As a company dedicated to serving the needs of small businesses, we’re always on the lookout for things that can help our clients get more customers. Because, frankly, that’s what a lot of small businesses struggle with the most, and what many small firms are not too good at in terms of execution.
Sareen and Associates is an accounting firm, not a marketing firm, but we can tell you unequivocally that having a lot of customers and a lot of revenue makes a lot of problems go away on the balance sheet. And the problems that do remain are small, easily fixed by all the money coming in. It’s good to have a lot of customers.
There are a lot of ways to get new customers, and one of the big ways is online. That’s what I’m going to focus on today. And specifically, on a new services aggregator site called Thumbtack.
If your business has made an effort to be online, then you probably have a company Facebook page, a company LinkedIn page, a company Google+ page, and maybe, a company Twitter account. But, few, if any new customers come directly from the existence of those pages. The same goes for your website. And, maybe you have a Pininterest page, because of the type of business you have, or maybe a MySpace page (yes, they still exist somehow) if you’re in entertainment, or maybe you have some other kind of specialty page you maintain that you post on. You need to be on the internet, and you need to have company pages, because the presence of those affects your page ranking in Google search results (i.e. if you own a plumbing company in Herndon, and someone types “plumber Herndon” into the Google search bar, you want to make sure your plumbing company comes up as a choice).
Maybe you went a little deeper, and you have a company page on Yelp, and Bing, and Yahoo, and Angie’s List, and Urban Spoon and so forth. But it costs money to actually advertise on these platforms, and it’s not cheap, and the payoff is very hard to quantify.
Then, of course, there’s PPC, which involves SEO, on Google. PPC (pay-per-click) and SEO (search engine optimization) generally requires that you hire someone who knows what they’re doing, so you pay them to place the ads, which you also pay for, and this combination can get wildly expensive in a hurry, and again, many times it’s very difficult to see what the volume of business was from your advertising efforts.
Frustrating, isn’t it?
There is a (fairly) new site on the internet called Thumbtack that we’d like to alert our clients to in the hopes that it will increase your business at a reasonable cost. And now it’s time to make this statement: We are not being compensated in any way by Thumbtack for this post, and we have no relationship of any sort with them except for the fact that we’re listed as a service provider on their site, just as thousands of other businesses are.
Nope, we’re doing this because we want you to grow. As Arun Sareen, the president of Sareen and Associates says, frequently, “When you grow, we grow. We want you to grow as much as possible”. Cliché’? Maybe. But he’s telling the truth. We’re a firm that provides tax work, bookkeeping and accounting, payroll services and more, but we’re dedicated to the success of our clients, and that is not restricted to crunching numbers. If you’re a client, you already know what I’m about to type next – we do a lot more for our clients than just their accounting.
How does Thumbtack work in terms of signing up? Well, it’s pretty easy, actually. You just go to the site (www.thumbtack.com), sign up as a provider of whatever services you wish to provide (and not all services are represented yet, for example, there are no automotive repair shops on the site), complete a company profile, and shortly after, you can go live.
Here’s the difference between Thumbtack and other online customer acquisition platforms. Let’s say you own a furniture repair business in Washington, DC. A potential customer needs some furniture repaired, and types in ‘furniture repair DC” into Google. One of the choices the customer will be presented with on the first page of the Google search results will be a listing for Thumbtack that states something like “Top 16 Furniture Refinishing Services in Washington, DC”. As you might imagine, people being people, many of them will want to look at such a list. They click on Thumbtack, fill out a form describing what they want, and then Thumbtack sends out that customer request to all of their providers on the site that have stated they provide the services desired in that geographic area. This could be 3 providers, or it could be 300 providers. Thumbtack asks the providers to “bid” on the job (don’t worry, you can check the box that states you need more information on the job before pricing the work out).
When you respond to a bid request, Thumbtack charges you. Depending on the job, it could be anywhere from $4 to whatever, although the most I’ve seen per bid is a little less than $20. Here’s the important part: Only five bids are allowed. And it’s the first five bids that come across the digital threshold. That’s all the customer will see. So, you have a pretty good chance of getting that business, and the amount it cost you to get in front of the customer is low, on a per-customer basis.
Customers like it, because they have to do a lot less investigative work on the internet in terms of finding a suitable provider of whatever goods or services they’re seeking. They also like the fact that it doesn’t cost them anything. Zero.
We have been using Thumbtack for Sareen and Associates about three months now. Our cost per new client has been very reasonable so far (knock on wood), which means that it’s been a lot less expensive than advertising on the search engines.
There are, however, some caveats. I’m going to pass along these tips to you regarding Thumbtack, things I’ve learned as a frequent business user of the site:
1. Like most things in life, you get out what you put in. The better your company profile, the more customers you get. If you put up a bare-bones profile with no photos (nice photos, not fuzzy ones from your phone), no description of the business, no FAQs, no biography of the owner or the company, no proof of your state license, no reviews, etc., then your potential customers will contact one of the other four providers that responded. Period. Before they reach out to you, customers want to feel like they have some level of assurance that you’re a legitimate outfit that can meet their needs and give them a high level of service and professionalism.
2. If you’re going to play on this platform, then you should be prepared to respond immediately to a request. When I say “immediately”, I mean as soon as the request hits your email inbox or shows up as a text on your mobile phone (you can choose either method of alert). You need to be able to stop what you’re doing at that moment and respond. If you cannot do this, then it’s going to be really tough to get business through Thumbtack. The more attractive the work/job, the greater and quicker the response. I’ve seen some bids get the maximum of five bids in less than two minutes (that’s 120 seconds), depending on the dollar value of the work, and the time of day it comes in. And, when I say “immediately”, I mean you’ll have to respond sometimes at 6 AM, 8 PM or 1:33 AM. Because people are on the internet all times of the day and night, and they tend to put in requests when they have the time to do it, not when you would prefer to respond to their request. The person that you choose to respond to Thumbtack requests, whether that’s you or someone else at your company, should be someone who can make themselves available. In that same vein, many customers will immediately ask a question (through the Thumbtack server) after they get your initial response to their request, and you need to be able to respond to that very quickly as well, or, they’re on to another of the four providers. Also, it goes without saying that the person responding to these customer requests needs to know what your business does, how they do it, has good customer service and sales skills, and can write well. Fractured English, teenage-style texting, poor grammar and spelling – all of these things may doom your bid, even if you’re the best provider for that customer.
3. You will need to be discerning in your responses. Since you have customers now, you know that sometimes their expectations are, shall we say, unreasonable. Let’s go with the example of that hypothetical furniture repair business. If you get a request from a woman who wants a chair that her cat clawed up refinished, but she says in her request that she has a maximum budget of $100, and she won’t bring the chair to you, you must pick it up at her house and deliver it back to the house after the job is complete, and, she lives 45 miles away from your shop, well, there is no sense in replying to that request. You’re not going to make a profit on that business, and talking to her is probably not going to get her to adjust her thinking. And, believe me, you’ll get off-the-wall requests like this through Thumbtack. Happens all the time, so you will need to sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of requests.
OK, you should be set now. Happy selling, and I hope this helps in terms of acquiring new customers for your business. And, by the way, if you do get on Thumbtack, and you’re one of our clients, we can always use another positive review – never hurts!