For a brief time in the late ‘70s Mary Kay Mitchell was a waitress — a really bad one. She was fired fast. But there was something she wasn’t really bad at — illustrations and signage. The restaurant realized it too and hired her back to design their menus. That’s how Mary Kay became a designer, working with the likes of The San Francisco Chronicle and The Examiner, designing their event invitations, and eventually planning their events. Turns out, she wasn’t bad at event planning either.
When the economic recession hit in 2008, things got tough for Mary Kay. “I had to figure out a way to make ends meet in one of the most expensive areas in the country in the heart of the downturn.” She planned a party for a friend when things were slow, and that led to another party — and another. Today she plans them for a living.
Here’s Mary Kay’s story and advice for building a successful career (whether it’s your first or fifteenth) using Thumbtack.
What’s the most critical element to succeeding on Thumbtack as a Top Pro?
You have to pay attention to what customers say they want. You have to be ready to do the outreach. You have to respond quickly and be friendly. All people want is to have someone hear them. That’s it. I let them talk. I say send me all of your ideas, send me your Pinterest page, show me everything. They talk to me and I understand what they want so I can bring it to life.
The other thing is clarity. I’m very open with customers from the beginning — nothing is hidden or confused. I tell them how my process works and write a memorandum of understanding with all my prices and services laid out clearly, and asking them to pay a 50 percent deposit upfront.
“In addition to crowns and calligraphy I make succulent centerpieces in wooden boxes. I plant them three to six months before the weddings and keep them safe in my backyard watering them daily so they look lush and full on the Big Day,” says Mary Kay.
What are your best tips for getting Thumbtack reviews?
I pick and choose who I ask for reviews. I had a difficult wedding and I didn’t ask them to review me. It didn’t feel like it was going to be good and you never want to put yourself in that position.
What advice would you give an event planner using Thumbtack for the first time?
Thumbtack appeals to a lot of budget shoppers and smart consumers. And that’s not a bad thing for a wedding coordinator! The “do-it-yourselfers” who use Thumbtack are generally really creative and they know value when they see it. So if you’re looking to really work with someone and you like the challenge of getting crafty, Thumbtack is your perfect conduit.
Mary uses her years doing professional calligraphy to craft gorgeous table cards and invitations.
How important is your Thumbtack profile and how do you create a good one?
Your profile really matters. It’s your chance to tell customers about your services, how everything works, what your pricing is like and why. It’s a lot to say — but don’t use too many words! I am big on bullet points because it’s easier to skim. And make your profile about your customer, not you. Some people write, “I’ve done this and I’ve done that,” but no one cares. They want to know what you can do for them.
How did you decide which photos to include in your profile?
Show all the pretty things — the decorated room, the flower arrangements, the guests having a great time. You don’t need to showcase yourself. As an event planner, it’s not about you. They’re hiring me, but they’re putting themselves in the pictures I’m showing them. They want to know, “Do I look like I fit in with the kind of event she does?” A lot of that also depends on current trends — I refresh my pictures a lot.
Do any events stick out from your time as a wedding coordinator?
This sweet young couple—she’s Korean and he’s Chinese—had a huge multicultural merge of a wedding. They were both coming up from Los Angeles, so she gave me her list, he gave me his, and I did everything remotely.
On the wedding day, I met the bride’s father, a general in the South Korean army. He had his hands behind his back and was kind of “reviewing the troops.” He came over to me and asked me some pertinent question about logistics, and then gave me a nod.
There was a dynamic where one of the aunties was sulking. I could tell she was sulking, so I went to the mother of the bride and said, “This woman seems unhappy. What can I do?” The mother of the bride explained that the auntie was unhappy because she didn’t get a corsage. So I called the florist. I said, “Please, please please, make a corsage really quick and get it over here. I’ll pay you in cash.” Within 25 minutes, there was a corsage for the sulking aunt. She was so thrilled and thankful that I got my second nod of the day from the bride’s father.
Just a tiny little thing. It was really amazing.
What are some of the zaniest things about being a wedding coordinator?
I had three weddings with doughnut pyramids last year. They ordered glazed donuts in the morning and wanted them impaled on dowels in a triangular formation. I remember one of the brides I coordinated for wanted a doughnut pyramid but ordered all kind of different doughnuts by accident. I was impaling donuts with raspberry filling… it looked like a murder scene.
I like the natural rustic stuff. I like things outdoors. I like picnic benches. I love barn weddings; they’re so much better than hotels because hotels have a stale environment. Basically, if you see it on Pinterest, I’ll be doing it in two weeks.
Is there anything Thumbtack has helped you do that you wouldn’t have otherwise?
With Thumbtack, my clientele is more diverse than it’s ever been. The way I started, with my friends, it’s going to be the same type of people I always deal with — people in my circle. I would never have been asked to plan a gorgeous Hindu wedding if I hadn’t ventured outside. I never would have been able to experience that without Thumbtack. It’s fabulous.