As social networking has exploded in popularity, so have the number of online sites dedicated to business networking. Sites like Linked In and Angie’s List, for example, have become household names. Where Linked In’s purpose is to help people develop a web of contacts with whom they can network and potentially search for a job or for someone to hire, Angie’s List allows consumers to shop around for unbiased opinions about local businesses.
Angie’s List’s selling point is that businesses cannot pay to be listed on the site. Rather, the site makes money by charging users a subscriber fee. Subscribers then can post to their hearts’ content about their experiences, rants, and raves associated with business with which they have dealt. Similarly, they can search for the same kind of feedback that other users post. Listings are broken down by business or service category and zip code.
A relative newcomer to the business networking scene is Thumbtack.com — a website that connects consumers with local contractors or service providers in their area.
Rather than simply providing a list of contractors and service providers (270,000 of them and counting), the site offers additional value-added features for consumers, as well as the huge benefit of being 100% free for customers.
Before a service provider can be listed on and become affiliated with the site, its professional licenses, business and e-mail addresses, social security number, and more first must be verified by a member of Thumbtack’s staff. But one of the biggest appeals to consumers looking for someone to provide a services in their homes, or for their children (childcare is a popular category), is that all listed service providers have been screened to make sure that they are not listed on the Department of Justice nationwide sex offender registry. They also have been subjected to a national criminal background check.
Thumbtack’s San Francisco-based staff also follows up with customers and solicits feedback on their experiences using particular service providers.
Consumers can opt to peruse the Thumbtack online directory. After choosing their state and city and the desired service category, they can scroll through a list of verified providers and choose which to contact for service quotes.
Thumbtack also offers to “do the legwork” for consumers and send them a custom list of prospects that meet their criteria.
Basically, a consumer logs on, chooses the service category they are looking for (there are many from which to choose), answers a series of related questions, and submits their criteria to Thumbtack. The Thumbtack staff reviews the request and routes these job leads to qualified contractors located in the customer’s zip code and determine if they are available and interested in the job. Available and interested contractors then reply back to the customer within 24 hours with a bid stating how much they would charge to perform the job.
Herein lies a bit of a catch for service providers considering using the Thumbtack site to secure leads.
While there’s absolutely no cost for a service provider to join Thumbtack and create a personalized page that describes its business (once Thumbtack’s staff verifies the data, the page is listed in Thumbtack’s online service directory, which is accessible by anyone who visits the website), there is a minimal fee for this job-leads program.
Providers who receive a lead from the company and choose to respond to it are charged for the privilege. They may choose to pay on a per-lead or subscription basis. Per-lead costs range from $3 to $20, and a subscription cost ranges from $7 to $40 per month. The lead charges are clearly presented on the page where a contractor would respond to a lead. Charges vary depending on service category. A user who buys a subscription can respond to every lead he receives, without incurring any charge over the subscription rate.
Thumbtack.com also uses a complex algorithm to bump up some users to gold, silver, or bronze status levels – which bump up where they appear on a search list. There’s also a system in which the site awards “points” for various characteristic a service provider’s listing includes. More points equal higher search rankings.
So is Thumbtack.com “worth it”? For consumers, it seems like a no-brainer: why not? They’ve got nothing to lose, and a pre-screened list of hungry contractors to gain. And for contractors? Again, why not? It costs nothing to create an online page, and the costs for the ability to follow up on promising leads is minimal. Is it worthwhile for a service provider to spend countless hours over-thinking how to bump up their ratings on the site? At this point, probably not. But it certainly is worthwhile for any service business to create a Thumbtack page and get its name out there … why not?