Thumbtack can be a fast and easy way to get customers and grow your business. In fact, for some people, it has enabled them to start a business in the first place.
But should you use this lead generation service?
I’ve talked to several pro handymen who consistently generate quality leads through Thumbtack, but when you read online reviews, it’s like Thumbtack is out there killing babies or something. People are pissed (as you can see from the 70+ comments at the bottom of this page).
So who should you trust, and most importantly, should you use it to generate leads for your business? That is the ultimate question I’ll answer in this article.
I’ll talk about the controversial issues around Thumbtack, the pros and cons of using it, how much you can expect to pay for a lead, and tips for maximizing your results if you decide to sign up and test it for yourself.
Common Complaints From Thumbtack Pros and Contractors
Complaint #1 – Big jumps in the price of leads
This happened first in 2017. Thumbtack announced a new feature called “Instant Match.” As this new feature rolled out, the cost of leads increased significantly.
In one review on ConsumerAffairs.com, a Thumbtack pro said, “I sent a message to 2 different customers that would have normally been $8-$15 each only to discover (once my card had been charged) that those two bids now cost me $65.”
Another reviewer mentioned that leads that used to cost $3-$15 now cost $55. Assuming those reviews are accurate, that’s over a 700% increase in the cost of leads.
But wait just a second.
When I dug deeper, I found out that most leads don’t cost anywhere near $50 or $60. In fact, many handyman jobs cost less than $10 per lead. Those higher-priced leads in the complaints are most likely for large contracting jobs like kitchen remodels and home additions, where honestly, $50 for a lead is reasonable.
Has Thumbtack raised the price of leads? Yes, they have. But leads are still a bargain, especially when compared to Home Advisor.
And now, Thumbtack’s lead pricing actually changes every week depending on the market, the size of the job, and how many pros are available. This is similar to how Uber adjusts their prices based on demand.
If you are worried about lead prices, don’t. One good thing about Thumbtack is that you can see the prices of leads before you ever pay for a single one. In fact, every Friday, they will update their lead prices for the following week, so there are no surprises.
Complaint #2 – Too much competition
Another complaint is that too many pros are allowed to compete for each lead. According to some reviews online, there used to be a maximum of three to five pros submitting bids on a job, and now there could be as many as fifteen bidders for a single job.
Thumbtack does limit competition, however, as part of their “Quality Commitment.”
Currently, they limit the number of pros a customer can contact to five in the first four hours of a customer searching for a pro. So, assuming you respond quickly to a lead, you will be competing with a maximum of five others, and often less.
However, after that four hours, it opens up to more pros. According to Thumbtack, this is “to make sure customers can find a pro,” which makes sense.
Complaint #3 – Accounts being deleted
So let’s say you’ve been on the platform for two years, built up a solid profile with dozens of five-star reviews, and depend on Thumbtack to keep your schedule full. If Thumbtack doesn’t like something about your profile or if you fail to follow their terms, they can shut you down.
Unfortunately, this has happened to several people who rely on Thumbtack. Based on reviews on BBB and some comments below, it seems like account deactivation usually happens as a result of failing to pay for leads or issuing a chargeback with your credit card. Thumbtack has little patience for people who don’t pay up.
Unfortunately, once your account is deactivated, it can be difficult to get it back up and running, which could cause problems if you rely on them for business.
Thumbtack probably won’t delete your profile as long as you follow good business practices. They don’t have a good reason to. But it’s still risky to place the well-being of your company in the hands of another business.
Complaint #4 – Poor-quality leads
Low-quality leads are a complaint that you see with all lead generation services, and thumbtack is no different. It’s a problem that isn’t easy to solve with digital marketplaces.
Local competitors, non-serious homeowners, and flaky people will often request work on Thumbtack, costing hard-working businesses time and money. These “fake” leads get annoying and expensive.
Thumbtack will issue refunds for certain types of bad leads in certain situations, but not always. Many people have complained about not being reimbursed when they felt like they should have been. They’ve even gone as far as describing Thumbtack as a scam.
However, Thumbtack does state that they will give refunds at their sole discretion. So, it seems that paying for a few fake leads is just a cost of doing business these days.
But is Thumbtack effective?
Look, if Thumbtack didn’t work for handymen, contractors, house cleaners, and dozens of other service providers, it would quickly disappear. But it hasn’t. Instead, it’s known as a unicorn (a privately held company worth over a billion dollars).
In 2019 Thumbtack was valued at a whopping $1.7 Billion. It’s been consistently growing over the last decade with no signs of it slowing.
