Todd Kelly, the Personable Technician , started his computer repair business four years ago. Now he’s a Top Pro who builds high-end home theaters, installs security systems and sets up computer labs. He shares his story about coming out and how being on Thumbtack has given him the time to focus on himself.
"I was 26 when I came out. I had just come home from a Mormon mission. I tried my best, but I fell into a horrible depression — as one would, when you’re gay and Mormon. It got worse and worse, so I went to live with my father. That’s when I came out. And my father kicked me out.
I lost everything. I was homeless for six months. Eventually I got a part-time job at the Apple Store, and I was able to find a bike and rent an apartment. But I had no one. If I failed, there was no safety net. There was no mom or dad that would back me up, no friends who would support me.
Coming out was the most difficult and loneliest thing I have ever done. When you grow up Mormon and gay, it creates a lot of problems for you emotionally. Picture a kid who grew up where every time something gay come up on television, the father changes the channel in audible disgust. Grew up with siblings who called things gay. Grew up with no positive connotations having to do with homosexuality. So when the thought in your head is “Ooh, I like that person over there,” and it’s a person of the same sex? You push the thought out immediately. You begin to not acknowledge things about yourself. Years later, by the time you finally come out, you are the emotional equivalent of a thirteen year old.
So when I came out of the closet, my primary goal was not just financial or professional success. It was to be able to do something that would grant me enough money to pay my bills and the free time so I could focus on my own self-development. I decided to start my own computer repair business. I Googled around and looked into ways that I could get clients — that’s how I found Thumbtack. Eventually my work from Thumbtack paid me more than the Apple Store. Four years later, I’m a Top Pro and I do high-end home services.
Thumbtack helped me grow because I’m in charge of my own schedule. I can make the time to teach myself, to carefully sift through issues and replace bad habits that I had while in the closet, with good, healthy habits. It’s tremendously difficult. I can focus on me in a way that I absolutely could not do in a 9-5 job.
I love my life. I’m very grateful for it. You don’t go through all of that because you hate life. You go through all of it because you want to overcome your challenges and become a better person. You just have to realize that you can’t fix everything the way you want to.
Being able to diagnose anything, whether it comes down to technology or your own emotional issues, comes from a deep understanding of how things actually work. I’m not going to tell a client that I can definitely help them get rid of all their computer viruses and they’ll never get one again, because I know it’s their behavior that caused them to get those viruses in the first place. And for me, it’s not going to get fixed immediately. There’s a process to healing. Sometimes you just have to ride stuff out."
This article was edited from a transcript of an interview conducted by Thumbtack.
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Earlier in June, we threw a special pro event in Georgia. We met over 300 pros, making it the largest event we’ve ever hosted. (Although that’s not a huge surprise; Atlanta is one of our biggest and most successful pro communities.)
These pros had a chance to network, swap Thumbtack tips, share feedback face-to-face with us — as well as hear about some changes we’re making. We’re excited to share the news with you all soon. In the meantime, check out our video recap below. Stay tuned for more updates coming your way, and keep an eye out for more pro events — the next one could be in your neck of the woods.
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Got your eye on that blue badge for your profile? The next class of Top Pros will be announced in July — which means the deadline to qualify is just around the corner. You don’t have to fill in any forms to apply, but you do need to fit three important criteria:
You’re fast. Top Pros respond to new customers within 24 hours at least 75% of the time.
You do great work. Top Pros have a rating of at least 4.8 based on verified reviews.
You get steady reviews. Top Pros have gotten at least five verified reviews in the last year.
It’s not easy to become a Top Pro. In fact, only a very small number of pros actually qualify right now. That’s why we’re introducing Top Pro Tips — a video series where Top Pros share their own experiences and give real advice on how to succeed on Thumbtack.
Our very first Top Pro Tip is from home organizer Laura B., where she discusses how to deal with unresponsive customers.
And check out our latest Top Pro Tip in the series, where mural artist Nora talks about asking for reviews.
Keep up the good work — and good luck. Remember, you can always check your Insights to see how you’re stacking up.
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Math professor and college dean — turned bartender. Meet Top Pro Roger Perry.
"Before I became a bartender in Las Vegas, I was Associate Dean of Developmental Education and Academic Support at Berkeley College in New York City. I spent ten years in Higher Ed as a college math instructor — in my final two years where I served as Associate Dean, I just became absolutely burned out. A lot of the students I worked with were first generation college students. The math I was teaching is great, but for most people it’s not going to be the difference between a 50 or 150 thousand dollar salary — or even more. But creating a business and generating your own income? It can change the trajectory of your family’s legacy. That was just a realization that I came to on my own. So I decided to learn entrepreneurship myself from the ground up, with the commitment to go back and teach it.
