As I sit on my deck overlooking the Mississippi River, there is an American eagle flying overhead. With several large eagle’s nests near our house, it’s not uncommon to see as many as 7 or 8 eagles at a time. There are two huge trees on either side of our house and the eagles often sit in their branches and survey the water below. These birds are a beauty to behold and watching them from just a few feet away on my deck has given me a deeper appreciation for how majestic and complex they are.
There is a well known scripture in the Bible that speaks of “mounting up with wings like eagles.” If you have never seen an eagle “mount up” then you may think this only refers to the eagle floating effortlessly on the wind. In fact, some versions translate the word Hebrew word for mount as “soar with wings like eagles” and that’s probably because most people have only seen an eagle that is already in flight.
But take a look at this slow motion video of an eagle mounting up and the Scripture takes on a different meaning. I’ve seen this many times up close because the eagles don’t like it when I come too close on the deck. There is no way to describe the sound of the power behind those wings as these giant birds take off. The look of determination and extreme focus in their eyes is awe inspiring and really gives new understanding to what it means to “MOUNT with wings like eagles”.
True success rarely happens overnight whether in nature or business. I’ve seen the eagle’s nest with the babies in it - not quite ready to take flight and dependent on their parents for their basic needs. I’ve seen the babies that have recently left the nest and don’t yet have the beautiful white head and tail -- they really don’t stand out much from any other bird of prey.
So often the same thing happens in our every day lives. We see a small business owner whose business seems to run itself, we see an athlete who breaks records running a marathon and doesn’t seem to break a sweat, we see people whose marriages look like a perpetual honeymoon. We compare ourselves to them and think that they must have some special gift we don’t. What we often don’t see in these cases is what these people looked like in the beginning...before they reached a level where the wind picked them up and allowed them to soar effortlessly.
I’ve been there -- When I started running, I could barely run for 60 seconds straight and yet I am now six weeks away from running a half marathon. When we started in virtual tour photography, we couldn’t GIVE our tours away and now we have a thriving national virtual tour business and much of our business comes from referrals and repeat business. The reason that so many people don’t stick to a new venture is that they lack that determination and focus that the eagle has when he first takes off. They assume it was going to be easy at first or on the other hand, they see how hard they have to work in the beginning and assume that it’s always going to be that hard.
What I have never seen is an eagle turn around and come back to the tree and say, “This is too hard”. That is because the eagle knows instinctively that by putting in the initial effort necessary to mount up then eventually he will catch the updrafts and be able to soar to heights that other birds couldn’t even imagine.
If you’ve ever seen a NASCAR Race or watched a bicycle race, you might be familiar with the term “Drafting”. Drafting is a strategy to use the aerodynamics of the racer in front significantly expend the effort and energy of the riders behind him. Scientists have demonstrated that a racer riding in another’s slipstream will expend 30 to 40% less energy than the rider in front.
Drafting can be done cooperatively or it can be done competitively. In competitive drafting, the racer behind the leader stays in the slipstream of the leader to conserve his own energy and also to force the leader to expend more energy. There is no give and take here. Even though the rider in front gets a physical and possibly psychological benefit from having someone inches from his front tire, the bottom line is that the rider in the front has to work the hardest.
To truly understand the beauty of drafting, watch a professional bike race like the Tour de France. This three week bicycle race across the mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees is truly an epic event which pushes professional cyclists to their very limits and it is an amazing demonstration of the power of collaboration and teamwork...
In the Biblical creation story, it says that God looked at everything he had made and was pleased so on the seventh day he rested. In the top ten list of rules He later gave to Moses, number 4 was to honor a day of rest every week. If the God of the universe thought rest was so important and even rested himself then why do we look at it as a dreaded four letter word? One of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a beginner athlete and as a small business owner is that REST is a requirement - not an option.
Either I will choose to rest or my body will shut down and force me to rest!
You may have heard it said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” but perhaps it’s time to rethink that definition.
Sometimes the only way to see results IS to do the same thing over and over and over again. In fact in many cases, the definition of insanity is expecting results without doing the same things over and over again. This applies to my life right now more than ever as I train for my first half marathon and work to take our national virtual tour company to the next level.
Today I am officially registering to run the St. Louis Rock and Roll Half Marathon. It will no longer be me wanting to run a half marathon but me committing myself and my money to run a half-marathon. In addition to blogging about this, I am going to actually post it on Facebook and tell all my friends, family (and those people on my Friends list who I am not quite sure how I know) that I am going to run a half marathon in 50 days! Wow, that makes it real!!
Now understand, I have the option of waiting to register until I am closer to the race date to see if I can really do this. I can justify waiting to make the commitment -- I have never run 13.1 miles! I don’t know for sure if I can do this so maybe I should wait. Trust me, if there was a medal for procrastination, fear and excuse making, I would win GOLD!
Starting our virtual tour business was a lot like starting an exercise program. When we started Vision Quest Virtual Tours three years ago, we had no idea what we were getting into or where our business would take us. We were starting from scratch and had so much to learn before we could even begin to set realistic goals.
Vision Quest Virtual Tours is a national virtual tour provider and we travel all over the country photographing virtual tours for healthcare companies. We have photographed in 35 states in the past year and a half and while that means we have had some great adventures and seen some awesome places, it also means we have spent a ton of time in the car and eating fast food on the road. Like most new businesses, we were on a tight budget which meant that our meal choices weren’t always the healthiest.
Let me start by saying that I am not an athlete. I have always wanted to exercise and have done it in spurts but was never consistent so I never reaped the benefits. I never played sports in school and I have never particularly enjoyed exercising. My weight yo-yoed for years and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten fatter and lazier and it became more and more difficult to lose the extra pounds. After my mother was diagnosed with diabetes, I realized that I was on the same path if I didn’t change something.
