I am a member of a photographer's Facebook group where it's very common for someone to start a panicked thread about a new competitor in their area and what that might mean to their business. I recently read a book called Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne that says the key to success in today's market is not to beat your competitors but to make them irrelevant by creating "uncontested market space". Or in other words find a way to set yourself apart.
Now don't get me wrong, I think it's vitally important to continually up your game and improve your work. I also think it's vitally important to know who your competitors are, what their work looks like and what they charge.
My sales mentor used to always say that you can beat 90% of the people 90% of the time just by working harder than everyone else. Depending on your business and market, that may mean working harder or longer or more efficiently or cheaper or building stronger relationships. For our national virtual tour business, that means continually listening to what our customers are asking for while sticking to our core business and principles. The key to our success is that we offer a high quality product at a competitive price. We aren't usually the cheapest but we are darn good at what we do and we provide an exceptional value and service to our customers.
We have a specialized virtual tour business - we primarily photograph vacation rental and hotel virtual tours and residential healthcare virtual tours and while we have lots of competitors in just those two spaces, no one else offers the expertise we have at a price that compares. Some of their work blows my socks off - there are some AMAZING photographers out there who make our work look like a child's crayon drawing and there are some mediocre photographers who make our work look like Michaelangelo's Sistene Chapel. Sure, it's cool to compare and it's important for me to know my market but honestly, how does comparison change anything that I do to market my virtual tour business?
My sales mentor also used to say that you can have the biggest house on the block by building yours higher or by tearing everyone else's down. We have chosen to build our house one brick at a time and doing so honestly takes so much of my time that I don't have much left to worry about whether my competitor got a job I wanted.
The biggest challenge for most small business owners is confusing working hard with being busy. We may work 12 hours a day but if I am not working towards building my opportunity pipeline and deepening my relationships with our customers, then those hours are wasted time. We may be offer the best product on the market but if it's not priced at a point where my customers can see the value then it doesn't matter. Yes, I want us to get better at what we do but the most talented person is not always the most successful.
Ask any artist or musician.
Every self employed person or business owner needs to read the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. According to the listing on Amazon.com, "The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire." It's that one big break that happens and suddenly your business is an overnight success...or so it seems
Since starting our national virtual tour business, my husband and I have always said that we were just one phone call away from changing everything. We have had some amazing breaks but for the first five years of our business, we really had to hustle for every job we got. Because we specialize in healthcare virtual tours and vacation rental virtual tours, we have been lucky enough for some of those jobs to be big ones but even with that, it's been all about the hustle.
At the beginning of 2013, I made a concerted effort to become more systemized in my marketing efforts. I decided that I would work from an objective list rather than set specific goals. Before I would set a goal to call 100 people a week but the challenge of our business is that if one of those calls said yes, then I was done calling and we were in the car to go shoot a regional hospital or hotel group and my To-Do list got set aside. Last year, I set up an operating frame work that gives me daily objectives and weekly objectives. Instead of waiting until I had an office day and trying to crank out cold calls, I set my minimum criteria to contact 5 new leads per week - one in each of our core disciplines -- and to touch one contact every day. This could be an existing client or a lead that is in my pipeline.
By making my objective list managable, I have been able to do almost all of it every day. The program I use to track my activities is called Opus Domini and the great thing about it is that certain tasks renew every day and certain tasks carry forward until I delete them. This means that I wake up with a basically clean slate each day other than the important items that I didn't get to the day before.
I also became fanatical about using Sales Force instead of keeping handwritten notes. At the end of the day, I transfer any hand written notes into SalesForce and throw away the pages that I wrote on. This systematic, methodical approach has literally transformed our business.
Instead of managing Tasks in SalesForce, I now manage my Opportunity Pipeline and update it every day. I am the world's worst about writing a task in SalesForce then forgetting to log into SalesForce so that when I do, I have 30 reminders. Things get lost that way but when I am looking at the Opportunity Pipeline every day and seeing the dollar signs next to those opportunities, it helps me to prioritize my activities and create tasks that are appropriate and timely rather than simple busy work.
The amazing thing is that this approach has caused our business to explode!! We were successful before but now our business runs like a well oiled machine and doesn't have the ups and downs that we used to experience. We started 2014 with an opportunity pipeline that has 125% more pending and potential business than we made in 2013! We started the year with our biggest job of all time -- photographing 115 vacation rental virtual tours in Charleston, SC during January and February. We have had one of our busiest months for real estate in Illinois despite the fact that they have had record snowfalls and the coldest winter in over 30 years.
Napolean Hill said ""When Riches begin to come they come so quickly and in such great abundance that one wonders where they have been hiding during all those lean years." The key to getting to that tipping point for us was working diligently during the leaner years and trusting that the efforts would pay off.
At Vision Quest Virtual Tours, we specialize in vacation rental virtual tours and after photographing hundreds of vacatoin rentals in 35 states that different people have different definitions when asked what a virtual tour is. It is for that reason that Vision Quest Virtual Tours is proud to announce that we have extended our options so that we now have a vacation rental photography package for every budget.
Many of the vacation rental management companies that we work with have hundreds of listings on their websites and our job is to help prospective guests narrow down their short list when making a decision of where to spend their vacation time and money.
Our traditional vacation rental virtual tour has been a one click walkthrough of the property created using a combination of 360 degree panoramic and still images as well as short video clips. The value of the 360 virtual tour is that it allows the viewer to see the entire property. This is the best tool for making the final decision because it is a comprehensive view of the entire house.
To narrow down the short list, we have found that viewers may want a more general overview and that is why we now offer Interactive Floorplans with Photo Hot Spots. Our Picture Plans can be ordered as a stand alone product or combined with 360 virtual tours or custom full motion YouTube videos.
