Real Estate Agent Podcast Episode 62: Ross Kimbarovsky
Don’t sell somebody the moment you meet them, help them. When you help them, it’s going to be easier to sell them because you’ve done something good for them.
About This Episode
After years working as an intellectual property attorney, Ross ran into some problems designing his firm’s new website. Finding the whole process far more complicated and frustrating than it needed to be, his entrepreneurial mind saw an opportunity. He ended up founding Crowdspring, a marketplace of over 220,000 design and branding freelancers from all around the world.
Links to resources mentioned in this episode:
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JON: Hello and welcome to Shop Talk: The Real Estate Show. I’m Jon Forisha, and joining me on this episode is Ross Kimbarovsky, founder of Crowdspring, a community of freelance design and branding specialists who can help differentiate your business.
JON: Ross, thank you for joining me.
ROSS: Happy to be here, Jon.
JON: So could you first go into your background a little bit?
ROSS: Sure. I I graduated from law school in 95 and practiced law for 13 years as a trial attorney, focusing on intellectual property and complex commercial litigation. I was always entrepreneurial and entrepreneurial. And during that time, I actually also held a real estate license for about eight years for my own personal transactions. In 2007, actually in 2006, I ran into a problem with, with my law firm. I was a partner in a mid-sized firm and we were trying to redesign our website and ultimately did what most businesses do. We put together our requirements, interviewed agencies hired one and I hated their work. And, and in frustration, I wanted to find a way for people like me for real estate agents, for small business owners to buy creative design services in a way that made more sense for them, as opposed to trying to find somebody to do the work and then waiting for weeks or months, was there a better way? And that turned into Crowdspring company that I've run for for the last 12 years, which is a global marketplace for design services for the real estate industry, startups, agencies, and nonprofits.
JON: Wow, that's great. So that's quite a departure from your law practice. Was it hard to make that transition?
ROSS: It was, it was hard in some ways. I was not one of you know, many lawyers who get frustrated with their law practice. I was actually very happy. I had phenomenal colleagues. I had terrific clients. I loved the work I was doing, but I was entrepreneurial. I had founded numerous practices of my firms and I had always looked for opportunities to start a business of my own. I only have just that I wanted to do it so I can wear shorts to work. That was only half Justin because literally I rip most of my suits and didn't want to have to buy new suits. And that was one of the motivations. But, leaving something you love to do something else that you think you'll love even more is both challenging and, and also pretty freeing because you have an opportunity to embrace something new. So, for me, I had young kids, I was trying to do something completely different, but I felt the rewards both intellectual with time management outweigh the disadvantages.
JON: Yeah, absolutely. It seems like it's working out just fine too.
ROSS: I've been happy. You know, one thing that's, that's interesting when you run your own business. It's definitely challenging in many ways. I work hard as an attorney and I think I've worked harder as an entrepreneur, but it is in many ways more satisfying.
JON: Yeah. So what kinds of skills from your law practice do you think helped you out when you made the transition?
ROSS: For me, it was about being inquisitive. So I was always interested in learning information about new things. As a trial attorney, I had to become an expert on many different topics. And, and so I would represent clients with complex cases involving mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering chemistry, physics. And so I had to become an expert so that I could interview experts so I can cross examine experts in court. And I loved that because it gave me an opportunity to learn new things. And one of the ways that I differentiated from out of my colleagues is I just swallowed up as much information as I could. And truly became not an expert to the degree these PhDs were, but, but truly became knowledgeable in those areas. And I felt that becoming my own boss, and this would be true if somebody is looking to start a real estate business, becoming an agent, understanding their their local geographic area. More understanding houses for me becoming my own boss and getting into different field, offered this unlimited opportunity to learn everything I could about design, about starting a business, about growing a business about marketing, about building financial models everything that I wasn't doing in law, because ultimately I was representing clients in certain areas. So the world was open to me and I thought that would be interesting.
JON: Yeah, absolutely. Having that sort of boundless curiosity is, is super useful as an entrepreneur. So specifically, I mean, Crowdspring does design, basically. Did, did you have any kind of design background? I mean, how did you, how did you choose to go that route?
