It has been said that 93 percent of communication is non-verbal. You have experienced that. For instance, someone may say that their neighbor is ‘alright,’ but as they say it, you see their shoulders rise up, their facial features tighten, their respiration becomes shallow. In this situation, do you learn more from their words (‘alright’), or from their physiology? You can do a lot with this 93 percent.

You can build tremendous unconscious rapport by mirroring posture, gestures and audio tonality. If you wait approximately seven seconds and then position yourself the same way, if you moderate your speed, volume and pitch to sound somewhat similar, if you play back gestures, your listener will become more trusting, more willing to share deeper thoughts and emotions, and more willing to listen carefully to what you have to say. Don’t take my word for it – try it out. Surprisingly, you won’t be ‘busted’ unless you do it very blatantly. In most cases, you can mirror people very completely, and they never suspect a thing. So, as your person sits in the chair with her left arm forward, you can sit in your chair with your right arm forward. A very primitive part of the human brain sees the mirroring, and says, “That person is like me. I can feel comfortable with that person.” The same is true for matching speaking speed, volume, and tonality.

Backtracking is a valuable technique. This means that you repeat certain key phrases back to the person you are conversing with, generally several seconds or even minutes later. For instance, if your user states that something good is ‘tubular,’ and if you use that same word in a similar context, this will raise their comfort level – they’ll feel honored and heard. Backtracking is actually the opposite of a technique known as ‘active listening’ in which you rephrase what you’ve heard to prove that you understood it. Backtracking has the rather surprising effect of causing the listener believe that you really understood what was said. Whereas active listening is a powerful technique, you’ll find backtracking has an even more profound effect. Try it for yourself!

Noticing physiology can let you know when it is time to shift gears. You can read when you’ve lost someone’s attention, when you have asked for too much detail, gone into an area that brings sadness, and so on. With practice, you can read where to focus more attention. For instance, as the conversation shifts to parents, you may see physiology changes that indicate something more needs to be discussed about a mother or father. You may see a slight sheen of sweat, tightened lips, or a change in eyebrows. You may see breathing become shallow or even stop temporarily. Or, you may see a deep, calming breath, closing of the eyes longer than a blink, a more relaxing shift in sitting position, indicating you’ve come back to ‘safe’ territory in the conversation.

Step 4

Remember what you are trying to accomplish. Quite often, your story, your attitude, your concerns creep into the conversation. In many cases, that’s counter-productive. The moment you start coaching or telling your story, your effectiveness as a creative listener
weakens.

Depending on what you wish to accomplish, you may not have to tell the person you’re talking with anything specific. Simply giving them the opportunity to talk freely can help them feel better, see things in new ways, and arrive at a more satisfactory conclusion, especially if you use steps 1 and 2. You may have heard women tell men ‘not to fix them.’ This is what they’re talking about. A typical man in modern society will look for suggestions to offer. A typical woman will more often refrain from offering anything other than a good ear. Have you ever offered unsolicited suggestions? How well did the recipient respond to your advice?

So how do you make money with Creative Listening?

There may be more ways than one can count.

The first, probably most obvious way, is to offer your services in person or by phone as a creative listening wizard. You might consider charging $1 per minute to start. As you gain a reputation, and as more and more of your early clients call you back, I believe it would be quite realistic to charge $2/minute ($120/hour).

Reputation would be the best way to spread the word, but that takes time. To kick it off, you can do all the usual things: post flyers on local bulletin boards, attend meetings around where you live and hand out business cards to anyone and everyone along with an ‘elevator speech’ – a 20 second friendly introduction about what you can do for them with creative listening.

Or, you may prefer to work strictly by phone. This gives you a national, or even international pool of potential customers. You can advertise what you do in all the usual Internet ways: Via Google AdWords, create a blog, add it to your website, pay for space on other websites, and so on.

You can offer discounts to local or phone people. I’d like to recommend something like this: Tell them to tell the truth about what you do, as they see it. Give them a certain number of business cards in trade for a certain amount of service, and tell them that via the honor system, they are expected to distribute the cards in meaningful ways. As you are just starting your business, any client at all is valuable. Even if they pay you nothing. You get to practice, and you’ve got someone who will naturally tell others about what you can do. But, if they have been given ten cards in trade for 20 free minutes from you, they’ll be even more inclined to spread the word.

As I mentioned, there are other ways to make money with creative listening. How many can you think of? For instance, you could teach it independently or via a community education system. You could ‘street perform’ creative listening. You’d bring two chairs or stools and perhaps an easel-mounted sign to a public place, and just get a volunteer and start a conversation. At the same time, you build and acknowledge a crowd, and eventually pass the hat. After your ‘performance’, pass your cards out to encourage people to call on you professionally – now that they’ve seen what you can do.

You can also mix creative listening in with your with your other activities. You may be a coach, teacher, or perhaps a computer repair technician, and find that creative listening helps your business in all the ways where good communication makes a difference – which is everywhere!


Metaphorically Speaking

Speaking metaphorically is one of the hallmarks of a wizard. Many wizards do it often.

Sometimes, you may feel a need to actively create change, but know the person who you want to change may be resistant. So how do you go about helping the resistant person change?

You can talk about a person in a similar situation, real or imagined, and what that person did. Here’s an example:

Let’s say you’re speaking with a neighbor about his brown lawn. It may be bothering you like crazy, since everyone else on the block has nice green lawns.

You could tell him: “Hey, I don’t like looking at your brown lawn! Please water it.”

I think you can imagine the effect that would have.

Or, after spending a few minutes with steps 1 through 4 in the Creative Listening chapter, you could tell him a brief story about a fellow who collected plaster lawn gnomes, enjoyed his riding mower, and felt great satisfaction in having a green lawn. And say nothing more. Wait a week and see what happens.

Another example: Let’s say you’re talking with your teenage son about being too loud in public places. You might say, ‘Have you ever noticed how everyone cringes when my friend Fred shows up? I guess that’s just because he’s so loud.”

Metaphors don’t work every time, but neither does a direct statement. You can try a few different metaphors in a few different conversations, and eventually you’re more likely to be effective than with direct statement, especially with repeated direct statements, which turn all too easily into nagging.

A wizard often has three other speaking techniques worth practicing.

The wizard might develop the habit of speaking slowly. One can start by counting silently to three before answering or responding. Going a step further, speak clearly and spread the words through time, sometimes even eccentrically so, can make what the wizard has to say stand out in comparison to the same thing spoken normally. It can also give the impression that the wizard is particularly knowledgeable or intelligent.

The wizard who consistently speaks quietly, even to the point where people have to struggle to hear the wizard, also gains presentation points.

The third technique is waiting silently and patiently for someone to come up with an answer. The muggle rushes to fill silences, sometimes even putting words into the mouths of the people with whom they are conversing. The wizard who waits even up to 15 seconds, not only gets a more honest, and sometimes totally unexpected response, but also adds aura of mistery to the wizard’s countenance.


A Metaphor for Persistence

One of the most common wizardry techniques is speaking metaphorically. Telling someone they ‘ought’ to do something, even if it is in answer to a specific plea for coaching, tends to be less effective than spinning a metaphor. This kind of metaphor is typically a short story about someone who is similar but different, facing a similar but different situation. The person in the story just happens to take whatever the wizard thinks is the ‘right’ action, and the story ends in success.

Metaphors don’t always work. You need to watch your recipient’s physiology to see if the metaphor ‘went in’ or not. And, it will often bump against the long-held memories of childhood traumas, and other subconscious resistance, but sometimes a metaphor is just the right medicine.

So, here’s a metaphor promoting long-term persistence. This is for the person who needs some coaching to follow through on a project. To keep going when it seems to the person like there is no hope. This is also good for someone who keeps doing the same thing, and expecting different results.

You can use this for yourself just by reading and absorbing it. You can use it with your own friends, family or clients. You can even spin your own custom version of this story.

This particular story happens to be true. I won’t mention the name of the person who is involved, because even though it happened a long time ago, he may or may not want to be associated with it. He told it to me in front of some other people, and it wasn’t in a wizardry session, so I think it is OK to tell you.

It seems this fellow really, really wanted to be a successful science fiction author. Somehow, he figured he had to co-write. He contacted some of the best names in the business with his ideas, and ended up co-writing books with Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein and many the biggest sci-fi authors of the day.

Each book he co-wrote died in the market. They never made any significant royalties beyond the initial small advances. He kept trying to co-write these books for 18 years, while he supported himself as an English professor at a community college.

After all these non-successes, none of the big names would co-write with him anymore. His name became poison in the science fiction business. They figured, “Write with him, and your book will die for sure.”

So, in desperation, he wrote a book independently, and submitted it to editors at the various publishers. One of the publishing houses picked it up, and it became an international best-seller.


The Nature of Animals

Understanding a bit about the nature of animals makes a world of difference.

I was once walking into a store and noticed a big German Shepherd tied to a bike rack out front. I walked confidently near the dog, and held out my hand for the dog to sniff. After a few seconds of sniffing, I petted the dog and he enjoyed it, as did I. Then, I started walking into the store, but stopped when I heard the same dog barking loudly, and people yelling behind me. It seems a fellow walking behind me wanted to impress his girlfriend who was walking along with him. He just reached out, and tried to pet the dog, even though he was afraid of him. He wanted her to know that he was brave, just like that older fellow who had just petted the dog a moment ago. But things didn’t turn out right. The dog bit the poor guy.

What happened there? Well, I knew something of a dog’s nature. The dog depends heavily on the sense of smell. To a dog, that’s as important to seeing or hearing is to a human. The dog is not going to trust someone he can’t smell, just like you wouldn’t trust someone you can’t see. The dog is also very good at reading body language. He did not sense or smell any fear or concern on me, even though I was cautious. I didn’t present my hand until I was certain the dog was OK with me.

What would you do if you are riding your bike and a dog starts chasing you? The most effective response is to be a pack leader. The dog respects that – it is part of the dog’s nature. If you firmly say, “Go Home” – or anything at all, but in a commanding tone, the dog, instantly knows who is boss – and who is not! Taking command won’t always work, especially if the dog senses that you are fearful. So what else is going on in the dog’s nature that you can leverage? Dog’s love to chase. That’s how they eat. Until domestication, dogs always had to chase something to catch and eat it. They still enjoy the process of chasing. So, you stop riding your bike. You can dismount on the side of the bike opposite the dog. In a worst case scenario, you could mash the bike against the dog as protection, but if you have firmly commanded the dog, and have stopped providing something to chase, you won’t need to do anything more.

Cats, like dogs, like people, enjoy being petted, but only if all other needs are taken care of. The temperature has to be right, the cat has to be well-fed, in no pain, and not annoyed by an overly-busy environment. Cats, also like dogs, are scent oriented. They like to smell you first. They also like to see your approach. Many people will try to pet a cat without letting the cat see the hand approaching the back of the cat’s head, ears or neck.

You might not say that a cat is proud of its claws, but they are a very important tool for a cat. They like to use their claws. They are used to using their claws. They will tend to use them unless there is a good reason not to.

Punishing a cat pretty much doesn’t work. Instead of the desired effect, the cat will just avoid the situation entirely in the long run. They may not have the sophistication to differentiate between being hit or yelled at because they stuck their claws in your leg, and because they came near you. So, instead of teaching the cat not to claw you, you have inadvertently taught the cat to stay away from you. While a dog is a pack animal, and is quite sensitive to commands, whether verbal or expressed as body language from the leader, the cat is a more solitary animal, so they don’t understand that when you call, you want h/she to come to you. They can learn, however, that when you call, there is usually something nice to eat.

That’s not to say cats are not intelligent. They may be remarkably intelligent. I was once learning to do single-spin jumps on rollerblades. I was in the house, in socks, jumping into the air, spinning around one turn, and landing on one foot. My cat saw this, and turned around in almost exact 360-degree circles, twice. Do you suppose she was pretending she was me?

Sometimes, right after I took a shower, this cat would walk into the wet shower stall, and stand and look up at the shower head for one or two whole minutes. What was she thinking?

There was a time when horses had to be concerned about being attacked by wolves, lions and other predators. They evolved to have eyes on the sides of their head, so they could watch for enemies in almost all directions. If you approach a horse straight on, they are confused, because they don’t see you clearly. If you approach from behind, they see you, but not clearly, and it looks like trouble, so you might get kicked.

A horse’s eyes do not focus like our eyes. In order to see at a distance, their heads must be held up high. To see close, their heads must be low. That’s why they bob up and down when you approach. They’re trying to see you clearly.

Horses, too, are probably more intelligent than is generally believed. They have a highly developed sense of curiosity. If you can interest a horse in what you are doing, the horse will come close to check it out. Some horse whisperers use this to ‘break’ a new horse. They’ll turn their back to the horse while tying and untying a rope knot. The wild horse just has to come close to see what’s going on.

Horses, like dogs are pack animals. Actually herd animals, which is similar in that they are most comfortable with other familiar beings nearby. That’s why a horse will be so accommodating – doing heavy work for you. Once they get used to you, once you become their ‘herd,’ they will seek comfort in your company.

Carrot Vs. Stick

Punishing a horse,besides being cruel, is not as effective as offering it carrots. That’s because in the natural world, there isn’t much punishment. Oh, a member of the herd may nip at a misbehaving horse, but real punishment is doled out in nature rarely to a horse. Something like being bit by a rattlesnake can happen. The horse’s natural reaction is to run away in fear from any such situation. So, they really don’t understand being hit, yelled at, or deprived of food. That’s just not in their background to understand, and the only response they can think of is to try to run away. It would be a shame to punish a horse, or any animal, when the gentler ways of training them are so much easier and more effective.

A rattlesnake wants to be at the right temperature. Sometimes it means coiling under a rock. Sometimes that means laying in the sun right in the middle of the trail. It is a solitary animal and wants to be left alone. You do not want to step on a snake. That’s bad for everyone. The snake can strike within a distance of only 1/3 of its length. The snake’s teeth have a difficult time penetrating leather boots, denim jeans or two pairs of socks. Its top crawling speed is three miles per hour (4 kph). You can safely walk among snakes if you know these things.

In summary, understanding the nature of animals makes working with them so much more effective. Study the animals you’re working with. Try to understand how they evolved. If you understand their natural problems and triumphs, you can replicate or avoid those situations as needed. For instance, knowing that a skunk will pat the ground with its front paws as warning before spraying is very useful in working with skunks. If you ignore that, the skunk will turn around. If you’re still not gone – too bad!


Four Crazy Words

Four very common words do not usually have the effect you’d expect.

When you say don’t you are setting up a situation that is the opposite of what you literally say. For instance, if I tell you, “Don’t think about dragons,” what happens? Right, you immediately think about dragons. It seems that on some level, the mind
understands that whatever follows “don’t” is important, but the “don’t” part itself is not emphasized. It’s as if parents who tell their children, “Don’t put your milk so close to the edge of the table,” are asking for trouble. Teachers who tell their students, “Don’t run” are almost commanding them to run.

In wizardry, you can use this aspect of “don’t” to help people focus on new thoughts or behaviors. One of the most powerful uses is at the end of a session when you can offer a hypnotic suggestion such as this: “And, don’t be surprised if in the next few days, you’ll have wonderful revelations born out of our conversation today.”

But is a word that also has a special effect. Any part of a sentence before the word “but” is pretty much wiped out by whatever follows. For instance, if I tell someone, “I like what you wrote, but the last paragraph confuses me,” guess what happens? Right again! All the person hears is the critique. The entire complimentary part of the sentence is lost.

Another such word is why. When you ask “why” you get ‘story.’ Asking “why” is like an invitation or a challenge to defense – it puts the person who is asked in a space where they have to try to tell you why on a conscious level, and this is often counter-productive. A better question is “How,” or something like, “What let you know to. . .” or “When. . .”

Try is another problematic or powerful word. It really implies making an effort, but has nothing to do with success. Most of the time, when someone says “try” an unsuccessful outcome is expected. You can learn to notice “try” in conversation, and understand the underlying implication. The person speaking may be indicating that lack of success is expected. How might you use, or not use “try” effectively when you’re speaking?


Perceptual Positions

How to Deal With an Undesirable Person

“When we hate our enemies, we are giving them power over us; Power over our sleep, our appetites, our blood pressure, our health and our happiness.” – Dale Carnegie

This little procedure takes just a few minutes, and can change your situation with a family member, acquaintance, client, or just about anyone, in spectacular ways. It is not necessary to do this thing exactly ‘right.’ If you mix up a step or have something out of position, it is likely to work well anyway.

This chapter is written as if you are using the technique for yourself, but you can just as easily guide someone else through this little procedure.

1. If your most vivid memories of this undesirable person involve sitting, arrange three empty chairs approximately as shown. If it was a standing situation, chairs are not needed.

2. Sit in chair A. Try to imagine your ‘undesirable’ person sitting in chair B. With the parts of you that know how to do it, move yourself into your co-worker in chair B, and see the world through the other person’s eyes, hear the world through that person’s ears, and so on. For the next few minutes, you are the other person.

3. As that other person, you are looking at yourself in chair A. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel about the person in chair A? What do you think about that person in chair A?

4. Whenever you are ready, get up, and do something to break your state. Spell a word backward, walk in a circle, just anything to free your mind for a moment.
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5. Sit in chair C and become an independent observer. You are not yourself or the other person. As the observer, what do you see, hear, think, feel about the interaction between yourself in chair A, and the person in B?

5a. Imagine/sense that your chair is very far removed from chairs A and B, and see if anything changes. How about if your chair becomes very close?

6. Break your state. Sit again in chair A, be yourself, and notice if anything has changed in your thoughts about the other person.

7. As necessary, feel free to repeat the steps of this procedure.

Perceptual positions as a tool for wizards


Nuts, Bolts, Tools and Inertia

For a wizard, everything can come easy. A wizard has no need to struggle like a muggle. Understanding materials, fasteners, tools, leverage and inertia makes you a true wizard of the real world. Whereas a ‘regular’ person may pull, push, and make a big production out of something like a stuck bolt, the wizard just takes care of it. You may never be a mechanic, carpenter, or the kind of person who regularly handles tools, but you’ll still find plenty of occasions where understanding the things our man-made world is composed of will be greatly useful.

Materials

The common understanding of aluminum, steel, and other metals is that they are strong, rock-hard, more-or-less unchangeable.

From now on, perhaps you can think of steel as more like modeling clay. Just really cold modeling clay, so it is mostly solid. But with enough force, or heat, it is very much like clay indeed. You can bend and form steel quite a bit, if you can apply enough strength. The only exception is springy steel, which acts more like rubber than clay, unless you push it past its limits.

Steel is mostly iron with carbon and other elements mixed in. Depending on the recipe, steel can be soft or hard, springy or not, and prone to rusting or not. But in the big picture, it’s all modeling clay.

Can you imagine rubbing two pieces of modeling clay against each other? They’ll stick and deform, won’t they? Guess what? So will steel. That’s why a bit of oil or grease makes steel parts in contact run so much smoother and last longer.

Imagine that you have two pieces of clay, one a bit softer than the other, and the soft one is shaped like a knife. If you try to cut through the hard clay with the soft knife, what’s going to happen? Right! So you can only cut steel with a harder grade of steel. If you use a soft steel knife to slice butter, no problem. If you use a soft steel knife to slice glass – well, you get the idea.

Aluminum is like steel, but tends to have a slightly more whitish tint, and seldom polishes to a shine. It weighs less than steel and is generally softer. It too, is a bit like modeling clay, but when you apply enough force, it tends to tear. It is a sort of junky clay.

Plastic comes in many forms. The two natural divisions are plastics that can melt, and those that will not melt. The ones that melt are usually more flexible at room temperature. Plastics, like steel, can come from recipes with varying properties.

Glass, too, is modeling clay. Just imagine a sheet of very, very cold clay. If you hit a sheet of frozen clay, it will break, just like glass. If you hit a very hot sheet of glass, just like clay, it will merely bend.

An aside: Did you know that if you break a window, the cracks progress outward at 3,000 miles per hour (4,000 kph)?

Wood is not modeling clay. It has a grain. If you look at wood, you’ll see lines. It is ten times stronger against the grain than with it. If you look at a wooden baseball bat, you’ll see the grain runs the long way. Try to imagine a bat made with the grain running in concentric circles from one end to the other, as if the bat was carved from a core drilled horizontally through a tree. Can you picture that? Imagine hitting a baseball with that bat? What would happen? Right. The bat would break instantly.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because the wizard develops a feel for materials and so knows a lot about handling them.

Let’s say you have a thin stick of wood laying across two chairs placed a short distance apart. If you were to hit that stick with a hammer, using lots of little strokes, it probably wouldn’t break. Yet if you take a big swing, it will break. That’s because you have built up inertia in the head of the hammer. When you get some weight in motion, it wants to stay in motion. The wood can’t stop it. That’s why an experienced carpenter grips the hammer by the end of the handle, and takes a few big strokes rather than lots of little ones. It is much easier to get things done.

Where else can you build up inertia? How about in your body? You’ve probably seen movies where someone is trying to break open a door and bumps into it from a foot (30 cm) away. Nothing happens, except the person’s shoulder may get hurt. The next person takes a running start at the door, and hits it from ten feet away. Then the door is blown off its hinges and falls to the floor, yet the person who broke it down is unhurt.

Putting inertia and understanding of materials together, you can understand how a Karate wizard breaks a board. First, he arranges it so the angle of the grain is at its weakest. In fact, he has purchased boards made from a type of wood that is known to have weak grain. Then, he doesn’t just tap it with his hand. He takes a great swing, and breaks the board effortlessly.

Things that are stationary want to remain stationary. Things that are in motion want to stay in motion. Furthermore, they want to keep going in the same direction they are already moving.

When you think about it, it is obvious. That’s why it is so much work to get your bike going, and why your car tires screech when you go around a turn too fast.

You can start applying your new awareness of inertia in all sorts of everyday situations.

For instance: A car with a flat tire. One of the lug nuts is stuck, and no matter how hard a non-wizard might push on the wrench, it won’t turn. You can kick or jump on the wrench with your foot, employing the inertia of your leg, foot and shoe.

Once you get a heavy refrigerator moving, it ought to be easy to keep it moving, until you have taken it all the way to the far side of the kitchen. If you start and stop several times, it will be much more work. With a refrigerator you may need some lubrication, however. You can imagine that the ‘clay’ feet of the refrigerator want to stick to the ‘clay’ of the floor. Remember, “everything is modeling clay.” So, you can put a few drops of water and dish soap on the floor at the refrigerator’s feet, and voila, it slides easily.

In a baseball game, the non-wizard hits the ball out to third base with a typical swing of the bat. The wizard winds up further, grips the bat a bit closer to the knob, and takes a mighty swing utilizing not just arms, but putting the wizard’s whole body into the swing. One of two things is going to happen. The wizard might strike out, just like anyone else. But if the wizard hits that ball, it’s going out of the stadium!

Fractures and Holes

We live in an imperfect world. Many things have fractures and holes. No doubt you already realize how much a fracture weakens an item. You can use this to your advantage. If you want to divide an item, you might as well expand the fracture, rather than trying to create a new one from scratch. Furthermore, you can apply inertia. The other day, I saw a muggle (non-wizard) try to separate a garden hose that was cut almost all the way through. He pulled on the ends, but it didn’t break. Then a wizard grabbed the hose, pulled fast and hard, using the inertia of his arms. The hose snapped easily in two. This is how phone books are torn in two by people demonstrating strength. They realize that the outer edge of a page is a bit rough, essentially a line of fractures. The phone book is always torn toward the spine, taking advantage of the edge fractures.

The muggle struggles with putting a wood screw into a board. The wizard drills a hole, or pounds a nail just a short way into the board first, creating a hole, puts a little oil on the screw, and has no problem at all.

Tools

Even if a wizard doesn’t know much, hasn’t acquired many skills, that wizard can be quite helpful by carrying a little pack containing a roll of tape, a bit of wire, some glue (5-minute Epoxy), an adjustable wrench, a couple of screwdrivers, a pair of pliers, a pair of scissors, a magnifying glass, a smartphone, a pen, some paper, a little flashlight, and a few other items.

Planning

The muggle looks at the situation at hand and takes action. The wizard, looks at the situation at hand, takes time to imagine possible outcomes, then takes action. The wizard is not opposed to looking things up. There are service manuals for just about everything on the web, and most are free. Wikipedia is a great place to find out about materials, tools, repair procedures and more.

I found the following in a book published in 1858: “An English gentleman, traveling some years ago in Ireland, took a hammer and tacks with him, because he found dog’s-eared carpets at all the inns where he rested. At one of these inns he tacked down the carpet which, as usual, was loose near the door, and soon afterward, rang for his dinner. While the carpet was loose the door could not be opened without a hard push: so when the waiter came up, he just unlatched the door, and then going back a couple of yards, he rushed against it, as his habit was, with a sudden spring to force it open. But the wrinkles of the carpet were no longer there to stop it, and not meeting with the expected resistance, the unfortunate waiter fell full sprawl into the room. It had never entered his head that so much trouble might be saved by means of a hammer and half-a-dozen tacks, until his fall taught him that make-shift is a very unprofitable kind of shift.”


You Do What You Eat

How many times have you heard, “You are what you eat?”

I’m going to propose that, “You do what you eat.”

What I’m getting at here is that you can control a big aspect of your life by changing your eating habits. When I was 16 years old, I spent a lot of time sitting on the lawn, challenging my friends to do what I would have done if I had the energy. Oh, there was nothing wrong with me. In fact, sometimes I did have the energy, but when I did, it was often too much. Like most 16-year-olds, I was addicted to sugar. It is easy to do in our society. Our well-meaning parents introduce it to us from a very early age. Processed sugar is in most baby foods. In everything we see, everything we’re told, we are taught that ‘sweet’ is good, and that sugary foods are a reward. Having eaten more sugar than can fit in the trunk of a car by our teens, it is no surprise that we expect sugar in every meal, and for all the snacks in-between. We even learn that to eat a candy bar before an athletic event gives us more energy for a little while. We want sugar in our morning coffee to wake us up properly.

Don’t you wonder what would happen if we quit using sugar for a while? Would we die? No. Would we crave it for a while? Most likely. But while we are craving the missing sugar, somehow, oddly, our energy would even out. Once the body learns to regulate its own sugar again, we seem to have more energy, consistently, throughout the day. And, doesn’t a good wizard deserve the energy to think clearly, and take the actions that the wizard wants to take? Of course!

But what about that addition situation? It was our first addition, so it is the one we’ve had the longest. Good news, if you can remember the reason, it is not so hard to give up. Even though it is a long addition, it is not a particularly strong addiction. You see there is natural sugar in fruit, meat, even a little bit in salads. We don’t need more. We’ve just come to believe we do. The sugar that’s added is more processed than what’s naturally in our foods. It’s digestion is dealt with immediately, causing a quick, steep increase in blood sugar levels – taxing the body. So, after consuming white sugar, we can get all crazy-hyper for a while, then our energy crashes and then we can get sleepy. And what good is a sleepy wizard?

There are five good tricks a wizard can utilize to overcome any addiction, including sugar:

1. Remember the reason you want to quit. I mean, really feel it. In the case of sugar, it might be because you want more stable and consistent energy. Or it might be about weight reduction. Or longer, healthier life, or to prevent diabetes or tooth decay. Or maybe just to be free of an addiction. I’m sure you have your reasons.

2. Find a substitute. If you were trying to give up smoking, you might learn to play a flute, saxophone, recorder or trumpet. When the urge comes to put something in your mouth, why not put something creative in your mouth? Oddly, with only a couple minutes of substitution, you usually forget the original craving. In the case of sugar, you might find that apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, carrots, or other foods make an adequate substitute.

3. Change your environment. Get into a situation where sugar isn’t constantly invading your consciousness. If you have a friend who is always offering you ice cream, stay away from that friend for a while, or ask the friend to please stop offering ice cream.

4. Give it 30 days. Overcoming an addiction is hardest in the first 30 days. If you can get past those first four and a half weeks, what you have learned to do instead becomes the norm. The day comes when an apple is much more appealing than a Three Musketeers bar. To prevent a relapse, go back to Step 1 from time to time. If you do have a relapse, have no concern. Most of the time you’re doing great. Relapses will be fewer and farther between.

5. Revel in what you have done! You can start bringing apples to your friends. Tell them what you’ve done, and why. They can be proud of you – or they may be jealous. They may feel your presence compels them to quit also, and they may not be ready for that. Are you a truly strong wizard? Must be you are, because you are able to easily give up sugar. So, who is going to influence who? Are your friends going to sabotage your sugar recovery, or are you going to help them become wizard-like, as you have done?

Knowing this about chocolate might help: The FDA considers chocolate acceptable for public consumption as long as there are less than 60 microscopic insect fragments per 100 grams (four ounces, or approximately one candy bar).

Charles Darwin, the evolutionary theorist, cured his snuff habit by keeping his snuffbox in the basement and the key for the snuffbox in the attic.


Six-Step Reframing

This is a technique borrowed for wizards from the world of NLP,
to help a friend or client (who we’ll call the ‘recipient’ here) eliminate an unwanted feeling, behavior, or response.

This is a cognitive technique, meaning there is no need to specifically elicit beliefs established in early childhood, and so is safe and easy to perform. It is not essential to get everything just right. If you do it with the positive intention to be helpful, it will most often work out just fine.

Step 1. Clearly identify the unwanted behavior. For instance, “when I get off work, the first thing I do is reach for a beer. I can’t seem to stop doing that.” It is not necessary for the recipient to tell the wizard the exact details, as long as the wizard can discover by the recipient’s physiology – the way the recipient holds the body, facial expressions, breathing, an so on, that an understanding of what’s unwanted is clear.

Step 2. Establish a context in which the recipient can communicate with the ‘part’ of the subconscious that is creating the unwanted behavior. It can be very useful to allow the recipient to build a metaphorical environment. For example, you may have your recipient imagine being in a meeting hall or auditorium. The recipient is onstage, behind a podium with a microphone, with big, slightly musty-smelling curtains to the sides, and calls to order a meeting of all the recipient’s parts. The recipient may imagine the parts having a certain look, they may all be the same, or all different. They may like anatomical items, or animals, or delegates at a convention. They may be sitting neatly in rows, or all over the place, maybe even hanging from the light fixtures, and so on. The recipient is often instructed to address all the parts with great deference, since the recipient will be asking for some changes that the parts may not initially want. Such change is much easier to bring about in a calm, respectful atmosphere, even and especially if among the parts of one’s own subconscious. By making a rather big point of this politeness, the recipient is much more likely to stay in the metaphor.

Step 3. After establishing communication with the part that’s causing the unwanted behavior, discover that part’s positive intention. Remember, that behind every behavior is a positive intention. It may not be a behavior that is currently useful in the big picture, but for that part, at one time, the behavior had a positive value.

Step 4. Assure the recipient that s/he has creative parts, and ask those parts to help out by coming up with three alternative ways to accomplish the intended outcome.

Step 5. Set up a discussion in which the part that created the unwanted behavior can find one of these solutions acceptable. You might have the recipient tell the part that it’s not being demoted, fired, or eliminated. It’s just being given an opportunity to try something different that might be a delightful new way to maintain participation, with options besides the one that caused the unwanted behavior.

Step 6. Bring the recipient out of the metaphorical trance. Ask the recipient to imagine a time in the near future – to really step into the the time with feeling, seeing, hearing, maybe even smelling and tasting, and determine how it seems. Watch the recipient’s physiology. This may complete the process. Or, you may need to creatively repeat steps 2 through 5 until the recipient’s outcome is resolved.

Much has been written on the Internet about Six Step Reframing. You might enjoy reading:

The Six Step Reframe Technique

6 (Six) Step Reframe

NLP Six Step Reframe

Wikipedia- Cognitive Reframing

NLP Technique – Six Step Reframing


Wizards’ Vision

Many pictures of wizards show them wearing glasses. Professor Dumbledore wore glasses, as did Harry Potter. For many wizards however, glasses, or contacts, will no longer be necessary. I believe Harry liked wearing glasses, because he could probably overcome his vision limitation easily, whenever he chose to.

Almost everyone believes that corrective lenses are the only way to deal with poor vision. People who buy into this often wear clunky apparatus on their faces for years. Others put up with contacts or scary procedures performed on their corneas. Let’s see where this belief comes from, then consider a new way to look at it. Maybe there’s a better option.

For more than a century, doctors have been telling us that the little ring of material that holds the lens is a muscle. See #15 in the first picture. They tell us that we focus by using this ring to pull on the lens, stretching it, Imagine that! That little ring does all the work!

Now, consider the large group of muscles behind the eye, as shown in a simplified view in the second picture. It doesn’t show the entire mass of muscle that’s there. Those muscles are what turns the eye from side to side and up and down. What if they could work in unison to squeeze the eye? That would be a much better way to change focus, wouldn’t it?



 

If that turns out to be how we focus, then it would also make sense that we could
exercise those muscles, just like any other muscles, and refine our ability. That’s what I have done. All four of my grandparents wore glasses. Both of my parents wore glasses all their lives. My sister wears glasses. Yet, I don’t.

About 20 years ago, I started to have trouble seeing clearly at a distance. ‘Time for
glasses,’ I thought. Then I happened across a book by a Dr. William Bates, called “The Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses,” written in 1929. His book was rather complex, nebulous, generally hard to understand. But I did get the general idea, and started doing some exercises. And guess what? My vision improved entirely! Ten years later, my vision started to fail for seeing up close. I did more exercises, and it has come back almost entirely. My vision is really quite good, and I am far from needing glasses. Do I have scientific studies to back up my claim? No, all I can claim is that my vision improved. Actually, I do have a little more anecdotal evidence. I published a freeware program way back in the pre-Windows (DOS) days that contained some eye exercises. I received a few dozen letters (before email) from people telling me that the exercises worked. There wasn’t one letter saying they didn’t work.

So. I leave it up to you. You can play with these exercises and see if they’ll work for you. I would recommend that you first check with an eye care professional, to make sure that you are not one of those rare individuals who needs medical attention for a serious vision problem. So…

If you have trouble seeing up close, do these exercises with close objects. The right distance is where things are just hard to see clearly. No so far away that they are clear, and not so close that they are way out of focus.

If you have trouble seeing at a distance, you’ll want to get as far away from the exercise object as you can, without being so far away that you can’t see it just because it is too small. The good news is that anything from about ten feet away is pretty much the same as infinite distance, so if you are in a small room, it will still be useful even if all you can do is stand across the room.

#1. Rub your hands together vigorously until the palms are quite warm, then press them gently over your eyes as they cool. Do this two or three times. This has a calming effect, You have probably already noticed that you can see more clearly when you are calm than otherwise.

#2. Look at something distant for perhaps five seconds, then something close for five seconds. Do this two or three times. It doesn’t matter if you see them clearly or not. You’re just stretching your ability to change focus. Do this with both eyes together, then with one eye gently covered, then the other.

#3. For those who would like to improve distant vision, look at a distant object that has a clean vertical line such as a telephone pole. For those who want to improve close vision, look at something with a clearly defined vertical edge, such as the letter I or the edge of a sheet of paper. Do not strain to see this vertical edge, Just let it be as clear as it will, nothing more is required. Do this for just a few seconds, first with both eyes, then with one eye gently covered, then the other covered.

That’s all there is to it!

Here’s where the magic comes in: For this to really work, you’ve got to do it ten times a day. They can be random times – whenever you think of it. Since these exercises take only a few minutes, ten times a day should be easy. But, if you do it ten times a day, you’ll probably discover, as I did, that the improvement comes quickly. Sometimes within just a week or two.

About your specs: You’ve come to depend on your glasses or contacts. You really, truly don’t want to do these exercises while wearing your glasses. In fact, you’ll probably do best to start removing your glasses as much as you can – all day, every day, to the extent that you can. Of course, you’ll want to wear them for driving and any time safety is an issue. And, if you need to read, or do continuous work that would give you a headache or other symptoms without glasses, then by all means, wear them. However, as much as you can, if you just let yourself see as clearly as you can without your glasses – without straining, this can help your vision improve tremendously.

So where am I now? My distant vision is perfect. I can read easily, and see close work well, without glasses, of course. However my left eye is a bit weaker. And, for close work like threading a needle, I do want a lot of light. I will admit that I haven’t been doing the exercises lately, and am rather convinced that if I start doing them again, my left eye strength will come back entirely, and with either eye, I’ll be able to see very close, even in darker conditions.

What are the limits? I’ve seen young children studying bugs from four inches away. I’ve heard that a teenage girl in South America was able to look at Jupiter without any sort of equipment, and draw an accurate picture of the locations of the four largest moons.

I have created some super-simple interactive, enjoyable and free eye exercises at www.odd50.com/eyes.php.


The 32 to 1 Ratio

Emile Coue (1857-1926) of France told people to say to themselves 20 times in a row, twice a day: “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” This has actually cured thousands of people of an assortment of minor and major ills.

In French if you prefer, “Tous les jours, a tous points de vue, je vais de mieux en mieux.”

Try it, it can’t hurt you (unless somebody overhears, but then you can do it silently), and it might just work to get you over the flu, a toothache, minor depression, whatever is bothering you.

This is a serious suggestion. Scientists have proven beyond doubt that people can improve their health with a positive mental attitude. In hospitals across the globe, cancer patients are now being taught to mentally picture (or actually draw pictures of) their cells surrounding and eating tumors.

So much of our language expresses negative experiences. What would happen if we started using positive words to describe things?

Going a step further:

It has been studied and documented that we hear thirty-two items of criticism for each item of praise! It starts when we are babies, “Oooh, your diapers stink!” or “Can’t you keep out of trouble for even one minute?” Sure, we may not have known what the words meant, but even as babies, we felt the emotions behind those words. We grew up with much more negative input than positive. It is no surprise that we do the same thing to our friends, associates, and children.

What if it were reversed? What if you started offering genuine praise to anyone and everyone, every time you see something praiseworthy?

At first, people would probably think you flipped. But they would also enjoy the compliments. Eventually, they may catch on, or maybe they’d just start following your example, because people do tend to emulate what surrounds them.

The big picture results are obvious. Eventually we’d have a world in which everyone hears how well they do things, how nice they look, how their presence is so enjoyable, and so on. And, these people would have more confidence in themselves.

>Would they? Of course. If from a young age, you were told that you we’re of value, and that you can accomplish what you like, you’d make the effort. You’d know that you can make a difference, that you can have what you want, that you deserve a good life, that it is worth your time to practice your skills. In such a world, you’d have a much more successful and happier life. So would everyone, and at no cost, other than the energy to open your mouth and say kind things to everyone, and hold your tongue when what you have to say is not so positive.

>Such is not the world we live in now. But you can change it yourself. Not all by yourself, but you can start it in your sphere of influence, and people will catch on. You can influence your associates, friends, and family. They will influence their associates, friends and families. Perhaps sooner than you think, everyone will start doing it. We’ve seen it happen with slang. Remember when “bad” meant bad? That transition happened fairly quickly. And so can this, because this too, is simply a matter of spoken words.

You may gain from this sooner than you’d think. Before the whole world changes to this new thirty-two-to-one praise to criticism ratio, it will help you in your life. As an example, if you start praising your mate much more than you scold, what will happen? Will your mate become lax? Perhaps dinner will be late, the library books will be overdue, the kitty pan won’t get changed when it should? Maybe, a little bit, at first. Can you stand it? More important, can you keep quiet, and let it happen, while you go on practicing your 32-to-1 game?

I think so, especially when you know that soon your mate will start copying you, consciously or not. Then, you’ll start feeling good when your loved one tells you that your hair looks nice, or that you are such a great cook, rather than telling you that the lawn needs mowing really bad. Imagine a peaceful home life, where you know your mate likes the way you look, the way you cook, where you feel no pressure to mow the lawn right now. Why, you’d probably want to mow that lawn, just because you’ll get praise for it.

Let’s look at the bigger picture. It is a smaller world than you think. Within seven levels of acquaintance, almost everyone knows everyone else. This means that you may have a friend, who has a friend, who has a friend, and so on, who knows David Letterman, Miley Cyrus, Barack Obama, and so on. So, you can influence these people, and all people. Practice 32-to-1, and soon your friends will be doing it, and their friends will be doing it, and eventually politicians will be doing it, and we’ll have no more wars.

For best results, make sure your praise is always sincere. Contrived praise is embarrassing for giver and receiver.

Some people have a hard time receiving compliments, after all they don’t get them very often. Therefore, at first, keep your compliments small and simple, using only a few carefully chosen words.

People are more comfortable with compliments about things they are not known for. The professional musician would rather hear that you respect her political views, than that she plays her instrument well.

Another way to comfortably praise people is to offer compliments which they don’t have to work to acknowledge. If you praise someone noisily in a group of people, the recipient then feels he has to offer some sort of thanks, or deny it, equally loudly. On the other hand, if you slip praise into the middle of a paragraph, then the recipient can have the compliment without obligation. Here’s an example:

“John, Sally’s a great cook, look what she did with this potato salad! Sally, is there any more in the kitchen?”

Relayed praise is the best of all, worth ten times as much as direct praise. For instance, if you wrote a song that I liked, but Fred told you that he enjoyed it when I played it for him, you’d be more pleased than if I simply told you I liked the song, right?

Relayed praise can be amplified even further, if it comes from someone noted in the field. If I showed your song to a famous songwriter, who then told you it was really excellent, that would be even better than if plain old Fred said so.

Asking someone for their opinion or experiences is always a great way to let them know your respect their thoughts. And again, if done in the presence of others, the effect is magnified.

Be on the lookout for backhanded compliments. There is a strong temptation to say something like, “I really admire your intelligence. That’s why it surprises me that you have so little understanding of our budget.” This is not a compliment. We know that but we are so used to correcting, offering critique, that if we don’t pay attention, these things slip out.

A good test is to see if you plan to gain anything when you praise someone. If you decide that you have nothing to gain, you aren’t trying to get someone to fix your flat tire, to change into a better looking outfit or to clean up their room, then your compliment is probably a good one.

Gossip currently follows the same thirty-two-to-one ratio. Gossip hurts the people who do it, almost more than the people about whom they talk. The reason is that someone who gossips can’t be trusted. Therefore, as their reputation builds, they are trusted with less and less information. Really severe gossips have few quality friends, because they have a hard time finding people desperate enough to risk spending time with them.

My recommendation with gossip, then, is to reverse its ratio also. Thirty-two times more often than you negatively gossip, look for good things you can tell others about your friends, family and associates.

“I will speak ill of no man, and speak all the good I know of everybody.” – Benjamin Franklin. If it worked for him, it can work for us.

“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth the greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.” – Charles Schwab, who was paid a million dollars per year for his management skills.

When the trucking company PIE renamed their truckers, warehouse men and clerical workers “craftsmen,” they raised their pride and cut a sixty percent rate of shipping mistakes down to ten percent. This simple change in terminology saves the company $250,000 per year.


Working With Mini-Wizards

Children are mini-wizards. They are just like us, but have less experience. With less experience, they don’t have some of the skills we have developed, such as the ability to make sensible decisions. Due to having less experience (and more imagination), they are also more likely to accept as possibilities situations in which us older wizards all too often automatically assume are impossible.

This chapter contains some random thoughts on working with children.

Expect success from children. Treat them with respect and kindness. Do not talk about alternatives, because most children will analyze what you have said. With enough time, alternatives you have presented such as “if you don’t practice your flute, you’ll never make the school band,” start to look attractive.

“Whether a school has or has not a special method for teaching long division is of on significance, for long division is of no importance except to those who want to learn it. And the child who wants to learn long division will learn it no matter how it is taught.” – A. S. Neill, founder of Summerhill, a school with no curriculum.

It is tempting for kids to drop out of school. Who would want to finish school if their plans are only to build race cars or marry somebody rich? But sometimes plans don’t work out as expected. More importantly, school is free, supported by taxpayers. It’s free! You might as well take as much as you can get.

When children throw tantrums, they are truly miserable – it’s not just an act, usually. So it is in everyone’s best interest if you can break the tantrum habit quickly. One of the best ways to prevent tantrums – especially in public places – is to distract the child when the tantrum starts. For instance, lifting the child onto your shoulders, showering the kid with sudden extra hugging, or talking about an upcoming trip to the zoo will sidetrack the attention currently being focused on a frustration.

If possible before the school year starts, let a child play with others who will be in the same class so that the child will have friends on the first days of school.

Do your children have a hard time getting up in the morning? Get them up a half-hour earlier than they are used to. The biggest thing that keeps them in bed is that they are not looking forward to starting the day with the frantic morning rush to get ready for school in time. With this rush eliminated, it will feel nice to get up leisurely. Of course, getting them to bed early helps tremendously, also. By the way, this works well for you too – perhaps go to bed earlier so you can get up earlier and enjoy the morning!

How do you get them to eat enough vegetables? One way is to make the vegetables unavoidable. Finely chopped up broccoli makes a nice addition to hamburgers. Try other vegetables such as zucchini, bell peppers, etc. You can also ‘hide’ a variety of veggies in your home-made pizza topping by blending them up with tomato sauce. You can mix lots of small bits of spinach with scrambled eggs. Sweet rice with salad bits is still sweet rice.

Is your child attached to a security object such as a teddy bear or blanket that’s getting quite dirty? See if you can get a duplicate. You can alternately clean one and then the other without the child noticing the difference.

Try cutting bits off the blanket from time to time until it gradually shrinks so small that the child looses interest.


Binds

We all know what it is to be in a bind. You want to go to a concert, but your husband wants to go to a basketball game. If you insist on the concert, he will not be happy. But if you go to the game, you will not be happy.

A double-bind is like a bind, but generally has a specific context. The recipient of the double-bind is a child, employee, or someone that for the purposes of this discussion might be considered inferior to the issuer – a parent, teacher, or employer.

A double-bind can have two choices that are both spoken: such as “tell me exactly what happened, and don’t act like a child.”

Or, a part of the bind can be implied by the environment, situation, or even the recipients internal state or imagination.

For example, a parent may be asking a child to tell the truth while looking disgustedly at the child over the top of reading glasses.

A double-bind usually carries an emotional confusion. The recipient finds responding appropriately to the double-bind especially difficult since real or imagined consequences can be strong enough to interrupt logical thinking.

Psychiatrist Milton H Erickson, known as the father of modern hypnotherapy, often used a more positive form of double-bind, in which he might tell a client something like, ‘don’t even begin to imagine. . .’ He was also adept at recognizing implicit double-binds in a client’s life, and reframing the situation so the client had new choices.

The founders of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) were particularly impressed with Milton Erickson’s work. They combined a new understanding of double-binds with several other of Dr. Erickson’s techniques and called it the ‘Milton Model.’

The NLP version is simpler. It is a hypnotic suggestion offering two choices. Each choice includes an implied requirement. In speaking with a child, a parent might say, “Do you want to clean up your room before or after the movie?” In this double-bind, the child’s focus is drawn away from the requirement of cleaning the room, and has only to choose between watching the movie before or after. One could say that this is opposite of Dr. Erickson’s version of double-bind, because it actually makes it easier for the recipient to reach a decision by suppressing the requirement from logical thinking. Another version might involve a salesperson asking a customer, “Would you like that sent by UPS or Fed Ex?” before signing the contract. This subdues the big decision about buying the product, by causing an internal state in which the customer has already assumed the purchase, and has only to make the simple decision about delivery.

In a wizardry session, a double-bind might take a form like this: “So you have the one new detail that you can think about later today, or whenever your mind brings it back to you.”

Would you like to read about triple-binds now, or after you have a minute to digest double-binds?

A triple-bind is a situation recently discovered in research reported by Dan Ariely that is similar to the NLP version of a double-bind, but offers a third choice. The third choice is similar to one of the other two, but has a quality that is less desirable. The effect is to cause the recipient to accept the choice that is most like the undesirable one. For instance, you could have:

A. A new Prius with all options including GPS for $45,000.

B. A new Prius with all options except GPS for $44.995.

C. A new Prius with no options for $32,000.

The salesperson is going to make a much bigger commission if the buyer selects the $45,000 version over the $32,000 version. Without option B, most buyers may select the $32,000 version. But option B makes option A, the $45,000 version, look much more attractive. Statistical research proves that the buyer will most often select option A.


Positive Eccentricity

Dr. David Weeks, a psychologist has studied eccentric people extensively. He has discovered that eccentric people are typically more intelligent and have a better sense of humor than the average population. They are healthier, visiting the doctor only 1/24 as often as typical folks, and live from five to ten years longer than average! When asked about their happiness, eccentrics report that they are quite happy.

But with you being a wizard, I don’t have to tell you about the attributes of eccentricity. There are seven billion people on earth. If they all do what the others are doing, they’ll get the same results the others are getting. That’s all fine and well. No one has to do more. We do not have to do anything more with our time on Earth than to eat, sleep, and watch television. That’s really OK. But those who are wizards might want to do more with their lives. The only way to really stand out is to do things differently. In “Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye is very caught up in tradition. That movie may cause one to re-think the qualities of tradition.

Now you may be thinking of some people you know who are eccentric. Their attributes may not all be positive. There’s Helen down the street, who has 20 cats. There’s Jeremy, who’s crazy for pickleball – that’s all he can talk about. There’s Monica who goes on, and on, and on, about nutrition.

My kind of eccentric person isn’t born that way. Isn’t compelled by some semi-sane notions. This is a person who makes deliberate choices to do what s/he feels is right, even though much of the public may not agree. The positive eccentric is not disruptive. Doesn’t break the law without very good reason, and doesn’t harm others or self.

The positive eccentric decides to set out as a professional clarinetist even though the ‘sensible’ thing would be to become an accountant. (There’s always room for the accountant gig later, if music doesn’t work out.) The positive eccentric learns all she can about Bushnell’s Turtle, a Revolutionary War submarine, even though everyone around her is anti-war (because she finds it fascinating). The positive eccentric takes up badminton rather than soccer (because it is an interesting, unusual sport). The positive eccentric learns as much of the ways of a wizard as possible (so as to be a genuinely helpful citizen). These are all sane decisions.

Positive eccentricity can also be considered thinking outside the box. It leads to places where ordinary thinking cannot go. For instance, a bookstore in San Francisco was frequently critiqued by the customers because it was rather dark, especially in the back, out of the way shelves. So, the owner took that and ran with it. One night he had a ‘midnight sale’ in which he turned out all the lights and handed out flashlights to the customers. This brought him so much free publicity that people are still talking about it 20 years later.

A local computer repair person decided he likes Apple computers, and that’s that. He did not work on Windows machines. He filmed a commercial in which he dropped a Mac, and a Windows computer off the roof of a 6-story building. Then he showed the results. The Windows computer was smashed to bits. The Mac had a little scratch on a corner. Of course he faked these, but the eccentric commercial won him almost all of the Mac repair business in town.

You might enjoy starting to look for ways to be positively eccentric. Any time anyone does anything, you might ask, “Is there a different way?” In most cases, the way things are done has evolved over time to be the best, the most efficient, or the most appreciated. But every now and then, if you simply ask, “Is there a different way,” surprising answers can appear. Then, if it seems you have come up with something new, you might ask, “Why do people do it the usual old way?” This could shoot down your great idea, but it might also help you discover a variation that is truly new, and worth pursuing.

For instance, you might want to sell something on eBay. Many people list their item at a fixed price, and wait, sometimes for a very long time. Others use the classic auction format. You might wonder if there are any alternatives.
You might ask, “Why do people list items at a low price, and hope that bidders will raise the price?” Then, you might say, “What if that was turned around? What if I list a thing starting at a very high price on eBay, and then lower the price every day or two, until someone buys it?” Using this reverse auction idea, you’ll get the maximum possible value for your item, but within a reasonable amount of time.

Interestingly, positive eccentricity is attractive. When you think of the celebrities that you are truly attracted to, most are eccentric in some positive ways, aren’t they?

Don’t be surprised if instead of being afraid of eccentricity, you find yourself embracing it.


Silly Old Advice

The following comes from a book of advice and trivia written in the mid-nineteenth century. Enjoy the language and concepts:

“Hints on etiquette: There are numberless writers upon this subject, from Chesterfield to Willis, but the great fault with all of them is, that their works are designed exclusively for the bon ton. They are very well for those who spend their whole lives in the fashionable circles; but if a plain unpretending man or woman were to follow their directions, they would only make themselves ridiculous.

In view of this fact, I now present a few plain directions fashioned not after an imaginary model, but upon the world as it is. I address only sensible persons, and expect them to be satisfied with such rules and principles as shall form well-bred men and women, and not coxcombs and dandies. My directions are the result of my own observation and experience, and may be relied upon as being the actual practices of respectable people, both in this country and Europe; for the manners of well-bred people are the same in all parts of the world.

In all your associations, keep constantly in view the adage, “too much freedom breeds contempt.”

Never be guilty of practical jokes; if you accustom yourself to them, it is probable you will become so habituated as to commit them upon persons who will not allow of such liberties: I have known a duel to arise from a slap on the back.

If there be another chair in the room, do not offer a lady that from which you have just risen.

Always suspect the advances of any person who may wish for your acquaintance, and who has had no introduction: circumstances may qualify this remark, but as a general principle, acquaintances made in a public room or place of amusement are not desirable.

Never converse while a person is singing; it is an insult not only to the singer but to the company.

The essential part of good breeding is the practical desire to afford pleasure, and to avoid giving pain. Any man possessing this desire, requires only opportunity and observation to make him a gentleman.

Always take off your hat when handing a lady to her carriage, or the box of a theatre, or a public room.

If, in a public promenade, you pass and re-pass persons of you acquaintance, it is only necessary to salute them on the first occasion.

Do not affect singularity of dress by wearing anything that is so conspicuous as to demand attention; and particularly avoid what I believe I must call the ruffian style.

Never lose your temper at cards, and particularly avoid the exhibition of anxiety or vexation at want of success. If you are playing whist, not only keep your temper, but hold your tongue; any intimation to you partner is decidedly ungentlemanly.

Let presents to a young lady be characterized by taste, not remarkable for intrinsic value.

Except under very decided circumstances, it is both ungentlemanly and dangerous to cut a person: if you wish to rid yourself of any one’s society, a cold bow in the street, and particular ceremony in the circles of your mutual acquaintance, is the best mode of conduct to adopt.

Never introduce your own affairs for the amusement of a company, it shows a sad want of mental cultivation, or excessive weakness of intellect: recollect, also, that such a discussion cannot be interesting to others, and that the probability is that the most patient listener is a complete gossip, laying the foundation for some tale to make you appear ridiculous.

When you meet a gentleman with whom you are acquainted, you bow raising your hat slightly with he left hand, which leaves your right at liberty to shake hands if you stop. If the gentleman is ungloved, you must take off yours, not otherwise.

Meeting a lady, the rule is that she should make the first salute, or at least indicate by her manner that she recognizes you. Your bow must be lower, and your hat carried further from your head; but you never offer to shake hands; that is her privilege.

The right, being the post of honor, is given to superiors and ladies, except in the street, when they take the wall, as farthest from danger from passing carriages, in walking with or meeting them.

In walking with a lady, you are not bound to recognize gentlemen with whom she is not acquainted, nor have they, in such a case, any right to salute, much less to speak to you.

Whenever or wherever you stand, to converse with a lady, or while handing her into or out of a carriage, keep your hat in your hand.

Should her shoe become unlaced, or her dress in any manner disordered, fail not to apprise her of it, respectfully, and offer your assistance. A gentleman may hook a dress or lace a shoe with perfect propriety, and should be able to do so gracefully.

Whether with a lady or gentleman, a street talk should be a short one; and in either case, when you have passed the customary compliments, if you wish to continue the conversation, you must say, “Permit me to accompany you.”

Don’t sing, hum, whistle, or talk to yourself, in walking. Endeavor, besides being well dressed, to have a calm good-natured countenance. A scowl always begets wrinkles. It is best not to smoke at all in public but none but a ruffian in grain will inflict upon society the odor of a bad cigar, or that of any kind, on ladies.

Ladies are not allowed, upon ordinary occasions, to take the arm of any one but a relative or an accepted lover in the street, and in the day time; in the evening – in the fields, or in a crowd wherever she may need protection – she should not refuse it. She should pass her hand over the gentleman’s arm, merely, but should not walk an arm’s length apart, as country girls sometimes do. In walking with a gentleman, the step of the lady must be lengthened, and his shortened, to prevent the hobbling appearance of not keeping step. Of course, the conversation of a stranger, beyond asking a necessary question, must be considered as a gross insult and repelled with proper spirit.

Having dressed yourself, pay no further attention to your clothes. Few things look worse than a continual fussing with your attire.

Never scratch your head, pick you teeth, clean your nails, or worse than all, pick your nose in company; all these things are disgusting. Spit as little as possible, and never upon the floor.

Do not lounge on sofas nor tip back your chair, nor elevate your feet.

If you are going into the company of ladies, beware of onions, spirits and tobacco.

If you can sing or play, do so at once when requested, without requiring to be pressed or make a fuss. On the other hand, let your performance be brief, or, if ever so good it will be tiresome. When a lady sits down to the pianoforte, some gentleman should attend her, arrange the music-stool, and turn over the leaves.

Meeting friends in a public promenade, you salute them the first time in passing, and not every time you meet.

Never tattle, nor repeat in one society any scandal or personal matter you hear in another. Give your own opinion of people, if you please but never repeat that of others.

Meeting an acquaintance among strangers, in the street or a coffee-house, never address him by name. It is vulgar and annoying.”

“The art of being agreeable: The true art of being agreeable is to appear well pleased with all the company, and rather to seem well entertained with them than to bring entertainment to them. A man thus disposed, perhaps, may not have much learning, nor any wit; but if he has common sense, and something friendly in his behavior, it conciliates men’s minds more than the brightest parts without this disposition; and when a man of such a turn comes to old age, he is almost sure to be treated with respect. It is true, indeed, that we should not dissemble and falter in company: but a man may be very agreeable, strictly consistent with truth and sincerity, by a prudent silence where he cannot concur, and a pleasing assent where he can. Now and then you meet with a person so exactly formed to please, that he will gain upon every one that hears of beholds him; this disposition is not merely the gift of nature, but frequently the effect of much knowledge of the world, and a command over the passions.”


Wizards and Money

A wizard is entitled to a lot of money. After all, the wizard is likely to do good things with some of that money, don’t you think?

I have heard people express things like, “Money is the root of all evil,” or “Money maddens the mind.” Wealthy people are often referred to as “filthy rich,” and worse. Actually, the lack of money can be extremely problematic. Sadly, people who don’t have their basic survival needs met, may need to depend on the system to subsidize their food, rent and medical expenses and even feel compelled to resort to crime to get enough money. Unfortunately for them, their minds are constantly occupied with money matters, leaving them little time, energy and resources to help others.

I have known people who have been over-educated in the notion that you have to be magnanimous at all costs. I had a friend who had recently started a custom furniture making business. So far, he had few clients, and he struggled to pay his electric bill. He also had a $1,000 canceled check made out to a charity taped proudly to his filing cabinet.

I tried to explain to him that if he had invested that $1,000 in himself, in his own business, then next year, he could have issued a $10,000 check to the charity. He didn’t get it.

So, if you are a millionaire, you can help people. Guess what? Everyone can become a millionaire!

I’m going to start by tell you that a cup of coffee at Starbucks costs $26. And when you understand that, you can have a million dollars, no matter how much you have right now. As long as you are patient. . .

So what’s the secret? The missing ingredient? Time. Those who understand have found that it is easy. School teachers have done it. Janitors have done it. Fast-food workers have done it. No matter how much or how little you make, you can probably save a bit of your pay. Twenty-five percent is the amount people generally suggest. It’s called
“paying yourself first.”

Of course, for most, it won’t be easy. Somehow, we seem to adjust to our spending to approximately the amount we make – in fact, we often spend just a bit more, driving up an ever-growing credit card debt. And if you already have debt, you can’t save money until you eliminate the debt. Now, if you are in debt, I suggest you can start with an understanding
that it doesn’t have to be a permanent situation. In fact, I believe you can find some information later in this very chapter with which you can eventually pay off that debt. I have been in fairly major debt twice in my life. Once, I owed $76,000 to the credit card companies. Both times, it felt never-ending while it was happening, but both times are history now. So, once you have no debt, and can save 25 percent of your income, you can be a millionaire. It takes 20 years, but works every time. Why not start today?

I met one of the many people who have actually done it. He worked for Sears from the age of 23 until 46, repairing household appliances. That job doesn’t pay very well. Less than a teacher gets, I think. Probably about as much as a supermarket manager gets. He lived in a small apartment. Early on, he had enough cash to buy a 32-inch TV. Instead, he kept his 21-inch tabletop model. It worked just fine. He never bought a car on credit. He paid cash for the best car he could get every ten years. At first, it wasn’t much of a car. Now, every ten years, he treats himself to a brand-new $88,000 Jaguar. About two years into his experiment, he had $20,000 in a savings account. He realized he had to take the time, make the effort to learn about investing. At first, he didn’t like the idea, but he knew he had to overcome the resistance. He decided to avoid the stock market and real estate. (As a coastal California resident, he probably could have done spectacularly with
real estate.) Instead, he focused on municipal bonds because they have traditionally been very safe. It worked for him, although I might recommend a more mixed portfolio with at least some more aggressive investments.

If you look throughout history since money has been handled in an organized fashion, on average, everyone who has stuck it out for 11 years or more, has done well.

So anyway, my friend retired from Sears at age 46. He now has well over a million dollars, and the knowledge and experience to continue developing his investments.

So how do you save 25 percent up front? There are two areas in which you can make all the difference.

The first area is with small expenses. If you buy cigarettes, candy, coffee, books, or anything other habit-like product every day, look what might happen if you give it up: Let’s say that instead of stopping into Starbucks and spending around three dollars for a cup of coffee, you invest it over 20 years. Right. That cup of coffee actually costs more than $26. Do you really want to spend $26 for a cup of coffee?

The other place to watch is overheads. When you sign a one-year lease on a $1,500 a month apartment instead of a $1,200/month apartment, you are losing $3,600 per year. That’s a lot of groceries or clothes. But it’s a much larger amount of money with compound interest over 20 years. Yet, $1,500 a month doesn’t seem that much different than $1,200 when you’re apartment shopping, does it? This is even more so with mortgages. The people who tell you that your mortgage should not be more that 1/4 of
your income really know what they’re talking about. Same with car payments. Same with club memberships, subscriptions, and so on.