I moved to Las Vegas. Vegas is hospitality driven and I wanted to learn how the machine worked. Bartending just made sense — to understand the executive hierarchy and behind-the-scenes operations. I definitely had reservations about bartending — bartenders understand that it’s far more than meets the eye, but it’s not really a “high level position.” Coming from NYC, I was worried about being viewed as “lowly” by other people in Vegas. But Las Vegas has a different kind of hustle than NYC. Both cities have people who are very ambitious, but the most driven in Vegas don’t care about titles. They do what they have to do to get their money. Bartenders, cocktail servers, VIP hosts, whatever, quickly leverage their skills into something else. A lot of business owners out here start in those types of positions. Out here, ambition just looks different.
I had some bartending experience, and I worked as a bartender at a casino for a little while. Before I knew it, I saw there was a need for private event bartending. I took advantage of the opportunity. I signed up for Thumbtack in 2015 and got my first gig. And then I was hooked. I’ve always felt free creatively — I never really considered myself a mathematician. I never felt that I looked like or talked like anyone in that community. When I was an educator I didn’t look like any of the other professors. But I’ve come to realize that I like creating experiences. The fundamentals of bartending and mixing drinks is really not that complicated, but creating an experience is, and it’s something I take a lot of pride in.
The first time I stepped into a classroom, I fell in love with teaching. So when will I give up bartending and go back to education? I have no answers for that. It’s been about four years now. I’m not necessarily ready to give it up. My business, Professional & Reliable Bartending , is bigger than just me being self-employed. I’ve started training other bartenders, and I enjoy it. I used to train teachers in the classroom, and it’s all the same skills. It’s always about putting yourself in the customer’s position, whether it’s a student or an actual customer. The content is irrelevant but the focus is the same, and that’s what excites me. But at the end of the day, I really want to learn every aspect of coming up with a business idea, starting it from the ground up and growing it successfully so that I can teach others. I want to provide people with the tools to make an impact on their legacy. That’s my life’s purpose at this point."
This article was edited from a transcript of an interview conducted by Thumbtack.
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“The best part about running my business is that I get to set my own tone for the company. I know I’m doing my best work and giving my clients my all.” — Laura Brooke, PHL Organizer
Only 51% of American workers are satisfied with their jobs. But our latest Build Her Up report is far less bleak. Here’s what over 900 self-employed women across the country told us:
86% were happy to be in their current job;
83% were satisfied with their career choice;
92% were proud to run their own small business.
Here’s what else we know:
There’s no measurable gender pay gap among our biggest categories on Thumbtack.
“Before I started my own business, I felt that my livelihood always depended on someone else. As I got older I realized I didn’t like that feeling so much.” — Sabrina Gallon, Good Fork Catering
At first, most pros (women and men) on Thumbtack have to undercharge to get customers. Once their business grows, most women told us they can actually earn more and have better career growth than if they were employed by someone else. And they feel less likely to suffer from the gender pay gap.
Why? Being self-employed on Thumbtack means they can set their own rates. They have the freedom to charge the true value of their expertise. In fact, across our biggest hourly-priced categories, there is zero statistical difference between men and women’s rates; in other words, there’s no measurable gender pay gap among those categories on Thumbtack. Which makes us feel pretty great.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be a female entrepreneur.
“I’m a tailor, which shocks people, because they only think tailors are men. Tailoring is an occupation. Not a gender.” — Arisha Green, In Stitches Custom Tailoring & Alterations
“At the end of the day, I have to prove myself because I am a woman — compared to a man who is automatically trusted even if they have no experience.” — Amy Wall, BuilderChicks
The big challenge for any small business owner is finding customers. For some women, especially in the home improvement, lawn care and professional services industries, gender can make it harder to win new clients. Self-employed women are five times more likely than men to have their expertise questioned — in all industries. But women in male-dominated industries are ten times more likely to be questioned.
Despite the challenges, the number of women-owned businesses has grown by 52% between 2002 and 2012, the last year of available data . And more women are entering male-dominated fields — faster than in female-dominated ones. And while that’s good news, research shows that pay often decreases when women work in male-dominated industries.
So it’s more important than ever to support female entrepreneurs — and we’re proud to help.
“It’s all about community over competition.” — Jessica Senouillet, Soulful Northwest
40% of the women we spoke to said they were able to turn to a network of other female business owners for help and advice. And 69% said it was personally important for them to support other women-owned businesses. But only 21% of the women said that local governments were doing enough to support their businesses. Their priorities included simpler tax rules and better training programs.