ROSS: So I didn't have a design background, but, but I knew having run into this problem with the redesign of my firm's website, that there must be a better way for individuals for small businesses to buy design services. And so it wasn't just, we didn't pick design from the very beginning. We actually looked at the market and asked the question where are people most in need when they're buying creative services? And we looked at architecture, video production, design, copywriting. Design was really important in 2006 and 2007, because almost a third to 50% of all projects that we found on traditional marketplaces involved design. And there's a reason for that. Having been an entrepreneur for 12 years, having mentored, you know, hundreds of business owners and talked to thousands of startups it's more clear than ever that building a strong brand identity, which is the visual elements of your brand is one of the best ways that you can actually differentiate in the marketplace.
ROSS: And so for us, it was about trying to solve what we thought was a big problem. Design was expensive in 2006, you had to pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Design was unapproachable because you have to figure out somebody that would do it for you. You had to accept one or two, maybe examples of a design and pick the one you like the most. And so we said, why don't we find a better way? So Crowdspring is an example. A custom logo design project is $299, including all fees. And you get to pick from dozens of custom designs for your new real estate agency. As an example you get a hundred percent money back guarantee. If you're not happy, we feel so strongly about it. You get a customized legal agreement, transferring the full rights to the intellectual property to you. So every problem I discovered at the time that was making it really tough for people like me, for real estate agents, for small business owners to buy design services, we tried to solve. And today 220,000 freelancers in every single country in the world working with with real estate agents, agencies entrepreneurs and startups and nonprofits in over a hundred countries.
JON: Wow, that's impressive. So how would you say things have changed from '06/'07 to now?
ROSS: First of all, design is continuing to become more important. Ultimately, and, and let's talk about the real estate industry, because I think that's, you know, most relevant to your audience. You had a lot of consolidation over the past decade in the real estate industry. People try to create small real estate agencies and some of them have succeeded immensely well, and the ones that have succeeded have shared a couple of common traits, they have created very strong brand identity. So, just to remind you what I said earlier, a brand identity are all the visible elements of your brand. So a lot of people mistakenly think that your logo is your brand and it's not. Your logo is a small part of your brand identity, the visual elements, your brand is everything, all of your interactions with your clients the receptionist who answers the phone, the email communications you send what people see when they see your real estate signs how your business card looks.
ROSS: And so all of those things are continuing to become more important. And the dominant real estate agencies in just about any market in the U.S. Have really figured that out. So you have upstarts that 10 years ago were just starting out that today are dominating big markets. So I'm in the Chicago area and we have several agencies that are doing phenomenally well in part because they recognized how important design was and they have invested and reinvested in that. And so that's one big difference. The second big difference is of course we are living through a recession and a global pandemic. And so it's putting substantial pressure on real estate agents and on agencies to try to figure out how to overcome that. Fortunately, at least in the Chicago area, the real estate market is finally starting to get hot again. People are staying at home quite a lot. They're more interested in moving out of the city. And so sales in the suburbs have been accelerating. And I think around the country, that actually has been true for a longer period of time. So there are great opportunities for agent who can differentiate in many different ways, not just design, but there are many opportunities for agents to find clients.
JON: Yeah, definitely. So for an agent who's maybe newer in the earlier stages of growing their business you know, how can they, how can they make sure that visual identity is a core part of what they grow?
ROSS: So I think there are, there's something critical that that agents should understand, particularly if they're working at another agency, if they're not solo, if they haven't built their own agency, which is, you know, the vast majority of real estate people who are just starting out their career. You're going to be ultimately branded within your agency. In other words, you won't have full control over the visual identity, because if you're working for a real estate agency, their advertisements are going to appear in the newspaper in magazines. You're going to use their signs. You're going to have business cards that are formative through them. But when you look at very successful real estate agents and real estate agency groups, what you find is they've actually carved out a unique identity for themselves. So for example, they might have a unique name for that real estate group within a bigger agency.