Let’s talk for a moment about pride. That’s what has prevented me from doing this myself. For much of my life, I have been too proud to drive a 20-year-old car. It had to be a shiny new car. I had to have the fancy phone, bicycle, TV set, and latest computer, to show my friends. I had to live in the bigger house. So, I have delayed my millionaire potential. But if pride is so important to me, wouldn’t it have been better to have done this plan with the old car and the little TV, and really, really impress my friends 20 years later? Oh, if I only knew that 20 years ago:)

Some Ways to Save Money

Avoid the temptation to buy a top-of-the-line model unless you have money to burn. In almost all categories of merchandise, the difference between the top of the line, and middle is not all that great in terms of features and quality, but very noticeable in price. Lets look at some examples: A digital camera for $250 has the same features as the $600 model. It takes fine pictures and is very reliable. The lens may be a half f-stop smaller, a very insignificant difference. You may get 30 percent less megapixels. But, how many megapixels do you need? How many can you use? The human eyes is equivalent of only 137 megapixels. If you can take an award winning picture with the $600 camera, you can take the same picture just as well with the $250 one.

How about bicycles? The middle of the line models are reasonably lightweight and reliable and cost $400. Top of the line at $3,000 is a pound lighter and actually less reliable. In fact, you may find replacement parts for the less-common top of the line machine are hard to get. Will you notice the reduced weight? Not unless you are a serious bike racer. And even if you are a racer, you may not notice the difference. I know of one racer who screwed toe clips into the rubber pedals of a 40-year-old, 38-pound three-speed bike, and won a ten-mile time trial with it just to prove this point. He also rode the race with his shorts turned inside out. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what kind of wizarding technique that was. (Hint: “Positive Eccentritity.”)

Cars? Same thing. Can a Rolls Royce carry groceries any better than a Toyota? However, for the Toyota it is easier to get parts and service.

Stereo equipment: I have a friend who has millions of dollars. He could afford anything he wants, so his sound system cost $20,000. Interestingly, I thought the treble was a bit mushy. In any case, it didn’t sound any better than my $600 system.

If at all possible, reverse your car payments. Put $300 per month in a savings account until you need to buy a new car. Then pay cash. You’ll save thousands of dollars over the cost of interest on payments.

Some Ways to Make Money

Being a wizard, you have some extra opportunities.

Here is a brief list of some positively eccentric things you can do:

Start a school, after-school program, or summer camp for children. Perhaps it can be a school for wizards and witches, perhaps as much like Hogwart’s as possible.

Teach your wizardry skills, such as Creative Listening in schools, continuing education programs or even in your living room. You can teach individually, much like a piano teacher, or to groups as large as you can imagine. The great public speaker and author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People’, Dale Carnegie, started teaching classes in his local YMCA. He had to talk them into it. The Y was not willing to pay him as an employee, so he offered to teach on a commission basis. I believe his first class was four students. He went on to lecture to stadiums with 20,000 people.

As long as you don’t claim to cure illness, or make any claims you can’t support, you can work with individual clients. You can call yourself a wizard, or an NLP practitioner, or a lay counselor. Much of what many people need is someone who will simply listen to them. Teaching metaphorically is also an option. Not only can you work with local clients, you can also set up a website, perhaps invest a bit in Google AdWords, and get paid to speak to anyone, anywhere in the world. As your reputation grows, you can set up conference calls, being paid to speak to dozens or even hundreds of people at once. $3,000 per hour is not an outer limit.

Become a performer. If you set out to be a guitarist in a rock ‘n roll band, you may find it is a difficult task to accomplish. However, if you do something positively eccentric, you’ll find making a living can be easy, as long as you are patient. Most of these ideas are not get-rich-quick schemes. They are get-rich-slow schemes. If you put together a unicycle, magic, or juggling show, or combine some object manipulation skills with some other performance, and as long as you don’t quit your ‘day job’ until you have ‘made it,’ your income is assured. For instance, you might consider combining your skills in creative listening or metaphorical suggestion with lessons you consider important, mixed with some music, comedy, or object manipulation, and put together a show – the likes of which have never been seen. You can start by simply entertaining friends at parties. You might practice on the streets – called street performing. Be sure to check for local permit requirements, of course. While you are perfecting your act, you can pass the hat. Some street performers make more money than professionals in many other fields. I once made $1,200 in one day doing comedy juggling shows at a festival, just by passing the hat.

In Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana, I saw a man play the flute while walking around on stilts. He was earning a good living. Later that night, back in the square, a fellow had set up a telescope with a tracking mount. It was aimed at the moon. On a little table, he put up a sign that said, “Look in the telescope.” Next to the sign was a hat filled with one, five, ten, and twenty dollar bills. While he just sat there quietly reading a book with a flashlight, he was earning a living with his brilliant, positively eccentric idea. What could you do like that? I can imagine a table set up with little science or mechanical demonstrations of some sort.

For instance, do you know about phenolphthalein? This is an inexpensive chemical that you can dissolve in water. If you a add little bit of alkaline such as baking powder in the water, it turns to bright red. Put in some acid, such as vinegar, and it turns back to clear. By making up some sort of accompanying story, perhaps referring to your process as ‘alchemy’ and the red liquid that appears and as ‘blood,’ you can create a very entertaining effect. You can get phenolphthalein at many drug stores since it is sometimes used as a laxative, or buy it here.. A quick search of the Internet ought to turn up all sorts of kitchen chemistry that you can use for entertainment.

A wizard can get paid to give things away. The idea is you get together a collection of whatever interests you. It might be books, bicycle parts, clothes, you name it. You can start an exchange in the trunk of your car, and in time develop it into an enterprise as big as a large warehouse. The idea is you give these things away, but at the same time, you ask for donations of similar things. You don’t need to require that people donate an equal amount. In fact, it is better if you don’t regulate that. People who have extra, books, bike parts, or whatever will be so enamored with what you’re doing, they’ll donate far more stuff than others carry away. Having set up three free exchanges, I know this for a fact. Here’s the book I wrote a book about it here.

So how do you make money with a free exchange? Some of the things that come in will be out of print, rare, collectible, or particularly valuable to people in specialized pursuits. These can be sold on eBay, Amazon or other online venues to support your good work of recycling merchandise, thereby reducing manufacturing, packaging, and shipping of new items. Even though you can make a tidy profit doing this, the public will love what you’re doing and support you. Interestingly, the very things that sell well online to a national or even international audience are usually the uncommon things that a local clientele won’t want, even for free. For instance, if someone brings a book on underwater welding, or the bottom half of a surveying transit, who would want these uncommon things? These would seem like senseless junk to the local clientele unless the one person in a million who is a surveyor or professional scuba diver comes in. Yet someone online will pay well to get a base for their transit, or to buy the book that will teach them how to weld under water. I once sold a tattered ex-library book about the thread count in various fabrics for $240.

I can imagine a wizard, situated like a fortune teller at a flea market, art festival, in a shop, on a busy street-corner, or elsewhere.

The wizard may have some eccentric costuming and furniture. The wizard’s job is to listen to people, and offer practical advice. In order to maintain the aura, the wizard can also make nebulous predictions, using discernment, of course, the way fortune tellers do. The main thing, is that this wizard could be truly helpful, helping individuals find peace and balance in an imbalanced world. In the guise of a wizard, anyone who is balanced, has common sense, is empathetic, yet not so empathetic that they can’t hear other peoples’ problems, can do it.



The Magical Ending

Often at the end of a session I’ll offer a hypnotic suggestion:

Don’t be surprised if in the next few days something magical comes from our discussion today.

This can be surprisingly powerful. First, it keeps the recipient wondering, or looking back, during the next few days – looking for that magical surprise. So, it keeps it fresh in their minds, giving the session more time to do its work.

This can be especially useful after a weak session, one in which the result seemed to be only mildly effective.

As you may know, the word don’t has the opposite effect. It is as if it is a command to do. So, they’ll be looking for their own metaphors or isomorphic relationships that match the session in some way.

They usually do find that ‘something surprising.’

Have fun! – Jeff


You may enjoy more books like and unlike this one by searching for Jeff Napier in the Kindle Store, and at jeffnapier.com

7 Ways To Make Money on Craigslist

7 Ways To Make Money on Craigslist

Even If You Have Little, Time, Experience, or Money

Copyright 2017 – 2022, Jeff Napier

7 ways to make money on craigslist


It is easy to make anything from some extra rainy day money, to a huge income through Craigslist, even if you have very little time, experience or money.

You can pick your own specialty, and the best part is you’ll be your own boss working when you want, and in the way you want. Some of these businesses are so enjoyable that you’ll become inspired to continually take it to the next level, potentially leading to millions of dollars.

You can get things for free, then sell them.

You can buy things for the purpose of reselling on eBay, through consignment, or in some cases, resell them at a profit on Craigslist.

Or turn it around: You can buy from Ebay or other sources, and sell on Craigslist.

You can trade up. One fellow in Oakland, California started with a paperclip. Seriously. He traded it for something else, then traded that, and on his seventh trade, he got a house.

Craigslist

Table of Contents

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.



eBay

On eBay, you can buy or sell anything from antennae to zithers.

As a buyer, eBay can be a source of rare items and common everyday things. Often, you’ll also find wholesale lots, and at times you can buy new merchandise for less than what you’d pay any wholesaler. First, I’ll talk about about eBay selling strategies. I’ll cover buying strategies later on.

As a seller, you have a national or even worldwide market, so rare things of interest to only a few people, things that would gather dust on a retail shelf, such as a tripod for a surveyor’s transit, or an antique clarinet, can sell for a lot of money on eBay. At the same time, the ordinary things such as regular guitars, sunglasses, and digital cameras sell for the very bottom range of market value. eBay is generally better for items smaller than sewing machines, since shipping charges add considerably to the cost of larger items.

Setting up an eBay account is free and easy. You’ll also want to set up an account with PayPal, a money-handling website that is part of the eBay empire and makes life easy for buyers and sellers in well over 90 percent of eBay payment transactions. PayPal takes care of all the credit card processing and payment details. PayPal is also free. All you need to set up eBay and PayPal accounts is about five minutes each, and the usual information, plus a credit card number, and if you have one available, a checking account number.

When an item sells on eBay, the buyer almost always pays through PayPal. The seller gets to keep all the money collected except for an eBay fee, typically around eight percent, and a PayPal fee of around three to four percent. The money is placed in the seller’s PayPal account, where s/he can transfer it to a checking account, or spend it in a variety of ways. The seller then packages the item and sends it to the buyer. If all goes well, and it usually does, the buyer can leave positive feedback for the seller. Feedback is a point that’s positive, neutral, or negative, along with optional ratings on issues such as shipping time and communication, and a comment. The seller too, can offer feedback for the buyer.

So, anyone doing business on eBay can check feedback before committing to a transaction. If a seller has mostly positive feedback, you can feel confident in making the purchase. Therefore, as a seller, you want to treat your buyers well so you’ll get positive feedback.

Feedback isn’t as important as it once was because eBay offers a variety of protections for buyers and sellers. For instance, if you buy a laptop computer, but the seller keeps your money and ships you a box of rocks, you can do more than issue negative feedback. You can contact eBay, and they’ll refund your money – as long as you did everything right. That means to stay within eBay’s normal parameters. If the seller asks you to pay by some means other than PayPal, or if the buyer asks the seller to ship it to a different address than the one listed with eBay, the protection might be circumvented.

Selling on eBay

Many buyers do not know about the eBay buyer protection, or don’t trust it. For them, the seller’s feedback is very important. As a new seller, you might want to build positive feedback quickly. One way is to buy a few inexpensive things. You get feedback as a buyer. But most sophisticated eBayers know the difference between feedback as a buyer and seller, and will want to see your seller feedback. Therefore, you can also start your eBay business by selling some inexpensive things. Perhaps you have some old CDs or DVDs laying around the house. Sell them quickly, and get your feedback.

From this point forward, let’s pick a sample item, and discuss it as if it is something you really have on hand and will sell on eBay. The item is Rolling Homes, a large-format paperback picture book about busses and trucks that were converted into motorhomes, by Jane Lidz, published in 1979.

The most important trick to selling on eBay is knowing what to sell, since many items have too little value to sell online. It turns out eBay has a tool for determining value. So let’s look up Rolling Homes.

At the top of almost any eBay page is a search field. You can enter “Rolling Homes Jane Lidz.” Today, there are three copies for sale, ranging in price from $42 to $59. The prices and quantities will vary from day to day.

So far, we have learned that it seems to be a fairly valuable book, but we don’t really know how valuable. These auctions haven’t closed yet. Will anyone actually bid? How high will they bid? Let’s find out.

To the left of the listings, you have a column of refinements you can click, to limit your search based on condition, category and other things. In that column, click More Refinements. . . then Show Only. Check Sold Listings then click the Go button.

Now you’ll see a list of items that closed during the past 30 days. Today, I see that six copies sold during the past month, ranging in price from $39 to $45. So, it’s worth selling, don’t you think?

Grab your camera and take a few pictures. eBay will allow for up to twelve free photos for each item you list. The first one will appear as a thumbnail – the little image to the left of a listing when shown in a group of similar listings. So, it should probably give an overview image of the book. It’s best to photograph items against a solid color background, so they are easy to see. I often use a red background, so if there are many similar listings, mine will stand out. You might also prefer a bright blue, green or yellow background. This is only a small advantage, so a white, even a wood-grained background is fine too. You’ll want your lighting about right, clear focus, and medium to very slightly higher than normal contrast. In the case of a book, shadows aren’t much of a concern, but with non-flat items, you’ll want to make sure shadows don’t obscure important details or make the thumbnail image hard to figure out. I use ordinary household lamps, with my camera’s color correction set to ‘auto.’ You might also experiment with color settings of ‘incandescent’ or ‘indoor.’ I use two lamps, one on either side, and slightly behind me and my camera,

Next you might take some other pictures, such as of the back cover, and maybe the table of contents pages.

Does your book have any flaws? If the cover is dog-eared or stained, maybe a close-up of the flaw would be a good idea. When selling on eBay it is very important to clearly note flaws both photographically and in the text description. You don’t want negative feedback, and you don’t want to refund someone’s money because they were disappointed.

From the top of the eBay home page, you can click Sell, then Sell Your Item. You are given a field in which you can enter what you have, and eBay will give you matching categories. In the case of this book, it is easy. You can simply enter the ten-digit or 13-digit ISBN number that most published books have. Or you can browse to pick a category. Books | Nonfiction seems the most likely category, since this is a nonfiction book. But an option might be a category for motorhome accessories, since this book is of particular interest to the recreational vehicle crowd.

For DVD movies or music CDs, enter the UPC code found just under the barcode on the back.

If the item’s ISBN or UPC number is in the eBay database, a template listing will come up, with title, number, brand name, model number, and such details already filled in.

Now it is time to edit or enter a title. This is not usually the place to be creative. You want to enter exactly what buyers for your book are searching for. So it would probably be “Rolling Homes by Jane Lidz, 1979.” Since there is room left over, you might pitch your book a bit. If it is in excellent condition, you can say so: “Rolling homes by Jane Lidz, 1979, Excellent Condition.”

Then you get to enter details such as listing the flaws your copy has, the publication year, a condition category, and some other things. Definitely enter the ISBN, or if it isn’t a book that you’re listing, enter a model or part number if one is available.

Then you get to upload your photographs. Below that, you can enter a description. For a book, if you have already entered condition notes, such as “minor yellowing, slightly dog-eared” then a description is not usually required. You could give a synopsis of what’s in the book, but most book buyers already know about what they want. If you’re selling something else, like a hat, you can describe it and pitch it to the best of your creative ability, keeping in mind that superlatives can actually hurt sales. So you might say something like this about a hat: “Size 7-3/8, hat in a vibrant purple. The brim measures 14 inches in diameter. The material is felt. Very slight shiny wear along the top edge that can’t be seen from more than five feet away. This hat was worn by people who felt sure of themselves in the fifties, and it still has that effect today. This is just the hat for a confident and stylish resident of the modern world.”

There is no limit to how long your description can be. That doesn’t mean your description has to be long. Getting back to Rolling Homes, no description at all is adequate. However, you could state something like, “I found this book fascinating, and so I took a 1/2-hour break to study it. A half-hour doesn’t really do it justice. A couple of full-time days would be more like it. I don’t really want to let it go, but you’ll probably enjoy it even more than I did. You will find photos of converted buses and trucks in these pages that you just wouldn’t expect.”

Keep in mind that an overly optimistic pitch like this doesn’t really help most products, so if you value your time, you might limit your descriptions to the basic facts.

As you are working your way down the page, you’ll see options that cost extra money such as sub-title and Gallery Plus. Most of these options have no effect on sales, but do generate extra income for eBay. Don’t worry, they have plenty of money already, so I recommend that you do not select any enhancements that cost money.

Now, you get to choose whether to sell it as an Online Auction item or Fixed Price, also known as “Buy It Now.”

If you have an item that’s rare or collectible, and it is possible that two or more people will want it no matter the cost, then Auction is the way to go. You can start the bidding at whatever price you choose, and then decide if you’ll let the auction run for 1, 3, 5, 7 or 10 days. If after that time, no one was willing to pay your minimum price, you get to keep it, or try selling it again. If only one person in the world wants it, it will sell for your minimum price. On the other hand, two or more people can get into a bidding war.

I listed an old wooden radio with a starting bid of $50. At the end of the first day, the price had risen to $200. When the seven-day auction closed, the high bidder ended up paying me $1,200 plus shipping. This is a bit unusual in that the price went to $200 on the first day. Many experienced auction buyers wait until the last minute to bid, feeling that if they bid too soon, the higher price will only encourage other bidders. Taking that a step further, there is software that will bid on the buyers’ behalf at the last possible moment.

On the other hand, you might have an item that is common, and many copies are available on eBay. This might be better sold as a Fixed Price item. You can set the price at, or slightly below the other ones currently being offered, unless the condition of yours is above the others. Fixed price items are more likely to sell because many buyers don’t want to play the auction game. They want an item as soon as possible, and they want to know for sure that they won the transaction. They don’t want to wait a week to see if their bid was sufficient.

Another advantage with Fixed Price is that you can save money. It costs around 30 cents (US) to list an auction item on eBay, but as little as five cents for a fixed price item if you have an eBay store, which I’ll cover in more detail a few paragraphs from now.

To get an idea about which items do best as Auction, and which are most often sold as Fixed Price, you can look again at Completed Listings, and see which were offered as Auction and which as Fixed Price. You can also study how other sellers handled shipping charges, and which categories they listed successful and unsuccessful items in. You can click on any item to drill in and see the pictures and read the description to figure out what the seller did, and whether it worked well – made money – or not. From there, you can even click on statistics on the seller to find out what kind of feedback the seller has, what other items the seller is currently selling, and what items the seller has actually sold during the past 30 days.

To give you another view on Fixed Price versus Auction, imagine that you have two saxophones. One is a regular student-model Bundy. The other is a Selmer Paris. There are two other Bundys for sale like yours. There are no Selmer Paris saxophones. So which one will do better sold as fixed price, a which is a better play for an auction?

Another example: You have a Swiss army knife that you’ve seen a hundred times before. There are six of the same model on eBay already. That would be fixed price. On the other hand, what if even though you are an expert on Swiss army knives, the one you have is a knife you’ve never seen before? Some crazy obscure model. Right, auction!

After some more choices on the eBay page, you get to decide about shipping options. You can have the buyer pay a shipping fee in any amount you choose, or you can include free shipping. Free shipping may make some items feel less costly to the buyers, but most are sophisticated enough to know that the shipping cost is absorbed in an inflated overall price. So, I generally go with an added shipping charge – charging slightly more than the packaging material and actual shipping cost. If the shipping price is too inflated, you may lose sales and get negative feedback.

You often see things like laptop computers listed for a remarkably low price, but a high shipping price. For instance, a MacBook Pro, that would normally be $2,000, is being sold for $500, but the shipping fee is $1,700. I believe the seller thinks he can trick someone into buying that laptop. But will the hassle and negative feedback be worth the ‘trick?’

You can figure out shipping costs at the major shipper websites. For instance at USPS.com (the United States Post Office), you can enter package weight, dimensions if needed, a specific shipping service such as Priority Mail, and figure out how much an item will cost to ship. Don’t forget that it will cost about a buck on average for a box and packing materials, unless you use the free Priority Mail and other envelopes and boxes supplied by USPS.com. It’s pretty much the same for UPS and Fed Ex. USPS tends to be a bit less costly for items under two pounds (1 kg) in weight. In time, you may want to buy a postal scale. Make sure to get a model that goes to at least 20 pounds (10 kg). When I started out, I had a five pound scale, and was constantly frustrated at having to guess the weights of six and seven pound packages. What’s the best source for a scale at a good price? Right, eBay!

Keep in mind that when you just ship an occasional thing on eBay, you can take all the time in the world to fashion your own packaging out of old cardboard boxes and junk you have in your garage. But as you start shipping five or ten items a day, you’ll want to spend some money on consistent packaging materials to save valuable time.

Also keep in mind that some things are really hard to ship. A bicycle will be much harder to package than you can imagine, until you’ve tried it once. Not only that, a bicycle probably surpasses the maximum size that the Post Office and UPS will allow. This reduces your shipping options and raises your cost. For fragile items such as guitars, double-boxing is best. Pack your guitar securely in a box, as if it had to survive a run-away conveyor belt, falling off the back of a truck, and an angry delivery person. Then, put that box in a larger box, with at least an inch (3cm) of padding all around.

If you live near a fairly large population, you can sell large items that are not cost effective to ship. You might have a chair that’s only worth $50, but the shipping cost would be another $100. So, shipping it is not a viable option. Instead, you set the shipping arrangement as No Shipping, Local Pickup Only. People in your area may bid on the chair and come by your place to pick it up. This severely reduces the number of people who are likely to want it. Occasionally, for a particularly valuable item, people will drive a thousand miles to come get it. This happens with antique tractors, for instance. If you do choose Local Pickup Only, add that to your description, to make it clear to people who are not in your area, that you are not providing a shipping option.

eBay has a program called Global Shipping for US sellers with eBay stores (which I’ll discuss in a moment). For most categories of items, you can click a checkbox, and Global Shipping will be allowed on your listing. If someone in one of the qualifying countries (not all countries are supported) buys your item, they pay an amount that’s more than the shipping charge you’re asking. You are reimbursed the same as if you were shipping to a US customer. You are given an address of a building in Kentucky, where your item is packaged with all other packages currently going to the same country and shipped in a big lot. Once it arrives in the receiving country, it is then mailed to the buyer using the best local transportation company. This saves the buyer money, and makes your life much easier. Otherwise, you’d have to figure out a price for the non-USA buyers, and fill out a customs form for each item you send. You’d also be responsible for refunding in the cases of lost packages, which is unfortunately common in overseas shipments. eBay takes care of all those things for you with Global Shipping.

When you list an occasional item on eBay, you pay 30 cents (US)for a fixed price listing, plus closing fees when it sells. If it doesn’t sell in a month, you’ve lost 30 cents. You have the option to keep it listed for another 30 cents. You can imagine that for a thousand items, this would start to add up.

The answer is eBay Stores. A store subscription costs from $20 to $200 per month. You can save a bit with a long-term contract, but it is not required. At the basic store level ($19.95 per month), you can list up to 150 items for free – no insertion fee. At the highest level, you get to list 2,500 items with no listing fee, and after that, each item is only five cents. So, you can keep thousands of items listed month after month for a few hundred dollars per month. Once you have thousands of items, a mere few hundred dollars in listing fees will seem like an excellent deal. Stores give you some other advantages. Your listings that are similar to what others have can be promoted higher in eBay search results. You can have a ‘presence’ on eBay, with webpages specifically dedicated to your store. You get some special features, such as the ability to run a sale across all, or selected portions of your listings.

Once you have a store, you get to use a section of eBay called Selling Manager Pro. With this, you can change prices of up to 500 items at a time, as well as many other bulk and individual adjustments. Let’s say you want to add Global Shipping to all your items. Just a few clicks, and they are all changed. With a store, you can organize your items into categories, include descriptions and pictures of your place of business, if you wish, build an opt-in email list of buyers and browsers, and some other tricks.

Having sold over 20,000 items on eBay, I have found that eBay and PayPal are good, responsive, reliable companies. I’ve also heard all sorts of rumors that PayPal does this ‘evil’ thing, and eBay does that horrible thing. None of these rumors have proven to be true for me. If you have a store on eBay, they offer additional options in support, including as much free support by telephone as you’d like.

Reverse Auctions

I have found the best way to get the most profit out of common, non-collectible items, is to use Fixed Price with what I call a reverse auction. I start the prices of everything way too high, then, lower the price by one percent per day using Selling Manager Pro. A few people will buy things at the way too high price, especially if there are no others like mine currently available. Most others will buy them when the price falls to market value. If something just doesn’t interest anyone in the world, the price continues to fall until it hits a chosen minimum and finally someone is willing to buy it. This is not a good thing for items which have good value, but are seldom purchased, but for common merchandise, reverse auctions is a profitable technique.

My minimum price is $9.95. I feel like anything less simply does not pay for the time in photographing, listing, picking, packing and shipping it, as well as handling the occasional emailed questions that might pop up.

So what’s with the people selling things for a dollar or less? Some are depending on the shipping price to make up the difference. Someone may sell a collectible coin for 99 cents, but then charge a $5 shipping fee. Their profit is in the difference between the $5 and the actual cost of shipping, which may be less than a dollar.

Still, that doesn’t explain all the super-cheap stuff out there. Why would someone sell a pack of guitar strings for $1 with free shipping? I don’t know! But I have some theories:

1. To some sellers, it is better to sell every item rather than throw them away. They are seriously interested in recycling to the best of their ability.

2. Some people live rent free in trailers behind their parents’ house. They ship with all recycled materials. Their merchandise came from dumpsters, house cleaning, or other free sources. To them, a dollar is a windfall.

3. Sometimes children may be responsible for the low prices. Under a parent’s supervision, a child may run an eBay account, and be willing to sell an old X-Box game for pennies, just for the instructional thrill of participating in eBay.

4. Sometimes, it is a mistake. The seller didn’t realize that an auction would actually close at the opening bid. The seller may have been dreaming that someone would bid $50 for his fossilized trilobite, but no, the only interested buyer got it for a buck.

With certain merchandise, people are less likely to buy something online that they can’t touch, hear, smell or feel. This kind of item is harder to get realistic bids on.

This is especially true of musical instruments, because most people would like to hear their sound quality. One trick if you happen to sell instruments is to link in a sound recording made from the instrument you’re selling. Taking that notion a step further, if you’re selling something like a camera, you might show a picture that was taken with that camera. selling a computer? Show something enticing on the screen of the computer.

Buying on eBay

The experienced eBay buyer often gets fantastic deals. Once the things arrive, you can sell them on Craigslist, through your own retail store, on consignment, or in some cases, you can put them back on eBay at a profit.

There are two good ways to buy on eBay.

The first way, the one you’d expect, is to win auctions. When something comes up that you’d like, or more specifically, something that you think you can make a profit on, perhaps a Korg keyboard, you can study the listing a bit.

First, you can see whether others like it have sold in the past 30 days on eBay, and how much money people paid. As I mentioned earlier, you can just enter the item in the search field at the top of almost any eBay page, then select “Sold Listings” from the options at the left. When looking at sold listings, make sure to factor in the shipping charge. For example, a steamer trunk that sold for $100, really cost the buyer $270, when you add in the $170 shipping charge.

That tells you the eBay price, but eBay prices are often depressed compared to what a person who can actually touch, hear, or smell an item, such as a local craigslist buyer, is willing to pay.

You might check Amazon.com and elsewhere to see if there are current price guides for the kind of items you focus on. I have an acoustic guitar price guide that I have referred to from time to time. Old price guides will mislead you, so make sure to get current ones.

Look at the item’s pictures and read the description carefully. Are there any photos that ought to be there but aren’t? For instance, if you can’t see the corner of a painting, it might be because the seller is hiding a defect in the corner. Descriptions can be deceptively worded, not clearly letting you know that parts are missing, or the item is misbehaving in some way. One thing that is seldom discussed, but can be important, especially for items with cloth or leather components, is the odor of mildew or cigarette smoke. You can contact the seller with questions that the description left unanswered.

In the rare case that the photos and description are clear, yet the item that arrives is unsatisfactory, the seller is responsible. If the seller won’t make good on the deal, eBay has buyer protection – a kind of insurance – to back you up. In the worst case scenario, assuming you played by eBay’s rules, within the permitted time frame, eBay will refund your entire purchase price. Still, you may have to package and ship the item back to the seller at your expense. Let’s quickly examine two examples:

You purchased a Dell Studio 17 laptop, but instead got the smaller and less valuable Dell Studio 15. Nowhere in the listing did it say you’d be getting the 15-inch model. In fact, the listing’s title specifically said “Dell Studio 17.” If the seller won’t cover you, eBay will.

You purchased a beautiful sweater, but it has a serious cigarette smoke oder. The listing doesn’t mention anything about the smell of the sweater, and you didn’t ask. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that due to the ambiguity of the situation, eBay may not cover you.

Feedback can be a good indicator for a buyer. If a seller has almost 100% positive feedback, and a lot of it, you can pretty well trust that all will be fine. If there is some neutral or negative feedback, you can drill into it and see what happened. Some negative feedback is just crazy. There is a small percentage of people who are not quite sane, and sometimes this results in inappropriate negative feedback.

In a recent case, I bought a laptop computer that was slow to arrive. I knew that I might expect that, since the seller had three negatives in the past month, all were about having taken more than a month to ship the items. I bought it because I wasn’t in a hurry, and I knew eBay Buyer Protection would cover me if it didn’t arrive at all. It did arrive in a reasonable amount of time.

In another case, a seller had two negatives in the past month. In both cases, he took parts out of the laptops before shipping them. In my opinion, that’s just plain weird, but on eBay, you’re dealing with everyone and anyone, so this kind of thing can happen. Needless to say, I didn’t buy that person’s computer.

There are two best ways to buy things on eBay.

The first is exactly what you would expect: You can bid on items being auctioned, and if your bid is higher than anyone else’s, you’ll win. Auctions can run 1, 3, 5, 7 or 10 days. You can bid any time you want, and you can bid as much as you’re willing to pay. Even though your maximum bid may be quite a bit higher than the current price, your actual bid is only one increment up from the current high price, generally a dollar in the USA. So, if an item has been bid up to $78, and you enter a maximum bid of $150, your actual bid will be only $79. But, if someone then offers $80, your bid goes up to $81. Because almost everyone offers maximum bids in excess of the current price, the price can suddenly jump as the automated maximum bids duke it out. If the current high bid is $79, and the other person’s maximum is $140, then as soon as you offer $150, your actual bid goes to $141.

Everyone believes it is best to bid at the last possible moment. This way, people won’t see that others are interested, and the casual buyers are less likely to bid. You can watch items’ bids grow during the last minute. It is kind of fun to see, unless you are one of the bidders. You’ll see a porcelain vase go from $20, to $22, to $35, to $91, to $148, all in the last few seconds. Some bidders are actually sitting at their keyboards physically clicking their mice at the last possible moment. Others are using “sniping” software that will bid for them, based on rules they have set minutes or even days before.

Occasionally, items that were set to end in the wee hours of the morning will get fewer bids. Items that are only appealing to a few buyers, none of whom have been watching eBay lately, may close at the minimum bid, or no bids at all. Items that are imperfect in some way that you are willing to accept can be good deals. This is especially true if you can repair things like computers, cameras, clothing, or musical instruments, and know exactly what’s wrong with an item being offered. One of the best ways to get things is to find items that are not properly described, or even misspelled. What if you search for “cammera?” You may find a very good camera that no one has bid on, because when other potential buyers entered “camera” it didn’t show up in their searches. This is especially true if the “cammera” is also listed in the wrong category. I once saw a guitar listed under fountain pens. However, the eBay search engine is very intelligent. When you enter “cammera” it may show you a list of all cameras. Conversely, if a seller has called his thing a gituar it may show up in guitar search results. I believe most searches start with a keyword, not a category search, so again, there’s a bit less power in looking for things that are misspelled.

The other way to buy, and one that’s more consistent, less stressful, but also less exciting, and perhaps less profitable, is to find “Buy It Now” listings that are too low. A seller unloading his old student-day stuff might not realize that a saxophone in any reasonable condition is worth hundreds of dollars, and list it for $75. This happens more often than you’d guess.

The problem is that there are other dealers also looking for undervalued saxophones. So, the listing may last only fifteen minutes before someone snaps it up. The professional fixed price buyer has bookmarked eBay search results sorted into just the right criteria, and checks the pages several times a day. For instance, the saxophone buyer may be looking in “Musical Instruments | Woodwinds | Saxophones,” with settings for “Fixed Price Only” sorted by “Most Recently Listed First,” and a price range under $200. The same buyer may have another bookmark on “Musical Instruments | Woodwinds | Flutes” and a maximum of $150. She may also have entered “-wood -wooden” in the search field, to exclude all the wooden flutes.

Did I say snapping up Fixed Price offerings is less stressful? Maybe not. When you see something that just came up, you’ve got to quickly read the description, check the pictures, check the shipping charge, check the seller’s feedback, then maybe check a price guide, and see if you already have too many of the item in your inventory, all before someone else buys it. But this can be fun, right?



Partnerships

When considering a partnership, you want to look for someone who has what you don’t have. Starting out with a partner who has the same strengths and weaknesses as you, means something won’t be covered. That’s a recipe for disaster. Generally, the three ingredients that a partnership (or an individual) needs are time, experience, and sometimes money. There’s a fourth ingredient – one that all partners need, and that’s enthusiasm. You absolutely don’t want to start something with someone who is not enthusiastic about the idea.

Before forming a partnership, carefully assess your partner’s personality. Will you be able to get along with this person? How about in cloudy weather? Is the person lazy? Does the person have shoddy ethics? Is the person obstinate? I once saw a bicycle shop almost destroy itself because one partner of the three who owned it suddenly decided that they needed new wall-to-wall carpeting just a few months after starting the store. That would have cost $10,000. I think any objective person would agree that carpeting was not a top priority in that store. It had a painted concrete floor that was just fine. But, he couldn’t be talked out of it, and the partners nearly came to blows. Finally, the two other partners bought this fellow out, at an inflated price that took them years to recover.

In another case, a partner got evicted from his apartment, and decided to live in the inventory storage area, against his partner’s wishes, leaving little room for the business, and violating the local zoning ordinance. This fellow would do things like wake up, and walk out among customers in the showroom at 11am, unshaven and shirtless. Nice partner, eh?

In putting together a performing group, whether it’s a duo, trio or a large band, all the members must have enough interest in the project that you can be absolutely sure they’ll show up at gigs on time. They must also be the sort of people who won’t embarrass the group by showing up drugged or drunk, or say inappropriate things on stage, or when mixing with the audience. You also need entertainers who are in alignment with your group’s philosophies and performance style. Finally, a band member must have ego and emotions sufficiently in check to avoid damaging the band’s potential as a group. All this is necessary, in addition to being an adequately skilled entertainer.

So, if you’re going to consider a partnership, think about all the things that might go wrong with your perspective partners. Do not mention the idea of a partnership to any of your prospects until you are absolutely certain. It is harder to burst their bubble after you’ve created it, than before they know a partnership is possible.

Family members can be the best, or the worst! I think you know what I’m talking about. A grandfather-grandson (or grandmother-granddaughter) partnership can be wonderful with the right people. I’m sure you can think of several successful family performing groups such as the Trapp Family, Jackson Five, and the Haygoods.




The Haygoods

Click for YouTube Video

In a retail setting, families can get away with some things that normal employee-employer relationships cannot. For instance, an uncle may own a store, and may have a 14-year-old neice operate the cash register for an hour a day after school. As a partner, she can be paid less than an adult would need and expect. At the same time, she is learning business skills and social interaction.

In another example, you may have a brother on disability with multiple sclerosis. During good times, your brother can help in the shipping department, and really enjoys being useful. Your brother can be a limited partner. During bad times, the brother is not required to come to work. During the good times, you can spend your time on inventory management, but during the bad times, you work in the shipping department.

Of course, arrangements like these are legally fuzzy, so you’ll want to check your local laws first. If you’re working with someone who is receiving government assistance of any kind, you want to carefully check the legalities and limits. For instance, you may discover that a person in a certain situation can earn up to $1,500 per month, but the amount earned must be deducted from disability payments. Or, perhaps someone can earn up to $300 per month without needing to report it. Or, in a more lucrative partnership, your family member, friend – whoever your partner is, may be in a perfect position to blow off government assistance entirely, earning a living from your partnership.

Here’s a look at another common but unfortunate scenario: Let’s say you have a brother who has been in jail twice for drunk driving. He’s unemployed again because he came to work too hung-over. You might think that if you offer this brother of yours a partnership, it will help him. Wrong! You must, absolutely must, consider partners for their strengths, not their weaknesses, if you intend to succeed. And if you don’t succeed, it will not help your brother in the slightest. It will probably make his lack of self-esteem worse.

How many partners should you consider? The minimum number you can get away with. If all you need is someone with repair skill, a good drummer, or someone who can keep the shop open during weekends, then one partner is sufficient. Additional partners means that the profit is split smaller. It also means it is harder to make decisions. Larry Page and Sergei Brin have been very successful with Google. When it came time to make decisions, they had a brief discussion, came to a consensus, and moved forward.

On the other hand, I knew of an organic restaurant that had 17 partners. One of their specialties was waffles. They had one waffle iron, and so customers had to wait up to 45 minutes for their orders in the morning. The 17 of them had a meeting to decide whether they should buy a second $30 waffle iron. The meeting, argument really, ran until after midnight, and they couldn’t come to a decision. In fact, it was weeks before they could all figure out that $30 was a reasonable price to pay for another waffle iron to satisfy their breakfast customers.

Once you’ve sorted out who your partners are going to be, you need to state some things up front. Is one going to be a silent partner? If so, how silent? How will various kinds of decisions be made? For instance, the person who’s just about to book a gig probably shouldn’t have to place a phone call to another partner before the gig can be scheduled. What happens as the business grows? Do you add more partners? Do you hire employees? How do the partners decide on new employees?

All the terms of partnership need to be discussed. More than discussed. You want the major points in writing, and a contract signed by all partners.

The very most important clause in that contract will be an escape hatch for each partner. What happens if the business loses money? What happens if a partner becomes sick or dies? What happens if two partners can’t stand the sight of each other after a while? Escape clauses need to be fluid. For instance, if a partner wants to leave early on, his value in the business is worth far less than after five years. These escape clauses must be manageable, so that it is truly possible to make changes in the partnership as needed. For instance, a very bad escape clause would be that if a partner leaves, the others have to immediately pay her $500,000. If a good escape clause and other such situations are all spelled out in writing ahead of time, all will be well in these eventualities – or at least as well as it can be.

Another consideration in partnerships is your own personality. Take me, for example. I can’t stand having to share my decisions with anyone. I have always had to have full control. I’d make a horrible partner unless I was allowed to run the show one hundred percent.

So, on the opposite end of the partnership spectrum we have sole proprietorship. The individual doesn’t have to defer to anyone before making major decisions. One hundred percent of the profit goes to the individual. That’s huge, even with just two partners. Let’s say that the profit of a business is $60,000 per year. That means that an individual takes home $60,000. But two partners owning the same business would only get $30,000 each.

There’s also an ego component. I love being able to say, “I own this.” For me, it would be miserable to say, “I own a portion of this.”

Getting back to the original question, what if you don’t have the time, experience or money to start a business on your own? And once again, there is a very simple answer. Start something evolutionary. Do you really need a drummer, or just a drum machine? Do you really need someone to keep the shop open in the evenings, or can you just close at 5pm? Start something that you can manage, and let it build as you gain experience, money, whatever you’ve been needing.



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.



Advertising and Publicity

It is easy to buy advertising. There are many salespeple who would love to have you advertise in their newspaper, in their phonebook, their website, or on their radio or TV station. If it doesn’t bring the results you expected, they’ll just tell you that you didn’t buy enough advertising yet. They’ll tell you people need to hear the same message over and over. But you do need to buy some advertising, right?

Did I say, “buy” advertising? I meant “get free publicity.” Just about any form of advertising that a small business can afford will be entirely ineffective. Yellow pages ads are the worst. You end up paying a lot of money per month to the phone company, or a phonebook publisher, and get little effect. People don’t use phone books any more. They use the Internet. So you’ll want a website. It can be a simple one-page affair. All people want is your contact information. You can do some search engine optimization (SEO) tricks, discussed in the next chapter, to get people to your webpage. If you’re in a city with a dozen other similar businesses, they’ll all have their own websites, and without search engine optimization, you might be 13th on the list when people google your town name and specialty.

You can do more to boost a website in search results, but you may not have to. Remember that most people using the Internet to find a local business will already know your business name, and what your business does. They’re just looking for your address or phone number. You can bring in new customers through a website in a few ways, but it is perhaps more work than non-website ways to bring in customers. For instance, your website can have a virtual museum specializing in bicycles, musical instruments, vacuum cleaners, whatever you sell. If you have pages of pictures and descriptions of unusual or antique items, it becomes a valuable Internet resource. You can also become an ‘authority’ site. You might post the schedule of local events, a blog for people in your specialty, or the local competition schedule and results from last week’s competitions, and things of that nature.

So, when it comes to paid advertising, almost nothing works for a small business. Good free publicity, on the other hand, can change things overnight.

You may be thinking I’m talking about sending press releases to the local newspapers, radio and TV stations announcing that you have a new business or have added something to your business. That can have a small effect. Much greater is to do something newsworthy, meaning, something positively eccentric.

I mentioned this to a bike shop owner, and he said, “Oh, like give away free water bottles printed with the store logo?” He didn’t get it. Better is to sponsor something unique. Sponsoring a compelling but unusual free entertainment event, or offering a half-hour of free studio or workshop access is a start. Getting clients to wear your custom printed T-Shirts is a step in the right direction. Then, they will hopefully tell friends to do business with you. That will have a small effect, but it is not newsworthy, and it really isn’t free, because you have to pay for the T-shirts. I’m talking about something newsworthy. Let me give you an example.

Customers of an old bookstore in San Francisco used to complain from time to time because is was sort of dark in there, especially in the deeper shelves. That gave the owner an idea. He held a special sale. All books were 1/2-off. But, the sale ran from midnight to 1am one night. And, he turned all the lights out. At the door, all the customers were handed flashlights. That not only made the news, but it is still talked about today, 20 years later. After reading the story, thousands of new customers visited the store, mostly because they were curious to see if was as dark as people said.

At another bookstore, some college students created an art project. Their idea was to rearrange all the books, not by subject and title, but by color. Shopping there during that time may have been tedious, but all sorts of people came by to see it, and no doubt many of them came away with books they would never have noticed normally. (After two weeks, the same college students put all the books back in subject and alphabetical order.)

So, what kind of positive eccentricity can you think of for your business?

As I mentioned, having at least a basic website is important for most businesses. Fortunately, a one-page site is sufficient for most, and easy to create. You can do positive eccentricity on a website as well. We’ll talk a lot more about websites in the next chapter.

A guy who’s business was repairing Apple computers uploaded a little video to YouTube, and linked to his website, that showed him dropping a PC and a Mac computer off a six-story building. Both crashed to the sidewalk. The Windows computer was smashed to bits, but with the aid of trick photography, the Mac had only a couple of scratches. That was a fun video.

Then there’s the old fashioned way, business cards and flyers. Putting business cards in everyone’s hands who comes your way can build a business slowly, but surely. Of course, giving them something more interesting such as a keyring tape measure, or an interesting hologram will be more effective. A computer tutor can give out business cards that have a chart of the common [Ctrl] (or [Command] on Mac) keyboard shortcuts.
You know:

[Ctrl] + [A] = Select All

[Ctrl] + [C] = Copy

[Ctrl] + [F] = Find

[Ctrl] + [V] = Paste

[Ctrl] + [X] = Cut

[Ctrl] + [Z] = Undo

So what kind of information could you put on the back of your business cards?

For local businesses such as offering lessons, or repair, putting something on all the local bulletin boards can surprise you. You’ll get more business with no cost. Bulletin boards at laundromats work well, because patrons have to spend idle time waiting for the wash. You might think that laundromats attract low-end clientele – those who can’t afford their own appliances. This is true, but they also attract a higher-end clientele. These would be customers who have to wash blankets bigger than their home washer can handle, or people who are waiting for their home machine to be repaired, or – I hate to say it – people who will wash rags in a public machine because they don’t want to mess up their own machine.

Bulletin boards at natural food stores work especially well. I’m not quite sure why. Bulletin boards at diners, quick-change oil places, and elsewhere can work well, too. The best kind of flyer is one that makes only a few quick points, because too much text is hard to read. The best flyers have little pull-off tabs at the bottom with your name and/or what you do, and your contact info, generally your phone number. You might want to have full-page and half-page flyers, since many bulletin boards are too full to accommodate full pages. When space is very limited, you can put several business cards fanned out under a thumb tack, indicating to people it is OK to take a card. For this use, the cards ought to have large text that’s easy to read at a distance. There’s a color called “Solar Yellow,” that’s very bright and sometimes used for cards and flyers. It is a bit loud for sure, but in a jumble of white flyers, it gets noticed.

Sometimes people will tear off a tab on each of the flyers they put up. This is to make the general public think there’s interest in what the flyer advertises.



Websites That Work

Just about any business will benefit from a website. In fact, some businesses can be entirely websites.

You don’t have to be an HTML master programmer to make effective websites. In fact, you don’t have to know anything at all about HTML, Javascript, or any of that.

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, Blogger.com and Tumblr.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 (kindly), “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. I think it was 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 the expenditures.

There is one form of advertising that can work for many businesses, especially local businesses. That’s 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 show 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, 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.

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, 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.

Valuable Content

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!



Social Networking

There’s a super-effective trick with the social networking sites that can bring you hundreds or thousands of new customers, 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 LinkedIn. Some may argue that Instagram 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.

Twitter

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).

Facebook

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!

LinkedIn

Finally, we have LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). Anyone can sign up. LinkedIn is known as a venue for entrepreneurs and corporate people in decision-making positions such as department heads and managers. For many businesses, this is a well-targeted market. Most of the way to work with LinkedIn is just like FaceBook.

Google Groups

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

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:

Steve Moore
Crazy Drummer

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.

Memes

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, Pinterest, 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.




More About A Free Exchange

Perhaps your church or group has sponsored an occasional clothing exchange. I’m not talking about a rummage sale where you donate your unwanted clothes and they sell them to support the organization. I’m talking about an event where everyone brings their unwanted clothes, perhaps on a Saturday morning, and everyone can carry away other members’ unwanted clothes. So, you can get rid of that funky sweater someone ‘gifted’ you with and pick up a great pair of pants, or whatever.

What if this happened on a grander scale and was about whatever you’re interested in, not necessarily clothing? Imagine a regular location where this free exchange went on every weekend, or even every day? Do you see where the profit is in this? Since you could be the one who organizes and maintains it, it is only fair that you get first pick on everything that comes in. If you let everyone know right up front that that’s exactly what you’re doing, they’ll all be OK with it. I can assure you of that, because I set up a business that grew nearly overnight into a large, ongoing free general exchange in Marin County, California, and that’s what actually happened.

More specifically, I rented a 2,500 square-foot store, primed it with stuff I bought for next to nothing at garage sales, and opened to the public. In my exchange, I allowed exchange of anything of reasonable size (no refridgerators or mattresses, please!) There were many books, garden tools, car parts, sports equipment, you name it. But I could have specialized in appliances, bicycles or car parts and accessories, clothing, computer gear, or pretty much any type of thing. A couple of years later, I set up a quite successful specialty exchange, dealing just with books, CDs and DVDs.

Never once did anyone complain that I had first pick. Quite the contrary, I received complements all day long for the nature of the business.

Another thing that might surprise you is that I received much more stuff than I gave away. There was so much stuff coming into my exchanges, that much had to be discarded.

When people decide to clean out the attic, basement or garage, they tend to bring multiple boxes full of stuff. There were hundreds of wealthy people who brought things to the exchange just so other less wealthy people could get them. All these donors knew full-well that I was supporting the business by picking the cream off the top.

I’m sure you can imagine what I did with the one percent or so that I picked. Right, I sold them on Amazon and eBay.

I only ran my exchanges as experiments for four months each.

During my first four months, in the general exchange, a volunteer ran some math and worked out that I gave away $44,000 per month worth of stuff. This was just wonderful for all the people who came from the poorer areas east of Marin and were able to get good things for their children and themselves. Even though the store was in a rather fancy suburban neighborhood, and many of the ‘shoppers’ came in junky cars and looked kind of scary to the locals, I was often told how much it was a great community service by the well-off locals.

I have been more of an experimenter than a do-the-same-profitable-thing-year-after-year person – probably to my detriment, but my exchanges could have been huge successes. Instead of moving on to the next experiment, I suppose they could have branched out, and I’d be very successful in the exchange business. But, being an experimenter and a writer, I’ll leave starting the next exchange up to you.

Imagine the potential. If you specialize in musical instruments, you’ll get instruments into the hands of children and adults who couldn’t otherwise afford them. If someone has had their instrument stolen or broken, you can provide them with another. You can provide sheet music. It wouldn’t be surprising if your free sheet music collection could become larger than what any store in town carries. You could have walls filled with free CDs. Interestingly, your place can become a destination for musicians. Many will volunteer to help your efforts. Everyone will just love hanging out, offering advice, repairing instruments, talking shop, jamming – well, you get the idea. What a place it can become!

If you specialize in clothing, you’d be offering a great service indeed, as people who can barely afford to clothe themselves and their children will get what they need. Their hard-earned money will go to better quality food, paying back bills, and so on instead of clothing, and they can dress proudly, not shabbily.

Of course much of the stuff that comes in will be in sad shape. You’ll get brass instruments that are quite dented. You’ll get torn clothing. You’ll get books that are 30 years old. You’ll get unidentifiable car parts. You’ll get wobbly furniture. But not all of it will be junk!

When it’s free, you’d be surprised how delighted someone can be with “70’s Pop Tunes.” When it’s free, people will figure out a way to fix that chair with the missing leg, or the vase with the crack in the side. Or if they can’t fix it, they’ll have fun trying. You may not be too happy about selling the good things that come in, even though that could be quite profitable. But if a stamp album comes in that you can sell on eBay for $4,000, that money will go along way to support the exchange, wouldn’t it? That way, you can get a lot more servicable goods into a lot more hands.

Perhaps the bulk of the money will be from selling pieces of broken things. As far as I went with pieces is that I experimented with two student-model flutes. I took them apart and listed the pieces on eBay. They each brought just over $100, after all expenses, selling most of the bits and pieces for $10 each. I once took in a guitar that was cracked on all sides, and missing a couple of tuners. It was not a production model. It appeared handmade, having no brand name and no model, but it had excellent inlay around the sound hole. I put it as-is on eBay, expecting maybe I’d get lucky, with a winning bid of around $20. It sold for $203.

The reason I created two exchanges was that I wasn’t quite happy with the first one.

My first version started out quite large, and I had a rag-tag assortment of about 20 volunteers. Not being a great manager, I quickly lost a degree of control over these people. Some came in drunk, some complained about everything in sight, some treated the clientele crudely. So, if you’re going to do this, you’ll either want quality employees rather than volunteers, or you’ll want to screen your volunteers better, or you’ll want to have a more alpha personality. Or, perhaps the best solution, is keep it small and manageable, perhaps in a 700 – 1,000 square foot space in a smaller community, or hidden away in a neighborhood.

That’s what I did with my second exchange. I wanted something smaller and more manageable. It was 1,000 square feet, about a third the size of a typical 7-11 store, in a town of just under 20,000 residents. Initially I did everything myself, no volunteers. I decided to specialize in books, CDs and DVD movies, because I figured I’d have a quieter, more focused clientele. I was exactly right. The second exchange was just as profitable, yet much less hectic, and therefore more fun for me.

Speaking of profit, I spent about $10,000 setting up the second exchange. I could have done it with less, but in my case, I didn’t need to. By the end of the second month, I was making $5,000 per month profit. At the end of the four-month experiment, I sold it quickly for $32,000. (If I had wanted to, I could have held on for a year, and sold it for much more!)

A bit of a problem with the first, general exchange was waste. Since I was taking everything, not just books and disks, I had to rent larger and larger dumpsters to accommodate the things that weren’t worth even giving away. At the end of the fourth month, I was paying $250 per month for dumpster rental.

To avoid discouraging people from bringing things, I decided never to decline any reasonable donations. I stand by this, and believe it’s better to spend a bit on garbage pickup than losing donations from people who start to figure you may not accept what they bring. Interestingly, things they assume you don’t want may be wonderful donations. I received a sousaphone that’s bell was crushed all out of shape. It was awful in appearance, but still played, so I gave it away.

If an item needs repair, you may be surprised how many volunteers are available to fix it. They may prefer to fix it in the exchange – if you have the space for a repair area. This is so they can become part of the social scene. Or, they may want to take things home to repair them. But what if the volunteers are unreliable? What if someone brings a sweater home to reknit a blown seam, and never brings it back? If you were going to give it away anyway, no loss!

In the case of an item beyond repair, you can sell what parts are good. There’s good money in a sousaphone mouthpiece or valve if someone needs that exact part on eBay. I have studied the bicycle parts sections of eBay from time to time, and am amazed how many ordinary everyday parts are being sold there. I once took apart a Roomba vacuum cleaner, and sold all the parts for well over $100.

I had a sign on the front window of my general exchange that told people not to leave donations after hours. But they did. Most mornings I’d find a enough bags of worn-out clothing, broken lawnmowers, sofas without cushions, and so on to fill a pick-up truck. These were the things that people just wanted to dispose of, didn’t want to pay landfill fees, and would be too embarrassed to try donating to the store during the day. Of course this wouldn’t be so much of a problem with a specialized exchange. In fact, the nighttime donations might surprise you. Someone once left two banker’s boxes full of old records. I called my friend Ken, who paid $100 per box for the collection. He took about six albums per box, and donated the rest back to the exchange.

In my media exchange, I learned to solicit nighttime donations. I had a drop box with a slot outside. Hundreds of books per months came in through that slot. I used a slot rather than an open container, because I didn’t want other people coming by and rummaging through the books before I had a chance to pick through them. I also put a free shelf outside, so visitors could get books, and occasionally music CDs, any time of the day or night.

Taking the concept one step further, you might be able to design an exchange that doesn’t need your presence at all. One way is to staff it with volunteers. Another is to have drop boxes around town, much like some clothing companies do, in which you ask people to drop of things they’re not using. On the drop boxes, you’d have signs indicating what you’re doing – donating most of the stuff to children overseas – or locally, for that matter.

I believe you should also state that you’re making a profit in the process. If you’re up front, not only will no one complain, but many will just love what you’re doing. If you try to hide it, people will undoubtedly get the wrong idea. Unfortunately, some of those companies that put out clothing donation boxes a few years ago developed a bad reputation for not actually fulfilling the promise of making good use of the donated clothing.

A little aside here: As I understand it, a fellow in Boston advertised on Craigslist that he would pick up unwanted books. He didn’t mention what he was going to do with them. He didn’t promise anything. Yet, many people gave him thousands of books, which he sold on Amazon.com.

Taking it even a step further, I can imagine that you might have a charitable arm. But that’s up to you. It is quite possible that a year or two after you start an exchange it becomes so profitable that you would have money left over with which to do good work.

To round out the picture, it would also be possible to have specialty exchanges that are simply shelves in public locations. The idea is people can drop off CDs, DVDs, books, toys, or whatever they don’t care about any more, and pick up ones they like – all for free, of course. Your job, besides keeping the shelves organized and clean, is to go through the stuff that comes in, gleaning what will sell online. Quick oil change places, laundromats, and restaurants would all love to have such a shelf.

You can tighten up the efficiency of free exchange shelves a bit by having a box with a slot on the shelves. Signs tell people to drop donated music into the slot, and take whatever they want. The point is you don’t want people carrying away the obscure and possibly valuable items. You want to be able to sort everything that has been donated before it gets away.

Don’t forget to have contact info so if someone has boxes and boxes of stuff, they know how to contact you for a free pickup.

If have not tried this exact business model myself. I did, however, put book shelves in eight laundromats. These weren’t exchanges. I purchased the books by the boxful at garage sales, paying on average five or ten cents per book. I then put them in the laundromats with signs saying, “Put $3 in the slot per book.” I split the money 50/50 with the laundromat owners or managers. Sure, some books were stolen from my shelves, but I never noticed, and it didn’t significantly impact the bottom line. These shelves were quite profitable for the small amount of time involved.

Music CDs ought to work especially well. Millions of people are looking for music they haven’t heard to put on their iPods or smartphones, and then discarding the CDs once they’ve finished uploading. It’s recycling at its best, isn’t it?

Getting back to the idea of a full-size exchange, when you pick a location, it is important to have good parking. This can be even more important than for an ordinary retail store, because many people are going to be bringing large loads of stuff. If they have to carry it a hundred yards (100 meters), they’ll be less inclined to bring stuff next time. Fortunately, the parking was very close to my first exchange. Even still, I provided hand carts for people to get things from their cars into the exchange. You don’t want anything to come between people and their desire to bring things to your exchange.

And yet, parking was a problem. My store became rather popular within a very short time. (Advertising and publicity is absolutely not necessary in a business that exists to give things away.) The problem was the parking lot became congested. And that, ultimately, was the downfall of my experiment. When traffic started clogging the little strip mall I was occupying, the neighboring businesses started to complain. The property manager suggested I leave. Oh, I could have worked things out, but since I was ready to move on, I just pulled the plug.

So, you can learn from my experiments. One thing I’d recommend if you want to start your own exchange is to start very, very small. You don’t need to rent a store. Depending on where and how you live, you might want to start it out of your garage. Or you can rent a space in a flea market. Or set up something cooperatively with someone who has commercial space available. For instance, you might find a quick-change oil change place who would gladly donate some lobby space in trade for hundreds more people getting their oil changed there.

I’m not the first one who set up a store to give things away. The precedent was set in 1968 at the Digger Store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. The Diggers were a loosely assembled group of entertainers (one of whom was Peter Coyote) who started making free soup, beans, and bread for the hippies that came to the Haight during the Summer of Love. In time, they rented a storefront where they accepted donations of clothing and general merchandise, and gave everything away. I did a bit of research and never found out how they paid the rent. My guess is that they came up with the first month’s rent, then just coasted until they were evicted. That store, too was a short-lived experiment. Digger Archives



Your Own Retail Store

The prestige and freedom that comes from having your own retail store can put a long-lasting smile on your face. It’s your place, so you can have wonderful conversations with your customers. You can decide to host jams, groups, or parties after hours. The local celebrities may drop in from time to time. You’ll probably eventually end up making more than any hourly wage, and you can hand the whole works over to your children forty years later.

Being primarily a writer, I lost interest in the stores I started, so I did what you can do with your stores too – if you are impatient as I am: You can build your store up, then sell the business for what will seem like a remarkable amount of money. The longer you keep your store, the more it is worth. The downside is that you’ll be making so much after a few years, you may not want to sell it.

I have found that the idea of starting a store from scratch scares many people. That’s why so many will pay so much for an established store. However, as one who has done it several times, I can tell you starting a store from scratch is really quite easy.

It is also easy to lose money, so I’ll offer a few pointers in this chapter to help you start successfully and stay successful.

Consider this, the first rule of business: You’ve got to make more than you spend.

A good second rule might be: Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.

Given those two rules, you may have to start something on a shoestring, and let it pay for its own growth. That’s very possible, and what this chapter is about.

But you may not yet have even a shoestring. If you don’t yet have the money for a retail store, you can put this book away and give up. Wait a minute! Of course, I don’t recommend that. There is another way.

you might like to start small – very small. You can usually find a way to start with a very few of whatever you’d like to sell, or something similar, put them in the trunk of your car, sell them to friends and aquaintences, list them on Craigslist if it serves your area, and possibly sell at flea markets or in consignment stores. As your mini-business grows, and as you are gaining experience with your product line, you can start building a pile of inventory and a pile of money, until you have enough to easily and safely start a retail store. I know a fellow who did it with camping gear. He started with second-hand things he bought at flea markets and garage sales. It’s been several years since he started. He now owns two full-fledged and full-service retail camping goods stores. His stores don’t compete with K-Mart. He mostly sells high-end used and new camping gear to expert hikers, climbers, hunters and others. It turns out there are plenty of those expert enthusiasts to keep his two stores plenty busy.

The biggest expense for most people starting a retail business is space. A typical store is around 1,000 square feet. Rent in a ‘good’ neighborhood is $1 to $2 per square foot (10 – 15 Euros per square meter), or more. So, right away, you’re looking at $12,000 to $24,000 per year.

Then you might want to consider heat or air conditioning, electrical usage for lighting and so on, liability insurance, telephone, credit card processing, and city or county licensing. All these typically add up to another $10,000 per year.

Then there’s advertising costs. And there could be the rather huge expense of employees.

These are the expenses for someone starting a typical retail store.

If you want to start a business in the usual way, you must be able to afford to lose a lot of money, at least until your business is up and running. And many businesses take from two to five years to become profitable.

Worse, many, make that ‘most,’ businesses never do become profitable. The statistics are staggering, and interesting. Did you know that one out of every four women fail in business? Ah, but what about the men? How well do they do? Four out of every five men fail in business!

Of course there are stories of people who failed two or even three times before becoming successful. Can you afford that? Would you want to go through that kind of stress?

But there is the other way – starting small – in which you can avoid most all the stress, most of the expense, and the risk of failure. Starting small has been covered in other chapters.

You can shortcut this process. You can do it your way. But I don’t recommend it. What I’m going to tell you is a rather safe and sure way to get into the retail business once you have some experience and money built up. Starting from absolute scratch has as much chance of growing into something big, maybe even huge, as those who start with $500,000 cash.

You want to choose a business that will work in our modern world. Urban blight, WalMart, a troubled economy, and inexpensive machine-made products are part of our world these days.

So, let’s rule out some things: If you have a hand-made product that’s the same as, or no better than what anyone con buy in a variety store such as K-Mart, then you probably aren’t going to be able to sell it. If it costs you $10 to make each of your ‘things,’ then the big companies can have the same ‘thing’ made in an Asian factory for perhaps $2.

If you want something that can be purchased wholesale, and you can buy them in lots of 100, you’ll pay more per item, and more for shipping, than the big chain store companies who can buy in lots of 100,000. They make all sorts of back-room deals with the manufacturers with which you can’t compete. UnlessĂ– (more about that in a minute.)

You’ll find service is easier to sell. Yes, the big chain stores offer computer repair, eyeglasses, they have a big photography department, some offer tayloring, you can have window screens replaced, paint mixed, keys made. However, everyone knows this is boiler-plate service. The service is generally done by minimum-wage employees with relatively little training.

