Have you ever had a situation where what you said and what someone else heard was not anywhere close to the same thing? My parent’s favorite quote after 52 years of marriage is “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” (Robert McCloskey)
In the past, we relied on emails and phone calls to clarify information and then sent an invoice once we came to terms and hoped to be paid when we arrived to shoot the virtual tour. While this worked almost all the time, we did run into a few situations where the client did not understand some aspect of our terms even though I thought I had explained them clearly. This puts both us and the client in an awkward position and has the potential to cause hard feelings down the road.
We started using written proposals this year to make sure that what we say and what our client hears is the same thing. Our proposal outlines what we are agreeing to provide and the terms under which we agree to provide it. Once we have confirmed a time and date to shoot and agreed upon a price, I send a confirmation email with the proposal attached and ask that it be signed prior to the shoot.
The proposal is not a lengthy contract and is certainly not binding but it does outline our expectations in a clear, concise bullet form. If there are questions about our terms, I want to be able to address those PRIOR to showing up to shoot.
Vision Quest Virtual Tours is excited to have been chosen by two teams from the University of Illinois for a small business marketing project. The teams were given several small businesses to choose from and will work on a group project this semester analyzing our business and coming up with suggestions for our business. We shared our marketing challenges and goals and they will spend the next few months creating a project with suggestions on how we can improve our marketing.
We will be working with each group of students to give them suggestions and help them learn more about our business and then they will create a 17-25 page project that we will receive in April. We have been invited to attend the student presentation the end of April and definitely hope that we can be there. As an added bonus after the end of the semester, we will receive an information and recommendation sheet for social media from the instructor, Dr. Mark Wolters.
I have a degree in Public Relations and have been in marketing for a very long time but I am so excited to hear the recommendations of these groups. I just don’t have the time to spend doing this sort of project on my own between all of our other responsibilities. There is no way we could afford to pay for a marketing analysis of this magnitude. We cannot wait to see what the groups find!
If you own a small business, your local university can offer some great opportunities for you. My niece is currently the Director of Marketing for the Memorial Hospital of Adel in Adel, GA and she got this job after serving her internship for the hospital while getting her Master’s in Public Administration at Valdosta State University (my alma mater!!). Her internships gave her a chance to try out several different fields and gave the hospital a chance to see the quality of her work and work ethics prior to hiring her.
Vision Quest Virtual Tours provides 360º virtual tours for healthcare, hospitality and education. To learn more, visit us at www.VisionQuestVirtualTours.com or call us at 404-863-9769.
Before we started Vision Quest Virtual Tours, I worked for a therapeutic boarding school that had been embroiled in a multi-million dollar lawsuit. The bulk of the lawsuit was thrown out by the judge and a small portion was settled but the mother who initiated the suit had a vendetta that lasted until the school eventually closed. The school survived the lawsuit but did not survive the onslaught of internet attacks that this mother led. A Google search for the school’s name yielded the school’s website first and second and our virtual tour as the third listing but the fourth through seventh items that are returned were negative attacks.
These vicious and somewhat baseless attacks were led by this woman but appeared to come from several disparate sources. Because they seemed to come from a variety of sources, they appeared to have merit in the eyes of the prospective parents I talked to. Since the third item that came up in the Google search was the virtual tour, I was able to separate the truth about the school from much of misinformation that was out there.
We get about 1,500 hits per month to our website but even more importantly than that, we drive those hits from dozens of different sources. My experience at the school made me realize the importance of variety in Search Engine Optimization. We blog regularly and submit our tours and blogs to over 40 different websites and we get lots of web exposure as a result. If you search “Vision Quest Virtual Tours” on Google, there are two full pages about us before anyone else even shows up. This is a big deal because our name Vision Quest and the term Virtual Tours are pretty generic terms that are used by many other companies.
The Google search for our name returns references from 16 different websites in the first three pages alone! Google juice comes from having lots of different backlinks to your website. The fact that someone searching for our name yields returns from not only our website but from 15 other sources on just the first three pages helps to boost our credibility. Many people who do a search for our company aren’t really looking for more information as much as they are for validation that we are who we say we are.
