Virtual Tour Techniques

How To Start A Virtual Tour Business and Get Your First Clients

How to start a virtual tour business and get your first clients
How to start a virtual tour business and get your first clients

If you are looking to jump into the virtual tour business market (and start making real money with your 360 camera) then this is the perfect article for you.

I am going to walk you through step-by-step, how to start a profitable local virtual tour business with your 360 camera even if you have no experience, no portfolio or clients to reference. You can be successful. With a little bit of strategy and some hard work, you can become a virtual tour entrepreneur in a few weeks. Today I am going to show you exactly what to do, and how to reach your goals.

The reason I know you can be successful is because I’ve done it myself.  My name is Zach Calhoon, co-founder of CloudPano.com, a virtual tour software to create, host and display 360 virtual tours that quickly bring in consistent revenue into your business. We at CloudPano.com are focused on helping the virtual tour entrepreneur. We built the software (and continue to add features) to help you grow your local virtual tour business (like private labeling and keeping your domain name). But it’s important to note, today’s article is not software specific. You can use whichever software you please, and still benefit and profit from these strategies.

So let’s get started…

Turning Your 360 Camera Into A Revenue Machine

It is nice to have some extra money in the bank. Whether you are looking to rack in some extra cash for your rent, or you own a digital media company and want to add 30% revenue this year to help scale (for the advanced), this article will help you bring in consistent new leads every single week into your business.

Here is what we are going to cover…

-> Section 1: The 3 Pillars Of Your Virtual Tour Business

-> Section 2: The Expert Provider Mindset

-> Section 3: How To Determine What Is Really Important To Your Clients

-> Section 4: How To Pick A Niche (Hint: Follow The Money)

-> Section 5: How To Acquire Your First 30 Customers

-> Section 6: How To Price Your Service

-> Section 7: How To Deliver Quickly And Get Paid

-> Section 8: How To Scale And Grow

The 3 Things You Need To Start A Virtual Tour Company

When you are starting your virtual tour business, there are only 3 things you need. Hardware (360 camera and accessories), virtual tour software you can private label (like CloudPano.com) and paying clients. This article is focused on creating consistent paying clients into your business. Because without leads and clients, you won’t have a business. No matter how fancy the camera or smooth the software. You need more leads and more paying customers.

The Virtual Tour Entrepreneur – What It Really Takes

360 cameras and virtual tours are an incredible technology.  But before we get off into the tools and tech, I want to discuss your approach to business and entrepreneurship. Because if you miss this aspect of business, you will struggle every single day.  So please if you write down only one thing from this article, have it be this…

“Align With Your Clients Goals By Solving Their Pains and Problems

Business is very simple. People have problems and pains that are blocking them from reaching their goals. If you can help them overcome those problems, or solve those pains, money will attract itself to you. This is true in every business scenario. You will notice this trend with successful entrepreneurs. Compared to the struggling newbie who never makes it. If you focus your time and attention on understanding and solving your clients needs, you will naturally and easily make money…. Rather than focusing on your tools, your tech, your experience, yourself…you will struggle.

For example, read the example table below for the correct mindset as a service provider.

Successful Virtual
Tour Provider vs. Struggling Virtual Tour Provider

NicheWill SucceedWill Struggle
Real Estate AgentI help you acquire large luxury listings and sell property fasterI shoot 360 tours of houses
Apartment Property ManagerI help you reach 97% occupancy soonerI create 360 floorplans
College or UniversityIncrease application rates guaranteedI can photograph a virtual tour of your college
Small BusinessI help increase leads into your store frontI can place a virtual tour on google

I think you get it…

It’s a natural human instinct to focus on oneself. And you are going to use this instinct to help you sell more virtual tours. But your first step is to know your client’s goals… And remember don’t assume you know their goals. Ask.

How To Reveal What’s Important To Your Clients
(So you can align your value with their goals)

Here are some example questions you can ask a client to help reveal their goals:

-> “How is business this year and how can it improve?”