If you offer service by an expert, in a field that needs quality attention, you’ve got something you can sell. Then, if you can offer that, you can pump up your sales with hard goods – the very things I said you can’t buy at competitive prices. As you’re writing up service tickets, you can suggest this replacement part or that accessory. The customers who come into your store start to become familiar with what’s on your shelves, and will start coming for the specialty items they can’t find at the department stores. And, even though you have to pay more for items purchased from wholesalers in lots of one or a dozen (instead of 100,000), you’ll be able to sell them for more.

A small bicycle shop fits the mom-and-pop retail paradigm nicely. Wal-Mart does not offer high-end bicycles. They do not have special cycloscross tires, or Zefal pumps or Kool-Stop brake pads. They do not have employees that know how to custom fit your bike to you, or even sell you the right size. They do not offer any after-sale service other than a complete refund. They don’t know how to get you the same model, but in lime green. What else? They don’t know about accessorizing the bike: fenders, lock, lighting, luggage and so on. They cannot tell you from their own experience how it is to bicycle tour in Bulgaria, how to train for a double-century, how to strategize a BMX race, or maybe even how to fix a flat tire.

The same is true for a fabric store, a pet shop, or a musical instrument store. The department store employee doesn’t quite know what pinking shears are used for, why someone might like 12-inch hacksaw blades instead of 10-inch, or what a red-eared slider eats.

I think you’re beginning to see why a specialty shop would be successful, even with a huge chain store right next door. Maybe even more so, since all the chain-store buyers will see your sign and drop into your shop when they want something that the chain store can’t offer.

What other kind of store might work? Musical instruments. Tool supply. Certain kinds of appliances, many kinds of specialty sports or hobbies, as long as there are enough participants in the sport or hobby in your community. Ethnic foods. Organic natural foods are particularly good if your community is one that is aware of good eating, and doesn’t already have too many such stores. Automotive accessories. Antiques. Used merchandise can be a great choice, especially second-hand clothing and furniture.

Do you see the common factor in these? They offer products that can’t be found in the department stores, or something that requires more knowledge or service than those stores can offer.

It is probably important to pick something that you know quite a bit about. Whereas a person can just decide to start a guitar store without even knowing how to play music, it is harder that way. On the other hand, the owner will probably enjoy learning to play guitar, how to determine the value of guitars, and so on – but it can be an expensive process as mistakes are made, and customers are left without the advice they need.

So what do you know and enjoy? Second-hand building materials? Home crafts? Spanish cuisine? Sound systems? Digital photography? Soccer? Laptop computers? Organic gardening? You don’t have to start out as the world’s leading authority in your field. But it helps to know enough to advise your customers properly, and know what kind of inventory they will want to buy. And if you’ve been through this process and that, you’ve read the books, you know you’d want to buy certain brands and models, then you have the knowledge you’ll need.

What people notice first about a piano store is the pianos. A successful piano store doesn’t sell the kind of keyboards you find in the department stores. They start at mid-level, and go up in price from there. That’s because they can’t compete with low-end keyboards. You can purchase an entry-level Yamaha keyboard from a typical wholesaler for $119. You can buy the same thing at Radio Shack for $79. But when it comes to keyboards for $400 and up, with a USB port and weighted keys, they simply aren’t available at Radio Shack. On the other hand, customers shopping in that price range are rather specific about what they want. So, you need to carry a variety, be well tuned into what people want, or expect sales of new keyboards few and far between. Then, assuming there are other high-end music stores in your area, you’ll have to keep your prices competitive, making only a rather small mark up.

So, eventually, you’ll want to carry new keyboards and pianos because they bring customers in who buy sheet music, amplifiers, microphones, and all that. They come to look at your keyboards, as if it were a museum, but they don’t leave without buying a patch cord, a speaker cabinet, a sheet music book, or some other accessory.

However, if you were to start your music store with new keyboards and pianos, you’d be in debt on your first day – or maybe you would have blown your inheritance foolishly.

So now let’s talk about this shoestring concept. That’s how I started. I took it to the extreme, by necessity. You see, I was 16 years old at the time, with just about no money at all – maybe $10. So doing what a 16-year-old sometimes would do: I started fixing bikes for kids in the neighborhood, trading used bike parts, and just having a good time puttering around. Every now and then, I’d make $20 or $30 on a repair or a trade. Then people started paying more regularly for repairs. The trading inventory became so attractive that people bought my second-hand things more and more often. It wasn’t long before I outgrew my one-car garage, and my parents’ patience. But by then I had a couple of thousand dollars. That’s when I made the leap to a retail store. I found a place of about 700 square feet for rent in the ‘bad’ part of town. It was a place I could afford. And I moved my eight used bikes, handful of used parts and tools into the store. I painted my own sign and kept the heat very low all winter. I was willing to do whatever it took. I remember one time regluing a bunch of wooden dining room furniture because I had a customer who was willing to pay for that. But I also taught some bicycle repair courses in the shop. By spring, I had made it through the winter without going in debt. In fact, I had more than when I started. Actually, it was right before Christmas that I was able to make my first-ever wholesale purchase. I bought $200 worth of lights, pants guards, reflectors, patch kits, tires, seats, and things I thought might sell as Christmas gifts, or be good general inventory. I had found a wholesaler who was willing to sell in quantities of one or two, not dozens of anything. Some of the stuff sold, and I bought more. By Spring, I was able to place my first order for honest-to-goodness NEW bikes. It was only 6 bikes, but oh, I was so proud!

Let’s fast forward four and a half years. My shop had turned into a ‘pro’ shop. In a city of 400,000 people there were 10 other bike shops. Too many, really. But I did well anyway, because I treated each and every customer as if they were important – because they were. I studied, practiced, and listened, and became a bike expert. I was able to offer advice. I’d steer someone away from a certain brand of patch kit because I knew the glue would always dry up after the first use. People like this kind of personalized service, and went out of their way to buy things at my shop. They told me all the time that they drove past this bike shop or that, to come to mine. I taught more bike repair lessons. I learned how to build custom frames, and taught frame-building lessons. I hired people to help. At the peak of the summer season, I had eight employees and had expanded into other units in the building. I was then operating out of a couple thousand square feet. To fill the extra space, I went crazy and bought 125 new bikes in one batch and sold them all within a month.

Actually, new bikes wasn’t the focus. The part of the profit pie that came from new bikes was actually rather small. The piece that came from the accessory sales, repairs and customizations those new bikes brought was larger.

The two biggest parts of the pie were the general repair trade and used bikes. It turns out that all my customers told their friends and family that my shop was good, honest, fast, and all the other right things when it comes to repair. So during the summer, I had enough work to keep four mechanics going full time.

Used bikes turned out to be much more profitable than I had figured. They were more profitable than new bikes. You see, I learned early on to ask anyone who was considering buying a new or used bike whether they’d like to trade anything in. I could buy bikes all the time for $25, put perhaps $25 worth of labor and parts in, and sell them for $125.

And that’s my advice for someone who wants to start on a shoestring. You may not have to start as small as I did, or maybe that’s just right. Can you work out of your back yard? Your basement? A tiny rented space? I have seen bike shops set up in 10 x 20 foot flea market stalls. What about partnership? If you don’t have everything you need, perhaps you can find a partner who has the missing knowledge, money, time, space, whatever you lack. Check out the Partnerships chapter.

As your business slowly outgrows your space, you’re gaining experience in your product line, and in dealing with your customers. By the time you have the money to move into a bigger space, you also have the expertise to make sure your profit is more than enough to pay for it.

What happened after 4-1/2 years? I sold the business for quite a bit of money. I bought a motorhome and traveled around the USA for several years on the profit. In retrospect, that may have been foolish, but I was still young. If I had kept the shop, it would probably have been a chain of bicycle shops by now. I may have had my own manufacturing plant. On the other hand, by traveling, I gained more and varied experience, and at any time I could have started another bike shop. In fact I did, twice. And I created some other businesses. Then I sold them. I can always start another. But of course today, I’m having too much fun writing about businesses.

Here is some more detailed advice:

1. Remember the first rule? Don’t spend more than you take in. If you take that quite literally in your first months, you’ll stay safe. Furthermore, you’ll learn all sorts of shoestring tricks, ideas and work-arounds that will serve you well, even once you’re making millions of dollars. Then, you can have your managers show your employees some of the same things you once did to save money, so each of your employees is also profitable to you.

2. And the second rule? Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose. Once business is gaining momentum, you may be tempted to speed things along a bit by investing too much, too soon. I remember a camera store that had one Hasselblad, a very expensive camera. After a while, it sold. So, they bought five more. It took years to sell all five, and in the meantime, those five high-end cameras tied up a lot of inventory money that could have been used for everyday things that sell more quickly.

When you first start, it is completely acceptable to focus mostly on service, if your product line has a profitable service component. If you can fix the things you deal with, you have an immediate income in the repair business, without having to put much, or any money into inventory. As your repair business grows, you’ll know which parts and accessories to stock that will sell frequently.

It was quite common in past decades to find many stores in a town that were really almost entirely repair shops. You’d walk in, and see almost no retail displays. It felt like walking into a, well, repair shop. Right up to the front door was equipment in all stages of repair, tools everywhere, the ‘salesman’ who probably owned the place greeted you in dirty overalls. You may still see this from time to time. Shoe repair stores come to mind. TV repair stores often were like that. TV repair, however, has gone bye-bye, since solid-state electronics are more reliable and the cost of new TVs is so low in comparison to repair costs. But for many businesses, starting out as a ‘repair shop’ can be just as successful today as it was back then.

If your product doesn’t really have a service aspect, look into what else you can do. Can you teach in the back room? I know a health suppliment store that teaches classes on many aspects of nutrition and healthy living in their back room. They make more money out of the back room than the front room, with all its cans and bottles. Can you buy, sell, consign or broker used items? Can you set up profitable local events of some sort based around your product line?

Listen to your customers. Talk to everyone. Find out what they want, and do your best to provide it.

Be on the look-out for pride. What if I told the dining room furniture person, “No, this is a bicycle shop, I refuse to stoop so low as to fix your chairs!” Well, I’d have to borrow money for groceries that week! Plus, it turns out, the furniture guy bought bikes for both of his teenage sons that spring, and another bike when one was stolen, and spent perhaps $400 that year in parts and service.

Finding the right retail building can make a world of difference. If you can find a location where many people drive by, and where it is easy to park, you’ll be much more successful. Even better, if you can rent a spot in a mall, tourist location, or where there are plenty of people walking by, people who are there to shop, you may never need to do any advertising or publicity at all. Just put up your sign, and you’re in business! Really check out your location before signing a lease. If it is in the ‘bad’ part of town, there may be people who are afraid to come to your store. You may also have to deal with shoplifting. On the other hand, depending on your product line, you may find many grateful people in the ‘bad’ part of town who no longer have to commute a long distance to get what they want.

Parking meters are the death of a retail business. Many customers would rather drive across town to their competitor than be worried about whether 25 cents was enough the whole time they are shopping in your store.

Exposure is the thing. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Location. Location. Location.” Getting the wrong place can ruin a business before it gets started. Getting the right place, even if it is small, or the cost per square foot is high, can mean that you start making money from your very first month.

Most small retail businesses start with rented stores. Unless you are prepared for an entirely different kind of investment, commercial real estate, you’ll be better off renting. Commercial leases are pretty much like residential leases. They are usually one-year or five-years in length.

In upscale settings, there is something called “Triple Net” abbreviated as NNN. This is a monthly fee added to the rent for maintenance, such as mowing the lawn, cleaning of the common areas, and upkeep of parking lot. The ‘triple’ in triple-net means nothing. The amount is anything the landlord decides. Typical triple-net for a 1,000 square-foot (100 square-meter) retail store is from $35 to $100 per month.

once you’ve found the right place, you may want to have the one thing that’s missing from most leases written in: An escape clause. What if a dry cleaner next door fills the neighborhood with perchlorethylene fumes? What if a family situation requires you to move to Philadelphia? What if the dog next door just won’t quit barking? You laugh, but these things really happen. What if your business grew faster than you thought, and you need to expand into a larger building? You don’t want to be stuck with a one-year or five-year lease. So, the escape clause is something that both you and the owner of the building can live with. For instance, you might suggest that if you want to move before the end of the lease, you’ll pay three months rent up front.

Finally, before you sign that lease, you need to work out a business plan. Oh, I don’t mean a fancy plan to show a banker for a loan. I do not advocate starting with a loan. If you don’t yet have enough money saved up, and the ability to risk that money, there’s no hurry. You can just keep selling your stuff on craigslist, out of the trunk of your car, the flea market, or whatever, until you do have enough money. This is a better plan, because you’ll be proving to yourself that your business is profitable, while you learn the ropes.

A business plan just for yourself can be as simple as scratching some numbers on the side of a grocery bag. What you want to see is whether you’re biting off more than you can chew. Figure that you’ll need to pay first and last rent, then pay the rent for a few months until your business is running and established. You’ll need to cover the electric bill and other overheads. If you’re smart, you won’t figure in employees. They come later, after you’ve become successful. This is a business that you’ll run entirely by yourself at first. Finally, you need a starting inventory. Ideally, you already have plenty of items. If you don’t, go ahead and step back for a year or so, continuing to do your business out of the flea market or whatever, until inventory surrounds you. Until it fills your garage, living room, bathroom, and takes up all the space under the kitchen table.

Moving forward, let’s say you have figured out the finances, and rented a store. Now what? There’s just a little bit of paperwork, and it is easier than you thought.

Through your chamber of commerce, find your local business license office. There, you can get a DBA – Doing Business under Assumed name, also known as a business license. This costs a little bit. Typically from $20 to $200 per year, depending on your community. You fill out a one- or two-page form with the usual stuff – name, address, phone number, and they give you the license. No one is refused. Furthermore, you don’t have to know anything about it. The people in these offices know that you are not an expert in what they do. The typical person coming in wants to start a car repair shop or a beauty parlor, and knows all about car repair or cosmetology, but nothing about business. So, they are there to help you. They want you to succeed, so you can keep paying your annual license fee to the community.

You’ll probably want a business checking account, and in some cases, the local government wants to see your business checking account number before they’ll grant the DBA. No problem, any normal bank can do this for you in twenty minutes. Most banks offer business checking accounts for free.

Customers coming to retail stores often expect to pay with credit cards. In the past, this was somewhat expensive and difficult to set up. Now, you can go to PayPal.com, and get set up to take credit cards easily. In one of my stores, I was unable to take credit cards for the first couple of weeks after opening. I told people up front – so as to not suprise them once they approached the sales counter, and let them know there was an ATM a block away. So far as I can tell, I did not lose a single sale during that time.

Finally, you need to get set up to collect sales tax or VAT in most countries unless you are in a place without sales tax such as Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, or Oregon. This costs nothing, and also requires filling out a simple one- or two-page application. The certificate, often called a resale certificate or tax number is usually given to you right away. They also hand you a pamphlet explaining how sales tax works in your area. You’ll learn what percentage to charge, and which items and people are tax-exempt. For instance, in New York State, American Indians do not have to pay sales tax if they present the retailer with an exemption form. In some states, labor is taxable, and in some, it is not. To find the tax office in your community, simply ask at the business license office. They already know that’s where you’re going next, and will certainly have the address. Now-a-days, you can often set up your sales tax account entirely online or by mail.

Collecting sales tax can be thought of as a right, responsibility, or privilege. I won’t get into the philosophy here. The usual arrangement is that you set aside the tax money you collect, fill out a one-page form, and mail a check to your tax office every three months.

Once you’re in business, you do need to keep track of income and expenses. You’d want to do this anyway, so you can understand how things are going, and what to adjust from time to time to make sure you’re making a good profit.

The old-fashioned way still works: You can buy an ordinary ledger book, and enter your expenses and income by hand. Domes Monthly is a ledger you can buy in any stationery store in the USA. There are no doubt equivalents in every country. Keeping track isn’t rocket science, although it may seem so at first. The only thing you need to do is list everything you spend money on and enter the amount of money you take in every day. You can optionally break out the income into categories such as “new,” “used,” and “service.” You’ll want to break out the expenses into categories such as “inventory,” “rent,” and “utilities.” You may want to additionally list all legitimate business expenses such as “automotive,” and “advertising.”

It is much easier to use automated software. For under $100, you can buy any of a variety of business bookkeeping packages, such as Quicken. This software tells you what to do at every step. The people who make the software know that you’re a musician, beautician, or bike mechanic, not an accountant, so you’re not expected to know what to do. The software has a lot of built-in help.

If that still seems intimidating, you can hire a bookkeeper for a single session to set up your system, and tell you what to do. Only after your business becomes successful, unless you are already wealthy, do you want to hire a bookkeeper on a regular basis. Some bookkeepers are better at teaching than others. If your first bookkeeper is not good at explaining things, try another.

At the end of the year, you need to figure out your income tax. This too, is easier than it might seem. In the US, the basic addition to your taxes for business is a Schedule C. It is a single two-sided page. The categories are obvious. But it is easier to get the automated software that does it for you. At the HR Block website, you can do the whole thing on line, and then just pay $30 to $80 to file your taxes. With a business, it takes about twenty minutes longer than someone who is only filing an ordinary 1040.

What if you make a mistake? All the government officials are on your side. Really! They’d rather have you succeed, than harrass you. They know you’re not an MBA or accountant. They want you to succeed, so you can go on paying taxes year after year. If you make a mistake, they tell you what to do different. They may issue a reasonable fine – just part of the cost of doing business, and you get to move on. No one goes to jail. Well, OK, I knew one fellow who did. He was a professional ice skater who paid no income tax at all. Still, he wouldn’t have spent six months in jail if he didn’t stand up to the judge and the whole court and make a big presentation about why he shouldn’t pay income tax. Only rebels go to jail. In fact, even with all the small mistakes all of us make, almost no one gets audited. I’ve received perhaps five letters from the IRS and sales tax agencies in all my 35 years in 18 various businesses. In each of the three cases where I actually did something wrong, I had to pay a small fine. My fines ranged from $20 to $150. I knew one fellow who didn’t report his income tax at all for several years. This one was a professional juggler. He was probably making around $150,000 per year. He didn’t even keep any records, so no one, even he, knew how much he made. The IRS stated that he owed them approximately $20,000 in back taxes, which he gladly paid. Of course from that time on, he did have to keep records and pay the appropriate taxes. I know a lot of business people and these two are the worst case scenarios.

Something like a signage violation is so minor that some business people play with them. For instance, in a little store that had a maximum 3 x 2 foot (1 meter x 66 cm) sign requirement, I made a much larger sandwich sign and put it out on the sidewalk every day from the first day I opened. I knew this was in violation, and I knew someone would notice it. They did, after two months. The zoning office did not issue a fine. They only issued a ‘cease’ letter, telling me I had 30 days to comply with the law. So I kept my sign out for another month, then I threw it away. It had done its job. I’m not recommending that you play with your government regulations, unless you know what you are doing is morally correct and the repercussions are safe.

Once you are in business, you can get wholesale catalogs and the wholesalers’ secret price lists. In order to qualify for a wholesale account, all you normally need is to fax or mail a copy of your resale certificate or DBA. Some wholesalers do require a photograph of the front of your store. Some have protected dealerships. This means that if someone else is selling their brand within a certain distance, perhaps 5 miles (3km), you can’t also sell the same brand. That’s fine, find other brands that aren’t protected or aren’t yet represented in your neighborhood. You can find the wholesalers online. Often, they find you, sending representatives to your store, to let you know about their wares.

Whereas you might start your store with only second-hand or collectible items, you now have the opportunity to sell new merchandise. The biggest advantage is that you can buy multiples of things that sell well. I have always imagined how nifty it would be to have a store that sells nothing but 25-pound (10kg) bags of dog food. Only one brand, only one type. I’d sell them over and over, the same to everyone who comes in. This is of course an oversimplified dream, but you can imagine that in a typical store it would simplify things if you could sell 100 copies of the same thing.

You’ll find the markup is remarkable in the lower-priced items, if you’re not familiar with retail. Things over $100, in most specialty businesses are marked up 50 percent. So if you pay $100, you sell it for $150. If you can ‘turn’ your inventory six times a year, meaning sell six of those $150 items in a year, your profit will be $300, on what amounts to $100 invested. A 200 percent annual return on investment (ROI). Compare that to a money market account! But wait, it gets better. the mark up on things in the $5 range is 100 percent. So things that you sell for $10, you paid $5 for. And under $2? It can run as high as 800 percent. If your business sells a lot of left-hand-threaded ‘thingamajigs’ for $2 each, you may find that you can buy them for 25 cents each. But you do have to sell a lot of left-hand-threaded thingamajigs to make any real money.

Insurance presents an interesting quandary. You want to be covered for liability, especially if you’re selling anything like ladders, saws, bikes or automotive accessories. But at first, you may not be able to afford $500/year for general liability insurance. On the other hand, if you can’t afford that. then you have no money, and no lawyer will take the case against you, because there’s no money to be had. So, you can buy insurance when you can afford to. By then, you may have assets to protect.

The one hole in the theory is that you might want to help people who have somehow have had a loss due to something you may have done. Its like driving a car. You want insurance in case you bump into someone. You want them to have their fender fixed without paying for it out of their own pocket, or your pocket.

So, my advice regarding insurance is to keep it high on the priority list, and get it as soon as you can after you’ve decided you’re going to grow a business.

Most local insurance agents are a bit unfamiliar with general liability insurance for businesses, but they can talk to their parent companies or refer you to agents who know how to help. Shop around, because you’ll find the costs vary considerably.

Most general liability insurance comes packaged with some other things that you might enjoy having, such as loss of contents. If your building is flooded, and if you have the right insurance, you can be covered for your lost inventory, equipment, and even loss of income while you were repairing the damages.

Then there’s advertising. The huge mistake most new retailers make is to buy too much of the wrong kind of advertising.

Especially when you are starting out, try to do as much as you can with free publicity. If you’re offering something new or different, or even if only something about what you’re offering is new and different, the newspapers (press releases, editorials), TV and radio stations will want to tell the public about it. After a while, when your initial publicity wears off, maybe you can invent something else that’s new and different about your business, and get another round of publicity. See the Publicity chapter for some crazy ideas.

In absolutely every case I can think of, placing display ads in your main newspaper, your local ‘throw-away’ newspapers, merchant maps, or anything else like that, works remarkably poorly. In this country, literally billions of dollars have been spent on advertising that brings absolutely no new business.

The advertising salespeople always have the same story when your advertising doesn’t work: “You didn’t buy enough yet.” Don’t fall for that!

Coupons work better, but don’t pay very much for any sort of coupon ad campaign. In fact, I’d suggest staying away from that altogether, unless you can make the coupons yourself and place them with restauranteurs, on bulletin boards, and so on. The nice thing about coupons is that you have a way to gauge the effectiveness of your advertising.

A reasonably small yellow pages ad, in the main phone company phone book (not any sort of third-party phone book) can be useful. But today’s customer mostly looks online, trying to find your phone number on your website.

So, of course you’ll want to build a website. Even if it’s just a home-made blog with a couple of pictures of you at work, your storefront if you have one, etc. All you need to do is display your phone number, hours, directions and a description of your products or services. In most cases, the website won’t initiate new customers. They need to have heard of you elsewhere, then they’ll use the website to see if you carry X-brand, or if you’re open on Sundays. So, don’t spend any significant money on a website.

In some cases however, SEO – Search Engine Optimization can work wonders. The basic idea is that you put product or service and the name of your community in the right places on your website, and the search engines such as Google, will display your website high on the page of search results if others in the same product line, in the same community haven’t already optimized their pages in the same way. You can read much more about website and business in the Website chapter.

Craigslist can be useful if it serves your area, and it is free! See the Craigslist chapter for techniques for maximizing Craigslist.

Once your business grows, you’ll want employees. There are four ways to handle this:

1. Only when your business is very small, you can pay a part-time person in cash to help you out. This is truly illegal but seldom enforced. So, you’ll want to seriously consider the following alternatives:

2. Contract worker: This is not an employee at all, but a person who technically has their own business and is designated to provide a specific service. This may be delivery, repair, cleaning, or commission sales. It is important to understand the distinction between a contract worker and an employee. Generally, the contract worker sets his or her own hours, often works off-premises, has his or her own tools, and does a specific task. If you can tell this worker to clean the bathroom, then this person is not a contract worker, but an employee. You can pay this person like any supplier – just pay cash or write a check weekly, monthly, whenever, in trade for an invoice. Contract workers are entirely legal – assuming they’re not illegal aliens or anything else that violates other labor laws. Be careful about having contract workers rolling around in vehicles. You’ll want to make sure you have the right insurance coverage if anything happens.

3. Temporary: You can contact a temporary agency (or “head hunters”) to get workers. This involves almost no paperwork on your part. All you do is pay the temp agency every month. They take care of all the employee insurance, the taxes, everything. But they also charge you 30 to 40 percent more than the employee would cost you directly. ‘Temporary’ is just a term. If you and your ‘temp’ like the arrangement, it can last as long as you both wish.

4. Employee(s): To do this legally, you need to provide workers’ compensation insurance and collect and submit payroll taxes. New software packages make this easy, but it gets even eaiser when you use an agency that exists for the sole purpose of helping you with employee paperwork. ADP is an example. You tell them the name, social security number and amount of pay for any new employee. At the end of every pay period (week, or two weeks), you tell them how many hours the employee worked. They do all the magic, filing federal forms, state forms, collecting from you any taxes that are required, sending those taxes to the government, and provide you with whatever accounting you may want. Occasionally they forward a form to be signed. For all this service, they charge around $50 per payroll period per employee. Another version is a bookkeeper who comes to your place every week for an hour or two, files all all your paperwork, pays your bills, fills out any tax or official forms, has you sign a document or two, offers suggestions to organize your business better, and then comes back next week. This is great, and relatively low cost, so you can focus on what you do best, and don’t have to learn anything. Bookkeepers are not licensed or tracked in most communities, so be sure you get a good one – one who knows what he or she is doing. When shopping for a bookkeeper, ask about training and experience, and check references. With a bookkeeper, probably more than any other worker, you really want to check references. In addition to possible embezzlement, you could get into trouble with the government, or lose money, if your bookkeeper is confused or uninformed. With a great bookkeeper, you’ll learn about and implement utility discounts, better credit terms with suppliers, and other tricks that might more than conpensate for the bookkeeper’s cost.

When hiring a worker, make sure not to discriminate. You can read more about this, but basically, be fair. Hire people based on their skills (including being able to co-exist with others in your business), and on their references, not based on skin color, sex, religion, etc.

So you see, it’s all easy. Especially if you think about the process only one step at a time.

And, it’s reasonably safe and likely to succeed if you remember the two rules:

1. Don’t spend more than you take in.

2. Don’t invest money you can’t afford to lose.

You may be amazed at how much a small store can grow, and how it can grow from almost nothing. Especially if you let it be a natural process. Imagine that you happen to like Lowrey organs.




Typical Current Lowrey Organ

Click for YouTube Video

(On readers that support YouTube.)

Now, that may or may not be your favorite contraption, but they are expensive. So, if you happened to like them, you might eventually get yourself a used one on eBay. Perhaps it’s an old one and costs you only $1,000. You play it, enjoy it, and in time get a newer but still used one for $4,000. You sell the first one on Craigslist, and to your surprise, it brings $1,800. So, you put your $4,000 organ up for sale at $6,500, just in case someone would actually pay that much. And sure enough, after a bit of wheeling and dealing, you agree to sell it for $6,000. But now, you have no organ! So you quickly order another on eBay. Two in fact. And you end up selling them. Fast forward a year, and you have four Lowreys in your garage, and two in your living room, and you’re selling one every week or two. At some point, you realize you’re making $30,000 per year with your organs, and so you quit your job, devoting your full time to it. Now, you’re making $50,000 per year, and have $20,000 in a savings account. So, you rent a store, put the six Lowreys you currently have in the store, order four more, and things just keep growing.

As the years pass, you almost don’t notice the growth of your business, because you’re having such a good time. You spend your days playing your various organs, demonstrating them to customers, or just noodling around for your own amusement. You get to talk shop with lots of other people who love organs, including your sales people. Eventually you get a Lowrey dealership, and we won’t even talk about your income ten years later, because, well, wealthy people don’t talk about their money!


How To Make Money As A Music Collector

How To Make Money As A Music Collector

Copyright 2013 – 2022, by Jeff Napier



Table of Contents

Start Here

Part I, How To Get CDs


Garage Sales

Assessing Value

Thrift Stores and Flea Markets

Buying on eBay

Buying on Craigslist

Free Exchange

Part II, Selling CDs


Selling on eBay

Selling on Amazon

Selling The Common CDs

CD Rental

Shelf Selling

Route Sales

Consignment

Co-Op Selling

Your Own Music Store

Mixed Model

Part III, General Business Advice


Leveraging Craigslist

Partnerships

The Sure-Fire Millionaire

Advertising and Publicity

Websites That Work

The Final Bit



Start Here


Table of Contents

No doubt you have heard that everyone involved in selling new music CDs, from the artists, to publishers, to retail stores, are facing financially troubling times.

What you may not have heard is that for the next several years an opportunity exists for people who buy and sell used music CDs.

People who have iPods, smartphones, or any type of MP3 players, love loading them up, first with ordinary music, and eventually with ever more obscure tunes. These people – which include most of us – will pay any reasonable amount to get CDs containing more music to put on their players.

Once they’ve copied the music to their MP3 players, they don’t need the CDs anymore.

You probably see where I’m going with this. There are several ways to make a nice profit within this situation, by buying and selling CDs. And that’s what this book is about. It is for anyone who is into music appreciation and would like anything from a bit of extra rainy day money, to making a nice living from a music business. In fact, several of the ideas presented in this little book can be built into something that can pay more than any hourly job could ever match. These are not get-rich-quick schemes. They are get-rich-slow schemes.

Most require little or no time, experience or money to start. This is not a huge and complex book, so you’ll find it easy to read in a single evening. Yet, what you are about to discover can positively change your life. No longer do you have to put up with the drudgery of an ordinary job. Now you can be your own boss, doing something you love.

Have fun and prosper! – Jeff Napier, business coach


Part I, How to get CDs



Garage Sales


Table of Contents

I stepped out into the rain, and ran quickly to the open one-car garage where I politely but quickly elbowed my way into half-dozen other wet people milling around. Once inside, I though, “Oh no, another junk sale,” as I surveyed Avon bottles, children’s clothing, and a couple old bicycles. This other stuff might have had value to someone, but I was looking for CDs.

Then I saw it. Under a table was a white cardboard banker’s box stuffed to the brim with CDs. I pulled the box out from under the table and started checking the CDs out quickly. To my delight, there were several albums in the mix that sell well. I pulled two or three disks out of their jewel cases, and good news, they were not scratched, although some had fingerprints. Finally, I approached the owner and asked, “How much for the CDs?” He told me $1 each. ‘Not bad I thought, but let’s see if I can do better.’ There were about 200 CDs in the box. Thinking quickly, I figured I could sell about 40 of them for $10 each, maybe three for $30 each, and another 20 for $5 each. That’s $590. I figured I could spend up to $100 for the box and make plenty of profit. But experience told me, I’d do better. So I asked, “How much for the whole box?” The owner said “Twenty dollars.” I said, “Will you accept $15?” He stood on one foot, then the other, rubbed his chin, and said, “Sure.”

This was not my best buy ever. In fact, it was only a bit better than average. During that Saturday morning, I spent about $200, and came away with more than 1,000 CDs.

If you live in a community where garage sales are common, and if you are in the right season, this can be an excellent way of getting profitable CDs that you can sell in various ways. We’ll talk all about that later in this book. We’ll also talk about many other ways to get CDs, in case garage sales is not your thing, or if you are not in the right place or season.

You’ll discover there are two distinct approaches to buying at garage sales.

If there are more sales than you can possibly visit, you’ll want to operate quickly. On the other hand, on an out-of-season day or in a rural town, you can use the other approach, which is to consider each CD individually.

In the first scenario, the evening before you go shopping, you can look at Craigslist if it serves your area, and make a list of all the sales, excluding those that are not likely to have CDs, such ones advertising primarily baby clothes or oil paintings. You can organize them in such a way that you can drive to them quickly, not criss-crossing all over town. At the same time, you’ll also want to consider what times the sales start. Since some start at 7am or 8am, you’ll obviously want to hit those before the ones that open at 10am.

Actually, you’ll want to start hitting the 7am sales at about 6:30 or 6:45. Some sellers will advertise “no early birds,” so out of consideration, these sales you should not hit until they are ready. But others, even though their advertised start time is set, if you show up a bit early, they’ll generally accommodate you. This accomplishes two things: You can squeeze more sales into your day, and you’ll beat out other CD buyers to those earliest sales.

I used to make a photocopy of a city map, and put marks on it the evening before, laying out the locations and times of every sale I wanted to visit. Then, I’d draw a route, so I could drive to each one efficiently. Finally, I’d make a list of addresses that I would take in the car. If you have GPS, you’ll find it saves you a lot of time, unless you know your area well. In that case, you may spend more time entering addresses into your GPS than you save by just driving to them. Where the GPS is particularly helpful is figuring out which end of the block a sale is on. Without GPS, I found myself doing a lot of K-turns. Without GPS, you can be nearly as effective just by carrying your map around. I used to photocopy just the central portion of the map, because unfolding and dealing with a full-size map wastes a lot of time.

Efficiency is the name of the game when there are a lot of sales. With just a bit of practice, you can drive by some sales, notice that there are no boxes or tables that would contain CDs, and speed along to your next sale. Those that look promising, you park as quickly as you can, then see what you can get. If you have a partner, then one of you can handle parking and studying the map or setting the GPS for the next location, while the other is already picking through CDs.

On a busy day, when you see one or two CDs that you can make a few dollars on, it might be more worthwhile to just ignore them and move on to the next sale, where you might come across dozens or even boxes of CDs. In time, you’ll get a practiced eye for certain ones that have a high resale value and will know how to snap them up quickly.

When you do see a collection of CDs that you might like, you’ll want to check it out for a few details that can be costly if overlooked.

First, are the right disks in the jewel cases? More than once, I have found the disks all mixed up. If you buy a collection like this, generally, you won’t find the disks you want in other jewel cases. You’ll find most of the collection is valueless, with the majority of the cases not matching any of the CDs. You can still sell a CD without a case, or without the right liner, but in most venues, this reduces the price you can get tremendously. You might also find cases that contain nothing at all.

Next, check the condition of the CDs. You’ll have great difficulty selling CDs that have deep scratches, or a large number of small scratches. Any scratch at all greatly devalues a CD. Later on, you can invest in a disk polisher, but for now, beware of scratches. Fingerprints or discolorations of any sort that can be removed do not devalue a CD, but they’ll take some of your valuable time to clean up. Finally, if the jewel cases themselves are cracked, clouded or have broken hinges, you’ll probably want to replace them, and that, too, takes time.

On a busy day, I don’t check every CD in the collection. I just pull two, three or perhaps a half-dozen samples from random locations within the collection, making sure all my samples are not from the top of the pile.

Finally, you want to decide whether the CDs are all too common or all too outside your favorite genres, or for some other reason not profitable to you. We’ll talk about assessing value of CDs in a second, but for now, we’ll assume you have decided that a collection is worth buying.

Negotiating the transaction, also, is something that you want to do efficiently on a busy day. For instance, I have learned to make early eye contact with the seller, so I can have the seller’s attention, even though there may be four other people vying for that attention at the same time.

Typically, there’ll be a sign stating prices for individual CDs. You can disregard that entirely. You’ll want to buy the whole collection on a busy day, which often delights the seller. The idea is to offer a bulk price that is close to what the seller is likely to accept, and quickly wheel and deal from there. The bulk price you can get away with will often surprise you. Often, garage sale sellers are moving out of town, or their primary objective is to clean out their attic. The idea of making any real money is secondary. I have come away with boxes containing a hundred or more CDs for $5 frequently. But it doesn’t always go that way. A seller may feel that each CD in the collection, bulk offer or not, is worth $2. The seller may even be insulted if you offer a low bulk price. The way around that is a little statement I came up with several years ago. It goes something like this:

“You have a lot of nice CDs there. It’s worth more than I’m willing to offer, but would you be willing to accept $20 for whole lot?”

By stating it that way, they can’t be insulted. All they can do is say “no,” or make a counter offer.

The worst case scenario isn’t about price, but about time. On a busy day, the last thing you want the seller to do is say, “Hmmm… Let me get Fred. He’s just down the street. I’ll call him and he’ll be here in a minute,” and when Fred does show up, they have a long conference about who owns which CD, and how much they’re willing to accept. Sometimes it is hard to see this coming, but when you do, all you can do to offset the waste of time it can entail is to say, “I’m going to a lot of garage sales today, so sorry, I don’t have time for that. I hope you understand.”

Then, you can decide if the collection is worth sticking around during their best effort to speed the process, or not. At the peak time of the day, or a busy weekend, I have walked away from collections of hundreds of CDs, so I could scoot down the road, and get hundreds of other CDs.

On the slow days, it is an entirely different story. You can pick through small (or large) collections of CDs, pulling the individual ones on which you think you can make a profit, have wonderful conversations, and maybe colorful wheeling and dealing sessions with the sellers.



Assessing Value


Table of Contents

If you are just starting out in the CD business, and you come across a pile of CDs at a garage sale or elsewhere, it help if you have already done some research on current values, especially in the markets in which you’ll be selling.

If there are used music stores in your area, you can stop in, and just shop around. You can also check prices on Amazon.com, which is the world’s biggest online source for used and new CDs, as well as books, DVDs, and many other things.

One of the best ways to get a good valuation is to check eBay. It turns out eBay has a way to discover what has sold during the past 30 days, and how much people have paid.

Let’s pick a sample item to test on eBay, and discuss it as if it is something you really have on hand and will sell on eBay. The item is Rolling Homes, a paperback book by Jane Lidz, published in 1979. Although this sample is a book, it works exactly the same way for CDs.

At the top of almost any eBay page is a search field. You can enter “Rolling Homes Jane Lidz.” Today, there are three copies for sale, ranging in price from $42 to $59. The prices and quantities will vary from day to day.

So far, we have learned that it seems to be a fairly valuable book, but we don’t exactly know how valuable. These auctions haven’t closed yet. Will anyone actually bid? How high will they bid? Let’s find out.

To the left of the listings, you have a column of refinements you can click, to limit your search based on condition, category and other things. In that column, click More Refinements, then Show Only. Check Completed Listings then click the Go button.

Now you’ll see a list of items that sold during the past thirty days with the prices marked in red and green. Items marked in red mean the item never sold. It may have been an auction that ended with no bids, or the seller may have pulled it off the market to sell to a local customer. Items with the prices in green did sell. Today, I see that six copies sold, ranging in price from $39 to $45. So, it’s worth selling, don’t you think?

You can also assess prices on Amazon. It can be a bit less accurate, because you can see only what’s currently being offered, and the prices the sellers are hoping to get.

You can enter your CD by title and artist in the Amazon search field, where you will see everything that closely matches what you have. When you find an exact match, you can drill in, discovering that new ones are going for a certain amount, and used ones in various conditions are selling for varying amounts.

For example, you may enter “No. 1 Beatles” and discover that new copies of your album are going for one penny, plus shipping. What’s up with that? Very common CDs have no value on Amazon. There are just too many available, and with the most common ones, there’s always someone willing to sell their copy for a penny. The seller may be hoping to make a profit on the shipping charge, but it is less than a dollar in most cases. I believe the ones going for such low prices are due to children learning the ropes under their parents’ guidance, or are people who are more interested in recycling perfectly good CDs, even if for a penny, than in making a profit.

Don’t give up hope, just because Amazon says your CD is worth nothing. There are other markets where you can sell $0.01 CDs for much more, as we’ll discuss later in the book.

Another thing Amazon gives you is something called salesrank. The currently best-selling CD on all of Amazon has a salesrank of #1. The worst one, perhaps a disk in which a single copy sold a couple of years ago, is in the millions. Perhaps with a salesrank like #6,042,971. It may be worth $50, but you may also have wait years until it will sell. Some CDs have a low salesrank only because they are quite rare. You’re in luck if you come across one of these. Maybe you discover a Elton John CD that you’ve never heard of, look it up on Amazon, and it has a sales rank in the millions and you also discover there are no other copies currently available. That may bring a lot of money!

Ideally, you’re looking for CDs for which there are no low-priced copies available, and the salesrank is low, perhaps under 20,000, so you know it will sell fairly quickly.

On most CD liners you’ll find a bar code, with a 12 or 13-digit number underneath. That’s the UPC code, which is totally ignored by almost everyone. But it can be a very nice thing for a CD trader.

Both eBay and Amazon allow you to enter UPC codes instead of having to type in title and author. This can save a lot of time. It saves even more if you get a barcode scanner. These $50 accessories will plug into the UPC port on your computer. Aim the scanner at a bar code, pull the trigger, and the UCP number is input into the search field automatically.

Going a step further, you can download a free Amazon app for your iPhone or Android cellphone that lets you just aim your phone’s camera at the barcode, and your phone will access Amazon and look up the CD for you. eBay has a similar app. If you have a CD without a barcode, you can enter the author and artist in the smartphone to look it up, but that is time-consuming. However, for rare items, it might be worthwhile.

You can use your smartphone to look up CD values when at garage sales, thrift stores, or other buying places, or leisurely at your home to see what you have already purchased.

The downside of the app, even if you have 4G or are within a WiFi hotspot, is that it takes around a minute to scan the barcode, have the info uploaded to Amazon, have Amazon shoot back the information, then click around a bit on your screen to discover the actual value. You can imagine that taking a minute per CD on a busy garage sale day may be too time consuming.

An interesting upside is that if you find an item that you want to sell on Amazon, you can list it online right there on the spot. It may sell even before you get home.

Most people do not immediately list their CDs, instead listing when they get back home, because they’d rather take the time to enter condition descriptions, make sure they’re in the right categories, carefully analyze prices, and make sure all the other details are correct.

So, you can also purchased a dedicated scanning system. Some of these work with your ordinary smartphone, some use a dedicated scanning accessory, and some are complete dedicated units, based on a PDA – the predecessor of smartphones. PDA were little portable computers that looked like smartphones, but have no telephone capability. The dedicated scanner downloads the entire Amazon CD database, which is typically done overnight once per day or once per week, because it can take more than an hour. But once downloaded, all the information is in the device. You just point and click at your CDs, and you get instant feedback. This feedback is accompanied by an audio tone. Using a bluetooth headset, you can hear a ‘boop’ or similar tone when a CD falls below the parameters you have set, and a success tone such as the ‘ka-ching’ of a cash register when the CD has enough value. You can set the scanning software to indicate success at any combination of price point and salesrank you wish. So with a scanner, you can test hundreds of CDs per hour, quickly building piles of what you want to sell, and what you want to discard. Scanning software is typically sold as a subscription, costing in the neighborhood of $50 (US) per month. Most professionals using scanners are book scouts, but they work perfectly well for CD buyers as well.



Thrift Stores and Flea Markets


Table of Contents

Most of the techniques for buying at garage sales work the same way at secondhand stores, thrift stores and flea markets. You can be in less of a hurry at these venues than on busy garage sale days, and you can buy at these venues during the week between your busy weekends.

You may find that there are other professional CD buyers in your neighborhood that have already gleaned much of the good stuff from the stores. You may also find that the stores generally charge more than you’d have to pay at garage sales.

This can make it nearly impossible to buy at stores for selling online via eBay or Amazon. But there are other ways to sell CDs discussed later in this book, in which you can sell what you find at these stores.



Buying on eBay


Table of Contents

It is possible to buy CDs on eBay or Amazon then sell them to a local market. In rare cases, you can buy a CD on eBay, then turn right around and sell it on eBay for a profit.

There are two ways to buy on eBay.

The first is as you’d expect. Find something you’d like, then participate in an auction, hopefully offering a high enough bid to win the auction, but low enough that you can sell it at a profit. This is the difficult way, and will usually only work on rare items, or ones for which you have a standing market – someone ready to buy if only you can find a copy for them.

In an eBay auction, you can bid the maximum amount you are willing to pay, but may end up spending less. Your actual bid is increased from the current high bid by only a small increment, typically a dollar. So, if the current price of an item is $6.50, and you are willing to pay $12, when you place your $12 bid, your actual bid is only $7.50. If there are other buyers who have also done the same thing, the actual bid may increase immediately, as the other maximum bids duke it out with each other.

Depending on your business model, you can bid on hundreds of CDs, perhaps only winning a few for prices at which you know you’ll make a profit. You can even invest in “sniping” software that will place last-minute bids on your behalf.

The other way to buy is to study items that have recently been listed at a fixed price, what is often called “Buy-It-Now.” Now and then, people will list something without studying the market. A rare CD worth $50 might suddenly appear for $20. Unlike an auction where anyone in the country, or in the entire world who knows the value of an item, have anywhere from a day to ten days to discover and bid on it, the fixed price items can be purchased instantly.

The professional fixed-price buyer has bookmarked the eBay buying pages so that in “Buy-It-Now” is pre-selected, as are the specific categories in which the buyer is interested, and the specific criteria. For instance, a buyer may have the eBay search results set up so that only items up to $20 are visible, and only in classical music, making it easier to quickly sort through the CDs that buyer may want. This buyer may check the listings several times a day, occasionally buying something from the top of the list that just appeared.

In general, this tactic is more used for higher-value items such as musical instruments, bicycles and laptop computers, because it can be rather time-consuming compared to the profit to be made.



Buying on Craigslist


Table of Contents

You can place a free ad on Craigslist in “Items Wanted” saying that you buy CDs. Pretty much the same tactics you’d use when garage sale shopping apply, except you have more time to inspect the CDs and to wheel and deal. You can drive to people’s homes to see what they have, or insist that they come to you, assuming you live in a place where that makes sense. Having them come to you can save a lot of time.

Either way, you’ll want to rule out what you can when they contact you. Whether you communicate with potential sellers by email or phone, it is important to try to understand whether their collection is in bad shape, not in the genres in which you buy, or whether they are expecting too much money. Another consideration is the size of the collection. It is not usually worth your time to meet with someone to buy two or three disks. Nothing is more frustrating than to drive to someone’s place, only to discover that the collection they have is way out of line in some way.

But sometimes, what they have is amazing. Perhaps they’re moving out of town, and have a wall full of CDs, and all they really want is to find a good home for them. Money may be secondary. More than once, I have picked up 500 or 1,000 good CDs at a time this way.

Since not everyone who might have CDs for sale is going to look in the “items wanted” section, you can also sell something, anything, in the appropriate “for sale” categories on craigslist, and happen to mention in your ads that you also buy CDs.

There was a fellow in Boston (if I remember correctly) who put an ad on Craigslist simply stating that he would be happy to pick up unwanted books. The story goes that he had dozens of people contacting him, and he picked up thousands of free books. In his ad, he didn’t state anything about what he was doing with the books. I believe people simply wanted to feel that their old books were going to have a better fate than going to the landfill. Would it work as well if you put an ad on Craigslist stating that you are willing to pick up unwanted CDs?



Free Exchange


Table of Contents

Perhaps your church or group has sponsored an occasional clothing exchange. I’m not talking about a rummage sale where you donate your unwanted clothes and they sell them to support the organization. I’m talking about an event where everyone brings their unwanted clothes, perhaps on a Saturday morning, and everyone can carry away other members’ unwanted clothes. So, you can get rid of that funky sweater someone ‘gifted’ you with and pick up a great. . .

Could something like this happen with CDs? Imagine a regular location where this free exchange of CDs went on every weekend, or even every day? Do you see where the profit is in this? Since you could be the one who organizes and maintains it, it is only fair that you get first pick on everything that comes in. Naturally, you’d pick CDs that you can sell profitably online. If you let everyone know right up front that that’s exactly what you’re doing, they’ll all be okay with it. I can assure you of that, because I set up a business that grew nearly overnight into a large, ongoing general free exchange in Marin County, California, and that’s what actually happened.

More specifically, I rented a 2,500 square-foot store, primed it with stuff I bought for next to nothing at garage sales, and opened to the public. I allowed exchange of anything of reasonable size (no couches or mattresses, please!) There were many books (another profit-bearing business in itself), garden tools, car parts, sports equipment, you name it. But I could have specialized in CDs. A couple of years later, I set up a quite successful “media” exchange, dealing with books, CDs and DVDs.

This was before the iPod phenomenon really kicked in. Even then, I could have specialized successfully in CDs. But imagine now, when everyone wants to get CDs so they can find new stuff for their MP3 players, and once they do, the CDs have little value to them. For these customers, would a free exchange be perfect, or what?

Never once did anyone complain that I had first pick. Quite the contrary, I received complements all day long for the nature of the business.

Another thing that might surprise you is that I received much more stuff than I gave away. There was so much stuff coming into my exchanges, that much had to be discarded.
When people decide to clean out the attic, basement or garage, they tend to bring multiple boxes full of stuff. There were hundreds of wealthy people who brought things to the exchange just so other less wealthy people could get them. All these donors knew full-well that I was supporting the business by picking the cream off the top.

I only ran my exchanges as experiments for four months each.

During my first four months, in the general exchange, a volunteer ran some math and worked out that I gave away $44,000 per month worth of stuff. This was just wonderful for all the people who came from the poorer areas east of Marin and were able to get good things for their children and themselves. Even though the store was in a rather fancy suburban neighborhood, and many of the ‘shoppers’ came in junky cars and looked kind of scary to the locals, I was often told how much it was a great community service by the well-off locals.

Everyone encouraged the wealthier people to pick up things they fancied also. After all, when someone keeps an old CD in service, that eliminates the need to manufacture, package, and ship a new one. That’s the truest form of living a light footprint on Earth.

I have been more of an experimenter than a do-the-same-profitable-thing-year-after-year person – probably to my detriment, but my exchanges could have been huge successes. Instead of closing them and moving on to the next experiment, I suppose they could have branched out, and I’d be very successful in the exchange business. But, being an experimenter and a writer, I’ll leave starting the next exchange up to you.

Imagine the potential. You’ll get more CDs into the hands of children and adults who couldn’t otherwise afford them. It wouldn’t be surprising if your free CD collection could become larger than what any store in town carries. You could have walls filled with free CDs. Interestingly, your place can become a destination for musicians and music appreciators. Many will volunteer to help your efforts. Everyone will just love hanging out, offering advice, repairing instruments, talking shop, jamming – well, you get the idea. What a place it can become!

Of course much of the stuff that comes in will be in sad shape. You’ll get CDs that are scratched, empty jewel cases, missing liners, and lots of pirated copies with Magic Marker titles scrolled across the top. (All you can legally do with these is throw them away.) But, you’ll also get CDs that are worth $30 or more on Amazon or eBay.

When it’s free, you’d be surprised how delighted someone can be with “Seventies Pop Tunes.” You may not be too happy about selling the collectible CDs that come in, even though that could be quite profitable. But if a CD comes in that you can sell on eBay for $100, that money will go along way to support the exchange, wouldn’t it? That way, you can get a lot more free CDs into a lot more hands.

The reason I created two exchanges was that I wasn’t quite happy with the first one.

My first version started out quite large, and I had a rag-tag assortment of about twenty volunteers. Not being a great manager, I quickly lost a degree of control over these people. Some came in drunk, some complained about everything in sight, some treated the clientele crudely. So, if you’re going to do this, you’ll either want quality employees rather than volunteers, or you’ll want to screen your volunteers better than I did, or you’ll want to have a more alpha personality. Or, perhaps the best solution, is keep it small and manageable, perhaps in a 700 – 1,000 square foot space in a smaller community, or hidden away in a neighborhood, and run it by yourself.

That’s what I did with my second exchange. It was 1,000 square feet in a town of just under 20,000 residents. Initially I did everything myself, no volunteers. I decided to specialize in books, CDs and DVD movies, because I figured I’d have a quieter, more focused clientele. I was exactly right. The second exchange was just as profitable, yet much less hectic, and therefore more fun for me.

Speaking of profit, I spent about $10,000 setting up the second exchange. I could have done it with less, but in my case, I didn’t need to. By the end of the second month, I was making $5,000 per month profit. At the end of the four-month experiment, I sold it quickly for $32,000. (If I had wanted to, I could have held on for a year, and sold it for much more!)

A bit of a problem with the first, general exchange was waste. Since I was taking everything, not just books and disks, I had to rent larger and larger dumpsters to accommodate the things that weren’t worth even giving away. At the end of the fourth month, I was paying $250 per month for dumpster rental.

Later, I learned that I could have reduced the cost of waste disposal by asking for momentary volunteers to each carry away a bag or two of junk.

In my second exchange, I learned to ask for momentary volunteers, simply by putting signs on the shelves. I let people know that anyone could help for five minutes, fifteen minutes, or an hour, whatever they liked, whenever they liked. These would be people willing to organize inventory on the tables and shelves, clean the bathroom, repair items, and so on.

Since I had volunteers in the first exchange, everything was nicely organized on the shelves, by subject, alphabetically, and so on. Without volunteers, this would be a lot of work. In my second exchange, everything was just put out on shelves, in absolutely no order.

Interestingly, no one complained in the second exchange, although they did occasionally comment that being sorted would be convenient. I told those people, “go ahead and sort it!” In a larger exchange, people will often ask for an item by name, and often you can provide it. This becomes impossible in an unsorted exchange. On the other hand, people love rummaging through boxes, shelves, collections of things, because one never knows what will come up. More than once, I’ve had people shout versions of “Eureka!” upon discovering something they really like.

To not discourage people from bringing things, I decided never to decline any reasonable donations. I stand by this, and believe it’s better to spend a bit on garbage pickup than losing donations from people who start to figure you may not accept what they bring.

In the general exchange, I had a sign on the front window that told people not to leave donations after hours. But they did. Most mornings I’d find a pick-up truck full of bags of worn-out clothing, broken lawnmowers, sofas without cushions, and so on. These were the things that people just wanted to dispose of, didn’t want to pay landfill fees, and would be too embarrassed to try donating to the store during the day. Of course this wouldn’t be a problem with a CD exchange. In fact, the nighttime donations might surprise you. Someone once left two banker’s boxes full of old records. I called my friend Ken, who paid $100 per box for the collection. In my media exchange, I learned to solicit nighttime donations. I had a drop box with a slot outside. Hundreds of books, DVDs, and CDs per month came in through that slot. I used a slot rather than an open container, because I didn’t want other people coming by and rummaging through the things before I had a chance to pick through them. I also put a free shelf outside, so visitors could get books, and occasionally music CDs, any time of the day or night.

Taking the concept one step further, you might be able to design an exchange that doesn’t need your presence at all. One way is to man it with volunteers. Another is to have drop boxes around town, much like some clothing companies do, in which you ask people to drop of CDs they’re not using. On the drop boxes, you’d have signs indicating what you’re doing – making a great variety of music free for everyone. But, on your signs I believe you should also state that you’re making a profit in the process. If you’re up front, not only will no one complain, but many will just love what you’re doing. If you try to hide it, people will undoubtedly get the wrong idea. Unfortunately, some of those companies that put out clothing donation boxes a few years ago developed a bad reputation for not actually fulfilling the promise of making good use of the donated clothing.

To round out the picture, it would also be possible to have CD exchanges that are simply shelves in public locations. The idea is people can drop off CDs they don’t care about any more, and pick up ones they like – all for free, of course. Your job, besides keeping the shelves organized and clean, is to go through the stuff that comes in, gleaning what will sell online. Quick oil change places, laundromats, and restaurants would all love to have such a shelf. Musical instrument stores might like to get in on the action, and would accept your shelves because it would bring in more customers. Actual CD stores might feel it is competition, but if they are forward-thinking enough, they may invite a free shelf also. It would be better for you to put a free shelf in their store than to have them put one of their own in, thereby competing with you.

You can tighten up the efficiency of free CD exchange shelves a bit by having a box with a slot on the shelves. Signs tell people to drop donated music into the slot, and take whatever they want. The point is you don’t want people carrying away the obscure and possibly valuable titles. You want to be able to sort everything that has been donated before it gets away.

Don’t forget to have contact info so if someone has boxes and boxes of CDs, they know how to contact you for a free pickup.

If have not tried this exact business model myself. I did, however, put book shelves in eight laundromats. These weren’t exchanges. I purchased the books by the boxful at garage sales, probably paying on average five or ten cents per book. I then put them in the laundromats with signs saying, “Put $3 in the slot per book.” I split the money fifty-fifty with the laundromat owners or managers. Sure, some books were stolen from my shelves, but I never noticed, and it didn’t significantly impact the bottom line. These shelves were quite profitable for the small amount of time involved.

Getting back to the idea of a full-size exchange, when you pick a location, it is important to have good parking. This can be even more important than for an ordinary retail store, because many people are going to be bringing large loads of stuff. If they have to carry boxes of CDs a hundred yards (100 meters), they’ll be less inclined to bring stuff next time. Fortunately, the parking was very close to my first exchange. Even still, I provided hand carts for people to get things from their cars into the exchange. You don’t want anything to come between people and their desire to bring things to your exchange.

And yet, parking was a problem. My store became rather popular within a very short time. (Advertising and publicity is absolutely not necessary in a business that exists to give things away.) The problem was the parking lot became congested. And that, ultimately, was the downfall of my experiment. When traffic started clogging the little strip mall I was occupying, the neighboring businesses started to complain. The property manager suggested I leave. Oh, I could have worked things out, but since I was ready to move on, I just pulled the plug. (This was my first exchange. I sold the second exchange at a small, but nice profit – $32,000.)

So, you can learn from my experiments. One thing I’d recommend if you want to start your own music exchange is to start very, very small. You don’t need to rent a store. Depending on where and how you live, you might want to start it out of your garage. Or you can rent a space in a flea market. Or set up something cooperatively with someone who has commercial space available. For instance, you might find a quick-change oil change place who would gladly donate some lobby space in trade for every music lover in town getting their oil changed there.

I’m not the first one who set up a store to give things away. The precedent was set in late 1967 by the Diggers. The Diggers were a loosely assembled group of free-spirited souls, originally interested in improv acting (one of whom was Peter Coyote), who started making free soup, beans, and bread for the hippies that came to the Haight during the Summer of Love. In time, they rented a storefront in which they accepted donations and gave everything away. I did a bit of research and never found out how they paid the rent. That store, too was a short-lived experiment. Digger Archives

The Diggers did not operate their exchange for a profit. And you may not need to either. Assuming you are not independently wealthy, you will need a reason to offset the time it takes to run an exchange. The reason might be publicity for another music business. For instance, if you run an exchange, virtually everyone who is interested in music in your community will stop by. Then, you can let them know that you’re a gigging musician, that you teach lessons, sell instruments, or whatever you do, and you’ll build your business nicely, because everyone will want to support the exchange and its proprietor.


Part II, Selling


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Once you’ve decided how you’d like to to get CDs, it’s time to go ahead and make a profit!



Selling on eBay


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As a seller on eBay, you have a national or even worldwide market, so rare things of interest to only a few people, things that would gather dust on a retail shelf, can do well on eBay. At the same time, the common CDs by known artists sell for almost nothing.


Setting up an eBay account is free and easy. You’ll also want to set up an account with PayPal, a money-handling website that is part of the eBay empire and makes life easy for buyers and sellers in well over ninety percent of eBay payment transactions. PayPal takes care of all the credit card processing and payment details. PayPal is also free.

When an item sells on eBay, the buyer almost always pays through PayPal. The seller gets to keep all the money collected except for an eBay fee, typically around eight percent, and a PayPal fee, typically around three percent. The money is placed in the seller’s PayPal account, where s/he can transfer it to a checking account, or spend it in a variety of ways. The seller then packages the item and sends it to the buyer. If all goes well, and it usually does, the buyer can leave positive feedback for the seller. Feedback is a point that’s positive, neutral, or negative, along with optional ratings on issues such as shipping time and communication, plus a comment. The seller too, can offer feedback for the buyer.

So, anyone doing business on eBay can check feedback before committing to a transaction. If a seller has mostly positive feedback, you can feel confident in buying that seller’s item. Therefore, as a seller, you want to treat your buyers well so you’ll get positive feedback.

Feedback isn’t as important as it once was because eBay offers a variety of protection for buyers and sellers. For instance, if you buy a laptop computer, but the seller keeps your money and ships you a box of rocks, you can do more than issue negative feedback. You can contact eBay, and they’ll refund your money – as long as you did everything right. That means to stay within eBay’s parameters. If the seller asks you to pay by some means other than PayPal, or if the buyer asks the seller to ship it to a different address than the one listed with eBay, the protection might be forfeited. Still, most buyers do use feedback as a guideline before purchasing.

As a seller, you might want to build positive feedback quickly. One way is to buy a few inexpensive things. You get feedback as a buyer. But most sophisticated eBayers know the difference between feedback as a buyer and seller, and will want to see your seller feedback. Therefore, you can also start your eBay business by selling some inexpensive things. Perhaps you have some common music CDs laying around the house. Sell them quickly, and get your feedback.

Grab your camera and take a few pictures. eBay will allow for up to twelve free photos for each item you list. The first one will appear as a thumbnail – the little image to the left of a listing when shown in a group of similar listings. So, it should probably give an overview image of the front of the liner in the jewel case. It’s best to photograph items against a solid color background, so they are easy to see. I often use a red background, so if there are many similar listings, mine will stand out. You might also prefer a bright blue, green or yellow background. This is only a small advantage, so a white, even a wood-grained background is fine too. You’ll want your lighting about right, clear focus, and medium to very slightly higher than normal contrast. In the case of a CD, shadows aren’t much of a concern, but with non-flat items, you’ll want to make sure shadows don’t obscure important details or make the thumbnail image hard to figure out. With CDs, reflections can be a problem if you don’t position your lights well.

Next you might take some other pictures, such as of the back cover, and maybe the disk itself.

Does your CD have any flaws? If the liner is creased or stained, if the disk has scratches, maybe a close-up of the flaw would be a good idea. When selling on eBay it is very important to clearly note flaws both photographically and in the text description. You don’t want negative feedback, and you don’t want to refund someone’s money because they were disappointed.

From the top of the eBay home page, you can click Sell, then Sell Your Item. You are given a field in which you can enter what you have, and eBay will give you matching categories. In the case of a CD, it is easy. You can simply enter the ten or thirteen digit ISBN number that most published books have. Or you can browse to pick a category.

For music CDs, enter the UPC code found just under the barcode on the back. Most CDs have UPC codes. For all the common CDs, eBay has templates. Once you enter a UPC number, eBay will give you a page that’s mostly filled out, except for the details you’ll want to control, such as shipping price. With rare CDs, you may have to enter Title, Artist, and UPC code if it has one manually.