At the federal level, 84% wanted a government policy that made it easier for them to access benefits. Health insurance, paid time off, parental leave — things that an employer usually provides. And we want to help. That’s why we’ve partnered with Alia to start providing portable benefits to house cleaners.
We’re inspired by female pros.
“We need to set an example and help girls understand their self-worth. Otherwise, they won’t do what they really want to do. They’ll pick whatever’s normal or safe. There need to be pioneers out there beating the odds and showing other women’s what’s possible.” — Jessica Baldwin, JPaints Utah
Whether our female pros are in a male-dominated industry or not, they’re in charge of their own career paths and defy the gender pay gap. Although there are plenty of challenges left to face, we’re proud to provide a platform that helps women find happiness and satisfaction in their work — and be an inspiration to other women entrepreneurs.
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How did you decide to work together?
Ken: It was in the summer — this past July. I got this idea to offer a service where clients can get a massage and a healthy, gourmet meal — the full spa treatment — in their home. I just needed a masseuse. And it was like boom, why don’t I try Thumbtack? I’ve been with Thumbtack since 2010 or 2011. And that’s how I was able to track down Jessica.
Jessica: When I first got Ken’s email I thought — “Is this legitimate?” But once we talked… I have to say, I had never really considered pairing food with massage. It’s not something you generally think about. But I loved the idea he formed. Quite frankly, as a massage therapist, I’m kind of capped at what I can do and what I can earn. I’ve reached as many massages I can do in a week. Soulful Northwest gives me the potential to be more creative. It’s about creating an atmosphere and helping people to relax. It’s very different from what I do on a day-to-day basis, where most of my clients get a massage purely for medical purposes. Working with Ken gives me a chance to bring it to the next level.
How does it work?
Ken: Jessica offers different spa treatments, and I have different spa food, so people can mix and match the packages. It’s a body and soul retreat — and it all takes place at the client’s house. It saves me a lot of money, not having to pay rent on a commissary type of kitchen. I just prepare a few things and then when I get to the client’s home, I finish everything else. We’ve had one customer so far — it was an experiment where we got to practice and see how it would unfold. It was seamless. Now we’re ready to go.
What kind of customers are you looking for?
Jessica: Ken thought this would be a wonderful option as a wedding gift or anniversary gift. More and more people also aren’t going on honeymoons, so this could be a good way to celebrate your wedding without having to travel anywhere. Actually, we talked recently about getting networked with wedding professionals.
Ken: We went to a Thumbtack Seattle meetup a few weeks ago, it was great. There were these other professionals that would complement what we’re doing. Hairstylists, makeup artists, photographers — we could work together to enhance a wedding. And if we’ve set something up like this, I’m sure there’s other people out there who are creative and can think of ways to complement their services.
So you think other pros should collaborate more?
Jessica: Absolutely. Working with Ken has been great. It’s easy to flesh out ideas when you have someone else to bounce it off of. And we work well together. Ken’s a much more accomplished networker, and I’m good at the backend, nitty gritty, conceptual stuff. I built a website, looked at different ways we could organize our packages, thought about the flow of the experience once we’re in the client’s home, that kind of thing.
I hope our experience inspires others to reach out, to build a community and collaborate. I think some professionals are afraid to reach out to other pros, even if their services are complementary, because they’re worried that their clients will get taken away. But don’t see other pros as competition. Even if you’re in the same industry. Not every client is going to be a good fit for you anyway. It’s good for us to support each other. Come together and create opportunities, like Ken and I have. It’s all about community over competition.
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One minute it’s Black Friday and the next, you’re scrambling to beat the holiday shipping cut off. What’s a busy business owner like yourself to do? To help, we put together a list of our most popular services given as gifts during the holiday season.
For people who would rather do anything else.
Help your friend get the place spotless before his nieces and nephews come by. Or after they leave. Those kids are maniacs.
Your parents’ central heat broke last winter. They said they’d get around to fixing it before you visit. You know better.
For people who are really into Instagram.
Because your cousin’s labradoodle would look soo cute in a Santa outfit. He has over 30,000 followers, so, pressure’s on.
A useful gift for fellow entrepreneurs in the family (or yourself!). Professional photos to help their business profiles stand out.
For people who’d rather spend time with their guests.
Going out on New Years is pricey. Surprise your friend with a personal chef to cook dinner at home instead. Then crash the party, of course.
And speaking of parties, you could hire a Thumbtack bartender for your host. Her guests can’t get drunk on holiday spirit alone.
For people who actually like working out.
Personal training sessions
Help your spin-obsessed sister expand her workout horizons with some customized cross-training routines.
For literally anyone. Except maybe your grandpa. He doesn’t like to be touched.
