Only about half of the small businesses in the United States with less than 10 employees have Websites. With eight out of 10 Americans spending as much time online as watching TV, a web presence can be an important marketing tool.
For example, when a homeowner or business owner decides to look for HVAC and plumbing services, many start and complete the search for contractors online.
If you are not there, you are not up for consideration.
Here's an all-in-one do-it-yourself software solution that can help you establish a Website and use it as a marketing tool.
Microsoft Office Live Small Business 2.0 (www.officelive.com), the suite of Web-based software and services released earlier this year, offers free Website hosting and a number of free services that, overall, make it easy to develop and maintain a Website and take advantage of a growing fount of online marketing techniques.
The solution includes a good mix of site design capabilities to aid you in creating a professional looking site with substantial content. The solution also includes contact management software for performing basic customer relationship management and — most conveniently — custom domain name registration with 100 business e-mail accounts, each with five gigabytes of storage. Custom domains are free the first year and $14.95 annually after that.
The software includes several free business applications, including Team Workspace, for posting documents and information you'd like to access remotely or share with employees, customers or business partners in a password-protected environment. It also includes Document Manager, which can serve as an online repository of documents, photos and other data.
Adobe Premiere Elements 4 conversion video-editing software (www.adobe.com) enables you to take digital photos and/or video clips, attach tags (identifying keywords) to your clips and make a polished movie in a short period of time for posting online.
There are two easy ways to put together a video — using a timeline or a “sceneline.” The sceneline method is practically foolproof and, actually, a lot of fun.
The screen is divided into three distinct working areas: a thumbnail display of the media clips you want to work populates most of the right side of the screen; a large interactive version of the current clip on which you are working is displayed on most of the left side of the screen; and the developing video displayed as a horizontal sceneline scrolls across the full width of the bottom of the screen.
Once you have dragged and dropped all the media thumbnails you want to use into the sceneline section, you can drag and drop any to rearrange the order or delete a scene.
You edit each scene in turn on the upper left, perhaps trimming its length, zooming in or out and/or superimposing a title to a scene. You can one-click your choice of a broad range of transitions and effects such as flip, swipe, spin in, swing out, dissolve and between scenes. You also can add lighting effects and other special effects to each scene. (The source files remain unchanged.)
Sound mixing is equally straightforward. There is an on-screen mixing board with several inputs to experiment with to achieve professional quality narration, music and other sound effects.
You can speak in the narration directly and coordinate all your words to the “action.”
The timeline method of video making enables even more advanced and precise editing that allows exacting coordination of music to start and stop with change of scene, for example.
The program includes the capability for uploading the finished video directly to your own company Website. Equally good — or maybe even better — if you like, Adobe Premier Elements also automatically will take the video and convert it to Adobe Flash Video format, the file format YouTube uses to broadcast videos and post it to your free user account at www.youtube.com. Once confirmation of the successful upload to YouTube appears on your screen, you can cut and paste the hyperlink to your video and send it to customers via e-mail or post it to your Website.
A recent search at www.youtube.com for “plumbing contractor” turned up 1,860 videos. A search for “HVAC contractor” elicited 57 videos, and the keyword “HVAC” pulled up 679 videos. Most were posted online within the last year, and the majority appeared within the last six months. The videos included short-duration basic graphics announcing company name and services offered along with contact information.
They also included short and long humorous and serious commercials, talking head infomercials (pun intended) and animated or live-action tech tips or training between one and several minutes long. You also could post a video of audio-enhanced sequential digital shots of a project over time or any other sequence that shows company competence and areas of expertise.
Video distribution doesn't stop there. You also can upload the videos to an iPhone or other video-enabled mobile device and play the video on a sales call.
The program also supports easy burning of the video to a DVD or Blu-ray disc for distribution as handouts or leave-behinds.
Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected].