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Start and Grow Your Photography Business

Lesson 24 of 27

How to Develop a Sustainable Business

Kevin Kubota

Start and Grow Your Photography Business

Kevin Kubota

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Lesson Info

24. How to Develop a Sustainable Business

Lesson Info

How to Develop a Sustainable Business

This is really an amazing kind of phenomenon and it was very hard for me to start to learn to do this because when I had an unhappy customer it was hard for because of my ego being sensitive to ask them how did I screw up? You know, tell me how and why I screwed up and that was hard. So I had to learn to do it, but I also learned to let my wife ask them for me. (laughs) Somebody else ask it sometimes too because it was really hard for me to hear it, but then I've come to a point now where I'm trying to separate my ego from reality of what things are. It doesn't mean they hate me. I just didn't do something absolutely perfect. I've also discovered, and my wife will come up here and stand on her soapbox about how she loves problem customers, and with our company, she's sort of like the top level manager in our company. We have other stuff going on, we have a customer service. But when we have a problem that the customer service person can't solve, it gets elevated to Claire and she deals...

with it and she loves that because it's inevitable that our customer service people will tell Claire, I have this problem with this customer, I've explained it over and over and we've gone over this and I just cannot make them happy, I don't know what else to do. Right? So she'll take that, call them on the phone, it's always a phone call. Face to, well not quite face-to-face but voice-to-voice. Very important, email doesn't always cut it when you're dealing with problems. Pick up the phone and she says that people, you know, somebody they could be swearing at my customer service people in their email, but as soon as she gets on the phone with them they're like oh hi, yes (laughs) I'm a little bit unhappy with something, it didn't come in time or whatever and she'll turn it around. She will always turn it around to where they are like thanking her, thanking her and so a lot of times she doesn't do anything different than what our customer service people did, she just listens to them, she hears them, she acknowledges them, she explains again what we can do, what we can't do and that we're doing our best and just hears them out. And that makes them feel 10 times better. She turns them around and she literally has like a score board that she says I turned this frown upside down, you know boom. And yes, and she loves that, she really gets a kick out of that. She loves to make people happy and she loves to feel like she can solve a problem that nobody could, just by being a good listener to their problem. I was sitting in a boot-shaped hot tub once, with a man. (laughs) It was Craig Strong from Lens Babies actually, and we, were not touching each other. Maybe our toes were touching, I'm not really sure but the point being that we were having this discussion and he says I love problem customers, I'm like what. We were talking about customer service, and he says, I love problem customers and I said, what are you talking about you love, why? Well cause it, a problem is an opportunity for me to improve, pure and simple. How do I know what to improve if I don't have problems with my customers? If they're not telling me about a problem, then I don't know what to do to improve my business. So here's my opportunity. So I was like dang I hate it that you're so amazing. So I went home and I told my whole staff, okay we're not gonna use the word problem anymore with our customers, we're gonna call them opportunities and we forbid the word problem customer from ever showing up. And we created a sheet by every customer service person's desk, opportunity sheet, that when they had an issue with a customer, a problem per se, they would write it down on the opportunity sheet. Here's what we had, here's how we're gonna improve it. Or here's what we think we can do to improve it. And we collect those and review those and run that through our business meetings all the time. Okay, they're opportunities, yeah. So you're essentially validating whatever it is they're struggling with, their feelings, they understand that you hear them. Yes, yes, absolutely. And isn't that so true? You guys, I mean I know you guys realize this, just have somebody listen to you and I understand your problem. I've been to marriage counseling and the therapist says ... The first thing you do is you sit from each other and you repeat back what they told you. Have you heard that before? It's like, you know, you never listen to me when I have a problem, so then you'll say back to me, I hear you saying that I never listen to you when we have a problem. And by just saying that you're like, okay, she heard me, she got it. Same with customers, you know, it sounds like a game, but you're almost repeating. So Sally, you're not Sally, but you're gonna pretend to be Sally, I understand that you're upset that your album didn't get to you in time and I can see how that would make you upset because you were hoping to show it at this big party this weekend with all your girlfriends and, you know, that was an exciting thing to share. And if I was in your shoes, I'd be pretty bent up about that too. Because I promised it to you by this weekend. Is that how you're feeling? Is that kind of the gist of the problem? Sally says sure, okay. And don't you feel much better now Sally? I do. (laughs) See, she feels so much better. Look at that, I'm magic. Alright, but you guys know what I'm talking about. This is true, this is absolutely true, I'm not making this up, I didn't create this, we all know this. Let somebody know you've heard them and problems kind of melt away. Nothing is unsolvable, that's the cool thing, nothing is unsolvable if you are willing and you can hear, okay. You also need to go looking for trouble. Surveys, emails, call your customers, asking them what could I do better? How can I improve? You know what's a funny phenomenon? We've done