Sarah Smith started her career in the corporate world. But after getting married and having children, her needs had changed. Instead of returning to her nine-to-five office job, Sarah — who has a design background — teamed up with her husband, a roofing expert, to start their own company. Today Omaha-based Rooforia Home Exteriors is doing more than a million dollars in sales each year, and has grown from a company of two to more than 25 employees.
What was it like starting your own business?
My husband worked in the roofing industry for other companies, so we didn’t have a strong customer base starting out. We were getting work here and there from people we knew, but about 90 percent of our business ended up coming to us from Thumbtack. That’s what helped us to grow so fast — when you do a good job, you get referrals and the people we met through Thumbtack were referring us to their friends and family.
How did Thumbtack help you get off the ground?
Thumbtack has been really flexible for our business and allows us to work toward our goals in a targeted away. When we get really busy we can put Thumbtack on pause or not respond to requests, and we’re not forced to keep throwing money at something that doesn’t make sense. Not all services are like that. We like the ability to control the leads we can handle so we are always providing the highest level of service to our customers.
Thumbtack really cares about their pros and supporting them in order to make a difference for small businesses that are trying to grow by doing the things they love.
What advice would you give someone just getting started with Thumbtack?
The number one thing is setting up your profile in a way that really reflects your personality, goals, and values as a small business. Reviews are also big. In the beginning when we didn’t have reviews, we were constantly responding but hearing nothing back. Eventually we realized that no matter how good the work we were doing was, people want to see that someone else has said you do a great job.
What are your best tips for building your review base?
Sometimes in the beginning you think, “We did such a good job and they liked us, so they’re definitely going to leave us a review.” Then you learn that’s not how things work. People are busy, so you have to be explicit about asking for reviews by saying: “Hey, reviews really help out my business. If you’re happy with the way we did our work, would you leave us one?” And ask customers to review you right away. If you catch them at the right time, they’ll usually write one.
What advice do you have for creating a great profile?
Post a link to your website on your profile because you can’t fit your whole portfolio on Thumbtack. Also include pictures of you and your team, so people can put a face to your name and the work that you’ve done. I know people like seeing things we’ve done for the community because it makes them feel like they’re picking a company that aligns with their values.
How can other pros become a Top Pro?
First and foremost, don’t be afraid to follow up and ask people for their business. A lot of times we win the job because we were the only ones who called when there was a number available or were the only ones who followed up.
The other thing: No matter what you do, whether it’s roofing or yoga or massage, be friendly and think of your business as sales. Being a salesperson means connecting with customers, showing them why they should choose you, and making sure they feel like they chose the right person.
If you had one tip to share with all pros what would it be?
Some professionals in our industry don’t want to take the smaller jobs that come through, but we take requests for a really wide range of things on Thumbtack — we have the mindset that no job is too small. For us, that includes repairs and maintenance. Sometimes requests come in for small repair jobs and when we aren’t really busy because of the cold weather, I say, “Let’s take this.”
Do you have any particularly memorable or rewarding jobs on Thumbtack?
We went to check out a repair for a historic 100-year-old home. The owners had a small leak and said they had called all over trying to have it checked out, but no one would follow up. We figured out where the leak was and fixed the problem on the spot. A couple of weeks later, we had a huge hail storm in Omaha, and lots of homes were damaged. That same couple had companies knocking on their door every five minutes, but we were the ones that they thought to call in the end. It’s crazy that a $38,000 roof replacement came from a small repair job that no one wanted to do.
You were interviewed by the “New York Times” about how you depend on H-2B visas, a federal program that gives temporary visas to guest workers. Can you tell us a little about that?
It’s really hard to find workers in our specific industry and part of that is due to the seasonal nature of the work. It’s difficult when you want to grow your business, but you can’t find people to help you do so. Most of our workers come through the H-2B visa program, which has allowed us to keep up with demand and maintain a reliable labor source. The most important things for us is hiring people who demonstrate they’re willing to work hard, be accountable, and do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.
Last year, a very important bill expired for the visa program, which significantly reduced the number of visas available leaving us without the necessary labor we needed. . When the New York Times article was published, it brought so much attention to the issues at hand that local representatives were reaching out to us asking how they could help. A short time later, there was a section in the omnibus bill that was passed to allow returning workers to come. So we got our workers last yearI feel like at a grassroots level, we were able to draw attention to the issue, and we wouldn’t have survived last year if we didn’t have those workers.
Can you tell us a little about the community work you’ve started up in Omaha?
We started a program called Raise the Roof last year. A percentage of all of our sales goes toward building roofs for families in need. When we first started doing it, we were like, “Hey we’re giving away free roofs. Do you know anyone or want to nominate someone who is going through a hard time?” and people were like, “What? Free roofs? No way!” No one believed us so we had a really hard time finding people.
That’s when we hooked up with a local nonprofit, Rebuilding Together Omaha, and they helped connect us with people who needed our service. It was an awesome experience for us. This year, the person we chose was the wife of a military veteran whose husband had just entered a retirement home. She wasn’t looking for a handout, but her roof was leaking. She had just retired from 30 years of teaching and was a really deserving person. It was awesome.