Business Startup with a Video Camera
by Sherry LaBaff

If you have a VCR and a video camera, you can get in on an incredible new field of home enterprise that is one of the most lucrative for the rank amateur. That field is insurance video. It is bound to become an enormously popular service in years to come, so we advise getting your feet wet as soon as possible to get to jump on competition. One firm has already begun selling franchises, but that's quite unnecessary at the present time. Here's what you need to know to give it a go.

First, use VHS equipment. You will find most people requesting it anyway. Don't go overboard on a camera, but be sure it is a quality unit with a local service representative. Downtime is expensive. Keep the recording unit as compact a possible and have more battery packs than you think you'll need. You should find that the ultra-compact all-in-one units will do the job. Use tapes with at least 20 minutes of recording time on them, but you won't need more than an hour's worth of tape for most jobs.

Second, advertise your service. What you are doing is recording people' possessions on tape for a permanent record in case of loss or damage in a way that allows the insurance company to make the most accurate possible settlement. That's worth a lot to most people, but you have to tell them that. Most people never heard of insurance video and anything new meets with some resistance in the market.

When you get requests for your service, you will find a number of people who are suspicious about your intentions. For all they know, you may be "casing the joint" for a future burglary. As soon as you open your business, call the Better Business Bureau and the police department to inform them of your services. That way, when your customers check you out (and they will) you will at least be familiar to these agencies and will have been open enough to give a good show of faith.

Set your prices as fairly standard, say $25 including tape costs for all jobs to one-half hour of tape and an additional $5 for each five minutes after that. It's not a lot to pay for security. And don't forget that this service is performed in other people's homes so you must travel to them to do it.

When you set appointments, tell your clients to have all their important papers and valuables unpacked and on display, either on the floor, table wherever, so they can be quickly scanned by the camera. Tell them to throw in their valuable papers such as insurance policies, securities and loan papers, and to have jewelry ready for the camera. Remind them that the more preparation they do, the less it will cost them.

When you go to the person's home, be ready to start the tape as soon as you get out of the car. Roam around the house, around the car, get under the hood and into the interior. Take a few seconds of tape on the dashboard where expensive options show up. Get the owners to wander with you. Keep asking questions about when it was purchased and for how much, when repairs or renovations were done, where hidden damage might be, everything you can think of that affects the value of an item. Have them hold receipts up to the camera fore additional proof.

All you really have to do is to keep the camera in focus and keep the owners talking, about their possessions. Don't spend time lingering over any item; that's what freeze-frame is for. Be sure to get through every room in the house, including the basement, the attic, closets (use a flashlight if necessary for additional lighting) and even washrooms where many people have small fortunes invested. Don't neglect things like draperies and paintings and the insides of kitchen cabinets and appliances. It's a good idea to have your customer role-play the part of the salesman for his possessions to get him into a frame of mind where he won't be shy about discussing items. When a couple is involved, strongly urge both of them to be present in the taping.

Once the tape is made, ask for payment and hand over the cassette and you job is done. Put a little clause on your receipts saying that the tape must be returned in 96 hours if any defects are found on it. (Video cameras can do funny things.) That gives them plenty of time to check and make sure everything came through. You should not be required to play the tape for them on the spot.

In addition, mark on the receipt that you are not responsible for any inaccuracies in values or conditions quoted for the possessions by the customer. If you suspect he is inflating or deflating the value of certain items, refuse to do the job. It may save you trouble of appearing in a court case if the client plans to use the tape to defraud the insurance company or tax people.

In every case, follow up the taping in three days with a phone call. Ask the client how he felt about the service and how the tape turned out. It's not likely you'll ever get a complaint if you do an honest job and the tape turns out okay. While you're on the phone, ask who he might have spoken to about the service and if they expressed an interest. Tell him you know you provide a valuable service. If you play your cards right, you should never come away without at least two referrals, and referrals will be the real heart of your business.

This is an incredibly simple way to make a pile of money for very little effort. If you think you'd like to give it a try, get started as soon as possible and don't be afraid to ask for a bank loan to do it.

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