ROSS: They might have their own advertising you know, flashes of design elements in their advertising that make them unique. They may have copy that's unique to them and not the main agency. Those are things when you look at successful agents that are very important, and I would encourage all agents who are starting out, people that are just breaking into the industry to look at those examples and say, I know I don't have enough experience yet. I don't know. I know I don't have, you know, tens of millions of dollars in sales, but how can I start carving out my own individual brand? Because at the end of the day, when you are an experienced agent, what you realize is your clients who've hired you to sell their property, or those that have hired you to help them buy property are hiring you. They're, they're very rarely actually hiring the agency for whom you work.
ROSS: And if you were to move agencies, they're going to move with you if they love working with you. But in order to cement that relationship, if you start on day one explaining and showing how you add value to that relationship, that's how you build your individual identity. I'll give you an example. Lots of different marketing products offered for agents where you can send emails to customers for every single holiday. And there are some agencies that tell their agents, Hey, just turn this feature on and every single person in your, in your list is going to get this email. Here's the thing. There are thousands of agents in every given market. They're all sending the same emails and a client that gets a generic email from an agent that says happy Thanksgiving with a picture of a turkey is going to look at it and say, anybody could have sent this to me, right?
ROSS: Imagine if you're just starting out. And instead of doing that, you actually pick some specific things to communicate to your clients. Like, you know, for example, that their child is getting closer to school age maybe you send them a report on the school metrics in the local district, so they know how the schools are. Maybe if if there's a holiday coming up, you've got something that you can share with them. And this is individually, it takes more effort, but talk about a difference in cementing that relationship. That's part of your brand, that's part of the brand that you build. And while you are part of a bigger agency, in most cases, you build those individual relationships.
JON: Yeah. That's great advice. People remember those kinds of personal touches for sure.
ROSS: They always do. And, and ultimately, the other thing that's changed back to your question, you know, what are some of the things that have changed? Bigger agencies, and I think agencies that have created a practice for the 21st century, have become much more aware of psychology and how people's cognitive biases influence them. And so one of the disadvantages that a person just starting out has is they don't necessarily know these biases. They find themselves trying to work through dealing with clients without the experience they're obviously going to develop in the next five years, 10 years. And so it's something that we write about and talk about a lot. We've got on our site, for example, and I'll mention an example or two, a big guide to marketing psychology. It's at crowdspring.com/marketing-psychology. And there we talk about 21 principles of key human behavior that we all have, the cognitive biases we bring in. Well here's one example there's this principle called action paralysis where people commonly will second guess their behavior, especially if they're not sure of.
ROSS: And so one good example of that is if you meet with somebody because you want to get their listing for their house and they're interviewing two or three agents, they may say to you, you know, I'm really happy with the presentation that you made. And, and you're my top choice, but what happens when you walk out the door? The fact is they might've said this to every single one of the three people they're pitched. And so you don't know that, and they're going to start second guessing their choices as soon as you leave. So it's really important for you to reinforce that choice. And so they say, here's what I like about you. One great way to help them is to send a follow-up email that doesn't just say, Hey, thanks for the meeting. I hope you pick me, but to send a follow-up email and remind them the reasons they said you would have been their top choice because that will help articulate at the right time, what it is that they liked about you in the first place.
ROSS: And another way to put it as follow through is really important. You know, great agents follow through, not annoyingly, not spamming clients, but follow through in a way that's a little different. So the example I used earlier about schools, if you know, your client is looking to move in the area, you're looking to get their listing. And at the moment, you're not worrying about helping them find a new house because you don't want to over pitch them. Maybe you share some details on the areas they're considering, say, listen, I know you haven't chosen an agent yet, and we're talking about selling your house. But in the meantime, I wanted to give you some ideas about some of the areas you're considering schools, if you have kids or parks, or access to bike trails. If, if you know, they're bike riders, this is going to differentiate from the 99 other agents out of a hundred that are going to click a button and send a form email. That's a great way to build your brand.
JON: Yeah, absolutely.
JON: After the break, we discuss how the future will look a bit different from pre-COVID times.