You can enter or change a title. This is not usually the place to be creative. You want to enter exactly what buyers for your CD are searching for. If there is room left over, you might pitch your CD a bit. If it is in excellent condition, you can say so: add “Excellent Condition.”

Then you get to enter details such as listing the flaws your copy has, the publication year, a condition category, and some other things. Definitely enter the UPC code, or if it isn’t a CD you’re listing, enter a model or part number if one is available.

Then you get to upload your photographs. Below that, you can enter a description. For a CD, if you have already entered condition notes, such as “very minor yellowing, slightly dog-eared” then a description is not usually required. You could give a synopsis of what’s on the CD, but buyers already know about what they want.

There is no limit to how long your description can be. That doesn’t mean your description has to be long. For an ordinary CD, no description at all is adequate. However, you could state something like, “I found this CD fascinating, and so I took a half-hour break to listen to it. A half-hour doesn’t really do it justice. I could certainly listen to all the tracks, over and over for months. I don’t really want to let it go, but you’ll probably enjoy it even more than I did.”

Keep in mind that an overly optimistic pitch like this doesn’t really help most products, so if you value your time, you might limit your descriptions to the basic facts.

Because many people worry about used CDs being too scratched to play properly, you might add to every description: “Guaranteed to play perfectly.”

As you are working your way down the page, you’ll see options that cost extra money such as sub-title and Gallery Plus. Most of these options have no effect on sales, but do generate extra income for eBay. Don’t worry, they have plenty of money already, so I recommend that you do not select any enhancements that cost money.

Now, you get to choose whether to sell it as an online Auction item or Fixed Price, also known as Buy-It-Now.

If you have a CD that’s rare or collectible, and it is possible that two or more people will want it no matter the cost, then Auction is the way to go. You can start the bidding at whatever price you choose, and then decide if you’ll let the auction run for one, three, five, seven or ten days. If after that time, no one was willing to pay your minimum price, you get to keep it, or try selling it again. If only one person in the world wants it, it will sell for your minimum price. On the other hand, two or more people can get into a bidding war.

I listed an old wooden radio with a starting bid of fifty dollars. At the end of the first day, the price had risen to $200. When the seven-day auction closed, the high bidder paid me $1,200 plus shipping. This is a bit unusual in that the price went to $200 on the first day. Many experienced auction buyers wait until the last minute to bid, feeling that if they bid too soon, the higher price will only encourage other bidders. Taking that a step further, there is software that will bid on the buyers’ behalf at the last possible moment.

On the other hand, you might have an item that is common, and many copies are available on eBay. This might be better sold as a Fixed Price item. You can set the price at, or slightly below the other ones currently being offered, unless the condition of yours is above the others. Fixed price items are more likely to sell because many buyers don’t want to play the auction game. They want an item as soon as possible, and they want to know for sure that they won the transaction. They don’t want to wait a week to see if their bid was sufficient.

To get an idea about which items do best as Auction, and which are most often sold as Fixed Price, you can look again at Completed Listings, and see which were offered as Auction and which as Fixed Price. You can also study how other sellers handled shipping charges, and which categories they listed successful and unsuccessful items in. You can click on any item to drill in and see the pictures and read the description to figure out what the seller did, and whether it worked well – made money – or not. From there, you can even click on statistics to find out what kind of feedback the seller has, what other items the seller is currently selling, and what items the seller has actually sold during the past thirty days.

To give you another view on Fixed Price versus Auction, imagine that you have two CDs. One is a regular Celine Dion album that you’ve seen a hundred times before. The other is a Whitney Houston CD that you’ve never seen, and of which there are no copies for sale anywhere. There are two other Celine Dion CDs for sale like yours. So which one will do better sold as fixed price, a which is a better play for an auction?

Another example: You have a James Taylor CD that you’ve seen a hundred times before. There are six of the James Taylor CDs on eBay already. That would be fixed price – that is if the others aren’t already being sold for so little that you won’t make enough money. On the other hand, what if even though you are an expert on James Taylor, the James Taylor CD is an album you’ve never heard of? Some crazy obscure thing. Right, auction!

After some more choices on the eBay page, you get to decide about shipping options. You can have the buyer pay a shipping fee in any amount you choose, or you can include free shipping. Free shipping may make some items feel less costly to the buyers, but most are sophisticated enough to know that the shipping cost is absorbed in an inflated overall price. So, I generally go with an added shipping charge – charging slightly more than the packaging material and actual shipping cost. If the shipping price is too inflated, you may lose sales and get negative feedback.

You can figure out shipping costs at the major shipper websites. For instance at USPS.com (the United States Post Office), you can enter package weight, dimensions if needed, a specific shipping service such as First Class Mail, and figure out how much an item will cost to ship. Don’t forget that it will cost a little bit for packing materials. It’s pretty much the same for UPS and Fed Ex.

USPS tends to be a bit less costly for items under two pounds (one kg) in weight. For CDs in particular, they cost quite a bit less to ship by US Mail than any other way.

While most of your buyers will buy a single CD in a jewel case, you may occasionally sell double-albums, boxed sets, or two or more items at once to the same buyer, so
in time, you may want buy a postal scale. Make sure to get a model that goes to at least twenty pounds (ten kg). When I started out, I had a five pound scale, and was constantly frustrated at having to guess the weights of six and seven pound packages.

Keep in mind that when you just ship an occasional thing on eBay, you can take all the time in the world to develop your own packaging out of old cardboard boxes and junk you have in your garage. But as you start shipping five or ten items a day, you’ll want to spend some money on consistent packaging materials to save valuable time.

For ordinary CDs, I have found the best packaging is the #0 “Poly” bubble mailer, a white plastic padded envelope that you can buy in quantities of 250 from Uline. These cost about 25 cents each, but offer very good protection, so fewer than one in a thousand CDs will be damaged in shipment. I use First Class US mail which costs under $2 as of the time this book is written. I charge $2.92 for shipping, which covers my cost, plus makes me just a bit of extra money. I chose $2.92 instead of $2.99 or $2.95 or $3 because it sounds calculated. It sounds as if that’s the actual cost of shipping the item, so no one complains that it is a bit inflated or rounded up.

eBay has a program called Global Shipping for US sellers. For most categories of items, you can click a check box, and Global Shipping will be allowed on your listing. If someone in one of the qualifying countries (not all countries are supported) buys your item, they pay an amount that’s more than the shipping charge you’re asking. You are reimbursed the same as if you were shipping to a US customer. You are given an address of a building in Kentucky, where your item is packaged with all other packages currently going to the same country and shipped in a big lot. Once it arrives in the receiving country, it is then mailed to the buyer using the best local transportation company. This saves the buyer money, and makes your life much easier. Otherwise, you’d have to figure out a price for the non-USA buyers, and fill out a customs form for each item you send. You’d also be responsible for refunding in the cases of lost packages, which is unfortunately common in overseas shipments. eBay takes care of all those things for you with Global Shipping.

When you list an occasional item on eBay, you pay thirty cents (US) for a fixed price listing, plus closing fees when it sells. If it doesn’t sell in a month, you’ve lost thirty cents. You have the option to keep it listed for another thirty cents per month. You can imagine that for a thousand items, this starts to add up.

The answer is eBay Stores. You can get a store subscription for $20 to $200 per month. At the highest level, you get to list 2,500 items with no listing fee, and after that, each item is only five cents. So, you can keep thousands of items listed month after month for a few hundred dollars per month. Once you have thousands of items, a mere few hundred dollars in listing fees won’t seem like a whole lot. Stores give you some other advantages. Your listings that are similar to what others have are in some situations promoted higher in eBay search results. You can have a ‘presence’ on eBay, with webpages specifically dedicated to your store. eBay will allow users to opt into a mailing list, so you can email advertisements to those people periodically. You get some special features, such as the ability to run a sale across all, or selected portions of your listings. And you get to use a section of eBay called Selling Manager Pro. With this, you can change prices of up to 500 items at a time, as well as many other bulk and individual adjustments. Let’s say you want to add Global Shipping to all your items. Just a few clicks, and they are all changed.

Having sold over 20,000 items on eBay, I have found that eBay, and PayPal are good, responsive, reliable companies. I’ve also heard all sorts of rumors that PayPal does this ‘nasty’ thing, and eBay does that horrible thing. None of these rumors have proven to be true for me. If you have a store on eBay, they offer additional options in support, including as much free support by phone as you’d like.

Reverse Auctions

I’ve found that the best way to get the most profit out of the common, non-collectible items you list, is to use Fixed Price with what I call a reverse auction. I start the prices of everything way too high, then, lower the price by one percent per day using Selling Manager Pro. A few people will buy things at the way too high price. Most others will buy them when the price falls to market value.


Selling on Amazon


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With Amazon, you can list everything you want. There is no cost for having items on Amazon. If you have thousands of CDs for sale, this is a significant improvement over eBay’s $0.05 per item per month. Ideally, you can sell your least common items on eBay, the common items that still have reasonable value on Amazon. Many of the most common items can’t be sold on Amazon for a profit.

For instance, you may find an copy of “No. 1” by the Beatles. On Amazon, you see there are five copies available for literally one penny – plus shipping.

How can you compete with that? Well, you probably don’t want to, at least not on Amazon. I’ll talk about how to make money from the very common CDs in a later chapter.

Oh, you can list it on Amazon if you want to. Sometimes magic happens. Sometimes someone gets on the Tonight Show and plays “Yesterday,” or someone makes reference to the album in a popular book or news article. Suddenly, all the one-penny copies sell out. Then the next higher priced ones sell out. Eventually, your copy, that you may have listed for seven dollars, is the lowest-price copy available, and it will sell.

You can get an account on Amazon.com for free. It takes less than five minutes to set it up. Then, you can sell your CDs just like any of the thousands of second-hand booksellers on Amazon.

For each CD you have, you start by checking the current price on Amazon. Just like a buyer, you enter the UPC code or title and artist in the Amazon search field. You’ll be shown a list of all versions currently available. You can see what prices others are charging for the same thing. You can also check salesrank. This is a number ranging from 1, for the best-selling piece of music, to somewhere in the millions, for an item that sells only rarely. A salesrank of 0 means no one has ever sold that item.

If you find a lot of sellers have the same item as yours, and it has a high salesrank – or zero – you don’t want to waste your time listing it. If it has a reasonable salesrank, and the price is high, just go ahead and sell yours. Amazon changes from time to time, but generally, when you look up an item, you are presented with an option to sell one just like it. You simply describe its condition, and decide on a price. I like to under-price the competition by a couple of pennies for copies in the same general condition as mine, so mine will be the first one to sell.

Just keep listing. Once you have hundreds of items listed, you’ll start selling tens of items per day.

At first you can simply list your items for sale, almost as easily as buying items on Amazon. However, Amazon charges a dollar (US) flat fee for each item you sell, plus a small percentage, unless you subscribe as an Amazon Professional Seller. For forty dollars per month (US), you no longer need to pay the flat fee, just a small percentage for each item sold. With Professional Seller status, you gain several advantages. One is that Amazon gives you web pages where you can keep track of your inventory. Once you have more than perhaps a dozen things listed online, it is easy to lose track unless you assign a number to each item. You wouldn’t want to ship your very good copy of God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols to the buyer in New York, and the acceptable copy of the same CD to the buyer in Paris, when it was supposed to be the other way around. So, keeping track is very important.



Selling The Common CDs


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So, on eBay and Amazon, you can sell your rare, and not-so-common CDs for good, sometimes very good money. But the bulk of your CDs will be the common ones. What do you do with those?

Some sellers ignore them, give them away, or try to sell them in bulk for next to nothing on eBay or elsewhere. If your rare CD business is particularly lucrative, this is OK, but you would be giving away a big additional profit.

These common CDs still have intrinsic value to local buyers, ordinary everyday people who will think nothing of spending $3 to get another CD for uploading to their MP3 players. You see them buying disks at flea markets all the time.

Yes, flea markets can be a good place to sell the common CDs. Especially if you are willing to take trades (to get more rare CDs for selling online), and if you don’t mind getting up early on weekend mornings, possibly standing and talking with people until well into the afternoon. It is not uncommon for a CD seller to come away with hundreds of dollars after a day of flea market selling. One big advantage with flea markets is you don’t have to advertise. The buyers, hopefully hundreds of them, are already there.

You can hold a garage sale from time to time, and while scores, maybe even hundreds of buyers will come along, they’ll mostly be expecting garage sale prices, like 25 or 50 cents per disk.

Now it is time for me to introduce three more effective ways to make money from common CDs.



CD Rental


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Since most buyers want CDs just to load the music onto their phones, laptops, or whatever, they need the disks for only a short time. That makes a CD rental business very viable.

When I was a kid, I was into stamp collecting. A saw an ad in a stamp collecting magazine for a system that I tried and loved. It was called “approval albums.” I wrote to an approval company, and without me paying a penny, they sent a book of interesting postage stamps. I could take out the ones I wanted for my own collection, then send the book back along with payment for the stamps I kept. Then, they sent another approval album. The first album they sent was full of low-value (but pretty) stamps. As time went on, and they learned that I was a trustworthy customer, the value increased. Then, when my buying fell off because the prices were to high, they adjusted again, until week after week I was buying a fair amount from each approval album. They also adjusted to suit my needs. They discovered I liked triangle stamps because I was buying a lot of them, so sure enough, the approval albums started containing more triangle stamps. Just like NetFlix, there was no hurry to get the albums back. They just wouldn’t send another until I sent back the one I currently was holding.

So, you see the connection, right? You could send CDs to people, who then send them back so you can send more. In time, you’ll learn that so-and-so wants country music, but someone else wants acid rock. Or, you can ask up front. You might conduct this business through a website, where new users click checkboxes to indicate their initial preferences. Unlike approval albums, you wouldn’t send CDs without cost. Probably in a subscription model, such as what NetFlix uses (for the DVD side of their business, not the streaming side), you could charge $15 or so per month for buyers who want to work with a single CD at a time, and more if they want to keep two or more CDs in motion.

With NetFlix, the users have to pick out the videos they want sent. But as I have alluded already, you might also offer an option in which you send surprises, so people can experience new music in the genres they like. Duplication may be less of an issue than with videos. In other words, if you send a Romance Comedy DVD to someone, there’s a good chance they’ve already seen it. But if you send a classical, or smooth jazz CD, or a CD in just about any genre, there are so many hundreds of albums that the user is less likely to have heard it. You might even offer a guarantee: If they’ve heard the one you sent, you can send another for free.

An interesting thing happens with this rental model. People often forget to send a CD back for weeks or even months at a time. You do not have to worry about that. In fact, it is extremely profitable because they’re paying their subscription fee to you month after month, and you don’t have to do anything at all.

Another way to profit from rentals is when someone looses a CD. Now you may have paid twenty-five, fifty cents, or even a dollar for it, but you can charge $7, $10 or maybe as much $15 for a lost CD.



Shelf Selling


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Earlier in the book, I mentioned that for a while I had small bookshelves in laundromats. These would work the same way for CDs. You can put perhaps a hundred or two hundred common CDs in a laundromat on a shelf that has a sign that says “Put $3 in slot per CD.” Sure, some will be stolen, but if you are buying them at a low price, and then profiting from selling the rare ones online, you can afford a lot of loss. What I did was to split whatever money was found in the cash boxes with the owners or the managers of the laundromat. Some of the managers liked the idea that the cash would go to an employee of the laundromat as a sort of fringe benefit for working there. Once a week, I’d come by with new items to put on the shelves, open the cash boxes, and count the money out right in front of the manager, immediately handing over half. In retrospect, I probably could have paid out only 25 percent, just as well.

I don’t know whether it would be profitable to bolt a little CD player onto the shelf so people could hear the CDs before buying, or not. Perhaps you can run that experiment and find out.

In addition to laundromats, this could work in eating establishments, oil change places, libraries, maybe even offices, such as a dental office that has a waiting room full of people.

A variation of this would be to use the free exchange model. CDs are free, but you are asking for donations as well. You don’t make any direct profit from your common CDs, but among the ones donated, some will have good value when sold online. In this model, you’ll want to put a locked box with a slot on the shelves, along with a sign telling them to put the donated CDs in the box. This way, you get to look everything over first, before someone else may come along and take it. You’ll want to put contact info on the shelf as well, so that when someone wants to donate a basement full of boxes of CDs, they can call you and arrange a pickup. This will happen more often than you might imagine.



Route Sales


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Many years ago, Jewel Tea and Fuller Brush companies used to have salespeople who did what was called route sales. For those customers who liked, a salesperson would drive to their homes, perhaps once a week, and show them new things they could buy. They sold more than tea and brushes. They carried a rather full line of household goods, gifts and snacks, such as tins of chocolate chip cookies. These sales people sometimes carried samples or things customers could buy on the spot, but more often, they showed their catalogs. Customers would order things that would be delivered by the same sales person the following week. There isn’t as much of that these days, probably because of online venues such as eBay and Amazon. But it still exists in some forms. For instance, a Snap-On Tools truck will make the rounds of car repair shops, tempting the mechanics with all sorts of nifty screwdrivers, vacuum gauges and air wrenches. These tool trucks are large, carrying a fairly large inventory. Most of the sales people from the earlier area used only their own automobiles, or sometimes an ordinary van.

I’m thinking route sales might be something one could revive, in the world of music. Wouldn’t CDs make an excellent choice? The salesperson could specialize in new CDs, purchased from a wholesaler, or could go with used, offering to trade and buy CDs as well as sell them. The person wise in music could buy especially desirable new or used CDs on Amazon.com, and then sell them to the route customers. At the same time, trade-ins could be sold to other customers, or especially valuable ones could be sold online.

How would one start such a business? I think the usual means of publicity – business cards, flyers on bulletin boards, advertising on Craigslist, and perhaps in newspapers would be the way to go. You might want to look at the chapter about advertising and publicity at the end of this book.

It would be advantageous to have big signs on one’s car or truck, with a phone number that’s easy to see from a distance and easy to remember. The signs would tout the concept of home visits. Once you get a few customers, the rest will be easy. As you make your stops, people will have friends and relatives over who will want to be added to your route. Besides that, your happy customers will tell their friends, who will tell their friends, and so on.

I believe a winning personality would help. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys talking with people, you’ll be more successful, unless you’re the kind of person who can talk all day, and forget to actually sell things.

In time, as your schedule becomes full, you can drop the people who don’t buy enough merchandise per visit. In more time, you might set up your daughter up with another truck and her own route, or set up drivers and trucks all over the country.

It might be advantageous to have a CD player and a very high quality headset, to show off CDs in the best possible light, er, sound, actually. A downside would be the time it takes. I’m not sure how you would overcome the customers’ tendency to listen to entire tracks while you just stand there, but no doubt you could figure out a way.

You could act as a sort of musical therapist or advisor, handing specifically chosen CDs to your various clients.

This business may mix well with the CD rental or exchange business models.



Consignment


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Some stores take consignments. Others don’t know exactly what this concept is, but when you explain it to them, they may be interested in setting up a consignment deal with you.

So what is consignment? You can bring items to a store, and they sell them for you. When things sell, you get a percentage of the money the store charged. Typical consignment deals range from 25 to 50 percent going to the store. That’s fair, considering they paid the price to get customers into the store so they’d buy your stuff. The store has to pay rent, utilities, and possibly advertising and employee expenses. Yet with consignment, you don’t! Furthermore, someone has to be in the store all the time. If you had your own small store, that would have to be you.

Imagine the potential. Let’s say you have a hundred CDs. You don’t want to have a garage sale or sell them at the flea market. Craigslist would not be a good option, because you’d have an endless parade of buyers coming to your home.

One of the best options then, is consigning at the local music store. Some other stores can work too, such as flexible antique dealers or upscale second-hand stores. If they are new to the consignment idea, you may have to guide them through how it is best done. If they are already doing consignment, you may have to comply with their ways of doing things, which might not always seem best. Each business has their own rules for how they handle consignments.

You will want to agree on a percentage up front. I like to recommend that you accept anything reasonable. Remember, if they get as much as they want, they’ll be more inclined to push your inventory. In a dedicated music store, They can set a price higher than you can through a flea market or craigslist because they attract people who have come specifically to buy the kinds of things you have. So you can come out ahead even with a steep percentage.

You’ll want to discuss security. Who’s responsible if a CD is stolen or damaged? What security precautions can be implemented? When do you get paid? What happens if a customer wants to return a CD? And, what is the procedure if someone wants a discount?

When customers ask for discounts, many stores just tell them, sorry, it’s consigned, so the price is non-negotiable. Others allow, with the consignor’s permission, a ten percent discount just for the asking. Yet another alternative is that the clerk will call you when someone wants a discount.

If you can both sign a document that spells those things out, it should work fine. Still, unless the store is trusted, you’ll want to start with a small amount of merchandise, just in case the store owner is so hard up financially that he has to delay paying you month after month. This is one of the biggest problems in consignment. Many stores are unfortunately in ongoing financial trouble. When I see a store in trouble, as a former business coach, oh, I so much want to offer some help! But I have learned to resist the temptation. It only works if they ask.

Finally, with consignment, you’ll want to keep careful track of your stuff. Each CD should carry an identifying mark or tag of some sort that won’t easily pull or peel off. You’ll want to have a spreadsheet, or at least a notebook, documenting where every piece of inventory is, the price, and its current status – at your place, at the store, for sale, sold awaiting payment, or paid.



Co-Op Selling


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You may find a cooperative store in town. This is not like a food co-op. A co-op is a store that rents spaces to individual dealers. A typical space is 8 x 10 feet, just enough room for a ten-foot row of shelves, and some display cases or tables. Most co-ops specialize in antiques, or arts and crafts. Some will do general merchandise – clothing, garden tools, books, you name it. As a dealer, you pay rent to the co-op, perhaps $125 per month. In addition to the space, they provide utilities, and retail services. That means, there’s someone at the counter to answer questions, take the customers’ credit cards, and so on.

In addition to renting the space, you also pay a percentage to the co-op when items sell, typically fifteen percent.

In some co-ops, all the dealers are required to put in a few hours at the sales counter. I prefer co-ops in which the dealers pay a slightly higher percentage, but don’t have to spend time in the store. One reason is because you can put CDs in several stores. You can make rounds perhaps once a week to organize your space, bring in more inventory, and of course collect the money. Selling in several coops, you won’t have time to volunteer behind various sales counters.



Your Own Music Store


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Once you have gained some experience selling CDs locally, you can open a retail store. To some people, this seems like a difficult or impossible dream. Having started five retail stores of my own I can tell you it is not only possible, it can be fairly easy, and extremely successful, as long as you keep some basic concepts in mind.

1. You have to take in more money than you put out.

2. Any time you could possibly spend money, discover whether there is a better, lower-cost way to do what you intend to do.

3. Be prepared to work long hours at first. Once you become successful, you can hire people. Or, you might consider a partnership – discussed in a chapter at the end of this book.

If you have even just a few thousand dollars in your back pocket, you can start a store. Of course it is important that you don’t need that money for something else. There are people who aren’t friends with responsibility, or just don’t have the common sense to start a retail business. They forget, or choose to ignore the rules.

Then, too, things that you have no control over, can happen. I recently read about a couple who started stocking their brand new store when an earthquake hit, destroying all their merchandise.

So, when you have the money to invest, and only when you can spare that money, you might consider starting your own store. The prestige and freedom that comes from having your own place can put a long-lasting smile on your face. It’s your place, so you can decide to host musical jams after hours. You can have wonderful conversations with your customers. The local celebrity musicians will drop in from time to time. You’ll probably eventually end up making more than any hourly wage, and you can hand the whole works over to your children many years later. Although, I should point out, the nature of the business is likely to change considerably as people move away from CDs to more online musical archives. The smart retailer keeps an ear to the ground, and stocks what people ask for. In time, your CD store may evolve into something entirely different.

Being impatient, I eventually lost interest in my retail ventures, so I did what you can do with your stores too: You can build your store up, then sell the business for what will seem like a remarkable amount of money. The longer you keep your store, the more it is worth – if you evolve with the market. The downside is that you’ll be making so much after a few years, you may not want to sell it. You may not want to kill the clarinet that lays the golden notes.

The idea of starting a store from scratch seems to scare many people. That’s why so many will pay so much for an established store. Having started several stores, I can tell you it is really quite easy.

The first order of business is finding a building. Most stores rent their space. The only way it would make sense to buy a commercial building is if you could sell or rent the building itself profitably should you have a change of plans or a change of heart.

What you’re looking for is a store that is easily seen from as many passing cars as possible. Or, one that gets significant exposure to walk-by traffic. You want one where people aren’t afraid to shop, where in fact, they have come purposely to shop. Parking should be easy and close by. If you rent a location where your sign can be seen by most of the residents – or tourists, you may not need to do anything about publicity or advertising at all.

You’ll probably want reasonably low rent, so you can have as many square feet as possible. On the other hand, trading square feet for exposure can make a huge difference. If you have a tiny store in a well-populated mall, you can make more money then if you have a huge warehouse located where no one notices it.

You’ll want to make sure the zoning is right. That’s easily done by going to your city or county zoning or business licensing office. You can find that office by asking at the local chamber of commerce. You just give the zoning people an address, and they’ll tell you what can, and cannot be done there. For instance, they won’t allow an auto body repair shop in an upscale residential neighborhood. The residents would never want all that noise and paint fumes.

In some seemingly excellent retail zones, parking meters can be a problem. They are the death of a retail store. People would much rather shop at your competitors’ store than worry the whole time they’re in your store, whether or not the 25 cents they fed the meter was enough.

An aspect of zoning is sign regulations. Most communities don’t want unrestricted neon signs multiple stories tall over a little music store. But some areas might be overzealous in their requirements. I once started a 1,000 square foot bookstore in a neighborhood that let me have a sign no bigger than 3 x 2 feet (1 x 0.6m). In my case, there was a ton of walk-by traffic, so that didn’t really matter. You’ll want to make sure the signage requirements in your area are appropriate.

Generally, they’ll allow an ordinary CD store in any building that has been used for retail business in the past, but you’ll certainly want to make sure before you sign a lease.

Now, before you sign that lease, you’ll want to write in the one clause that is missing from most commercial leases. It’s missing from most residential leases too. You want an escape clause. What if you chose the wrong location? What if a dog barking next door just won’t shut up? What if your business is more successful than you thought, and you need to rent a larger building? What if a family crisis requires you move to Philadelphia? A typical escape clause – one that the landlord will usually accept – is that you can break the lease if you pay three months rent up front.

Finally, before you sign that lease, you need to work out a business plan. Oh, I don’t mean a fancy plan to show a banker for a loan. I do not advocate starting with a loan. If you don’t yet have enough money saved up, and the ability to risk that money, there’s no hurry. You can just keep selling CDs on Craigslist, out of the trunk of your car, the flea market, or wherever, until you do have enough money. This is a better idea, because you’ll be proving to yourself that the musical instrument business is profitable, while you learn the ropes.

A business plan just for yourself can be as simple as scratching some numbers on the side of a grocery bag. What you want to see is whether you’re biting off more than you can chew. Figure that you’ll need to pay first and last rent, then pay the rent for a few months until your business is running and established. You’ll need to cover the electric bill and other overheads. If you’re smart, you won’t figure in employees. They come later, after you’ve become successful. This is a business that you’ll run entirely by yourself at first. Finally, you need a starting inventory. Ideally, you already have plenty of disks. If you don’t, go ahead and step back for a year or so, continuing to do your business out of the flea market or wherever, until inventory surrounds you. Until it fills your garage, living room, bathroom, and takes up all the space under the kitchen table.

Moving forward, let’s say you have crunched the numbers, and secured a store. Now what? There’s just a little bit of paperwork, and it is easier than you thought.

Through your chamber of commerce, find your local city or county business license office. There, you can get a DBA – Doing Business under Assumed name, also known as a business license. This costs anywhere from $20 to $200 per year, depending on your community. You fill out a one or two-page form with the usual stuff – name, address, phone number, and they give you the license. No one is refused. Furthermore, you don’t have to know anything about it. The people in these offices know that you are not an expert in what they do. The typical person coming in wants to start a car repair shop and knows all about car repair, but nothing about business. So, they are there to help you. They want you to succeed, so you can continue to support the community by paying your annual license fee.

You’ll probably want a business checking account, and in some cases, the local government wants to see this account number before they’ll grant you the DBA. No problem, any normal bank can do this for you in twenty minutes. Most banks offer business checking accounts for free.

Customers coming to retail stores often expect to pay with credit cards. In the past, this was somewhat expensive and difficult to set up. Now, you can go to PayPal.com, and get set up to take credit cards easily. In one of my stores, before PayPal, I couldn’t take credit cards for the first couple of weeks after opening. So as to not surprise customers once they approached the sales counter, I let them know up front, and that there was an ATM a block away. I did not lose a single sale during that time.

Finally, you need to get set up to collect sales tax or VAT (Value Added Tax) in most countries unless you are in a place without sales tax such as Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. This costs nothing, and also requires filling out a simple one or two page application. The certificate, often called a resale certificate or tax number is usually given to you right away. They also hand you a pamphlet explaining how sales tax works in your area. You’ll learn what percentage to charge, and which items and people are tax-exempt. For instance, in New York State, American Indians do not have to pay sales tax if they present the retailer with an exemption form. To find the tax office in your community, simply ask at the business license office. They already know that’s where you’re going next, and will certainly have the address. Now-a-days, you can often set up your sales tax account entirely online or by mail.

Collecting sales tax can be thought of as a right, responsibility, or privilege. I won’t get into the philosophy here. The usual arrangement is that you set aside the tax money you collect, fill out a one-page form, and mail a check to your tax office once every three months.

Once you’re in business, you do need to keep track of income and expenses. You’d want to do this anyway, so you can understand how things are going, and what to adjust from time to time to make sure you’re making a good profit.

The old-fashioned way still works: You can buy an ordinary ledger book, and enter your expenses and income by hand. Domes Monthly is a ledger you can buy in any stationery store in the USA. There are no doubt equivalents in every country. Keeping track isn’t rocket science, although it may seem so at first. The only thing you need to do is list everything you spend money on and enter the amount of money you take in every day. You can optionally break out the income into categories such as “new,” “used,” or “Rock,” “Jazz,” “Classical,” etc. You’ll want to break out the expenses into categories such as “inventory,” “rent,” and “utilities.” You may want to additionally list all legitimate business expenses such as “automotive,” and “advertising.”

It is much easier to use automated software. For under $100, you can buy any of a variety of business bookkeeping packages, such as Quicken, or Microsoft Money, that tell you what to do at every step. The people who make this software know that you’re not an accountant, so you’re not expected to know what to do. The software has a lot of built-in help.

If that still seems intimidating, you can hire a bookkeeper for a single session to set up your system, and tell you what to do. Only after your business becomes successful, unless you are already wealthy, do you want to hire a bookkeeper on a regular basis. Some bookkeepers are better at teaching than others. If your first bookkeeper is not good at explaining things, try another.

At the end of the year, you need to figure out your income tax. This too, is easier than it might seem. In the US, the basic addition to your tax forms for business is a Schedule C. It is a single two-sided page. The categories are obvious. But it is easier to get the automated software that does it for you. At the HR Block website, you can do the whole thing on line, and then just pay thirty to eighty to file your taxes. It takes about twenty minutes longer than for someone who is only filing an ordinary 1040.

What if you make a mistake? All the government officials are on your side. Really! They’d rather have you succeed, than harass you. And again, they know you probably not an accountant with an MBA. They want you to succeed, so you can go on paying taxes year after year. If you make a mistake, they tell you what to do differently. They may issue a reasonable fine – just part of the cost of doing business, and you get to move on. No one goes to jail.

Well, okay, I knew one fellow who did. He was a professional ice skater who paid no income tax at all. Still, he wouldn’t have spent six months in jail if he didn’t stand up to the judge and the whole court and make a big presentation defending why he shouldn’t pay income tax. Only rebels go to jail. In fact, even with all the small mistakes all of us make, almost no one gets audited. I’ve received perhaps five letters from the IRS and sales tax agencies in my 35 years in eighteen various businesses. In each of the three cases where I actually did something wrong, I had to pay a small fine. My fines ranged from $20 to $150. I knew one fellow who didn’t report his income tax at all for several years. This one was a professional juggler. He was probably making around $150,000 per year. He didn’t even keep any records, so no one, including himself, knew how much he made. The IRS stated that he owed them approximately $20,000 in back taxes, which he gladly paid. Of course from that time on, he did have to keep records and pay the appropriate taxes. I know a lot of business people and these two are the worst case scenarios.

Something like a signage violation is so minor that some business people play with them. For instance, in my store that had the three-foot by two-foot sign requirement, I made a much larger sandwich sign and put it out on the sidewalk every day from the first day I opened. I knew this was in violation, and I knew someone would notice it. They did, after two months. The zoning office did not issue a fine. They only issued a ‘cease’ letter, telling me I had thirty days to comply with the law. So I kept my sign out for another 29 days, then I threw it away. It had done its job. I’m not recommending that you play the edge with your local regulations, just letting you know of an experience I had.

Once you are in business, you can get wholesale catalogs and secret price lists. In order to qualify for a wholesale account, all you normally need is to fax or mail a copy of your resale certificate or DBA. Some wholesalers do require a photograph of the front of your store, or they have

protected dealerships. This means that if someone else is selling their brand within a certain distance, perhaps five miles (eight kilometers), you can’t also sell the same brand. This is seldom a problem in the music business. You can find the wholesalers online. Often, they find you, sending representatives to your store, to let you know about their wares.

Whereas you might start your store with only collectible or second-hand albums, you now have the opportunity to sell new CDs. The biggest advantage is that you can buy multiples of things that sell well. I have always imagined how nifty it would be to have a store that sells nothing but 25-pound (ten kg) bags of dog food. Only one brand, only one type. I’d sell them over and over, the same to everyone who comes in. This is of course, is an oversimplified dream, but you can imagine that in a music store it would simplify things if you could sell 100 copies of the latest popular album per day, and always have more copies on hand. On the flip side, selling new CDs has proven to be difficult for the very same reasons that second-hand CDs can do so well: People will pay for obscure music to put on their players. In general, they have already pirated the popular stuff.

In all this discussion I’ve assumed you’re not super-wealthy. If you are, you can start a music store in a 10,000 square foot store, and stock it with thousands of used and new CDs from the first day.

The more reasonable approach is to start safely with what you already know, can get, and can afford to put in your inventory. Keep your quantities small. For instance, a wholesaler can sell you six copies of a Celine Dion album for a dollar less per copy. Seems like a deal, until you figure out how infrequently you may sell recordings by Celine Dion, while your money is tied up in those albums, rather than six assorted CDs by various artists. Better to start with one copy and pay the dollar extra. Even better would be to buy 20 assorted used CDs for the price of the six identical new ones.

In time, you’ll have the big store with the manager, the television advertising, the sponsored concerts, and all the things a big music store can do. You are almost sure to succeed in having that store if you start small.

If you start with your inheritance or a big bank loan, you are almost as sure to fail! You know why, right? It’s about experience, and sense of balance. If you start small, you really get a feel for what it means to have $1,500 tied up in new CDs that take a year to sell through.

If you start small, you understand that investing $600 in a glass display case can wait, because you’re better off investing the $600 in more CDs at the beginning.

You may be amazed at how much a small store can grow, and how it can grow from almost nothing.



Mixed Model


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The unequivocal winner in selling CDs is a mixed model.

Imagine a small retail store in which you have a table of free CDs. A mini-exchange.
You put on that table only CDs that just won’t sell in any market. This automatically brings donations, some of which may contain treasures, others will restock the exchange. Some, you can sell to your local customers.

In the same store, you have a large variety of common CDs that local people will pay $3 – $10 each to have. You also let everyone know that you take trades and buy some music outright.

You might also consider renting CDs, with or without a membership. Perhaps members can pay $10 per month for unlimited borrows, one at a time, much like the NetFlix DVD model. They can keep each disk as long as they want, but won’t get another until the bring the last one back, or buy it. This would be fine by you, because in the meantime, you’re collecting $10 per month for nothing in return.

In the back of the store, you have your online operation, where you list on Amazon and eBay the collectible or rare CDs that bring lots of money per disk.

So, everything that comes in has value. And you can have a large stream of things coming in. What could be more fun!

Going a step further, you can mix and match your CD business with others. Today, on the Oregon Coast, I stepped into a store that sold guitars and bicycles. They ought to carry CDs too, don’t you think? Mixing a CD business with books or musical instruments is a natural. Mixing it with DVD sales or rental may work particularly well. You can go as far afield as makes sense to you. Perhaps you have inherited your father’s vacuum cleaner business. It makes money, but doesn’t excite you. Why not add a rack of used CDs to the showroom floor and see what happens?


Part 3, General Business Advice



Leveraging Craigslist


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I wanted to tell you about a couple of tricks that are useful if Craigslist serves your area.

If you buy and sell CDs, great opportunities exist in the space between Craigslist and eBay. You can often buy common CDs and collections of CDs for nearly nothing on eBay. That’s because people often will not CDs they can’t hold and play personally before buying. Then, you can sell these CDs at a profit locally on Craigslist to people who you will let hold and play them. These people are also more likely to buy locally because they can have their music right away. Many folks don’t want to wait a week or more for their items to arrive.

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, especially large batches of CDs, for much less then they are 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 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 cds/dvds, 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. You can put up an ad for a Rod Taylor CD at 1 pm. Then at 3 pm, you can put up an ad for a Miley Cyrus CD. Then at five pm, a Bach collection, and so on. Each one of these ads carries a link to your website, saying something like, “many more CDs available at mywebsite.com.” You might even have thumbnails for some of your other CDs at the bottom of each ad. This is not spamming, because the main portion of 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 above, is that you can have a website that has a larger list of your inventory. Every Craigslist ad you place 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 CDs of course. I kept an inventory of about eighteen 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. 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, I think it is better to leave the listing on your website for a day or two, marked “Sold,” while 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 see an album they’ve just gotta have, what do you suppose they’ll do?

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. Or your case, that would be CDs. This has the added advantage that your wanted posting can also link to your website.

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 CDs,” “I buy CDs,” and “I want your CDs,” this is spamming 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, and 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 “cds/dvds/vhs” category. In each ad, you also happen to mention that you buy CDs. Of course, you can also have a single ad announcing that you’re buying in the “Items Wanted” category at the same time.

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 CDs for sale, unless you are willing to mail them.

Taking that idea one step further, there’s no reason you couldn’t make a splash in forums all over the Internet, participating legitimately, but with every post containing a link to your eBay or Amazon CD listings.



Partnerships


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When considering a partnership, you want to look for someone who has what you don’t have. Starting out with a partner who has the same strengths and weaknesses as you, means something won’t be covered. That’s a recipe for disaster. Generally, the three ingredients that a partnership (or an individual) needs are time, experience, and sometimes money. There’s a fourth ingredient – one that all partners need, and that’s enthusiasm. You absolutely don’t want to start something with someone who is not enthusiastic about the idea.

Before forming a partnership, assess carefully your partner’s personality. Will you be able to get along with this person? How about in cloudy weather? Is the person lazy? Does the person have shoddy ethics? Is the person obstinate?

I once saw a bicycle shop almost destroy itself because one partner of the three who owned it suddenly decided that they needed new wall-to-wall carpeting just a few months after starting the store. That would have cost $10,000. I think any objective person would agree that carpeting was not a top priority in that store. It had a painted concrete floor that was just fine. But, he couldn’t be talked out of it, and the partners nearly came to blows. Finally, the two other partners bought this fellow out, at an inflated price that took them years to recover.

In another case, a partner got evicted from his apartment, and decided to live in the inventory storage area, against his partner’s wishes, leaving little room for the business, and violating the local zoning ordinance. This fellow would do things like wake up, and walk out among customers in the showroom at eleven am unshaven and shirtless. Nice partner, eh?

So, if you’re going to consider a partnership, think about all the things that might go wrong with your perspective partners. Do not mention the idea of a partnership to any of your prospects until you are absolutely certain. It is harder to burst their bubble after you’ve created it, than before they know a partnership is possible.

Family members can be the best, or the worst! I think you know what I’m talking about. A grandfather-grandson (or grandmother-granddaughter) partnership can be wonderful with the right people. I’m sure you can think of several successful family musical groups such as the Trapp Family, Jackson Five, and the Haygoods.

Let’s say you have a brother-in-law who has been in jail twice for drunk driving. He’s unemployed again because he came to work too hung-over. You might think that if you offer this relative a partnership, it will help him. Wrong! You must, absolutely must, consider partners for their strengths, not their weaknesses, if you intend to succeed. And if you don’t succeed, it will not help your brother-in-law in the slightest. It will probably make his lack of self-esteem worse.

How many partners should you consider? The minimum number you can get away with. If all you need is someone with repair skill, or someone who can play drums, then one partner is sufficient. Additional partners means that the profit is split smaller. It also means it is harder to make decisions. Larry Page and Sergei Brin have been very successful with Google. When it came time to make decisions, they had a brief discussion, came to an agreement, and moved forward.

On the other hand, I knew of an organic restaurant that had seventeen partners. One of their specialties was waffles. They had one waffle iron, and so customers had to wait up to 45 minutes for their orders in the morning. So, the seventeen of them had a meeting to decide whether they should buy a second thirty dollar waffle iron. The meeting, argument really, ran until after midnight, and they couldn’t come to a decision. In fact, it was weeks before they could all figure out that thirty dollars was a reasonable price to pay for another waffle iron to satisfy their waffle customers.

Once you’ve sorted out who your partners are going to be, you need to state some things up front. Is one going to be a silent partner? If so, how silent? How will various kinds of decisions be made? For instance, the person who’s just about to book a gig probably shouldn’t have to place a phone call to another partner before the gig can be scheduled. What happens as the business grows? Do you add more partners? Do you hire employees? How do the partners decide on new employees?

In summary, all the terms of partnership need to be discussed. More than discussed. You want the major points in writing, and a contract signed by all partners.

The very most important clause in that contract will be an escape hatch for each partner. What happens if the business loses money? What happens if a partner becomes sick or dies? What happens if two partners can’t stand the sight of each other after a while? Escape clauses need to be fluid. For instance, if a partner wants to leave early on, his value in the business is worth far less than after five years. These escape clauses must be manageable, so that it is truly possible to make changes in the partnership as needed. For instance, a very bad escape clause would be that if a partner leaves, the others have to immediately pay her $500,000. If this is all spelled out in writing ahead of time, all will be well in these eventualities – or at least as well as it can be.

Another consideration in partnerships is your own personality. Take me, for example. I don’t like to share my decisions with anyone. I have always been a sole proprietor. I’d make a horrible partner unless I was allowed to run the show 100 percent.

So, on the opposite end of the partnership spectrum is sole proprietorship. The individual doesn’t have to defer to anyone before making major decisions. 100 percent of the profit goes to the individual. That’s huge, even with just two partners. Let’s say that the profit of a business is $60,000 per year. That means that an individual takes home $60,000. But two partners owning the same business would only get $30,000 each.

There’s also an ego component. I love being able to say, “I own this.” For me, it would be miserable to say, “I own a portion of this.”

Getting back to the original question, what if you don’t have the time, experience or money to start a music business on your own? And once again, there is a very simple answer. Start something evolutionary. Do you really need a drummer, or just a drum machine? How many solo musicians can you think of? Start something that you can manage, and let it build as you gain experience, money, whatever you’ve been needing.


The Sure-Fire Millionaire


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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 $26? Would you still buy it?

Let me explain. If instead of that three-dollar cup of coffee, you put the money in an investment such as a mutual fund, and leave it there for twenty years, it will, on average, turn into at least $26, maybe much more. 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. Early on, he could certainly have purchased a 35-inch TV, or even a 42-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 Walmart, 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 musical 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 others, 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 write with him any more. All these great writers learned 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!



Advertising and Publicity


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It is easy to buy advertising. There are many salespeople who would love to have you advertise in their newspaper, in their phonebook, or on their radio or TV station. If it doesn’t bring the results they expected, they’ll just tell you that you didn’t buy enough advertising yet. They’ll tell you people need to hear the same message over and over. But you do need to buy some advertising, right?

Did I say, “buy” advertising? I meant “get free publicity.” Just about any form of advertising that a small music business can afford will be entirely ineffective. Yellow pages ads are the worst. You end up paying a lot of money per month to the phone company, or a phonebook publisher, and get little effect. People don’t use phone books any more. They use the Internet. So you’ll want a website. It can be a simple one-page affair. In many businesses, all most people want is your contact information. You can do some search engine optimization tricks, discussed in the next chapter, to get people to your webpage. If you’re in a city with a dozen other similar music businesses, they’ll all have their own websites, and you might be thirteenth on the list when people google your town name and musical specialty.

You can do more to boost a website in search results, but you may not have to. Remember that most people using the Internet to find a local business will already know your business name, and what you do. They’re just looking for your phone number or the hours you are available. You can bring in new customers through a website in a few ways, but it is perhaps more work than other ways to bring in customers. For instance, your website can have a virtual museum of music. If you have pages of pictures and descriptions of unusual or antique instruments, or old concert posters, or albums with interesting covers, it becomes a valuable Internet resource. You can also become an ‘authority’ site. You might post the schedule of local musical events, a blog for musicians, and things of that nature.

So, when it comes to paid advertising, almost nothing works for a small music business. Good free publicity, on the other hand, can change things overnight.

You may be thinking I’m talking about sending press releases to the local newspapers, radio and TV stations announcing that you have a new business. That can have a small effect. Much greater is to do something newsworthy, meaning, something positively eccentric.

I mentioned this to a bike shop owner, and he said, “Oh, like give away free water bottles printed with the store logo?” He didn’t get it. Better is to sponsor something unique. Sponsoring a compelling but unusual free musical event, or offering a half-hour of free recording studio access is a start. Getting musicians to wear your custom printed T-Shirts is a step in the right direction. Then, they will hopefully tell musical friends to do business with you. That will have a small effect, but it is not newsworthy, and it really isn’t free, because you have to pay for the T-shirts. I’m talking about something newsworthy. Let me give you an example.

Customers of an old bookstore in San Francisco used to complain from time to time because is was sort of dark in there, especially in the deeper shelves. That gave the owner an idea. He held a special sale. All books were half-off. But, the sale ran from midnight to 1am one night. And, he turned all the lights out. At the door, all the customers were handed flashlights. That not only made the news, but it is still talked about today, twenty years later. After reading the story, thousands of new customers visited the store.

At another bookstore, some college students created an art project. Their idea was to rearrange all the books, not by subject and title, but by color. Shopping there during that time may have been tedious, but all sorts of people came by to see it, and no doubt many of them came away with books they would never have noticed normally.

So, what kind of positive eccentricity can you imagine for your music business?

As I mentioned, having at least a basic website is important for most businesses. Fortunately, a one-page site is sufficient for most, and easy to create. You can do positive eccentricity on a website as well. We’ll talk a lot more about websites in the next chapter.

A guy who’s business was repairing Apple computers uploaded a little video to his site that showed him dropping a PC and a Mac computer off a six-story building. Both crashed to the sidewalk. The Windows computer was smashed to bits, but with the aid of trick photography, the Mac had only a couple of scratches.

Then there’s the old fashioned way, business cards and flyers. Putting business cards in everyone’s hands who comes your way can build a business slowly, but surely. Of course, giving them something more interesting such as a keyring tape measure, or an interesting hologram will be more effective. A computer business gives out business cards that have a chart of the common [Ctrl] (or [Command] on Mac) keyboard shortcuts. You know:

[Ctrl] + [A] = Select All

[Ctrl] + [C] = Copy

[Ctrl] + [F] = Find

[Ctrl] + [V] = Paste

[Ctrl] + [X] = Cut

[Ctrl] + [Z] = Undo

So what kind of information could you put on the back of your business cards?

Putting something on all the local bulletin boards can surprise you. You’ll get more business, for less expense than you’d expect. Bulletin boards at laundromats work well, because patrons have to spend idle time waiting for the wash. Bulletin boards at natural food stores work especially well. I’m not quite sure why. Bulletin boards at diners, quick-change oil places, and elsewhere can work well, too. A good flyer makes only a few quick points, because too much text is hard to read. The best flyers have little pull-off tabs at the bottom with your name and/or what you do, and your contact info, generally your phone number. You might want to have full-page and half-page flyers, since many bulletin boards are too full to accommodate full pages. When space is very limited, you can put several business cards fanned out under a thumb tack, indicating to people it is OK to take a card. For this use, the cards ought to have large text that’s easy to read at a distance. There’s a color called “Solar Yellow,” that’s very bright and sometimes used for cards and flyers. It is a bit loud for sure, but in a jumble of white flyers, it gets noticed.

For most people, selling yourself or wares of your own creation is difficult. When you’re selling someone else’s product, you don’t take it personally when a potential buyer says “no.” It is this fear of being defeated by hearing “no” too many times that stops a lot of people from even trying.

But what if you were, or could become, one of the rare individuals who can do that? Here’s a story from Jack Canfield (author of Chicken Soup for the Soul and many related books), as close as I can remember it:

A young man just out of chiropractor school asked at his local chamber of commerce some questions about setting up a chiropractic office. They essentially laughed at him, because in his home town of Pebble Beach, California, there were already way too many chiropractors. There’s no way he could succeed. Undaunted, he started going door-to-door, to every one of the 6,000 homes in his town. He introduced himself, and asked five questions, such as, “Do you think I’d be more successful to set up an office on the North, or the South side of town?” The final question was, “When you need chiropractic help, will you visit me?”

When he was done, he rented a space, and set up an office. During the first month his office was open, he booked $12,000 worth of appointments.



Websites That Work


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Just about any musical business will benefit from a website. In fact, some musical businesses can be entirely websites.

While you’ll probably find it much more lucrative to sell your collectible CDs on eBay and Amazon, you can have your own website-based online store. Better yet, you can let eBay provide the store, and you can then customize it to your taste, and even get a domain name, which forwards to your store. For instance, you may have an eBay store called www.stores.ebay.com/albums5001. You can then buy the domain name “albums5001.com” for $11 per year through GoDaddy.com or any other similar service, and set up forwarding so that anyone who goes to “albums5001.com” ends up at your eBay store. (As of August 3, 2013, albums5001.com is actually available.)

You don’t have to be an HTML master programmer to make effective websites. In fact, you don’t have to know anything at all about HTML, Javascript, or any of that.

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. Blogger.com and Tumblr.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 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 (kindly), “I told you not to trust that webmaster.”

When considering hiring someone to build your website, shop around. The prices can vary wildly. Really wildly. One fellow got estimates ranging from $600 to $20,000 for the same job specifications. He checked out the $600 offer, and discovered that the webmaster had references and quite a bit of previous experience. This fellow was so fast at boilerplating or recycling his previous work to create new websites, that he could make a fine profit at $600. Others may spend hours learning at your expense.

Get an estimate in writing that contains a guarantee. The last thing you want is to agree on $600, but have the final bill come in at $2,500.

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.

There is one form of advertising that can work for many musical businesses, especially local businesses. That’s 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 “CDs San Francisco.” You may find that your closest competitor has bid $2.17 per click on that same keyword. You can bid $2.18. Your ad will show up at more websites, and closer to the top of the paid side of 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 CDs in San Francisco, your ad – and your competitors’ ads – will show up on that site. Or if no one has a site about CDs in San Francisco, then you’ll show up on websites about CDs, 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 “CDs San Rafael” (a small city near San Francisco), 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.

Think about the results: If you’re selling collectible CDs averaging fifty dollars,
or common CDs to people who buy a half-dozen at a time, how much would you pay to get another buyer? Not everyone who clicks through to your website will buy CDs, but they are well-targeted, so a good many will spend money. 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 seventy percent of all searches are done through Google, with the remaining thirty percent handled by hundreds of other search engines, although most of these searches are handled by Bing and Yahoo. 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, but 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.

So, if people are searching for “CDs 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/cdssanfrancisco.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.cdssanfrancisco.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 “CDs 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 Tool. It’s free when you sign up at adwords.google.com. You can enter any potential keyboard, 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.

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 “CDs 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. So if you were selling CDs 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 CDs would click through to your website.

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 “CDs Berkeley” (a nearby community) or “Albums San Francisco,” or “Music Store 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, “CDs San Francisco, Concord, San Mateo, San Rafael, Sausalito.”

If your business is national or international, then you might use a keyword that addresses a range of similar interests, like “Obscure Music CDs Honky-Tonk, Roadhouse Boogie, Boogie-Woogie Piano” 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. 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.

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. . .

Don’t fall for any of that. 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.

Getting backlinks is not always necessary. If your on-page SEO is strong, if your keyword is not well-utilized, you’ll be at the top of search results even with no backlinks.

Besides asking webmasters to add a link – many will, without cost, just because you asked, you can 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: Simply 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 okay to ask questions.

Another little trick that can be helpful when you’re not at the top of the Google search results, is to become a verified author through Google+. You need to join Google+, a social network, but it is free. Then using Google itself, you can look up “verified author Google+” where you will find the details. Basically, you have to state that you are the author or owner of the content on your web page(s), then add a little bit of Javascript code to the page. When Google sees this, they put your picture next to the brief description in the search results. Google also ads some other data for you. But seeing your picture is the main thing. People are more likely to click through when they see who you are. Even if you are not particularly photogenic, they’ll click through because on some subconscious level, they feel they know you now that they’ve seen you.

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.

Valuable Content

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 is similar to how the site originally looked when it was just one page.

It seems a computer science student made a one-page website as a thesis project. All it did was show lines of dancing hamsters with some background music. That was in the late nineties, when it didn’t take much to impress people. There was something about the cuteness of hamsterdance.com that caused everyone to email everyone else, and it went viral almost immediately. 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 you can buy an antenna for specialized electronics. The site has many charts with just 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.

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. 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? 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 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 this 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 music business!



The Final Bit


Table of Contents


A Little Hypnotic Suggestion

Now you have everything you need to start your own music business. If there’s anything I haven’t covered in enough detail for you, you’ll find what you need among the eighteen billion pages of the Internet.

So all you have to do is start.

Ah, but for most most people, that’s the rub, isn’t it? There’s something comforting about procrastination. Being defocused isn’t so comforting, but something wants to keep us defocused, doesn’t it? Yet we know how to stay focused when we really want to. I can’t explain the mechanism, but you know how to stay focused. Right? Perhaps you can think back to a time when you were surprisingly focused.

Now, think back to when you started with music. Your first exposure to music may have been your idea. It may have been your parents who got you into music. In any case, you started. And look where you are now with music! Were there times along the way when it was difficult? Were there times when you didn’t do anything for weeks, months, even years at a time? But there were also times when you progressed, weren’t there? And looking back, it wasn’t that hard, was it? Where would you be today, musically, if you hadn’t started, and eventually pushed forward?

You may be delighted to discover it is exactly the same with a music business. If you can find a way, however you may find that way, to become sufficiently motivated to start, and remember in whatever way you know how to stay motivated and focused, you can become as good in your musical business as you are in some of your other pursuits. Go ahead. That’s right – one little step at a time. . .

What’s today’s step?


You may enjoy more books like and unlike this one by searching for Jeff Napier in the Kindle Store, and at jeffnapier.com

Enjoy and prosper! – Jeff Napier

General Business Action Pack

General Business Action Pack

Not all the information is good for every business, but most of it is good for most businesses.

Business Action Pack

Ebay

Partnerships

The Sure-Fire Millionaire

Advertising and Publicity

Websites That Work

Social Networking

Craigslist

More About A Free Exchange

Your Own Retail Store

A Little Hypnotic Suggestion



Ebay

On Ebay, you can buy or sell anything from antennae to zithers. You may have a retail store, or a service business, and not realize the power of Ebay to grow what you have.

As a buyer, Ebay can be a source of rare items and common everyday things. Often, you’ll also find wholesale lots, and at times you can buy new merchandise for less than what you’d pay any wholesaler. First, I’ll talk about Ebay selling strategies. I’ll cover buying strategies later on.

As a seller, you have a national or even worldwide market, so rare things of interest to only a few people, things that would gather dust on a retail shelf, such as a tripod for a surveyor’s transit, or an antique clarinet, can sell for a lot of money on Ebay. At the same time, the ordinary things such as regular guitars, sunglasses, and digital cameras sell for the very bottom range of market value. Ebay is generally better for items smaller than sewing machines, since shipping charges add considerably to the cost of larger items.

Setting up an Ebay account is free and easy. You’ll also want to set up an account with PayPal, a money-handling website that is part of the Ebay empire and makes life easy for buyers and sellers in well over 90 percent of Ebay payment transactions. PayPal takes care of all the credit card processing and payment details. PayPal is also free. All you need to set up Ebay and PayPal accounts is about five minutes each, and the usual information, plus a credit card number, and if you have one available, a checking account number.

When an item sells on Ebay, the buyer almost always pays through PayPal. The seller gets to keep all the money collected except for an Ebay fee, typically around eight percent, and a PayPal fee of around three to four percent. The money is placed in the seller’s PayPal account, where s/he can transfer it to a checking account, or spend it in a variety of ways. The seller then packages the item and sends it to the buyer. If all goes well, and it usually does, the buyer can leave positive feedback for the seller. Feedback is a point that’s positive, neutral, or negative, along with optional ratings on issues such as shipping time and communication, and a comment. The seller too, can offer feedback for the buyer.

So, anyone doing business on Ebay can check feedback before committing to a transaction. If a seller has mostly positive feedback, you can feel confident in making the purchase. Therefore, as a seller, you want to treat your buyers well so you’ll get positive feedback.

Feedback isn’t as important as it once was because Ebay offers a variety of protections for buyers and sellers. For instance, if you buy a laptop computer, but the seller keeps your money and ships you a box of rocks, you can do more than issue negative feedback. You can contact Ebay, and they’ll refund your money – as long as you did everything right. That means to stay within Ebay’s normal parameters. If the seller asks you to pay by some means other than PayPal, or if the buyer asks the seller to ship it to a different address than the one listed with Ebay, the protection might be circumvented.

Selling on Ebay

Many buyers do not know about the Ebay buyer protection, or don’t trust it. For them, the seller’s feedback is very important. As a new seller, you might want to build positive feedback quickly. One way is to buy a few inexpensive things. You get feedback as a buyer. But most sophisticated Ebayers know the difference between feedback as a buyer and seller, and will want to see your seller feedback. Therefore, you can also start your Ebay business by selling some inexpensive things. Perhaps you have some old CDs or DVDs laying around the house. Sell them quickly, and get your feedback.

From this point forward, let’s pick a sample item, and discuss it as if it is something you really have on hand and will sell on Ebay. The item is Rolling Homes, a large-format paperback picture book about busses and trucks that were converted into motorhomes, by Jane Lidz, published in 1979.

The most important trick to selling on Ebay is knowing what to sell, since many items have too little value to sell online. It turns out Ebay has a tool for determining value. So let’s look up Rolling Homes.

At the top of almost any Ebay page is a search field. You can enter “Rolling Homes Jane Lidz.” Today, there are three copies for sale, ranging in price from $42 to $59. The prices and quantities will vary from day to day.

So far, we have learned that it seems to be a fairly valuable book, but we don’t really know how valuable. These auctions haven’t closed yet. Will anyone actually bid? How high will they bid? Let’s find out.

To the left of the listings, you have a column of refinements you can click, to limit your search based on condition, category and other things. In that column, click More Refinements. . . then Show Only. Check Sold Listings then click the Go button.

Now you’ll see a list of items that closed during the past 30 days. Today, I see that six copies sold during the past month, ranging in price from $39 to $45. So, it’s worth selling, don’t you think?

Grab your camera and take a few pictures. Ebay will allow for up to twelve free photos for each item you list. The first one will appear as a thumbnail – the little image to the left of a listing when shown in a group of similar listings. So, it should probably give an overview image of the book. It’s best to photograph items against a solid color background, so they are easy to see. I often use a red background, so if there are many similar listings, mine will stand out. You might also prefer a bright blue, green or yellow background. This is only a small advantage, so a white, even a wood-grained background is fine too. You’ll want your lighting about right, clear focus, and medium to very slightly higher than normal contrast. In the case of a book, shadows aren’t much of a concern, but with non-flat items, you’ll want to make sure shadows don’t obscure important details or make the thumbnail image hard to figure out. I use ordinary household lamps, with my camera’s color correction set to ‘auto.’ You might also experiment with color settings of ‘incandescent’ or ‘indoor.’ I use two lamps, one on either side, and slightly behind me and my camera,

Next you might take some other pictures, such as of the back cover, and maybe the table of contents pages.

Does your book have any flaws? If the cover is dog-eared or stained, maybe a close-up of the flaw would be a good idea. When selling on Ebay it is very important to clearly note flaws both photographically and in the text description. You don’t want negative feedback, and you don’t want to refund someone’s money because they were disappointed.

From the top of the Ebay home page, you can click Sell, then Sell Your Item. You are given a field in which you can enter what you have, and Ebay will give you matching categories. In the case of this book, it is easy. You can simply enter the ten-digit or 13-digit ISBN number that most published books have. Or you can browse to pick a category. Books | Nonfiction seems the most likely category, since this is a nonfiction book. But an option might be a category for motorhome accessories, since this book is of particular interest to the recreational vehicle crowd.

For DVD movies or music CDs, enter the UPC code found just under the barcode on the back.

If the item’s ISBN or UPC number is in the Ebay database, a template listing will come up, with title, number, brand name, model number, and such details already filled in.

Now it is time to edit or enter a title. This is not usually the place to be creative. You want to enter exactly what buyers for your book are searching for. So it would probably be “Rolling Homes by Jane Lidz, 1979.” Since there is room left over, you might pitch your book a bit. If it is in excellent condition, you can say so: “Rolling homes by Jane Lidz, 1979, Excellent Condition.”

Then you get to enter details such as listing the flaws your copy has, the publication year, a condition category, and some other things. Definitely enter the ISBN, or if it isn’t a book that you’re listing, enter a model or part number if one is available.

Then you get to upload your photographs. Below that, you can enter a description. For a book, if you have already entered condition notes, such as “minor yellowing, slightly dog-eared” then a description is not usually required. You could give a synopsis of what’s in the book, but most book buyers already know about what they want. If you’re selling something else, like a hat, you can describe it and pitch it to the best of your creative ability, keeping in mind that superlatives can actually hurt sales. So you might say something like this about a hat: “Size 7-3/8, hat in a vibrant purple. The brim measures 14 inches in diameter. The material is felt. Very slight shiny wear along the top edge that can’t be seen from more than five feet away. This hat was worn by people who felt sure of themselves in the fifties, and it still has that effect today. This is just the hat for a confident and stylish resident of the modern world.”

