Bootstrapping on Craigslist: Finding Your Own Way Through Financial Uncertainty

With Little or No Startup Funding

As more and more people are finding themselves without work in the traditional sense of the word, it's becoming necessary to start coming up with alternative forms of income. Fortunately, where we may lack economically at the moment, technology has made generating money more feasible than it once was, and we're witnessing a rebirth of entrepreneurship as we know it, however unglamorous it may seem.

eBay and Craigslist have essentially reinvented commerce by connecting everyone to everyone else with Internet access, and caused a global paradigm shift in how making money and spending it is conducted. That said, here's a tested strategy for making money from Craigslist (though you can apply the same principles to eBay) that many are employing to carry them through the tough times, or even as a permanent livelihood. Though there are many ways to make money with Craigslist, we'll focus on the oldest, rawest means of making money-selling stuff! There's much to be said for buying and selling independently; assuming you like time freedom, minimal stress, and calling the shots. Being a freelance Craiglist merchant definitely has its perks. 

In short, the name of the game is buy low, sell high. You can do this in any number of ways, at any speed you're comfortable with. Obviously, the most important part when you're in a crunch is making money. As such, part I will explain how to make money  with Craiglist via selling, and how to do it properly, with regard to your prospective customers. Here's what I found works, and has carried me through several bouts of financial turbulence. It may not make you rich (although, it is being done), but it definitely works. 


1) Get all your old, unnecessary stuff together: Pile it up, draw up a spreadsheet, dust it off, check for functionality. Don't misunderstand, don't sell off a sewing machine if you have the skills capitalize on using it. But if your daughter hasn't touched her $500 keyboard in a decade, that'd be a good start. Take photos, document serial numbers, and again, make note of any functional issues. You'll want to be thorough in your online descriptions. 

If it looks like you're going to be in it for the long haul, I strongly suggest a spreadsheet. Keeping everything organized will not only protect you in the event of a legal dispute (worst case) but you'll be able to keep track of where you are in terms of how many tens of thousands of dollars you've made (best case)! Google docs is a great resource for maintaining such records and I always log the following

Item-Purchase Date-List date-Sold date-List Location/Sold location-Final Sold Price-Initial cost

2) Take pictures: It almost goes without saying that if it's filthy, then clean it. If it's smelly, disinfect it, etc. If the goal is to make money with Craiglsit, eBay, or any other physical good, high quality presentation of your merchandise is a must, since it's the only medium most people are going to have access to prior to seeing them personally or shipping it to them (if you go the eBay route). I recommend acquainting yourself with your digital camera by learning to adjust picture quality and a simple photo editing software. Especially to crop out unnecessary background content. Craigslist and eBay both have certain quality suggestions, but understand that if the picture is awful, you may be sitting on that product for some time to come. Most importantly, consider your prospective buyers. If you're selling a porcelain collection-which I would assume is a very aesthetically oriented market-then people will want to see several photographs. For items that have considerable aesthetic appeal, an example may be considering one shot from a few feet away (front and back), close up of the front, a close up of any design, and certainly any flaws. It's better to take a pay cut for a flaw than losing a sale entirely, as elaborated below.

3) Description: Many people who have purchased on eBay or met up with someone selling something on Craiglist have had the unhappy experience of being told an object was in "great, like new shape!" only to find upon consultation or delivery that the person describing the object happened to be lying or just had an irreparably poor understanding of descriptive terminology. When it comes to describing your merchandise, Craigslist buyers want much of the same information you would want if you were to make the same purchase all over again. Give as much info as you can, minus how much you paid (this is tactical advice, you may be as open with your prospects as you like). 

4) Respond to Inquiries: This is simple enough. Always remember that people are wary around strangers, especially strangers who stand to gain something. Maintain the perspective that you are one side of an equation that stands to gain something, but so is your customer. Common courtesy goes an incredibly long way, as most of the people you'll be hearing from will be regular, generally kind, though possibly stressed out. 99% of the time, he or she will be just and average person looking for a good deal. Answer questions as fully as possible, as timely as possible. 

Be on the lookout for scams, though. Anything from the royal family of Nigeria or anyone asking for private data, other than perhaps your phone number to call you to speak directly (and even then, err on the side of caution) is something to be ignored. If a "person" responds and doesn't mention the product that you described his or herself, that may be a red flag, too. Just be cautious, and NEVER give out private data to someone whom you haven't met or spoken to directly. If they give a name, running a Google search may prove helpful, too. 


If you have a house just full of stuff you don't use and you can sell without worrying about running low on inventory, just stick with part I until you run out of stuff to sell on Craigslist! Part II will discuss simple strategies in buying from other Craiglist merchants and doing a bit of negotiating to get better deals in building your inventory. 

Bootstrapping: making money in the modern marketplace

Make Money With Craigslist and bootstrapping through the uncertain times.