This question helps you understand what they think about 80% of their day. This will reveal pains and problems. Which you will solve (for a fee). Plus the answers you receive should inspire your entrepreneur mind with ideas. This is the process for framing your solution to solve their problems.

-> “What are your current objectives?” or “What is the goal of your marketing?”

-> Based on their answer ask a deeper question: “What would that mean for you individually?”

Script Example
Niche: Property Manager Of A 300 Unit Apartment

<begin script>

You: “Hey I was wondering what your occupancy looks like and
how we can help? Where is it currently and what is the goal?”

Property manager: “Well we are at about 92% occupancy and our goal is 97%”

Me: “Oh really?  Your goal is not 100% Occupancy?”

Property manager: “If we hit 100% occupancy, then we need to increase our prices!”

Me: “Haha! Well one way to raise your prices is to market floor plans in 360 / Virtual Reality. Here is an example demo and even a VR headset to play with…” (hands over CloudPano.com demo)

Property manager: “Now this is cool…”

Me: “Yep we specialize in making these for apartment complexes and multi family luxury assets.”

Property manager: “How much does it cost?”

<end script>

You see how I used their answer to pitch them on my service? This approach builds massive rapport and trust with your prospective client. And it works in every sales scenario, not only virtual tours.

This is how you charge high prices and build a business that makes major impact.

How To Pick Your First Niche

Now that you know exactly how to align yourself with your clients needs (and have a sales conversation), you need pick one niche to target. The most successful virtual tour providers start with one niche, then branch off after they have mastered their first niche. I know what you are thinking “Zach, I can make virtual tours for anyone, why would I pick only one niche?”
Because you need to align your messaging and your pricing with your customers needs. This will allow you to work on your marketing quickly and keep your quotes clean. That is how you build a system that continues to produce income without you constantly creating custom quotes for every request. And this approach will help you later when you hire and scale. You need to think big!

Action Step: Create a simple spreadsheet with some basic research items. Include the name of your niche, local market size, approximate budget etc. Here is an example you can use.
Market Research Example: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1auDQxg_qrldYnpWeIbtoCXi90Ew92h63DRpVwkQ1-bg/edit?usp=sharing

(make sure to select File> make a copy)

For example:

When you make this list, you can start to get a feel for your local market. I live in Houston Texas. So I have a huge market for almost every category. Don’t try and go after everyone at once. But prepare you mind for a consistent marketing strategy that is highly targeted. Then make sure to focus on choosing a niche that pays well. A simple shift of focus can increase our income by 4x. You should only spend a few days doing your research. Its ok to guess on some numbers. Get a general idea and move forward to selling. If you are not sure. Just pick one! You can always change later.

Presell Your Niche (On The Phone or In Person)

Start with your close network. Reach out to a few niches you have access to. It can be through friends or your current network. Call them on the phone and tell them what you are doing. Ask them similar questions about their problems. Then pitch them on coming to location and creating a virtual tour. You will quickly hear the level of excitement and possible objections. Mark down notes including their feedback. When you make a connection with a niche who understands your service and grasp the value quickly, good you are on track.

Important: Getting on the phone with prospects helps you understand you market fast. When you are first starting you need to hear their voice. 

It is also important to write down a rough calculation of the customer’s value. For example, if your chosen niche receives monthly recurring revenue, then they are more likely to pay you monthly recurring revenue for “hosting.” This increases the lifetime value of your customer and makes them much more attractive to target.

For example, if you target local property management companies with large apartment portfolios, you will have access to multi family money. And if you position your service as a “Luxury Digital Media Company,” you will be able to pitch larger clients. The math works in your favor when you target a large customer. Yes, this will take some work and experience. But if you set your targets high, you will be surprised how quickly you can gain traction.

My First Presale – How You Can Acquire Your First 30 Customers

This is a picture of me pitching a room full of real estate agents

I have a confession, at this point in my journey I had zero customers, and no camera. I pitched the room on the service, how it worked and what to expect. I had a single pano 360 demo (it wasn’t even a working virtual tour). I handed out on my phone with the demo. I was able to gauge a response right away. Then I handed out a simple signup sheet that said “I want a 360 tour” and I offered a special discount “One time offer” if you signed up today.