There is no limit to how long your description can be. That doesn’t mean your description has to be long. Getting back to Rolling Homes, no description at all is adequate. However, you could state something like, “I found this book fascinating, and so I took a 1/2-hour break to study it. A half-hour doesn’t really do it justice. A couple of full-time days would be more like it. I don’t really want to let it go, but you’ll probably enjoy it even more than I did. You will find photos of converted buses and trucks in these pages that you just wouldn’t expect.”

Keep in mind that an overly optimistic pitch like this doesn’t really help most products, so if you value your time, you might limit your descriptions to the basic facts.

As you are working your way down the page, you’ll see options that cost extra money such as sub-title and Gallery Plus. Most of these options have no effect on sales, but do generate extra income for Ebay. Don’t worry, they have plenty of money already, so I recommend that you do not select any enhancements that cost money.

Now, you get to choose whether to sell it as an Online Auction item or Fixed Price, also known as “Buy It Now.”

If you have an item that’s rare or collectible, and it is possible that two or more people will want it no matter the cost, then Auction is the way to go. You can start the bidding at whatever price you choose, and then decide if you’ll let the auction run for 1, 3, 5, 7 or 10 days. If after that time, no one was willing to pay your minimum price, you get to keep it, or try selling it again. If only one person in the world wants it, it will sell for your minimum price. On the other hand, two or more people can get into a bidding war.

I listed an old wooden radio with a starting bid of $50. At the end of the first day, the price had risen to $200. When the seven-day auction closed, the high bidder ended up paying me $1,200 plus shipping. This is a bit unusual in that the price went to $200 on the first day. Many experienced auction buyers wait until the last minute to bid, feeling that if they bid too soon, the higher price will only encourage other bidders. Taking that a step further, there is software that will bid on the buyers’ behalf at the last possible moment.

On the other hand, you might have an item that is common, and many copies are available on Ebay. This might be better sold as a Fixed Price item. You can set the price at, or slightly below the other ones currently being offered, unless the condition of yours is above the others. Fixed price items are more likely to sell because many buyers don’t want to play the auction game. They want an item as soon as possible, and they want to know for sure that they won the transaction. They don’t want to wait a week to see if their bid was sufficient.

Another advantage with Fixed Price is that you can save money. It costs around 30 cents (US) to list an auction item on Ebay, but as little as five cents for a fixed price item if you have an Ebay store, which I’ll cover in more detail a few paragraphs from now.

To get an idea about which items do best as Auction, and which are most often sold as Fixed Price, you can look again at Completed Listings, and see which were offered as Auction and which as Fixed Price. You can also study how other sellers handled shipping charges, and which categories they listed successful and unsuccessful items in. You can click on any item to drill in and see the pictures and read the description to figure out what the seller did, and whether it worked well – made money – or not. From there, you can even click on statistics on the seller to find out what kind of feedback the seller has, what other items the seller is currently selling, and what items the seller has actually sold during the past 30 days.

To give you another view on Fixed Price versus Auction, imagine that you have two saxophones. One is a regular student-model Bundy. The other is a Selmer Paris. There are two other Bundys for sale like yours. There are no Selmer Paris saxophones. So which one will do better sold as fixed price, a which is a better play for an auction?

Another example: You have a Swiss army knife that you’ve seen a hundred times before. There are six of the same model on Ebay already. That would be fixed price. On the other hand, what if even though you are an expert on Swiss army knives, the one you have is a knife you’ve never seen before? Some crazy obscure model. Right, auction!

After some more choices on the Ebay page, you get to decide about shipping options. You can have the buyer pay a shipping fee in any amount you choose, or you can include free shipping. Free shipping may make some items feel less costly to the buyers, but most are sophisticated enough to know that the shipping cost is absorbed in an inflated overall price. So, I generally go with an added shipping charge – charging slightly more than the packaging material and actual shipping cost. If the shipping price is too inflated, you may lose sales and get negative feedback.

You often see things like laptop computers listed for a remarkably low price, but a high shipping price. For instance, a MacBook Pro, that would normally be $2,000, is being sold for $500, but the shipping fee is $1,700. I believe the seller thinks he can trick someone into buying that laptop. But will the hassle and negative feedback be worth the ‘trick?’

You can figure out shipping costs at the major shipper websites. For instance at USPS.com (the United States Post Office), you can enter package weight, dimensions if needed, a specific shipping service such as Priority Mail, and figure out how much an item will cost to ship. Don’t forget that it will cost about a buck on average for a box and packing materials, unless you use the free Priority Mail and other envelopes and boxes supplied by USPS.com. It’s pretty much the same for UPS and Fed Ex. USPS tends to be a bit less costly for items under two pounds (1 kg) in weight. In time, you may want to buy a postal scale. Make sure to get a model that goes to at least 20 pounds (10 kg). When I started out, I had a five pound scale, and was constantly frustrated at having to guess the weights of six and seven pound packages. What’s the best source for a scale at a good price? Right, Ebay!

Keep in mind that when you just ship an occasional thing on Ebay, you can take all the time in the world to fashion your own packaging out of old cardboard boxes and junk you have in your garage. But as you start shipping five or ten items a day, you’ll want to spend some money on consistent packaging materials to save valuable time.

Also keep in mind that some things are really hard to ship. A bicycle will be much harder to package than you can imagine, until you’ve tried it once. Not only that, a bicycle probably surpasses the maximum size that the Post Office and UPS will allow. This reduces your shipping options and raises your cost. For fragile items such as guitars, double-boxing is best. Pack your guitar securely in a box, as if it had to survive a run-away conveyor belt, falling off the back of a truck, and an angry delivery person. Then, put that box in a larger box, with at least an inch (3cm) of padding all around.

If you live near a fairly large population, you can sell large items that are not cost effective to ship. You might have a chair that’s only worth $50, but the shipping cost would be another $100. So, shipping it is not a viable option. Instead, you set the shipping arrangement as No Shipping, Local Pickup Only. People in your area may bid on the chair and come by your place to pick it up. This severely reduces the number of people who are likely to want it. Occasionally, for a particularly valuable item, people will drive a thousand miles to come get it. This happens with antique tractors, for instance. If you do choose Local Pickup Only, add that to your description, to make it clear to people who are not in your area, that you are not providing a shipping option.

Ebay has a program called Global Shipping for US sellers with Ebay stores (which I’ll discuss in a moment). For most categories of items, you can click a checkbox, and Global Shipping will be allowed on your listing. If someone in one of the qualifying countries (not all countries are supported) buys your item, they pay an amount that’s more than the shipping charge you’re asking. You are reimbursed the same as if you were shipping to a US customer. You are given an address of a building in Kentucky, where your item is packaged with all other packages currently going to the same country and shipped in a big lot. Once it arrives in the receiving country, it is then mailed to the buyer using the best local transportation company. This saves the buyer money, and makes your life much easier. Otherwise, you’d have to figure out a price for the non-USA buyers, and fill out a customs form for each item you send. You’d also be responsible for refunding in the cases of lost packages, which is unfortunately common in overseas shipments. Ebay takes care of all those things for you with Global Shipping.

When you list an occasional item on Ebay, you pay 30 cents (US)for a fixed price listing, plus closing fees when it sells. If it doesn’t sell in a month, you’ve lost 30 cents. You have the option to keep it listed for another 30 cents. You can imagine that for a thousand items, this would start to add up.

The answer is Ebay Stores. A store subscription costs from $20 to $200 per month. You can save a bit with a long-term contract, but it is not required. At the basic store level ($19.95 per month), you can list up to 150 items for free – no insertion fee. At the highest level, you get to list 2,500 items with no listing fee, and after that, each item is only five cents. So, you can keep thousands of items listed month after month for a few hundred dollars per month. Once you have thousands of items, a mere few hundred dollars in listing fees will seem like an excellent deal. Stores give you some other advantages. Your listings that are similar to what others have can be promoted higher in Ebay search results. You can have a ‘presence’ on Ebay, with webpages specifically dedicated to your store. You get some special features, such as the ability to run a sale across all, or selected portions of your listings.

Once you have a store, you get to use a section of Ebay called Selling Manager Pro. With this, you can change prices of up to 500 items at a time, as well as many other bulk and individual adjustments. Let’s say you want to add Global Shipping to all your items. Just a few clicks, and they are all changed. With a store, you can organize your items into categories, include descriptions and pictures of your place of business, if you wish, build an opt-in email list of buyers and browsers, and some other tricks.

Having sold over 20,000 items on Ebay, I have found that Ebay and PayPal are good, responsive, reliable companies. I’ve also heard all sorts of rumors that PayPal does this ‘evil’ thing, and Ebay does that horrible thing. None of these rumors have proven to be true for me. If you have a store on Ebay, they offer additional options in support, including as much free support by telephone as you’d like.

Reverse Auctions

I have found the best way to get the most profit out of common, non-collectible items, is to use Fixed Price with what I call a reverse auction. I start the prices of everything way too high, then, lower the price by one percent per day using Selling Manager Pro. A few people will buy things at the way too high price, especially if there are no others like mine currently available. Most others will buy them when the price falls to market value. If something just doesn’t interest anyone in the world, the price continues to fall until it hits a chosen minimum and finally someone is willing to buy it. This is not a good thing for items which have good value, but are seldom purchased, but for common merchandise, reverse auctions is a profitable technique.

My minimum price is $9.95. I feel like anything less simply does not pay for the time in photographing, listing, picking, packing and shipping it, as well as handling the occasional emailed questions that might pop up.

So what’s with the people selling things for a dollar or less? Some are depending on the shipping price to make up the difference. Someone may sell a collectible coin for 99 cents, but then charge a $5 shipping fee. Their profit is in the difference between the $5 and the actual cost of shipping, which may be less than a dollar.

Still, that doesn’t explain all the super-cheap stuff out there. Why would someone sell a pack of guitar strings for $1 with free shipping? I don’t know! But I have some theories:

1. To some sellers, it is better to sell every item rather than throw them away. They are seriously interested in recycling to the best of their ability.

2. Some people live rent free in trailers behind their parents’ house. They ship with all recycled materials. Their merchandise came from dumpsters, house cleaning, or other free sources. To them, a dollar is a windfall.

3. Sometimes children may be responsible for the low prices. Under a parent’s supervision, a child may run an Ebay account, and be willing to sell an old X-Box game for pennies, just for the instructional thrill of participating in Ebay.

4. Sometimes, it is a mistake. The seller didn’t realize that an auction would actually close at the opening bid. The seller may have been dreaming that someone would bid $50 for his fossilized trilobite, but no, the only interested buyer got it for a buck.

With certain merchandise, people are less likely to buy something online that they can’t touch, hear, smell or feel. This kind of item is harder to get realistic bids on.

This is especially true of musical instruments, because most people would like to hear their sound quality. One trick if you happen to sell instruments is to link in a sound recording made from the instrument you’re selling. Taking that notion a step further, if you’re selling something like a camera, you might show a picture that was taken with that camera. selling a computer? Show something enticing on the screen of the computer.

Buying on Ebay

The experienced Ebay buyer often gets fantastic deals. Once the things arrive, you can sell them on Craigslist, through your own retail store, on consignment, or in some cases, you can put them back on Ebay at a profit.

There are two good ways to buy on Ebay.

The first way, the one you’d expect, is to win auctions. When something comes up that you’d like, or more specifically, something that you think you can make a profit on, perhaps a Korg keyboard, you can study the listing a bit.

First, you can see whether others like it have sold in the past 30 days on Ebay, and how much money people paid. As I mentioned earlier, you can just enter the item in the search field at the top of almost any Ebay page, then select “Sold Listings” from the options at the left. When looking at sold listings, make sure to factor in the shipping charge. For example, a steamer trunk that sold for $100, really cost the buyer $270, when you add in the $170 shipping charge.

That tells you the Ebay price, but Ebay prices are often depressed compared to what a person who can actually touch, hear, or smell an item, such as a local craigslist buyer, is willing to pay.

You might check Amazon.com and elsewhere to see if there are current price guides for the kind of items you focus on. I have an acoustic guitar price guide that I have referred to from time to time. Old price guides will mislead you, so make sure to get current ones.

Look at the item’s pictures and read the description carefully. Are there any photos that ought to be there but aren’t? For instance, if you can’t see the corner of a painting, it might be because the seller is hiding a defect in the corner. Descriptions can be deceptively worded, not clearly letting you know that parts are missing, or the item is misbehaving in some way. One thing that is seldom discussed, but can be important, especially for items with cloth or leather components, is the odor of mildew or cigarette smoke. You can contact the seller with questions that the description left unanswered.

In the rare case that the photos and description are clear, yet the item that arrives is unsatisfactory, the seller is responsible. If the seller won’t make good on the deal, Ebay has buyer protection – a kind of insurance – to back you up. In the worst case scenario, assuming you played by Ebay’s rules, within the permitted time frame, Ebay will refund your entire purchase price. Still, you may have to package and ship the item back to the seller at your expense. Let’s quickly examine two examples:

You purchased a Dell Studio 17 laptop, but instead got the smaller and less valuable Dell Studio 15. Nowhere in the listing did it say you’d be getting the 15-inch model. In fact, the listing’s title specifically said “Dell Studio 17.” If the seller won’t cover you, Ebay will.

You purchased a beautiful sweater, but it has a serious cigarette smoke oder. The listing doesn’t mention anything about the smell of the sweater, and you didn’t ask. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that due to the ambiguity of the situation, Ebay may not cover you.

Feedback can be a good indicator for a buyer. If a seller has almost 100% positive feedback, and a lot of it, you can pretty well trust that all will be fine. If there is some neutral or negative feedback, you can drill into it and see what happened. Some negative feedback is just crazy. There is a small percentage of people who are not quite sane, and sometimes this results in inappropriate negative feedback.

In a recent case, I bought a laptop computer that was slow to arrive. I knew that I might expect that, since the seller had three negatives in the past month, all were about having taken more than a month to ship the items. I bought it because I wasn’t in a hurry, and I knew Ebay Buyer Protection would cover me if it didn’t arrive at all. It did arrive in a reasonable amount of time.

In another case, a seller had two negatives in the past month. In both cases, he took parts out of the laptops before shipping them. In my opinion, that’s just plain weird, but on Ebay, you’re dealing with everyone and anyone, so this kind of thing can happen. Needless to say, I didn’t buy that person’s computer.

There are two best ways to buy things on Ebay.

The first is exactly what you would expect: You can bid on items being auctioned, and if your bid is higher than anyone else’s, you’ll win. Auctions can run 1, 3, 5, 7 or 10 days. You can bid any time you want, and you can bid as much as you’re willing to pay. Even though your maximum bid may be quite a bit higher than the current price, your actual bid is only one increment up from the current high price, generally a dollar in the USA. So, if an item has been bid up to $78, and you enter a maximum bid of $150, your actual bid will be only $79. But, if someone then offers $80, your bid goes up to $81. Because almost everyone offers maximum bids in excess of the current price, the price can suddenly jump as the automated maximum bids duke it out. If the current high bid is $79, and the other person’s maximum is $140, then as soon as you offer $150, your actual bid goes to $141.

Everyone believes it is best to bid at the last possible moment. This way, people won’t see that others are interested, and the casual buyers are less likely to bid. You can watch items’ bids grow during the last minute. It is kind of fun to see, unless you are one of the bidders. You’ll see a porcelain vase go from $20, to $22, to $35, to $91, to $148, all in the last few seconds. Some bidders are actually sitting at their keyboards physically clicking their mice at the last possible moment. Others are using “sniping” software that will bid for them, based on rules they have set minutes or even days before.

Occasionally, items that were set to end in the wee hours of the morning will get fewer bids. Items that are only appealing to a few buyers, none of whom have been watching Ebay lately, may close at the minimum bid, or no bids at all. Items that are imperfect in some way that you are willing to accept can be good deals. This is especially true if you can repair things like computers, cameras, clothing, or musical instruments, and know exactly what’s wrong with an item being offered. One of the best ways to get things is to find items that are not properly described, or even misspelled. What if you search for “cammera?” You may find a very good camera that no one has bid on, because when other potential buyers entered “camera” it didn’t show up in their searches. This is especially true if the “cammera” is also listed in the wrong category. I once saw a guitar listed under fountain pens. However, the Ebay search engine is very intelligent. When you enter “cammera” it may show you a list of all cameras. Conversely, if a seller has called his thing a gituar it may show up in guitar search results. I believe most searches start with a keyword, not a category search, so again, there’s a bit less power in looking for things that are misspelled.

The other way to buy, and one that’s more consistent, less stressful, but also less exciting, and perhaps less profitable, is to find “Buy It Now” listings that are too low. A seller unloading his old student-day stuff might not realize that a saxophone in any reasonable condition is worth hundreds of dollars, and list it for $75. This happens more often than you’d guess.

The problem is that there are other dealers also looking for undervalued saxophones. So, the listing may last only fifteen minutes before someone snaps it up. The professional fixed price buyer has bookmarked Ebay search results sorted into just the right criteria, and checks the pages several times a day. For instance, the saxophone buyer may be looking in “Musical Instruments | Woodwinds | Saxophones,” with settings for “Fixed Price Only” sorted by “Most Recently Listed First,” and a price range under $200. The same buyer may have another bookmark on “Musical Instruments | Woodwinds | Flutes” and a maximum of $150. She may also have entered “-wood -wooden” in the search field, to exclude all the wooden flutes.

Did I say snapping up Fixed Price offerings is less stressful? Maybe not. When you see something that just came up, you’ve got to quickly read the description, check the pictures, check the shipping charge, check the seller’s feedback, then maybe check a price guide, and see if you already have too many of the item in your inventory, all before someone else buys it. But this can be fun, right?



Partnerships

When considering a partnership, you want to look for someone who has what you don’t have. Starting out with a partner who has the same strengths and weaknesses as you, means something won’t be covered. That’s a recipe for disaster. Generally, the three ingredients that a partnership (or an individual) needs are time, experience, and sometimes money. There’s a fourth ingredient – one that all partners need, and that’s enthusiasm. You absolutely don’t want to start something with someone who is not enthusiastic about the idea.

Before forming a partnership, carefully assess your partner’s personality. Will you be able to get along with this person? How about in cloudy weather? Is the person lazy? Does the person have shoddy ethics? Is the person obstinate? I once saw a bicycle shop almost destroy itself because one partner of the three who owned it suddenly decided that they needed new wall-to-wall carpeting just a few months after starting the store. That would have cost $10,000. I think any objective person would agree that carpeting was not a top priority in that store. It had a painted concrete floor that was just fine. But, he couldn’t be talked out of it, and the partners nearly came to blows. Finally, the two other partners bought this fellow out, at an inflated price that took them years to recover.

In another case, a partner got evicted from his apartment, and decided to live in the inventory storage area, against his partner’s wishes, leaving little room for the business, and violating the local zoning ordinance. This fellow would do things like wake up, and walk out among customers in the showroom at 11am, unshaven and shirtless. Nice partner, eh?

In putting together a performing group, whether it’s a duo, trio or a large band, all the members must have enough interest in the project that you can be absolutely sure they’ll show up at gigs on time. They must also be the sort of people who won’t embarrass the group by showing up drugged or drunk, or say inappropriate things on stage, or when mixing with the audience. You also need entertainers who are in alignment with your group’s philosophies and performance style. Finally, a band member must have ego and emotions sufficiently in check to avoid damaging the band’s potential as a group. All this is necessary, in addition to being an adequately skilled entertainer.

So, if you’re going to consider a partnership, think about all the things that might go wrong with your perspective partners. Do not mention the idea of a partnership to any of your prospects until you are absolutely certain. It is harder to burst their bubble after you’ve created it, than before they know a partnership is possible.

Family members can be the best, or the worst! I think you know what I’m talking about. A grandfather-grandson (or grandmother-granddaughter) partnership can be wonderful with the right people. I’m sure you can think of several successful family performing groups such as the Trapp Family, Jackson Five, and the Haygoods.




The Haygoods

Click for YouTube Video

In a retail setting, families can get away with some things that normal employee-employer relationships cannot. For instance, an uncle may own a store, and may have a 14-year-old neice operate the cash register for an hour a day after school. As a partner, she can be paid less than an adult would need and expect. At the same time, she is learning business skills and social interaction.

In another example, you may have a brother on disability with multiple sclerosis. During good times, your brother can help in the shipping department, and really enjoys being useful. Your brother can be a limited partner. During bad times, the brother is not required to come to work. During the good times, you can spend your time on inventory management, but during the bad times, you work in the shipping department.

Of course, arrangements like these are legally fuzzy, so you’ll want to check your local laws first. If you’re working with someone who is receiving government assistance of any kind, you want to carefully check the legalities and limits. For instance, you may discover that a person in a certain situation can earn up to $1,500 per month, but the amount earned must be deducted from disability payments. Or, perhaps someone can earn up to $300 per month without needing to report it. Or, in a more lucrative partnership, your family member, friend – whoever your partner is, may be in a perfect position to blow off government assistance entirely, earning a living from your partnership.

Here’s a look at another common but unfortunate scenario: Let’s say you have a brother who has been in jail twice for drunk driving. He’s unemployed again because he came to work too hung-over. You might think that if you offer this brother of yours a partnership, it will help him. Wrong! You must, absolutely must, consider partners for their strengths, not their weaknesses, if you intend to succeed. And if you don’t succeed, it will not help your brother in the slightest. It will probably make his lack of self-esteem worse.

How many partners should you consider? The minimum number you can get away with. If all you need is someone with repair skill, a good drummer, or someone who can keep the shop open during weekends, then one partner is sufficient. Additional partners means that the profit is split smaller. It also means it is harder to make decisions. Larry Page and Sergei Brin have been very successful with Google. When it came time to make decisions, they had a brief discussion, came to a consensus, and moved forward.

On the other hand, I knew of an organic restaurant that had 17 partners. One of their specialties was waffles. They had one waffle iron, and so customers had to wait up to 45 minutes for their orders in the morning. The 17 of them had a meeting to decide whether they should buy a second $30 waffle iron. The meeting, argument really, ran until after midnight, and they couldn’t come to a decision. In fact, it was weeks before they could all figure out that $30 was a reasonable price to pay for another waffle iron to satisfy their breakfast customers.

Once you’ve sorted out who your partners are going to be, you need to state some things up front. Is one going to be a silent partner? If so, how silent? How will various kinds of decisions be made? For instance, the person who’s just about to book a gig probably shouldn’t have to place a phone call to another partner before the gig can be scheduled. What happens as the business grows? Do you add more partners? Do you hire employees? How do the partners decide on new employees?

All the terms of partnership need to be discussed. More than discussed. You want the major points in writing, and a contract signed by all partners.

The very most important clause in that contract will be an escape hatch for each partner. What happens if the business loses money? What happens if a partner becomes sick or dies? What happens if two partners can’t stand the sight of each other after a while? Escape clauses need to be fluid. For instance, if a partner wants to leave early on, his value in the business is worth far less than after five years. These escape clauses must be manageable, so that it is truly possible to make changes in the partnership as needed. For instance, a very bad escape clause would be that if a partner leaves, the others have to immediately pay her $500,000. If a good escape clause and other such situations are all spelled out in writing ahead of time, all will be well in these eventualities – or at least as well as it can be.

Another consideration in partnerships is your own personality. Take me, for example. I can’t stand having to share my decisions with anyone. I have always had to have full control. I’d make a horrible partner unless I was allowed to run the show one hundred percent.

So, on the opposite end of the partnership spectrum we have sole proprietorship. The individual doesn’t have to defer to anyone before making major decisions. One hundred percent of the profit goes to the individual. That’s huge, even with just two partners. Let’s say that the profit of a business is $60,000 per year. That means that an individual takes home $60,000. But two partners owning the same business would only get $30,000 each.

There’s also an ego component. I love being able to say, “I own this.” For me, it would be miserable to say, “I own a portion of this.”

Getting back to the original question, what if you don’t have the time, experience or money to start a business on your own? And once again, there is a very simple answer. Start something evolutionary. Do you really need a drummer, or just a drum machine? Do you really need someone to keep the shop open in the evenings, or can you just close at 5pm? Start something that you can manage, and let it build as you gain experience, money, whatever you’ve been needing.



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.



Advertising and Publicity

It is easy to buy advertising. There are many salespeple who would love to have you advertise in their newspaper, in their phonebook, their website, or on their radio or TV station. If it doesn’t bring the results you expected, they’ll just tell you that you didn’t buy enough advertising yet. They’ll tell you people need to hear the same message over and over. But you do need to buy some advertising, right?

Did I say, “buy” advertising? I meant “get free publicity.” Just about any form of advertising that a small business can afford will be entirely ineffective. Yellow pages ads are the worst. You end up paying a lot of money per month to the phone company, or a phonebook publisher, and get little effect. People don’t use phone books any more. They use the Internet. So you’ll want a website. It can be a simple one-page affair. All people want is your contact information. You can do some search engine optimization (SEO) tricks, discussed in the next chapter, to get people to your webpage. If you’re in a city with a dozen other similar businesses, they’ll all have their own websites, and without search engine optimization, you might be 13th on the list when people google your town name and specialty.

You can do more to boost a website in search results, but you may not have to. Remember that most people using the Internet to find a local business will already know your business name, and what your business does. They’re just looking for your address or phone number. You can bring in new customers through a website in a few ways, but it is perhaps more work than non-website ways to bring in customers. For instance, your website can have a virtual museum specializing in bicycles, musical instruments, vacuum cleaners, whatever you sell. If you have pages of pictures and descriptions of unusual or antique items, it becomes a valuable Internet resource. You can also become an ‘authority’ site. You might post the schedule of local events, a blog for people in your specialty, or the local competition schedule and results from last week’s competitions, and things of that nature.

So, when it comes to paid advertising, almost nothing works for a small business. Good free publicity, on the other hand, can change things overnight.

You may be thinking I’m talking about sending press releases to the local newspapers, radio and TV stations announcing that you have a new business or have added something to your business. That can have a small effect. Much greater is to do something newsworthy, meaning, something positively eccentric.

I mentioned this to a bike shop owner, and he said, “Oh, like give away free water bottles printed with the store logo?” He didn’t get it. Better is to sponsor something unique. Sponsoring a compelling but unusual free entertainment event, or offering a half-hour of free studio or workshop access is a start. Getting clients to wear your custom printed T-Shirts is a step in the right direction. Then, they will hopefully tell friends to do business with you. That will have a small effect, but it is not newsworthy, and it really isn’t free, because you have to pay for the T-shirts. I’m talking about something newsworthy. Let me give you an example.

Customers of an old bookstore in San Francisco used to complain from time to time because is was sort of dark in there, especially in the deeper shelves. That gave the owner an idea. He held a special sale. All books were 1/2-off. But, the sale ran from midnight to 1am one night. And, he turned all the lights out. At the door, all the customers were handed flashlights. That not only made the news, but it is still talked about today, 20 years later. After reading the story, thousands of new customers visited the store, mostly because they were curious to see if was as dark as people said.

At another bookstore, some college students created an art project. Their idea was to rearrange all the books, not by subject and title, but by color. Shopping there during that time may have been tedious, but all sorts of people came by to see it, and no doubt many of them came away with books they would never have noticed normally. (After two weeks, the same college students put all the books back in subject and alphabetical order.)

So, what kind of positive eccentricity can you think of for your business?

As I mentioned, having at least a basic website is important for most businesses. Fortunately, a one-page site is sufficient for most, and easy to create. You can do positive eccentricity on a website as well. We’ll talk a lot more about websites in the next chapter.

A guy who’s business was repairing Apple computers uploaded a little video to YouTube, and linked to his website, that showed him dropping a PC and a Mac computer off a six-story building. Both crashed to the sidewalk. The Windows computer was smashed to bits, but with the aid of trick photography, the Mac had only a couple of scratches. That was a fun video.

Then there’s the old fashioned way, business cards and flyers. Putting business cards in everyone’s hands who comes your way can build a business slowly, but surely. Of course, giving them something more interesting such as a keyring tape measure, or an interesting hologram will be more effective. A computer tutor can give out business cards that have a chart of the common [Ctrl] (or [Command] on Mac) keyboard shortcuts.
You know:

[Ctrl] + [A] = Select All

[Ctrl] + [C] = Copy

[Ctrl] + [F] = Find

[Ctrl] + [V] = Paste

[Ctrl] + [X] = Cut

[Ctrl] + [Z] = Undo

So what kind of information could you put on the back of your business cards?

For local businesses such as offering lessons, or repair, putting something on all the local bulletin boards can surprise you. You’ll get more business with no cost. Bulletin boards at laundromats work well, because patrons have to spend idle time waiting for the wash. You might think that laundromats attract low-end clientele – those who can’t afford their own appliances. This is true, but they also attract a higher-end clientele. These would be customers who have to wash blankets bigger than their home washer can handle, or people who are waiting for their home machine to be repaired, or – I hate to say it – people who will wash rags in a public machine because they don’t want to mess up their own machine.

Bulletin boards at natural food stores work especially well. I’m not quite sure why. Bulletin boards at diners, quick-change oil places, and elsewhere can work well, too. The best kind of flyer is one that makes only a few quick points, because too much text is hard to read. The best flyers have little pull-off tabs at the bottom with your name and/or what you do, and your contact info, generally your phone number. You might want to have full-page and half-page flyers, since many bulletin boards are too full to accommodate full pages. When space is very limited, you can put several business cards fanned out under a thumb tack, indicating to people it is OK to take a card. For this use, the cards ought to have large text that’s easy to read at a distance. There’s a color called “Solar Yellow,” that’s very bright and sometimes used for cards and flyers. It is a bit loud for sure, but in a jumble of white flyers, it gets noticed.

Sometimes people will tear off a tab on each of the flyers they put up. This is to make the general public think there’s interest in what the flyer advertises.



Websites That Work

Just about any business will benefit from a website. In fact, some businesses can be entirely websites.

You don’t have to be an HTML master programmer to make effective websites. In fact, you don’t have to know anything at all about HTML, Javascript, or any of that.

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, Blogger.com and Tumblr.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 (kindly), “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. I think it was 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 the expenditures.

There is one form of advertising that can work for many businesses, especially local businesses. That’s 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 show 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, 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.

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, 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.

Another little trick that can be helpful when you’re not at the top of the Google search results is to become a verified author through Google+. You need to join Google+, a social network, but it is free. Then using Google itself, you can look up “verified author Google+” where you will find the details. Basically, you have to certify that you are the author or owner of the content on your web page(s), then add a little bit of Javascript code to the page. When Google sees this, they put your picture next to the brief description in the search results. Google also ads some other data for you. But displaying your picture is the main thing. People are more likely to click through when they see who you are. Even if you are not particularly photogenic, they’ll click through because on some subconscious level, they feel they know you now that they’ve seen you.

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.

Valuable Content

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!



Social Networking

There’s a super-effective trick with the social networking sites that can bring you hundreds or thousands of new customers, 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 Instagram. There’s also a lot to be said for Pinterest and LinkedIn, as well as some other social venues. 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 YouTube, Vimeo, 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.

Twitter

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).

Facebook

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!

Instagram

Finally, we have Instagram. Anyone can sign up. You may be already signed up and not know it. Facebook owns Instagram has taken the initiative to link all their divisions together.

Instagram has hashtags. Some experts are predicting that Instagram is a fad, that five years from now, it will be a ‘thing of the past.’ Instagram has one big disadvantage, and that is that you cannot embed a link in your text. On Facebook and Twitter, you merely have to mention a website, along with it’s extension, such as 500ways.com and it’s is linked. With Instagram, you can’t do that. So, you have to rely on a link in your profile description. However, you can mention websites in your post text, and people are able to copy and paste your website into their browsers.

Let me give you a concrete example:

I wanted to publicize an idea about bike safety. I found a group for 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 group, 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

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:

Steve Moore
Crazy Drummer

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.

Memes

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.



Craigslist

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.



More About A Free Exchange

Perhaps your church or group has sponsored an occasional clothing exchange. I’m not talking about a rummage sale where you donate your unwanted clothes and they sell them to support the organization. I’m talking about an event where everyone brings their unwanted clothes, perhaps on a Saturday morning, and everyone can carry away other members’ unwanted clothes. So, you can get rid of that funky sweater someone ‘gifted’ you with and pick up a great pair of pants, or whatever.

What if this happened on a grander scale and was about whatever you’re interested in, not necessarily clothing? Imagine a regular location where this free exchange went on every weekend, or even every day? Do you see where the profit is in this? Since you could be the one who organizes and maintains it, it is only fair that you get first pick on everything that comes in. If you let everyone know right up front that that’s exactly what you’re doing, they’ll all be OK with it. I can assure you of that, because I set up a business that grew nearly overnight into a large, ongoing free general exchange in Marin County, California, and that’s what actually happened.

More specifically, I rented a 2,500 square-foot store, primed it with stuff I bought for next to nothing at garage sales, and opened to the public. In my exchange, I allowed exchange of anything of reasonable size (no refridgerators or mattresses, please!) There were many books, garden tools, car parts, sports equipment, you name it. But I could have specialized in appliances, bicycles or car parts and accessories, clothing, computer gear, or pretty much any type of thing. A couple of years later, I set up a quite successful specialty exchange, dealing just with books, CDs and DVDs.

Never once did anyone complain that I had first pick. Quite the contrary, I received complements all day long for the nature of the business.

Another thing that might surprise you is that I received much more stuff than I gave away. There was so much stuff coming into my exchanges, that much had to be discarded.

When people decide to clean out the attic, basement or garage, they tend to bring multiple boxes full of stuff. There were hundreds of wealthy people who brought things to the exchange just so other less wealthy people could get them. All these donors knew full-well that I was supporting the business by picking the cream off the top.

I’m sure you can imagine what I did with the one percent or so that I picked. Right, I sold them on Amazon and Ebay.

I only ran my exchanges as experiments for four months each.

During my first four months, in the general exchange, a volunteer ran some math and worked out that I gave away $44,000 per month worth of stuff. This was just wonderful for all the people who came from the poorer areas east of Marin and were able to get good things for their children and themselves. Even though the store was in a rather fancy suburban neighborhood, and many of the ‘shoppers’ came in junky cars and looked kind of scary to the locals, I was often told how much it was a great community service by the well-off locals.

I have been more of an experimenter than a do-the-same-profitable-thing-year-after-year person – probably to my detriment, but my exchanges could have been huge successes. Instead of moving on to the next experiment, I suppose they could have branched out, and I’d be very successful in the exchange business. But, being an experimenter and a writer, I’ll leave starting the next exchange up to you.

Imagine the potential. If you specialize in musical instruments, you’ll get instruments into the hands of children and adults who couldn’t otherwise afford them. If someone has had their instrument stolen or broken, you can provide them with another. You can provide sheet music. It wouldn’t be surprising if your free sheet music collection could become larger than what any store in town carries. You could have walls filled with free CDs. Interestingly, your place can become a destination for musicians. Many will volunteer to help your efforts. Everyone will just love hanging out, offering advice, repairing instruments, talking shop, jamming – well, you get the idea. What a place it can become!

If you specialize in clothing, you’d be offering a great service indeed, as people who can barely afford to clothe themselves and their children will get what they need. Their hard-earned money will go to better quality food, paying back bills, and so on instead of clothing, and they can dress proudly, not shabbily.

Of course much of the stuff that comes in will be in sad shape. You’ll get brass instruments that are quite dented. You’ll get torn clothing. You’ll get books that are 30 years old. You’ll get unidentifiable car parts. You’ll get wobbly furniture. But not all of it will be junk!

When it’s free, you’d be surprised how delighted someone can be with “70’s Pop Tunes.” When it’s free, people will figure out a way to fix that chair with the missing leg, or the vase with the crack in the side. Or if they can’t fix it, they’ll have fun trying. You may not be too happy about selling the good things that come in, even though that could be quite profitable. But if a stamp album comes in that you can sell on Ebay for $4,000, that money will go along way to support the exchange, wouldn’t it? That way, you can get a lot more servicable goods into a lot more hands.

Perhaps the bulk of the money will be from selling pieces of broken things. As far as I went with pieces is that I experimented with two student-model flutes. I took them apart and listed the pieces on Ebay. They each brought just over $100, after all expenses, selling most of the bits and pieces for $10 each. I once took in a guitar that was cracked on all sides, and missing a couple of tuners. It was not a production model. It appeared handmade, having no brand name and no model, but it had excellent inlay around the sound hole. I put it as-is on Ebay, expecting maybe I’d get lucky, with a winning bid of around $20. It sold for $203.

The reason I created two exchanges was that I wasn’t quite happy with the first one.

My first version started out quite large, and I had a rag-tag assortment of about 20 volunteers. Not being a great manager, I quickly lost a degree of control over these people. Some came in drunk, some complained about everything in sight, some treated the clientele crudely. So, if you’re going to do this, you’ll either want quality employees rather than volunteers, or you’ll want to screen your volunteers better, or you’ll want to have a more alpha personality. Or, perhaps the best solution, is keep it small and manageable, perhaps in a 700 – 1,000 square foot space in a smaller community, or hidden away in a neighborhood.

That’s what I did with my second exchange. I wanted something smaller and more manageable. It was 1,000 square feet, about a third the size of a typical 7-11 store, in a town of just under 20,000 residents. Initially I did everything myself, no volunteers. I decided to specialize in books, CDs and DVD movies, because I figured I’d have a quieter, more focused clientele. I was exactly right. The second exchange was just as profitable, yet much less hectic, and therefore more fun for me.

Speaking of profit, I spent about $10,000 setting up the second exchange. I could have done it with less, but in my case, I didn’t need to. By the end of the second month, I was making $5,000 per month profit. At the end of the four-month experiment, I sold it quickly for $32,000. (If I had wanted to, I could have held on for a year, and sold it for much more!)

A bit of a problem with the first, general exchange was waste. Since I was taking everything, not just books and disks, I had to rent larger and larger dumpsters to accommodate the things that weren’t worth even giving away. At the end of the fourth month, I was paying $250 per month for dumpster rental.

To avoid discouraging people from bringing things, I decided never to decline any reasonable donations. I stand by this, and believe it’s better to spend a bit on garbage pickup than losing donations from people who start to figure you may not accept what they bring. Interestingly, things they assume you don’t want may be wonderful donations. I received a sousaphone that’s bell was crushed all out of shape. It was awful in appearance, but still played, so I gave it away.

If an item needs repair, you may be surprised how many volunteers are available to fix it. They may prefer to fix it in the exchange – if you have the space for a repair area. This is so they can become part of the social scene. Or, they may want to take things home to repair them. But what if the volunteers are unreliable? What if someone brings a sweater home to reknit a blown seam, and never brings it back? If you were going to give it away anyway, no loss!

In the case of an item beyond repair, you can sell what parts are good. There’s good money in a sousaphone mouthpiece or valve if someone needs that exact part on Ebay. I have studied the bicycle parts sections of Ebay from time to time, and am amazed how many ordinary everyday parts are being sold there. I once took apart a Roomba vacuum cleaner, and sold all the parts for well over $100.

I had a sign on the front window of my general exchange that told people not to leave donations after hours. But they did. Most mornings I’d find a enough bags of worn-out clothing, broken lawnmowers, sofas without cushions, and so on to fill a pick-up truck. These were the things that people just wanted to dispose of, didn’t want to pay landfill fees, and would be too embarrassed to try donating to the store during the day. Of course this wouldn’t be so much of a problem with a specialized exchange. In fact, the nighttime donations might surprise you. Someone once left two banker’s boxes full of old records. I called my friend Ken, who paid $100 per box for the collection. He took about six albums per box, and donated the rest back to the exchange.

In my media exchange, I learned to solicit nighttime donations. I had a drop box with a slot outside. Hundreds of books per months came in through that slot. I used a slot rather than an open container, because I didn’t want other people coming by and rummaging through the books before I had a chance to pick through them. I also put a free shelf outside, so visitors could get books, and occasionally music CDs, any time of the day or night.

Taking the concept one step further, you might be able to design an exchange that doesn’t need your presence at all. One way is to staff it with volunteers. Another is to have drop boxes around town, much like some clothing companies do, in which you ask people to drop of things they’re not using. On the drop boxes, you’d have signs indicating what you’re doing – donating most of the stuff to children overseas – or locally, for that matter.

I believe you should also state that you’re making a profit in the process. If you’re up front, not only will no one complain, but many will just love what you’re doing. If you try to hide it, people will undoubtedly get the wrong idea. Unfortunately, some of those companies that put out clothing donation boxes a few years ago developed a bad reputation for not actually fulfilling the promise of making good use of the donated clothing.

A little aside here: As I understand it, a fellow in Boston advertised on Craigslist that he would pick up unwanted books. He didn’t mention what he was going to do with them. He didn’t promise anything. Yet, many people gave him thousands of books, which he sold on Amazon.com.

Taking it even a step further, I can imagine that you might have a charitable arm. But that’s up to you. It is quite possible that a year or two after you start an exchange it becomes so profitable that you would have money left over with which to do good work.

To round out the picture, it would also be possible to have specialty exchanges that are simply shelves in public locations. The idea is people can drop off CDs, DVDs, books, toys, or whatever they don’t care about any more, and pick up ones they like – all for free, of course. Your job, besides keeping the shelves organized and clean, is to go through the stuff that comes in, gleaning what will sell online. Quick oil change places, laundromats, and restaurants would all love to have such a shelf.

You can tighten up the efficiency of free exchange shelves a bit by having a box with a slot on the shelves. Signs tell people to drop donated music into the slot, and take whatever they want. The point is you don’t want people carrying away the obscure and possibly valuable items. You want to be able to sort everything that has been donated before it gets away.

Don’t forget to have contact info so if someone has boxes and boxes of stuff, they know how to contact you for a free pickup.

If have not tried this exact business model myself. I did, however, put book shelves in eight laundromats. These weren’t exchanges. I purchased the books by the boxful at garage sales, paying on average five or ten cents per book. I then put them in the laundromats with signs saying, “Put $3 in the slot per book.” I split the money 50/50 with the laundromat owners or managers. Sure, some books were stolen from my shelves, but I never noticed, and it didn’t significantly impact the bottom line. These shelves were quite profitable for the small amount of time involved.

Music CDs ought to work especially well. Millions of people are looking for music they haven’t heard to put on their iPods or smartphones, and then discarding the CDs once they’ve finished uploading. It’s recycling at its best, isn’t it?

Getting back to the idea of a full-size exchange, when you pick a location, it is important to have good parking. This can be even more important than for an ordinary retail store, because many people are going to be bringing large loads of stuff. If they have to carry it a hundred yards (100 meters), they’ll be less inclined to bring stuff next time. Fortunately, the parking was very close to my first exchange. Even still, I provided hand carts for people to get things from their cars into the exchange. You don’t want anything to come between people and their desire to bring things to your exchange.

And yet, parking was a problem. My store became rather popular within a very short time. (Advertising and publicity is absolutely not necessary in a business that exists to give things away.) The problem was the parking lot became congested. And that, ultimately, was the downfall of my experiment. When traffic started clogging the little strip mall I was occupying, the neighboring businesses started to complain. The property manager suggested I leave. Oh, I could have worked things out, but since I was ready to move on, I just pulled the plug.

So, you can learn from my experiments. One thing I’d recommend if you want to start your own exchange is to start very, very small. You don’t need to rent a store. Depending on where and how you live, you might want to start it out of your garage. Or you can rent a space in a flea market. Or set up something cooperatively with someone who has commercial space available. For instance, you might find a quick-change oil change place who would gladly donate some lobby space in trade for hundreds more people getting their oil changed there.

I’m not the first one who set up a store to give things away. The precedent was set in 1968 at the Digger Store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. The Diggers were a loosely assembled group of entertainers (one of whom was Peter Coyote) who started making free soup, beans, and bread for the hippies that came to the Haight during the Summer of Love. In time, they rented a storefront where they accepted donations of clothing and general merchandise, and gave everything away. I did a bit of research and never found out how they paid the rent. My guess is that they came up with the first month’s rent, then just coasted until they were evicted. That store, too was a short-lived experiment. Digger Archives



Your Own Retail Store

The prestige and freedom that comes from having your own retail store can put a long-lasting smile on your face. It’s your place, so you can have wonderful conversations with your customers. You can decide to host jams, groups, or parties after hours. The local celebrities may drop in from time to time. You’ll probably eventually end up making more than any hourly wage, and you can hand the whole works over to your children forty years later.

Being primarily a writer, I lost interest in the stores I started, so I did what you can do with your stores too – if you are impatient as I am: You can build your store up, then sell the business for what will seem like a remarkable amount of money. The longer you keep your store, the more it is worth. The downside is that you’ll be making so much after a few years, you may not want to sell it.

I have found that the idea of starting a store from scratch scares many people. That’s why so many will pay so much for an established store. However, as one who has done it several times, I can tell you starting a store from scratch is really quite easy.

It is also easy to lose money, so I’ll offer a few pointers in this chapter to help you start successfully and stay successful.

Consider this, the first rule of business: You’ve got to make more than you spend.

A good second rule might be: Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.

Given those two rules, you may have to start something on a shoestring, and let it pay for its own growth. That’s very possible, and what this chapter is about.

But you may not yet have even a shoestring. If you don’t yet have the money for a retail store, you can put this book away and give up. Wait a minute! Of course, I don’t recommend that. There is another way.

you might like to start small – very small. You can usually find a way to start with a very few of whatever you’d like to sell, or something similar, put them in the trunk of your car, sell them to friends and aquaintences, list them on Craigslist if it serves your area, and possibly sell at flea markets or in consignment stores. As your mini-business grows, and as you are gaining experience with your product line, you can start building a pile of inventory and a pile of money, until you have enough to easily and safely start a retail store. I know a fellow who did it with camping gear. He started with second-hand things he bought at flea markets and garage sales. It’s been several years since he started. He now owns two full-fledged and full-service retail camping goods stores. His stores don’t compete with K-Mart. He mostly sells high-end used and new camping gear to expert hikers, climbers, hunters and others. It turns out there are plenty of those expert enthusiasts to keep his two stores plenty busy.

The biggest expense for most people starting a retail business is space. A typical store is around 1,000 square feet. Rent in a ‘good’ neighborhood is $1 to $2 per square foot (10 – 15 Euros per square meter), or more. So, right away, you’re looking at $12,000 to $24,000 per year.

Then you might want to consider heat or air conditioning, electrical usage for lighting and so on, liability insurance, telephone, credit card processing, and city or county licensing. All these typically add up to another $10,000 per year.

Then there’s advertising costs. And there could be the rather huge expense of employees.

These are the expenses for someone starting a typical retail store.

If you want to start a business in the usual way, you must be able to afford to lose a lot of money, at least until your business is up and running. And many businesses take from two to five years to become profitable.

Worse, many, make that ‘most,’ businesses never do become profitable. The statistics are staggering, and interesting. Did you know that one out of every four women fail in business? Ah, but what about the men? How well do they do? Four out of every five men fail in business!

Of course there are stories of people who failed two or even three times before becoming successful. Can you afford that? Would you want to go through that kind of stress?

But there is the other way – starting small – in which you can avoid most all the stress, most of the expense, and the risk of failure. Starting small has been covered in other chapters.

You can shortcut this process. You can do it your way. But I don’t recommend it. What I’m going to tell you is a rather safe and sure way to get into the retail business once you have some experience and money built up. Starting from absolute scratch has as much chance of growing into something big, maybe even huge, as those who start with $500,000 cash.

You want to choose a business that will work in our modern world. Urban blight, WalMart, a troubled economy, and inexpensive machine-made products are part of our world these days.

So, let’s rule out some things: If you have a hand-made product that’s the same as, or no better than what anyone con buy in a variety store such as K-Mart, then you probably aren’t going to be able to sell it. If it costs you $10 to make each of your ‘things,’ then the big companies can have the same ‘thing’ made in an Asian factory for perhaps $2.

If you want something that can be purchased wholesale, and you can buy them in lots of 100, you’ll pay more per item, and more for shipping, than the big chain store companies who can buy in lots of 100,000. They make all sorts of back-room deals with the manufacturers with which you can’t compete. UnlessĂ– (more about that in a minute.)

You’ll find service is easier to sell. Yes, the big chain stores offer computer repair, eyeglasses, they have a big photography department, some offer tayloring, you can have window screens replaced, paint mixed, keys made. However, everyone knows this is boiler-plate service. The service is generally done by minimum-wage employees with relatively little training.

If you offer service by an expert, in a field that needs quality attention, you’ve got something you can sell. Then, if you can offer that, you can pump up your sales with hard goods – the very things I said you can’t buy at competitive prices. As you’re writing up service tickets, you can suggest this replacement part or that accessory. The customers who come into your store start to become familiar with what’s on your shelves, and will start coming for the specialty items they can’t find at the department stores. And, even though you have to pay more for items purchased from wholesalers in lots of one or a dozen (instead of 100,000), you’ll be able to sell them for more.

A small bicycle shop fits the mom-and-pop retail paradigm nicely. Wal-Mart does not offer high-end bicycles. They do not have special cycloscross tires, or Zefal pumps or Kool-Stop brake pads. They do not have employees that know how to custom fit your bike to you, or even sell you the right size. They do not offer any after-sale service other than a complete refund. They don’t know how to get you the same model, but in lime green. What else? They don’t know about accessorizing the bike: fenders, lock, lighting, luggage and so on. They cannot tell you from their own experience how it is to bicycle tour in Bulgaria, how to train for a double-century, how to strategize a BMX race, or maybe even how to fix a flat tire.

The same is true for a fabric store, a pet shop, or a musical instrument store. The department store employee doesn’t quite know what pinking shears are used for, why someone might like 12-inch hacksaw blades instead of 10-inch, or what a red-eared slider eats.

I think you’re beginning to see why a specialty shop would be successful, even with a huge chain store right next door. Maybe even more so, since all the chain-store buyers will see your sign and drop into your shop when they want something that the chain store can’t offer.

What other kind of store might work? Musical instruments. Tool supply. Certain kinds of appliances, many kinds of specialty sports or hobbies, as long as there are enough participants in the sport or hobby in your community. Ethnic foods. Organic natural foods are particularly good if your community is one that is aware of good eating, and doesn’t already have too many such stores. Automotive accessories. Antiques. Used merchandise can be a great choice, especially second-hand clothing and furniture.

Do you see the common factor in these? They offer products that can’t be found in the department stores, or something that requires more knowledge or service than those stores can offer.

It is probably important to pick something that you know quite a bit about. Whereas a person can just decide to start a guitar store without even knowing how to play music, it is harder that way. On the other hand, the owner will probably enjoy learning to play guitar, how to determine the value of guitars, and so on – but it can be an expensive process as mistakes are made, and customers are left without the advice they need.

So what do you know and enjoy? Second-hand building materials? Home crafts? Spanish cuisine? Sound systems? Digital photography? Soccer? Laptop computers? Organic gardening? You don’t have to start out as the world’s leading authority in your field. But it helps to know enough to advise your customers properly, and know what kind of inventory they will want to buy. And if you’ve been through this process and that, you’ve read the books, you know you’d want to buy certain brands and models, then you have the knowledge you’ll need.

What people notice first about a piano store is the pianos. A successful piano store doesn’t sell the kind of keyboards you find in the department stores. They start at mid-level, and go up in price from there. That’s because they can’t compete with low-end keyboards. You can purchase an entry-level Yamaha keyboard from a typical wholesaler for $119. You can buy the same thing at Radio Shack for $79. But when it comes to keyboards for $400 and up, with a USB port and weighted keys, they simply aren’t available at Radio Shack. On the other hand, customers shopping in that price range are rather specific about what they want. So, you need to carry a variety, be well tuned into what people want, or expect sales of new keyboards few and far between. Then, assuming there are other high-end music stores in your area, you’ll have to keep your prices competitive, making only a rather small mark up.

So, eventually, you’ll want to carry new keyboards and pianos because they bring customers in who buy sheet music, amplifiers, microphones, and all that. They come to look at your keyboards, as if it were a museum, but they don’t leave without buying a patch cord, a speaker cabinet, a sheet music book, or some other accessory.

However, if you were to start your music store with new keyboards and pianos, you’d be in debt on your first day – or maybe you would have blown your inheritance foolishly.

So now let’s talk about this shoestring concept. That’s how I started. I took it to the extreme, by necessity. You see, I was 16 years old at the time, with just about no money at all – maybe $10. So doing what a 16-year-old sometimes would do: I started fixing bikes for kids in the neighborhood, trading used bike parts, and just having a good time puttering around. Every now and then, I’d make $20 or $30 on a repair or a trade. Then people started paying more regularly for repairs. The trading inventory became so attractive that people bought my second-hand things more and more often. It wasn’t long before I outgrew my one-car garage, and my parents’ patience. But by then I had a couple of thousand dollars. That’s when I made the leap to a retail store. I found a place of about 700 square feet for rent in the ‘bad’ part of town. It was a place I could afford. And I moved my eight used bikes, handful of used parts and tools into the store. I painted my own sign and kept the heat very low all winter. I was willing to do whatever it took. I remember one time regluing a bunch of wooden dining room furniture because I had a customer who was willing to pay for that. But I also taught some bicycle repair courses in the shop. By spring, I had made it through the winter without going in debt. In fact, I had more than when I started. Actually, it was right before Christmas that I was able to make my first-ever wholesale purchase. I bought $200 worth of lights, pants guards, reflectors, patch kits, tires, seats, and things I thought might sell as Christmas gifts, or be good general inventory. I had found a wholesaler who was willing to sell in quantities of one or two, not dozens of anything. Some of the stuff sold, and I bought more. By Spring, I was able to place my first order for honest-to-goodness NEW bikes. It was only 6 bikes, but oh, I was so proud!

Let’s fast forward four and a half years. My shop had turned into a ‘pro’ shop. In a city of 400,000 people there were 10 other bike shops. Too many, really. But I did well anyway, because I treated each and every customer as if they were important – because they were. I studied, practiced, and listened, and became a bike expert. I was able to offer advice. I’d steer someone away from a certain brand of patch kit because I knew the glue would always dry up after the first use. People like this kind of personalized service, and went out of their way to buy things at my shop. They told me all the time that they drove past this bike shop or that, to come to mine. I taught more bike repair lessons. I learned how to build custom frames, and taught frame-building lessons. I hired people to help. At the peak of the summer season, I had eight employees and had expanded into other units in the building. I was then operating out of a couple thousand square feet. To fill the extra space, I went crazy and bought 125 new bikes in one batch and sold them all within a month.

Actually, new bikes wasn’t the focus. The part of the profit pie that came from new bikes was actually rather small. The piece that came from the accessory sales, repairs and customizations those new bikes brought was larger.

The two biggest parts of the pie were the general repair trade and used bikes. It turns out that all my customers told their friends and family that my shop was good, honest, fast, and all the other right things when it comes to repair. So during the summer, I had enough work to keep four mechanics going full time.

Used bikes turned out to be much more profitable than I had figured. They were more profitable than new bikes. You see, I learned early on to ask anyone who was considering buying a new or used bike whether they’d like to trade anything in. I could buy bikes all the time for $25, put perhaps $25 worth of labor and parts in, and sell them for $125.

And that’s my advice for someone who wants to start on a shoestring. You may not have to start as small as I did, or maybe that’s just right. Can you work out of your back yard? Your basement? A tiny rented space? I have seen bike shops set up in 10 x 20 foot flea market stalls. What about partnership? If you don’t have everything you need, perhaps you can find a partner who has the missing knowledge, money, time, space, whatever you lack. Check out the Partnerships chapter.

As your business slowly outgrows your space, you’re gaining experience in your product line, and in dealing with your customers. By the time you have the money to move into a bigger space, you also have the expertise to make sure your profit is more than enough to pay for it.

What happened after 4-1/2 years? I sold the business for quite a bit of money. I bought a motorhome and traveled around the USA for several years on the profit. In retrospect, that may have been foolish, but I was still young. If I had kept the shop, it would probably have been a chain of bicycle shops by now. I may have had my own manufacturing plant. On the other hand, by traveling, I gained more and varied experience, and at any time I could have started another bike shop. In fact I did, twice. And I created some other businesses. Then I sold them. I can always start another. But of course today, I’m having too much fun writing about businesses.

Here is some more detailed advice:

1. Remember the first rule? Don’t spend more than you take in. If you take that quite literally in your first months, you’ll stay safe. Furthermore, you’ll learn all sorts of shoestring tricks, ideas and work-arounds that will serve you well, even once you’re making millions of dollars. Then, you can have your managers show your employees some of the same things you once did to save money, so each of your employees is also profitable to you.

2. And the second rule? Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose. Once business is gaining momentum, you may be tempted to speed things along a bit by investing too much, too soon. I remember a camera store that had one Hasselblad, a very expensive camera. After a while, it sold. So, they bought five more. It took years to sell all five, and in the meantime, those five high-end cameras tied up a lot of inventory money that could have been used for everyday things that sell more quickly.

When you first start, it is completely acceptable to focus mostly on service, if your product line has a profitable service component. If you can fix the things you deal with, you have an immediate income in the repair business, without having to put much, or any money into inventory. As your repair business grows, you’ll know which parts and accessories to stock that will sell frequently.

It was quite common in past decades to find many stores in a town that were really almost entirely repair shops. You’d walk in, and see almost no retail displays. It felt like walking into a, well, repair shop. Right up to the front door was equipment in all stages of repair, tools everywhere, the ‘salesman’ who probably owned the place greeted you in dirty overalls. You may still see this from time to time. Shoe repair stores come to mind. TV repair stores often were like that. TV repair, however, has gone bye-bye, since solid-state electronics are more reliable and the cost of new TVs is so low in comparison to repair costs. But for many businesses, starting out as a ‘repair shop’ can be just as successful today as it was back then.

If your product doesn’t really have a service aspect, look into what else you can do. Can you teach in the back room? I know a health suppliment store that teaches classes on many aspects of nutrition and healthy living in their back room. They make more money out of the back room than the front room, with all its cans and bottles. Can you buy, sell, consign or broker used items? Can you set up profitable local events of some sort based around your product line?

Listen to your customers. Talk to everyone. Find out what they want, and do your best to provide it.

Be on the look-out for pride. What if I told the dining room furniture person, “No, this is a bicycle shop, I refuse to stoop so low as to fix your chairs!” Well, I’d have to borrow money for groceries that week! Plus, it turns out, the furniture guy bought bikes for both of his teenage sons that spring, and another bike when one was stolen, and spent perhaps $400 that year in parts and service.

Finding the right retail building can make a world of difference. If you can find a location where many people drive by, and where it is easy to park, you’ll be much more successful. Even better, if you can rent a spot in a mall, tourist location, or where there are plenty of people walking by, people who are there to shop, you may never need to do any advertising or publicity at all. Just put up your sign, and you’re in business! Really check out your location before signing a lease. If it is in the ‘bad’ part of town, there may be people who are afraid to come to your store. You may also have to deal with shoplifting. On the other hand, depending on your product line, you may find many grateful people in the ‘bad’ part of town who no longer have to commute a long distance to get what they want.

Parking meters are the death of a retail business. Many customers would rather drive across town to their competitor than be worried about whether 25 cents was enough the whole time they are shopping in your store.

Exposure is the thing. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Location. Location. Location.” Getting the wrong place can ruin a business before it gets started. Getting the right place, even if it is small, or the cost per square foot is high, can mean that you start making money from your very first month.

Most small retail businesses start with rented stores. Unless you are prepared for an entirely different kind of investment, commercial real estate, you’ll be better off renting. Commercial leases are pretty much like residential leases. They are usually one-year or five-years in length.

In upscale settings, there is something called “Triple Net” abbreviated as NNN. This is a monthly fee added to the rent for maintenance, such as mowing the lawn, cleaning of the common areas, and upkeep of parking lot. The ‘triple’ in triple-net means nothing. The amount is anything the landlord decides. Typical triple-net for a 1,000 square-foot (100 square-meter) retail store is from $35 to $100 per month.

once you’ve found the right place, you may want to have the one thing that’s missing from most leases written in: An escape clause. What if a dry cleaner next door fills the neighborhood with perchlorethylene fumes? What if a family situation requires you to move to Philadelphia? What if the dog next door just won’t quit barking? You laugh, but these things really happen. What if your business grew faster than you thought, and you need to expand into a larger building? You don’t want to be stuck with a one-year or five-year lease. So, the escape clause is something that both you and the owner of the building can live with. For instance, you might suggest that if you want to move before the end of the lease, you’ll pay three months rent up front.

Finally, before you sign that lease, you need to work out a business plan. Oh, I don’t mean a fancy plan to show a banker for a loan. I do not advocate starting with a loan. If you don’t yet have enough money saved up, and the ability to risk that money, there’s no hurry. You can just keep selling your stuff on craigslist, out of the trunk of your car, the flea market, or whatever, until you do have enough money. This is a better plan, because you’ll be proving to yourself that your business is profitable, while you learn the ropes.

A business plan just for yourself can be as simple as scratching some numbers on the side of a grocery bag. What you want to see is whether you’re biting off more than you can chew. Figure that you’ll need to pay first and last rent, then pay the rent for a few months until your business is running and established. You’ll need to cover the electric bill and other overheads. If you’re smart, you won’t figure in employees. They come later, after you’ve become successful. This is a business that you’ll run entirely by yourself at first. Finally, you need a starting inventory. Ideally, you already have plenty of items. If you don’t, go ahead and step back for a year or so, continuing to do your business out of the flea market or whatever, until inventory surrounds you. Until it fills your garage, living room, bathroom, and takes up all the space under the kitchen table.

Moving forward, let’s say you have figured out the finances, and rented a store. Now what? There’s just a little bit of paperwork, and it is easier than you thought.

Through your chamber of commerce, find your local business license office. There, you can get a DBA – Doing Business under Assumed name, also known as a business license. This costs a little bit. Typically from $20 to $200 per year, depending on your community. You fill out a one- or two-page form with the usual stuff – name, address, phone number, and they give you the license. No one is refused. Furthermore, you don’t have to know anything about it. The people in these offices know that you are not an expert in what they do. The typical person coming in wants to start a car repair shop or a beauty parlor, and knows all about car repair or cosmetology, but nothing about business. So, they are there to help you. They want you to succeed, so you can keep paying your annual license fee to the community.

You’ll probably want a business checking account, and in some cases, the local government wants to see your business checking account number before they’ll grant the DBA. No problem, any normal bank can do this for you in twenty minutes. Most banks offer business checking accounts for free.