this a few times with our software company, we would send out a survey to people, all of our current customers, you know we have thousands of customers, we'd send them an email, hey we'd just love to hear from you, how can we be better, how can we improve? And we'd get a lot of great responses back, but do you know what else we got? Orders? Orders, we got sales. And I was like, what, how is this happening? I'd look at my sales would spike right after I send out one of these surveys. Because it has several effects. One, it reminds people who are already happy, that we're there, right, we talked about out of sight, out of mind. So people are like, oh, that's right, I've been meaning to order this software, I forgot, I'm gonna order it now, speaking of Kubota, here they are, okay. Number two, it's saying you care. We do care. And they're like, gosh, that's kind of cool that they care, that they want to improve, maybe I'll go take a look at their product. So it had this unexpected side effect that was kind of nice, you know. And we got this great feedback to then incorporate into what we did with our business. So, ask for the questions. If you ever have bad reviews, if possible, follow up on them. You guys ever shop on Amazon? And you see the reviews. And some of the reviews, the vendor will actually reply to the review and say, I'm very sorry, please call me directly. And then the people, almost always, will post back later, gosh, I was really impressed by their service, now I'm a converted customer, they handled it great. You know, you turn it around. The key thing with that is never follow up because you want to argue with the customer or fight them on anything. It's always because you're right, tell me how I can fix this. Okay? Yeah? This might be going back a little bit, but if you have unhappy bride and groom because their book didn't come in on time, do you then follow up with offering them like a free print or something to make them feel better? I know you validate and talk to them, talk about it, but then would you feel compelled to offer them something for free? That's my problem. Yeah, that's a, we have done that, but it's not normal. Normally my intention is just to call and make sure they're heard, make sure they know that we're sorry, that we're doing our best to get it fixed. A lot of times I'll offer to hand deliver it to their home as soon as it comes in, so they don't even have to drive to pick it up. If they're still not happy, I mean, you could do that, but I kind of feel like that doesn't really make somebody happy all of a sudden. If it's a really big screw up, I think it would be a nice gesture, to give them something. I wouldn't give them a discount, but I would say, here's a nice little present, thank you card with a gift certificate for one of your products or maybe just straight out, here's a dinner gift certificate. So I'm certainly not opposed to that. I think any kind of gifts are always good, but do you feel obligated to do that? Not always. Yeah? How do you counter a bad review on Yelp? (laughs) Don't go online. (audience laughs) Yeah, you can't really counter a bad review, like on Yelp, for example, where you don't have a chance to really contact the customer. Some places you can get in touch with the customer or you can post a follow up to that review. I haven't tried to post anything on Yelp because I've never used that for my business. So I'm trying to remember now on Yelp, can you actually post anything following a review, I don't know. You may be able to, so if you can, you can post something ... And absolutely, this is really critical, don't ever defend, bash, whatever, when you post anything online, because that will bite you in the ... You post I'm so sorry this couldn't be handled, please contact me directly, let me see if I can solve this for you, okay. You don't want to ever argue it, you don't ever want to say, you know, you really don't understand what you're talking about, this is not how it is. You know, you see people do that and you're like, you're just sinking your ship dude, what are you doing? Alright, yeah? Earlier in the year, we had some newborn clients and a little at the end of the sessions, I'll say hey if you don't mind, give us a few, take a few minutes on our Facebook page or on our website to give us a review, we'd love to hear from you. A lot of them didn't do that. Is there a guideline to say hey, you still have time, would you mind giving us a review? Or when does it sound like begging, you know what I mean? (audience laughs) Please, please, please give me a review. And we have to accept that sometimes they just get busy too. Yeah, not everybody is gonna be able to do it. It's kind of one of those things where you, the shotgun approach, you shoot it out there all the time, and if you're not doing it at all, you're getting nothing. So if you get 2% of those people actually give you a review, that's gonna work over time. I think it's okay to send out a reminder, maybe once. After that, you know, just kind of, just be done. It'll be a little more proactive up front, by talking about how reviews are really helpful and we really appreciate those reviews. Maybe have a contest, like we talked about earlier, so that if people post reviews, there might be something in it for them. Which would encourage them to get out there and do that. Shabang. So in a nutshell. More things to stick up on your computer monitor or on the mirror at home, of course. What makes you unfreakingbelievable? You're honest. Goes without saying, but, unfortunately it's not always true. Some people are kind of sheisters, but we know that. You're gonna be honest and think honest all the time. You're gonna suggest things to buy, based on listening. So we kind of talked about in our sales session here. She was great, but maybe could've listened a little first, to what he actually needs, before offering something. And that's really important because people want to feel like they're not being just offered what's best for you, they want to think that you're offering what's best for them. And that only happens if you actually listen to them first, right, okay. So you under-promise, over-deliver, you've heard that. And deliver