Guess what? 15 people signed up. It was a 50% conversion rate.

I still have a photo of that first signup sheet.

The signup sheet (redacted)
The signup sheet (redacted)

 

Its was amazing! I ran off to Best Buy and bought a 360 camera, called these people and started to shoot virtual tours.

You can do this too. If you think outside the box and start to take action, you will quickly find folks to ‘raise their hand’ with interest in your virtual tour business.

Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about which camera to buy and start to pitch clients. When they say yes, your camera becomes pre-paid and your startup cost become tiny. Cool right!? Take some action today and see what happens.

How To Price Your 360 Virtual Tour Service

The number 1 question I receive from users on CloudPano.com, is “How much do I charge?” Of course my answer is, it depends. I think the answer depends on your market selection more than your experience.

Every time you market to a new client, expect to negotiate on price. If the client is a referral (my favorite type) then do not give them any discount for their first virtual tour. They will already have a level of trust from their contact.

Here is a sample pricing sheet we give out to our users:

Free Guide: Pricing Secrets Of 360 Virtual Tour Pros – Click Here

When you determine pricing, you can always start low and ramp it up as you pitch more people. Try to deliver pricing in person or over the phone. Watch their face and reaction. If they are totally fine with what you say (no flinching), you should pick a higher price. If they freak out, you can discuss a “discount” only “if they refer you” to 2 more clients. Remember, if you are having a pricing conversation, they want to buy. Ask for the sale, make sure to follow up and always be closing.

How To Deliver Quickly And Get Paid

One of my favorite aspects about shooting virtual tours is the speed of creation. You can photograph a 2000 square foot house in 15 minutes. And when you upload the files to CloudPano.com you can create a virtual tour in less than 5 minutes. Send over a link to your client, followed by an invoice and get paid fast. I have used Paypal for years to send out invoices and receive payments. You can create a business account and quickly get users to pay you (its free to create an account). Getting paid is so important, and you don’t need to waste time calling people about money. Just click ‘send a reminder.’ And Paypal will send an email reminder to your clients. Also you can integrate a papal link right on your website that accepts payments through your shopping cart. Its easy to use and its free to sign up. And of course, if possible get paid in advance!

How To Scale Your Virtual Tour Business

When you first start your local virtual tour business, you take over every role in the business. See example flow of a lead:

(You are in blue)

You are responsible for all the touch points for your service delivery. This is totally normal. And you will feel this quickly when you start to get lots of work and projects booked.

Your goal is to replace yourself from the equation. As the company CEO, you will need to oversee each activity in your business. This way you can focus on company growth. Here is how your business will look:

You are the CEO.

Take on the proper role as the business owner and CEO. This will allow for you to optimize each step in your customers experience. When you reach this level of optimization, you will find yourself thinking big and only participating in the activities that you love.

Hiring Help – The Fast Way To Free Your Time

When I first started a virtual tour business, the first thing I did was hire someone to help me shoot locations. He was a high school kid named Patrick and he was home schooled (he had free time). He needed some extra cash before he went off to college. He was easy to work with and I was able to teach him the tech in one hour. It was the perfect fit. Having someone you can source opens your schedule and allows you to accept more gigs and projects as they come through the pipeline. Your future goal is to have 2 people on your team to schedule at any time. As projects come in, you can book them to location.

How To Find Your First Hire

Your first hire will be a unique story. Here is mine (feel free to use the same process)…

I saw a post on Next Door (the neighborhood app) where Patrick was shooting drone photos. I called him up and asked him if wanted to help me with my virtual tour start up. I trained him on location and started to send him out without me.

If you are just started out, this may seem silly. But when you have other established businesses (like me), time becomes your prized asset. When you learn the workflow and understand the tech, all you need is someone to take the photos for you. If they can press a button, they can create a virtual tour. You can set up the systems (like CloudPano.com) and establish a client network. Once you feel ready, hire your first young lad to help you (and pay them hourly). You will quickly be able to focus on sales, marketing, advertising and growth. Removing yourself from photographing the virtual tours may sound crazy or far away in your journey. Don’t think this way. You can quickly convert your virtual tour business into an asset. And that is the level of thinking we cultivate at CloudPano.com.

