I had a boss once whose least favorite word was “potential”. As a salesperson working for him, I never understood his violent aversion to the word but if you wanted to see him bristle, all you needed to do was tell him about all your potential business.
Our virtual tour business is currently in negotiations for so much potential business that it makes my head spin. We have bids in negotiation for several huge contracts that are right in our sweet spot and we’ve been told “Yes” by several businesses that are even now working out the logistics. Webster defines potential as “existing in possibility; capable of development into actuality.” Because I am an optimistic person, I look at opportunities that exist in possibility and calculate all the potential income. The problem with this is that you can’t spend potential!
There are certain universal laws that we believe to be absolute. The law of Increasing Returns is one of those that we strive to live by. Whether you call it Karma or the Golden Rule or sowing what you reap, there's truth to the fact that eventually what comes around, goes around. There’s a great quote by Napoleon Hill in his classic book, “The Law of Success in Sixteen Lessons.” Hill suggests that we “Render more service than that for which you are paid and you will soon be paid for more than you render. The law of ‘Increasing Returns’ takes care of this.”
A great example of this happened to us just yesterday in our Illinois Virtual Tour Business. We went to photograph a real estate virtual tour for a Realtor in a nearby city and when we arrived at the house, the place was a TOTAL MESS. I don’t mean clutter...I mean mess. The home was empty but the homeowners were doing some remodeling work and there were tools and materials all over the place as well as bags of garbage. Our job when shooting a residential real estate virtual tour is to photograph the house in a way that will appeal to potential homebuyers. At first glance, there was no way we could possibly do that. My husband is a great virtual tour photographer but there are some things that no level of creativity can overlook.
Greg and Paige Mitts of Vision Quest Virtual Tours recently attended RTV, Inc.’s national conference in Traverse City, MI where they were awarded the top honor of “Most Valuable Players” from among a network of over 1,500 other virtual tour providers. Vision Quest Virtual Tours provides state of the art 360º virtual tours primarily in the fields of healthcare, hospitality, and education. Though headquartered in Quincy, IL, Vision Quest Virtual Tours has photographed virtual tours in over 30 states.
Originally established in 1999 as RealtorVision and now RTV, Inc., RTV is a profitable and privately held corporation that proudly supports over 100,000 real estate agents and businesses in 27 countries. Their virtual tour technology has also attracted over 1,500 independent business owners who provide unparalleled worldwide coverage in the field of virtual tour photography. This makes the RTV network the largest full service virtual tour and property marketing network in the World.
One of the challenges in making cold calls for our virtual tour business is knowing when I’m being ignored and when I’m dealing with someone who is just busy. We will be shooting a private school virtual tour tomorrow...four months after our first email. I called and emailed the Director of Marketing in January then called again about a week later to see if my email had gotten to her. It took over two weeks before she responded and her response was like many I have received
Hi Paige –
I’m not ignoring you – as a matter of fact, XYZ company would be very interested in talking to you. Unfortunately, our marketing budget is depleted for the year, so it doesn’t really make sense to talk now. Could you please contact me again in April?
It can get frustrating to send out multiple emails and leave repeated phone calls and not get responses but it’s part of the process of building our virtual tour business. This particular client told me that she had kept my emails in her inbox but she just hadn’t gotten back to me because things kept coming in that were more urgent. It wasn’t that she wasn’t interested in what I was offering - she absolutely was!
For virtual tour photographers frustrated with the slow progress breaking into your local Residential Real Estate market -- DON'T GIVE UP!!! IT'S WORTH IT IN THE END!!
When we started our virtual tour business we assumed that the majority of our business would be residential real estate virtual tours. We quickly became frustrated as we made calls because we assumed that the Realtors we were talking to would immediately see the value of our product and services and line up to schedule real estate virtual tours. We found it very difficult to open the doors in the real estate market and refocused our business elsewhere and quickly became experts in the commercial virtual tour arena.
In 2011, Real Estate was only 5% of our virtual tour businessbut it will be much bigger now that we have figured out how important a market stream it is. We now have a real "hometown" and have found a way to focus our efforts consistently on building our Illinois Virtual Tours without sacrificing the time I spend marketing nationally to healthcare and hospitality virtual tours. We started small -- I met a Realtor at an open house and shot two tours for her the same day. She loved the tours and got us an invitation to do a presentation at her office’s sales meeting. My presentation consisted of her bragging about our work and telling her peers that they would be crazy NOT to use us. That day, we booked 7 tours for another Realtor and shot several of them that very day. A week later, we got a call from another, and now we work regularly with most of the Realtors in that office and get referrals from them for other Realtors who see the work we’ve done for them.
The hours I spend on booking a big job vs. the phone ringing on a consistent basis with REORDERS from this handful of Realtors was enough to convince me that the Real Estate market is worth the effort. Trust me, we used to say we hated working with realtors but now we love it and it provides us with a base income that allows me to focus on the bigger jobs without having to worry about mortgage and car payment money.â¨â¨ While cultivating an initial relationship with Realtors may be a lot of work, they are the ONE very consistent and ongoing stream of income that we can count on without having to do additional outbound marketing. With commercial tours, we shoot it once and hope for referrals but once you have a loyal and SATISFIED realtor, you don't have to resell them over and over.