on-time. So if you think you're album is gonna take four weeks, tell them it's gonna take six and deliver it in four and they'll be stoked. You communicate progress, or the lack thereof. So even if it's bad news, you let them know, you own it. Own your bad news, just like you would the good news. With just as much enthusiasm as you call your album is ready, come get it. Your album is delayed I'm very, very sorry, we're gonna make it work, tell me if this is a problem, we'll see what we can do. Surprises, you give customers surprises. What's unexpected? Thank you cards are awesome, you gotta do them. But how can you take it a step beyond the thank you card? Gift card. Gift card, that's nice. Even a, like I said, a $5 coffee shop gift card. Now this is even better, if you actually had a conversation with them and you can plan this in your meetings, to have a conversation where you can find out something about where they love to go to shop and you be strategic about this conversation. And then you follow up that meeting with a gift card or something related to that, that's like a home run. Because you listened, you did something personal. I can't imagine, unless you just really suck as a photographer, that they're not gonna wanna work with you. You know, so plan that into your approach, that I'm gonna somehow drive into my conversation to find out something personal about them, that I can follow up with later on, and blow their mind. Surprises. Okay, you keep in touch. We talked about that. And you're grateful. Gratitude is one of the most powerful things on our planet, gratitude, you know. Whether we express it in thank you notes or just in words or a big hug or the clients ... Actually that reminds me of another great story. My son, oh I love him, he was a little, tiny guy like this big and we had our home attached to our office. A separate door, it was this nice little meeting area. The kids, they had to stay there and one of us would be responsible for guarding the kids while the other one would meet with the clients. You guys are familiar with this situation? So, Claire was talking and I was guarding Nikko and she was meeting with the family for a wedding and they came in, mom, dad, you know, bride and groom, everybody was in there. And they were in the meeting room and I could hear them. And I started doing something else. Well Nikko snuck by me, sneaks in and as the family is saying goodbye, they're saying oh we love your stuff, we gotta think about it, the package. And they're all walking out the door and saying goodbye and Nikko comes sneaking through, goes through the doors, goes into the meeting room, buck naked, of course, right. And this is Nikko too and he runs up and goes to everybody, hugs, hugs, hugs. He goes to everybody there in the family, hugs, totally naked guy. And I'm just like, oh my God, so then I ran in there like, sorry, I'm so sorry and Claire's like, oh, here's the photographer, nice to meet you. It was so embarrassing, but the funniest thing was, and they all laughed, like oh my God, he's so sweet. They walk out the door and they're sitting in the car and the car is parked there and the car is not going anywhere. Then we get a call from the cell phone, we'll book. (laughs) He closed it for ya. He closed it, he totally closed the deal for me, it was awesome. But it was that love, that gratitude, you know. Don't be afraid. And of course I paid him for doing that later on, right, many, many times over. I thought about actually incorporating that into my sales field from that point on. When I say go, you run in naked and hug everybody. (audience laughs) I don't care, you want a car, you do this. Get naked, run in there and hug. But yes, gratitude, gratitude in any shape and form is powerful, it's powerful. Okay. And you never want to stop growing. So to wrap up this particular section here. There's something called LFR, learn, fix, repeat. Wraps back into what we talked about earlier, but everything we talked about, everything you're gonna do, you're gonna have failures. You're gonna screw up, things are not gonna work and you're gonna say hm, why is isn't it working? And the most important thing is, you just keep tweaking it, keep trying something different and do it again the next day slightly different, until you get it right. Because you will, you're gonna get it right, okay. If you have to completely reinvent yourself and I've talked about stories of that, people in my workshops who've abandoned everything they had, their complete identity package, everything they had, their style of shooting, everything they changed it, dropped it and started all over again and then become successful when they realize the first thing didn't work. But you have to have the guts to do that, if that's what it takes to do. I think one of the biggest problems, and I've had this myself, I read it in a book somewhere, I can't remember what the book was, but it kind of pointed this out. Is we have this weird aversion to stopping doing something because we've already invested so much in it. When, in fact, it makes no sense if you think about it, right. Like I've invested so much into this old car, putting money into it, I'm gonna just keep using this old crappy car because I put all this money into it. When, in fact, there's no point in that. You might as well just cut your losses and start fresh and stop putting money into it and start with something you don't have to. Or a business that's failing or not working, well I put so much into this business, I need to keep going and I need to keep sinking more money into it, you know. When you know in your heart it's not working, cut your losses, change, start again. And that's really hard, because I've been in that situation a lot of times, where I'm hanging onto something, only because I've invested so much time and money into it. When I know this is not really what I need to be doing. I need to change, but I don't want to because I don't want to lose that investment I've put into it. But really, it's not an investment because it's not returning anything, it's just sucking the life out of me. So don't be afraid to start fresh, cut your losses, when you feel like you really need to do it. Alright.

