Selling Your Skills on the Open Market

I often promote starting a side business as a way to either create an additional income, or as a strategy to diversify income sources. But the very term “side business” may be intimidating to a lot of people who have never been self-employed. But a side business – like any form of self-employment – is really just about selling your skills on the open market. If you can figure that part out, the rest is actually pretty easy.

In Can You Barter For What You Need? we discussed using your skills and services to barter for products and services you need. You can take the same principle however, selling your skills and services direct for a cash income. And nearly everyone has one or more skills to do this. You can do it as a side business, and eventually make it full time.

Selling Your Skills on the Open Market
Selling Your Skills on the Open Market

But since determining what skills you can sell is a serious challenge for most people, let’s spend some time on that topic first.

“What skills could I possible sell?”

Most of us don’t think that the skills we do at work would be of much value to people on the street. Think again. Right now a lot of small businesses either can’t afford to hire someone or have had to let people go. Even though staff is reduced, the work is often still there and needs to be done.

In our discussion of bartering, we covered the following points, which are equally applicable to selling your skills on the open market:

“It may help to make a list of skills you can do to have ready before a need arises. This can include work skills, home skills or even recreational skills…Would you be willing to teach English to an immigrant or his children? This is no small point because many of today’s skilled workers are foreign born…Can you play tennis or golf? Do you swim or play an instrument? Can you tutor students in math, science or writing? Would you be willing to teach someone…? Think about all the things you can do and don’t give short shrift to any ability you have. Remember, someone somewhere is running a successful business with skills you now possess but aren’t using.”

Think about and list all of the skills you perform at home, at work, in recreation or in charitable work; can any of these services be offered to the general public?

Marketing Your Skills

This is the pivotal element which enables a person to run an independent business. Most everyone has skills and abilities of one sort or another, But what sets the entrepreneur apart is the ability to market what he has to others. And it goes without saying that the better you are at this crucial function, the more successful you’ll be. What you mostly need is a marketing plan. The key is to get people to call YOU.

Often when people begin a business, they spend substantial money advertising in an attempt to generate some quick business. These efforts fail more often than not because advertising can cost serious money, and the effort won’t be sustainable. But you shouldn’t need to spend a lot of money on this, especially at the beginning.

Marketing is simply about getting the word out to as many people as possible. Repetition and consistency are more important than a slick message. In order to be effective, your marketing plan needs to be sustainable over a long period of time. It could take multiple contacts over a period of several weeks or even months before you begin to see a flow of incoming calls. Any methods used will need to be either free or very low cost.

No- and Low-cost Ways of Selling Your Skills to Potential Clients

There are as many ways to market inexpensively as the human mind can imagine. Here’s a list of strategies to get you started.

Business cards and flyers

Word of mouth is important, but a prospect needs to have something in hand as a reminder of your services when you aren’t around, or to pass on to someone else who might have a need.

I prefer flyers over business cards. They have more room for your message and they’re easier to design yourself. Also, most people are inundated with business card and tend to “lose them” — quickly.

You can design a simple flyer on a Word program, then run copies at a print shop for about 10 cents per copy with black ink, or only $10 per hundred. Color ink is double the price, so use black ink on colored paper as a less expensive way to add color. Buy your paper at an office supply store, as paper at print shops is at least twice as expensive.

Ask “Who do you know who…?”

Get in the habit of asking this question of everyone you know. “Who do you know who might be in need of data entry work (English tutoring, lawn cutting, web design, etc.)?” This is a door-opening question. Ask it of everyone you come in contact with. It’s networking at it’s most basic level.

Neighborhood Newsletters

Subdivisions, condominiums and large apartment complexes often have monthly or quarterly newsletters that they send out to each household in the neighborhood. Advertising here is relatively inexpensive–even less so if you’re a decent negotiator. It’s also a highly effective way to reach a very specific market. You can usually advertise even if you don’t live in the neighborhood.

Family, friends and acquaintances

Don’t overlook the people right in front of you as marketing resources. Everyone knows people, so approach the people you know, tell them what you do, hand them a flyer (or a small supply) and ask “who do you know who…?”

Also, do a quarterly email blast to everyone on your email distribution list. It can be subtle, but the basic idea is just to provide a gentle reminder of what you do, in case they or anyone they know is in need.

Adding a dedicated web page to an existing website

Of course you can set up a website for a new venture, but if you already have a website on a different topic, you may be able to dedicate a separate page to the business. You can add specific keywords likely to draw visitors to the business you will be running. Don’t expect a flood of leads, but it’s a totally passive way of generating business.

Online Resources

Create a page for your business venture on relevant social media. Facebook and Linked In are two popular sites. Even if they don’t generate a lot of leads, they do serve as social proof of your business, making it more likely people will do business with you.

Yahoo! Local offers business listings in your local area as a sort of online business directory, and the service is free of charge. It allows you to list your business name, contact information and a description of the products or services you provide. You can also link this to your web page.

Join networking groups

Groups of professionals and practitioners in various businesses might have a need for your services. If you have a specific skill, say a paralegal for example, you can join a group of attorneys. If you have general skills, say web design, you can join as many groups as you like. Always be ready with your pitch, flyer and to ask “who do you know who…? Stay away from groups of people offering the same skills you are. They’ll be chasing the same business you will.

Direct contact of small businesses

I’ve found emailing to be a subtle but effective marketing strategy. Do some research and get the names of small businesses in your area or in your target field, then send an email introducing your services.  You generally won’t get sales just off an email, but it will open up a discussion that can lead in that direction. It’s much more personal and directed than, say, a mass mailing. Just make sure your email never looks like a mass mailing.

If you do have sales skills, you might also try cold-calling. There’s no cost to doing this, only your time and effort, and Do Not Call restrictions don’t apply to businesses. Call businesses likely to need your skills, find out what kind of work they have that needs to be done and offer your services. Small businesses are better to call since it’s more likely that whoever you speak to will be aware of company needs. Keep it simple and be flexible.

If you’re a salaried worker, a retiree or a homemaker, what are you doing to find new sources of income? If you’re a business owner, or in some capacity responsible for bringing business in the door, what is it you’re doing to attract customers and cash flow in this economy? What ideas have you heard about or know others to be doing? What’s working, what’s not?

( Photo by Petr Sejba )

Leave a reply