Mixologists Rosa Lynley and Ian McCarthy have made winning business on Thumbtack as much of an artform as mixing the perfect gimlet. The duo behind Sharpshooter, a traveling bartending service that mixes up unique cocktails on a vintage steamer trunk, have applied their artistry in carefully-crafted spirits to the art of growing a business. Since starting with Thumbtack four years ago, they’ve gone from part-time to full-time and grown an enviable corporate roster from the ground up. We asked these Top Pros about drinks, quotes, reviews, and how Thumbtack helped make Sharpshooter a reality.
How did you decide to start Sharpshooter?
Ian: Rosa and I had been working in and out of restaurants for more or less our whole lives, and met while working together at a bar in the city. We both knew that we wanted to do something on our own, but it’s very expensive to start a restaurant or do anything creative like that without investors.
So we realized that we needed something that would be light on its feet. We wanted to make really good, interesting drinks, and we wanted to make them without compromising on materials.
How has Thumbtack helped your business grow?
Rosa: Until around a year ago, we both had day jobs and were working part-time other places. Now we’re doing this full-time and between 50 and 70 percent of our business comes to us from Thumbtack. And most of our clients, around 95 percent, are corporate.
Ian: We’re not doing one hundred or two hundred gigs on a small scale or time frame, so it’s worth it for us. For example, we’ve created a relationship with a big client that is now in the low-to-mid five figures. That initial quote cost us $12, and now that one client is going to pay for all of the credits that we ever spend.
We will send a lot of quotes and a very small number will turn into communications and an even smaller number will turn into jobs. But the quotes that do turn into jobs are big fish and they pay for the rest.
What other marketing tools do you use?
Ian: Early on we tried our own version of targeted marketing. We compiled a list of companies throughout the Bay Area that we thought might use us and we cold called them and sent emails to their info lines asking for office managers. Rosa sent out hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these emails — many bounced. That was three years ago. Around a month ago we got our first call from one of those companies, asking us to work an office party. After sending thousands of emails, that was as good as it was going to get for our targeted marketing. It was a crazy waste of time.
What would you suggest for other pros just getting started on Thumbtack?
Rosa: Don’t expect it to be everything all at once, it will build on itself. Having reviews is important, you need them, and better reviews matter. There are a lot of different ways to use it. Don’t assume the way you use Thumbtack is the same as it works for someone else, even someone else in your industry. It’s not one size fits all.
Ian: We like to think of it like one-click shopping. You would one-click shop for a blow dryer but not for a car. We’re more like a car. If you’re like that too then don’t hesitate to slow down and ask for numbers and talk, so that both you and your client know what you’re getting into.
What’s the secret to writing the perfect quote?
Ian: When we were charging as a flat rate fee we were getting no responses. A lot of users were looking just for the labor end — they come, make drinks, and clean up.
So we stopped quoting people and started always saying that we didn’t have enough info. We copy and paste a boilerplate response to each person who asks, with a link to our profile, saying that we need to learn more about them to quote the job. And people tend to see our profile and say “Oh my god, that’s awesome! That’s exactly what I’m looking for and I didn’t even know I was looking for it!”
The quote is the hook, it’s the pitch. We make sure they know that we’ve been doing what we do for a long time, it looks good, and it’s better than what you get in any other bars in the city. Also, point to being a Top Pro and make sure you have lots of good reviews to back it up.
Rosa: Yes. Generally we split time 50/50 between our phones and our laptops because quotes go super fast. We send roughly three quotes a day. But on Tuesdays — we call them “Thumbtack Tuesdays” — we’ll get three times as much traffic as any other day of the week. Sometimes our phones are non-stop.
Any tips or secrets when it comes to asking for reviews?
Ian: When customers are in the post-event glow and everything is over and they’re happy and rattling off compliments, that’s when you ask if they will write you a review. You can also send a reminder when you send the invoice as well.
Do you have a favorite Thumbtack story?
Ian: For one wedding, we were set up on a cliff overlooking an ocean in Marin. It was a gorgeous setting but we were worried — we try to be clear about needing a few major things for our events, one of them being a hard and level surface to work on. We got there the day of and the groom greeted us and brought us down a hill to our spot on the cliffside. Needless to say, the ground was soft and not particularly level. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t work but the groom assured us that his dad, a civil engineer, would help us make it work. Of course, he underestimated how busy his father would be. So we started working and things were going fine until suddenly, this huge breeze came through and knocked over our entire setup. We were scrambling to keep the drinks going for the line that had formed in front of us on this breezy hillside. It’s definitely one of our funnier stories.
[Photos via Sharpshooter]