JON: Ross saw a problem and he aimed to solve it. He was able to utilize his entrepreneurial tendencies to help others, and to make the world a better designed place. Maybe you’re in a similar boat, just itching to start a career in real estate, or to take your business to the next level. No matter where you’re at, The CE Shop has you covered with their convenient online real estate classes. Use promo code SHOPTALK to save 25% right now.
JON: So when you were growing your brand with Crowdspring, what do you think was one of the biggest challenges you ran into?
ROSS: For us? You know, we were a young startup. It's the equivalent of, you know, a person just starting out in real estate. Nobody knew about us. We didn't have much credibility. And so it was really important for us to, first of all, focus on all of the visual ad elements, focus on our voice. One way we wanted to differentiate was we wanted to speak differently. Both when you talk to us for customer support when we engaged on social media, when you went to our website, we wanted to have a little bit of humor so that you wouldn't confuse us with somebody. And for real estate agents, actually agencies. This is a remarkable differentiator because if you look at, you know, open up a newspaper today, open up a magazine and look at any advertising, and you'll see these taglines, you'll see some of the copy.
ROSS: And you could put any agency as the name of that copy. And it'll all fit because you can't differentiate any of them. They all say the same thing. So for us, it was about finding a different path. How can we speak in a way that's different from our competitors? How can we find this very irreverent, very friendly attitude, so we can engage with people better? Because people recognize that when you buy services or you hire somebody to do something and they relate to you in a way that's so different from everybody else, they remember, they recognize that. And later onthey'll think of you. And then it's actually, you know, another really important principle, particularly for people starting out, there's something called the reciprocity principle. And the reciprocity principle says that people feel an obligation to do something for you when you've done something for them. And this is one of those things that the best, most successful real estate agents understand. It means don't sell somebody, the moment you meet them, help them, help them the moment you meet them. And when you help them, it's going to be easier to sell them because you've done something good for them. And we just naturally, we have this bias. If somebody does something good for us, we want to pay them back in some way. And so, so lots of, lots of great opportunities for people starting out to, to do things differently from everybody else.
JON: Yeah. Yeah. That's one of the hardest lessons for new agents to learn too. I think so many agents, unless they come from a sales background, putting that sales hat on and sort of understanding how to do something for somebody before they even present an opportunity for you to get a listing. That can be a real challenge.
ROSS: It can. And I would say, even if you come from a sales background, forget most of what you learned about sales, because ultimately sales is about, you know, getting something done quickly. And in real estate, that's rarely the case. If you are a successful agent, 10 years from now, and you look back and say, why have I succeeded? What did I do differently? One of the things that every successful agent did differently is they didn't push for a sale right away. They knew that people don't sell real estate houses over a weekend. Some people make this decision next weekend, and some people are going to make this decision in three years. So you have to invest your time in cultivating people around you. You have to find ways to help them to engage with them, a long-term view. So those people that have been agents for 10 years that are successful and have phenomenal practices, were able to do this over a period of time.
ROSS: Whereas those that were salesy and trying to do it in real time with every single client, probably disappointed most prospective clients, because clients don't react well to sales pitches like that. They react great though, if you're patient and deliver some kind of value before you ask for the sale, and if you get obviously recommendations from others, because one of the best things about this approach is that your clients will see something totally different than they've seen in the past from real estate agents. And they will recommend you to their friends. They're going to say, I've found somebody that's phenomenal to work with, not like anybody else in this market. And so you, you create a strong relationship with a client. You help them communicate something really, really useful and different about you. And that's how you build, you know, businesses that do tens of millions of dollars in sales a year.
JON: Yeah, absolutely. So going back to something you said about you know, if you were to swap out the tagline of every big real estate company, they're all pretty much the same. How would you advise for agents to figure out what works for them? Figure out something that's totally new.