How To Get Started Today

The key to success is business is to take action. If you try to learn every tool, camera, tech and software you will get lost and feel overwhelmed. Just pick a niche and start selling. You may fall flat on your face. But you will learn along the way. If you would like to find more sales minding entrepreneurs and you are ready to take your virtual tour business to the next level, check out CloudPano.com.

Here is a list of free resources to help you in your journey:

1) Check out the CloudPano blog –  blog.cloudpano.com

2) Subscribe to the Virtual Tour Profit YouTube channel here – Click Here

3) Free Guide: Pricing Secrets Of 360 Virtual Tour Pros – Click Here

4) Free Download: The Top 5 Most Profitable Virtual Tour Niches – Click Here

5) Join our virtual tour marketing Facebook group – Virtual Tour Profit – Click Here

And of course, check out our world class 360 Virtual Tour Software platform built for the virtual tour entrepreneur, just like you: CloudPano.com

Thanks for reading! I will see you on the inside.

Zach Calhoon

Co Founder at CloudPano.com

About the author

Zach Calhoon

16 Comments

Click here to post a comment

Leave a Reply to Zach Calhoon Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    • Hi Zach. Your post is very valuable and it helps a lot to understand basics. Just wondering if your system still working nowadays and I heard that Real estate agencies are not really willing to spend money on anything like videos or virtual/360 photos,they just don’t care about that. Their clients need to come in and see property live anyway, so no difference between ordinary photo gallery and virtual tour on their website. What is your thoughts about that? Do you still working with Real Estate clients?
      Thanks in advance
      Rafal

        • Anyone, who will try to have business with Real Estate agents, need to make own experience, in his own country, with the mentality and rules of his country.
          But – due to my own experiences – it is not as easy as Zach wrote, if you are a serious business partner.
          And: Don´t underrate the time and effort you need for acquisition!

          Some of my own experiences:
          In Germany it is hard to find estate brokers, who are willing to spend a few hundred Euro for pictures or for a 360tour.
          I am a prof. (“fulltime”) 360-photographer since 2010 and have made very different and really all kind of experiences.

          In Mallorca (Spain), there are a few brokers, that sell big houses/villas.
          We had a job to create around 20 “high-end” tours.
          After 3 Month, 2 of those 20 houses where selled via this 360°-web presentation.
          Those 2 buyers where not in the houses, they decided to buy, by “inspecting” the vr tour only! – Full success!
          So the broker´s cost of around 20.000Euro (for the 20 vr-tours) are fully earned by selling the first house.
          Math: 1% from the selling price of 2 million € ?
          And the broker receives a little bit more than 1% !
          And those villas are in the range of 2 up to 20 million € !
          (Hint: You cannot produce high-end tours with a 360-oneshot camera!)

          One more experience:
          In 2012/2013 I tried to establish 360tours for local real estate brokers and made dates with more than 30 R.E. brokers.
          I did nice presentations, offered my services – very similar to the very good tips that Zach gave! – but finally there have been only 2 with a serious interst. Those 2 gave me 4 jobs to take 360-tours.
          Math: 6 weeks intense marketing plus 4 days photographic and retouching work for an income of around 1600.-Euro..
          Not enough for 7 weeks and for having living expenses in an expensive city like Munich.

          What I want to say: See the first 3 sentences again 😉

      • Hey dude. Yes I agree 100%. I think real estate is a great place to start. But over time you need to move to commercial properties and business owners. This way you can charge more, speak directly to the owner and even charge monthly. RE is a tough market because (here in Houston) everyone is a realtor. But only a few are real producers. If I were you I would pick a weird niche, like storage units or RV parks, and start to market to them. Get feedback. Get on location then up-sell with “advanced features” like the CloudPano Lead generation feature. Then send leads to the end user automatically. Just an idea. Nothing comes easy at first, but overtime the messaging becomes the same. Find the pain and remove the pain with your service/product. Good luck!

