Tennis pro Fred Sperber left a successful coaching career in New York to be near his 109 year old mother in San Francisco. After fruitless job searching, he realized he’d have to be self-employed. Through Thumbtack he started USPTA Certified Tennis Instructor in Emeryville, California and is now thriving as independent business owner. Learn how Fred built his business foundation in a new city, how he got his first 20 referrals, and how he raised his fees over time to reflect his value.
How did you use Thumbtack to transition from coast to coast?
It was hard to leave New York, but my mother, who lives here, turned 109 this year, my identical twin brother, a San Francisco restaurant owner, has been here since 1963, and my brother has been in Berkeley since 1962. I wanted to be near family. I came here without a job and without income. I assumed I would get a job working at an indoor tennis club, but that didn’t happen. I had so much success in New York teaching in the classroom and on court that I didn’t think I’d have a hard time finding a job, but I did. Then I heard about Thumbtack. I wrote my profile and before long I got busy. It’s been two and half years now and I can’t complain. It’s been good. I should take the president of Thumbtack out to lunch to say thanks.
How long did it take to start getting clients?
After a month I was teaching seven to eight hours a week from Thumbtack. It’s built from there and I’m in a great place now. Now I teach 25 hours a week, around 18 of those hours are from Thumbtack.
What have you learned about pricing?
Initially I was underpricing myself to build my business. I was so anxious to start working here that I was charging $45 an hour. As my business grew, I slowly raised my rates. As I got more quotes I would reply with $50, then $55, and now to my current rate of $60. I could charge up to $70 per hour, but at $60 an hour I can make a happy income.
Once you started getting clients, how did you get your first reviews?
At the beginning, I was proactive and I would ask my students to help me get leverage. I set goals for myself. I said to myself, “Let me get 10 reviews.” Then I said, “Let me get 20.” Now I’ve stopped asking clients. I have 43 five-star reviews and one 4.5 star review.
I wouldn’t ask for a review if I didn’t think the student was comfortable and happy in our relationship. With some lessons, I just knew they were happy and enjoying the lesson.
At the end of the lesson, if we had a positive connection I would ask, “Would you mind giving me a review? It would really help me.” I might also say, “I would appreciate you writing a review for me if you’re happy with the lesson.”
Only one woman gave me a four and a half star review, so I asked her how I could improve. She said it was because she didn’t want to travel to me for the lesson. It wasn’t even about my coaching. But it’s important to know if someone isn’t happy. If someone takes one lesson from you and then stops, ask yourself why.
What did you consider when making your profile?
I put a lot of me into it. I talked about my experience as a teacher and how I can help different groups of people. I showed how diverse the age range is of my students. I included photos of high school teams I’ve coached, photos of me teaching adults, photos of me teaching a four year old student. My profile is a reflection of my personality and how much I like teaching. I also go into detail about my instructor experience.
How do you create your own schedule with the quotes you answer?
I am selective about what quotes I answer based on time of day and geographic location. I visit my mom every day in San Francisco—she and my dad were married for 75 years, but he passed away at 100. I made my schedule so that I drive over and teach early in San Francisco, visit her, then drive back across the Bay Bridge to Emeryville before the evening. I teach in Emeryville and the East Bay at night so I don’t have to mess with traffic. With Thumbtack I tailor my schedule to my needs.
As for ROI for my quotes, If I put in 10 quotes and I get one or two jobs out of ten, that’s incredibly successful. It’s very inexpensive for me to send a quote, so that gives me great return on investment.
Do you have templates for different tennis teaching jobs?
I do use the templates. I have created templates for common requests like a beginner lesson, tennis weekdays, weekend mornings, semi-private lessons. Then I can tweak them for more specific requests. My basic instinct is to write individual quotes, so if people send a more personal request, I’ll personalize.
In each template I include that I’m a Top Pro for 2015, 2016 and 2017. I include my length of time here. I let them know I’m looking to accommodate their schedule. A prospective student doesn’t need to know about my schedule, they need to know that I am open to accommodating their schedule.
Do you follow up after you send a quote?
I don’t because I have a lot of business. But following up works for a business if you need to secure leads or grow.
Any advice for other tennis instructors?
Don’t undervalue your skills. At the same time, don’t charge $90 an hour, you’ll price yourself out of the market. There are a lot of tennis pros out there, so be patient and build your business and its foundation.
Learn to read your students and have reasonable expectations. Don’t try to win or teach them that you’re better than them, teach them the game, be humble, be kind, and be sensitive. If someone is athletic, I can push them a little harder, but if someone is not as athletic, teach to that and don’t force them to be someone they’re not. You want to push them but don’t make them hate the lesson, that’s my philosophy. They have to enjoy it and trust you.
Know what you offer. I’m a teacher, I love to teach about the game. I don’t want to just hit balls with someone, so if that’s what they’re looking for in a request, I don’t respond. I respond to students who I can help. Be clear on what you offer and you and the student will be happy.
I love teaching. I didn’t think I’d be self-employed, but I’m putting myself out there and selling myself which I never had to do before per se, but Thumbtack has helped me to do it in a subtle way.