The very first Google result that refers to anything other than our company is on the third page and is titled “Co-Ed Naked Networking on Vision Quest Retreats”. While our web content is scintillating, I am pretty sure that Co-Ed Naked Networking would catch the eye of anyone who is searching the web in the same way that the negative posts caught the eye of people who searched for the school. When someone searches for our company, I want them to be thinking about virtual tours - not co-ed naked networking!
Vision Quest Virtual Tours photographs high definition 360º panoramic virtual tours all over the country. We specialize in the areas of healthcare, hospitality and education. We have photographed tours in 31 states but when we aren’t on the road, we split our time between Charleston, SC and Quincy, IL. Vision Quest Virtual Tours is owned by husband and wife team Greg and Paige Mitts and the only co-ed naked networking we do is with each other! To learn more or to schedule a tour, visit us online at www.VisionQuestVirtualTours.com or call us at 404-863-9769.
There’s an old saying that being an artist is a great way to earn a living as long as you don’t starve to death first. Owning your own virtual tour business is a 100% commission deal. You only get paid if you get someone to buy your services. This can be frustrating for someone who has great technical skills and is a great photographer. It was the same when I was in the financial services world - the most technically proficient and skilled planners were often the worst salespeople and were shocked that no one wanted to use their services.
At Vision Quest Virtual Tours, we have a clearly defined business model that works well for us. Our primary focus is healthcare, hospitality and education. This business model fits well for our unique situation because we have no kids or pets and therefore have the ability to travel on a full time basis. We enjoy shooting real estate virtual tours but until recently we did not pursue that business because of our travel schedule. We now have a photographer in our home town whom we trust and who can shoot those tours for us when we are on the road. The great thing about real estate virtual tours is that once the relationship is built, there is the potential for a consistent stream of income.
While what we do works for us, we never want to imply that our business model is ideal for everyone or is the only way. The great thing about owning your own virtual tour business is that you can set up your business however YOU choose. By choosing a great partner like we have in RTV, Inc., we can focus as much or as little time as we want to our business and still offer a fantastic product.
Our only source of income is virtual tours however there is absolutely nothing wrong with having your virtual tour business be a part time venture and having something else be your core business or main source of income. I believe that there are a few keys to making a part time virtual tour business work.
- Differentiate between part time and spare time. If you are working a full time job and/or have a family, then there is really no such thing as spare time. You must be diligent about making time for your business on a consistent basis. If you do nothing other than make one new contact a day, you will eventually see results. Set a finite minimum goal for every week. I prefer to not make that a time goal but instead an objective goal. My goal is to make 100 new contacts a week. Perhaps a part time goal would be to make one new contact every day and a total of 10 for the week. The key is consistency.
- Create your unique value proposition. At Vision Quest Virtual Tours, we photograph high quality virtual tours at a reasonable price in the areas of healthcare, hospitality and education. That does not mean that we don’t do other types of tours but by knowing what our value proposition is, I can then target my marketing approach. Your value proposition is based on your specific skills - you can choose to compete based on superior photography skills, being the most efficient and better value, based on knowledge of a specific business, etc.
- Count the cost. I talk about this a great deal because I have seen so many people enthusiastically throw their hat into the self employment ring and end up failing miserably because they did not count the cost ahead of time. There is a ramping up period that is inevitable in any new business. Owning a virtual tour business requires a relatively low initial investment compared to other types of businesses but it is also not type of business where the business flows in as soon as you announce you are in business.
- Analyze your market. Is there enough demand for what you want to offer in your local area or are you going to have to expand into neighboring communities? We live in a small town with 40,000 people and ours is the largest town in the region. If we were tied only to the local area, there would not be enough business for us to operate long term on a full time basis. We chose where we live because it is centrally located and allows us to easily travel from coast to coast.
