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.
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.