Anytime you read online reviews on sites like BBB, and all you see are bad reviews, understand that happy customers aren’t leaving reviews. Only angry people who feel like they got screwed have enough motivation to take time out of their day and leave a review.
There could be a hundred delighted pros for every negative review you find online. Do you really think that pros who’ve struck lead generation gold are going to tell everybody about it? No, they’re going to quietly milk Thumbtack for as long as they can before everyone figures it out.
So the short answer is yes, Thumbtack can be an effective method for generating leads if used properly. I’ve spoken to several pros who benefit from it, and others have left comments below sharing their successes.
Should you use Thumbtack to grow your business?
Honestly, it depends. I don’t personally use it because I can generate more than enough leads through my website (and those leads are free).
However, I recommend Thumbtack to many of my readers and clients who are just getting started because it’s a great temporary solution. Buying leads is good for the short-term while you work on longer-term marketing strategies like building an online presence.
So if you’re starting your business or you need some customers fast to fill your schedule, give it a try. Test it. Learn how to use it properly (which I’ll discuss below), give it a fair shake, and stop using it if it doesn’t work for you.
Don’t be like many people I’ve seen that are so scared of being scammed that they won’t try anything and end up leaving money on the table as a result.
However, I have a word of warning…
Here’s what to AVOID
The only problem with using services like Thumbtack is when they are your sole method of getting new customers. Relying on services like this leaves your business exposed in a way that can crush profits if anything changes. And things inevitably change (like the increase in lead prices, for example).
View Thumbtack as a tool for getting leads quickly while working on other marketing methods that you have more control over.
Just like when investing your money, you want to DIVERSIFY where your leads come from to reduce risk and keep your schedule filled all year. That way, if one source of new customers disappears, you have several others that can pick up the slack.
Never outsource your entire marketing efforts to one company that you don’t control. They can change things in the blink of an eye and literally wipe you out. Or, this can force you to lower your prices to stay competitive as the competition grows.
The Details – How does Thumbtack work?
Thumbtack’s goal is to make hiring a plumber, handyman, gardener, dog groomer, or any local service business as easy as ordering products from Amazon.
And I have to say, their platform is brilliant. Here’s how it works.
Customers visit their website or App and search for pros. Then, based on some filters, Thumbtack displays a list of pros to choose from. Customers browse through the business profiles and choose who to reach out to.
It’s basically a search engine with a few key twists.
As a pro, you get listed on the search engine for free. However, once a customer contacts you, you get charged for the lead. You don’t pay to be shown to customers. You only pay when they contact you. That’s a very nice feature.
As a pro, you get to set your “target preferences.” This allows you to define exactly which jobs you want to be shown for and in what areas. That way, you only pay for leads for the exact services you offer in the exact areas that you offer them.
There are two ways you can land new clients on Thumbtack.
Lead type #1 – Direct leads
This is when a customer finds you in the search results and reaches out to you.
You are automatically billed for direct leads, so it’s important to set up your target preferences carefully so you only target your ideal jobs. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying for a bunch of leads you don’t want.
Many of the complaints about getting bad leads are technically the pro’s fault since they didn’t optimize their preferences.
Lead type #2 – Opportunities
There is a tab within the Thumbtack app called Opportunities. This is where you can see customers who have reached out to other pros and are actively requesting quotes for services you provide. If you see any jobs that interest you, you can reach out to the customer through the app. So, even if you don’t get chosen by the customer in the search results, you still have an opportunity to land the job.
The benefit of opportunities is that you can see the cost of the lead before reaching out, and you only pay if the customer responds to you.
Thumbtack Pricing – How Much Does It Cost for Pros?
As with all lead gen services, the answer is that it depends. According to Thumbtack’s website, “The cost of each quote will vary, depending on the value of the job and the number of available and interested pros in the area.” There is no cost to sign up.
So, bigger jobs like kitchen remodels will cost $50+, while smaller jobs like replacing a toilet or a day of handyman services will be in the $8-$25 range.
Essentially, Thumbtack allows the market to decide how much a lead costs. If there are many pros in one area competing for the same jobs, the price of leads will go up. If there are very few, then the cost of leads will go down.
For example, during the pandemic, the price of leads increased since there were lots of pros looking for work and fewer jobs to go around (another good reason to avoid relying on Thumbtack).
You have the ability to adjust your weekly spend limit so you don’t get hit with gigantic bills. You can test the waters with minimal investment.
Are Background Checks Required?
It’s unclear if they do background checks on everyone. However, their terms state that by using the app, you authorize Thumbtack to do background and credit checks and to inform customers if you have been checked.