- Consider the rewards. What if your virtual tour business only generates an extra $500 a month of income? For most people, that amount of money makes a huge difference in their lives. An extra $500 a month would make a huge difference in what type of car you can drive, how quickly you pay off your debt, what kind of vacation you can take, what kind of house you can afford. What would an extra $500 a month do for you?
Having a good business plan is vital to running a successful business in the long run. Again, whether that business is for extra income or your full time job, having a plan lets you measure your success. No one should ever misunderstand us to say that ours is the only viable or worthwhile business model.
Have you found a way to do what you love and get paid for it? Do you have a clear understanding of your natural gifts and abilities?
Plato said, “All things will be produced in superior quantity and quality, and with greater ease, when each man works at a single occupation, in accordance with his natural gifts, and at the right moment, without meddling with anything else.” One of the greatest experiences of my life has been the chance to do work that fits with my natural gifts and even better than that is finding work that combines my natural gifts with my husband’s natural gifts and allows us to work together.
We feel lucky that our ONLY business is Vision Quest Virtual Tours. We found a market that allows us to do nothing other than photograph virtual tours without having to do other types of photography. Because of our crystal clear focus and understanding of what we do well, we are able to produce superior quality work with relative ease.
I watch Greg creating tours and know that if I were to try to do what he does, it would take me four times longer if I didn’t give up in frustration long before then. He is the technical one in our partnership. He knows the shortcuts in Photoshop, he has developed systems to allow him to build multiple tours at the same time, he knows what he is looking for when color correcting an image. By the time Greg is finished creating a virtual tour, he has taken the images through five or six different software programs but he makes it look easy because he is working within his area of expertise.
Greg listens to me on the phones and is amazed at how easy it is for me to talk to people about our virtual tour business. I LOVE calls like the one I got today where the client told me that his web guy said he didn’t need the virtual tour and I got to overcome a laundry list of objections. I have spent hours on the phone over several months and today he finally got it! I was able to answer all of his questions and we are doing 8 virtual tours for him next week. That sort of thing fires me up but I understand that wouldn’t be the case for someone who doesn’t share my natural gifts and skills. Talking to someone 20 or more times before they say yes gives me a huge sense of accomplishment!
If you haven’t already found a way to get paid to do something you love, consider taking the time to write down a description of your ideal lifestyle. What would your work hours be? What would your role be in the company? Who would you work with? What special skills and talents do you bring to the table? Then look at your current life and ask yourself “What is keeping me from living my dream?”
By knowing ahead of time what your vision is, you can recognize it when the right moment comes along.
Vision Quest Virtual Tours provides high quality virtual tours for heathcare, hospitality and education. We have photographed tours in 31 states but when we are not on the road, we split our time between Charleston, SC and Quincy, IL. To learn more or to schedule a tour, visit us online at www.VisionQuestVirtualTours.com.
Many years ago, I was involved with starting a financial services business. We had hundreds of independent agents who sold products through us. These were not our employees but rather a volunteer army who chose to align themselves under our company and use our products and systems. My business partner had much more patience dealing with these people and was an inspiring leader however there was always that one person who could never be satisfied. After dealing with one such problem agent, I said disgustedly, “I don’t know why you let him treat you that way.” I will never forget his response as it has changed the way I view the world. He laughed at my statement and said, “Paige, I don’t have any control over what people do to me. The only thing I can control is how I react.” He passed away almost 7 years ago but those words ring in my ears almost every day and they are perhaps the greatest gift he ever gave me.
I feel like I am writing a book report as I finish my blogs about the Traveler’s Gift, by Andy Andrews, I cannot help but share the valuable insights from this book. The final three Decisions shared in the book are all about choosing how we react to the circumstances of life:
- Today I choose to be happy. I am the possessor of a grateful spirit.
- I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit. I will forgive myself.
- I will persist without exception. I am a person of great faith.