  • Zach shows some good marketing and acquisition tips, but there are more important components, for which at least small hints should be given.

    Because as simple as Zach describes it here, it certainly isn’t.
    But his strategy is of course well suited to find potential customers for his product!

    To be successful as a professional tour creator and panorama photographer you need to take care of these additional points:
    – professional appearance
    – tax correct working “VAT/Tax returns/Tax office (most need a tax consultant)
    – Legally secure contracts plus general terms and conditions
    – commercial registrations (depending on local regulations)
    – Liability insurance – this can also be mandatory, but is always useful (depending on local regulations).
    – Further or other regulations may be required depending on the country.
    – … etc.

    I have understood Zach in such a way that one can go immediately without experience, without founded knowledge, without “everything” – even without camera – on customer catch…

    Exactly this would be in my eyes, the most unprofessionell kind, to start a respectable! business.

    But – of course – I wish anyone the best and hope that the 360 VR market still grows, so let´s go ahead!

    • @D.Lukas. Hey there thanks for your comment. Here is my comments based on your bullets:
      “-professional appearance”
      I am wearing a suite for the presentation. In general I would agree. But I have seen no correlation with clothes and conversion rate.
      – tax correct working “VAT/Tax returns/Tax office (most need a tax consultant)
      In Texas we collect a 8.25% tax. But filing your taxes is a separate post all together. I have a guy who does my taxes, so again its easy and not important at this level of an article (getting started).
      – Legally secure contracts plus general terms and conditions
      In Texas, a handshake deal is a binding contract. If you are starting small, you do not need any formal contracts to get started. “Payment upon completion.” Is all you need to ask up front. 🙂
      – commercial registrations (depending on local regulations)
      Not needed here. I cant give any comments.
      – Liability insurance – this can also be mandatory, but is always useful (depending on local regulations).
      This can be needed for large clients. But not needed to get started. Just have someone with you at all times. (In my opinion)
      – Further or other regulations may be required depending on the country.
      Yea I guess that is true. But this should not stop you from taking action

      Overall, you need to take action. And some things you have to learn as you go. And thats OKAY! To try and sit down and write up all the requirements will freeze you. And I promise, if you freeze up at the beginning, you will never get started. So follow this one rule, TAKE ACTION. Figure it out as you go. 🙂

      • Hi Zach,
        thanks for taking time to answer and toprecise some points!

        Let me precise also, but before, just some general words:
        1. Please dont feel attacked in any way, I just want to give more hints and give some attention to other importand points that I really missed in your article.
        Especially, when I wrote, that you want to find customers for your product. This is true and you have to find customers for your business – but of course its not reprobate in any kind.
        2. Also, I dont want to start a big discussion here, but – as I said – simply point to some more important things.
        3. Therefore the following points should not enrage you – and hopyfully no others – couse my aim is to be contructive, not obstructiv.
        4. As I am not a native english speaker, some of my used words could be not precise enought, to give the sense that I wanted to tell…so forgive me, if any confusing phrases could arise…
        OK, so let´s try it more detailed:

        “-professional appearance”
        — wearing a suite is not what I meant. An “overall public appearance” could be the better phrase. This should include all business things, website, business cards, emails, general professionel behaviour in ALL things someone does as an entrepreneur, because you should not act like the “hobby-photographer”, that “works off the books”…

        “Tax office/authorities”
        — On this point plus the last point (“Further regulations may be required…”) I want to make the readers sensitive for all possible local bureaucratic obstacles…

        “contracts/terms and conditions”
        — yes, a handshake deal is a binding contract in many countries, BUT: it´s worth almost nothing if it comes to a controversy with your client and you dont have a witness OR a written contract.
        Hint: Usually an email from your customer is a very helpful document, but there should be written all facts, relating to your services for that deal plus the clients o.k. for the price…

        “commercial registrations”
        — Zach, also if not needed in Texas, it makes sense to give a hint, that people in other countries maybee do need to request some permissions and registrations at the local authorities…
        ( hey, YOU should be very happy, to have less bureaucracy, envy you! )

