In the old days, most small business owners frequented Craigslist to peddle their services. In their services section, you could find just about any talent you needed, from writers to SEO services, to web designers, to teachers and salesmen selling a variety of goods.
I’m guilty of having done this too. I and plenty of unnamed small business owners only had Craigslist as a free online portal to market our services and get new clients. It worked…sometimes. Fact is, very few reliable paying clients went there to source talent. But small business owners still managed to profit from Craigslist in another way. We went there to answer the ads of top businesses looking to contract outside talent. And this also worked…sometimes.
The frustration we have with Craigslist is that the site doesn’t weed out junk posters from genuine, valuable posters. As a result, you can spend a good 8 hour day every week posting and replying to ads or queries. That’s a full eight hours of marketing that you’re not compensated for, nor is there any sort of guarantee that your efforts won’t be in vain.
Better Marketing Options
So imagine my surprise when I get a random email one Friday evening from a site called Thumbtack, letting me know that someone in my area is in need of my services. Virtual to your door service …how can you beat that? I checked out Thumbtack, which boasts LinkedIn style features, responded to the ad and took an extra five minutes to set up my own profile. Within a week I was requested to bid on two other local projects. I had the satisfaction of knowing that: a) I didn’t spend eight hours finding leads; b) the leads I did contact were serious; and c) I now have my own profile on there so others can come to me in the future instead of hunting them down myself.
Thumbtack was inspired by a team of eleven back in 2008. After one year of back and forth conference calls, they embarked upon Thumbtack. Their venture stemmed from the question, “Why can you go online for a product, but not for a service?”
The site works by consumers first telling Thumbtack what they need. Thumbtack then gets bids from service professionals via either phone or email, depending on your preference – and finally the consumer selects the bid that suits them best. The only thing Thumbtack is missing is a blog that helps guide consumers on best practices – such as why you shouldn’t default with the cheapest bid, how to calculate reviews both online and on the professionals site, and more. This way, top professionals listing their services aren’t turned off to the point that they stop responding to bids.
Current go-to sites for services, aside from Craigslist, include Yelp, Google Places and Angie’s List. However, the former too don’t offer the customization we need, and Angie’s List is more for reviews and blue collar services catering to home improvement needs.
A bit of digging did reveal some leading competitors that aren’t quite as popular as Yelp, Google Places, Craigslist and Angie’s List simply because they’re new to the scene. But like Thumbtack, these portals have identified a gap and have strived to meet marketing and sales needs.
Ones to Watch
There’s Red Beacon, also a young company that like Thumbtack delivers competitive bids/leads to your inbox. Thumbtack, however, has a larger pool of professionals, greater traffic (over 150K per month) and a higher page view count (over 300K per month). From a marketing perspective, I’d rather spend my time with a company that has a greater pool of potential clients. However, more people doesn’t equal more business. It again comes down to using both systems and seeing which type of clients are frequenting which portal.
There’s Merchant Circle, another young company that’s set up a list for local services. Merchant Circle is more flexible and will appeal to all businesses since it’s not just a listing site for services, but also for any local business. Merchant Circle claims to be the “largest online network of local business owners, combining social networking features with customizable web listings that allow local merchants to attract new customers.” My marketing concern is that with over 1.6 million local listings, how can one business stand out from another?
The site allows local business to get more customers by uploading pictures, writing blogs, publicizing their events, creating coupons and newsletters. So, the more activity you have on there, the more visibility you gain.
This marketing professional has now officially ditched Craigslist and is reaping the benefits of all three, Thumbtack, Merchant Circle and Red Beacon. My advice is to get on board with all of them and see which one best suits you over a three month period.