Corwin Cowart of Corwin’s Personal Chef and Catering Services in Orlando, Florida is living a better life thanks to Thumbtack. He went from working full-time while hustling to start his part-time catering company after hours, to working fewer than 40 hours a week and earning more than he ever has. Here the Top Pro talks about getting work life balance, how to generate business when you’re new to the site, and how to grow from a part-time chef to employer of six in just over two years.
You’ve been on Thumbtack 2 years. How have you grown so fast?
Before Thumbtack, I was a chef in other people’s restaurants. A buddy told me about Thumbtack—he was a chef and getting lots of bids. I still had a full-time job but decided to check it out. I realized, “Wow. This is real,” and created an account and started bidding. At the beginning I was spending $200 – $300 a month on quotes, generating business. In less than a year I turned my part-time catering job into a full-time business. Now I’ve gotten so busy I have staff and don’t need to bid so much.
What opportunities have you had a result of Thumbtack?
I make more money than I ever have and I work less than I ever have. Now I finally get to vacation. I work fewer than 40 hours a week—concentrated into about 15 days a month—mostly working wedding weekends. Now I can take my wife on vacations. Thumbtack actually gave me a life.
Where did you start when you created your Thumbtack account? How did you make your profile?
I looked at other people’s profiles to see what looked good. I took advice from the Thumbtack emails with tips on how to build a great profile. What I heard was, “Get pics and get reviews.” So that’s what I did. I chose my photo as my logo because when I was in culinary school, I had business cards and I heard, “If this photo was your logo, I’d hire you.” Now that photo is on my Thumbtack profile, it’s on the side of my van, it’s on the side of my building—it’s on everything.
You have over 50 five star reviews now. How did you bring in your first reviews?
I imported the first few reviews. I called some of my old customers and asked them to go on and review me based on previous jobs. I would say, “My business is really about word of mouth, so if you could write a good review for me I would really appreciate it.”
At the beginning, I would also offer a free champagne toast to catering clients as an incentive for providing a review. If they decided to hire me after our tasting I would say, “I’m trying to build my reviews, so I’ll offer you a free champagne toast as part of the package if you write me a review after the wedding is done.” People were responsive and my reviews started to build.
Now I don’t offer that incentive because I don’t need to. Now that people see all our reviews they’re more anxious to write reviews. We don’t really have to request them anymore.
You advertise as a wedding caterer, corporate caterer, and personal chef—how did you setup your profile preferences?
I set up my preferences to reflect what I do. Then I go in and bid and it’s all based on availability. From there, I can select the type of jobs I want. In the beginning, I started offering personal chef services when I wasn’t doing as many weddings to subsidize my income. But now I’m booking so many weddings that the personal chef piece is secondary. We plan far in advance for our weddings. I’m an organized person and we book out based on our calendar.
I use the exact same spiel each time. People don’t want to read a whole lot. I let them know who we are and that we’ve been a featured Top Pro for two years. I let them know we take pride in our business. No more than 10 sentences. I say, “We’d like to schedule a call with you,” basically just piquing their interest. I tell all my sales people, “You get them in front of me and I’ll close the deal.” I close the deal by letting them know I’ll treat their event like my own. I have two full-time salespeople and an additional part-time person during wedding season. We hope to go bigger each year. In my kitchen crew I have four chefs that work for me. They might have other jobs, too, but they cater with me.
Do you follow up after sending quotes?
When I first started I was following up with each quote, I was bugging them. But now that we have business, we only follow up depending on the event and the size of that event. In general, if they want us they’ll get back to us. But if it’s a big, huge event, we’re following up. In the beginning I followed up on everything. Now, no response means we move on to the next.
How do you calculate your ROI?
I don’t track ROI, it’s money I’m going to spend. If I buy $60 worth of credits and I book one event, it pays for it. When we started, we were sourcing more than 80 percent of our work through Thumbtack, booking 2 – 3 jobs a week. It pays for itself.
What tips do you have for newcomers to Thumbtack or other chefs?
Consistency is what people look for. Social media is taking over the world. The first thing clients do is look at what we serve them and compare it to what we’ve posted online. If it’s different you’ll get constructive criticism. You want to deliver that top quality each time. I tell my clients, “Once you hire us it’s no longer your event, it’s our event.” We really care.
I say, put your pride into it and have fun doing it. You have to enjoy what you do, because when you love what you’re doing it comes easy.
[Photos by MMS via Corwin Cowart]