        “Liability insurance”
        — It´s true, that with some big companies it´s mandatory, but let me give some of my own experience:
        If you have any kind of accidential incident and – lets say a very valuable – piece of art is broken because of you…
        If you have enough money to refund to your client, you dont need a “third party liability insurance”, but if you are in the same situation as most people, you should think of such an insurance….
        Furthermore, if we go in deeper details, there are much more aspects, a selfemployed photographer should learn, to be able to avoid problems and expensive written warnings from lawers, but this is to deep, to discuss here. (all kind of copyright rules, trademark rights, property rights, and so on…)

        “Overall, you need to take action…”
        Zach, I agree. But if one does want to appear as a trustworthy business partner, there are more things neccessery, than simply “to start now, only with nice words in your bag”
        (and without reasonable preparations…)

        As a fact: Many companies (especially the very small ones) become insolvent, because they did not prepare enough on such points, OR could not deliver consistent quality just in time (due to the agreements).
        I now very well how annoying it is, to be always on the legal side, in terms of taxes and business-regulations and all other bureaucracy!
        As a “creative” I hate such things (of ourse) – but I try hard to be on the “safe side”, and this is one more reason, why I still be able to exist with my small photographic-company, but many of my collegues lost her business over the last 10 years.

        Yo, omg, what a long answer, sorry, I stop now!

        Good Luck to anyone, who want to start with his own business!

        • I love your passion thanks for your comments.
          I also think its natural for us as humans to create barriers where there is none. I hope to inspire where I can. Keep up the hustle my friend!

  • Virtual tours give your audience a visual idea of how your business looks like before they even visit the actual location, and that makes for one big first impression what can be a deciding factor on whether or not they would like your service.

  • Brilliant, it’s like a mini-course in entrepreneurship.

    Oh, also Zach I heard you speaking about event spaces and wedding venues. I’m thinking of getting into the same area, but from a few different angles: shooting them as a 360 photographer, becoming a preferred vendor and shooting weddings there, too, and eventually owning my own wedding venue from seeing what works and what people want.

    Hit me up if you’re interested in the 3rd option, I’ve got my eye on some property down here in New Zealand =D

  • “Hey I was wondering what your occupancy looks like and
    how we can help? Where is it currently and what is the goal?”

    I know it is a normal approach for a salesman to figure out first what problems a customer has and then offer some solution to solve them. The only problem here is does it really work?

    I cannot imagine somebody comes to my business… somebody I do not know… and starts asking something quoted above. I would just reply “as usual” and that’s probably will be the end of conversation.

    It is very different from a situation when I as business owner calling some business that claims to solve my problems.
    I don’t even think I am comfortable to ask something like this from a person who does not know who I am.

    Do they really so open minded that they are ready to drop a bucket on you with all their business problems as long as you ask them?

    Will it be more practical and convincing to start with something “We can help you to increase your occupancy rates”? It seems to me more logical, you are not starting with poking your nose into somebody’s business and to be honest you know why you are offering a tour to hotel.

    As for my approach and I have just started applying it now after more than a year in this business I do the following:
    I am nurturing one new local cafe with great interior in order to get a tour done for them. Its owners are young people and they are quite interested. It was going for about two month until I came to them yesterday and offered a free 30 days trial. That seems to change everything and we have a meeting tomorrow to discuss it.

    So may be, consider that businesses you are targeting a)have no idea what you are offering and barely have time to listen b) simply do not trust your claims. All they see is a price tag and even if it is small it is still considered as a risk and a trust problem. When you remove a tag for some trial period that changes a lot for them as they see it as $0 investment trial and most will go for it. If you can cope it with an access to their analytics before and after the tour or simply run a free local SEO report you will get the most businesses on trial paying you after their trial period.

    You do not need to offer a trial to everyone, you can have some selection criteria for businesses like floor plan size, type of a business. For big ones with a huge floor size you can offer to do a few facilities under your floor plan size selection criteria.