Stepping on a carpet tack not only surprises you but hurts for just second and, for some professionals, the lead-gen platform Thumbtack feels the same way. It’s warm and fuzzy with high-hopes of booking your calendar with profitable gigs whether you’re a photographer, copywriter or general contractor and then you feel the pain.
After having to initially invest around $100 for your first pile of credits, which converts to about $1.67 per credit, you’re ready to start quoting requests that are matched to your service and area. Requests are categorized and their values vary from 2 credits all the way to 10 depending on the request type. For example, weddings are typically a whopper 8 credits ($13.36) per quote, where as a portrait shoots are usually around 3 credits ($5.01) and fortune telling entertainment is only 2 credits (view Thumbtacks credit cost for services). The quoting game creates an eBay like adrenaline until you eventually run out of credits, your calendar is empty and you feel the tack in the carpet.
So why does Thumbtack work for some professionals and not others?
According to a few tips on Thumbtack’s website it has everything to do with getting reviews, your online portfolio and first contact. In a Thumbtack case study, portrait and wedding photographer Lauren Lindley said that 40% of her clients between 2013-2014 were through Thumbtack. Her Thumbtack profile indicates she has currently been hired 35 times. In 2015, she says that number dropped to 11.5% as a result of her not bidding as much as because her word-of-mouth exposure increased. Lindley has some good tips on increasing your chances of converting quotes to sales, as well as how to recognize which requests to avoid because the requester may either be phishing or a fake. A common problem with thumbtack that I have also not experienced, but to prove a point as to its ease, contributed to.
Fake requests have been a thorn in Thumbtacks side for a long time. In fact, there have been over 261 complaints against Thumbtack with the San Francisco Better Business Bureau alone. I personally have experienced numerous fake requests and Thumbtack immediately refunds your credits with this type of complaint. However, is simply giving a refund to the professional service provider the correct solution? The Thumbtack process, although it may work for some, is broken. It fails to also hold the requester accountable, which contribute and encourages phishing and fake accounts.
A while back, I got curious as to what a Thumbtack requester user experience was like through the website as well as the app. With little effort, I created an account and drilled through the user flow completing a request for wedding photography, on a specific date and time, with all the other options. Then I waited. Within minutes I had 3 quotes from local photographers. So the system appeared to be working. But there is one small flaw; I’m faking my interest, and this is where it gets unfair to the vendor.
Every quote that was submitted to me, the vendor paid for. Each vendor paid $13.36 (8 credits) for me to read their quote. A quote that I have no intention on following through and I can do that for up to 5 quotes. Thumbtack profits $66.80, the vendor profits $0 (lost $13.36) and it cost me, the fake requester, five minutes of my time. There are several issues here, notably, the most important was my bad intention only to prove a point and see what other professional photographers Thumbtack portfolios look like, as well as how they pitched their services to a potential client. Perhaps, my bad intentions would not have been so easy if Thumbtack held the requester partially accountable for the transaction.
The simplest way is requiring the requester to either hire a vendor or not. Only if the vendor is hired are they charged. After the expiration deadline, the requester has the choice of either revising their request and try again or close the request. If the request is closed by the requester, or has no activity after 30 days regardless of quotes being viewed then no one gets charged.
Another idea is to have the requester and vendor split the cost at the beginning and then when the requester hires a vendor, the vendor accepts the requesters credits for doing business with them. For example, requester pays 4 credits to submit their project, such as portrait photography. The vendor submits a quote to the requester for 4 credits. If the requester reads the vendors quote then the vendor is charged the 4 credits, but if there is a match and the requester hires the vendor, the vendor is also charged the 4 credits the requester had to pay as a good-faith to hire. So, if the requester decides they don’t like any of the first five quotes and requests more, the requester is charged another 4 credits for a new project request and if the requester closes their project without hiring a vendor then they are charged the 4 credits and the vendors are refunded their quote fees even if read. Holding the requester partially responsible for the cost of the credits will help pre-qualify both parties commitment to the project being requested, as well as hopefully preventing phishing and fake accounts. Vendors shouldn’t be punished by the requester who just looking for an idea of how much a service should cost and be able to simply walk away.
As a photographer, I have used Thumbtack. In fact, I have won two projects through the service, but unfortunately my cost-per-project-won to cost-per-quote-sent didn’t make sense for me to continue with the service. I spent approximately $200 in credits and profited about the same (not including the one Thumbtack requester who later refused to pay for services rendered). If you’re considering this service I would recommend that you take Lindley’s advice on bidding. It could save you a lot of credits, as well as help you win more project bids.
If a job doesn’t have all the information, don’t bid. For example, Lindley says if a wedding is quoted at $1,500 but the hours aren’t specified, do not bid and end up losing money because you’re earning under your minimum hourly wage. — Lauren Lindley
Although I won’t be jumping back into Thumbtack anytime soon, I will recommend the service with caution as a potentially good way to build a business. Thumbtack still has some work to do, but I think with time we will see the community continue to grow and the service improve.