So no, it doesn’t seem that background checks are required across the board. But, it’s a good idea to get one since it will increase the chances of being hired.
What I like about Thumbtack
- You only pay for leads if a customer reaches out to you directly (direct lead) or if a customer responds to your interest when reaching out for opportunities. This helps reduce a lot of bad leads.
- The platform allows you to get jobs quickly, which is nice if you’re just getting started or need to fill gaps in your schedule.
- You can see what your competition is charging and do market research before starting your business.
- It’s easy to stand out if you put some effort into your profile or are responsive to leads.
- You can see the price of leads before you decide to receive them and fine-tune which leads you receive.
What I don’t like about Thumbtack
- You don’t control it, so you’re at their mercy. If lead prices go up, your profits go down. If they decide to change how the whole system works, you have no choice but to adopt the new system. This isn’t much different than having a job.
- It may force you to drop your prices to compete, especially when demand is lowest and lead prices are highest. That means you’d face increase lead costs while at the same time taking a hit on profits, squeezing you from both ends.
- It can be time-consuming going back and forth with customers or being forced to stop what your doing to respond immediately.
- Thumbtack encourages customers to contact several pros, even when a customer has chosen you from the search results. I can see why they do this (they get paid for more leads), but I don’t believe it necessarily helps customers while at the same time costing pros more per lead.
Thumbtack From a Homeowners Perspective
This review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the homeowner’s experience while using Thumbtack. And like any good detective, I spent some time investigating that.
Here’s what they do really well for homeowners:
- Their website and app are top-notch – This is a huge trust builder for homeowners, and while you’re browsing their site, you get the feeling that you are well taken care of.
- There are many pros to choose from – Within seconds of entering a job, I had 3 different options of handymen to choose from, and more came over the following days.
- Pricing is transparent – I knew how much the handymen charged right away.
- It’s easy to communicate with pros – You can message pros directly through the website to answer your questions. From a customer standpoint, this is a great way to get a feel for how well the pro communicates and their style before getting on a phone call.
- Reviews are mostly from verified customers – Just like any online directory, they have reviews, most of which have to be from verified customers, so fake reviews aren’t a problem.
- Pros are responsive – Thumbtack awards pros who respond quickly with higher rankings in search, encouraging them to respond quickly. Also, since pros are paying for leads, it means they are accepting new clients.
Thumbtack makes it really easy to find and connect with independent contractors. The whole process for the customer is streamlined, professional, and easy to use. In fact, I can see myself using it in the future for random services I may need.
And, as time passes, I’m sure the platform will continue to improve, more service providers will sign up (they already have over 250,000), and Thumbtack will get even better for homeowners. That’s nice, but the cost of that convenience is that they will have more control over the industry.
Quick Tips for Maximizing ROI
If you decide to try Thumbtack, here are some tips to help you close more leads and make more money.
#1 – Add a good headshot
Most handymen just put their logo or a picture of a recent job for their profile pic. Don’t do that. Customers want to see who they are hiring. By simply having a professional headshot on your profile, you’ll get 10x as many jobs – which means you’ll pay less to get customers. This is such a simple thing to do. It’s amazing how few do it well.
#2 – Respond to leads quickly
Think about it. Customers are using Thumbtack to save time searching for a pro. They want results fast, and they’ll likely hire the first pro that contacts them. Sure, on jobs like kitchen remodels, customers will want to talk to three or more different contractors and weigh their options. But on smaller jobs, they just want to hire and move on.
Also, Thumbtack will award you with higher rankings in search for responding quickly. It even states on Thumbtack’s website that faster responses will significantly increase your odds of converting a lead into a customer.
#3 – Prune your service offering
Once you’ve bid on 25-50 jobs, go back and look at your history to see which leads turned into customers and which ones didn’t. You’ll probably notice a pattern. Certain types of leads will never turn into customers, so change your settings and stop wasting your time bidding on those jobs. Conversely, you’ll find that certain jobs have a very high closing rate. Double down on those.
#4 – Get Some Reviews
To show up in the search results, you must have at least one review. Higher reviews also boost your rankings in search and give you the opportunity to become a Top Pro, which gives you a nice badge next to your profile, letting customers know you are a great person to hire. Online reviews are essential on all digital marketplaces, so some effort put here will pay off.
Thumbtack can be a great tool to help you fill your schedule, jumpstart your business, or gain access to customers you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. Just don’t rely on it as your sole source of leads because you don’t control it.
Test it, see how well it works in your area, and if it works, great. If not, stop using it.
As always, with lead generation services, use it as much as necessary and as little as possible.