We even hired a local photographer so that we don't lose that Illinois virtual tour business when we are traveling. Realtors are the only line of business we have where we GET calls every week instead of me sitting down to make calls every day. We have great relationships, they love our work and they tell other Realtors about us all the time.â¨â¨It didn't happen overnight but slowly but surely we are converting many of the Visual Tour users over when they see the difference that professional photography and a kick ass tour delivery system makes. All it cost us was a few doughnuts and a lot of persistence - not a bad return.
A new virtual tour photographer asked me today if I could share the secrets of our successful virtual tour business. The bottom line, I told her, is it boils down to is consistency and persistence in making new contacts. Sure, it helps that Greg is a great virtual tour photographer and that RTV, Inc. provides us with great virtual tour software. But all that really means is that the number of calls I have to make to close a single sale for a 360 degree virtual tour l is a lower than if I didn’t have those things. Closing ratio means that x calls yields y sales. The key is to figure out what your x and y are.
The great thing about sales is the understanding that once you know what your closing ratio is, you can easily extrapolate how many calls you need to make in order to close a set amount of business. I have learned that I have to make about 100 calls to book 10 virtual tours. If Greg was a less experienced virtual tour photographer, then I might have to make 200 calls to book those same 10 business virtual tours. The formula remains the same - the only thing that changes is the x and the y.
To say that I have a 10% closing ratio DOES NOT mean that I win one out of ten times. It means that if I make 100 contacts, I feel pretty confident that we will end up shooting 2 -3 virtual tours and if I make 1,000 contacts, we will eventually shoot 100 virtual tours. Charles J. Givens, author of Wealth Without Risk puts it this way, “Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort.”
I start a running tally every week knowing that I need to make a minimum of 100 calls if I want to maintain the growth of our virtual tour business. I write everything in a notebook that I keep with me at all times and I write down the number beside each new call, email or face to face contact. I know that I need to make 100 contacts every week to keep our business growing. The challenge is not giving up on the 95th call. I hear the word NO more than most people because I keep calling. That’s the secret of our successful virtual tour business.
Vision Quest Virtual Tours provides interactive 360 degree virtual tours for healthcare, hospitality and education with an emphasis on behavioral healthcare virtual tours and vacation rental virtual tours. We are located in Quincy, IL but we photograph virtual tours all over the country. For more information or to schedule your virtual tour, visit our website www.VisionQuestVirtualTours.com.
I am in the process of creating new blogs to feature our vacation rental virtual tours and healthcare virtual tours. We have shot over 500 virtual tours in the past couple of years and I’ve started by adding the tours we did back at the beginning of our virtual tour business. This summer will be the three year anniversary from the day we got our equipment in the mail and we launched our virtual tour business and can I just say, we’ve come a long way baby!
Here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way...
One of my least favorite phrases has always been “It’s not my job.” Having owned my own company prior to entering the corporate world, I never understood how the ultimate success of any organization was not the job of every single employee. Now that I am back to being a small business owner, the question of “Is this my job?” takes on an even greater importance.
I visited the website of another Charleston, SC virtual tour provider to check out our competition. On their website, they have samples of their work and the tour that they chose to showcase their services has a panoramic spin with someone sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor working on the dishwasher. Seriously, of all the tours that you could choose to represent yourself, you couldn’t find one that didn’t have the dishwasher repair man sitting in the middle of the floor?
One of the challenges Realtors face is that their clients often don’t see their own clutter but as an outsider coming into a home for the first time, you’d think one would notice the dishwasher repair man.
At Vision Quest Virtual Tours, we work as a team. With close to 15 years as a professional photographer, Greg stays behind the camera and I go in front of him to prepare each room to showcase the property in the very best light. It is not unusual for him to have to wait on me to finish staging an area because our work represents both us, the Realtor or business owner and the property we are shooting.
There are many good egg metaphors that apply to sales such as Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, and of course, there’s the one about Killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Anyone one who owns a business needs to remember these important concepts.
At Vision Quest Virtual Tours, we specialize in photographing virtual tours for healthcare, hospitality and education. We have many eggs in many baskets!! This month, we were on track in March to have our biggest month of income ever. We are working with two beach vacation rental companies, several small businesses and we were scheduled to shoot three behavioral health programs. We are used to traveling thousands of miles per month to shoot all over the country but all of these were within a short distance from our home in Charleston. I was looking forward to a relaxed month for once!
It’s hard to stay motivated when I am looking at a full pipeline. There is the temptation to relax and think I’ve earned a break once I get the pipeline looking good. I have trained and supervised hundreds of sales people and I know that I am not alone in this tendency. I understand sales metrics such as closing ratios and a pipeline of projected business. I know that I have to make a certain number of calls to book a certain number of tours. I also understand that a certain percentage of the tours I book will cancel or reschedule for a variety of reasons. This is why it is of the utmost importance to have a very full pipeline and to have a variety of streams of income and NOT to slow down once the pipeline looks full! Or to use an egg metaphor - I know better than to count my chickens before they hatch.
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.