Customers coming to retail stores often expect to pay with credit cards. In the past, this was somewhat expensive and difficult to set up. Now, you can go to PayPal.com, and get set up to take credit cards easily. In one of my stores, I was unable to take credit cards for the first couple of weeks after opening. I told people up front – so as to not suprise them once they approached the sales counter, and let them know there was an ATM a block away. So far as I can tell, I did not lose a single sale during that time.

Finally, you need to get set up to collect sales tax or VAT in most countries unless you are in a place without sales tax such as Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, or Oregon. This costs nothing, and also requires filling out a simple one- or two-page application. The certificate, often called a resale certificate or tax number is usually given to you right away. They also hand you a pamphlet explaining how sales tax works in your area. You’ll learn what percentage to charge, and which items and people are tax-exempt. For instance, in New York State, American Indians do not have to pay sales tax if they present the retailer with an exemption form. In some states, labor is taxable, and in some, it is not. To find the tax office in your community, simply ask at the business license office. They already know that’s where you’re going next, and will certainly have the address. Now-a-days, you can often set up your sales tax account entirely online or by mail.

Collecting sales tax can be thought of as a right, responsibility, or privilege. I won’t get into the philosophy here. The usual arrangement is that you set aside the tax money you collect, fill out a one-page form, and mail a check to your tax office every three months.

Once you’re in business, you do need to keep track of income and expenses. You’d want to do this anyway, so you can understand how things are going, and what to adjust from time to time to make sure you’re making a good profit.

The old-fashioned way still works: You can buy an ordinary ledger book, and enter your expenses and income by hand. Domes Monthly is a ledger you can buy in any stationery store in the USA. There are no doubt equivalents in every country. Keeping track isn’t rocket science, although it may seem so at first. The only thing you need to do is list everything you spend money on and enter the amount of money you take in every day. You can optionally break out the income into categories such as “new,” “used,” and “service.” You’ll want to break out the expenses into categories such as “inventory,” “rent,” and “utilities.” You may want to additionally list all legitimate business expenses such as “automotive,” and “advertising.”

It is much easier to use automated software. For under $100, you can buy any of a variety of business bookkeeping packages, such as Quicken. This software tells you what to do at every step. The people who make the software know that you’re a musician, beautician, or bike mechanic, not an accountant, so you’re not expected to know what to do. The software has a lot of built-in help.

If that still seems intimidating, you can hire a bookkeeper for a single session to set up your system, and tell you what to do. Only after your business becomes successful, unless you are already wealthy, do you want to hire a bookkeeper on a regular basis. Some bookkeepers are better at teaching than others. If your first bookkeeper is not good at explaining things, try another.

At the end of the year, you need to figure out your income tax. This too, is easier than it might seem. In the US, the basic addition to your taxes for business is a Schedule C. It is a single two-sided page. The categories are obvious. But it is easier to get the automated software that does it for you. At the HR Block website, you can do the whole thing on line, and then just pay $30 to $80 to file your taxes. With a business, it takes about twenty minutes longer than someone who is only filing an ordinary 1040.

What if you make a mistake? All the government officials are on your side. Really! They’d rather have you succeed, than harrass you. They know you’re not an MBA or accountant. They want you to succeed, so you can go on paying taxes year after year. If you make a mistake, they tell you what to do different. They may issue a reasonable fine – just part of the cost of doing business, and you get to move on. No one goes to jail. Well, OK, I knew one fellow who did. He was a professional ice skater who paid no income tax at all. Still, he wouldn’t have spent six months in jail if he didn’t stand up to the judge and the whole court and make a big presentation about why he shouldn’t pay income tax. Only rebels go to jail. In fact, even with all the small mistakes all of us make, almost no one gets audited. I’ve received perhaps five letters from the IRS and sales tax agencies in all my 35 years in 18 various businesses. In each of the three cases where I actually did something wrong, I had to pay a small fine. My fines ranged from $20 to $150. I knew one fellow who didn’t report his income tax at all for several years. This one was a professional juggler. He was probably making around $150,000 per year. He didn’t even keep any records, so no one, even he, knew how much he made. The IRS stated that he owed them approximately $20,000 in back taxes, which he gladly paid. Of course from that time on, he did have to keep records and pay the appropriate taxes. I know a lot of business people and these two are the worst case scenarios.

Something like a signage violation is so minor that some business people play with them. For instance, in a little store that had a maximum 3 x 2 foot (1 meter x 66 cm) sign requirement, I made a much larger sandwich sign and put it out on the sidewalk every day from the first day I opened. I knew this was in violation, and I knew someone would notice it. They did, after two months. The zoning office did not issue a fine. They only issued a ‘cease’ letter, telling me I had 30 days to comply with the law. So I kept my sign out for another month, then I threw it away. It had done its job. I’m not recommending that you play with your government regulations, unless you know what you are doing is morally correct and the repercussions are safe.

Once you are in business, you can get wholesale catalogs and the wholesalers’ secret price lists. In order to qualify for a wholesale account, all you normally need is to fax or mail a copy of your resale certificate or DBA. Some wholesalers do require a photograph of the front of your store. Some have protected dealerships. This means that if someone else is selling their brand within a certain distance, perhaps 5 miles (3km), you can’t also sell the same brand. That’s fine, find other brands that aren’t protected or aren’t yet represented in your neighborhood. You can find the wholesalers online. Often, they find you, sending representatives to your store, to let you know about their wares.

Whereas you might start your store with only second-hand or collectible items, you now have the opportunity to sell new merchandise. The biggest advantage is that you can buy multiples of things that sell well. I have always imagined how nifty it would be to have a store that sells nothing but 25-pound (10kg) bags of dog food. Only one brand, only one type. I’d sell them over and over, the same to everyone who comes in. This is of course an oversimplified dream, but you can imagine that in a typical store it would simplify things if you could sell 100 copies of the same thing.

You’ll find the markup is remarkable in the lower-priced items, if you’re not familiar with retail. Things over $100, in most specialty businesses are marked up 50 percent. So if you pay $100, you sell it for $150. If you can ‘turn’ your inventory six times a year, meaning sell six of those $150 items in a year, your profit will be $300, on what amounts to $100 invested. A 200 percent annual return on investment (ROI). Compare that to a money market account! But wait, it gets better. the mark up on things in the $5 range is 100 percent. So things that you sell for $10, you paid $5 for. And under $2? It can run as high as 800 percent. If your business sells a lot of left-hand-threaded ‘thingamajigs’ for $2 each, you may find that you can buy them for 25 cents each. But you do have to sell a lot of left-hand-threaded thingamajigs to make any real money.

Insurance presents an interesting quandary. You want to be covered for liability, especially if you’re selling anything like ladders, saws, bikes or automotive accessories. But at first, you may not be able to afford $500/year for general liability insurance. On the other hand, if you can’t afford that. then you have no money, and no lawyer will take the case against you, because there’s no money to be had. So, you can buy insurance when you can afford to. By then, you may have assets to protect.

The one hole in the theory is that you might want to help people who have somehow have had a loss due to something you may have done. Its like driving a car. You want insurance in case you bump into someone. You want them to have their fender fixed without paying for it out of their own pocket, or your pocket.

So, my advice regarding insurance is to keep it high on the priority list, and get it as soon as you can after you’ve decided you’re going to grow a business.

Most local insurance agents are a bit unfamiliar with general liability insurance for businesses, but they can talk to their parent companies or refer you to agents who know how to help. Shop around, because you’ll find the costs vary considerably.

Most general liability insurance comes packaged with some other things that you might enjoy having, such as loss of contents. If your building is flooded, and if you have the right insurance, you can be covered for your lost inventory, equipment, and even loss of income while you were repairing the damages.

Then there’s advertising. The huge mistake most new retailers make is to buy too much of the wrong kind of advertising.

Especially when you are starting out, try to do as much as you can with free publicity. If you’re offering something new or different, or even if only something about what you’re offering is new and different, the newspapers (press releases, editorials), TV and radio stations will want to tell the public about it. After a while, when your initial publicity wears off, maybe you can invent something else that’s new and different about your business, and get another round of publicity. See the Publicity chapter for some crazy ideas.

In absolutely every case I can think of, placing display ads in your main newspaper, your local ‘throw-away’ newspapers, merchant maps, or anything else like that, works remarkably poorly. In this country, literally billions of dollars have been spent on advertising that brings absolutely no new business.

The advertising salespeople always have the same story when your advertising doesn’t work: “You didn’t buy enough yet.” Don’t fall for that!

Coupons work better, but don’t pay very much for any sort of coupon ad campaign. In fact, I’d suggest staying away from that altogether, unless you can make the coupons yourself and place them with restauranteurs, on bulletin boards, and so on. The nice thing about coupons is that you have a way to gauge the effectiveness of your advertising.

A reasonably small yellow pages ad, in the main phone company phone book (not any sort of third-party phone book) can be useful. But today’s customer mostly looks online, trying to find your phone number on your website.

So, of course you’ll want to build a website. Even if it’s just a home-made blog with a couple of pictures of you at work, your storefront if you have one, etc. All you need to do is display your phone number, hours, directions and a description of your products or services. In most cases, the website won’t initiate new customers. They need to have heard of you elsewhere, then they’ll use the website to see if you carry X-brand, or if you’re open on Sundays. So, don’t spend any significant money on a website.

In some cases however, SEO – Search Engine Optimization can work wonders. The basic idea is that you put product or service and the name of your community in the right places on your website, and the search engines such as Google, will display your website high on the page of search results if others in the same product line, in the same community haven’t already optimized their pages in the same way. You can read much more about website and business in the Website chapter.

Craigslist can be useful if it serves your area, and it is free! See the Craigslist chapter for techniques for maximizing Craigslist.

Once your business grows, you’ll want employees. There are four ways to handle this:

1. Only when your business is very small, you can pay a part-time person in cash to help you out. This is truly illegal but seldom enforced. So, you’ll want to seriously consider the following alternatives:

2. Contract worker: This is not an employee at all, but a person who technically has their own business and is designated to provide a specific service. This may be delivery, repair, cleaning, or commission sales. It is important to understand the distinction between a contract worker and an employee. Generally, the contract worker sets his or her own hours, often works off-premises, has his or her own tools, and does a specific task. If you can tell this worker to clean the bathroom, then this person is not a contract worker, but an employee. You can pay this person like any supplier – just pay cash or write a check weekly, monthly, whenever, in trade for an invoice. Contract workers are entirely legal – assuming they’re not illegal aliens or anything else that violates other labor laws. Be careful about having contract workers rolling around in vehicles. You’ll want to make sure you have the right insurance coverage if anything happens.

3. Temporary: You can contact a temporary agency (or “head hunters”) to get workers. This involves almost no paperwork on your part. All you do is pay the temp agency every month. They take care of all the employee insurance, the taxes, everything. But they also charge you 30 to 40 percent more than the employee would cost you directly. ‘Temporary’ is just a term. If you and your ‘temp’ like the arrangement, it can last as long as you both wish.

4. Employee(s): To do this legally, you need to provide workers’ compensation insurance and collect and submit payroll taxes. New software packages make this easy, but it gets even eaiser when you use an agency that exists for the sole purpose of helping you with employee paperwork. ADP is an example. You tell them the name, social security number and amount of pay for any new employee. At the end of every pay period (week, or two weeks), you tell them how many hours the employee worked. They do all the magic, filing federal forms, state forms, collecting from you any taxes that are required, sending those taxes to the government, and provide you with whatever accounting you may want. Occasionally they forward a form to be signed. For all this service, they charge around $50 per payroll period per employee. Another version is a bookkeeper who comes to your place every week for an hour or two, files all all your paperwork, pays your bills, fills out any tax or official forms, has you sign a document or two, offers suggestions to organize your business better, and then comes back next week. This is great, and relatively low cost, so you can focus on what you do best, and don’t have to learn anything. Bookkeepers are not licensed or tracked in most communities, so be sure you get a good one – one who knows what he or she is doing. When shopping for a bookkeeper, ask about training and experience, and check references. With a bookkeeper, probably more than any other worker, you really want to check references. In addition to possible embezzlement, you could get into trouble with the government, or lose money, if your bookkeeper is confused or uninformed. With a great bookkeeper, you’ll learn about and implement utility discounts, better credit terms with suppliers, and other tricks that might more than conpensate for the bookkeeper’s cost.

When hiring a worker, make sure not to discriminate. You can read more about this, but basically, be fair. Hire people based on their skills (including being able to co-exist with others in your business), and on their references, not based on skin color, sex, religion, etc.

So you see, it’s all easy. Especially if you think about the process only one step at a time.

And, it’s reasonably safe and likely to succeed if you remember the two rules:

1. Don’t spend more than you take in.

2. Don’t invest money you can’t afford to lose.

You may be amazed at how much a small store can grow, and how it can grow from almost nothing. Especially if you let it be a natural process. Imagine that you happen to like Lowrey organs.




Typical Current Lowrey Organ

Click for YouTube Video

(On readers that support YouTube.)

Now, that may or may not be your favorite contraption, but they are expensive. So, if you happened to like them, you might eventually get yourself a used one on Ebay. Perhaps it’s an old one and costs you only $1,000. You play it, enjoy it, and in time get a newer but still used one for $4,000. You sell the first one on Craigslist, and to your surprise, it brings $1,800. So, you put your $4,000 organ up for sale at $6,500, just in case someone would actually pay that much. And sure enough, after a bit of wheeling and dealing, you agree to sell it for $6,000. But now, you have no organ! So you quickly order another on Ebay. Two in fact. And you end up selling them. Fast forward a year, and you have four Lowreys in your garage, and two in your living room, and you’re selling one every week or two. At some point, you realize you’re making $30,000 per year with your organs, and so you quit your job, devoting your full time to it. Now, you’re making $50,000 per year, and have $20,000 in a savings account. So, you rent a store, put the six Lowreys you currently have in the store, order four more, and things just keep growing.

As the years pass, you almost don’t notice the growth of your business, because you’re having such a good time. You spend your days playing your various organs, demonstrating them to customers, or just noodling around for your own amusement. You get to talk shop with lots of other people who love organs, including your sales people. Eventually you get a Lowrey dealership, and we won’t even talk about your income ten years later, because, well, wealthy people don’t talk about their money!



You may enjoy more books like and unlike this one by searching for Jeff Napier in the Kindle Store, and at jeffnapier.com


Build or Repair Websites for Maximum Profit


Build or Repair Websites for Maximum Profit

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.

You don’t have to be an HTML master programmer to make effective websites. In fact, you don’t have to know anything at all about HTML, Javascript, or any of that.

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.

Another little trick that can be helpful when you’re not at the top of the Google search results is to become a verified author through Google+. You need to join Google+, a social network, but it is free. Then using Google itself, you can look up “verified author Google+” where you will find the details. Basically, you have to certify that you are the author or owner of the content on your web page(s), then add a little bit of Javascript code to the page. When Google sees this, they put your picture next to the brief description in the search results. Google also ads some other data for you. But displaying your picture is the main thing. People are more likely to click through when they see who you are. Even if you are not particularly photogenic, they’ll click through because on some subconscious level, they feel they know you now that they’ve seen you.

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.

Valuable Content

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!



Social Networking

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.

Twitter

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).

Facebook

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!

LinkedIn

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 Groups

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

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:

Crazy Drummer

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.

Memes

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.



Craigslist

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.

26 Ways For Musicians To Make Real Money


26 ways for musicians to make real money

Magical Profit

26 Ways for Musicians to Make Real Money

Copyright 2013 – 2022, by Jeff Napier



Table of Contents

Start Here


Part I, The Businesses

1. Crush Art

2. Street Performing Surprise

3. Street Performing With a Visual Twist

4. Maximizing Ordinary Venues

5. Write Background Music For Video Games

6. Teach Music Out of Your Home

7. Teach Out of Other Homes

8. Teach At Schools and Music Stores

9. Teach At Community Education Centers

10. Run a Music Camp

11. Buy and Sell Rare Recordings Online

12. Buy and Sell Sheet Music

13. A Free Exchange

14. Buy and Sell Instruments

15. Consignment

16. Co-Op Selling

17. Your Own Music Store

18. Route Sales

19. Rent Audio Equipment

20. Rent Instruments

21. Coaching

22. Music Therapy

23. Player Rental

24. Retail Soundtracks

25. Musical Agent

26. Leveraging YouTube

27. Repairing and Making Instruments

28. Writing About Music


Part II, The Details

eBay For Musicians

Partnerships

The Sure-Fire Millionaire

Advertising and Publicity

Websites That Work

Craigslist for Musicians

More About A Free Exchange


Part III, The Final Bit

A Little Hypnotic Suggestion



Start Here

If you are a musician of any sort, you have interesting opportunities that non-musicians can only dream about. Oh, you may have considered some of the ideas presented in this book, and assume you won’t make any real money, or that you don’t have enough skill or knowledge, or that it would take too long to become professional. What you didn’t know, until now, are the secrets of success. You may have seen street performers making a couple of dollars per hour, and figured that not only is that low pay, it is embarrassing. But what if you discover some noteworthy techniques, so even as a street performer, you can make more than forty dollars per hour? What if you discover that teaching music is meaningful, enjoyable and profitable? What if you can be well paid to collect recordings? This book will give you the missing information for a variety of musical pursuits from teaching to buying and selling musical equipment. This book will also present ideas you’ve never considered before, so you’ll find something that’s just right for you, can be started with little or no time, risk or money. Many of these can eventually take you away from the drudgery of an ordinary job, making more money than you have ever made before. Most of these can grow beyond limits, as long as you are observant and patient.
Have fun and prosper! – Jeff Napier, business coach


Part I
The Businesses


Crush Art


I’m going to suggest something off-the-wall. Or, actually, on-the-wall, as you’ll find out it a minute.

Do you have a useless instrument laying around the house? Perhaps an old trumpet that’s just to dented to play. Or a flute that’s leaky, but not worth re-padding. Maybe you have an old guitar with a warped neck. It would be a great candidate for what I call crush art. Take that old tuba, saxophone, piccolo, whatever you have, put it under a piece of thick plywood, and slowly run it over with your car. (Make sure everyone watching has goggles and stands a long distance away in case a piece explodes outward.)

Once it is horribly crushed, you can sell it as wall art. You can even get fancy if you wish, mounting the main instrument and its detached parts on a board, and putting the whole works in a frame. Or gluing, welding, or tying the parts back together in a new arrangement. Or mixing and matching with pieces from other instruments, or even non-musical objects.

Crush art would work particularly well with brass and string instruments, but others may surprise you. I wonder what happens with all those keys if you drive over a keyboard? I can imagine the successful crush artist buying broken things on eBay or Craigslist, just to enjoy running them over, and then profitably selling the results.
results.

In this book, you’ll discover all the details for buying and selling whatever you want on eBay, craigslist, and other venues, plus details and ideas for many other musical businesses.

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Street Performing Surprise

Street performing, often called ‘busking’ in much of Europe, at a glance seems like the least likely way to make real money, and has a bit of a stigma. After all, street performing is all too close to ‘living on the streets’ isn’t it? Well, it’s true that some street performers do live on the streets. And the majority of them make very little money. Probably less than minimum wage.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, after you read and learn from this chapter, you might become so excited to give street performing a try that you may not have time to read the rest of the book! The big surprise is that if street performing is done with a bit of knowledge, and of course, skill, it can be remarkably fun and profitable. You may even have groupies come by to listen any time you appear on the street!

What are the advantages of street performing? Are there any advantages? Hmm, let’s see:

* You get to decide when you want to work. You might prefer to work just some evenings. You might want to work sixty hours a week. After all, while you’re street performing, what you’re really doing is getting paid to practice. Maybe for you, it is just two hours on a Saturday to pick up some extra spending cash. Or, maybe you’ll love it so much, you’ll want to work every minute that you can squeeze into your schedule.

* You get to decide what music you want to play.

* You get to decide what instrument you want to play.

You can be bad, as you work out a new piece, a new idea, or play with a new instrument. People just won’t stop and listen until you get better, or until you take a break and switch back to your ‘good’ material.

*You get to decide where you want to work. You might prefer to stay in San Diego or Paris, or you might like to hit the road, performing wherever you end up.

* There is no boss, so you can be in control of everything that matters to you. For instance, you might want to dress in a suit or tie, or a T-shirt. That too, is entirely up to you.

* You’re not obligated. If you don’t like a location, time, or type of music, you can change anything you want.

* You don’t have to care about being late.

* You don’t have to submit a resume. You don’t have to fill out employment papers. There’s no job interview. You don’t usually have to audition. You don’t even have to be good. Of course, if you’re mediocre, you won’t make much money at first, but as you perform, you’ll get better and better.

* You don’t have to wait until the end of the week to get paid.

* You may not know it yet, but you can make more money than you can with most hourly jobs.

* If you have other interests, or other profitable things you can do, you can present that in your street performances. It might simply be handing out business cards stating that you are available to play weddings and parties. Or, you might sell your CDs, schedule lessons, you name it.

To start, all you have to do is bring your instrument to a place where people are walking by, bring some sort of receptacle to hold the tips people will give you, and start playing. That can work, and may even surprise you how well it can work. But let’s talk about all the ways to make it work really well.

1. Location is the single most important factor. First, let’s talk about bad locations:

* If few people are walking by, few will give you tips.

* If many people are walking by, but they are all busy, that won’t work well either. For instance, a factory may let everyone out for lunch at noon, but they have to be back at 12:30. That crowd won’t stop to listen to you for even a minute. Your ideal people are those out for a stroll, to shop, or tourists.

* If they can’t hear you, or there is noise pollution that makes what you do sound less than ideal, you won’t make much money!

* If you pick a narrow spot where they can’t walk past you, before long someone will complain, and you’ll be asked to leave. Another problem with a spot that’s too small is that people must come too close. You see, many people are rather shy, and they don’t want to interact with the musician. They just want to listen for a while. If they have to be too close, they’ll feel uncomfortable and won’t stay. Depending on your performing style, you may be able to form a large crowd. The crowd will be limited if the spot is too small.

* If the spot is too large, you have other problems. People who are shy will stay so far away that they won’t be able to come close enough to give you a tip. They may feel that at a greater distance away, they aren’t obligated to tip. They may also have trouble hearing you.

* Some places require permission to perform. If you are on municipal property, check with the local law enforcement officers before you start to perform. They’ll let you know if it is illegal to perform there, since some places are indeed illegal to street perform. Some let you perform, but not collect money. In others it is legal, but only after you get a permit at a city office. In private places, you may need to simply ask permission. In others, you may need to audition. Yet others let anyone perform. In one place I know of, the performer who has been there the longest arranges the schedule for everyone else. Fortunately this fellow is magnanimous, but he could certainly stack the schedule in his favor. In Balboa Park in San Diego, you need to get a permit early in the morning on the day you plan to perform.

You may also want to check the performer pecking order. In Balboa Park, for example, where weekends can be quite lucrative, you used to have to arrange with the other performers for a place to perform. Even with the permit process, if you try to take the ‘wrong’ spot, the other performers will harass you. I don’t know if it is still that way. The newbies generally got relegated to out-of-the-way places where fewer tourists were likely to walk by. The performers who get the good spots are there due to seniority. They became good in the less ideal spots, and slowly were allowed into better and better performing spots. There is also a bit of specialty involved. The musicians who focus on walk-by traffic only need narrow spaces, but their spaces are often where many people are walking by. The circus arts performers need a lot of room to display their skills, so they get the larger spots, even though hearing is difficult in the larger spots. So, it can work out well for everyone.

* You might consider performance venues such as arts and crafts or theme fairs. Amusement parks are another possibility, if the noise levels are acceptable for your kind of music. At first, these events seem few and far between, but after a couple of years, you learn which work well, discover new ones in your area, and can develop a schedule that offers a good opportunity almost every weekend.

So, the ideal place is where there are lots of tourists or shoppers, on foot, with money to spend. Outdoor shopping villages are often great. Sometimes, you can audition for the management of an indoor shopping mall, and become ‘the’ mall musician. If you have a mall in your area that doesn’t already have entertainment, you might approach the manager. S/he may have never considered having live music, so you may need to explain how it works. Of course you’ll want to explain it from the manager’s point of view: That by providing your kind of entertainment, more shoppers will come to the mall, they’ll stay longer, and spend more money. Wives or husbands will be able to shop more leisurely because you can entertain the spouses who would otherwise be bored and want to go home sooner. You’ll bring an ambiance to the mall that makes it a must-do destination.

When you get your location right, forty dollars per hour in tips is not uncommon, even if you aren’t a great musician. Even if you don’t have much of a personality.

Now, if you do have a ‘personality,’ your tips will be even greater. While some musicians feel that just playing their music is enough, those who interact with the audience offer so much more. It is possible to draw people into your performance. Those who would have just listened for a moment will settle in and listen for much longer once you’ve ‘got’ them. There are several ways to exhibit personality.

One of the simplest is to simply smile, make eye contact from time to time, and offer the occasional friendly gesture. If you’ve never done this, it is worth your time to practice in front of a mirror or video camera. You may laugh, but many people haven’t yet learned the art of putting on inviting expressions. Just as with music, you can become good at expressions and appealing gestures with practice.

Between pieces, you can talk a bit. You can talk about just any old thing, and it tends to bond you with your listeners. You might offer a trivia item about the composer of the piece you just played or about to play, you might offer a bio of the composer, or of yourself. You might talk about why you like a particular song. People love to hear about lyrics. What do the words really mean in “Puff the Magic Dragon?” You can even get a bit technical, explaining details of the song or the way you play it. History is always appealing. If you can tell people a little about Haight-Ashbury in 1968, or Vienna in Mozart’s time, you’ll make more money!

This is a wonderful segue between songs. Normally, people will walk away after a song or two. But if you engage them, they pretty much have to stay for the next one. Someone who felt a dollar tip is good for one song, will probably feel like five dollars is more appropriate if they stayed for three songs.

Some performers ham it up with members of their audience. They make a big production of posing for pictures and videos. They may even make kind-hearted fun of their audiences. It is quite acceptable to take a good several minutes messing around between songs. You’d think the crowd would disperse if you don’t play for a few minutes, but done right, this kind of fun can build crowds.

Borrowing from the field of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), in which practitioners want to build rapid rapport with their clients to help them with psychological issues, you can use some of their techniques:

Body mirroring: Pick one of your listeners, and position your body in about the same way the listener is positioned. For instance, if your listener has his feet crossed, you can cross your feet for a short while. If your listener is leaning against a post on her left, you can lean against something or just tilt a bit to your right. Notice that you want to exhibit mirror-image, not cross-over. This soothes a very primitive part of the human brain. When it sees someone in a similar posture, this primal part of us feels that the person is ‘like me,’ and relaxes a bit. You can mirror one person, then another in your audience. Generally, you want to mirror perhaps five or seven seconds after the person has moved into a position. Even when you’re rather blatant about it, most people don’t seem to catch on. If they do notice, they just assume you are unconsciously mirroring them, and they are complimented. You can also mirror some gestures.

If you converse with your audience, you might want to try mirroring their tonality. To the extent possible, with someone who talks fast and loud, you can answer in the same way. With someone who speaks slowly, you can answer slowly. With someone soft-spoken, you can lower your volume a bit. You can also use backtracking. Use their exact words a few seconds or a minute later. If someone expresses delight, saying something is ‘tubular,’ you might use the word ‘tubular’ in a similar context a short time later. You’ll probably not be successful with mimicking accents, however.

This bonds your few first listeners. Crowds beget crowds. Sometimes, pulling in the first two or three people is the hardest part. Once you’ve got a few people standing around, more will stick around and hear what you have to play.

For example, one day, I saw a huge crowd around noon on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Figuring they were there for something interesting, I walked up and saw that two men were unloading buckets of crabs from a van into a restaurant. That’s all. But the little crowd created a big crowd.

While it is uncommon for a street musician to have a hundred people circled around listening, it can happen. This is often referred to as a “circle show.” When it does happen, it’s magical in more ways than just financial. It is a real ego boost to know that so many people voluntarily stayed around to listen to you. Ego, to a reasonable degree, is a good thing for a musician. It will spur you on to practice, and to want to perfect your art.

The typical musician can make forty dollars per hour in a good spot even if no one stops. They just walk by and drop dollars in your guitar case. But, when you stop a crowd, you’re assured of more money, and more success in general. For instance, a mall manager or policeman may be inclined to roust a musician who doesn’t have a crowd. But the musician with twenty people gathered around most of the time seems successful to the enforcement officer. The officer is much less inclined to run off a musician who seems ‘professional.’ This is especially so if the officer would have to bother the musician in front of all those people. It would make the officer look like a heel.

You’ll want to decide what to play, not based on what is easiest for you, or your favorite pieces, but on what the crowd will want to hear. If most of the people walking by are younger, then currently popular tunes will probably be more successful. If it’s an older crowd, perhaps you can play some of their requested favorites from the sixties, seventies, or the eighties. For street performing, playing favorites generally works better than introducing music your audience don’t know. For much of the general public, each piece of music is an acquired taste. How many times have you suddenly heard a song in a different light? I’m thinking right now about a certain song that was very popular in 1995 that I didn’t really care for at the time. I heard it again a few weeks ago, and can’t believe I didn’t love it then.

If you don’t want to play popular songs – perhaps you make up music on the spot, or want to see how the people react to your own compositions, you may find getting money is somewhat more challenging. But not impossible. The trick is to play something that people will relate to. That generally means foot-stomping music, or something that people will tend to whistle (or remember) as they walk away. Win their hearts, and you’ll get their dollars.

I know a musician who has a lot of two-octave jumps in his compositions. His melodies, if you can call them that, are non-contiguous. No one can remember and whistle his music. He doesn’t get it, or at least, he is not specializing in music that will work well on the street.

Some instruments are better for street performing than others. In most places, you need something that can be heard above the din of traffic and talking. Flute, being toward the higher end of the pitch range works well. Piccolo or a soprano recorder would work well for the same reason. An alto or tenor recorder would be terrible, since these are quiet instruments. Saxophone: Good! Cello: not so good. Trumpet, French horn, electric guitar: good. The downside with electric instruments is that you need a place to plug them in, and there is generally more to carry.

At many excellent performing locations, parking is a problem, so you may need to transport your equipment a long distance. Some street performers get a hand cart, and carry what they want. This can include chairs so your first few listeners can sit – which will encourage them to stay longer, and that will encourage more people to join your audience. Some bring effects pedals, looping recorders, even additional instruments so they can become one-person bands. One fellow wheels an upright grand piano into the streets of San Francisco, and plays rags, boogie-woogie and jazz from the 1920s. He is quite successful. By the way, he is costumed appropriately: pinstripe pants, bowler hat, bow tie and white dress shirt. He is a remarkably good musician. I believe this is because he has practiced in front of the public, on the streets, for many years, but I’ll bet he made money even before he was great.

Playing music on the streets is a commercial activity. So, you can do some things to make sure it makes as much money as possible. Think about your money collection system. For most musicians, that’s an open guitar case or an upside-down hat. People drop money in as they walk by. For some, like the circus arts performers, your music can be a show, with a beginning in which you draw in a crowd, a middle in which you perform, and an end in which you collect money. If this is your style, you can do things such as letting people know five minutes before the end, in subtle, possibly comic ways, that you expect them to tip you at the end of the show. Right at the end, you grab your hat, and make a show of putting the first five-dollar bill in yourself. When someone puts in a twenty-dollar bill, you can hold it up, and shout out excitedly, “Hey, look at that, a twenty-dollar bill!”

In the situation where people are walking by, you’ll want a collection device that is obvious. If your hat is too small, hidden behind your instrument case, or otherwise obscured, you will make less money, of course. A hat or an open instrument case is a good idea compared to a cardboard box, because the meaning is obvious. In fact ‘hat’ is used as the term to describe the collection device or the amount of profit. It is not uncommon to hear street performers talking about their ‘hat’ as in how much money they made. “How was your hat today?” “Oh, it was about $200.”

You’ll probably want to seed the hat. If you put some coins in it, guess what? You’ll get coins. So, you want to put dollars in it and get dollars, right? Not quite. You want to put in some bigger bills. Five and twenty bills make sense. You’ll want to put some dollar-bills in too, since all big bills might intimidate people who will only be willing to give you a buck. On the other hand, you don’t want too much money in your hat. You don’t want to have to protect it like a Brinks truck! Theft is a common problem on the streets. You might consider it just a cost of doing business. Or you might take some protective actions. Keep the hat within your reach. Develop a habit of watching it. Never leave it unattended between sets. You might also use an open instrument case instead of a hat, because it would be harder to carry away.



Street Performing With a Visual Twist

Looking professional is not as important as sounding professional, but it can still make a world of difference. I’m not saying that you need to wear your best wedding reception dress and jewelry, or your fancy suit and tie. You can dress that way if you like. It will most likely make a great impression on many kinds of audiences. Costuming can be of great benefit. If your thing is country fiddle, then a cowboy hat and tall boots make sense. If you happen to play klezmer music, then black and white antique eastern European attire with puffy sleeves, polished shoes, and so on will add to the ambiance. If you’re doing acid rock, then artistically torn jeans and T-shirt may be more appropriate. But then, who says you have to be appropriate? What if you purposely dress inappropriately? I don’t mean be an unshaven mess on the streets. But you could dress in full country style – overalls, a checkered shirt, and bandana, then play classical flute pieces. That would be somewhat eccentric, and positive eccentricity tends to attract crowds. It’s just an idea. You will probably be better off dressing appropriately, unless you can pull off the eccentric clothing style bit. One who does it well is Lindsey Sterling.




Lindsey Stirling

Click for YouTube Video
(on devices that support it).

Another example is ZZ Top.



Am I saying that it is important to offer a visual component to your music? You bet! Oh, you can be a great musician, never do anything visual, and make good money on the streets. But if you offer something more, you will benefit in a big way. A musician who takes it to the extreme is Steve Moore.




Steve Moore

Click for YouTube Video

In his YouTube videos, you can see that he takes drumming to the next level. Who wouldn’t stop and listen to him for a while? Who wouldn’t drop a few dollars in his hat?

You don’t have to go to the extent of Steve. You can just add in a little something. A little flourish of your fingers on the keyboard. A tilt of the head as you play your trumpet. A swing of the viola bow here and there. You get the idea.

Here’s another drummer who does just that. Dylan Elise is a street performing drummer who adds just some visual content to his performance. In the video below, he doesn’t really have the costuming thing down, but then again, he doesn’t seem to need it. He has a good size crowd.




Dylan Elise

Click for YouTube Video

Let’s take this idea to the extreme. Have you ever seen a street circus, acrobatic or juggling act? These people have an entirely different way of performing. Instead of an ongoing performance, and expecting people to drop tips as they walk by, they specifically build a crowd, present an act, then collect money at the end. A musician can do this too, by offering commentary between pieces, or by adding in magic, comedy or juggling.

I’m not saying that every musician has to become a circus clown. Far from it. But you can consider adding a little something, and it may go a long way to making more money. A little bit of dance, a bit of comedy, in your mostly musical performances can put you on the road to making more money than any hourly wage.

I saw a fellow in Jackson Square in New Orleans wearing drywaller’s stilts. These are articulated with artificial ankles and feet on the bottom, so one can walk around quite easily and safely, even though one is nine feet (three meters) tall. He had custom made long pants, so he really looked nine feet tall. He simply walked around, playing his flute. Each piece he played was only thirty seconds or a minute is length. Then, he had a sort of musette bag on a long strap that he would lower from his arm, so that people could drop in their money. The invitation to put money in the bag was very obvious. Furthermore, he approached children, who especially seemed to get a kick from dropping money in his lowered bag. This fellow was making good, really good money, even though it was the off-season.

In my opinion, he wasn’t that great of a player. But he had a repertoire of perhaps six songs that he could play well enough. This was years ago, no doubt by now, he is an expert flutist, since one naturally becomes practiced while being paid on the streets!

Another possibility worth considering, especially for someone who doesn’t feel sufficiently skilled in presenting music, or one who is shy, is to present a little tabletop exhibit. It could be a Rube Goldberg-like instrument on which passers-by can turn a crank and hear a tune played. It could be an animal trained in some way that presents music. It could be some sort of interesting home-made instrument that the people can interact with. The point is that all you have to do, once you’ve created the tabletop display, is sit nearby and read a book while the money comes in. Or, if you prefer, you can talk with the crowd, explaining your thing, in the way a museum docent explains an exhibit.

One night, also in Jackson Square, New Orleans, I came across a fellow who had set up an ordinary ten-inch reflector telescope on an equatorial mount, aimed at the moon. He had a sign on a small table inviting people to take a look in his telescope. He also had a hat on the table filled with money. People couldn’t resist. I couldn’t resist. We looked at the moon and marveled, even though we had all seen it before, and sure enough, pretty much everyone dropped a buck in his hat. There was nothing musical about this guy’s deal, but perhaps it will give you food for thought for a musical exhibit of some sort. Of course it doesn’t even have to be musical, unless music is very important to you. Perhaps your tabletop non-musical presentation will earn the money you need, so you can support your ‘real’ musical pursuits.



Maximizing Ordinary Venues

Most professional musicians make most of their money by performing at local venues. They have a restaurant where they play several evenings per week, or they make the rounds of the festivals that hire entertainment, or they have developed a reputation for playing at parties, weddings, and corporate events.

This ‘ordinary’ style of performing can be lucrative, but for most musicians it falls far short of their hopes. Every now and then, a musician breaks out, becoming the one that everyone in town wants to hire. Eventually the breakout musicians play bigger venues, being paid travel expenses and much more. They may even get recording contracts.

If you study these breakout musicians, you start to see a pattern. These are not necessarily the best musicians. They may not have the best equipment. They may not wear any special clothing. They may not even have the most winning personalities.

So what is it that propels some musicians to success? They do something different. There’s usually some sort of positive eccentricity in what they do.

I remember one singer in San Diego who had an ordinary voice. The thing she did was to write comedy lyrics. She’d sing songs that we all know and love, but she’d come up with her own strange lyrics. She had her audience in stitches, and became quite successful.

Do you remember Weird Al Yankovic?




Weird Al Yankovic

Click for YouTube Video

Oh, you don’t have to be as weird as Al. A couple of guys I knew played back to back electric pianos. It is a strange combination, and they really utilized the two pianos to good effect, sometimes playing just slightly syncopated to each other, rather spectacular harmonies beyond what a single pianist can do, and other tricks. If the songs they selected were their own compositions, they would not have done as well. If the songs they selected were obscure, they would not have done as well. If they specialized in hard rock, they would not have done as well. They picked things that people knew, and had grown fond of, and enhanced them with their two pianos.

Another example: On the Big Island of Hawaii is a performer who is a one-man band. Bosco knows all the songs that people always request. He has a very big repertoire. He can play Gordon Lightfoot, Michael Jackson, the Beatles, you name it. The thing he does differently is that he is a one-man band. He plays harmonica, guitar, and sings. Besides that, he has a drum machine, and foot pedal keyboard set up that emulates a bass guitar.

Again, I’m not saying you have to be a one-man band. Besides, that’s not easy to do well. Just find something different, but something that people can relate to. What was different about the late Ravi Shankar?




Ravi Shankar

Click for YouTube Video

Or, think about Carlos Santana. He bends long notes beyond what most guitarists do. It gives him a unique sound that one quickly falls in love with.

Okay, one more thing about this positive eccentricity idea, then I’ll move on. If you get a regular piano, and practice for four years, you’ll be about as good as any other pianist with four years experience. But if you pick a trumpet, saxophone, marimba, or accordion and practice four years, you will undoubtedly be the best trumpet, saxophone, marimba or accordion player for miles around. And, you’ll have something unique. People will book you for their events because you’re interesting. The regular pianists will have to take the bookings that are left over.

On the other hand, you may love piano or guitar. It’s your instrument, and that’s it. OK, for you, I’d like to recommend that you find a genre of music that you can expand into. It might be baroque, honky-tonk, or ethnic music. Or, seemingly in contradiction, if you become especially good at exactly what everyone wants to hear, that will be a big advantage for you. Your specialty can be playing (or faking) whatever the crowd requests. This is a skill that is seldom developed as far as it can be taken.

Adding a visual component to your music can make all the difference in the world. If you haven’t already, you can read about the visual side in the chapter about street performing.

Getting gigs in the usual way is one of the most difficult ways to build a musical career. That’s why this book was written. But, if you absolutely must become a musician in the traditional way, then here’s what you can do:

1. Put together a website with photos and sound clips. Ideally, the sound clips will actually be videos. Your website can be as simple as a single page. You can upload your videos to YouTube, then link them to your page. Make sure that your webpage has an action step. In other words, you can tell people what to do so they can book you – give you a call, drop an email, whatever you prefer. Then employ Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so that all the local people who search for a musician online in your area will see your page near the top of search engine results. I’ve provided a discussion of SEO in the Websites That Work chapter at the end of this book.

2. Get attractive business cards printed with your web address, and your phone number. It is worthwhile to spend a bit extra for high-quality glossy cards. If necessary, pay a professional photographer to get a great-looking photo of your performance style. Make sure everyone gets a card who comes within twelve feet (four meters). Tell everyone you meet that you are a musician.

3. You might consider free bookings at first. Some musicians are afraid that if they ever take free work, or very low paying gigs, they’ll be caught up in a situation where everyone always expects them to work for free. This is an unfounded fear. You can slowly raise your rates from free or low, and eventually to whatever the market will bear. If you ever get a call that goes something like this, “Well, last year, I heard you were charging $100,” you can respond by telling them that you are more successful now. People like success, and are generally willing to pay for it. If their budget is really so limited that they can’t afford a reasonable rate, then you don’t want to do that gig anyway. It is completely acceptable to tell people that you were just starting out, but now you can charge more.

You can evolve your pay scale. At first you can literally fill your schedule with free performances. The more exposure you have, the better. Then, once your schedule is full, you can turn down all the free gigs you can’t do, because you’re going to book low-paying gigs instead. Once you have evolved into a full schedule of low-paying gigs, you turn some of them down for higher paying gigs. Finally, your schedule can be as full as you want of only the highest paying gigs.

4. You can do all the usual publicity things that are talked about in the Publicity chapter at the end of this book.

5. If you happen to enjoy street performing, you have a great opportunity to hand out business cards. You can also play at hybrid venues. These are ones that pay nothing or very little, but allow you to have a collection jar on the piano. Next to the jar you’ll want to place a stack of cards, or a small pile of flyers or brochures. This can work particularly well at upscale restaurants.

6. The more exposure you have as a musician, and as an ordinary person, for that matter, the better. If you teach lessons, sell CDs at the flea market, and so on, you always have the opportunity to give people your card, tell them to visit your website, and that you are available for bookings. Even if you attend classes in a community education school, that’s an opportunity to tell your fellow students what you do.

7. I can’t emphasize it enough: Positive eccentricity. Do something different. Something out of the ordinary. Something that people will remember and talk about.

8. Have patience. If you stick with it, if you can override the disappointing events like being turned down, maybe even performing a gig or two that didn’t go as well as you would have liked, you will eventually win.

Have you seen Dan Menendez, the Piano Juggler? He has a unique way of playing a keyboard.




Dan Menendez

Click for YouTube Video

He was an ordinary performer for several years before he became “The Piano Juggler.” He was very good technically, and had a winning personality. But he was becoming disheartened by what he perceived as a plateau. He once told me, “Jeff, if I have to go through one more year doing the same gigs and making only $40,000, I’m going to start teaching.” (He has a college degree in education.) Then he came up with the piano juggling idea. The next thing I knew, he got a spot on a late night television show, and became big in the entertainment world.

Another thing Dan told me was that anyone who has performed 1,000 shows will automatically become a very good entertainer. Taking his notion a step further, it makes me believe that a person doesn’t have to work hard, to sweat, to worry about becoming a professional musician. All one needs to do, is keep doing it long enough. The desired results will come automatically. Remember that if you ever have a show that didn’t go as well as you would have liked. It’s just training. Eventually, every show will be a masterpiece.



Write Background Music for Video Games

In the early days of video games, the programmer did it all. S/he was the artist, animator, programmer, and musical composer. Most successful games these days are far more complex, and written by teams composed of specialists. The big games have at least one person in charge of sound effects and music. This person is likely to be a combination of composer, sound engineer, and director. Some of the smaller teams wish they had such a person. Sometimes the programmers can do the mixing, but it would certainly be nice if they could just commission custom sounds and music. That’s where you, the musician, come in. Your job would be to learn the game, then create all the music, and maybe the sound effects too. Without you, a game could be flat, uninteresting, one that does not involve the players emotionally. But with your input, the game might become the next big hit in the game world.

You probably already know how to compose a theme song, background clips for mood, and so on. I won’t presume to tell you what you already know. But how do you get your first gig as a computer game sound person?

The first game is the hardest. After that, your reputation will start to build. I heard that one game music composer has clients on a waiting list seven years long. So, let’s talk about how you get your first gig.

Start with a website showcasing your work. You don’t need to show finished games involving your music. Instead, just design a website with sound clips showing what you can do. Make it as visually appealing as possible. Leverage SEO (Search Engine Optimization), which you can read about in a later chapter. Make it clear on your website what you are about. You’re not just delivering sound clips. You want a position as a game sound designer. Even if you have no experience, if you have a website that brings game design teams, and gives them possibilities, you’ll win their hearts and their attention. They care much less about reputation than whether your music has the emotional content, the context, the j’ne c’est quas that they’re looking for. Interestingly, most game designers are somewhat rebellious at heart. Otherwise, they’d be designing accounting software. So, they’re not looking for music just like every other game has. They know that cloning the competition is death in the game world. They’re looking for something unique, but not so out of the box that your music wouldn’t make the game draw players in.

Similarly, it doesn’t matter that you might not know the insides of the game design world yet. You may not know whether you’re supposed to supply .AVI files, .MP3s, whether certain pieces must loop seamlessly, or whether they want one-second, three-second, or three-minute clips. The programmers or the project manager will tell you what they want. And, they know you are a musician, not a programmer. So, they’re looking for you – not a professional who knows all the technical details, but couldn’t put emotion in a song even if they had a year to do it. Ah, and that’s something they do want: Ideally, your site will let them know that you are efficient and reliable. If they need a change in the next twenty minutes, you can cobble it up. If they want twenty prototypes before they find one they like, they want to know that you won’t be offended because they threw away your first nineteen attempts (as long as they paid for them in one way or another.)

So, make your website speak to the game designers. Give them an action step: Tell them they should email (or whatever way you want them to contact you) at the bottom of every page – if they have money to pay you.

Many new game design teams don’t have any money, and most game design teams are new. So, they’ll offer you a percentage of the profit, rather than money up front. You probably don’t want to play that game. Only a small percentage of games succeed. You’d rather be paid a sure amount, in advance, or at least in frequent scheduled stages. This may be difficult to propose, because the successful game teams already have their sound people, and the new teams typically have no money. But if your website attracts enough attention (see the Websites That Work chapter), you’ll get the team that needs you.

Drilling into that a bit further: To get your foot in the door, you may be willing to work for free, just to show what you can do and build a reputation. But, working for free for a game that never sees the light of day is not going to help you one bit. What you might want to do is approach teams that already have a fair amount of market share, and work for free for them.

Did you see the word ‘approach?’ Yes. You may not want to build a website, then just sit back and wait. Once you have your website, you can do a bit of digging around on the Internet and find the contact information for many of the successful game teams. Write them. It can’t hurt a bit to send them an email offering your services. Within reason, it doesn’t hurt a bit to write to them over and over again. I once heard a multi-level marketer say that she had to approach prospective clients seven times before she closed an average sale. Persistence pays!

You could just send emails stating what you can do. This would be less effective than offering good-natured critiques of the music in their existing games. You don’t want to shoot the existing music down. Instead, just offer specific suggestions as to how it could be better in the next game. Better yet, email them little sound clips. Start a low-key conversation, and let it build into a friendly penpal-like relationship. Eventually, if you’re patient, and if you pursue it every day, magic can happen. You may not get hired by the actual teams you are in correspondence with. But they may know other teams, and pass your name along. Some of my best-ever connections came from indirect approaches.



Teach Music Out of Your Home

Old-timers remember when they could get music lessons for ten dollars per hour. Bill Cosby mentioned that his childhood drum lessons were 75 cents. Not anymore! Independent music teachers get anywhere from thirty to ninety dollars per hour. Many of them are not experts. They are just a step ahead of their students.

For an amusing aside, if you haven’t seen the classic 1962 musical, “The Music Man” starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, then look it up. That’s fiction, but the idea is that as a teacher, if you have a winning personality, you can accomplish a lot.

If you know how to break subjects down to their component parts and explain them well, if you are patient, if people enjoy your presence, you could have what it takes to be a great teacher.

Some think of teaching as ‘selling out.’ They think of teachers as musicians who wanted to be rock stars, but couldn’t make it, so they took up teaching. This is certainly true, sometimes. In other cases, people took up teaching because they found it is incredibly enjoyable. There is a certain kind of love in imparting something to a student, and see the student blossom with it. The students look up to their teachers, almost as if the teachers are, indeed, rock stars. This is a nice ego boost, as long as the teacher doesn’t go crazy with the admiration. Then there are the few especially gratifying students who catch on fire, quickly becoming even better musicians than their teachers. The teachers with these super-successful students either proudly graduate them, possibly handing them off to more advanced or specialized teachers, or switch roles, becoming more of coaches than teachers. Some teachers enjoy continued learning, so they can stay ahead of their advancing students.

But one of the coolest things about teaching, in my opinion, is that it is so easy to make good money.

Most music teachers work out of their own homes, so there is no overhead – no costs involved. They charge thirty to ninety dollars per hour, offering half-hour or hour-long lessons. In time, they develop what’s called a ‘studio,’ a schedule that’s as filled as the teacher wants with one lesson after another. Sure, it is probably going to amount to less than $1,000 per week. But, it’s every week! Many millionaires have come from such humble backgrounds – see the Sure-Fire Millionaire chapter at the end of this book. The performing musician might make $1,000 for a single gig, but how many such gigs does the musician actually get? How much does it cost to get to those gigs? How stable are they? The teacher knows the comfort of having a fairly steady income month after month. Of course a teacher can be a gigging musician also. The two activities go hand-in-hand. You can pick up students who have heard you play. The students will help you fill small venues, so you’ll more likely be invited back.

Getting your first students is the only difficult part. Once you do, they’ll tell their friends, who will tell their friends. . .

You can start with a website. These days, websites are super-easy to create. Just get a free account at any of the blogging websites such as Blogger.com or Tumbler.com. Or, you can get an account with GoDaddy.com, and use their no experience required “Website Tonight” service to build your website with drag-and-drop and cut-and-paste. If that’s too much technology for you, you can pay someone to set you up with a simple site. It only has to be one page.

At first, the only function your website fulfills is to give people a way to assess whether you would be good be as their teacher, and give them your contact information. At minimum, you’ll want to list your name and phone number. Tell them what you do – what you’re offering. In this case, music lessons on violin, piano, drums, trumpet – whatever you teach. Let them know whether you specialize in young or older students, whether you work with beginners, intermediates and advanced. Then, you can add a photo of yourself. Interestingly, people feel much less reluctant to phone or email someone they’ve seen.

The next thing to add is SEO – Search Engine Optimization. See the Websites That Work chapter. For a local teacher, SEO works especially well. This is because you can use keywords like “trombone San Rafael California.” Everyone who types “trombone” and “San Rafael” into the search engines will see your page. And, it will be at the top of the list, if no one else has performed SEO for “trombone” in San Rafael. You win!

Then, if you can add some sound clips showing your skill, and specifically your skill as a teacher, that’s all the better. Rather than simple sound clips, you might like to make a little video or two, upload them to YouTube, then link them to your web page.

There’s also an effective low-tech technique. It worked well 100 years ago, and still works as well today: Print up flyers and post them on all the bulletin boards in town. You may find that the local music stores have bulletin boards on which several other teachers post their flyers. Add yours. Don’t worry about competition. Even if someone else in town is teaching the same style and the same instrument, your flyer is as valid as theirs. You’ll find that restaurant, coffee shop, cafe, laundromat and natural food store bulletin boards are also quite effective. Obviously, music and CD shop bulletin boards would be even more effective. Sometimes, store managers will let you put your flyers in their windows.

The best flyers are ones that have your name, and number printed several times at the bottom on pull off tabs. You’ll be surprised how often people pull these off, put them in their pockets, and then call you a week or two, or even a month or so later. You might make flyers in both full-page and half-page sizes, since bulletin boards often have little space.

If you’re going to do flyers, you might as well also print up business cards. Some bulletin boards have only enough space for business cards. You can attach a half-dozen cards fanned out under a thumbtack. You can also use the business cards with everyone you meet. Do you have an ‘elevator speech?’ This is your opportunity to tell someone in just a few seconds, what you do. For instance, “I teach boogie-woogie piano to adult beginners who want to learn quickly and have fun doing it.” So now, any time you’re in any sort of gathering (even while waiting in line at the grocery store), you can hand out cards.



Teach Music Out of Other Homes

You may not be in a place where you can have students coming by. It may upset your roommates, or your family may be too noisy. Perhaps you live in a gated community where too much traffic would be frowned on.

You can do house-calls. Most students would love that. They don’t have to go anywhere to get their lessons! The downside is that you spend money for gas and time on the road. The upside is you can charge a little bit more than the other teachers.

You can also teach group lessons. Perhaps your house is too small for six, or twenty-six people at once. You can be the teacher, band leader, conductor or coach. One person with a big house gets free admission. The others pay for your services.



Teach At Schools and Music Stores

The most profitable way is to be an independent teacher. You can teach out of music stores, schools and other institutions, but you don’t get all the money. The institution keeps anywhere from 25 to 75 percent. On the other hand, if you can get a position with a school or music store, that’s a leg up in eventually building your own clientele. Most of your students will come with you when you break away. The institutions usually bring you students automatically. For instance, when a music store sells a banjo to a beginner, they often suggest a teacher. That can be you.

You might teach out of your home even if you are affiliated with a store or school. Or, the institution may have practice and teaching rooms. You may also end up teaching group lessons. Nothing is as challenging as teaching basic jazz chording to twenty people at once in a room full of pianos, and doing your best to make sure everyone actually ‘gets it.’ From the group lessons, it is easy to pick up individual students who want to learn more.

In some school systems, teachers need degrees in education, but in many, maybe most, the music teachers are exceptions. They typically aren’t on the full-time staff. They are considered part timers without tenure, and many teach in several schools, driving to East High school on Tuesdays, and West High on Wednesdays.

I remember my first days as a music student. I was nine years old. The teaching was partially sponsored by the school system. My parents sent money to the school for six lessons at a time. The school issued tickets that looked just like theater tickets. On Saturday mornings, I went to the local high school. Each music teacher was set up in a classroom. The history class might be a French horn class on Saturdays, the biology lab was where the clarinet teacher hung out, and the drumming instructor was in the Spanish classroom. I paid my ticket at the front door, and went to my classroom, where I met up with my teacher, and fellow student. The lessons were taught to two students at a time. The students were supposed to be nearly matched in skill, but unfortunately for me, it was a real struggle keeping up with the other student. Somehow, I survived.

A few years later, in high school, I had a band elective. It was a sitting band, and we mostly played classical pieces, so it was really an orchestra, but for some reason it was called a ‘band.’ As is typical of high school music, there were six flutes, yet only one violin. There were four drummers, who were made to play tympani, xylophone, and pretty much anything but their beloved snares, hi hats and toms. Of course that’s not the way I’d teach it, and I’ll bet you’re already forming opinions about how you would teach such a class.

The instructor, a Mr. Boxton, was a remarkably grouchy fellow. I don’t believe he should have been a teacher, or at least he needed a major attitude adjustment. You see, one can love teaching, and it is wonderful when one does. But he sure didn’t. My guess is that he always wanted to be a reasonably well-paid musical performer, not a teacher. His mindset was so stuck that he couldn’t have fun teaching. As students under Mr. Boxton, we didn’t have any fun either! But he did amaze me in one way: He knew music inside and out. Not only that, but he could play pretty much any instrument, as he demonstrated numerous times. He could play the brass instruments, the percussion, woodwinds, and strings. He could interpret a classical piece beautifully, yet he could also jam with an instantly improvised jazz ensemble. And he offered hints and tips more than once on musical composition. At the time I was blown away. I still am. Too bad he didn’t enjoy what he was doing. In fact, if only he had known that what he was doing was by its very nature meant to be enjoyable. . . oh well.



Teach At Community Education Centers

While most musical instruction is aimed at children, there are millions of adults who want to learn more. Many have retired and want to take up a new musical hobby. Others are in their middle years, and they too, want to do music as a hobby. A few are striving to become musical professionals. You might enjoy teaching these people. You can specialize in adults out of your home. But you can also teach through community education programs. Most towns of 20,000 or more people have some sort of community education center. It might be called “community education,” “ongoing education,” “adult education,” “university extension program,” or “life-long learning.” The pay ranges from nothing to very good.

At the high end of the pay scale, the school gives the teachers a percentage of the tuition the students pay. For instance, you may teach a six-week class, and get forty percent of the course fee, which might be $100. So that’s forty dollars per student. If you get four students, you’re not going to be making much money. Assuming it is a one-hour class, that’s $160, divided by six hours, equaling $26 per hour. But what if you get forty students? That would be far better than the schools that pay $15 per hour, wouldn’t it?

The great public speaker Dale Carnegie started this way. He approached his local YMCA and asked for a paid teaching position. Nothing doing. So, he offered to teach on a percentage basis. His course “How to Win Friends and Influence People” drew few students at first. But he stuck with it. In not too much time, his course was filled to capacity. Eventually, he was filling stadiums with 20,000 people who paid to hear him lecture. He went on to become a best-selling author.



Run a Music Camp

Imagine a summer camp dedicated to music. Musically-inclined children would love it, wouldn’t they? And you can run it. While you do not actually need to have any musical skill to run such a camp. You do need to be good with kids.

You need to be organized so everyone eats on time, and so there are contingency plans for every possible breakdown. What do you do if the bus is leaving at 10am, but one kid is late? You need to be empathetic with the children. What if one kid just doesn’t get rhythm, or chording, or is disruptive, or starts crying at an inopportune time? In the end, you want them to all have had as good a time as possible. Compared to that, teaching music is secondary.

There was an experimental school in England called Summerhill. The headmaster, A. S. Neill, had a philosophy that children will always learn when they want to learn. Therefore, he imposed no curriculum. He just let the kids run wild – within reason. But around age seven, they naturally started taking an interest in reading. By nine, they were curious about math, and so on. He made sure the materials and instruction were available whenever the children wanted. Know what? Even though many kids started later, they turned out just fine. Better than average, in fact.

The camp can be held anywhere. It can be at a forest retreat. It can be in a converted warehouse. It can even be in your living room. You might decorate the place appropriately so the kids can feel they are involved in something special. It can be a day camp, or a residential camp. You can have a single one-week or two-week session, or have several groups throughout the summer. You can also set up an afternoon camp during the school year. Many parents would particularly enjoy that, since they’d have a trusted place for their kids during those challenging after-school hours, before their work day ends.

In addition to the things that camp always provides – food, fun, camaraderie – you can schedule any of a wide variety of activities. Being a musical camp, playing music together would be a big part of it, of course. Depending on your skill, the children’s skill, and the skills of whatever staff members you might hire, you could have elective classes in composition, jazz, chording, improvisation, other instruments, vocal studies, and so on.

In situations where you are pressed for time, you can play videos that have something to do with music, such as “School of Rock,” and “The Music Man.”

You might have all the kids work together to present a performance at the end of their stay. Most of the parents and interested members of the public would pay a reasonable ticket fee to attend this performance. The idea that it’s a paid show will help the kids feel they’ve done something ‘professional.’ You can use the money to help lower tuitions, buy instruments for the camp, or offer scholarships.

You might start your camp with a list of what’s feasible. What are your resources? What can you line up? Then check all the legalities. For instance, the city may have a park with a shaded or covered area, tables and benches that would be perfect for your camp. Do you need a permit to use that area?

Once you have worked out the details, you’ll want to publicize like crazy. Take a look at the Advertising and Publicity chapter at the end of this book for details on that. The first year is the only one in which you’ll have to work to get enough campers. In following years, if you’ve made the place fun and beneficial for the kids, if you related well with the parents, you’ll not only have repeat campers, but they will have told all their friends, who would just love to participate also.



Buy and Sell Rare Recordings Online

I know a fellow who goes to garage sales looking for older vinyl records. He knows what is collectible, and sells them on eBay. He also dabbles in CDs, but his love is records. He also goes to bookstores, second-hand stores, thrift stores, library sales, and anywhere that he may come across vinyl for sale. He can buy a record for one dollar, and sell it for $300, although more typically, he buys it for five dollars and sells it for twenty. Over the years, people have come to know Ken, and they call him anytime they see an interesting collection of records for sale. His only means of advertising is business cards. It is not an easy way to earn a living, but he loves it!

This fellow is sufficiently successful, and so involved in collectible music, that he doesn’t spend any time with the useless items he undoubtedly attracts. In his business, it is very common to buy a box of typical albums, mostly ones that are worth nothing online, in order to get the one or two gems that may be in the box. In short order, dozens or even hundreds of boxes of ‘useless’ items can build up.

If this seller were more hungry, he could put the popular stuff in the trunk of his car to sell to friends and acquaintances, could hold garage sales, sell it at the flea market, consign or sell it in music stores, or sell bulk lots on craigslist or eBay.

Continue on into the next chapter about sheet music, because many of the techniques used in buying sheet music apply to buying albums in the same way.



Buy and Sell Sheet Music


It turns out that you can sell sheet music and music books on Amazon.com, eBay.com and elsewhere. Sometimes, a single piece can bring reasonably good money. It is not uncommon to get twenty dollars for the right sheet music. The trick to making a living with sheet music is going through a lot of it.

You can pick up boxes of sheet music at garage sales. Most of it is worth nothing online. There is only so much room in the world for more pop collections for easy piano. But collections by specific artists sell well, classical sheet music, especially for specific instruments, sells well.

You can get an account on Amazon.com for free. It takes less than five minutes to set it up. Then, you can sell your sheet music just like any of the thousands of second-hand booksellers on Amazon.

For each piece of sheet music you have, you start by checking the current price on Amazon. Just like a buyer, you enter the title and artist in the Amazon search field. You’ll be shown a list of all versions currently available. You can see what prices others are charging for the same thing. You can also check salesrank. This is a number ranging from 1, for the best-selling piece of music, to somewhere in the millions, for an item that sells only rarely. A salesrank of 0 means no one has ever sold that item. If you find a lot of sellers have the same item as yours, and it has a high salesrank – or zero – you don’t want to waste your time listing it. If it has a reasonable salesrank, and the price is high, just go ahead and sell yours. Amazon changes from time to time, but generally, when you look up an item, you are presented with an option to sell one just like it. You simply describe its condition, and decide on a price. I like to under-price the competition by a couple of pennies for copies in the same general condition as mine, so mine will be the first one to sell.

