How to start a virtual tour business

The virtual tour business – starting out on the right foot

You may think starting a virtual tour business may be easy, or perhaps a way to make quick money. If that is the case, STOP NOW and choose a different business opportunity to pursue. The virtual tour business is tough. It is full of competition from all directions.

  • Wedding and Portrait Photographers adding it as a side service
  • Web design companies jumping into the game, adding it as a service
  • Amateurs and hobbyists with a 360 action cams thinking they can have a side hustle offering dirt-cheap rates
  • Real estate agents thinking they can buy a cam and DIY it to save money and offer it to others as well
  • Out of work folks hearing how “virtual tours are the hot moneymaker item now” and they order a camera off Amazon
  • 360 camera companies marketing to the end client market to buy cameras and DIY it.
  • Finally, other professional virtual tour companies.

All are tearing away at the market, wanting a share and more come every day thinking its an easy cash grab. This is not a business to jump into without being prepared to work hard, work long hours, face rejection, and continually be learning new technologies.

And then there is talent. You will need:

  • creative skills in graphic design to be able to accomplish the look and branding of tours
  • photo-editing to be able to clean up photos with blemishes, and items needing removed or altered. You need to understand White Balance, Color Temp, Contrast, Hues, Histograms, and more 
  • web technologies to be able to embed tours into client pages or assist with linking via various techniques
  • familiar with all the software to accomplish the above plus the tour platform used.
  • Lastly, you need to be able to market, sell, and run a real business. Accounting, Advertising, Marketing, Networking, Sales, Operations, Logistics, Taxation, and more

Once you find yourself comfortable with all of the above, and understand you will work many odd hours, often have to travel locally, and spend countless hours catering to demanding clientele, then maybe this business is for you. While it is not an easy business, and it certainly is not going to make you wealthy overnight, it is a business that offers creative freedoms, time flexibility, and is rather interesting as you encounter properties and spaces of all types.

So now that you decided YES, I want to start a virtual tour business, what is next?  LEARNING and RESEARCHING. We suggest you look over the many videos on YouTube and join the various industry groups on Facebook. We will list a few links to this at the end of this article. For now we will assume you have spent time reading up and learning about what exactly the virtual tour business involves and the various platforms, hardware etc… and are at the point of moving forward to the next step…

Building your toolbox is the next step. We have spent a significant number of hours researching the virtual tour industry, 360 panoramic cameras, virtual tour software, and everything needed to create a robust property and real estate virtual tour business. Below are things we consider a must-have for starting a virtual tour business. Some of our recommendations may contradict what you have read elsewhere, some will match… there is no hard core rule of what you need. This is all based on our own business and what we found to help make us a successful national virtual tour company.

Virtual Tour Cameras

Your camera is your single most crucial tool to build your business. You want to consider it an investment and not an expense. Invest as much as possible, and get the best camera you can afford.

Some folks use DSLRs on a special mount (Ninja Nodal is the typically used mount) and then use special software to create a 360 panorama from the individual images the DSLR takes. This approach gives the absolute best quality – but it comes with a price – the added workflow to combine all of the images, and well, ADDED PRICE… the gear is a bit more expensive. Many companies instead turn to higher quality 360 one shot cameras made specially for 360 degree panoramic shots. When used properly. and combined with some of the software tools we mention below, images can nearly rival those shot with DSLRs. We will cover the best options for 360 one shot cameras.

Ricoh Theta Z1 360 panoramic virtual tour camera for starting a virtual tour business

Ricoh Theta Z1

The Ricoh Theta Z1 has quickly gained status as the leader of the pack for 360 panoramic one-shot cameras. Quality design and rugged construction is a great perk. The real power is in the full-size 1-inch sensor, allowing for a much better dynamic range of color and detail. Ricoh is a well-known player in the market, and the Z1 is a real performer in the virtual tour space. Add to it that you can customize it with plugins and enhance it's ability, even more, this is one you will want to check out. This is the camera we personally use every day on our tour shoots. In our opinion it is the very best choice for shooting virtual tours with a one shot panoramic camera. It also works with the Matterport platform if you need that option. Rugged build and quality construction.

Ricoh Theta V

The Ricoh Theta SC2 and V are both a step down from the Z1, but still good cameras. The SC2 and V are very similar. The SC2 is a newer model coming from the Theta SC line. The V is a proven model that has been on the market for some time. The difference between the two is the V offers two more perks - live video streaming and the ability to use plugins. These two options make the Theta V a better choice since you can use the much-praised Dual Fisheye Plugin for the Theta V/Z1. Before the Z1 came along, this camera was considered one of the lading choices. It still remains a viable option for those looking to get started on a budget.

Ricoh Theta SC2 real estate tour camera

Ricoh Theta SC2

The Ricoh Theta SC2 and V are both a step down from the Z1, but still good cameras. The SC2 and V are very similar. The SC2 is a newer model coming from the Theta SC line. The V is a proven model that has been on the market for some time. The difference between the two is the V offers two more perks - live video streaming and the ability to use plugins. These two options make the Theta V a better choice since you can use the much-praised Dual Fisheye Plugin for the Theta V/Z1. The SC2 is a popular choice among real estate agents due to the promotion of it via Ricoh and their real estate virtual tour platform - Ricoh Tours.

