A brand-new 360° virtual tour business launches in North Wales thanks to support from the Welsh Government’s Business Wales service.
With no previous business experience, Mark Schorah decided to take the plunge into part-time self-employment. He approached Business Wales for help and has since increased his confidence and practical skills to launch his own business, Mark360 – not simply as a way of supplementing his income, but also doing something he is really passionate about.
Introduction to business
Launched by Mark Schorah in Llanrwst, Mark360 provides 360° virtual tours to the property market, hospitality industry and to any business that wants to show off their space in a more immersive way.
Why did you decide to set up your own business?
I’ve always had a passion for photography. I remember as a child, commandeering my father’s garden shed and converting it into a photographic dark room, where I would process and print my own black and white photographs.
From 2007 until 2011, I studied photography and design at Coleg Llandrillo and Wrexham Glyndŵr University, but could not come up with any ideas on how to turn my qualifications into a business enterprise.
More recently, I revived my love of scuba diving in the Red Sea in Egypt. I began documenting my dives with a Go-Pro camera, and after viewing a plethora of YouTube videos, I was introduced to 360° photography. With a small amount of market research, I discovered that virtual tours had not really caught on in North Wales. It was also apparent to me that, in general, the standards of photography in the property industry were quite poor – even for high-end properties. This was when the idea for Mark360 was born.
What challenges did you face?
Creating a portfolio of work: I needed to show examples of my work to potential clients. My first virtual tour was of my own home as I had recently refurbished it to quite a high standard. Through networking, I was able to build up my portfolio to include a holiday cottage, a fitness centre, hotel rooms (The Imperial Hotel, Llandudno) and office space.
Self-belief and anxiety issues: When Covid-19 arrived, my anxiety levels went through the roof. I had hoped my first paid job would be a small to medium sized property – it turned out to be a £1.25m mansion! I was so nervous on the day of the shoot, and intimidated by the scale of the property, I recall unscrewing my monopod the wrong way, and it falling apart in my hands. I ended up getting lost in the house and photographing several of the rooms twice. However, once I started receiving complimentary feedback and 5-star reviews from customers, my confidence started to grow.
Creating a more efficient workflow: The virtual tour of my property took 3 weeks to complete. Admittedly, one week was just tidying up my home! The most time consuming part of virtual tour photography is in post-production or the editing process. I needed to find a way of whittling 3 weeks down to 3 hours. Many hours of YouTube videos and LinkedIn tutorials later, topped with a lot of practice, and I’ve developed a more efficient way of working.
Being found online and getting businesses to engage with me: Earlier in the year, I began an email marketing campaign, targeting the property market (estate agents) and the hospitality industry (hotels, guest houses and holiday cottages). The response was disappointing, leading to only a handful of bookings. I quickly realised that if I was to be taken seriously, I needed a website and a Facebook business page. It took me about a fortnight to build a website I could be proud of.
Covid-19: Following the relaxation of lockdown mid-summer, hotels and holiday cottages either had no budget to spend on marketing, or they were fully booked for months, meaning I wouldn’t have access to photograph their properties.
A breakthrough occurred following completing a virtual tour, free of charge, for St Grwst’s church in Llanrwst. It had just had a £1.25m facelift and the Business Development Officer, Jon Richmond, was keen to show it off, particularly during the current restrictions. Within just a few days of publishing the tour on my Facebook page, I had reached 2757 people with 563 engagements, and my likes and followers had rocketed.
Business Wales support
Having attended a number of Business Wales workshops on starting up, tax and bookkeeping and marketing, Mark received support from Sian E Jones, a Business Wales start-up adviser, who assisted with all aspects of setting up a business, including business planning, marketing and website creation, amongst others. Sian also supported Mark through periods of self-doubt, giving him not just the knowledge and practical skills, but also the confidence to take the plunge into self-employment.
Mark is now working with a business mentor, Jane Stokes, who is guiding him with ongoing issues and queries. Additionally, Superfast Business Wales are providing support with Mark’s website.
“Business Wales has been an incredible source of information and support – all absolutely free! I got on well with Sian the moment we met, not only because she laughed at my jokes, but also because she is so approachable and knowledgeable. Whenever I reached an impasse, she always had a suggestion close at hand. Perhaps, most importantly, she believed in me and my abilities.”
Future plans and ambitions
Mark360 is still very much a fledgling business. I have the capacity to take on more virtual tour work alongside my part-time job. Ultimately, I would like to grow the business to a point where it could support me financially on a full-time basis. Shortly, I will be launching a new service for businesses called Google Maps Street View, whereby a client’s virtual tour can be integrated into Google street view and their Google My Business listing. This has the potential to increase my client base to include restaurants, bars, cafés and shops.
If you want to read more success stories of how Business Wales has helped other people like you to start or grow their businesses, visit https://businesswales.gov.wales/case-studies or follow @_businesswales / @_busnescymru on Twitter.