Just keep listing. Once you have hundreds of items listed, you’ll start selling tens of items per day.

At first you can simply list your items for sale, almost as easily as buying items on Amazon. However, Amazon charges a dollar (US) flat fee for each item you sell, plus a small percentage, unless you subscribe as an Amazon Professional Seller. For forty dollars per month, you no longer need to pay the flat fee, just a small percentage for each item sold. With Professional Seller status, you gain several advantages. One is that Amazon gives you web pages where you can keep track of your inventory. Once you have more than perhaps a dozen things listed online, it is easy to lose track unless you assign a number to each item. You wouldn’t want to ship your very good copy of God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols to the buyer in New York, and the acceptable copy of the same music to the buyer in Paris, when it was supposed to be the other way around. So, keeping track is very important.

Some people mix in all sorts of other items to sell on Amazon. If you can’t come across enough sheet music, you can also sell music CDs, books, even books not about music, if you wish, and all sorts of other things on Amazon.

eBay is also a good market. The upside is that you can auction items that collectors may want. If you have a bit of sheet music that two or more serious bidders want, they may go crazy, and you end up with hundreds of dollars for a couple of pages for which you paid only 25 cents. This is not common, however. Therefore, eBay also provides an option called Buy It Now. If you choose to list your sheet music that way, then you set a fixed price. When someone wants your piece, they pay the price, and you mail it to them.

There are other markets through which you can sell online, but Amazon and eBay are so much bigger and better established than the others, that you’ll probably not want to try the other markets.

You can read much more in the eBay chapter at the end of this book.

If you live in or near a large enough community, you’ll find garage sales are a great way to get sheet music. You can get fancy, looking at craigslist to find the sales, planning a route, and using GPS to get to as many sales as you can on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Garage sales may not be enough, however, especially during the winter.

You can also go to second-hand and thrift stores. You can place an ad on craigslist saying that you buy sheet music. You can also place ads in your local newspaper, flyers on bulletin boards, and so on. Handing out business cards is a good long-term plan. As people come across sheet music, they’ll call you.

When you come across a pile of sheet music that you’d like, you might consider the best approach for buying it. If you have a lot of garage sales to visit, and a short time to get to them all, you can just offer a bulk price to pick up the whole lot, even though only a small percentage will be something you can sell. First make sure there is at least some that you can sell. Then offer far less than you might think would be acceptable. You’ll be surprised how little some people will sell things for at garage sales. Often their primary objective isn’t making money, but cleaning out the basement, or getting ready to move. Not everyone is like that, and some may be offended by your low offer. I used to say something like, “What you have there is worth more than I can offer, so please feel free to turn me down, but would you take five dollars for that?”

If you’re not in a hurry, you can go to the other extreme, and pick through all the music, one item at a time. With your smartphone, you can download an Amazon application that is a barcode reader. Aim it at the back of a barcoded sheet music book, and in a few seconds Amazon will show you the current listings and prices for that item. If you come across something without a barcode, you can key in the title and author.

Some professional book scouts go a step further and get a dedicated scanner. This is a device typically built on a smartphone or PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, a predecessor of smartphones that were similar, but only had the computer part, not the phone), that has a barcode scanner attachment. It has a pre-downloaded list of everything on Amazon in its memory. This is much faster than waiting for the barcode upload to Amazon, and waiting for a response. The dedicated scanner typically has a bluetooth earpiece that makes a success sound or a failure sound, based on whether the item will be profitable or not. The book scout sets the scanner to chosen limits. For instance, the success sound will only go off if the item has a minimum price of ten dollars, there and the salesrank is below 50,000.

My scanner’s failure sound was a low-pitched beep. The success sound was the ka-ching of a cash register opening. The scanner will also show a big visual display for each item scanned, plus the scout can drill in for more details, if needed. Just like the Amazon app on a smartphone, the scout can enter title and author manually for non-barcoded items. If you get a scanner, you can go through hundreds of items per hour. Some people use scanners once they have purchased boxes of items, quickly making success and failure piles before listing only the successful ones on Amazon. In order to make the best use of a scanner, you’ll want to download the Amazon listings at least once per week, a process that can take hours, so is usually done overnight, since there are millions of items on Amazon. A scanner typically costs $500, if you don’t use your smartphone, and fifty dollars per month for the subscription so you can access the Amazon database.

With Amazon, you can list everything you want. There is no cost for having items on Amazon. For instance, you may find an old copy of “Yesterday” by the Beatles. On Amazon, you see it has a low salesrank, but there are five copies available for literally one penny – plus shipping. How can you compete with that? Well, you probably don’t want to. You might be better off discarding that piece of music, and listing something more likely to sell for a good price. But you can list it if you want to. Sometimes magic happens. Sometimes someone gets on the Tonight Show and plays “Yesterday,” or someone makes reference to it in a popular book or news article. Suddenly, all the one-penny copies sell out. Then the next higher priced ones sell out. Eventually, your copy, that you may have listed for seven dollars, is the lowest-price copy available, and it will sell.

You can’t play that game as successfully on eBay because it costs a little bit of money for everything you have listed every month. Many eBay sellers will discard an item if it didn’t sell for a reasonable price within one month. Otherwise, depending on the type of eBay membership they have, it can cost anywhere from five to thirty cents (US) per month for each item you have listed. eBay does not have salesrank, but instead, you can check items that have closed during the past thirty days. More about that in the eBay section at the end of this book.



A Free Exchange

What if you can’t get enough material at second-hand stores, garage sales and so on? Or, what if you don’t like driving so much? There is another way. It’s called a “free exchange.” The idea is that you set up a place where people can come get as much free sheet music as they want. They are also encouraged to donate any sheet music they no longer want. As it turns out, much more comes in than goes out. People will love the idea that you’re absolutely giving it away, and will support you. They’ll go through their stuff, and bring you dozens of pieces. They’ll tell their friends, who will bring boxes of old sheet music from their garages and attics.

This idea works not only for sheet music, but also music CDs and albums, books, even clothing and bicycle accessories. But it works especially well for sheet music because there is little reason to hang onto it once a piece is memorized.

But how do you make a profit if you’re giving stuff away? What you do is let everyone know that the way you stay in business is by selling online a small percentage of what comes in. As it turns out, the stuff you’ll end up selling is the very stuff that would sit on your shelves collecting dust for years, even if offered for free. And the music that is too common to sell online is the very stuff that your local clientele will want. You see, if you come up with the sheet music for an obscure Mozart concerto for second violin, who in your community would actually want that? But the orchestra leader somewhere in the world who’s trying to collect the music for that concerto will pay whatever it takes to get the second violin part.

Because an exchange can be a component of many kinds of music businesses, I’ve written a whole chapter about the free exchange concept at the end of this book.



Buy and Sell Instruments

Are you a gear-head like me? Not only is playing music fun, but collecting musical instruments can be even more fun! Merely collecting is an expensive hobby. But you can buy and sell instruments, keeping the ones that most appeal to you, and end up with a tidy profit, even a full-time living.

Let’s say you like guitars. That’s a particularly good field because there is a lot of interest, and because there are price guides
available
.

Even without a price guide, it is fairly easy to assess the value of an instrument. You can use eBay. As a member, and membership is free, you can check listings that have closed during the past month, and see what people have actually paid for an instrument you’re considering. This is very up-to-date information, compared to price guides which are usually at least a year out of date.

You can discover a neat trick for assessing the prices of instruments in the eBay chapter at the end of this book.

You may already have too many guitars, so the place to start is by selling them. If you have a fairly common guitar, you can sell it on craigslist if it serves your area. If it is less common, then eBay may be a better market, because the local market may not contain a buyer who is willing to pay what your guitar is worth. But nationally, or even internationally, there’ll be someone who really wants your guitar. On the other hand, the common, low-value guitars don’t sell well on eBay because there are so many that the prices are low. The shipping cost is also high compared to the value of a low-end guitar.

You can look for musical instruments at garage sales, second-hand, antique and thrift stores, but you probably won’t find many worth your time. You can advertise through business cards and other ways (see the Advertising and Publicity chapter at the end of this book), and in time, perhaps years, that will eventually bring a lot of business. You can let everyone know at the music stores that you’re always interested. That may bring quite a bit of business.

But you may do better using eBay for buying as well as selling. It is possible to find the occasional deal on eBay, that even with the shipping charge, is such a good deal that you can resell it on eBay for much more. This will hardly ever happen in the auction format, but it can happen with “Buy It Now.” Sometimes people don’t realize that an old Fender Stratocaster is worth something. They’ll sell it for $100 plus thirty dollars for shipping. Some buyers cruise the Buy It Now listings for their favorite instruments several times a day, looking for those deals. This method works better if you’re specializing in slightly off-beat instruments, such as alto flutes. It’s even more effective with high-end or collectible instruments – but of course you have to take a big risk every time you buy one.

You can buy an Armstrong student model flute with good pads occasionally for $100, and sell it for $200. But more often than not, you won’t find that wide of profit spread. You’ll have to pay $150 for a good flute that doesn’t leak, then it will only sell for $200, shipping included. You end up paying twenty dollars for shipping, so in the end, for risking $150, and the work of receiving it, re-listing it, and shipping it, you make thirty dollars, minus eBay fees, which run around eight percent, so you actually end up with fourteen dollars.

With a high-end flute, maybe a Haynes, you can buy one for $2,000, and sell it for $4,000. As long as you play by eBay’s rules, the risk is not that you’ll be cheated by the seller. If you open the package and find it is filled with rocks rather than a flute, eBay has insurance and will cover you. The risk is that you’ll probably misjudge the market until you become more experienced. You may pay $2,000 for that flute thinking that you’ve made a brilliant purchase, but discover that the particular model you bought is the one everyone doesn’t want, and can’t be sold for more than $1,000. There’s no way eBay will cover that! So, this is not a market for fragile dealers!

If you still find the notion of buying and reselling on eBay attractive, then my advice is – start out slowly. Just buy one instrument at a time, so you can learn the ropes without wiping out your life’s savings.

In the long run, volume is your ally. Even the experienced buyer will sometimes pay $10,000 for a collectible violin, and find that it can’t be sold for even $5,000. But the experienced buyer has twenty other violins at any given time, and makes a profit on fifteen of them. This buyer shrugs her shoulders and moves on when she makes a mistake. She can only make a $5,000 mistake so casually because she has built her business slowly, and has gained expertise and money along the way.

Whereas it is possible to buy and sell on eBay, you might find it is easier to use eBay for one side of your transactions, and Craigslist for the other. You can buy beginning and intermediate quality instruments on eBay for a very good price, but you can’t re-sell the same ones on eBay at a profit, usually. What you can do is pick up these low-end and medium instruments on eBay, then sell them to your local market by way of Craigslist. You might be able to pick up a reasonable saxophone for $300 on eBay, then sell it to a local musician for $500.

If you are not capable of repairing instruments yourself, make very sure that the ones you buy online are in proper working condition. For woodwinds, this means the pads must not leak, and all the valves should function properly. For strings, the wood must be in good condition, the tuners ought to work right, necks can’t be warped, and so on. You can expect that you may need to invest in new strings, especially for guitars. If you buy an item on eBay and the listing says it is in good condition, then you are covered by eBay’s insurance as long as you play by the rules. So, with eBay, read the fine print carefully, and stay away from any off-road requests by sellers, such as paying outside of PayPal, or accepting delivery a month after the sale.

I’m not doing this business currently (because I’m focused on being a writer), but let me give you an example of a buy gone wrong: Last year, I bought an alto flute for $750, which is about half what I could have sold it for. Unfortunately, it had leaky pads. I made a weak attempt to fix it, but couldn’t get it right. It would have cost $300 for an overhaul, which I felt would have eaten too much into my profit, so I contacted the seller, who accepted a refund. They usually do, in order to preserve their feedback, but if they don’t, you can contact eBay through what’s called the Resolution Center, and if the seller doesn’t respond with an acceptable solution in a reasonable amount of time, eBay through PayPal, will refund you in full.

Like buying and selling on eBay, I recommend you try the eBay – Craigslist approach with just one instrument to start. If it goes well, try a couple more, and gain your experience slowly, unless you don’t mind having an instrument junkyard in your attic.

When you have an instrument, you simply post an ad, with pictures, on craigslist, and wait for a buyer to come along. You can decide whether or not to wheel and deal on the price. You can decide what profit margin is acceptable. Keep in mind that you need enough wiggle room in the profit to pay for the occasional repair, or outright failure. You might end up with an instrument that seemed okay, but after a couple of weeks, your buyer reports that a connecting rod broke. This kind of thing is common. It has been in your possession long enough that you can’t recover the cost from the eBay seller, but it has been in your buyer’s hands for only a short time, and so you have to cover the repair. Worse, something might break, or go wrong in some way, that costs the entire instrument. Perhaps a cello’s wood turns out to be so dry that it has started developing cracks.

The markup is very nice, and the turnover can be high, meaning you sell a lot of instruments in a short time, when you buy entry level and mid-range instruments online and sell them locally. That is not true for high-end instruments. The problem is that buyers are limited. When you have a 1963 Fender amp that’s worth $2,000 online, you probably won’t have anyone locally who specifically wants a collectible guitar amp of that type. Those who do, are very specific about what they want. The guy who might have bought your Fender only collects Marshall amps, and so you’re stuck with your Fender for a very long time. Even if you lower the price to $1,000, if there’s no one who wants it, you won’t sell it.

This is also true of odd instruments. You might think a bassoon is the coolest instrument ever. But who, in your neck of the woods, actually wants one enough to pay for it?

Besides craigslist, you can advertise in the local newspaper classified ads, you can make flyers for bulletin boards, and you can hand out business cards. Most of these techniques do not work nearly as well as Craigslist. At the end of this book is a chapter detailing some tricks for getting the most out of selling on Craigslist. There is also a chapter about advertising and getting free publicity locally.

It is also easier to buy locally and sell on eBay than buying and selling just on eBay. You see, there are many people who have to move out of town, have run out of money, or for one reason or another have to sell their instruments. They don’t have the time to sell on eBay, or they lack experience, confidence, or don’t want to deal with packing and shipping. You can simply put a couple of ads on Craigslist, one in the “wanted” section and the other in the “Musical Instruments” section saying that you buy instruments. Most who contact you will have something you can’t sell on eBay, or they’ll want too much money. But some will have absolutely great deals!

You don’t want to take advantage of people who are currently down and out, so I recommend paying fair prices, but at the same time make sure you are going to profit sufficiently to cover your time, and make enough money that when something goes wrong, your profit from your other sales will cover the loss.

I like to recommend doubling your money at the low end, and getting at least a fifty percent markup at the high end. If a drum set costs you $100, sell it for $200. If you buy a really nice drum set for $500, sell it for $750. Remember, it will be harder to sell the $750 drum set, because musicians buying in that range have specific notions as to what they want.

During the past ten years, several instrument manufacturers in Asia have come up with very nice entry-level equipment. Oh, the professional musician would complain, but these instruments actually work fairly well and have decent sound. They are sold on eBay for remarkably low prices. You can take a tour of your local music stores, and if they don’t have instruments of the same type and in the price range in which you can profit, you can pick up these new Asian instruments and sell them locally. You can’t quite get the markup you can with used instruments, but it is still good. For instance, a new Korean electric guitar, with a beautiful red finish, complete with a 10-watt amplifier, can be had for $85. You can sell it for $140. Or, you can get a used acoustic guitar in good condition for eighty dollars, and sell it for $200. But, you’ll sell more of the colorful guitars, and you’ll be able to buy them more easily on eBay. For the used stuff, you have to check every listing, and hope that the instrument is in good, playable condition. For the new stuff, once you have established a list of good sellers, you can just reorder every time you sell one.

You can also sell at flea markets, or have a music specialty garage sale from time to time. You can even tote some instruments around in the back seat of your car, and sell them to friends, at musical gatherings, and so on. Perhaps you love recorders, and are part of a Baroque group that meets every Wednesday to play together. When the members learn that you have a collection of very nice recorders for sale, not only will they buy some, they’ll tell all their recorder-playing friends. Just wait ’till Fred finds out you scored an actual bass recorder, and you’ll sell it for $1,000!



Consignment

Some stores take consignments. Others don’t know exactly what this concept is, but when you explain it to them, they may be interested in setting up a consignment deal with you.

So what is consignment? You can bring items to a store, and they sell them for you. When things sell, you get a percentage of the money the store charged. Typical consignment deals range from 25 to fifty percent going to the store. That’s fair, considering they paid the price to get customers into the store so they’d buy your stuff. The store has to pay rent, utilities, and possibly advertising and employee expenses. Yet with consignment, you don’t! Furthermore, someone has to be in the store all the time. If you had your own small store, that would have to be you.

Imagine the potential. Let’s say you have a hundred collectible vinyl records. You don’t want to have a garage sale or sell them at the flea market. Craigslist would not be a good option, because you’d have an endless parade of buyers coming to your home.

One of the best options then, is consigning at the local music store. Some other stores can work too, such as flexible antique dealers or upscale second-hand stores. If they are new to the consignment idea, you may have to guide them through how it is best done. If they are already doing consignment, you may have to comply with their ways of doing things, which might not always seem best. Each business has their own rules for how they handle consignments.

You will want to agree on a percentage up front. I like to recommend that you accept anything reasonable. Remember, if they get as much as they want, they’ll be more inclined to push your inventory. In a dedicated music store, They can set a price higher than you can through a flea market or craigslist because they attract people who have come specifically to buy the kinds of things you have. So you can come out ahead even with a steep percentage.

You’ll want to discuss security. Who’s responsible if an item is stolen or damaged? What security precautions can be implemented? When do you get paid? What happens if a customer wants to return an item? And, what is the procedure if someone wants a discount? Are layaways allowed, and if so, what are the terms?

When customers ask for discounts, many stores just tell them, sorry, it’s consigned, so the price is non-negotiable. Others allow, with the consignor’s permission, a ten percent discount just for the asking. Yet another alternative is that the clerk will call you when someone wants a discount.

If you can both sign a document that spells those things out, it should work fine. Still, unless the store is trusted, you’ll want to start with a small amount of merchandise, just in case the store owner is so hard up financially that he has to delay paying you month after month. This is one of the biggest problems in consignment. Many stores are unfortunately in ongoing financial trouble. When I see a store in trouble, as a former business coach, oh, I so much want to offer some help! But I have learned to resist the temptation. It only works if they ask.

Finally, with consignment, you’ll want to keep careful track of your stuff. Each item of inventory should carry an identifying mark or tag of some sort that won’t easily pull or peel off. You’ll want to have a spreadsheet, or at least a notebook, documenting where every piece of inventory is, the price, and its current status – at your place, at the store, for sale, sold awaiting payment, or paid.



Co-Op Selling

You may find a cooperative store in town. This is not like a food co-op. A co-op is a store that rents spaces to individual dealers. A typical space is 8 x 10 feet, just enough room for a ten-foot row of shelves, and some display cases or tables. Most co-ops specialize in antiques, or arts and crafts. Some will do general merchandise – clothing, garden tools, books, you name it. As a dealer, you pay rent to the co-op, perhaps $125 per month. In addition to the space, they provide utilities, and retail services. That means, there’s someone at the counter to answer questions, take the customers’ credit cards, and so on.

In addition to renting the space, you also pay a percentage to the co-op when items sell, typically fifteen percent.

In some co-ops, all the dealers are required to put in a few hours at the sales counter. I prefer co-ops in which the dealers pay a slightly higher percentage, but don’t have to spend time in the store. One reason is because you can put merchandise in several stores. You can make rounds perhaps once a week to organize your space, bring in more inventory, and of course collect the money. Selling in several coops, you won’t have time to volunteer behind various sales counters.

Co-ops can be especially good for vinyl records, CDs, entry level and mid-range instruments and musical memorabilia, such as concert posters, miniature instruments, and musically oriented jewelry.



Your Own Music Store

Once you have gained some experience selling albums or instruments locally, you can open a retail store. To some people, this seems like a difficult or impossible dream. Having started five retail stores of my own I can tell you it is not only possible, it can be fairly easy, and extremely successful, as long as you keep some basic concepts in mind.

1. You have to take in more money than you put out.

2. Any time you could possibly spend money, discover whether there is a better, lower-cost way to do what you intend to do.

3. Be prepared to work long hours at first. Once you become successful, you can hire people. Or, you might consider a partnership – discussed in a chapter at the end of this book.

If you have even just a few thousand dollars in your back pocket, you can start a store. Of course it is important that you don’t need that money for something else. There are people who aren’t friends with responsibility, or just don’t have the common sense to start a retail business. They forget, or choose to ignore the rules.

Then, too, things that you have no control over, can happen. I recently read about a couple who started stocking their brand new store when an earthquake hit, destroying all their merchandise.

So, when you have the money to invest, and only when you can spare that money, you might consider starting your own store. The prestige and freedom that comes from having your own place can put a long-lasting smile on your face. It’s your place, so you can decide to host musical jams after hours. You can have wonderful conversations with your customers. The local celebrity musicians will drop in from time to time. You’ll probably eventually end up making more than any hourly wage, and you can hand the whole works over to your children many years later.

Being impatient, I eventually lost interest in my retail ventures, so I did what you can do with your stores too: You can build your store up, then sell the business for what will seem like a remarkable amount of money. The longer you keep your store, the more it is worth. The downside is that you’ll be making so much after a few years, you may not want to sell it. You may not want to kill the clarinet that lays the golden notes.

The idea of starting a store from scratch seems to scare many people. That’s why so many will pay so much for an established store. Having started several stores, I can tell you it is really quite easy. Probably easier than it is to learn to play an instrument.

The first order of business is finding a building. Most stores rent their space. The only way it would make sense to buy a commercial building is if you could sell or rent the building itself profitably should you have a change of plans or a change of heart.

What you’re looking for is a store that is easily seen from as many passing cars as possible. Or, one that gets significant exposure to walk-by traffic. You want one where people aren’t afraid to shop, where in fact, they have come purposely to shop. Parking should be easy and close by. If you rent a location where your sign can be seen by most of the residents – or tourists, you may not need to do anything about publicity or advertising at all.

You’ll probably want reasonably low rent, so you can have as many square feet as possible. On the other hand, trading square feet for exposure can make a huge difference. If you have a tiny store in a well-populated mall, you can make more money then if you have a huge warehouse located where no one notices it.

You’ll want to make sure the zoning is right. That’s easily done by going to your city or county zoning or business licensing office. You can find that office by asking at the local chamber of commerce. You just give the zoning people an address, and they’ll tell you what can, and cannot be done there. For instance, they won’t allow an auto body repair shop in an upscale residential neighborhood. The residents would never want all that noise and paint fumes.

In some seemingly excellent retail zones, parking meters can be a problem. They are the death of a retail store. People would much rather shop at your competitors’ store than worry the whole time they’re in your store, whether or not the 25 cents they fed the meter was enough.

An aspect of zoning is sign regulations. Most communities don’t want unrestricted neon signs multiple stories tall over a little music store. But some areas might be overzealous in their requirements. I once started a 1,000 square foot bookstore in a neighborhood that let me have a sign no bigger than 3 x 2 feet (1 x 0.6m). In my case, there was a ton of walk-by traffic, so that didn’t really matter. You’ll want to make sure the signage requirements in your area are appropriate.

Generally, they’ll allow an ordinary music store in any building that has been used for retail business in the past, but you’ll certainly want to make sure before you sign a lease.

Now, before you sign that lease, you’ll want to write in the one clause that is missing from most commercial leases. It’s missing from most residential leases too. You want an escape clause. What if you chose the wrong location? What if a dog barking next door just won’t shut up? What if your business is more successful than you thought, and you need to rent a larger building? What if a family crisis requires you move to Philadelphia? A typical escape clause – one that the landlord will usually accept – is that you can break the lease if you pay three months rent up front.

Finally, before you sign that lease, you need to work out a business plan. Oh, I don’t mean a fancy plan to show a banker for a loan. I do not advocate starting with a loan. If you don’t yet have enough money saved up, and the ability to risk that money, there’s no hurry. You can just keep selling instruments or CDs on Craigslist, out of the trunk of your car, the flea market, or wherever, until you do have enough money. This is a better idea, because you’ll be proving to yourself that the musical instrument business is profitable, while you learn the ropes.

A business plan just for yourself can be as simple as scratching some numbers on the side of a grocery bag. What you want to see is whether you’re biting off more than you can chew. Figure that you’ll need to pay first and last rent, then pay the rent for a few months until your business is running and established. You’ll need to cover the electric bill and other overheads. If you’re smart, you won’t figure in employees. They come later, after you’ve become successful. This is a business that you’ll run entirely by yourself at first. Finally, you need a starting inventory. Ideally, you already have plenty of instruments, or albums, accessories, sheet music, collectible event posters – whatever you’re going to sell. If you don’t, go ahead and step back for a year or so, continuing to do your business out of the flea market or wherever, until inventory surrounds you. Until it fills your garage, living room, bathroom, and takes up all the space under the kitchen table.

Moving forward, let’s say you have crunched the numbers, and secured a store. Now what? There’s just a little bit of paperwork, and it is easier than you thought.

Through your chamber of commerce, find your local business license office. There, you can get a DBA – Doing Business under Assumed name, also known as a business license. This costs anywhere from $20 to $200 per year, depending on your community. You fill out a one or two-page form with the usual stuff – name, address, phone number, and they give you the license. No one is refused. Furthermore, you don’t have to know anything about it. The people in these offices know that you are not an expert in what they do. The typical person coming in wants to start a car repair shop and knows all about car repair, but nothing about business. So, they are there to help you. They want you to succeed, so you can continue to support the community by paying your annual license fee.

You’ll probably want a business checking account, and in some cases, the local government wants to see this account number before they’ll grant you the DBA. No problem, any normal bank can do this for you in twenty minutes. Most banks offer business checking accounts for free.

Customers coming to retail stores often expect to pay with credit cards. In the past, this was somewhat expensive and difficult to set up. Now, you can go to PayPal.com, and get set up to take credit cards easily. In one of my stores, before PayPal, I couldn’t take credit cards for the first couple of weeks after opening. So as to not surprise customers once they approached the sales counter, I let them know up front, and that there was an ATM a block away. I did not lose a single sale during that time.

Finally, you need to get set up to collect sales tax or VAT (Value Added Tax) in most countries unless you are in a place without sales tax such as Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. This costs nothing, and also requires filling out a simple one or two page application. The certificate, often called a resale certificate or tax number is usually given to you right away. They also hand you a pamphlet explaining how sales tax works in your area. You’ll learn what percentage to charge, and which items and people are tax-exempt. For instance, in New York State, American Indians do not have to pay sales tax if they present the retailer with an exemption form. To find the tax office in your community, simply ask at the business license office. They already know that’s where you’re going next, and will certainly have the address. Now-a-days, you can often set up your sales tax account entirely online or by mail.

Collecting sales tax can be thought of as a right, responsibility, or privilege. I won’t get into the philosophy here. The usual arrangement is that you set aside the tax money you collect, fill out a one-page form, and mail a check to your tax office once every three months.

Once you’re in business, you do need to keep track of income and expenses. You’d want to do this anyway, so you can understand how things are going, and what to adjust from time to time to make sure you’re making a good profit.

The old-fashioned way still works: You can buy an ordinary ledger book, and enter your expenses and income by hand. Domes Monthly is a ledger you can buy in any stationery store in the USA. There are no doubt equivalents in every country. Keeping track isn’t rocket science, although it may seem so at first. The only thing you need to do is list everything you spend money on and enter the amount of money you take in every day. You can optionally break out the income into categories such as “new,” “used,” and “service.” You’ll want to break out the expenses into categories such as “inventory,” “rent,” and “utilities.” You may want to additionally list all legitimate business expenses such as “automotive,” and “advertising.”

It is much easier to use automated software. For under $100, you can buy any of a variety of business bookkeeping packages, such as Quicken, or Microsoft Money, that tell you what to do at every step. The people who make this software know that you’re not an accountant, so you’re not expected to know what to do. The software has a lot of built-in help.

If that still seems intimidating, you can hire a bookkeeper for a single session to set up your system, and tell you what to do. Only after your business becomes successful, unless you are already wealthy, do you want to hire a bookkeeper on a regular basis. Some bookkeepers are better at teaching than others. If your first bookkeeper is not good at explaining things, try another.

At the end of the year, you need to figure out your income tax. This too, is easier than it might seem. In the US, the basic addition to your tax forms for business is a Schedule C. It is a single two-sided page. The categories are obvious. But it is easier to get the automated software that does it for you. At the HR Block website, you can do the whole thing on line, and then just pay thirty to eighty to file your taxes. It takes about twenty minutes longer than for someone who is only filing an ordinary 1040.

What if you make a mistake? All the government officials are on your side. Really! They’d rather have you succeed, than harass you. And again, they know you probably not an accountant with an MBA. They want you to succeed, so you can go on paying taxes year after year. If you make a mistake, they tell you what to do differently. They may issue a reasonable fine – just part of the cost of doing business, and you get to move on. No one goes to jail.

Well, okay, I knew one fellow who did. He was a professional ice skater who paid no income tax at all. Still, he wouldn’t have spent six months in jail if he didn’t stand up to the judge and the whole court and make a big presentation defending why he shouldn’t pay income tax. Only rebels go to jail. In fact, even with all the small mistakes all of us make, almost no one gets audited. I’ve received perhaps five letters from the IRS and sales tax agencies in all my 35 years in eighteen various businesses. In each of the three cases where I actually did something wrong, I had to pay a small fine. My fines ranged from $20 to $150. I knew one fellow who didn’t report his income tax at all for several years. This one was a professional juggler. He was probably making around $150,000 per year. He didn’t even keep any records, so no one, including himself, knew how much he made. The IRS stated that he owed them approximately $20,000 in back taxes, which he gladly paid. Of course from that time on, he did have to keep records and pay the appropriate taxes. I know a lot of business people and these two are the worst case scenarios.

Something like a signage violation is so minor that some business people play with them. For instance, in my store that had the three-foot by two-foot sign requirement, I made a much larger sandwich sign and put it out on the sidewalk every day from the first day I opened. I knew this was in violation, and I knew someone would notice it. They did, after two months. The zoning office did not issue a fine. They only issued a ‘cease’ letter, telling me I had thirty days to comply with the law. So I kept my sign out for another 29 days, then I threw it away. It had done its job. I’m not recommending that you play the edge with your local regulations, just letting you know of an experience I had.

Once you are in business, you can get wholesale catalogs and secret price lists. In order to qualify for a wholesale account, all you normally need is to fax or mail a copy of your resale certificate or DBA. Some wholesalers do require a photograph of the front of your store, or they have

protected dealerships. This means that if someone else is selling their brand within a certain distance, perhaps five miles (eight kilometers), you can’t also sell the same brand. This is seldom a problem in the music business. You can find the wholesalers online. Often, they find you, sending representatives to your store, to let you know about their wares.

Whereas you might start your store with only collectible albums, or only second-hand instruments, you now have the opportunity to sell new merchandise. The biggest advantage is that you can buy multiples of things that sell well. I have always imagined how nifty it would be to have a store that sells nothing but 25-pound (ten kg) bags of dog food. Only one brand, only one type. I’d sell them over and over, the same to everyone who comes in. This is of course, is an oversimplified dream, but you can imagine that in a music store it would simplify things if you could sell 100 copies of the latest popular album per day, or a certain student model drum kit that you can sell to five people per week.

In all this discussion I’ve assumed you’re not super-wealthy. If you are, you can start a music store in a 10,000 square foot store, and stock it with grand pianos and the very best collectible guitars from the first day.

The more reasonable approach is to start safely with what you already know, can get, and can afford to put in your inventory. Keep your quantities small. For instance, a wholesaler can sell you six identical Yamaha keyboards for twenty dollars less per unit. Seems like a deal, until you figure out how much other merchandise you could be selling while your money is tied up in those six keyboards. Better to start with one keyboard and pay the twenty dollars extra. In time, you’ll have the big store with the manager, and the service department, and the lesson rooms, and the huge sheet music collection, and the television advertising, and the rows and rows of glistening instruments. You are almost sure to succeed in having that store if you start small.

If you start with your inheritance or a big bank loan, you are almost as sure to fail! You know why, right? It’s about experience, and sense of balance. If you start small, you really get a feel for what it means to have $1,500 tied up in a French horn that takes a year to sell.

If you start small, you understand that investing $600 in a glass display case can wait, because you’re better off investing the $600 in more CDs at the beginning.

You may be amazed at how much a small store can grow, and how it can grow from almost nothing. Especially if you let it be a natural process. Imagine that you happen to like Lowrey organs.




Typical Current Lowrey Organ

Click for YouTube Video

Now, that may or may not be your favorite instrument, but they are worth a lot. So, if you happened to like them, you might eventually get yourself a used one on eBay. Perhaps it’s an old one and costs you only $1,000. You play it, enjoy it, and in time get a newer but still used one for $4,000. You sell the first one on Craigslist, and to your surprise, it brings $1,800. So, you put your $4,000 organ up for sale at $6,500, just in case someone would actually pay that much. And sure enough, after a bit of wheeling and dealing, you agree to sell it for $6,000. But now, you have no organ! So you quickly order another on eBay. Two in fact. And you end up selling them. Fast-forward a year, and you have four Lowreys in your garage, and two in your living room, and you’re selling one every week or two. At some point, you realize you’re making $30,000 per year with your organs, and so you quit your job, devoting your full time to it. Now, you’re making $50,000 per year, and have $20,000 in a savings account. So, you rent a store, put the eight Lowreys you currently have in the store, order four more, and things just keep growing.

As the years pass, you almost don’t notice the growth of your business, because you’re having such a good time. You spend your days playing your various organs, demonstrating them to customers, or just noodling around for your own amusement. You get to talk shop with lots of other people who love organs, including your sales people. Eventually you get a Lowrey dealership, and we won’t even talk about your income ten years later, because, well, wealthy people don’t talk about their money!



Route Sales

Many years ago, Jewel Tea and Fuller Brush companies used to have salespeople who did what was called route sales. For those customers who liked, a salesperson would drive to their homes, perhaps once a week, and show them new things they could buy. They sold more than tea and brushes. They carried a rather full line of household goods, gifts and snacks, such as tins of chocolate chip cookies. These sales people sometimes carried samples or things customers could buy on the spot, but more often, they showed their catalogs. Customers would order things that would be delivered by the same sales person the following week. There isn’t as much of that these days, probably because of online venues such as eBay and Amazon. But it still exists in some forms. For instance, a Snap-On Tools truck will make the rounds of car repair shops, tempting the mechanics with all sorts of nifty screwdrivers, vacuum gauges and air wrenches. These tool trucks are large, carrying a fairly large inventory. Most of the sales people from the earlier area used only their own automobiles, or sometimes an ordinary van.

I’m thinking route sales might be something one could revive, in the world of music. One could probably do it with musical instruments, sheet music and accessories, but wouldn’t CDs make an excellent choice? The salesperson could specialize in new CDs, purchased from a wholesaler, or could go with used, offering to trade and buy CDs as well as sell them. The person wise in music could buy especially desirable new or used CDs on Amazon.com, and then sell them to the route customers. At the same time, trade-ins could be sold to other customers, or especially valuable ones could be sold online.

How would one start such a business? I think the usual means of publicity – business cards, flyers on bulletin boards, advertising on Craigslist, and perhaps in newspapers would be the way to go. You might want to look at the chapter about advertising and publicity at the end of this book.

It would be advantageous to have big signs on one’s car or truck, with a phone number that’s easy to see from a distance and easy to remember. The signs would tout the concept of home visits. Once you get a few customers, the rest will be easy. As you make your stops, people will have friends and relatives over who will want to be added to your route. Besides that, your happy customers will tell their friends, who will tell their friends, and so on.

I believe a winning personality would help. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys talking with people, you’ll be more successful, unless you’re the kind of person who can talk all day, and forget to actually sell things.

In time, as your schedule becomes full, you can drop the people who don’t buy enough merchandise per visit. In more time, you might set up your daughter up with another truck and her own route, or set up drivers and trucks all over the country.



Rent Audio Equipment


Remember the two back to back pianists I mentioned earlier? In time, they built up more equipment than they could use, as is typical of musicians. One time, a fellow musician offered to rent one of their amps. They agreed, and this started a side business that they tell me is as successful as their performances. They rent equipment to musicians and to venues. Not only do they have all sorts of microphones, keyboards, stands, amplifiers and speakers, they have also branched out into lighting. In a way, they like the rental business better than performing, because they don’t have to travel anywhere at specific times, and don’t have the responsibility of dressing up and putting on a good show.

With patience, this business is easy to start, especially if you know other musicians. Just do all the usual publicity tricks and let the business grow itself. In time, you’ll learn which equipment people want, how to do paperwork the best way, how much to charge, and what to do when something is lost or stolen, which actually happens only infrequently.



Rent Instruments

Instrument rental can become a big business. The clientele is entirely different than audio equipment rental customers. You’re renting mostly to children. Actually, to the parents of children. The usual arrangement is on-going monthly rental, which can be more lucrative than renting to professional musicians for one-day gigs.

Like any music business, I recommend starting small. You might have an extra student model saxophone that you’re not using. Perhaps it is the saxophone you learned on. Why not turn it into a money-making machine? If you can find a kid who wants a sax, it is understandable that his parents aren’t willing to fork out $500 to get one. On the other hand, they’d love paying you thirty dollars per month for yours. Then, if the kid loses interest after a few months, as kids will tend to do, they aren’t stuck with an expensive instrument. On the other hand, the kid may love the thing, and you’ll be getting rent for a few years. Hmmm, at $30 per month, three years would be $1,080. Not bad for an old instrument that was just collecting dust.

There is some risk. The sax will probably gather small dents in the hands of a youngster. It may even be severely damaged or destroyed. Generally, the parents will reimburse you for damages, but not always. So along with your profit, you have to figure in the cost of damage and loss. Oh yes, some kids will misplace their instruments, or have them stolen. Again, most of the time the parents will cover you, but not always. Many of these parents simply would not be able to afford reimbursing you for a lost instrument. That’s why they’re renting in the first place.

A few will be real deadbeats. These parents will move out of town in the middle of the night, taking their child and your instrument with them.

Then too, you’ll have kids who are becoming great mini-musicians, but the parents can’t continue affording the rent. It’s a heart-breaking, but a true reality. You, being who you are, will probably have some instruments rented out that aren’t bringing in revenue for months at a time. That’s just part of the cost of this business.

So, it is not only helpful, but necessary to make a big profit in the rental business. The best way to a big profit is to have a huge inventory rented out. It seems to me like it would be a blast to own hundreds of guitars, keyboards, flutes, trombones, drum kits, you name it. If you like repairing instruments, you’ll be in heaven in the rental business!

You’ll want to like bookkeeping too, since you’ll want to design a good system in which you can easily keep track of your monthly rental payments, and the locations of all your inventory.

The first, and perhaps most important step in collecting rent from people who are a bit loose about such things, is to be as official as you can. Have the customers sign a rental agreement at the beginning, and send or email formal bills every month. Send reminders as soon as is practical whenever someone is late. This will take care of most of the payments that you’d otherwise not get if you are disorganized.

You can start with second-hand equipment purchased through Craigslist and eBay. In time, you can hook up with wholesalers who can get you brand new student-model instruments for what you’d pay for used ones. The big advantage with buying new instruments is they are all the same. Let’s say a certain model guitar is popular. You can get as many as you need to fulfill your clients’ requirements, and you only need to get replacement parts for one brand.

Starting an instrument rental business would be similar to starting many local music businesses. You’ll want to do the usual free publicity things, which you can read about in the Advertising and Publicity chapter at the end of this book. You’ll want to let any of the music stores who aren’t already doing their own rental business know that you have instruments for rent. They may even let you put up a flyer on their bulletin board or in their window.

If a music store already does rentals, they might surprise you by sending along anyone for whom they don’t have the right instrument available. Most music stores do not have a very large pool of rental equipment.

And of course it would be great to connect with the music teachers in your community. If you call them out of the blue, most of them will probably be delighted to talk with you. Fellow musicians pretty much always enjoy talking with kindred spirits. Plus, you’ll be making them aware of a service that’s important to them. More often than you’d think, the music teachers have to struggle with a student who’s instrument is in such poor shape that the unfortunate kid can’t get good sound out of it. It’s sad to see a student who’s instrument just won’t play the low notes. Or one that won’t stay in tune for even a few minutes. A rental is the instant solution.

Connecting with the schools can be huge. In many cases, their few remaining music programs are stretched so thin, the last thing they can deal with is the actual instruments. If you get set up with a school system, you might suddenly increase your clientele by hundreds of students.

There are two usual ways to connect with the schools. The first is to make phone calls or send emails. At first, you’ll probably be contacting the wrong people. You might try members of the school board, or the principle of the local school, or even the school secretary. At first, all you’re asking for is “who to contact.” Eventually, you’ll reach the right person. And when you do, it can be good or bad. You probably don’t want to make the connection until you can handle the volume. Do you have enough inventory for 200 more rentals next month? How would you handle that if it should happen?

The other way is to let the school come to you. As your business builds, the right people in the school system will find out about you. When they decide their students need a source of instruments, there you’ll be.

Like so many of these musical businesses, the rental business can be mixed with other incomes. If you teach guitar, you might rent guitars to a few of your students. Or, looking at it the other way, if you rent guitars, you might give lessons to a few of your clients. Each business naturally supports the other, and increases your profit.



Coaching

Many great performers have performance coaches. Many successful business people have business coaches. The musical coach might be a bit of both. Ideally, the music coach has a background that includes a musical performing success. Yet oddly, many coaches have never been particularly successful in performing, but they are especially good at coaching and teaching. It’s sort of like, “Those who can do. Those who can’t, teach.” This is an interesting expression. The way I interpret it is that if you are especially good at teaching, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you are good at what you teach. The extreme end is fictionalized by The Music Man, a musical mentioned in an earlier chapter, in which an instrument salesman comes to town, sells instruments to all the parents with the promise that he will teach their kids to play. But he has no musical skill. It’s a fun story. Real life isn’t quite as dramatic as that, but there is so much to be said for the ability to inspire others.

The ideal musical coach actually does have some experience in the trenches. So, the coach can teach specifics as needed, like how to hold the bow, or how to reliably hit those high notes. The coach can tell the musician about how to approach a recording studio, advise about what a demo CD should contain, and so on. But, the coach is also a professional friend. One who can listen. One who can support the musical client when things didn’t go well, or when the client is depressed. The coach is especially useful for keeping the musician on track. The coach may be a bit of a nag, or may use other techniques to make sure the musician does show up at auditions, does continue playing Wednesday nights at the restaurant even though the manager is maddening, that the musician does finish composing the lyrics for the new piece. One of the best things a coach can do is get NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) training. This is sort of like psychology, but not for people with mental illnesses. This is psychology for people who just want to reach their own maximum potential. The coach with NLP training can help musicians overcome unconscious blocks to their own success, and keep the musicians inspired. A coach with NLP training can be just the ticket for a musician with stage fright or procrastination problems.



Music Therapy

I’ll give you a thought that I haven’t fully worked out yet, but perhaps this is something that will resonate with you, and that you’ll be able to creatively fulfill in your own way. The idea is that you have clients for whom you prescribe music. They may come to you mildly depressed, or may want to become more productive or inspired. You hand them a CD that you have burned for them containing music that will help in the way that they need.



Player Rental

Here’s another idea that’s not fully worked out, but once you hear about it, this may inspire you to fill in the details and create your own unique business.

The idea is that you gather several iPods or any kind of mp3 players and fill them with music, each player containing a different collection. You then rent them by the day, week or month. The idea is that your clientele can come to you at any time, or on a scheduled basis, and trade the player they’re holding for another, so they can be exposed to a new batch of music. This would be ideal for people who don’t have time to build their own music collections.

I don’t know the legalities. Certainly, if you use public domain music, or music of your own creation, it would be completely legal, but otherwise you’ll want to study a bit about potential copyright violation.

Since mp3 players are small, this could be done nationally, or even internationally by mail. This is not entirely different than what NetFlix does with DVD rental.

It reminds me of something I was allowed to participate in as a child years ago. I was becoming an avid stamp collector. I discovered an ad in the back of a stamp collector magazine that said they’d send me a full book of stamps called an approval album. I could take out the ones I liked for my own collection, and send the book back with payment for the stamps I took. I was a trustworthy kid, so after the first few books that came in the mail containing only cheap (but attractive) stamps, the value of the stamps in the books they sent went up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much money to spend, so then the value went back down, until they found my level. I really enjoyed just browsing through the books, and always bought at least a few stamps so that I was sure they’d keep sending more approval albums.



Retail Soundtracks

As you know, music can change moods, and even affect decisions. Years ago, I owned a bicycle store. I came across an old reel-to-reel tape recorder that could play three and a half hours of music per tape. I created some tapes as background music for the bicycle store. One thing became obvious right away: Any kind of mild background music breaks the silence and makes the customers more comfortable. Otherwise they hear themselves and others make the ordinary sounds of being human – shoes scuffing, sneezes, rustling of clothing, picking up and setting down merchandise, and these sounds can be a bit embarrassing. So with music to obscure those sounds, people are likely to shop longer, and with freer minds. I then took my experiment a step further. I mixed in a brighter, faster song about every fifteen minutes. As I suspected, there was a rush at the cash register during and shortly after those fifteen minute upbeat interludes. That’s as far as my experiment went, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could make ‘retail’ music and sell it to stores, maybe even chains of stores. I don’t know what form it would take. Maybe something like Muzak, or maybe you’d sell the CDs. I’ll leave it to you to work out the details the way you’d like.



Musical Agent

Back in the early sixties, there was a guy that worked in his father’s music store who relaxed at a Liverpool pub in the evenings. A group started playing there that he particularly liked. One day, he approached them, and offered to be their agent. He probably had all sorts of dreams for them, like “We’ll break you out of this local thing, get you recorded, go national, and make good money.” Even though he had no experience as an agent, they accepted his offer. That’s probably because being a new, semi-professional band, he was the first who approached them about business, and like all musicians, the idea of making more money was attractive.

You probably know who I’m talking about. That was Brian Epstein, and the group was The Beatles.

The ideal musical agent would already have connections. This might come from employment within the recording or entertainment industry, or from working as a studio musician or someone who knows the right people to get started. But, as Brian proved, you don’t absolutely need to have the right connections. If you believe in your musicians, if you are a sociable person, and if you are willing to study the Internet and elsewhere to discover how ‘agenting’ is done, you might become the next Brian Epstein.



Leveraging YouTube

YouTube is a spectacular phenomenon. Justin Bieber and many others were launched to stardom just because they posted their videos on YouTube. Of course, it’s not easy. For every Justin Bieber, there are probably 100,000 people who post videos that go nowhere. The average musician who uploads something to YouTube gets three viewers, one of which is their mother. On the other hand, it may be worth the effort because when a YouTube video goes viral, there’s instant money and exposure for the musician.

First, you can sign an agreement with YouTube in which advertising is embedded in your videos and surrounding them on the same page. That brings you a portion of the revenue. YouTube is owned by Google, and the ads are Google AdSense, which are targeted. If you have a YouTube video having to do with “shoes,” for example, then the ads will be about shoes. Shoe merchants participate in a sort of auction, bidding on how much they’ll pay for their ads to show up with your video, and elsewhere. They may pay anything from pennies per click, to over $200 per click. An accident law firm, that can make thousands of dollars in litigation, will happily pay $200 when someone clicks an ad that links to their website. Of course, most ads are bid at more like ten cents or a dollar per click. If you link AdSense ads into your own website, you get 65 percent of the amount bid. Through YouTube, it is half that. On the other hand, just being on YouTube, you’ll get far more exposure than with your own website.

You can use YouTube to bring exposure to your site. Not only can you have Google AdSense bringing you money, you can put your own links in your video and in the description.

Let’s say you are teaching piano in Rome, Italy. You can upload a YouTube video that people will enjoy, and in the video you can let it be known that you teach in Rome, and show a link to your website. Anyone living in Rome who is interested in piano lessons is likely to click through, and hopefully become your student. The same would be true if you are a performer. In your video, you let it be known that you’re playing gigs in Rome, and people who want to hire a musician will click through to your website.

If you are like almost everyone else, you’ve put a video on YouTube, and it just sits there. You literally did get three visitors, and now – nothing. That won’t do you much good. So what can you do? Plenty!

First and foremost, make your video interesting to people who are into the same kind of music you are. Not many people want to hear yet another guitar rendition of Canon Rock.




Jerry C, Originator of Canon Rock

Click for YouTube Video

There are probably at least 25 videos of Canon Rock on guitar, so who’s going to look at yours? Now Canon Rock on oboe, that would be different. That would be targeted also. While there are not all that many people in the world who are interested in oboe, anyone who is will almost for sure see your video! They’ll seek it out. They’ll enter “oboe” in the YouTube search field, and there you’ll be, with your video near the top of the list. So, you want to give some thought to what keywords people are looking for, and put those words in your title and description. Or another example: You might be good at Roadhouse Boogie. If you title your video “Piano, Boogie Woogie,” you’ll have too much competition. It won’t show up in the search results. On the other hand, if your title is “Roadhouse Boogie” you may be at the top of the list when those few perfectly targeted people enter that keyword. I know it seems counter intuitive to narrow your results to fewer people, but in fact because of the competition for general terms like “rock guitar” you’ll do much better to be targeted. You can read more about this topic in the Websites That Work chapter at the end of this book.

If you can get a few dozen visitors, then positive eccentricity can finish the job. If you can put together something that’s different, interesting, that people find so unusual that they’ll email their friends and tell them to check out your video, you win!

Earlier in the book, I mentioned Steve Moore. He is a drummer with an amazing visual component to his performance. Even Steve didn’t get many visitors for the first two years his video was on YouTube. I don’t know what the original title of the video was. It may have been “ZZ Top Cover, The All Nighters.” As you can imagine, that wouldn’t bring much action. Then the person who posted that video (Steve didn’t actually post that one) changed the title to “This Drummer Is At The Wrong Gig.” Next thing you know, the video had two million hits. Now, it’s around 17 million. What happened? First, the title brought more hits from searches, because it contained some keywords that must have struck a resonant chord. The words “drummer,” “gig,” and even “wrong” are probably entered by people in various combinations thousands of times a day. Then, the first thousand people who saw Steve in action were fascinated, and they told all their friends, who told all their friends, who told all their friends. . .

One of the most routinely popular kinds of videos on YouTube are instructional videos. If you can teach people how to triple-tongue, or use the whammy bar, or work out the counting of 7/8 timing, you can get a lot of viewers. If you are a teacher, this is a great way to show your skill.

When you get to the Writing About Music chapter, you’ll find additional information about presentations on YouTube.



Repairing and Making Instruments

If you have the skill and interest, you can earn a fine living repairing or making instruments. You’d be amazed at what people will pay for customizations. Repairing is a highly specialized field. I know one fellow who earns his living just from repairing and modifying amps – amplifiers. Unfortunately, that’s a dying business, as more and more musicians switch to computer-based equipment. This is true of many of the musical instrument repairing fields. Real wooden pianos, for instance, are being replaced more and more by electronic pianos. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, electronic pianos don’t need tuning.

Most of the people who do repairing have spent years learning their craft. You don’t just make an overnight fortune as a repairer by reading “Instrument Repair for Dummies.” It usually starts with someone who enjoys playing violin, saxophone, piano, or some sort of instrument. This person does a repair or two on her own instrument. Then she has a friend who wants a repair. At first she may just do repairs for the fun of it – for free. She may then buy or sell a few instruments on the side, repairing those that aren’t perfect. After a couple of years she has become so good that the local music store starts sending all their instrument repairs – of the kind she works on – to her. Years go by, and she has her own shop, taking work from all the music stores around, and even taking repairs that are mailed from stores and individuals far away.

An aside: I knew a fellow who was a very good musician, and quite mechanically inclined. He decided he wanted to start a brass instrument repair business, which was weird because he was a guitarist. Anyway, he rented a building and bought all the equipment. He made a connection with a musical rental company that had thousands of brass instruments in circulation to the school children in his city. As the time neared to open, he got to thinking about the caustic chemicals used to clean brass. He started worrying. Just before it was time to open his business, he sold it, so he wouldn’t have to deal with the chemicals.

Another aside: Walking around town last month, I happened across a street performer who was playing a bamboo flute. He had a nice sound, so I listened for five minutes or so. I noticed that he had a display of about twenty similar bamboo flutes laid out on a decorative cloth, so I inquired. He let me try several of them, and one sounded just wonderful. He wanted $28, and I couldn’t resist, so now I own a bamboo flute. I spoke with him a few minutes. This fellow was a traveler. In his backpack were a few tools including an electronic tuner. He made the flutes in the evenings, and sold them during the day simply by playing them in public and letting people like me buy them. This may or may not be your cup of tea, but does it give you ideas?



Writing About Music

It seems strange to talk about writing in a book about music, but there’s money in them ‘thar’ hills. As a musician, you love music, and you may like to talk shop. So, you might as well write it down somewhere that you can get paid for what you know. Or what you feel or think. You don’t have to know much of anything to have opinions, ideas, and so on. You might enjoy creating a website, an ebook, an audiobook, or even a YouTube presentation (which starts with a written script).

Instructional websites are a good choice with musical topics. Take a look at www.khanacademy.org where you will find many lessons, most of which are about math. Can you imagine doing something like that with music? Oh, you don’t need to provide hundreds of lessons like Salmon Khan did. You can just provide a few, ones within your particular musical niche. There are several ways to monetize such a website.

One way is to give everything away. You might have beginning, intermediate and advanced bongo lessons on your website. Around your lessons you can include advertising. Google has a service called AdSense, in which advertisers pay money to Google every time someone clicks on an ad. Google figures out which kinds of ads are best targeted to your website, and presents those ads. So, if an online drum store’s ad shows up on your bongo website, some of your visitors will click away to check out that store. The store may be paying Google a dollar every time someone clicks through. You get 65 percent of what Google gets. With my own websites, I seem to get about a dollar for every fifty visits through Google AdSense. You can also use advertising from Amazon, Walmart and hundreds of other companies that pay essentially the same way. Or, you can approach anyone who might like to advertise on your site, make the ad for them, and collect all the money yourself. Or, you can charge your advertisers a monthly fee to run their ads.

Another approach is to offer to design a company’s website. If you can reach and convince the right people at a conga manufacturing company, they may be happy to have you be their webmaster at $60,000 per year. Your job is to not only maintain their conga website, but to provide lessons and all sorts of interesting online material for their potential customers.

Another way to teach online is to provide your beginning conga lessons for free. You also offer intermediate, advanced and specialized lessons, but in order to access those, people have to pay money.

If your music website is more of a news service or a blog, you might consider a subscription. For instance, I knew of a former wrestler who loved writing about and photographing wrestling. He had 800 subscribers when I last checked. These were people who were willing to pay $20 per month to get the latest information on wrestling. That’s $1,600 per month, with his only expense being web hosting, which probably cost him under five dollars per month. That was years ago. No doubt he has many more subscribers by now.

There are already hundreds of websites having to do with music. There are already all sorts of free general guitar, piano and drum lessons. So the trick is to find a niche. You’ve got to face it: You won’t get all the 40 million worldwide people who turn to the Internet for free beginning guitar instruction. In fact, because there are so many websites and YouTube videos already addressing beginning guitar, and so many of those websites already have top ranking in the search engines, you may not get any of them. But if you pick a narrow niche, you’ll get everyone who wants that. For instance, you might pick “Composing Rock-a-Billy” music as your niche. I have no idea whether that’s been done or not, so you’ll have to research it. But if it has not been covered, you can have all of the perhaps 20,000 people who turn to the Internet for that. You may do the research, and find that your topic has already been covered. So, you can sub-specialize in a niche within your main niche that isn’t covered, or check the competition (see the Websites That Work chapter at the end of this book), and discover whether you might be able to do a better job.

A relatively new way to make money is through ebooks. Amazon’s Kindle is the main brand. I’m going to guess that seventy percent of all ebooks are Kindle ebooks. That’s because Amazon was first out of the gate and spent a lot on advertising Kindle. Then too, free downloadable Kindle readers are available for virtually all computer, tablet, and smartphone platforms. You no longer need an actual Kindle to read a Kindle book.

Because 40,000 new books are published every day, you can’t just write a book and see it become a best seller. You have to do pretty much the same as you do with websites. You need to do one of two things, preferably both:

1. Discover what keywords people are searching for on Amazon, and create an ebook that addresses that keyword. In this case, keyword should really be “key phrase” since it is most often a short chain of words, such as “Advanced Tenor Recorder.” Chances are, there are no other books with that title. If people are specifically interested in learning more about the tenor recorder, and they enter that keyword, your book will be at the top of the list. Assuming you have an appealing cover, a reasonable price, and a good description, they’ll buy it. If someone is looking for any keyword that contains “tenor recorder” or “advanced recorder” your book may still be at or near the top of the list. How do you know what people are searching for? You can look up quite a bit of free information about Kindle authoring online. You can also use Google’s Keyword tool, discussed in the Websites That Work chapter at the end of this book. With that, you can discover how many people are searching for various keywords on Google, and assume the proportions may be similar on Amazon. Then, you can enter that term in the Kindle Store, and see if there are any titles already addressing the keyword. Even if there are, you may be able to write a better book. With Google, people browsing the web will usually pick from one of the very top listings of the first page in search results. But with Kindle listings, they are willing to drill down further. You can be #47 in your category, as one of my books is, and still have a significant number of sales.

2. You can publicize your book. You can give free copies to reviewers, you can put together all sorts of social media about your book, you can participate in forums, where everything you write has a link to your book. You can even pay for advertising, although in most cases that doesn’t work. I have heard that you can buy advertising on Facebook for a Kindle book, and if done right, it can be a profitable business model.

Amazon isn’t the only ebook outlet. You can publish the same title as an iBook on Apple’s iTunes, and as a Google ebook in Google Play, as well as several others such as Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader. What I’d suggest is start with Kindle, since it is the biggest market and easiest platform on which to publish a book, and then if your book sells well, set it up in the other venues. This way, if your book doesn’t sell well, you don’t have to waste your time cloning it for the other markets.

Amazon has a program called KDP Select that offers additional benefits for an author, but if you select KDP Select, you are bound to an exclusive contract for ninety days, meaning you can’t publish the same ebook through other venues.

You can write as many books as you like. If you are a specialist in music of the sixties and seventies, for instance, you can write a general book about the Beatles, a book about Yoko Ono, another book about the Beatles in 1969, a book about early rock in London, and a book about Gordon Lightfoot. You get the idea. Put them all on Amazon, and then be surprised with which ones bomb, and which ones fly.

Did I say bomb? Yes, I have one book that has never sold a single copy. It was an early experiment. If I cared about that book, I would experiment with changing the title a few times. I’d change the cover image. I’d rewrite the description. You can easily get ten times more sales after a simple change. So, experimentation with a slow-selling book is the key.

You might be wondering what’s involved in writing a Kindle book. First, you have to be a fairly prolific writer. A book should be at least a few thousand words in length.

Signing up to be a Kindle ‘publisher’ (KDP – Kindle Direct Publishing) at kdp.kindle.com is free and easy. Once you’re signed up, you can upload the text you’ve created. In order to be published, it has to follow Amazon guidelines. You’ll probably want to use Microsoft Word version 10 to be in the best compliance. It can also be done with other versions of Word or Open Office, but you may encounter challenges for which you’ll have to experiment to overcome. Or, if you have HTML knowledge, you can look up the HTML Amazon guidelines and add the HTML markup manually to your book. That’s the sure-fire way to know that what you’re creating is publishing-ready.

You can add images to Kindle books. You can also add links. Most Kindle readers these days can go to outside webpages. There, you can do things like link to a YouTube video or a website containing a sound clip within your book. You’ll notice that I’ve done plenty of that in this ebook.

Once your book is created, you can upload it to KDP. Then you need a cover. This is a graphic image that generally looks somewhat like a ‘real’ book cover. Again, Amazon gives away the guidelines on their KDP website. You may find it easier to use their new cover creator. This is built right into the pages on which you upload your book, and presents several options. In about ten fairly simple steps, you can create a cover using your own image, or free images from a small catalog they provide. You can then make some adjustments to standardized text and layout, and voila, you have a cover! With their tool, it is easy to create a cover on which the title is hard to read. Try not to do that. Your book will be more successful if people can easily read the title at a glance.

Now, you get to make several choices. The most important one is that if you want seventy percent commission – as opposed to amazon’s 35 percent option, then you must set the US price to between $2.99 and $9.99. You also get to pick which countries it is sold in. Most of my sales are in the US, but perhaps another third of my sales come from the UK, Japan and Canada. I have books for sale in India, France, Germany and other countries, but get far fewer buyers.

Someone published a chart indicating that you make more money with books at $3.99 (US) than any other price, even though you’d sell more copies at lower prices. But then, you need to sell a lot more copies to make up the difference. Prices above $3.99 tend to greatly reduce the number of copies sold. I have experimented with prices, and this seems to prove true.

That’s it. You’re on your way to becoming an established ebook author. Your first book may not be a hit. Or maybe it will. But if you publish ten books, and read all you can about the ebook market, you are likely to be sufficiently successful to become motivated to write more, or improve the positioning of your existing books, and become even more successful.

Digging around in the information I can find, it seems there are literally thousands of books that make $1,000 or more per month for their various authors. Many of these authors have several books, perhaps many of which are each bringing in more than $1,000 per month. Many prolific authors in the Kindle market are making $6,000 or more per month.

To be fair to you, I should point out that there are also tens of thousands of authors who make five dollars per month with their Kindle books. I believe most of them could do far better if they were willing to focus and persist with their authoring. But then again, it is equally possible that some people just don’t have what it takes. I think it is possible to miss the point, be too much of a rebel to pay attention to what works, be overcome with writer’s block, or any of a number of problems that can’t be easily overcome. So, my advice, assuming you are willing to hear it, is: Learn what you can about being successful as an ebook author. Try a book or two. See how it feels. Learn how it works. Take your time. Enjoy the process. See what happens.

Then there’s YouTube. Videos generally start with scripts – writing. So, you might think of a YouTube presentation as a fancy book. It is a great place to publish your lessons. In your YouTube videos, you can advertise pretty much anything you like. You can even let YouTube decide which ads to present, and you’ll get a small payment when people click those ads.

