For Jessica Miller, working behind a desk was never an option. As Jessica Rae Productions, the Des Moines based stylist wears many creative hats, including running a successful home staging business on Thumbtack. Jessica credits Thumbtack with getting her name out there and growing her business with a niche market of savvy homeowners. We caught up with Jessica to discuss what it takes to be a Top Pro and how Thumbtack has helped her create a career that is exciting, artistic, and—despite the odds—financially viable.
How did you become a stylist and stager?
I went to college in Chicago to study fashion design and business, and when I came back to Des Moines I took on freelance work designing sets and costumes. A lot of my clients were local lifestyle magazines in the beginning, which really helped me build out my portfolio. Then a friend of mine who is a local realtor asked if I would help stage homes that weren’t selling. Once you’re in with one realtor, you’re in. Other realtors and developers started reaching out and my business built out from there.
How did you get started with Thumbtack?
I started on Thumbtack a year ago during my slow season. The home market generally takes a pause in the winter—selling a home during the holiday season can be pretty hard, especially in Des Moines because of the cold. So I started taking on home styling jobs that were easier to do, and I started working directly with homeowners, rather than realtors.
I had used Thumbtack to do some painting work in my house before, and when I started taking on more of these styling and interior design jobs I decided to sign up as a pro. I realized it was something I could really see myself doing and I wanted to find more business.
How has Thumbtack helped your business grow?
Thumbtack has helped get my name out there. Working with real estate agents, you get a lot of word of mouth. But a lot of the time, the leads you get aren’t reliable.
There is a whole untapped market of homeowners that I probably wouldn’t have found without Thumbtack. Not all realtors recommend staging homes, and a lot of individuals will find stagers because they know it will make them competitive in the market.
Around 20 percent of my business comes from Thumbtack. Home staging isn’t a huge market for individual homeowners—staging is such a niche-y business—but that’s 20 percent more business than I would have had without Thumbtack. Every time I send a quote people see my website and my portfolio.
What do you suggest for other professsionals just getting started on Thumbtack?
Really focus on your profile and your website if you have one. As a user, seeing people’s work, especially before and after pictures, is so important.
Reviews is another big one. And getting reviews isn’t always easy. You really have to ask for them—people won’t just do it. It’s hard to get yourself to ask but you have to. It will absolutely put you above the others.
And stay true to your worth. As a beginner you will have regrets, taking jobs that aren’t quite right, but you’ll find the right balance as you go. As I’ve gotten successful my prices have gone up, in large part to manage the volume of work I get. You have to stay strong to your convictions. Be confident that you’re worth it and reassure yourself that prices do go up—and that it’s ok.
But that’s also one of the great things about Thumbtack—when you’re busy and you have a new lead, you don’t feel like it’s being pushed on you. And that’s a great benefit because you can’t do it all if you want to do the job right.
You mentioned reviews before. Any tips when it comes to reviews?
If people write nice notes about my work via email or on my facebook page I’ll put it on my website, and I ask them to leave reviews on Thumbtack as well. I’m always trying to figure out where those reviews will do the most work. People will often say yes to writing a review and then forget to follow-up. The hard part is always going back and reminding them—I’m working on that too!
Do you use the Thumbtack mobile app?
I operate on the go, so I use the mobile app all the time. As a small business owner, I don’t have office hours and I’m not in front of a computer all the time. That’s why the app is great. If I’m waiting for an appointment or between meetings I can check jobs and send quotes.
Do you use any other marketing tools?
I leave business cards at every home I stage, hoping that other buyers or realtors will see it and keep my work in mind. I also use social media. We’re lucky in this generation to have powerful platforms like Instagram and Thumbtack—they play such a huge role.
Instagram is my main social media focus, because what I do is so visual. I‘ve been able to build a base of followers by using certain tags: over 2,800. When I think about marketing, I go where it’s easiest and where it makes the most sense for my business.
What is the secret to crafting the perfect quote?
I think a quote should be a good, warm introduction and a link to your portfolio. I generally include before and after photos in my quotes so that people can see what a difference staging can really make. After the initial quote, a lot goes into explaining how the process will actually work—and it’s different for everyone.
In the end, a good quote draws people in. Once they’re interested I give my phone number so we can discuss what that process will look like and what I’ll need to bring.
What’s the key to being a Top Pro on Thumbtack?
Being a Top Pro means understanding what you can handle and doing those things right every time. Making sure that the clients you’re lucky enough to work for are happy. It’s so interesting to see how one job can turn into another and how certain relationships will last you for a long time. That speaks volumes as a professional—when you’re hired more than once and for more than one thing.
Do you have a favorite Thumbtack story?
I have so many stories. This job can be so rewarding. You are with people in their home during this incredibly stressful time as they’re getting ready to sell their home. And you get to help them get through it and do as well as they can by making their house as appealing as it can be. Sometimes those same clients will ask you back to decorate their new home, which is so flattering.
This last summer, the housing market in Des Moines was crazy. I staged 35 homes and all but two of them sold—and quickly. Buyers were overbidding to make sure they got the home they wanted. It was really fun to see people getting more than they would ever have expected for their homes. Statistics show that by staging a home, buyers can earn as much as 17 percent more. Joining them in that process is great.
Is there anything that Thumbtack has helped you be the first to do?
Yes, absolutely. I’m the first in my family to be a small business owner. My dad is an accountant and my mom is a nurse—they’ve been at the same jobs their whole lives and it can be hard for them to understand.
When I started college, my dad was nervous about my degree in fashion, so I double majored in business as a fallback. But I was clear: I told him that I was never going to work in a cubicle. And there were definitely sketchy, scary times. It’s not always easy to make money as a self-employed person. But I’ve always worked really hard, and these last few years I’ve been so lucky to have a financially viable career that I created on my own. It’s a cliche, but I faked it until I made something really great. And in the last two years my dad finally said, yes, this is going to work. The struggle was worth it.
[Photos via Jessica Rae Productions]