ROSS: So we have on our blog, a terrific brand identity guide where we get into this conversation, it's about 20,000 words. So it's a very lengthy guide. It's crowdspring.com/blog/brand-identity. And I can provide links if you want to include them in the show notes. But ultimately it requires you to assess you know, your own personal characteristics. What are the things you're good at? What are the things you're bad at what's missing in the marketplace and what are other people doing that you can do differently? So it involves a bit of market research involves a lot of self-assessment, conversations with people. So if you're just starting out and you've, you've had a couple of clients, for example, great opportunity to interview them and try to understand what their relationship was like with you. And in our guide, we offer lots of questions that you can ask people as you do these kinds of investigations to understand how to best build your brand.
JON: Awesome. Yeah. I'll definitely include that in the show notes. So you've been an entrepreneur for a while now. How do you think, how do you foresee things changing in the next few years? I mean, obviously COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in everyone's plans for the year, but what do you see going forward?
ROSS: So here's a long time ago, I read something Jeff Bezos, who's the founder and CEO of Amazon, wrote in a shareholder letter. And it made a tremendous impression on me, which is a guiding light for me. And I think can be for every single person looking to enter the real estate industry. When he talked about the things that were important to Amazon, and this was in the late 90s, you know, he said, we look to understand what will not change. So 10 years from now, one of the things we know will not change is people will still want great customer service 10 years from now, we know people will still want low prices. And so rather than worry too much about what will change, because there are plenty of people that have tried to predict changes and half the time they're wrong, half the time they're right.
ROSS: Really hard to anticipate those kinds of shifts. For example, the pandemic has accelerated the shift to e-commerce by at least five years, nobody would have predicted that 12 months ago. So what I think about, and what I've thought about for the last decade is, what isn't going to change? What can I invest in that will not be different five years from now, 10 years from now? So when it comes to real estate, for example you know that those individual relationships, you know, standing out by giving people something useful, as opposed to a generic email, congratulating them and wishing them a happy Thanksgiving. That's not going to change in 10 years. 10 years from now, you're still going to be unique in reaching out to clients that way. Finding ways to communicate useful information to clients and not spending, you know, weeks showing him 50 properties, that's not going to change.
ROSS: You know, clients are looking to you to find the things that reflect what they want and not waste their time. And so, so doing that due diligence up front, really trying understand what your clients want. That's not going to change. And that's how we look at our own business too. So we look to invest in areas that won't change, great customer support. We spend a lot of time training our team. We spent a lot of time hiring great people, and that's something where we differentiate. We know that people's requirement, that design be high quality. Isn't going to change in 10 years. And so we heavily curate our community. Every single of our 220,000 plus designers and namers is, is individually reviewed before we allow them to participate on Crowdspring for every single sub category in which they want to work. So we have 33 categories from logo design to web design, to marketing materials, business cards, naming businesses.
ROSS: We qualify them for every one of these subcategories and we don't stop there. We actually, every year, at least a couple of times a year, do a quality review of every person in our community so that we can tell whether the work they're actually providing is of the quality that we expected when we let them in. And that allows us to communicate to our clients who range in size from individual real estate agents to real estate agencies, to small businesses, to Fortune 500 companies and the world's best agencies. It lets us communicate to our clients that we have our pulse. We measure our pulses as far as quality we're vigilant and diligent about making sure it stays high and it's important to us.
JON: That quality check has to take a lot of manpower.
ROSS: It does. It's an investment that we choose to make and making sure that we deliver the highest quality to our clients. It's one reason why we're comfortable offering people a hundred, a hundred percent money back guarantee if they're not happy, because we do such I think a, a good job looking at the talent in our community, that we feel comfortable that clients are going to get a great result. And remember, you know, the difference in our model is you're not working generally with a single freelancer, although you can. If you're starting a real estate practice and you need a logo, or you need a name, you're getting dozens of designs for your real estate agency. And so you're picking the one you love the best, which is a different way of buying and creating services than we've ever bought in the past.
ROSS: So it makes it easy for clients to buy these services. It's affordable because it's 10 to 50 times less than what it used to cost. There's no risk because you've got a free legal contract, transferring intellectual property to you. And so we feel it empowered lots of people who are looking to start businesses. And at the same time, remember 220,000 freelancers who are not working at ad agencies. They're people all over the world. Some of them are actual you know, professional designers, some of them, because our marketplace is driven by talent can be driving a cab, but they're a phenomenal designer. And the reason you pick their design isn't because they're designers but because you loved it, because it looks great.
