On this inspiring episode of the Sales Gravy podcast, Jeb Blount (Virtual Selling) talks to Brian Knox, owner and founder of B Knox Photography. This young entrepreneur leveraged Fanatical Prospecting to quickly ramp up his successful and fast-growing photography business that he started this year.
This conversation about sales and entrepreneurship is both educational and inspirational. Sales and the things that we do in sales matter, wherever we are in life. And we can all chase and achieve our dreams if we just make the decision to take action.
I was in corporate life from the time I graduated college in 2000, all the way up until 2020, and the last four jobs that I had in the corporate world were inside sales and customer service. Then between 2013 and 2015, I moved into more of a pure sales role where I was cold calling.
Our training was basically watching a guy do it for two days. Then they hand you a computer and a phone and you’re kind of on your own. There wasn’t a lot of sales training. That was when I first found your material, because I was honestly trying to ease the pain of, “How do I sit here for eight hours a day and drum up business?” I was averse to it.
Then, I moved into a sales coaching role with a local plumbing, air, and electric company where I was teaching their technicians some of the basics of sales psychology, and going out in the field, and helping them with their sales process.
After that, I was in development at Habitat for Humanity of Greenville, which was essentially a sales role. That’s where I put into practice what I had learned in those first few years, and what I was teaching the guys on the field, in order to bring in donations for Habitat for Humanity. I finally left that job to start the photography business full-time in February of this year.
Brian: What Photography Means to Me
I got my first digital camera in 2004 or 2005. My dad was into photography. He didn’t train me, but I was at least exposed to him having a camera. When I got my own digital camera, that kind of launched it for me. It was very simple to make art by just going out and clicking a shutter.
I did it as a hobby and on the side. I started picking up initial gigs, which were typically family. I chugged along making a little money for about ten years. But then I began to apply sales techniques to what was my side hustle, at that point. I started to get traction with that and then I went through six months of wrestling with the question, “Do I quit and go full time with this, or do I just kind of keep it as a side thing?”
I felt that it was more of a contribution to society and to the world to take my skill and talent and give that in the form of photography, as opposed to being in the sales trenches.
Jeb: On Entrepreneurial Journeys
I remember when I first started Sales Gravy 13 years ago, we were in the middle of the Great Recession and I had to make a pivot in my career. I decided that at that point in my life, I was either going to be an entrepreneur, or not.
I always wanted to run my own business. Because I was good at selling and great in the corporate world, there wasn’t a lot of incentive until I found myself on the street trying to figure out what I was going to do.
But for about three years, I was constantly terrified that I was going to fail. I would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Like, am I going to make it, am I going to have to crawl back and beg for a job?
What was it like when you first started? And are you still in that place of, “Do I let go of what I’m used to”?
Brian: If You Try, You Can’t Fail
It’s gone really well this year, but I definitely have those same concerns. I also remember waking up in the middle of the night and wrestling with things like, “Well, what if it rains that whole next day? Then I can’t do the outdoor construction shoot, so I don’t make any money.” Your brain just goes to all of these irrational places about why you’re going to fail.
Someone told me to remember that it’s reversible. If at some point it’s not going well, you can turn around and go back and get a day job or a W2 job. You also hear people say to burn the boats and don’t give yourself an opportunity to go back, then you’ll drive yourself to success. I was in that first group that was like, I’m going to go try this. I’ll regret it if I don’t.
And if all else fails, then I can go back and get a regular job. The stakes were higher because I had the Habitat job, which was the best job that I ever had. Those are the best people. It was the best mission. It was my favorite job. I felt like if I failed, I’d have to go back to something that just wasn’t as great.
But if you go out and try, I don’t see it as a failure. If you don’t have great success, and you do have to turn around, I think the credit still goes to the person in the arena, the person who goes out and tries their hand at their dream.
Jeb: Attracting Customers in A Competitive Industry
I think there’s a lot to be said about how your belief system and your attitude attract people and opportunities into your life. I believe that about prospecting as well.
I think the salespeople who are prospecting get lucky. It’s not always a direct, “I talked to this person, therefore I get”, but more like, “I talked to this person, they told somebody that links with somebody else, my phone rings.”And sometimes we don’t put all those dots together, but I do believe that’s true.
Photography is one of those professions where people have that dream and then they get into it and they don’t realize how insanely competitive it is. Everybody wants to be a photographer. Many people get into photography and very quickly exit because they find it hard to make a living.
I think this is important for salespeople as well. They’re out there thinking, “Man, my competitors, they got lower prices, they got this, they’re beating me up, blah, blah, blah.” You jumped into one of the most competitive industries in the world and tried to make a living in it. Talk to me about that.