Making a YouTube video is as easy as falling off a log. Just aim your smartphone, press the record button, go to YouTube, and upload your creation.

But making a quality YouTube presentation is much more involved. Ideally, you can control the lighting, the ambient sound, and have a well-designed script. You can get low-cost and free video editing for Mac, Windows, or even a Tablet, and edit your video in great detail, mixing in music, sound, banners, and all sorts of special effects. Some of the video editing software that’s free works great and is all you need for professional quality videos, as long as you have patience and are willing to practice a bit.

Whereas the vast majority of videos published on YouTube have very few viewers, you can do some things to attract more visitors. If you get everything right, and/or get lucky, your video can go viral, such as this one, which had 12 million hits:



Sungha Jung, 12 Million Hits

Click for YouTube Video

And you’ll never have to worry about money again. But, as the expression goes, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’ What works best with YouTube, as with all these music businesses, is patience and persistence. You’ll notice that’s not Sungha Jung’s first video. He has made many. However many of his videos have also had millions of views each. According to Wikipedia, Sungha is the YouTube leader, with a combined total of over 687 million views and more than 1,950,000 subscribers. So, first and foremost, learn everything you can. The Internet is such a great source of information. There are literally hundreds of articles posted online about how to be successful with YouTube.

One trick that’s not discussed anywhere that I know of is to leverage successful videos. No doubt many people look up great musicians like Jerry C. Perhaps you know of some of the things he’s doing. So, you can build a video with a title something like “Learn to Play Guitar Like Jerry C.” What this does is bring in thousands of hits from people who are searching for keywords such as “Jerry C Guitar.”

Here’s another example: Ocarina is a weird instrument that’s getting a lot of attention on YouTube.



Triple Ocarina

Click for YouTube Video

The above video has had over a million hits. So, if you know a thing or two about playing ocarina, you could make instructional videos with titles such as “How to Play Triple Ocarina,” or “Advanced Ocarina Tricks.”

Your first video may not be successful. I think my first video still has had only sixteen viewers! But stick with it my friend, because it might be your eighth video, or your 29th video that is the one that really brings results.


Part II
The Details




eBay For Musicians

On eBay, you can buy or sell anything from accordions to zithers.

Setting up an eBay account is free and easy. You’ll also want to set up an account with PayPal, a money-handling website that is part of the eBay empire and makes life easy for buyers and sellers in well over ninety percent of eBay payment transactions. PayPal takes care of all the credit card processing and payment details. PayPal is also free.

As a buyer, eBay can be a source of rare items and common everyday things. Often, you’ll also find wholesale lots, and at times you can buy new merchandise for less than wholesale prices.

As a seller, you have a national or even worldwide market, so rare things of interest to only a few people, things that would gather dust on a retail shelf, can do well on eBay. At the same time, the ordinary things such as student guitars, common sheet music, and regular CDs by known artists sell for almost nothing. eBay is generally better for items smaller than trombones, since shipping charges add so much to the cost.

When an item sells on eBay, the buyer almost always pays through PayPal. The seller gets to keep all the money collected except for an eBay fee, typically around eight percent, and a PayPal fee, typically around three percent. The money is placed in the seller’s PayPal account, where s/he can transfer it to a checking account, or spend it in a variety of ways. The seller then packages the item and sends it to the buyer. If all goes well, and it usually does, the buyer can leave positive feedback for the seller. Feedback is a point that’s positive, neutral, or negative, along with optional ratings on issues such as shipping time and communication, plus a comment. The seller too, can offer feedback for the buyer.

So, anyone doing business on eBay can check feedback before committing to a transaction. If a seller has mostly positive feedback, you can feel confident in buying that seller’s item. Therefore, as a seller, you want to treat your buyers well so you’ll get positive feedback.

Feedback isn’t as important as it once was because eBay offers a variety of protection for buyers and sellers. For instance, if you buy a laptop computer, but the seller keeps your money and ships you a box of rocks, you can do more than issue negative feedback. You can contact eBay, and they’ll refund your money – as long as you did everything right. That means to stay within eBay’s parameters. If the seller asks you to pay by some means other than PayPal, or if the buyer asks the seller to ship it to a different address than the one listed with eBay, the protection might be forfeited.

Selling on eBay

As a seller, you might want to build positive feedback quickly. One way is to buy a few inexpensive things. You get feedback as a buyer. But most sophisticated eBayers know the difference between feedback as a buyer and seller, and will want to see your seller feedback. Therefore, you can also start your eBay business by selling some inexpensive things. Perhaps you have some music CDs laying around the house. Sell them quickly, and get your feedback.

From this point forward, let’s pick a sample item, and discuss it as if it is something you really have on hand and will sell on eBay. The item is Rolling Homes, a paperback book by Jane Lidz, published in 1979.

The most important trick to selling on eBay is knowing what to sell, since many items have too little value to sell online. It turns out eBay has a tool for this. So let’s look up Rolling Homes.

At the top of almost any eBay page is a search field. You can enter “Rolling Homes Jane Lidz.” Today, there are three copies for sale, ranging in price from $42 to $59. The prices and quantities will vary from day to day.

So far, we have learned that it seems to be a fairly valuable book, but we don’t exactly know how valuable. These auctions haven’t closed yet. Will anyone actually bid? How high will they bid? Let’s find out.

To the left of the listings, you have a column of refinements you can click, to limit your search based on condition, category and other things. In that column, click More Refinements, then Show Only. Check Completed Listings then click the Go button.

Now you’ll see a list of items that sold during the past thirty days with the prices marked in red and green. Items marked in red mean the item never sold. It may have been an auction that ended with no bids, or the seller may have pulled it off the market. Items with the prices in green did sell. Today, I see that six copies sold, ranging in price from $39 to $45. So, it’s worth selling, don’t you think?

Grab your camera and take a few pictures. eBay will allow for up to twelve free photos for each item you list. The first one will appear as a thumbnail – the little image to the left of a listing when shown in a group of similar listings. So, it should probably give an overview image of the book. It’s best to photograph items against a solid color background, so they are easy to see. I often use a red background, so if there are many similar listings, mine will stand out. You might also prefer a bright blue, green or yellow background. This is only a small advantage, so a white, even a wood-grained background is fine too. You’ll want your lighting about right, clear focus, and medium to very slightly higher than normal contrast. In the case of a book, shadows aren’t much of a concern, but with non-flat items, you’ll want to make sure shadows don’t obscure important details or make the thumbnail image hard to figure out.

Next you might take some other pictures, such as of the back cover, and maybe the table of contents pages.

Does your book have any flaws? If the cover is dog-eared or stained, maybe a close-up of the flaw would be a good idea. When selling on eBay it is very important to clearly note flaws both photographically and in the text description. You don’t want negative feedback, and you don’t want to refund someone’s money because they were disappointed.

From the top of the eBay home page, you can click Sell, then Sell Your Item. You are given a field in which you can enter what you have, and eBay will give you matching categories. In the case of this book, it is easy. You can simply enter the ten or thirteen digit ISBN number that most published books have. Or you can browse to pick a category. Books | Nonfiction seems the most likely category, since this is a nonfiction book. But an option might be a category for motorhome accessories, since this book is of particular interest to the recreational vehicle crowd.

For music CDs, enter the UPC code found just under the barcode on the back. Most CDs have UPC codes.

Now it is time to enter a title. This is not usually the place to be creative. You want to enter exactly what buyers for your book are searching for. So it would probably be “Rolling Homes by Jane Lidz, 1979.” Since there is room left over, you might pitch your book a bit. If it is in excellent condition, you can say so: “Rolling homes by Jane Lidz, 1979, Excellent Condition.”

Then you get to enter details such as listing the flaws your copy has, the publication year, a condition category, and some other things. Definitely enter the ISBN, or if it isn’t a book you’re listing, enter a model or part number if one is available.

Then you get to upload your photographs. Below that, you can enter a description. For a book, if you have already entered condition notes, such as “very minor yellowing, slightly dog-eared” then a description is not usually required. You could give a synopsis of what’s in the book, but most book buyers already know what they want. If you’re selling something else, like a hat, you can describe it and pitch it to the best of your creative ability, keeping in mind that superlatives can actually hurt sales. So you might say something like this about a hat: “Size 7-3/8, hat in a vibrant purple. The brim measures fourteen inches in diameter. The material is felt. Very slight shiny wear along the top edge that can’t be seen from more than five feet away. This hat was worn by people who felt sure of themselves in the fifties, and it still has that effect today. This is just the hat for a confident and stylish resident of current times.”

There is no limit to how long your description can be. That doesn’t mean your description has to be long. Getting back to Rolling Homes, no description at all is adequate. However, you could state something like, “I found this book fascinating, and so I took a half-hour break to study it. A half-hour doesn’t really do it justice. A couple of full-time days would be more like it. I don’t really want to let it go, but you’ll probably enjoy it even more than I did. You will find photos of converted buses and trucks in these pages that you just wouldn’t expect.”

Keep in mind that an overly optimistic pitch like this doesn’t really help most products, so if you value your time, you might limit your descriptions to the basic facts.

As you are working your way down the page, you’ll see options that cost extra money such as sub-title and Gallery Plus. Most of these options have no effect on sales, but do generate extra income for eBay. Don’t worry, they have plenty of money already, so I recommend that you do not select any enhancements that cost money.

Now, you get to choose whether to sell it as an online Auction item or Fixed Price, also known as Buy-It-Now.

If you have an item that’s rare or collectible, and it is possible that two or more people will want it no matter the cost, then Auction is the way to go. You can start the bidding at whatever price you choose, and then decide if you’ll let the auction run for one, three, five, seven or ten days. If after that time, no one was willing to pay your minimum price, you get to keep it, or try selling it again. If only one person in the world wants it, it will sell for your minimum price. On the other hand, two or more people can get into a bidding war.

I listed an old wooden radio with a starting bid of fifty dollars. At the end of the first day, the price had risen to $200. When the seven-day auction closed, the high bidder paid me $1,200 plus shipping. This is a bit unusual in that the price went to $200 on the first day. Many experienced auction buyers wait until the last minute to bid, feeling that if they bid too soon, the higher price will only encourage other bidders. Taking that a step further, there is software that will bid on the buyers’ behalf at the last possible moment.

On the other hand, you might have an item that is common, and many copies are available on eBay. This might be better sold as a Fixed Price item. You can set the price at, or slightly below the other ones currently being offered, unless the condition of yours is above the others. Fixed price items are more likely to sell because many buyers don’t want to play the auction game. They want an item as soon as possible, and they want to know for sure that they won the transaction. They don’t want to wait a week to see if their bid was sufficient.

To get an idea about which items do best as Auction, and which are most often sold as Fixed Price, you can look again at Completed Listings, and see which were offered as Auction and which as Fixed Price. You can also study how other sellers handled shipping charges, and which categories they listed successful and unsuccessful items in. You can click on any item to drill in and see the pictures and read the description to figure out what the seller did, and whether it worked well – made money – or not. From there, you can even click on statistics to find out what kind of feedback the seller has, what other items the seller is currently selling, and what items the seller has actually sold during the past thirty days.

To give you another view on Fixed Price versus Auction, imagine that you have two saxophones. One is a regular student-model Bundy. The other is a Selmer Paris. There are two other Bundys for sale like yours. There are no Selmer Paris saxophones. So which one will do better sold as fixed price, a which is a better play for an auction?

Another example: You have a James Taylor CD that you’ve seen a hundred times before. There are six of the James Taylor CDs on eBay already. That would be fixed price – that is if the others aren’t already being sold for so little that you won’t make enough money. On the other hand, what if even though you are an expert on James Taylor, the James Taylor CD is an album you’ve never heard of? Some crazy obscure thing. Right, auction!

After some more choices on the eBay page, you get to decide about shipping options. You can have the buyer pay a shipping fee in any amount you choose, or you can include free shipping. Free shipping may make some items feel less costly to the buyers, but most are sophisticated enough to know that the shipping cost is absorbed in an inflated overall price. So, I generally go with an added shipping charge – charging slightly more than the packaging material and actual shipping cost. If the shipping price is too inflated, you may lose sales and get negative feedback.

You can figure out shipping costs at the major shipper websites. For instance at USPS.com (the United States Post Office), you can enter package weight, dimensions if needed, a specific shipping service such as Priority Mail, and figure out how much an item will cost to ship. Don’t forget that it will cost about a buck on average for a box and packing materials, unless you use the free Priority Mail and other envelopes and boxes supplied by USPS.com. It’s pretty much the same for UPS and Fed Ex. USPS tends to be a bit less costly for items under two pounds (one kg) in weight. In time, you may want buy a postal scale. Make sure to get a model that goes to at least twenty pounds (ten kg). When I started out, I had a five pound scale, and was constantly frustrated at having to guess the weights of six and seven pound packages.

Keep in mind that when you just ship an occasional thing on eBay, you can take all the time in the world to develop your own packaging out of old cardboard boxes and junk you have in your garage. But as you start shipping five or ten items a day, you’ll want to spend some money on consistent packaging materials to save valuable time.

Also keep in mind that some things are really hard to ship. A stand up bass will be much harder to package than you can imagine, until you’ve done it once. Not only that, a bass probably exceeds the maximum size that the Post Office and UPS will allow. This reduces your shipping options and raises your cost. For fragile items such as guitars, double-boxing is best. Pack your guitar securely in a box, as if it had to survive a run-away conveyor belt, falling off the back of a truck, and an angry delivery person. Then, put that box in a larger box, with at least an inch (3 centimeters) of padding all around.

If you live near a fairly large population, you can sell large items that are not cost effective to ship. You might have a chair that’s only worth fifty dollars, but the shipping cost would be another $100. So, shipping it is not a viable option. Instead, you set the shipping arrangement as No shipping, local pickup only. People in your area may bid on the chair and come by your place to pick it up. This severely reduces the number of people who are likely to want it. Occasionally, for a particularly valuable item, people will drive a thousand miles to come get it. This happens with antique tractors, for instance.

eBay has a program called Global Shipping for US sellers. For most categories of items, you can click a check box, and Global Shipping will be allowed on your listing. If someone in one of the qualifying countries (not all countries are supported) buys your item, they pay an amount that’s more than the shipping charge you’re asking. You are reimbursed the same as if you were shipping to a US customer. You are given an address of a building in Kentucky, where your item is packaged with all other packages currently going to the same country and shipped in a big lot. Once it arrives in the receiving country, it is then mailed to the buyer using the best local transportation company. This saves the buyer money, and makes your life much easier. Otherwise, you’d have to figure out a price for the non-USA buyers, and fill out a customs form for each item you send. You’d also be responsible for refunding in the cases of lost packages, which is unfortunately common in overseas shipments. eBay takes care of all those things for you with Global Shipping.

When you list an occasional item on eBay, you pay thirty cents (US) for a fixed price listing, plus closing fees when it sells. If it doesn’t sell in a month, you’ve lost thirty cents. You have the option to keep it listed for another thirty cents. You can imagine that for a thousand items, this starts to add up.

The answer is eBay Stores. You can get a store subscription for twenty to $200 per month. At the highest level, you get to list 2,500 items with no listing fee, and after that, each item is only five cents. So, you can keep thousands of items listed month after month for a few hundred dollars per month. Once you have thousands of items, a mere few hundred dollars in listing fees won’t seem like a whole lot. Stores give you some other advantages. Your listings that are similar to what others have are in some situations promoted higher in eBay search results. You can have a ‘presence’ on eBay, with webpages specifically dedicated to your store. eBay will allow users to opt into a mailing list, so you can email advertisements to those people periodically. You get some special features, such as the ability to run a sale across all, or selected portions of your listings. And you get to use a section of eBay called Selling Manager Pro. With this, you can change prices of up to 500 items at a time, as well as many other bulk and individual adjustments. Let’s say you want to add Global Shipping to all your items. Just a few clicks, and they are all changed.

Having sold over 20,000 items on eBay, I have found that eBay, and PayPal are good, responsive, reliable companies. I’ve also heard all sorts of rumors that PayPal does this ‘nasty’ thing, and eBay does that horrible thing. None of these rumors have proven to be true for me. If you have a store on eBay, they offer additional options in support, including as much free support by phone as you’d like.

Reverse Auctions

I’ve found that the best way to get the most profit out of the common, non-collectible items you list, is to use Fixed Price with what I call a reverse auction. I start the prices of everything way too high, then, lower the price by one percent per day using Selling Manager Pro. A few people will buy things at the way too high price. Most others will buy them when the price falls to market value.

Buying on eBay

The experienced eBay buyer can come across fantastic deals. Once the things arrive, you can sell them on Craigslist, through your own retail store, on consignment, or in some cases, you can put them back on eBay.

When something comes up that you might be able to buy profitably, you can do a bit of quick research.

First, you can see whether others like it have sold in the past thirty days on eBay, and how much money people paid. As I mentioned earlier, you can just enter the item in the search field at the top of almost any eBay page, then select Completed Listings from the options at the left. Items that have their prices shown in red didn’t sell. Perhaps the auction ended with no bids, or the seller found a local buyer. Items in green did sell. When looking at green completed listings, make sure to factor in the shipping charge. For example, a cello that sold for $100, really cost the buyer $195, when you add in the $95 shipping charge.

That tells you the eBay price, but eBay prices, especially on musical instruments, are often depressed compared to what a person who can actually touch and play the instrument, such as a local Craigslist buyer, is willing to pay.

You might check Amazon.com and elsewhere to see if there are current price guides for the kind of items you focus on. I refer to my current acoustic guitar price guide from time to time. Old price guides will mislead you, so make sure to get the up-to-date one.

Look at the item’s pictures and read the description carefully. Are there any photos that ought to be there but aren’t? For instance, if you can’t see the back of a guitar, it might be because the seller is hiding a crack in the wood. Descriptions can be deceptively worded, not clearly letting you know that parts are missing, or the item is misbehaving in some way. One thing that is seldom discussed, but can be important, especially for items with cloth or leather components, is the odor of mildew, stinky perfume or cigarette smoke. You can contact the seller with questions that the description left unanswered.

In the rare case that the photos and description are clear, the seller is responsible if the item that arrives is not as expected. If the seller won’t make good on the deal, eBay has buyer protection – a kind of insurance – to back you up. In the worst case scenario, assuming you played by eBay’s rules, eBay will refund your entire purchase price. Still, you may have to package and ship the item back to the seller at your own expense.

Feedback can be a good indicator for a buyer. If a buyer has almost 100% positive feedback, and a lot of it, you can pretty well trust that all will be fine. If there is some neutral or negative feedback, you can drill into it and see what happened. Some negative feedback is totally unfounded or just plain crazy! There is a small percentage of people who are not quite sane, and they sometime leave inappropriately negative feedback.

Recently, I bought a laptop computer that was slow to arrive. I was not surprised that it took a while, since the seller had three negatives in the past month, all were about having taken more than a month to ship the items. I bought it because I knew eBay Buyer Protection would cover me if it didn’t arrive at all. In another case, a seller had two negatives in the past month. In both cases, he took parts out of the laptops before shipping them. In my opinion, that’s just plain weird, but on eBay, you’re dealing with everyone and anyone, so this kind of thing can happen. Needless to say, I didn’t buy that person’s computer.

There are two best ways to buy things on eBay.

The first is exactly what you would expect: You can bid on items being auctioned, and if your bid is higher than anyone else’s, you’ll win. Auctions can run one, three, five or ten days. You can bid any time you want, and you can bid as much as you’re willing to pay. Even though your maximum bid may be quite a bit higher than the current price, your actual bid is only one increment up from the current high price, generally a dollar in the USA. So, if an item has been bid up to $78, and you enter a maximum bid of $150, your actual bid will be only $79. But, if someone then offers eighty dollars, your bid goes up to $81. Because almost everyone offers maximum bids in excess of the current price, the price can suddenly jump as the automated maximum bids duke it out. If the current high bid is $79, and the other person’s maximum is $140, then as soon as you offer $150, your actual bid goes to $141.

Everyone believes it is best to bid at the last possible moment. This way, people won’t see that others are interested, and the casual buyers are less likely to bid. You can watch items’ bids grow during the last minute. It is kind of fun to see, unless you are one of the bidders. You’ll see a Zildjian cymbal go from $20, to $22, to $35, to $91 to $148 all in the last few seconds. Some bidders are actually sitting at their keyboards physically clicking their mice at the last possible moment. Others are using ‘sniping’ software that will bid for them, based on rules they have set minutes or even days before.

Occasionally, items that were set to end in the wee hours of the morning will get fewer bids. Items that are only appealing to a few buyers, none of whom have been watching eBay lately, may close at the minimum bid, or no bids at all. Items that are imperfect in some way that you are willing to accept can be good deals. This is especially true if you can repair musical instruments, and know exactly what’s wrong with an item being offered. One of the best ways to get things is to find items that are not properly described, or even misspelled. What if you search for “gituar?” You may find a very good guitar that no one has bid on, because when they entered “gituar” it didn’t show up in their searches. This is especially true if the gituar is also listed in the wrong category. I once saw a guitar listed under fountain pens.

The other way to buy, and one that’s more consistent, less stressful, but also less exciting, and perhaps less profitable, is to find Buy It Now listings that are too low. A seller unloading his old student-day stuff might not realize that a saxophone in any reasonable condition is worth hundreds of dollars, and list it for $75. This happens more often than you’d guess.

The problem is that there are other dealers also looking for undervalued saxophones. So, the listing may only last an hour or so before someone snaps it up. The professional fixed price buyer has bookmarked eBay search results sorted into just the right criteria, and checks the pages several times a day. For instance, the saxophone buyer may be looking in Musical Instruments | Woodwinds | Saxophones, with settings for Fixed Price Only sorted by Most Recently Listed First, and a price range under $200. The same buyer may have another bookmark on “Musical Instruments | Woodwinds | Flutes and a maximum of $150. She may also have entered “-wood -wooden” in the search field, to exclude all the wooden flutes.

Did I say snapping up Fixed Price offerings is less stressful? Maybe not. When you see something that just came up, you’ve got to quickly read the description, check the pictures, check the shipping charge, check the seller’s feedback, then maybe check a price guide, and see if you already have too many of the items in your inventory, all before someone else buys it. But this can be fun, right?



Partnerships

When considering a partnership, you want to look for someone who has what you don’t have. Starting out with a partner who has the same strengths and weaknesses as you, means something won’t be covered. That’s a recipe for disaster. Generally, the three ingredients that a partnership (or an individual) needs are time, experience, and sometimes money. There’s a fourth ingredient – one that all partners need, and that’s enthusiasm. You absolutely don’t want to start something with someone who is not enthusiastic about the idea.

Before forming a partnership, assess carefully your partner’s personality. Will you be able to get along with this person? How about in cloudy weather? Is the person lazy? Does the person have shoddy ethics? Is the person obstinate?

I once saw a bicycle shop almost destroy itself because one partner of the three who owned it suddenly decided that they needed new wall-to-wall carpeting just a few months after starting the store. That would have cost $10,000. I think any objective person would agree that carpeting was not a top priority in that store. It had a painted concrete floor that was just fine. But, he couldn’t be talked out of it, and the partners nearly came to blows. Finally, the two other partners bought this fellow out, at an inflated price that took them years to recover.

In another case, a partner got evicted from his apartment, and decided to live in the inventory storage area, against his partner’s wishes, leaving little room for the business, and violating the local zoning ordinance. This fellow would do things like wake up, and walk out among customers in the showroom at eleven am unshaven and shirtless. Nice partner, eh?

In putting together a performing group, whether it’s a duo, trio or a large band, all the members must have enough interest in the project that you can be absolutely sure they’ll show up at gigs on time. They must also be the sort of person who won’t embarrass the group by staggering around on the stage, or say inappropriate things while mixing with the audience. You also need musicians who are in alignment with your group’s philosophies and musical style. Finally, a band member must have their emotions sufficiently in check to avoid damaging the band’s potential as a group. All this is necessary, in addition to being an adequate musician.

So, if you’re going to consider a partnership, think about all the things that might go wrong with your perspective partners. Do not mention the idea of a partnership to any of your prospects until you are absolutely certain. It is harder to burst their bubble after you’ve created it, than before they know a partnership is possible.

Family members can be the best, or the worst! I think you know what I’m talking about. A grandfather-grandson (or grandmother-granddaughter) partnership can be wonderful with the right people. I’m sure you can think of several successful family musical groups such as the Trapp Family, Jackson Five, and the Haygoods.




The Haygoods

Click for YouTube Video

Let’s say you have a brother-in-law who has been in jail twice for drunk driving. He’s unemployed again because he came to work too hung-over. You might think that if you offer this relative a partnership, it will help him. Wrong! You must, absolutely must, consider partners for their strengths, not their weaknesses, if you intend to succeed. And if you don’t succeed, it will not help your brother-in-law in the slightest. It will probably make his lack of self-esteem worse.

How many partners should you consider? The minimum number you can get away with. If all you need is someone with repair skill, or someone who can play drums, then one partner is sufficient. Additional partners means that the profit is split smaller. It also means it is harder to make decisions. Larry Page and Sergei Brin have been very successful with Google. When it came time to make decisions, they had a brief discussion, came to an agreement, and moved forward.

On the other hand, I knew of an organic restaurant that had seventeen partners. One of their specialties was waffles. They had one waffle iron, and so customers had to wait up to 45 minutes for their orders in the morning. So, the seventeen of them had a meeting to decide whether they should buy a second thirty dollar waffle iron. The meeting, argument really, ran until after midnight, and they couldn’t come to a decision. In fact, it was weeks before they could all figure out that thirty dollars was a reasonable price to pay for another waffle iron to satisfy their waffle customers.

Once you’ve sorted out who your partners are going to be, you need to state some things up front. Is one going to be a silent partner? If so, how silent? How will various kinds of decisions be made? For instance, the person who’s just about to book a gig probably shouldn’t have to place a phone call to another partner before the gig can be scheduled. What happens as the business grows? Do you add more partners? Do you hire employees? How do the partners decide on new employees?

In summary, all the terms of partnership need to be discussed. More than discussed. You want the major points in writing, and a contract signed by all partners.

The very most important clause in that contract will be an escape hatch for each partner. What happens if the business loses money? What happens if a partner becomes sick or dies? What happens if two partners can’t stand the sight of each other after a while? Escape clauses need to be fluid. For instance, if a partner wants to leave early on, his value in the business is worth far less than after five years. These escape clauses must be manageable, so that it is truly possible to make changes in the partnership as needed. For instance, a very bad escape clause would be that if a partner leaves, the others have to immediately pay her $500,000. If this is all spelled out in writing ahead of time, all will be well in these eventualities – or at least as well as it can be.

Another consideration in partnerships is your own personality. Take me, for example. I don’t like to share my decisions with anyone. I have always been a sole proprietor. I’d make a horrible partner unless I was allowed to run the show 100 percent.

So, on the opposite end of the partnership spectrum is sole proprietorship. The individual doesn’t have to defer to anyone before making major decisions. 100 percent of the profit goes to the individual. That’s huge, even with just two partners. Let’s say that the profit of a business is $60,000 per year. That means that an individual takes home $60,000. But two partners owning the same business would only get $30,000 each.

There’s also an ego component. I love being able to say, “I own this.” For me, it would be miserable to say, “I own a portion of this.”

Getting back to the original question, what if you don’t have the time, experience or money to start a music business on your own? And once again, there is a very simple answer. Start something evolutionary. Do you really need a drummer, or just a drum machine? How many solo musicians can you think of? Start something that you can manage, and let it build as you gain experience, money, whatever you’ve been needing.



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 $26? Would you still buy it?

Let me explain. If instead of that three-dollar cup of coffee, you put the money in an investment such as a mutual fund, and leave it there for twenty years, it will, on average, turn into at least $26, maybe much more. 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. Early on, he could certainly have purchased a 35-inch TV, or even a 42-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 Walmart, 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 musical 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 others, 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 write with him any more. All these great writers learned 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!



Advertising and Publicity


It is easy to buy advertising. There are many salespeople who would love to have you advertise in their newspaper, in their phonebook, or on their radio or TV station. If it doesn’t bring the results they expected, they’ll just tell you that you didn’t buy enough advertising yet. They’ll tell you people need to hear the same message over and over. But you do need to buy some advertising, right?

Did I say, “buy” advertising? I meant “get free publicity.” Just about any form of advertising that a small music business can afford will be entirely ineffective. Yellow pages ads are the worst. You end up paying a lot of money per month to the phone company, or a phonebook publisher, and get little effect. People don’t use phone books any more. They use the Internet. So you’ll want a website. It can be a simple one-page affair. In many businesses, all most people want is your contact information. You can do some search engine optimization tricks, discussed in the next chapter, to get people to your webpage. If you’re in a city with a dozen other similar music businesses, they’ll all have their own websites, and you might be thirteenth on the list when people google your town name and musical specialty.

You can do more to boost a website in search results, but you may not have to. Remember that most people using the Internet to find a local business will already know your business name, and what you do. They’re just looking for your phone number. You can bring in new customers through a website in a few ways, but it is perhaps more work than other ways to bring in customers. For instance, your website can have a virtual museum of music. If you have pages of pictures and descriptions of unusual or antique instruments, it becomes a valuable Internet resource. You can also become an ‘authority’ site. You might post the schedule of local musical events, a blog for musicians, and things of that nature.

So, when it comes to paid advertising, almost nothing works for a small music business. Good free publicity, on the other hand, can change things overnight.

You may be thinking I’m talking about sending press releases to the local newspapers, radio and TV stations announcing that you have a new business. That can have a small effect. Much greater is to do something newsworthy, meaning, something positively eccentric.

I mentioned this to a bike shop owner, and he said, “Oh, like give away free water bottles printed with the store logo?” He didn’t get it. Better is to sponsor something unique. Sponsoring a compelling but unusual free musical event, or offering a half-hour of free recording studio access is a start. Getting musicians to wear your custom printed T-Shirts is a step in the right direction. Then, they will hopefully tell musical friends to do business with you. That will have a small effect, but it is not newsworthy, and it really isn’t free, because you have to pay for the T-shirts. I’m talking about something newsworthy. Let me give you an example.

Customers of an old bookstore in San Francisco used to complain from time to time because is was sort of dark in there, especially in the deeper shelves. That gave the owner an idea. He held a special sale. All books were half-off. But, the sale ran from midnight to 1am one night. And, he turned all the lights out. At the door, all the customers were handed flashlights. That not only made the news, but it is still talked about today, twenty years later. After reading the story, thousands of new customers visited the store.

At another bookstore, some college students created an art project. Their idea was to rearrange all the books, not by subject and title, but by color. Shopping there during that time may have been tedious, but all sorts of people came by to see it, and no doubt many of them came away with books they would never have noticed normally.

So, what kind of positive eccentricity can you imagine for your music business?

As I mentioned, having at least a basic website is important for most businesses. Fortunately, a one-page site is sufficient for most, and easy to create. You can do positive eccentricity on a website as well. We’ll talk a lot more about websites in the next chapter.

A guy who’s business was repairing Apple computers uploaded a little video to his site that showed him dropping a PC and a Mac computer off a six-story building. Both crashed to the sidewalk. The Windows computer was smashed to bits, but with the aid of trick photography, the Mac had only a couple of scratches.

Then there’s the old fashioned way, business cards and flyers. Putting business cards in everyone’s hands who comes your way can build a business slowly, but surely. Of course, giving them something more interesting such as a keyring tape measure, or an interesting hologram will be more effective. A computer business gives out business cards that have a chart of the common [Ctrl] (or [Command] on Mac) keyboard shortcuts. You know:

[Ctrl] + [A] = Select All

[Ctrl] + [C] = Copy

[Ctrl] + [F] = Find

[Ctrl] + [V] = Paste

[Ctrl] + [X] = Cut

[Ctrl] + [Z] = Undo

So what kind of information could you put on the back of your business cards?

For local businesses such as music lessons, or instrument repair, putting something on all the local bulletin boards can surprise you. You’ll get more business, for less expense than you’d expect. Bulletin boards at laundromats work well, because patrons have to spend idle time waiting for the wash. Bulletin boards at natural food stores work especially well. I’m not quite sure why. Bulletin boards at diners, quick-change oil places, and elsewhere can work well, too. A good flyer makes only a few quick points, because too much text is hard to read. The best flyers have little pull-off tabs at the bottom with your name and/or what you do, and your contact info, generally your phone number. You might want to have full-page and half-page flyers, since many bulletin boards are too full to accommodate full pages. When space is very limited, you can put several business cards fanned out under a thumb tack, indicating to people it is OK to take a card. For this use, the cards ought to have large text that’s easy to read at a distance. There’s a color called “Solar Yellow,” that’s very bright and sometimes used for cards and flyers. It is a bit loud for sure, but in a jumble of white flyers, it gets noticed.

For most people, selling yourself or wares of your own creation is difficult. When you’re selling someone else’s product, you don’t take it personally when a potential buyer says “no.” It is this fear of being defeated by hearing “no” too many times that stops a lot of people from even trying.

But what if you were, or could become, one of the rare individuals who can do that? Here’s a story from Jack Canfield (author of Chicken Soup for the Soul and many related books), as close as I can remember it:

A young man just out of chiropractor school asked at his local chamber of commerce some questions about setting up a chiropractic office. They essentially laughed at him, because in his home town of Pebble Beach, California, there were already way too many chiropractors. There’s no way he could succeed. Undaunted, he started going door-to-door, to every one of the 6,000 homes in his town. He introduced himself, and asked five questions, such as, “Do you think I’d be more successful to set up an office on the North, or the South side of town?” The final question was, “When you need chiropractic help, will you visit me?”

When he was done, he rented a space, and set up an office. During the first month his office was open, he booked $12,000 worth of appointments.



Websites That Work

Just about any musical business will benefit from a website. In fact, some musical businesses can be entirely websites.

You don’t have to be an HTML master programmer to make effective websites. In fact, you don’t have to know anything at all about HTML, Javascript, or any of that.

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. Blogger.com and Tumblr.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 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 (kindly), “I told you not to trust that webmaster.”

When considering hiring someone to build your website, shop around. The prices can vary wildly. Really wildly. One fellow got estimates ranging from $600 to $20,000 for the same job specifications. He checked out the $600 offer, and discovered that the webmaster had references and quite a bit of previous experience. This fellow was so fast at boilerplating or recycling his previous work to create new websites, that he could make a fine profit at $600. Others may spend hours learning at your expense.

Get an estimate in writing that contains a guarantee. The last thing you want is to agree on $600, but have the final bill come in at $2,500.

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.

There is one form of advertising that can work for many musical businesses, especially local businesses. That’s 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. Your ad will show up at more websites, and closer to the top of the paid side of 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 near San Francisco), 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.

Think about the results: If you’re teaching piano at thirty to ninety dollars 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 they 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 seventy percent of all searches are done through Google, with the remaining thirty percent handled by hundreds of other search engines, although most of these searches are handled by Bing and Yahoo. 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, but 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.

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 Tool. It’s free when you sign up at adwords.google.com. You can enter any potential keyboard, 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.

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. 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 would click through to your website. Gosh, that could bring you fifty or a hundred 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 CD or music memorabilia via mail order, then you might use a keyword that addresses a range of similar interests, like “Movie Musical Advertising Posters Flyers Memorabilia.” 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. 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.

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. . .

Don’t fall for any of that. 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.

Getting backlinks is not always necessary. If your on-page SEO is strong, if your keyword is not well-utilized, you’ll be at the top of search results even with no backlinks.

Besides asking webmasters to add a link – many will, without cost, just because you asked, you can 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: Simply 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 okay to ask questions.

Another little trick that can be helpful when you’re not at the top of the Google search results, is to become a verified author through Google+. You need to join Google+, a social network, but it is free. Then using Google itself, you can look up “verified author Google+” where you will find the details. Basically, you have to state that you are the author or owner of the content on your web page(s), then add a little bit of Javascript code to the page. When Google sees this, they put your picture next to the brief description in the search results. Google also ads some other data for you. But seeing your picture is the main thing. People are more likely to click through when they see who you are. Even if you are not particularly photogenic, they’ll click through because on some subconscious level, they feel they know you now that they’ve seen you.

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.

Valuable Content

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 is similar to how the site originally looked when it was just one page.

It seems a computer science student made a one-page website as a thesis project. All it did was show lines of dancing hamsters with some background music. That was in the late nineties, when it didn’t take much to impress people. There was something about the cuteness of hamsterdance.com that caused everyone to email everyone else, and it went viral almost immediately. 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 you can buy an antenna for specialized electronics. The site has many charts with just 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.

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. 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? 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 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 music business!



Craigslist for Musicians

I wanted to tell you about a couple of craigslist tricks that are important to many kinds of music businesses.

If you have a service business such as teaching music lessons or repairing instruments, I have a tip for you farther along in this chapter, but let’s start with musical 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, especially student model instruments on eBay. That’s because people often will not trust instruments they can’t hold and play personally before buying. Then, you can sell these instruments at a profit locally on craigslist to people who you will let hold and play them. These people are also more likely to buy locally because they can have their instruments right away. Many folks don’t want to wait a week or more for their items to arrive.

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, typically instruments, musical memorabilia, and large batches of sheet music or CDs, for much less then they are 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 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 Musical Instruments, 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 musical instruments. You can put up an ad for a violin at one pm. Then at three pm, you can put up an ad for a cello. Then at five pm, a classical guitar, and so on. Each one of these ads carries a link to your website, saying something like, “many more instruments available at mywebsite.com.” You might even have thumbnails for your other instruments at the bottom of each ad. This is not spamming, because the main portion of 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 above, is that you can have a website that has a larger list of your inventory. Every Craigslist ad links 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 collectible albums, musical memorabilia, or whatever you want. I kept an inventory of about eighteen 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 musical instruments, bicycles are too big to buy 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 fifteen or twenty bikes per week with an average profit of $75 to $100. So this could work the same way for your musical instrument business. Better probably, since the bicycle category scrolls much faster on Craigs than the music categories. On the other hand, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where Craigslist rules. 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, I think it is better to leave the listing on your website for a day or two, marked “Sold,” while 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 instrument, 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. Or your case, that might be used and broken instruments, or guitars in good condition, or obscure CDs, whatever you want to specialize in. This has the added advantage that your wanted posting can also link to your website.

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 guitars,” “I buy violins,” and “I want your string instruments,” 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, and 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 “Musical Instruments” category. In each ad, you also happen to mention that you buy instruments. Of course, you can also have a single ad announcing that you’re buying in the “Items Wanted” category at the same time.

If you are in a service business, such as 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, who would think of guitar or piano lessons as ‘services?’ 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 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 musical equipment at a profit. I’m going to suggest you dabble a bit in used instruments. 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 at least one 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 instruments are often the same people who want lessons or repairs. This is where they’ll be, in Musical Instruments 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 instruments for sale.



More About A Free Exchange


Perhaps your church or group has sponsored an occasional clothing exchange. I’m not talking about a rummage sale where you donate your unwanted clothes and they sell them to support the organization. I’m talking about an event where everyone brings their unwanted clothes, perhaps on a Saturday morning, and everyone can carry away other members’ unwanted clothes. So, you can get rid of that funky sweater someone ‘gifted’ you with and pick up a great. . .

What if this happened on a grander scale and was about music, not clothing? Imagine a regular location where this free exchange of musical instruments, albums, memorabilia, and sheet music went on every weekend, or even every day? Do you see where the profit is in this? Since you could be the one who organizes and maintains it, it is only fair that you get first pick on everything that comes in. Naturally, you’d pick things that you can sell profitably online. If you let everyone know right up front that that’s exactly what you’re doing, they’ll all be okay with it. I can assure you of that, because I set up a business that grew nearly overnight into a large, ongoing general free exchange in Marin County, California, and that’s what actually happened.

More specifically, I rented a 2,500 square-foot store, primed it with stuff I bought for next to nothing at garage sales, and opened to the public. I allowed exchange of anything of reasonable size (no couches or mattresses, please!) There were many books (another profit-bearing business in itself), garden tools, car parts, sports equipment, you name it. But I could have specialized in musical items. A couple of years later, I set up a quite successful media exchange, dealing with books, CDs and DVDs, which in many ways is closely related to music.

Never once did anyone complain that I had first pick. Quite the contrary, I received complements all day long for the nature of the business.

Another thing that might surprise you is that I received much more stuff than I gave away. There was so much stuff coming into my exchanges, that much had to be discarded.
When people decide to clean out the attic, basement or garage, they tend to bring multiple boxes full of stuff. There were hundreds of wealthy people who brought things to the exchange just so other less wealthy people could get them. All these donors knew full-well that I was supporting the business by picking the cream off the top.

I only ran my exchanges as experiments for four months each.

During my first four months, in the general exchange, a volunteer ran some math and worked out that I gave away $44,000 per month worth of stuff. This was just wonderful for all the people who came from the poorer areas east of Marin and were able to get good things for their children and themselves. Even though the store was in a rather fancy suburban neighborhood, and many of the ‘shoppers’ came in junky cars and looked kind of scary to the locals, I was often told how much it was a great community service by the well-off locals.

Everyone encouraged the wealthier people to pick up things they fancied also. After all, when someone keeps an old garden rake in service, that eliminates the need to manufacture, package, and ship a new one. That’s the truest form of living a light footprint on Earth.

I have been more of an experimenter than a do-the-same-profitable-thing-year-after-year person – probably to my detriment, but my exchanges could have been huge successes. Instead of closing them and moving on to the next experiment, I suppose they could have branched out, and I’d be very successful in the exchange business. But, being an experimenter and a writer, I’ll leave starting the next exchange up to you.

Imagine the potential. You’ll get instruments into the hands of children and adults who couldn’t otherwise afford them. If someone has had their instrument stolen or broken, you can provide them with another. You can provide sheet music. It wouldn’t be surprising if your free sheet music collection could become larger than what any store in town carries. You could have walls filled with free CDs. Interestingly, your place can become a destination for musicians. Many will volunteer to help your efforts. Everyone will just love hanging out, offering advice, repairing instruments, talking shop, jamming – well, you get the idea. What a place it can become!

Of course much of the stuff that comes in will be in sad shape. You’ll get brass instruments that are quite dented. You’ll get woodwinds with leaky pads. You’ll get guitars with broken tuners. You’ll get CDs that are scratched. You’ll get funky CDs that are way too common and no one wants. Much of the sheet music will be thirty years old. But not all of it!

When it’s free, you’d be surprised how delighted someone can be with “Seventies Pop Tunes.” When it’s free, people will figure out a way to fix that trombone that doesn’t slide, or the djembe with a big crack in the side. Or if they can’t fix it, they’ll have fun trying. You may not be too happy about selling the good student-model instruments that come in, even though that could be quite profitable. But if a Haynes flute comes in that you can sell on eBay for $4,000, that money will go along way to support the exchange, wouldn’t it? That way, you can get a lot more instruments into a lot more hands.

Perhaps the bulk of the money will be from selling pieces of broken instruments. As far as I went with pieces is that I experimented with two student-model flutes. I took them apart and listed the individual parts on eBay. Each flute brought in just over $100, plus shipping, selling most of the bits and pieces for ten dollars each. I once took in a guitar that was cracked on all sides, missing a couple of tuners. It was not a production model. It appeared handmade, having no brand name and no model, but it had excellent inlay around the sound hole. I put it as-is on eBay, expecting maybe I’d get lucky, with a winning bid of around $20. It sold for $203.

The reason I created two exchanges was that I wasn’t quite happy with the first one.

My first version started out quite large, and I had a rag-tag assortment of about twenty volunteers. Not being a great manager, I quickly lost a degree of control over these people. Some came in drunk, some complained about everything in sight, some treated the clientele crudely. So, if you’re going to do this, you’ll either want quality employees rather than volunteers, or you’ll want to screen your volunteers better than I did, or you’ll want to have a more alpha personality. Or, perhaps the best solution, is keep it small and manageable, perhaps in a 700 – 1,000 square foot space in a smaller community, or hidden away in a neighborhood, and run it by yourself.

That’s what I did with my second exchange. It was 1,000 square feet in a town of just under 20,000 residents. Initially I did everything myself, no volunteers. I decided to specialize in books, CDs and DVD movies, because I figured I’d have a quieter, more focused clientele. I was exactly right. The second exchange was just as profitable, yet much less hectic, and therefore more fun for me.

Speaking of profit, I spent about $10,000 setting up the second exchange. I could have done it with less, but in my case, I didn’t need to. By the end of the second month, I was making $5,000 per month profit. At the end of the four-month experiment, I sold it quickly for $32,000. (If I had wanted to, I could have held on for a year, and sold it for much more!)

At the time it didn’t occur to me to try a music exchange, but I would have, if I had thought of it.

A bit of a problem with the first, general exchange was waste. Since I was taking everything, not just books and disks, I had to rent larger and larger dumpsters to accommodate the things that weren’t worth even giving away. At the end of the fourth month, I was paying $250 per month for dumpster rental.

Later, I learned that I could have reduced the cost of waste disposal by asking for momentary volunteers to each carry away a bag or two of junk.

In my second exchange, I learned to ask for momentary volunteers, simply by putting signs on the shelves. I let people know that anyone could help for five minutes, fifteen minutes, or an hour, whatever they liked, whenever they liked. These would be people willing to organize inventory on the tables and shelves, clean the bathroom, repair items, and so on. As you can imagine, repairing was particularly desirable. In a musical instrument exchange, you could have a volunteer carry away a broken guitar, and bring it back fixed and tuned. You’d be surprised how many people would love participating in this way, and the quality of their workmanship.

You don’t have to worry about a volunteer failing to return a guitar or making it’s condition worse, because it was free anyway, right?

To not discourage people from bringing things, I decided never to decline any reasonable donations. I stand by this, and believe it’s better to spend a bit on garbage pickup than losing donations from people who start to figure you may not accept what they bring. Interestingly, things they assume you don’t want may be wonderful donations. I received a Sousaphone that’s bell was crushed all out of shape. It was awful in appearance, but still played, so I gave it away. If it had been unplayable, it would have actually been worth more to me.

In the case of an instrument beyond repair, there are two choices. The first is to sell what parts are good. There’s good money in a sousaphone mouthpiece or valve if someone needs that exact part on eBay. Another option is in the first chapter, Crush Art.

I had a sign on the front window that told people not to leave donations after hours. But they did. Most mornings I’d find a pick-up truck full of bags of worn-out clothing, broken lawnmowers, sofas without cushions, and so on. These were the things that people just wanted to dispose of, didn’t want to pay landfill fees, and would be too embarrassed to try donating to the store during the day. Of course this wouldn’t be a problem with a music exchange. In fact, the nighttime donations might surprise you. Someone once left two banker’s boxes full of old records. I called my friend Ken, who paid $100 per box for the collection. In my media exchange, I learned to solicit nighttime donations. I had a drop box with a slot outside. Hundreds of books per months came in through that slot. I used a slot rather than an open container, because I didn’t want other people coming by and rummaging through the books before I had a chance to pick through them. I also put a free shelf outside, so visitors could get books, and occasionally music CDs, any time of the day or night.

Taking the concept one step further, you might be able to design an exchange that doesn’t need your presence at all. One way is to man it with volunteers. Another is to have drop boxes around town, much like some clothing companies do, in which you ask people to drop of musical things they’re not using. On the drop boxes, you’d have signs indicating what you’re doing – donating the stuff that makes sense to children overseas – or locally, for that matter. But, on your signs I believe you should also state that you’re making a profit in the process. If you’re up front, not only will no one complain, but many will just love what you’re doing. If you try to hide it, people will undoubtedly get the wrong idea. Unfortunately, some of those companies that put out clothing donation boxes a few years ago developed a bad reputation for not actually fulfilling the promise of making good use of the donated clothing.

Taking it even a step further, I can imagine that you might give instruments away, and teach music lessons to children who otherwise couldn’t have that, in trade for general donations. If your drop boxes solicit CDs, clothing, even cash, you could employ what you can sell on eBay and otherwise directly in the service of giving instruments and instruction to children. I’ll let you work out the details!

To round out the picture, it would also be possible to have CD exchanges that are simply shelves in public locations. The idea is people can drop off CDs they don’t care about any more, and pick up ones they like – all for free, of course. Your job, besides keeping the shelves organized and clean, is to go through the stuff that comes in, gleaning what will sell online. Quick oil change places, laundromats, and restaurants would all love to have such a shelf.

You can tighten up the efficiency of free CD exchange shelves a bit by having a box with a slot on the shelves. Signs tell people to drop donated music into the slot, and take whatever they want. The point is you don’t want people carrying away the obscure and possibly valuable titles. You want to be able to sort everything that has been donated before it gets away.

Don’t forget to have contact info so if someone has boxes and boxes of CDs, they know how to contact you for a free pickup.

If have not tried this exact business model myself. I did, however, put book shelves in eight laundromats. These weren’t exchanges. I purchased the books by the boxful at garage sales, probably paying on average five or ten cents per book. I then put them in the laundromats with signs saying, “Put $3 in the slot per book.” I split the money fifty-fifty with the laundromat owners or managers. Sure, some books were stolen from my shelves, but I never noticed, and it didn’t significantly impact the bottom line. These shelves were quite profitable for the small amount of time involved.

These days, with millions of people looking for music they haven’t heard to put on their iPods or smartphones, and then discarding the CDs once they’ve finished uploading, this model ought to work particularly well. It’s recycling at its best, isn’t it?

Getting back to the idea of a full-size exchange, when you pick a location, it is important to have good parking. This can be even more important than for an ordinary retail store, because many people are going to be bringing large loads of stuff. If they have to carry it a hundred yards (100 meters), they’ll be less inclined to bring stuff next time. Fortunately, the parking was very close to my first exchange. Even still, I provided hand carts for people to get things from their cars into the exchange. You don’t want anything to come between people and their desire to bring things to your exchange.

And yet, parking was a problem. My store became rather popular within a very short time. (Advertising and publicity is absolutely not necessary in a business that exists to give things away.) The problem was the parking lot became congested. And that, ultimately, was the downfall of my experiment. When traffic started clogging the little strip mall I was occupying, the neighboring businesses started to complain. The property manager suggested I leave. Oh, I could have worked things out, but since I was ready to move on, I just pulled the plug. (This was my first exchange. As I mentioned a few paragraphs back, I sold the second exchange at a small, but nice profit.)

So, you can learn from my experiments. One thing I’d recommend if you want to start your own music exchange is to start very, very small. You don’t need to rent a store. Depending on where and how you live, you might want to start it out of your garage. Or you can rent a space in a flea market. Or set up something cooperatively with someone who has commercial space available. For instance, you might find a quick-change oil change place who would gladly donate some lobby space in trade for every music lover in town getting their oil changed there.

I’m not the first one who set up a store to give things away. The precedent was set in late 1967 by the Diggers. The Diggers were a loosely assembled group of free-spirited souls, originally interested in improv acting (one of whom was Peter Coyote), who started making free soup, beans, and bread for the hippies that came to the Haight during the Summer of Love. In time, they rented a storefront in which they accepted donations and gave everything away. I did a bit of research and never found out how they paid the rent. That store, too was a short-lived experiment. Digger Archives

The Diggers did not operate their exchange for a profit. And you may not need to either. Assuming you are not independently wealthy, you will need a reason to offset the time it takes to run an exchange. The reason might be publicity for another music business. For instance, if you run an exchange, virtually everyone who is interested in music in your community will stop by. Then, you can let them know that you’re a gigging musician, that you teach lessons, or whatever you do, and you’ll build your business nicely, because everyone will want to support the exchange and its proprietor.


Part III
The Final Bit


A Little Hypnotic Suggestion

Now you have everything you need to start your own music business. If there’s anything I haven’t covered in enough detail for you, you’ll find what you need among the eighteen billion pages of the Internet.

So all you have to do is start.

Ah, but for most most people, that’s the rub, isn’t it? There’s something comforting about procrastination. Being defocused isn’t so comforting, but something wants to keep us defocused, doesn’t it? Yet we know how to stay focused when we really want to. I can’t explain the mechanism, but you know how to stay focused. Right? Perhaps you can think back to a time when you were surprisingly focused.

Now, think back to when you started with music. Your first exposure to music may have been your idea. It may have been your parents who pushed you into music. In any case, you started. And look where you are now with music! Were there times along the way when it was difficult? Were there times when you ignored your instrument for weeks, months, even years at a time? But there were also times when you progressed, weren’t there? And looking back, it wasn’t that hard, was it? Where would you be today, musically, if you hadn’t started, and eventually pushed forward?

You may be delighted to discover it is exactly the same with a music business. If you can find a way, however you may find that way, to become sufficiently motivated to start, and remember in whatever way you know how to stay motivated and focused, you can become as good in your musical business as you are in your music. Go ahead. That’s right – one little step at a time. . .

What’s today’s step?

Enjoy and prosper! – Jeff Napier

25 Ways To Make Money With Photography

25 Ways To Make Money With Photography

25 Unique Ways To Make Money With Photography

Copyright 2017 – 2022, Jeff Napier

Table of Contents

Start Here

1. Freelance Sports Photographer

2. Consignment Sales

3. Create Postcards

4. With a Special Prop

5. Tourists in Action

6. Photoshop – Freelance

7. Photoshop – On Request

8. Day in the Life

9. Website Photographer

10. Puzzle Pictures

11. Museum

12. Stock Photography

13. Portraiture

14. eBay

15. Buy and Sell Photo Equipment

16. Wedding Photography

17. Real Estate Photographer

18, News and Magazine Freelance

19. Nightclubs and Beaches

20. Arial Photography

21. Construction Site Photography

22. Resume Photography

23. Rolling Studio

24. Lecturer

25. Novelty Photos

26. Pre-Filled Digital Photo Frames

27. Smartphone Printing

28. Equipment Rental

29. Teach Photography

30. Living Testimonials

Expansion

The Final Bit

Start Here

Photography offers many excellent ways to make money. You get to be your own boss, your business can end up paying you more than an employee ever gets, and you can set up the business the way you want.

It has been documented that seventy percent of Americans – and, I imagine, many other’s across the globe – hate their work. Well, you don’t have to hate your job anymore. You can easily build your own business that’s truly enjoyable.

As the expression goes, ‘don’t quit your day job.’ Practice patience – it is your best ally. Let your simple little photography business build over time, and you’ll be absolutely amazed at where you can end up. These are not get-rich-quick schemes. They are get-rich-slow schemes.

This book will give you all the information you need to start any of a wide variety of photographic businesses safely and with little investment.


I inherited my interest from my father. When he was a high schooler in Ottumwa, Iowa, he had an expensive hobby. I’ll bet you know what it was: Photography. It was much more expensive then than now. Back in the days of large-format chemical photography, he had to buy film, darkroom chemicals and photographic paper. These days, all you need is a more ordinary kind of paper and printer ink. Taking pictures was more of a challenge then too. His camera was a Speed Graphic, a used, but top-of-the line camera. It is the kind Jimmy Olsen used in the old Superman series. It weighed around five pounds. In order to take a single picture, he had to determine the amount of light and the sensitivity of the film, focus carefully, set the shutter speed and diaphragm opening, cock the shutter, insert a film holder, pull out the dark slide, push the button to actually take the picture, reinsert the dark slide, and finally remove the film holder. The film holder held two sheets of film – one on each side, so it could be flipped over and reinserted for the next shot. Each film holder was the size of a slice of bread. In his carrying case, he had room for six film holders. That’s the way it was done in his day. Of course there were roll film cameras. There was even a roll film accessory for his camera. But serious photographers wanted the quality of large-format sheet film. Smaller formats that rendered good results were still years into the future. Even with roll film, one still had to focus, determine light, and all that, for each shot.

That’s not all. Once my dad took his pictures, he had to go into a darkroom, develop the film – the negatives, then expose sensitized paper with the negative images, and finally develop, rinse, and dry the paper prints. This required a dedicated room in his home with running water, where the temperature of his chemicals could be controlled within five degrees Fahrenheit. If he wanted to work with color photography, his chemicals had to be maintained within 1/2 degree of the right temperature. Most of the steps of the process were carefully timed. Get something wrong by a few seconds or a minute, and the resulting pictures would be blotchy, low-contrast, too dark, or too light.

Today, focus and exposure control is not only handled automatically, it is handled well. We no longer use chemical film. Instead of a darkroom, we have the option of using our computers or tablets to adjust photos in ways my father couldn’t even dream of. Our cameras are remarkably small and light, only being limited by the size of our fingers. The actual inner working part of the camera is often no bigger than a grain of un-popped popcorn. They have so much memory that you can take hundreds of photos without having to change memory cards.

So, the photographer today can focus on composition and purpose, rather than having to deal with all the technical issues, time, and expense that my father dealt with.

You’d think with the ease of use, and ready availability of cameras, there’d no longer be a use for professional photographers. As it turns out, most of the traditional markets for photography still exist, and new markets have opened, such as the Internet, which is hungry for millions of good new photos.

In this book, I’ll cover a wide variety of ways you can make money with photography. Some require almost no time, experience, or money. Chances are, you’ll find something that’s just right for you, or something that will give you some great food for thought that you can modify to suit your own desires.

Each section of this book covers a different photography business, but many are similar in that they use the same techniques to publicize, build and maintain the business, and some offer universal hints and tips for photographers. So, you may want to read everything in this short book to pick up these techniques, chapter by chapter. You’ll learn directly and by metaphor about exactly what you can do to enjoy making money with photography.

Enjoy and prosper! – Jeff Napier

Sports Photography

My father, perhaps like you, wanted to make money from his photography. He found a way that is as viable today as it was then.

He went to his local wrestling club and took pictures. A week later, he came back with small prints and gave them to the wrestlers. He told them that if they wanted full-size prints, he’d be happy to for $10 each. Most of wrestlers placed pre-paid orders. $10 was a lot of money back then, but hey, if you’re a wrestler, and if you can have a picture of yourself with another wrestler in a victorious hold, you’d buy it, right? It turned into a pretty nifty business for a high school kid. He went to the wrestling club every week, took new photos, gave away proofs (the small prints), and took orders.

My father went to the wrestling club, because that’s what was there. That was the big activity in his home town at that time.

What sports are in your area? Hockey? Football? Tennis? Skiing? Cycling? Pickleball? How could you adjust this business to fit modern times, and your local activities? No doubt you’re already cooking up answers. In addition to what you already know, you’ll find some great hints and tips scattered throughout the rest of this book.

You can also take pictures of sports activities for use by magazines, news agencies and websites, especially if the participants are celebrities. There is a book updated annually by Mary Burzlaff Bostic called Photographer’s Market, which is an absolute must-have to find markets for your work, whether you’re a sports photographer, or specialize in many other photographic fields. Not only does this publication provide thousands of listings of publishers who will buy your photos, but has a few chapters on exactly how to approach these publishers for best results. The current version is available through Amazon. You can save money on a used copy from a previous year, but this is probably a poor way to save money, since the market changes rapidly.

Consignment Sales

So my father, having been so interested in photography, thought I might like it too. When I was twelve years old, in a rather odd moment the way sometimes parents will do, he bought me a Speed Graphic. It was the 4 x 5 inch model, a rather huge piece of equipment, especially for a 12-year-old. The camera, flash gun with it’s four D cells, a pack of flashbulbs, six film holders, and a light meter filled my huge carrying case, which weighed at least 20 pounds.

With this, I started tromping around the city and in the local park, even carrying a tripod, and took a picture or two here and there. He also provided me with a makeshift darkroom in the basement of our house. I learned how to take pictures and develop pictures, which was not uncommon for a child of my age in those days.

At first, my photos were horrible. Some so dark or light you couldn’t make out the details. But the worst aspect was composition, or rather – lack of composition. I’d take a picture of a dog, and there he’d be, smack in the middle of the picture, with no emotional content whatsoever.

In time, my photos got better. I grabbed a shot of a garbageman lovingly cleaning the fender of his truck with a handkerchief. I got another dog picture. This poor old creature was chained up behind a fence on a cold wintery day. I got a shot of a couple of optimistic sunflowers which I tinted various colors (using transparent oil paint over the surface of the whole prints). I found a seedling growing at the base of a rotten old tree stump.

And, I had a problem. This photography hobby of mine was using up a lot of money. It took every penny that I had, and more than my father was willing to support. I had to think before every picture I took about the cost of the film. Many potentially good photos were never taken. I needed more money. The only way I could figure out to get money was to sell some prints.

Fortunately, I found a way to do that. I took six 8 x 10 inch prints, mounted on 11 x 14 inch black and white cardboard backgrounds to my school, and showed them to the school secretary who was also the receptionist in the school office. She seemed to like them – although in retrospect, she probably admired anything and everything the students showed her.

She offered to display them on the wall behind her desk. A couple of days later, it hit me! Why not put prices on them? She could sell them off the wall for $15 each, keep $5 for herself, and give me $10. I ran this past her, and my heart sank as she stated, “Well, we’ll need to take that up with the principal.” I knew him. He was like a brick wall. What were the chances he’d approve? But he did! And I was in business. Over the course of a month, she sold three or four pictures, and I was delighted!

I brought more photos to fill the spaces on the wall. I also offered the same thing at a few other places in town. I put a half-dozen pictures up in a restaurant, a dentist’s office, and in, of all things, a camera store.

Now, my photos were selling at the rate of 10 per week, which was a lot of money for a kid back then who’s only expense is his photography hobby.

I could have gone farther, but being a kid, I lost interest and moved onto other things. In how many places in your town could you hang pictures? What kinds of places? How about in places like 10-minute oil change places? Laundromats? Which restaurants might be interested?

And then there are galleries. Not only will they accept your work – if it is good, they want it! Their whole business is about getting art that they can resell. They typically keep 1/3 of the price a work brings. So, they can put your prints on their wall for perhaps $600 each, and every time one sells, you get $400. Hey, that’s enough to invest in frames, and make them look even better.

In this business, it is important to create pictures that have emotional content. People have to want your pictures. Can you take photos that reach out and cause people to think and feel?

Postcards

Postcards are remarkably easy to create right from your own printer. Or, for larger quantities, you can send your photo to any number of professional printing companies that will do it for you.

Thousands of tourist locations already have postcards. If you can provide more interesting postcards than the one’s out there, the gift shops will buy them from you.

Then there are the thousands of other tourist destinations that do not have postcards. If you can provide interesting postcards for these out of the way places, there are independent stores that would probably want to sell them to their tourists.

Going beyond postcards, in most such situations, there is also a market for posters, framed and unframed photos, and photographic novelty items, which you can make yourself, or have made by professional novelty advertising providers.

To sell your wholesale photography to a retail store at the level of a tourist shop – meaning almost always a small, independently owned store, all you need to do is