It’s hard sometimes to remember that we choose our attitude. During an extremely difficult time in my life, I made the decision to conquer grief and depression and instead focus only on positive things. I got rid of my cable subscription and made cd’s of only positive and uplifting music to listen to instead. I read books that were positive and every night before I went to bed, I would list the things that I had to be thankful for. The list got longer every day as I began to change my choices and LOOK for things to be thankful for. I began to let go of past hurts and grievances and instead choose to forgive others and myself for mistakes of the past.
Choosing to have a good attitude does NOT mean ignoring the reality and circumstances of your life but rather choosing to focus on what you can change instead of dwelling on what you can’t. There are a million excuses why something can’t be done but there are always at least a handful of reasons why it CAN at least be attempted. If I fail, I want it to be because I tried everything possible to succeed. Only then can I rest knowing that I did my best.
This is not to say that you don't need to carefully consider an endeavor before starting it, it just means that one should weigh the costs and decide whether or not to go for it. We started our virtual tour business at the peak of the recession. We were broke and unemployed and in the middle of a terrible economy but we took advantage of an opportunity and have turned it into the business of our dreams. If we stop to look at the obstacles we face and the odds against us, then we might never have started on this journey and oh what a mistake that would have been!
The book The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrew is about Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success and I am reflecting on how these decisions apply to our virtual tour business. I wrote earlier about the first Decision - “The buck stops here. I am responsible for my past and my future.” The next three decisions are somewhat interrelated as they are all about our actions.
The second Decision of the book came from King Solomon and was “I will seek wisdom. I will be a servant to others”. It seems strange that the man who is considered the wisest man ever would advise the traveler to seek wisdom. But there is truth in the idea that the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. Our virtual tour technology provider, RTV, Inc. has a national conference that we will be attending in May. I will be teaching other virtual tour providers about how to market their virtual tour business but the real reason we are attending is to learn from other virtual tour dealers about their best practices. Even after almost 15 years as a professional photographer, Greg is always open to learn better ways of improving his skills and systems as a photographer.
The third Decision of the book is “I am a person of action. I seize this moment. I choose now.” This decision was shared by a Civil War colonel at a critical time in the war. Given the choice to surrender or charge, the colonel gave the order to charge and in doing so changed the outcome of the war.
Quitting is often a temptation but as the colonel in the book said, “When I am faced with the choice of doing nothing or doing something, I will always choose to act.” Most of us will never face a physical battlefield but we must make this same decision on a daily basis in the battlefields of our minds. Armed with this simple philosophy, we can usually win our battle at least for the day.
I have found a way to work my way through a quagmire is often not to focus on the big picture but instead to break my actions down into manageable pieces. I have a goal of making at least 100 contacts every week and that number can be overwhelming so when faced with the temptation to take a break or quit before the end of the day, I force myself to make 5 more calls. Usually, the 5 turns into 10 and the 10 turns into 20 but by deciding to do SOMETHING, I am often able to get over the hump.
The fourth Decision, “I have a decided heart. My destiny is assured” was shared with the traveler by Christopher Columbus during his journey to find the New World. Armed with little other than a dream, Columbus was passionate about his vision of an undiscovered land. This passion allowed him to push on despite months of travel with no land in sight...and despite the fact that almost everyone thought he was crazy to try.
Having your own business requires just this sort of determination - especially the sales part. Like I said earlier, I know that when I am calling for a new area, I need to make about 100 calls in order to book two or three tours. What that means is that I am going to get no one on the phone or get told NO about 97 times a week. I got an email last week from a business that said they were interested in doing a tour but needed to pass for now. I exclaimed my disappointment and Greg said, “I think sometimes you think everybody that shows any interest is a Yes”.
I realized at that minute that there’s a reason that he’s the photographer and technical guy and I’m the salesman. He’s right...I absolutely believe that everybody that I talk to would benefit from what I am selling because before I call, I have researched their websites to see if a virtual tour would be a good addition to their marketing efforts. I know the value and quality of our tours so I am absolutely flabbergasted every time someone tells me “No”. If I did not think that way, I would become overwhelmed by the 97 No’s I get and I would want to quit making the calls.
