Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sex Sells Small Business & Freelance Services

Catching up on my pile of local newspapers last night, I finally read the 2/20/08 edition of Willamette Week—and laughed out loud at the profile of a self-employed freelancer who went naked to gain business.

Referred to only as "Ben" or nudecomputerguy@gmail, the computer troubleshooter gets your machine online and humming—in the buff.

As he explains it to WW columnist Byron Beck, Ben couldn't get any nibbles on his freelance computer repair services when he first started posting them on Craigslist. Like most of us sole proprietors, small business owners and freelancers, Ben struggled with how to increase his business's, um, "visibility."

Perhaps too liberally interpreting that problem, he decided to turn to what so many people have done before to make a quick buck: take his clothes off. To even take it a step further, Ben lists his services (with the headline of "NUDE Computer Repair, Setup & Training") under the m4m Erotic Services section.

Several years ago, my ex-husband and I used to joke about using this sex-appeal tactic to start his self-employment path. Having grown up working in his father's janitorial business, my then-husband was the fastest and most thorough housecleaner I've ever seen. That man could make our kitchen sparkle faster than you could say "hand me the Comet." While I try to be conscientious about housecleaning, he put me to shame each time he picked up the sponge and spray bottle.

On days when he was frustrated at his job and wanting to go into business for himself, we'd often joke about him starting a nude housecleaning business. I knew it would be a roaring success, since his work would earn rave reviews and he's very easy on the eyes. I was confident he'd have so many repeat customers, he'd be turning new clients away in no time.

So it's not surprising to me that by changing his marketing approach from offering a business service to an erotic service, Ben-the-nude-computer-guy soon found himself with more calls than he could handle.

What makes me laugh about Ben's approach is the way he's pairing the appeal of nudity with the unappeal of geek work. No offense intended to IT guys, but they're not usually the first group of people I think of when I think "sexy."

But then, why not?

For some businesses, it's pure cliche: sex sells cars; sex sells cosmetics; sex sells alcohol. But more recently, the nudity marketing approach has been used to great success with smaller businesses, charities and industries that completely lack "sex appeal:" from community figures posing for nude fundraising calendars to bikini-clad baristas and high-tech services. became the largest Internet domain registrar, and doesn't it have to do in part to the scantily clad GoDaddy "girls?"

It kind of makes me wonder: where exactly will we draw the line when it comes to using sex or nudity to sell?

And more pointedly to you, my fellow small business owners: would you take your clothes off to increase your business's sales?

Lastly, I can't resist pointing out that because I have a home office, I occasionally work unclothed.

I'll let you know if that disclosure generates more copywriting business.

(Photo is from the Willamette Week article, "The Naked Networker." Presumably, that's Ben.)

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