ROSS: Just to give you an anecdotal example of when we ran our test, when we started crowdSPRING, we, we try to mimic this idea by, by having a open call for logo designs for Crowdspring. And we picked the winning design and to try to understand who this person was, we had a call with them. Turned out, they were a night janitor who got a copy of a design program six months before, and started designing and found out they were quite talented. Now we would've never hired a night janitor to do a logo design for us, but we didn't care. We didn't know, we loved the logo. It was great. It beat out everybody else. And it just so happened that this person was a night janitor. And that's the beauty of creative talent. Anybody could be enormously successful and talented regardless of whether they were educated or not, regardless of whether they had 10 years of experience or not, in every industry. It's also the beauty of the real estate industry. You can have somebody that's 21 years old, just starting out. Who'd never touched real estate before become immensely successful, and quickly, quickly,get ahead of people that have been in the industry for 15, 20 years.
JON: Yeah, that is so true. Wow. A night janitor. That's a great story. So if a listener wanted to give their brand a makeover, how would you advise they start?
ROSS: So we are happy to provide free consultations. And so they just need to contact our team. If you come to crowdspring.com. You can click contact us and ask for a free consultation. The brand identity guide that I mentioned you'll have in the show notes is a really great resource for, for walking you through the steps and the strategy to build a brand identity. And it's written for both people that are just starting out as well as businesses or people that have been in the business for some time, who've reached a point where they feel like their brand, their visual brand, isn't doing enough to help them in the market. And so they need to rebrand. So we cover both of those and the strategies you need. That's the best way to connect with us on Twitter @RossKimbarovsky. We're @Crowdspring on Twitter as well. So people can feel free to connect and ask questions there.
JON: Awesome. All right. Well, my last question is one that I ask of all of my guests. If you could go back to the beginning of your career and change one thing, what would it be?
ROSS: So I guess for me, it's two careers. So let me answer, let me answer relative to Crowdspring. Cause I think that's a deeper answer and one that'll that'll help real estate agents the most. I did not appreciate when I started the business, the importance of user experience I mean, I knew it was important. I knew that we'd need to invest some time in it, but it took me about four to five years as an entrepreneur, really understand how important it was. It's such a big differentiator, which is why, when we talked earlier about what can young agents do, you know, I mentioned doing the things that nobody else is doing. I mentioned not sending the generic email, but sending a very specific email, making that extra effort. For me, once I understood that we pivoted the whole company to focusing on the user experience from the product that we build to the communications that people have.
ROSS: And I mean the overall experience, and you don't have to look farther than the world's most successful brand, Apple. Because their secret sauce is they're focused on the customer. They make great products. Yes, their products are much more expensive than most of the competitors products, but yet they are dominating in pretty much every market they're in, in large part because the experience for people is phenomenal. And this is true of real estate agencies in every geographic market. And it's true individual agents, the ones that do really well, whether on their own or as part of a bigger agency nail that user experience, they are phenomenally talented at finding prospective clients. They're phenomenally talented at looking for opportunities to help those clients in small ways before they ask for a sale. They're phenomenally talented after they've helped the clients staying in touch and still continuing to help because those clients have neighbors, and the neighbors are going to ask them, you know, who sold your home or who bought your home. And so brands, companies, agencies that focus on the overall experience they have with their clients, their customers, can be immensely successful. And that's the one thing I wish I'd known on the first day that I started, that this is where you have to invest and continue to invest to be successful. It took me some years finally figured it out.
JON: It goes right back to what you were saying about the things that never change. It's always going to be about the user experience.
ROSS: Exactly. Yeah.
JON: Well, that's great. Thank you Ross for joining me.
ROSS: My pleasure, Jon.
JON: That’s it for this episode, thanks for listening! If you enjoyed the chat, you can subscribe to us or leave a review on your podcast player of choice. Shop Talk is a production of The CE Shop.