Friday, October 5, 2012

Thumbtack referrals

I don't often talk about the business side of tutoring, mostly because I fear I'm not very good at the business side.

  • I don't like self-promotion. In order to get new clients, I have to advertise, which means writing good stuff about myself. I find that very difficult.
  • Sometimes I don't like when I have a lot of business, because it cuts in on my "me time" and I have a hard time giving up my free time, even in exchange for money. This happens even though I do absolutely LOVE the one-on-one interaction with students and helping people.
  • Related to the first point, I sometimes feel like I'm asking for too much money. I know I'm not; I've only increased my prices as my qualifications and experiences have increased and that's appropriate. But sometimes, I'm not a good negotiator. I need to be strong about sticking to my prices, and I find that difficult.
When I first started tutoring, I had no idea what I was doing. I just put an ad up on craigslist and responded to every person who emailed me. I remember getting so frustrated that I put in my ad things like, "I'm sorry, but I do NOT work with elementary school children. Only Pre-Algebra and above." I would get three emails from parents of 7-10-year-olds. Seriously. How much more clear could I be? I realized that people didn't really READ the ads. It was frustrating to spend time trying to tweak the ad to be enticing, and realize that no one actually read it.

I was lucky, though, because after the first few students, I had referrals from them for more students that were friends or relatives of the first clients. Some of them had younger siblings. So, for a few years nearly all my clients were referrals from previous clients. That was wonderful! No advertising, and the new ones were already inclined to hire me because of their friends! Woot!

But now those clients are getting older and aging out of needing my help. I need new clients.

The craigslist ad wasn't working as well anymore. I think that's partly because my rate is now higher than a lot of other tutors on craigslist and partly because I don't write good ad copy.

Enter Thumbtack.

I honestly don't remember when I first signed up for this service, but I do remember that when I signed up, it was a very bare bones website. I also was turned off at first because you have to pay to receive contact information about the leads or for a subscription.

I promptly forgot all about it.

Suddenly, a few months ago, I started getting emails for leads from the site.

At first, I ignored them, but recently, I got several in a row and decided to check it out. The website is much more sophisticated now, and easy to navigate.

I paid for 2 leads. One was $2.99 and the other was $5.99. No, I'm not sure how the price was determined, but I figured even if I only got one session from one client it would make up for it. And one of them did turn into a client that I will be seeing for the foreseeable future.

When I got three more leads on the same day, I decided to pay the $19.99 for unlimited leads for at least one month. Again, only one session with one client would make up the cost. I have started with one more client who will be on-going, as well.

So, I'm expanding my client base for very little cost. I can cancel any time; there's no obligation to continue for a year or something. I may even cancel before the second month's charge goes through, as my schedule is filling up rapidly.

Thumbtack is good for all kinds of local small businesses: writers, personal trainers, public speakers, tutors/teachers, cleaners, etc. If you're a small business owner and think this might work for you, click here to sign up. I get "referral points" if you sign up through the link, but no money. The more "points" you have, the better ranking your post gets. I also ended up spending $7 for a background check to improve my ranking.

How do you increase your business?


  1. Local businesses only? Not virtual businesses?

    Yes, I could go check out the website . . . oh, fine, I'm doing that. :-)

  2. Yes, virtual businesses, too. But it's more for service providers than for sellers. You have to "bid" for the job and the client chooses you (or not).

  3. Jennifer, (aka, Jeffiner, in A school)

    Please drop me a line at


  4. This is a great article and very interesting. I think tutoring services can be very beneficial but I did not know this about the business side of it. We decided to hire a math tutor for my son and it was a great help. I thought Bay Area Tutors was great because they helped him feel comfortable while learning.