But like Columbus, even though I may not see dry land, I have a clear vision of where I am going and I know without a doubt that if I put in the hours on the phones, the results and my destiny are guaranteed. There are many things you can’t control when you own your own business but you ARE in control of your actions and your attitude.
To learn more about us or to schedule a tour, visit www.VisionQuestVirtualTours.com.
“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.” - Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice in Wonderland” tells us that if we don’t know where we are going, then it really doesn’t matter what road we are on. Unfortunately, many people run their small businesses with the same philosophy as Alice.
It is easier to get back from somewhere you’ve been than it is to go somewhere you’ve never been before. One of the easiest ways to set your goals at the beginning of the year is to examine what you accomplished the previous year.
At Vision Quest Virtual Tours, we specialize in Healthcare, Hospitality and Education. Our goal is to focus our marketing efforts and business in these specific areas. Our year end numbers prove that these marketing efforts paid off as 90.5% of our business came from those areas. For 2011, 52% of our income came from healthcare virtual tours and boarding school virtual tours. For that same time period, 38.5% of our income came from hospitality - vacation rentals, bed and breakfasts, inns and hotels.
It’s not that we don’t do virtual tours in other areas but because we know what our market is, that is where we focus our efforts. We did about 5.5% of our business last year for residential real estate and the remaining 3% were a variety of different businesses.
Unlike Alice, because where we want to go, we have a much better idea of which road to take...which is a very good thing because in 2011 we photographed 350 virtual tours in 31 states!
It’s been said that the IRS Tax code is about ten times bigger than the Bible but the difference is that the Tax Code doesn’t contain any good news. In the Bible, Jesus said, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Many people dream of owning their own business but do not really have a plan for determining if that business is going to be viable. In looking at a starting a business, it’s important to look at long range profitability as well as short term viability.
If you are considering starting a business, look not only at the long term profitability but also the short term expenses involved in start up. One of the big downfalls for small businesses is not being prepared for taxes at the end of the year. Because we are self employed, we knew what our end of year income was on 12/31 and because Greg does such a great job as the CFO of our virtual tour business, I also knew exactly what our expenses were for the year. Last week, I gathered all the information for our taxes and did a preliminary estimate of what our tax situation will be.
2011 was our first full year in business so we had no idea what we would owe in taxes therefore we did not send in quarterly estimated payments. With much anticipation and a little apprehension, I calculated our taxes and realized that we are going to end up writing a pretty good check to Uncle Sam. At first I was unhappy that we didn’t have enough write offs to offset more of the taxes but in retrospect, I am pretty excited.
Owing taxes means that Vision Quest Virtual Tours made a significant profit in our first full year in business. We shot 350 tours in 31 states last year so we have almost 39,000 BUSINESS miles that we can write off for the year. At 51 or 55 cents a mile, that is a significant write off. We are able to write off our phones, internet, meals, uniforms, advertising, supplies...if you own your own business, you know that the list goes on. Even after all of the deductions, we still owed a good bit. As hard as it is to write a big check to the IRS, our hope is that we owe twice that much next year because as small business owners, we only pay taxes on our PROFIT!
Starting our virtual tour business was something we did after lots of research and planning. We operated the business on a part time basis the previous year and made enough to cover all of our start up costs. On December 30, 2010, I quit my full time job and we dove headfirst into the self employed world. We went full time only when we knew we had enough consistent and projected income to make the business viable for the first year. Because we had done a great deal of preparation in the year before we pulled the full time plug, we were ready when the opportunity presented itself.
We credit much of our success to having a great partner who allows us to focus on what we do best. Originally established in 1999 as RealtorVision and now RTV, Inc. proudly supports Vision Quest Virtual Tours as well as over 100 thousand real estate agents in 27 countries. They are the largest full service virtual tour and property marketing network in the World and yet allow us the autonomy to run our own business and make our own decisions. With them acting as our back office, we can focus on photographing and building virtual tours and let them focus on things like research and development of new technology and hosting our tours.