We recently shot a Quincy, Illinois real estate virtual tour for a family who is moving out of state due to a job change. The homeowner is moving from Illinois to Denver, CO but she knows nothing about Colorado -- in fact has never been there. She is relying on the internet to try to learn as much as she can about the Denver market.
In looking at the local MLS listings in Denver, she found that most of the listings that said they had “Virtual Tours” had simply taken the same still images from the listing and put them into a slide show and added music. She said that watching the “virtual tour” was deja vu since she had already seen the exact same pictures.
When we arrived at her home and began staging the rooms, turning on all the lights and taking 360º panoramic images, she quickly realized that what we were doing was much more intensive than the “virtual tours” she had seen.
At Vision Quest Virtual Tours, we believe that a virtual tour should be more than just a slideshow put to music. A virtual tour should offer the viewer a chance to truly look around the home and get a feel for the flow and layout. The virtual tour should allow the viewer to imagine themselves in the space and visualize their furniture and personal items in the home.
The stills are important as well because most people add filters when they are looking through local MLS listings. In addition to price and number of bedrooms, one of the most common filters that people use is Number of Pictures. Some Realtors just stick in one picture of the front of the home or a handful of shots they take with their point and shoot cameras and hope that people will be intrigued enough to want to learn more. While this may work in some cases, most buyers we talk to really want to be able to narrow down their options and tell us that high quality pictures allow them to do that more easily.
Here is the virtual tour we created for our client -- http://fusion.realtourvision.com/53178 -- As you can see, it is MUCH MORE than a slideshow put to music!
It’s definitely true that high quality professional pictures are better than nothing however there’s a big difference between still images and a truly interactive virtual tour. Our virtual tours are created using a combination of still images, 360º and partial panoramas, and can also include video clips. In addition to just the virtual tour, we offer a still package plus the virtual tour because the combination of good stills AND the virtual tours is a one two punch that provides the whole package...without the sense of Deja Vu!
Remember when you called a business for information and asked them if they had a website? It really wasn’t that long ago that the answer could be yes or no. Remember when a one page website with basic contact details was an acceptable option for a business to share their information with their customers? Again, it really wasn’t that long ago but oh how quickly things have changed. Now businesses have Facebook pages and Linked In accounts for their employees and a well designed and easy to use website is almost as crucial and expected as a working phone number. The question is no longer “Do you have a website?” because the website is an Of Course item in any marketing budget.
The same progression is happening with virtual tours. At Vision Quest Virtual Tours, about 90% of our business is commercial virtual tours for businesses. Consumers have gotten lazy and want to see a place of business before they decide to visit. Residential real estate virtual tours and hospitality virtual tours very quickly became the norm and that trend is continuing to other businesses. Many of us can no longer imagine booking a vacation without watching a virtual tour!
As the economy has tightened, many people are becoming more cognizant of where they are spending their money. Dinner at a nice restaurant is a luxury these days so consumers want to plan ahead. We have a date night this weekend and I have already been on the restaurant’s website to check out the menu and plan my meal. We photographed the restaurant’s virtual tour so we already know what to expect from that aspect but this will be the first time we’ve eaten there. This restaurant virtual tour gets tons of hits on their website of people looking at the tour so I know that I am not alone in my desire to see before I spend.
As the digital age continues to evolve faster than the economy is growing, businesses are having to carefully decide to spend their marketing dollars and a virtual tour is quickly becoming an “Of Course” item as in “We need a website, good SEO, a Facebook page...and of course, a virtual tour.”
Determining Pricing on Fusion Virtual Tours
At Vision Quest Virtual Tours, we have had a flat price for our residential real estate virtual tours. This made it easy for us in the past because each virtual tour was a combination of still and panorama images and we like having the freedom to showcase each home in its best light rather than having to pick and choose which areas to photograph and charge on a per photo or spin basis.
Fusion -- the latest virtual tour platform from RTV, Inc., has essentially changed the way that we think about virtual tours and has presented us with so many additional bells and whistles that we had to reevaluate our virtual tour pricing options.
In the end, we decided to keep the base price of a residential virtual tour the same but offer up sell opportunities that would increase the price of the tour should the agent choose to select these add-ons. Our base tour price of $100 for our local real estate market includes the virtual tour and our social ignition package. The social ignition package includes distribution of the tour to over 40 social bookmarking sites as well as a YouTube video and Craig’s List ad. We are offering several $25 upgrades that allow each Realtor to customize their virtual tour package.
We recently photographed a residential real estate virtual tour for a family in our hometown of Quincy, IL. The family was relocating out of state due to a job promotion and needed to sell their house quickly. They were given two choices of Realtors by their corporate relocation company and they interviewed them both. While we were photographing their home, the homeowners were quick to mention that they made their choice between the two Realtors solely because of the fact that the one they chose was going to have a professional virtual tour done for the house and the other was not.
We know both these Realtors and can attest to the fact that all else really was equal. They were dealing with two very successful and experienced Realtors. We live in a small town where every Realtor in town knows the others listings for the most part. Both Realtors suggested the same price for the house and were taking the same commission for the sale. If it had been a personality contest, the Realtor they chose would definitely not have been the winner!
Because the home owners are moving out of state, they are searching for their new home mostly online and then will go to the new location for a few trips before they actually have to start the new job. Their time is limited when they are in town for these short trips so they said that professional photography and good virtual tours are the one thing that allows them to narrow down which houses they are going to look at on these short trips.
For their upcoming home buying experience, these virtual tour and high quality pictures allowed them to create a short list so they knew that the buyer for their home would likely do the same. The winner of the Realtor choice for them was easy -- they chose the one who would be providing a professional virtual tour of the home they are selling.