Jen and Mark Winter’s love story is one for the books. Jen was working in hotel management when she hired Mark’s company to help her with a pretty big problem. “He was my pest control guy. We met over bed bugs.”
Not long after, they were cutting the cake at their wedding—a cake, Jen says, that was decorated with (icing) bed bugs.
Today, Jen and Mark Winters are joint owners of Bed Bug Solutions Cincinnati in Ohio, and have been voted the top bed bug exterminators in Cincinnati and Dayton multiple years in a row. A few months after launching their own business, the couple found Thumbtack, and today they have over 100 five-star reviews. Here is their advice for other small business owners (spoiler: step two is “Sign up with Thumbtack”).
How did you first learn about Thumbtack?
My husband worked in the pest control industry for years and was getting a lot of calls from people who knew he was good and wanted him to do work for them on the side. In 2014 we made the decision to quit our full-time jobs and start this business.
We didn’t have benefits, no paychecks coming in, and we put all of the money we had into starting this business. By the time our website was up and running, we had all of three pennies in the bank. We said, “Okay, one more week and if we don’t get any leads, then we’ll start applying for jobs.”
I found Thumbtack the next day. In less than 24 hours, we had our first job. Our first six months Thumbtack was our sole source of income, and the rest of the year sped by because of it.
Why did you want to start your own business?
Bed bugs are a huge problem in Cincinnati. We noticed that people were having a really rough time getting rid of them, but there were no companies focussing specifically on that need. Most pest control companies stay very broad, we decided to focus on what people needed most.
Mark did a lot of research before we started to figure out which products and procedures were best for bed bugs specifically. We are licensed for every pest out there, but we’ve decided to stick with what we know and what we do best—that’s why we have such a good reputation.
How have reviews played a role in building your business on Thumbtack?
We provide a Thumbtack review link in our invoices and ask every single customer to write one for us. We say, “We know that you’re busy, but we appreciate you as a customer and we’d appreciate it if you’d share feedback about our company with others.”
In the industry we’re in, it’s very hard to get someone to leave a review for you because they’re worried their friends and family will see they have bedbugs. But on Thumbtack it’s more anonymous. I feel like the more honest reviews you have online, the more people trust you as a company. Especially as we’ve grown, reviews are everything.
What do you wish you had known when you first started on Thumbtack?
When we first started, we didn’t put a photo of ourselves on our profile and used our company logo instead. Since we changed it, our business has improved tremendously. I think people trust you more when they can see who they’re dealing with.
What advice do you have for creating a great Thumbtack profile?
The more information you can have on there, the better. So, we went through the background check, made sure our licensing number was on there, and included as much information about our services as possible.
How integral has Thumbtack been to your business’s success?
We looked into so many other marketing avenues when we started, but none of them worked. One hundred percent of our advertising dollars go to Thumbtack now. We like that we can see real time leads from customers in need of our service. We like that we can pick and choose who we work with. And we like the fact that people can see a lot of information about our business to get a feel for who we are before they contact us.
We talk to people all of the time who are thinking about starting their own business and we tell them, “Step one: Make a website. Step two: Sign up on Thumbtack. End of story.”
Any plans for growing your business further?
We’re slowly expanding. When we started it was just the two of us, and now we have a total of five people on staff, including us. That said, it’s a balance. We’re afraid of growing too big too fast because we always want to be able to provide the same quality of service.
How would you explain Thumbtack’s impact another small business owner?
Honestly, I think that if we hadn’t found Thumbtack we would still be working for other people. It was the best thing we could have done and our business has doubled every year since we first signed up.
When you work for someone else, you have to do as they do, and not every company is focused on taking care of their customers. A lot of people are driven by the financial aspect, but money isn’t everything. That’s been the biggest thing for us: making sure we’re doing quality work that people will say good things about. The work will come if we do it right.
Do you mind sharing one of your most rewarding Thumbtack jobs?
We got hired once by a woman who was at her wits’ end with her elderly mother’s living situation. Her mother was a hoarder, and had been living with bed bugs for almost a decade. They were literally crawling up the walls. We weren’t sure where to start, but we knew we had to help. It took us five days and seven people, but we completely decluttered her house, got rid of her bed bugs, and reorganized her life.
That was three years ago now and both women feel like they’re part of our family. The mother will call us up out of the blue just to let us know how she’s doing and we visit at least once a year to follow-up. That was a bad situation that turned into a really positive one. She’s kept her home put together, she’s no longer collecting things, and she’s healthy. That’s the biggest thing we could have hoped to give her.