Dear Thumbtack, you’ve been a major national player in service-sector networking, including the field I love, professional photography. I appreciate the jobs I accessed through you in the past. But the door on that past, I’m sorry to have to say, is closed.
When I first launched my photography business in a new city, I discovered your service and took the risk that many other small business owners do: I bid on your crowd-sourced marketing.
I was surprised when you were penalized by Google in 2015, especially because just a year earlier, Google Capital had organized a $100 million investment in your business. Google did continue working with you, and with somewhat similar concerns, so did I. I hadn't yet figured out the best marketing strategy for my commercial photography business and barely even knew what "PPC advertising" or "SEO" meant. So, I continued working with Thumbtack and bid my way into a number of jobs. I built new portfolios and found several great clients, plus a few others. (That’s business, of course.)
Then, I realized that the Thumbtack widget you had me place on my website not only was giving you the upper hand in my search rankings, it was also potentially redirecting my own website traffic to yours. This didn’t seem quite right. SEO (and marketing generally) is always competitive, but isn’t always this aggressive. Directly co-opting business leads is cutthroat.
I cut back on my Thumbtack focus, but kept bidding with you. Discovering new avenues of networking and marketing, my need for your service tapered off.
Then, in 2018, you rolled out Instant Match. "You no longer pay for bids," Thumbtack promoted to us professionals. Prior to the announcement, I had participated in a phone survey in which the new system was introduced: bids are sent out automatically from professionals, and nobody pays unless they win the gig. This system seemed reasonable. Little did we professionals know that you would change the maximum number of bidders on a job from five to fifteen.
"The requestors have said they love having options," you effused. What about us professionals — you know, your source of revenue? How can we efficiently compete for jobs and avoid untenable price cuts when you’ve tripled our competition overnight? Clearly, Thumbtack’s interest had shifted solely to dramatically increasing its own odds of profitability.
All of this was frustrating enough, but through the angry backlash from us professionals, you dug your heels in and marched forward with your new Instant Match platform. Over the following months, I submitted just two bids. One of them amounted to a great event photography gig, but the other was a dead end lead at too high of a cost to justify.
Recently, I signed into the app to see what sort of leads were coming through. I was taken aback to notice that on top of all the new changes, the project budgets weren't showing on any requests. The already huge risk of bidding on projects had become a blind gamble, and I can’t see why anyone would want to take part in this Instant Match system any longer.
If I wanted to place poor-percentage bets, I'd go to Las Vegas. There, at least they make losing your hard-earned money seem like fun.
I mean no disrespect to the hardworking people at Thumbtack, who are surely trying to run a viable business as best they feel they can. If any photographers or a representative of Thumbtack would like to comment on my analysis here, I’d welcome that and try to have a dialogue with you. If Thumbtack can give me a good reason (and a good platform) to return to, I'd even consider that.
Lead image by John-Mark Smith via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.