Xphase Pro S 360 camera

XPhase Pro S

The XPhase Pro S is a well respected camera in the virtual tour industry. It's unique approach to capturing images using a series of lenses posistioned around it's cylinder head provides a super high resolution image and allows capture of intricate details. This camera continues to get better and better with each firmware version released. One thing to know is that some users report a fogging issue with the lenses and the company has tried a number of fixes however we continue to hear about this fogging issue. That said, this camera is a solid option.

Kandao Qoocam 8K 360 panoramic camera

Kandao Qoocam 8k

This camera had a rocky start but has quickly jumped in notoriety and respect. The company has released many firmware updates to squash bugs and enhance the camera. The recent addition of SuperHDR mode makes this camera a close competitor to the Theta Z1. If you want something to shoot and use images right out of the camera without a workflow, the Qoocam 8K offers excellent out of camera JPEG panoramic photos. Be aware earlier manufactured units were known to have a thermal defocusing issue, so make sure to get a newer build unit. The build quality is very nice - not cheap plastic.

Virtual Tour Design Software

Along with your camera, Virtual tour software is the must-have item in your toolbox. There are many options out there. You may have heard of a few – such as the popular Matterport platform, or Theasys, or Kuula. All are reliable options, but our research on virtual tour software led us to two distinct solutions we found to be the best of the bunch.

Cloudpano VIrtual Tour Software

Cloudpano Virtual Tour Platform

Of the two, CloudPano is our main virtual tour software used for most tours. Cloudpano is super easy to use, packed with features ( and keeps adding more! ) It offers in tour video chat, MLS compliant tours, lead capture forms, and other aspects that will allow you to provide a full marketing tour for your clients. It provides a clean looking, branded, and hosted tour for a very affordable cost. Several options are available from paying per tour to a lifetime license. We chose the lifetime license. The cost is minimal when you consider it is the main software tool in your toolbox. We have it for life now—no monthly charges.

3DVista VIrtual Tour Software

3D Vista Virtual Tour Software

The other virtual tour software we chose is 3dvista. We added this to our toolbox because it offers some very unique features for taking tours beyond just showcasing the property. 3dvista can produce eLearning and gamification style tours. It also has some very nice video embedding options and advanced video aspects not found in any other package. This platform is our go-to solution when we need to do something unique, such as a training tour with a quiz or immersive video panoramas. Unlike cloudpano, which requires the internet to access the cloud-based platform, 3dVista is a locally installed software application, and a one time purchase cost. You will also need to either host your tours on your own hosting service, or your client's website host. 3dvista does offer a great built-in hosting service you may want to consider.

Other things you will need in your "toolbox"...

Once you have your 360 panoramic camera and a virtual tour design solution, you need a few other hardware components to complete your tour shooting gear…  Most of these are not mandatory, but will make life MUCH easier.

Bushman monopod for virtual tours

Bushman Monopod V2

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Avella C324D Monopod

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camera mount riser post for theta to allow USB charge cable

SMALLRIG Post Extender

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Koroao Post Extender

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microphone stand for 360 camera

Microphone Stand

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microphone stand adapter for camera mount

CAMVATE 1/4 Adapter

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monopod battery and tripod battery

Andoer BG-2 Battery

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battery for ricoh theta monopod

Andoer BG-2 Ver2

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camera charging cables

Magnetic Charge Cables

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ricoh theta hard case

Casematix Hard Case 1

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hard case for 360 cameras

Casematix Hard Case 2

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virtual tour hard case for gear

True Position Tools - Universal Hard Carrying Case With Premium Kaizen Pick and Pluck Foam

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lens wipes for virtual tour camera

Lens Wipes

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octo pad for virtual tour shoots and table top tripod use

Octo Pad

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DJI Osmo video camera for virtual tours

DJI Osmo Video Camera

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Additional Software Tools

So you have your gear, you have a tour platform solution, and you have Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom – the standard in image editing. Well, there are a few more pieces of software that will boost your business to the next level. These additional tools will make your life easier in SO MANY ways. From cleaning up images and making them look amazing, to software to help you run the business aspect of your life… these are all things we use every day in our own business. They are all highly recommended.

cubi casa floor plan software

Cubicasa Floorplans

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affinity photo software for virtual tour panorama editing

Affinity Photo

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PTGui panorama stitching software

PTGui

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Photomatix

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Aurora HDR

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PanoPaint

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JPEGmini Pro

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TinyPNG

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Nadir Patch

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Topaz Labs Suite

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Tools to run and manage your business

Tave

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Dropbox

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Evernote

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Buffer Publish

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Lucid Press

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Zoom

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Grammarly

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MailerLite

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Woorank

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Siteground WordPress

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A2 Hosting WordPress

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Elementor Pro

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Online Resources for Virtual Tour Businesses

My group

Virtual Tour Profits FB

Ricoh Theta group

https://www.flaticon.com/affiliates