September 2017 • 4S Design Studio

Our Digital Marketing Agency's initial review of Bark.com

I get a lot of email. We all get a lot of email. Running a digital marketing agency, I’m constantly bombarded with emails from freelancers, overseas SEO teams, App Builders, PPC, Social Media & other specialists and basically just every conceivable variation of the “You should partner with us” email you can think of. That’s of course on top of all of the immediately important messages from clients and colleagues. I’m sure you’re in the same boat.

Late this week, I found myself on Bark.com's mailing list. Bark.com? What the heck is Bark.com and why are they spamming my inbox?

bark.com review and screenshot

Bark.com? What the heck is Bark.com and why are they spamming my inbox?

Earlier this week, I received a couple of unsolicited emails from Bark.com saying that so-and-so in such-in-such city was looking for a web developer. Now we're pretty blessed to be out-of-our-minds busy right now, so I absolutely wasn’t chomping-at-the-bit for a new lead source, but I hadn’t heard of Bark.com and was intrigued enough that I opened the email to see who they were and what they were selling. I'm a sucker for a good email subject.

A Quick Overview of What Your Probably Already Know

The basic premise is that a potential client looking for a service gives some basic details about their particular job and Bark sends those details out to professionals in that field. They're a lead-gen outfit. Per their website, they reach out to professionals who are registered with Bark as well as professionals that are not. While the potential clients that Bark put in front of us were primarily web design and social media marketing projects, the platform appears to cover a wide range of services with everything from gardening to accounting.

If you found this post, we’re assuming you’ve gotten similar emails and are doing your own research. Like you probably, the first thing I did was run a couple Google searches to see if people are using this thing. The first results were from an accounting firm in the U.K. basically asking if anyone was getting clients from the Bark service. In other words, they definitely appear to be covering the gamut of services. We haven’t found any reviews from other web designers or developers outside of the “success stories” they’ve posted on their own site.

We haven’t found any reviews from other web designers or developers outside of the “success stories” they’ve posted on their own site.

The Revenue Stream - How Much Does Bark.com Cost?

In short, you setup a profile and then Bark starts emailing you leads anytime someone requests your particular service from their site. Next, Bark sells you (the designer, developer, gardener, etc) credits in order to reply to these clients and offer your services - Effectively you pay to bid on the project.

Credits range from $1.20 - $1.35/credit and the cost to reply to a particular “bid request” ranges from 10-25 credits from what we’ve seen so far. The cost to reply appears to directly correlate with the perceived value of that project with one-off graphic design projects starting around 10 credits and web design projects in the 20-25 credit range.

In other words, you pay somewhere between $12-35 to put yourself in front of someone who is in theory, looking for a service you provide. Their big call-to-action once you’ve signed up is to buy 200 credits at $240 (20% off) or $1.20/credit. With that, they’re offering a money back guarantee if you don’t close at least one client with those credits. With a 100%, "no questions asked" guarantee, this sounds reasonable up-front, though we did read a few comments from folks on other sites saying that the refund process hasn't gone smoothly for them.

Example of the emails we receive

Example of email from bark.com

Our Initial, Perhaps Cynical Thoughts on the Bark.com Platform

Our first reaction was, “Great… another Upwork” with a pay-to-play component. Maybe. The process that Bark uses to walk a buyer through the bid request is really simplified. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet. Using web design as an example, they basically ask the following (we've tested the system from the buyer-side):

  1. When do you want to get started?
  2. When do you want the project completed by?
  3. What type of site are you looking for (personal, business, non-profit, etc)?
  4. What’s the goal of the site (get found online, sell something, etc)?
  5. What’s the site built on now (WordPress, Drupal, Magento, etc)?
  6. Do you want to work with someone local or is nationwide okay?

Our gut reaction is that this super-simplification of the job spec process makes it very easy for a tire-kicker to simply fill in the fields in a minute or two because they happened upon Bark and figured, “Why not?”. And that’s fine, but I’m concerned that has the potential to muddy the waters as far as where this customer is in the buying process. Obviously Bark needs to find the balance between conversion rate and lead quality (and they may have), but our initial cynicism says that Bark is positioning these leads as someone ready to buy when in fact, a large percentage are going to be much closer to the awareness stage.

To be fair, when we tried submitting a buy-side bid request to test the process, they appear to have flagged our account since they were aware that we offer the same services we requested bids on. We simply received a pop-up and email saying that the need more information. The short of it is - They at least have some safeguards in place to improve lead quality, though we're not sure what would've happened had we logged out and cleared our browser first.

We’ll find out. Obviously spending $35 to get in front of someone who’s ready to buy is probably reasonable assuming you can get a decent conversion rate. On the other hand, if you're spending $35/lead to simply an email to someone who was simply kicking the tires and not ready to buy, that's clearly not going to provide a strong ROI. We’ll see what those conversion rates look like.

Obviously spending $35 to get in front of someone who’s ready to buy is probably reasonable assuming you can get a decent conversion rate

The onboarding process: Registering for an account on Bark.com as a service provider

Bark.com piqued our interest enough that we committed to testing it out, on one level to put some new potential clients in our funnel and perhaps more importantly, to see if this is something that could be useful for our clients. Let’s throw an intern on this thing.

The onboarding process for service providers isn’t nearly as quick as the onboarding process for those looking for a service. Like any site that’s going to represent your business, we spent some time on it - Roughly an hour for the initial setup, most of which was reworking written content from our website to fit the Bark platform and what we perceived to be the buyer. We uploaded some portfolio shots, added links to our website and various social platforms.

We spent a little time outlining our pricing in a way that we hope will help a potential client make an informed decision and hopefully weed out some of the folks that might be searching Craigslist next. In other words, we wanted to be competitive, but we weren’t going to jump into the low cost provider pool.

Next comes the check boxes for which services you provide. There are a lot of options here, some of which overlap from a practical standpoint, but likely made sense to separate out as they did. For example, if you were a graphic designer, they have graphic design as a top-level service and then logo design and business card design listed as services as well.

Even though our digital marketing agency does many of the services listed on a daily basis, we intentionally narrowed the services offered to those we thought we could most easily cut through the noise.

Switching on the faucet

The test begins Monday. We've got a couple of other small tweaks to make on our canned response emails to potential clients. We've just purchased the 200 pack of credits. We'll update this post at the end of the week with our thoughts.