Class Description

It’s important to plant the seeds to grow your photography business the right way. Whether you are transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional, or have already launched your new business and don’t know what to do next, Kevin Kubota will show you the key and essential steps to getting your business growing in the right direction. You’ll learn who you are as a photographer and how to position, brand, and market yourself to the perfect clientele. 

Kevin will show you:
  • How best to brand yourself to attract clientele that hire you for you 
  • Pricing and packaging strategies to maximize your sales 
  • How to perfect your sales techniques without being pushy 
It’s time to start or build up a photography business that will allow you to be creative and make money at the same time. Kevin will help you achieve that goal.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Branding Statement

Contract Do's & Dont's

Evaluate your Business

Keyword Exercise

Points of Contact

Sample Portrait Session Contract

Startup Checklist

Photography Pricing Calculator

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Lauren Scott

Super great class. I've been in business full-time for 5 years, and I'm just now starting to get my "act together" I have spent so much time shooting, it has taken away from the business aspect and actually identifying myself as a brand, this was a good way to get the basics, learn, lots of good info. NOT boring at all, he is super funny and super personable, not pretentious and speaks to you in a way thats easy to understand... sometimes I feel like entrepreneurs come off a bit "nose-in-the-air" with all these terms myself as a creative cannot understand... but not with Kevin, down to earth funny guy! I also emailed him with a few questions and he was so kind to email be back right away! Thanks Kevin and thanks creative live! Bring him back!

KIS Photography

This was an amazing class to be a part of! I knew it would be good, from watching Kevin Kubota's previous Creative Live classes, and this course far exceeded my expectations! Kevin is a fantastic teacher, giving sound advice, presented clearly, with a down to earth, caring & humorous touch! I've watched it over on the replay, picking up on more things each time. This class will help me to get my photography business off on the right start, and I am looking forward to implementing all of his fantastic advice! Thank you Kevin & Creative Live!