If you are considering starting your own business, count the costs and weigh the risks. Statistics will tell you that between 50 - 90% of small business fail within the first year and yet the dream of many people is still to own their own business and defy those odds. We are living proof that the rewards far outweigh the risks!!
Vision Quest Virtual Tours is owned by Greg and Paige Mitts. We specialize in virtual tours for healthcare, hospitality and education. To schedule a tour or learn more, visit us at www.VisionQuestVirtualTours.com or give us a call at 843-410-4701.
I just finished reading the book “The Traveler’s Gift” by Andy Andrews and it had a profound impact on me. This simple little book describes the journey of a man who travels back through history to learn important lessons from historical figures such as Christopher Columbus and Abraham Lincoln. As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think about how these same lessons apply in my life and business. The subtitle of the book - Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success - refers to these seven lessons.
The first decision was explained by Harry Truman and the lesson is that “The Buck Stops Here” or in other words, we all must take personal responsibility for where we are. Andrews writes, “I am where I am today -- mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and financially -- because of how I think”. In order to change where I am, I must change how I think.
How I think determines how I act and the decisions I make. The decisions I make today, directly control the outcome of where I am tomorrow. Every day we face the cumulative effect of all the other decisions we have made. I have a terrible habit of staying up way too late which means I wake up late which means I lose valuable business hours. I have the same amount of hours that everyone else does in a day but it’s how I utilize them that determines my success.
Not only must I focus on working hard, I must also work smart. Not all of those hours are equal. Sure it would be a great idea for me to go for a run but right now may not be the ideal time for that. A run would take me away from my desk during business hours and right now I need to be talking to people about virtual tours.
We feel blessed to have a successful virtual tour business, Vision Quest Virtual Tours. We frequently hear people tell us that we are so lucky or that they are jealous of the life we live but many decisions go into our success. Here are 7 of the decisions that were critical in getting us where we are today:
- We chose to downsize our stuff so we could supersize our lifestyle. We live in a tiny house with a tiny payment and very little overhead. We have just one car. Because we have chosen to travel, we don’t need a bunch of stuff or a big house. Because we don’t have a bunch of stuff, we are free to travel.
We live entirely on cash and have chosen not to utilize credit cards. This sometimes affects where we are able to travel or the timing of certain purchases but it gives us a sense of certainty in knowing that we haven’t gone into debt to start or run our business. It also means we have to carefully watch our balance sheet to make sure we are keeping the pipeline of future business full.
- We decided that one shared income was enough since it meant that we get to work together every single day. There are times we would love to have at least one steady paycheck but this is the risk we chose in being self employed. The rewards greatly outweigh the risks.
We decided that we would focus our time on what we do best. For us that is two main lines of business - healthcare and education and Vacation rentals and hospitality. By having a crystal clear focus, we can streamline our efforts and create an impressive portfolio in those distinct lines.
- We dedicated our business to serving others and we give back a portion of every dollar we make. We think “luck” has very little to do with our success so we honor the giver of the gifts through donated tours and charitable contributions.
We decided that we would price our virtual tours in a manner that made the accessible to almost any business. We believe so highly in the value of the virtual tour and have seen what it can do for a business. We would rather have many smaller jobs than try to gouge a few people. We believe that by offering a high quality product at a fair value, everyone wins.
- We decided that having the right partner changes everything and we are so grateful that we chose RTV, Inc. for our virtual tour technology. They are constantly evolving and refining their systems so we don’t have to spend any of our time, money or efforts on researching and development. We have a back office that makes us look even better than we are and we are eternally grateful for the support of the RTV team.
These are Seven Decisions that have helped determine our personal success. What are the decisions you have made that have gotten you to where you are today? What decisions could you make that could change where you are tomorrow? I’ll be blogging about the other decisions over this week but for now, it’s business time and I need to get back on the phones.
Vision Quest Virtual Tours is a full service virtual tour provider specializing in virtual tours for Healthcare, Hospitality and Education. We split our time between Charleston, SC and Quincy, IL however have photographed over 350 tours in 31 states.