You have probably seen web designers on marketplaces like UpWork and Freelancer who are raking in tens of thousands of dollars per month (or more). No doubt, those platforms are good places to nab a steady stream of small jobs—IF you have an established reputation. Getting to that point is a massive uphill climb, though. As a newbie, you are one in a million; lost in a sea of competition. That’s why I’m always looking for unconventional places to find new clients. Earlier this month, I quadrupled my investment in a surprisingly effective lead generation tool; Thumbtack!
If you’re thinking Thumbtack is just for plumbers and carpet installers, you’re not alone. Truth be told, I went into this experiment expecting to come up empty. Part of my job is to try things out so you don’t have to. Well, needless to say—you might wanna give Thumbtack a chance! I truly believe if you fully commit to any lead generation channel AND put in real effort, you will see results.
What is Thumbtack?
At its core, Thumbtack is an app that allows homeowners to find local experts who can help with specific jobs around the house. For the most part, people use it to get fences painted, ceiling fans installed, walls patched, etc. However, believe it or not, thousands of people use it to find creative contractors every day (this was news to me too)! Thumbtack may not put website development and logo design out there as its primary service line, but we still get to benefit from their global marketing machine.
It’s fairly straightforward to join Thumbtack as a contractor and set up your profile. Depending on the number of services you intend to offer, it can be time-consuming—so set aside a couple hours at least. You don’t wanna half-ass your profile as it’s essentially a selling proposition to potential customers. Try your best to provide all the items it asks for to ensure your page is as complete as possible. The more content for the app to grab onto, the more exposure you could get. It will ask you for photos of relevant jobs too. This is a great place for your portfolio of work.
When you first join the site, Thumbtack will offer a deal if you pre-purchase credits in bulk. I took them up on this promotion and I’m glad I did. I haven’t seen the offer since.
How Thumbtack Works for Contractors
If you’ve ever been on the customer side of Thumbtack, you know how it works; submit details of your job and the system picks a few recommended providers for you to consider. I’m assuming they do things this way because there are so many contractors for each category. It would be too overwhelming for homeowners to scroll through dozens (or hundreds) of options. This is more of a curated experience AND it gives the lesser-known contractors a fighting chance.
If a customer selects you to bid on their job, that’s called a Direct Lead—and you are automatically charged by Thumbtack for each one. The amount you’ll pay varies on things like the type of job, its size, number of pros available, and your market. When that lead lands in your inbox, the ball is in your court. It’s up to you to turn those few lines of text into a relationship. Sometimes you reply to a request and never hear from them again. Well thanks, jerk, you cost me $150! That’s the game, though. Over time, you just hope the business generated from good leads overshadows the wasted expense of the bad ones. There is some luck involved, but a lot of it has to do with your ability to be responsive, knowledgeable, reasonable, and say all the right things.
I’ll admit, being active on Thumbtack was a bit stressful for me. Of course I wanted to be super immediately responsive to any new inquiries but they seemed to always come in at the worst times. You can’t turn off the faucet once it starts. As long as you have a card on file, you could get charged at any moment. If you delete your payment method, Thumbtack won’t let you access your old leads, messages, or opportunities screen. You can, however, pause for 30 days at a time—which is what I’m doing at the moment. Needed a breather to share my experience with y’all!
I launched my profile on March 8th. In my first 14 days on Thumbtack, I spent $331.58 and made $1,550.31. That’s a healthy profit by any standard! In case you’re curious, here’s a quick rundown of where the cash came from:
He needed help getting his dropshipping store setup. We ended up doing two full days of e-commerce coaching for $500 and then some extra billable work for $142.50.
His online tea shop was getting lots of traffic but very few orders. I did a full conversion analysis of his Shopify store for $95 and was then asked to execute those suggestions for $522.50.
This was a wicked sketchy deal from the beginning and I don’t care who knows it. I won’t go into too much detail but the task at hand was never fully defined and every email seemed to be more confusing than the last. Although this one had long-term potential, I ended up showing myself the door after doing $290.31 worth of billable work.
Between those promising leads, I had a handful of people ghost me, scoff at my prices, and waste my time in numerous other ways. That’s okay! In the end, I 4X’d my money using a lesser-known source of new business.
Getting Web Design Clients on Thumbtack
I’ve learned a few things in my short time on Thumbtack so far. For the self-motivated freelancer, there are actually THREE ways to land new clients on the platform:
1. Direct Leads
You receive a Direct Lead when a customer creates a job on Thumbtack, sees your profile in the recommended contractors list, and clicks the “Contact for price” button. Since these leads are deemed a good match by Thumbtack, you are automatically charged for them (anywhere from $30-$175 each). You cannot get a refund for bad leads unless the client doesn’t read your response to their initial request.
When replying to direct inquiries, don’t insult the customer by sending a canned response. Demonstrate that you actually read their message and/or checked out their site. Be as personal as possible—referencing anything you know about their needs and you will rise to the top of their prospect list.
Be certain to set reasonable availability hours in your profile. Getting a new inquiry at 1am and not responding until you wake up at 8am is a ding to your response rate (and waste of money).
The Opportunities tab gives us more of an open market look at the Thumbtack ecosystem. From there, we can see recent inquiries customers have sent to other providers for services you offer. This is your chance to swoop in and steal the deal. Since you are sorta crashing someone else’s party, the likelihood of conversion on these opportunities is slim. You only pay if a customer responds (and that amount is usually quite a bit lower than the cost of a direct lead).
When you quote an opportunity, be real with your price. In fact, I recommend skewing on the higher end. You don’t wanna pay $60 for someone to respond who refuses to pay more than $12 for a logo design. Bidding honestly weeds out the cheapskates before they cost you time and money.
In browsing the many opportunities that pop up each day, I started to notice a handful would provide their URL in the job details. From there, it’s pretty easy to find their email from the website itself or a WHOIS lookup on the domain name. Reaching out to them directly just might help you stand out among the other candidates. If they respond to your email, it costs you nothing in Thumbtack fees. Hey, I’m just throwing that out there. It’s probably frowned upon. For what it’s worth, I didn’t have any luck with this tactic myself. All of my dollars came from direct leads.
Let’s be real; it’s a little odd for someone to search for a web designer on a platform like Thumbtack. If you go down this road, try to keep in mind the type of client you might be dealing with. Chances are, they are not your white whale with a $30,000 budget for a simple WordPress site. Fortune 500 enterprises are not looking for talent on a home improvement app. Instead, you’ll get dozens of little projects from customers who are two rungs above tire kickers and don’t believe any creative services should cost more than $300. Hey, it keeps the lights on and serves as a helpful fallback when your other lead generation channels are running dry. Always consider the lifetime value of a client—even if your initial engagement is small. Try Thumbtack for yourself!