Selling Your Skills on the Open Market

By Kevin M

This is a weekly open forum dedicated to increasing income, cash flow and customer base, for anybody who needs to increase business or supplement a paycheck. Salaried employees, homemakers, small business owners, commissioned sales people, entrepreneurs, retirees—this is FOR you, and we’d like to hear FROM you. What works in one household or business may not work in another, but then again it might. Or it might be modified and adapted to different situations.

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 this as a side business, and eventually make it full time.

”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 will 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, but these efforts fail more often than not because advertising can cost serious money, which is something you won’t have until you get a cash flow coming in. But you don’t and 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, you’re 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. Therefore, any methods used will need to be either free or very low cost.

No- and Low-cost Ways to Reach Potential Clients

There are as many ways to market inexpensively as the human mind can imagine, but here is a list of methods 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 because you 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 Kinko’s for 9 cents per copy with black ink, or only $9 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.

“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, this is 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–and 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…?”

Adding a dedicated web page to an existing website. Of course you can set up a website for 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 leads.

Yahoo! Local. Yahoo 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 webpage.

Join networking groups of professionals who 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 skills you are, as they will be chasing the same business you will.

Cold calling businesses. If you do have sales skills, this should not be overlooked. There is 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, 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?

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