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Replacing Word-of-Mouth

Evolution of organic advertising leads to mobile supremacy

Twenty years ago, people found service providers through friends, neighbors or the community board at a local business. Those days are long gone, replaced by social media and search engines.

In the last decade, Facebook and Google became kings of the internet, and while they still hold sway over most of the digital empire, it’s a vast world and new contenders are constantly fighting for a seat at the table. Thumbtack and Nextdoor are two platforms gaining prominence, especially among service contractors.

Thumbtack

Finding quality actionable leads can be a challenge. Enter Thumbtack, a lead-generation platform where customers come to you instead of the other way around. This platform works by attracting consumers who need a particular service, then giving contractors an opportunity to buy those leads directly. By limiting the number of contractors who can bid for those jobs, it ensures that all jobs found through the app have promise.

“A lot of guys are in a race for the bottom, trying to just undercut everybody, but I still try to charge a good, fair amount,” says Will Taylor, owner of Biggest Little Pools in Pinellas County, Florida. “Doing good work and asking for reviews when you’re done is going to help. I’m finding success with that.”

Taylor has found, in nearly five years of using Thumbtack, that if someone takes a low-ball bid, they’ll get what they paid for, and appreciate your honest valuation next time around.

As with any technology, mobile apps are constantly altered and upgraded. It means that getting the best use out of the app requires keeping up with changes, but also that the capacity to get jobs through the app is ever-increasing.

“In the beginning, it was simple: You would get notified of a lead, and you would bid. [Something like] the first five people who contacted would have the opportunity to bid, and then no more,” Taylor says. “Since then it’s changed, they’re constantly upgrading their program. There are more options now.”

Among the changes: Taylor believes up to 10 people can bid on a lead and targeted marketing is available. The paid search feature allows you to set parameters and designate X-amount of money toward it. When paying by search, services are broken down into categories, and you can set an amount available per category. Funds are automatically withdrawn, so be careful.

“If you’re budget-conscious, just set your budget appropriately,” says Heather Linton, owner of Swim Carefree in Carrollton, Texas. “If you don’t, it can get out of hand fast.”

Linton has been using the Thumbtack and Nextdoor apps for several years, and says Thumbtack has been one of her top lead sources.

“I don’t have a budget with mine, because I know my ROI on Thumbtack is really good,” Linton says. “It’s my second- or third-best lead source.”

Taylor recommends personal interaction after a Thumbtack lead has been generated. “[Pool pros should] try and set up interviews, and not sell themselves over the internet,” he says. “You can also set up pre-formatted messages, or you can write your message new every single time, depends on what you want to do. Personally, I just always try to get the customer’s contact information and set up a time to go meet them face-to-face. It’s better. You can sell yourself and explain why you’re charging higher amounts.”

Nextdoor

By contrast, Nextdoor offers a network solution for those not inclined to buy customer leads. The tradeoff is greater time investment.

“On Thumbtack, it’s money; on Nextdoor, there’s no money, you don’t pay for these leads,” Linton says. “It’s just your neighbors referring you to other neighbors.”

Nextdoor is essentially a social media platform with a focus on hyperlocality. Basically, when you create an account, you only connect with those in your zip code. That niche market connectivity makes it a potential goldmine for service providers.

“You can definitely get visibility in an area near you, very quickly,” says Eric Honeyman, owner of Honeyman Pools in Wichita, Kansas. Honeyman has been using the Nextdoor app for about two years.

Honeyman does recommend caution in vetting leads. “Anytime you’re looking at social media, or signing customers through an open market like that, you don’t have as much control over the clients,” he says. “It’s harder to select a demographic.”

There are opportunities for paid ads, but it’s not a requirement, and putting money into this type of app may not be the best approach. The best way to use this app, Honeyman says, is not to sell your service but to build a reputation as the helpful local expert.

“Just stay active on it, don’t try to sell them every time you post,” Honeyman says. “Some people are just asking for advice, and when you give it, everybody in your neighborhood sees that you just offered that advice for free.”

Honeyman estimates a 3% return for his company on Nextdoor posts, all without spending a dime.

“To me, Nextdoor has taken the place of the cork-board at the hardware store,” Honeyman says. “You’ve seen [someone] standing there, picking business cards off — to me that’s what Nextdoor is.”

New landscape, same customers

It can be intimidating to take the first step into a new technology, but don’t be discouraged — the core rules of marketing still apply: provide value to prospective customers and the rest will follow.

“People start to see your name there more than just forcing a product down their throat,” Honeyman says. “To be really effective is to almost look like you’re not trying to sell something. That’s kind of the key to making any of the digital platforms work.”

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