To learn more about our Vacation Rental Virtual Tour Options, visit www.VacationRentalVirtualTours.info or give us a call at 404-863-9769.
We recently lost one of our biggest clients last year and I was NOT happy. This client has been so loyal to us for years and has provided us with a great relationship as well as a nice portion of our overall income. We offered them a very fair price based on the volume and worked with them as marketing consultants as well as virtual tour photographers.
Not too long ago, they hired a new Marketing Director who decided that the 30% increase that they have experienced in their business since working with us wasn't worth the fair price we were charging them. He decided that they should take their own (horrible) pictures and "save money". Our virtual tour business is like most small businesses - when we don't work, we don't eat. Our business has grown to the point where we no longer live paycheck to paycheck but losing that big a client still made a big dent in our cashflow.
My first response was...THAT SUCKS! But after I got over my feelings of rejection and frustration, I realized that I had fallen into a success rut and this was forcing me to get out of it whether I wanted to or not.
I had fallen into that rut because I knew that I could make that one phone call and schedule enough tours to pick up a big check every few weeks. Sure we had other clients but none as loyal and dependable as this one. Much of our business is referral and repeat business now because of the work I did when we started the company so I had stopped focusing on the fundamentals. Losing that one client forced me to start hustling again like I did when we first started the business.
And guess what -- when I got back to prospecting and working and busting my butt, our business EXPLODED! We had the biggest month we've ever had then followed it with another, then another. December is supposed to be our month of rest and we have been so busy that we haven't had time to breathe or sleep!!
My pipeline is now full with new prospects for new healthcare and hospitality virtual tours but more importantly, it reminded me how important it is to stick with the fundamentals no matter how successful we get.
I saw a segment on a morning show this week where the panelists talked about the best advice they had ever gotten and the one that really struck me was the advice to Not Major in the Minor. Along the lines of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, this advice is something I have to remind myself of regularly.
We are a national virtual tour company so we have many details to juggle that the average real estate virtual tour photographer does not deal with. We travel more than 50,000 miles per year and are on the road about 75% of the time. Don't get me wrong - with a business like ours, we have to focus on the details...but the key to our success is to not get bogged down by the details.
For us the key to that has been to implement systems that allow us to automate the details and to set realistic expectations for ourselves. In Part one of this blog, I will talk about three of the systems that allow us to focus on the big picture and automate the details.
We recently photographed a hotel virtual tour for a young couple who personally own 9 hotels and I asked them how they had become so successful at such a young age. Like many hotel owners that we work with, he and his family are from India and he answered that in his culture, "a person goes to work and doesn't count the hours".
What he said got me thinking...and I can't stop wondering, can I say the same thing about myself?
So it seems logical to me that part of our work as virtual tour photographers is to help stage each area that we shoot. I read a discussion on a vacation rental owner’s Linked In group where a photographer was asking whether the owners expected the photographer to do any staging and the question left me dumbfounded. It would never occur to me that staging was not a part of our job. I know many photographers whose philosophy for commercial shoots is that what they see is what you get but that’s certainly not the case with us.
We specialize in virtual tours for hospitality such as vacation rentals, hotels and bed and breakfasts as well as healthcare facilities. We expect that when we walk in the location we are shooting will be clean but there’s a difference between clean and staged. There’s a difference between something being rent ready and photo ready. It’s the job of the housekeeping to get a place ready to rent. It’s our job to get it ready to photograph.
At Vision Quest Virtual Tours, we work as a team when we photograph a virtual tour. My husband is the photographer and I am the stager. I go ahead of him to make sure that each room is set up so that he can capture the very best possible images.
We often have people ask us what kind of camera Greg uses when he shoots our virtual tours as if it's the camera that's responsible for the amazing virtual tours and still photography that we deliver in our national virtual tour business. It's true that we use expensive, professional level photography equipment but it's not the camera folks!
Our roles in our virtual tour business are very specific - I sell 'em and he shoots 'em. And he shoots them using several pieces of specialized eqiupment in addition to his expensive camera. And after he shoots them, he uses about 7 different software programs to process them and create the virtual tour.
The camera certainly matters - don't get me wrong. But the same camera in my hands yields much different results. It would be like me asking my hairdresser what kind of scissors she uses because they cut my hair so well. Or asking her husband who is a chef what kind of oven he uses because the meals he serves at his restaurant are so delicious.
I've tried to take pictures with his camera and I can get some pretty good ones because after all it is a very nice camera. But the difference is that it takes me about 20 shots to get one decent pictue and it never turns out that what I capture is what I see with my eyes and picture in my mind. It drives me crazy that he can take one shot and get exactly what I wanted but I can use up a whole roll of film and still not get the same shot.
OK, so I know there's no such thing as film but you get the idea.
I just visited a website that announced that cold calling is dead. This self proclaimed sales guru promises that if I will read his book, then I will never have to make a cold call again. That I can "generate an endless supply of qualified leads" just by following his simple formula. Hallelujah! I hate cold calling so this sounds wonderful....except I've been in sales a long time and I've read enough books and articles just like his and I know that it's not quite that easy.
You may remember the commercial -- I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV. Or you may have seen the movie the Hangover where the character Stu tells people he's a Doctor only to have his friends remind him that he's a Dentist. Or perhaps you know someone with a Ph.D. who doesn't correct people when they assume that the Doctor in their name means M.D.
The same phenomenom happens with Photographers. We recently providing vacation rental photography for a new North Georgia cabin rental company. Not too long ago, this company hired a "professional photographer" to take pictures of their cabins for their website. The results were terrible!