In less than six months, makeup artist Marisa Warren moved to Austin and built her beauty company Velvet Beauty from a fledgling business into a full-blown enterprise. She relied on artistic collaborations, Thumbtack and good old elbow grease to kickstart her company, and two years later business is better than ever. Marisa employs five assistant makeup artists for busy events, and has scored a number of celebrity clientele. Learn how she closes deals, gets reviews (100+ five-star reviews!) and keeps jobs coming even during the slow season.
How did you find Thumbtack and start your own business?
In 2015, one week before I left San Francisco for Austin, a colleague told me she was starting her own business. I was so curious how she could do that in the tough SF beauty market, and she told me about Thumbtack. I thought she was so bold. I joined Thumbtack in San Francisco to test the waters and went full force when I moved. In Austin, I met a bunch of photographers and was able to build up my portfolio. I offered discounts in my first six months to build business. Within six months of me going all out, I was established.
You’ve received over 100 five star reviews since you started in 2015, what’s your secret?
I made sure from the first minute that I was with each of my clients that they had a good experience. Brides are going through so much after the wedding—they’re on a honeymoon, moving into a new house, they’re busy. So if they don’t submit a review on their own, I send a link to their email, with a message from the heart that I personalize based on my time with them. It might say something like, “I hope everything was great, you deserve the best, you were stunning, I loved meeting your family. Would you mind really quick adding your experience as a review?” Every little bit counts in this crazy business. I don’t remind people more than two times, I just let it go after that because it means they’re too busy.
How did you choose what to include in your Thumbtack profile?
I put my story on my profile. It’s the story of how my business has grown. I talk about how my aesthetic is more natural, I like enhancing natural features as opposed to heavy makeup. It targets the Austin brides.
I constantly change the photos on my profile. I get new photos all the time and I only use professional photos. I try to keep a good variety: model shoots, different ages, different skin colors. I show my range. Clients tell me that other makeup artists are using photos from their phones on their profiles. They like that I use professional photos.
What has been your learning curve on setting the right profile preferences?
It’s changed quite a bit. I want to focus mainly on makeup (as opposed to both hair and makeup which is an option in my field), and have set my preferences for that. Most of the filtering occurs in what requests I respond to, though.
The first thing I look at on a request is the date to see if I’m available. As I have gotten more established, I’m more picky about who I quote. I want to work with clients who have high expectations. I am much more likely to quote a wedding or special occasion over a birthday party. For me, those are often the more serious clients. I also like airbrushing and tattoo covering.
When you find the right clients, how do you hook them with your quote?
In 2015, I was new to Austin and just starting to work for myself, so I offered discounts to build my business and reputation. I would write something like, “Hey I just moved here, so I’m discounting my rates for the first couple months.” I would also let them know my experience so they knew I was qualified. Now I have other team members to help me, so I can also offer a hair stylist if people want a full package.
I’ve always included my story in my quotes, because people love to form a connection. I explain my work background in San Francisco with Dior makeup. Even if it’s a sentence or two, people connect to the things they recognize. They say, “Hey, I used to live in SF,” or “I have cousin there,” or “I love Dior products.”
Now I also explain that since my services are in higher demand I have assistants who might be on the job, too. I explain the services we offer and the standard prices. Then I say, “I have openings next week for consultations.” I don’t give too much detail on pricing. I’ve learned not to overwhelm them with costs and fees. Basically my quotes include my story, how we’ve grown, and the prices for basic services.
I also have different templates that I tweak to each situation that have a range of pricing.
You’ve grown enough that you need assistants, how does that work?
I hire girls who are just starting their careers. Once they have been trained, I bring them on as assistants for an hourly fee and pay them as contractors. Right now I have a pool of five assistants. They get experience and I get help I need when I have a ten-person bridal party that all need makeup at the same time. No one girl will do a whole face, though. I have my hands in every part of the makeup. I find women who specialize in lips, or eyes, and that’s what they focus on. It’s a teamwork thing.
How do you stay busy even when it’s slow season?
I have learned to be flexible with my prices. I’m successful because I want to be busy, so I cater to the flexibility of their budget. During the wedding season, I’m stricter about my costs, but I’ve learned that on a Monday in off-season, I can be flexible. That’s the great thing about Thumbtack—I’m able to talk directly to the customer and find something that works for both of us.
How do you close clients when there’s back and forth?]
In my industry, we’re always going to meet up and do a trial session first. If they don’t want a trial and want to commit, I send them a contract to set it in stone. In general though, everyone is excited to do a trial. I offer competitive rates on a makeup trial and I have a studio. Once they come into my studio and I ease their minds about all the questions they have it’s usually a done deal. For me it’s about getting that personal connection.
How many of your clientele is from Thumbtack?
In 2015, 50 to 75 percent of my customers came through Thumbtack. Since 2015 I have really grown. I have many bride referrals, so new jobs may not come directly from the site, but they’re a result of Thumbtack. I honestly don’t track my ROI, but I know Thumbtack is worth it to me.
You’ve worked with a celebrity as a result of Thumbtack? Tell us more!
I was hired for a business conference to work onsite at the Austin Convention Center for three days. I as set up in a fancy green room to touch up presenters, hosts, and big internet people who were presenting. Turns out the special guest was Matthew McConaughey. I’m glad I didn’t know until the morning of, otherwise I would have been nervous. His wife came too, and she’s gorgeous. We were together in the green room for 45 minutes. At first he didn’t want any touchups, but after a while I convinced him to let me even out his skin a bit. I’m so glad I did, now I have him on my client list. He went on and killed it onstage and I was so happy. I wouldn’t have worked with him were it not for Thumbtack.
Is there a Thumbtack job that’s special to you?
Thumbtack connects me to people I would have never met otherwise. People that deserve to feel beautiful. I usually don’t do prom makeup, but I was reached out out to by a young woman who was going to be the first generation college student in her family. She got into Duke and wants to be heart surgeon because her dad had a heart transplant when she was little and she had spent a lot of time in hospital. Her father was no longer alive, but it was so touching. I try to get to know people’s stories. I really appreciate all the amazing women I have met in Austin and stay in touch with.