Brian: People Buy You
I think people buy you. I really believe that. The marketplace is super crowded. There are a hundred other photographers that can come and take your real estate listing photos, your headshot photos, your company’s website photos, and do it well.
You really end up, especially as an entrepreneur, selling yourself, your vision, your passion, your process, how you go through homework before the shoot, your personality, and how you respond to texts and emails.
Jumping into a crowded marketplace is daunting, but in another way, it really lets you express yourself fully and be who you are. By being a little different, by being unique in some way, you can separate yourself from the competition.
I just started to sell myself. I shared my life and my photos on social media, and that started to attract what I’ve been able to build into a pipeline.
Jeb: Real World Applications — Clients in Real Estate
The more people you talk with, the more pictures you take, the more clients you have, the more opportunities that come in.
Let’s break down the real estate example. If you’re working with a couple of brokers and they’re listing houses, what they really want is they want to trust that you’re going to pick up the phone when they call. You’re going to go get the job done. You’re going to go get the photos that they want because you’ve taken time to understand them.
And then you’re going to get it up and running for them fast on Zillow so that they don’t have to think about it, so they can go focus on real estate. They could probably go take the pictures themselves, right? But they want to go knock on another door and get another listing.
Brian: Time is Money
Exactly. I’m not selling just a well-exposed bedroom photograph, I’m selling that real estate agent their time back. I was able to understand the value of sales. I started to see it in my own journey, my own life. The realtors are selling their butts off every day. They can have another meeting, another coffee, get another contract. That’s what’s paying their bills. Shooting photos is a very low-value activity for them.
That’s what I would put right in the copy I would send to real estate agents. I’m not saying my photos are tremendously better than anyone else’s, but you can trust me and rely on me to operate efficiently so that you can move on to a higher leverage activity, like getting the next lead into your pipeline.
Jeb: Problem Solvers Are The Champions of The World
Problem solvers are the champions of the world. Photographers, they’re pitching pictures, but you’re pitching what your pictures solve. It’s the service. It’s peace of mind. For example, if you’re taking pictures of a wedding or of someone’s family pictures, there’s a lot of emotion involved.
What I’ve found with those types of relationships is that it’s the photographer that sits down and creates the entire experience. It’s not just that they’re snapping photos, but they’re sitting down and talking with us and asking us, what do you want? And what’s important to you? What do you want to capture? What are you looking for? What are your family values?
And by listening to us and making us feel like we’re part of the process. Then there’s the artwork on the back end to make them look the way that you want them to look.
But it’s still the same thing. It’s not about the picture, it’s about the emotion that we feel while we’re working with that individual person. And it’s that emotion that causes us to tell other people. Your buyer’s emotional experience while they’re working with you is a more consistent predictor of outcome than any other variable. You said this, people buy you, right? But you have to talk to people.
As an entrepreneur, you have to be fanatical about prospecting. You have to be a nut job about building your business. Many entrepreneurs forget about the selling side as they’re building this ideal vision of what their business is going to be.
And in the meantime, they don’t make any money while they’re building their blog and putting together their business cards. How do you remain consistent in your business development practices while you’re running the rest of your business?
Brian: Always Show Your Work
I think a great tactical shortcut right here is to show your work. That’s how I started this job. I would go shoot. The photos I would shoot, I would edit them. I’d post them to Facebook. Shoot, edit, post to Facebook. Then I started to get traction: “Hey, can you come out and shoot the swim meet?” “Hey, can you come out and shoot me with my dog?” “Hey, our company needs new website photos.”
So it started to build a little bit organically. When I was showing my work, I wasn’t waiting to be discovered. It’s one of those big soapbox topics that’ll get me cranked up like an old van. You’re not going to get discovered.
No one’s going to discover you. You have to show your work. I think people will be better served by consistently putting their stuff out there instead of sitting back and thinking, “I’m excellent. I’m a killer photographer. Why aren’t companies finding me?”
They’re not going to find you. Sometimes you have to pursue, and you should pursue the ones that you want to work with because they will say yes, eventually.
Brian: Finding Balance As An Entrepreneur
It’s easy to start to reach overwhelm when you’re the sole proprietor and you’re doing the billing, marketing, shooting, and everything else. I’ve stayed pretty close to burnout much of this year, I can say. But I’m also very excited by the possibility of selling, and I very much believe in it.
I wrestle with the fact that I have a lot of business and this is great, but at the same time, I want to be selling more. I’ve just kind of wondered, how do I throttle between driving or pursuing the business that I want, but also delivering on the day-to-day?
I think part of the answer lies in curating the type of business that you’ve taken. I said yes to every job when I first started, and it’s just not the best technique. I realized that every yes that I’m telling a company is also saying no to another opportunity.