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This past six months, we had events where pros met each other and us in the real world. Here were the best parts.
We had events across the country from Los Angeles and Seattle to Atlanta and Las Vegas.
500 pros attended. Here are just a few of them.
300 pros got new headshots.
200 pros got full profile consultations.
We hired 20 Thumbtack pros to staff these events. That includes caterers, bartenders, photographers, security guards, magicians, caricature artists and more.
And we blew up (and then popped) balloons. So many balloons. An unreal amount of balloons.
2018 was our first year hosting these events and supporting pros to host their own. 2019 will be even better.
Thank you to everyone who attended. We loved every second of meeting you. And hopefully we’ll see you again soon.
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Give gifts to special customers who don’t waste your time. If you have a regular customer who:
Doesn’t pay you on time;
Is difficult to work with;
Won’t write a review or send referrals your way,
Then don’t bother. Reward customers that:
You’ve known for a long time or give you regular work;
Send referrals and help your business grow;
You enjoy working with.
If you’re being paid a lot for a big, one-time project — a home remodel, for example — think about getting that client a gift too. Even if the client won’t have another project for you anytime soon, they could still refer people to you. A thoughtful gift helps you stay on their radar.
Consumable gifts don’t have to be boring. Food, wine and gift cards can be good gifts because they’re a safe bet. The danger is that they can seem like you didn’t put much thought into it. So make it personal. Pick a favorite snack that your client mentioned in passing. Or a gift card for their particular hobby. The gift should reflect their interests.
Be wary of booze. A nice bottle of wine seems obvious, but it can be tricky. First of all, it really depends on the recipient’s personal taste. Do they like red or white — do they even like wine at all? Also, your client might not even drink for health or religious reasons. So unless you know exactly what they like, tread with caution.
Always add a personal touch. If you’re gifting consumables, write a thoughtful message to accompany the gift. If you’d rather gift something a little more meaningful, consider personalizing it with their name. Again, think about their interests. If they like golf, get monogrammed golf balls. Or if they’re into cooking, an engraved cutting board.
But skip any swag branded with your own logo . Giving a gift is not about advertising. Most people already have coasters, fridge magnets, baseball caps, what have you, anyway. Make the gift about your client, not yourself, or it will seem insincere.
Don’t spend too much without good reason. The dollar amount will depend on how long you’ve known them and how much business they give you. Generally, the norm is $20-$50 per client — and you can deduct up to $25 per business gift per client. Be careful not to make it too high, or it will seem like a bribe. Besides, a smaller, heartfelt gift will win over a flashy, expensive one each time.
When in doubt, just send a card. A handwritten note is always appreciated. And it will remind your customers that you exist, which is ultimately what you want. But remember, “the holidays” means different things to different people. Some celebrate Christmas. Others, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Stick to “Happy holidays” in your messaging so you don’t alienate any of your customers.
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1. Do your research.
Setting prices can be nuanced work. It all depends on different factors, from cost of materials to market demand. If the prices in your area are a mystery to you, Thumbtack’s pricing data might be helpful. You can check out average local and national prices in your industry.
“You need to be priced competitively. Often clients have a number in mind, so knowing that number and what your competition will charge is important for picking a reasonable rate,” says Top Pro resume writer Tiffany Cruz .
2. Raise your prices as you build your business.
Are you just getting started? Or has your company been in the game for awhile? The stage of your business matters. Even if you provide amazing service, customers won’t pay premium prices for a pro that has no reviews or established reputation.
“In the beginning I figured that offering a high-quality service meant charging top rate prices. Of course, we didn’t have any jobs under our belt so that wasn’t going to happen. I brought the price down to a reasonable rate to get my name out there and business has been growing ever since,” says Jonathan Johnson , whose photo booth company has been hired 200+ times since opening its doors on Thumbtack.
If you’re still building your reviews, charge at a lower rate, like Jonathan. As your company grows, raise your prices. You may worry about losing customers when you begin charging more, but remember that new prices can open you up to a whole pool of potential clients who will pay more for quality service.
3. Be transparent from the start.
Talking about money can be awkward. But the sooner you discuss prices with your customer, the easier the conversation becomes. Top Pro house cleaner Paige Rounds schedules an “onboarding call” every time she hears from a customer. The 10-minute chat covers timing, products and price.
“We make sure [everything] is clear to the customer before we schedule an appointment. We don’t want to show up expecting one number only to discover they expect something totally different,” says Paige.
Another way to be transparent about prices is to get it down in writing: a pdf of an estimate or a standard service agreement. Or an email, at the very least. As long as it’s something that a customer can refer back to in case there’s any confusion over price.
What are your best pricing tips? Tell us in the comments.
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