Jeb: Say Yes To The Right People
When I started Sales Gravy, I took anything because I had to build. Some of those yeses came back to haunt me because they were taking me away from other things. Some of them turned out to be the greatest yeses I ever said yes to, because they changed the organization.
I don’t think, as an entrepreneur, you have much of a choice. It’s really nice to idealistically say that all customers aren’t good customers, but when you’re trying to pay the light bill, any customer is a good customer. I think what happens over time is that there’s a curve.
As you grow and get more mature, you can be pickier with what you want. It’s no different for a salesperson. If you’ve got a full pipeline, you can be really picky about the deals that you’re going to work on so that you spend your time on the most lucrative deals with the highest probability of closing.
If you’ve got an empty pipeline, you’re going to take anybody that calls or says yes. You’re going to show up. You’re going to drive across town for eight hours, in order to go see a company for 20 minutes that may or may not do business with you, ever.
But when you’re full, you don’t have to. This is part of being an entrepreneur. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying yes when you get started. You just start teaching yourself what not to do through the mistakes that you make.
Jeb: The 30-Day Rule
We talk about the 30-day rule in Fanatical Prospecting. The prospecting you do in any given 30-day period has a tendency to pay off over the next 90 days. In other words, the work that you’re doing now to connect with people will start to pay off in the next 90 days.
Well, you take a week, two weeks, three weeks, or four weeks off, then suddenly you’re on the desperation rollercoaster. Too many entrepreneurs live in the feast or famine amusement park. It’s up and down, up and down, up and down. Salespeople do the same thing.
It’s an awful way to live because there’s so much anxiety, stress, and pressure. Then what do you do? You make really bad decisions. You start saying yes to everything again, and you don’t want to do that. It is key for entrepreneurs to schedule time every single day for business development. Clearly, there’s going to be some days where you can’t always do that. My advice is to never let a day go by that you don’t do something, even if it’s just five minutes.
You said something earlier about passion, and I love the way you explained it. The way I look at passion is that it’s awesome to be able to follow your passion. But it is way better to bring your passion with you wherever you go and with whatever you’re doing. You need that passion to help you do the hard things. Working on a project, serving your client, taking care of them — that’s the fun stuff. Calling a stranger, cold calling, reaching out, going to networking events, following up on things — that’s the hard stuff. As an entrepreneur, if you’re not willing to do the hard work, what you have is a hobby, rather than a business that you can grow.
Jeb: How to Scale Up The Right Way
My advice is that you’re going to reach some level of success where you have to start making some decisions about what type of business you’re going to be. Are you going to continue to be a sole proprietor business where you’re doing all the work, or are you going to scale? If you do scale, you have to bring on other photographers, because you’re a good salesperson.
You can cover sales for a while, but you can’t cover the work. So you have to go out and bring more business in and bring another photographer in. The more photographers you bring in, the more you can scale up.
They don’t have to go prospect, because there’s a lot of people out there whose ideal is to be a photographer, but they don’t want to hustle the way you’re willing to. As a result, you have the opportunity to build a much bigger business you can grow into.
Brian: Active Versus Passive Income
You’re right. I don’t know exactly what that looks like for me yet. I’m still kind of young in the business and just want to figure out how to design my life. I don’t want to create a soul-sucking job or a tremendous amount of stress.
But I do have to relieve that active income versus passive income gap somehow. It’s very active income right now, so I have to be on-site with a camera. But I am definitely looking at ways to try to change that percentage a little bit.
Jeb: It’s All About The Hustle and Making Connections
The good news is that you know how to sell. Find something that you like to do that you’re good at. Then understand that just because you’re good at it, just because you’re talented at it, that’s not enough.
It’s all about hustle and your ability to make connections, talk with people, build relationships, and build your business. If you get really good at that, if you can sell, then you can accomplish anything. And entrepreneurship is selling at its heart and soul.
If you have one last piece of advice for our listeners from what you’ve learned over the years, whether they’re salespeople or entrepreneurs, what would you leave us with?
Brian: Get Out There and Talk to People
I hear this a lot from entrepreneurs: “I don’t like to self-promote,” “I don’t want to sell myself,” “I don’t know how to do it,” et cetera. You can actually get around a lot of that by talking to people every day. It might take the form of texts, direct messages, phone calls, or emails.
You should be passionate about your work, and be good at it. As Jim Rohn says, even if you approach someone and ask, “Hey, you don’t want my service, do you?” Eventually, someone will say, “Maybe I do. Tell me about it.” When you infuse it with passion and you’re decent at it, people will want your service or product.
Get out there and talk to people. The more people you talk with, the more you’re going to sell.
About the author
Jeb Blount is one of the most sought-after and transformative speakers in the world…