The Gadget Bag: A Few Business Survival Tips
Posted Dec 9, 2009

Just in case you haven't noticed, we're entering a brave new world when it comes to business survival. We've all been forced to reexamine everything from our advertising and marketing strategies to our spending habits and attitude, not only to be successful but to survive. The status quo no longer works.

Newspapers are shutting down left and right or becoming online, electronic news sites. Those that are still managing to stay afloat are quickly moving to the web. And online, it's the content aggregation sites-those that minimize expenses by producing little or no original content-that seem to be doing best. Magazines are either stopping publication or evolving into ezines (the one you're reading remains an exception). Even the broadcast industry is downsizing and turning to the web. Most networks are making their programming available on the web and on other wireless devices. Notice a trend here?

Advertising methods have been changing too. Traditional methods are being dumped for new, innovative replacements. Yellow Pages ads aren't cutting it for many businesses. Some businesses are opting to use social networking to advertise their services as well as to increase their web presence.

With all the options that are available, careful analysis is required to determine what will and won't work for you, your market, and your specific business plan. Social networking may work for some businesses, but only if their business model targets the cross-section of people that embrace that type of networking. It may not work for the "walk-in" traffic or specific demographics that some businesses depend on. How about Facebook and Twitter? These may attract the attention of certain groups of clients, but businesses won't catch everyone's eye this way-after all, users have to sign up to participate and follow the companies' exploits there. The trick is how to contact people to get them to sign on. Not every method will work for every type of prospect. You'll need to explore the alternatives and weigh the options.

Whatever road you choose to travel down, it's usually a good idea to skip the expressway and head for the unbeaten path. In order for you to succeed, you can no longer hit the cruise control; you must shift into four-wheel drive and take the unpaved, uncharted route. Create your own path. As we all know, being different works in our industry. I've recently read articles that promote one way or another of doing business, but it all boils down to what works for you. Do as much research as possible, look at all of the different methods, and try to adopt or modify one that looks good to you and your business/market. Give it a chance.

It was not so long ago that the hot topic of the day was how to garner a bigger market share, how to increase income, and how to work smarter, not harder. Those days are, for the most part, gone. With the economy still not budging, the battle cry now is for survival.

While once frowned upon as tacky, offering discounts, coupons, and buy-one-get-one-free gimmicks can get people in the door and make a difference on the bottom line. Be sure to remind current clients of your resume of services. Include a service-line card with every project you deliver. A simple, single-page list of your services (with or without prices) with all your contact information can give your clients an insight into the breadth of your capabilities. I had this revelation when a 10-year client told me he didn't know that I do VHS-to-DVD transfers.

Continue to expand your repertoire. Do some research to discover other services you can provide to increase your income. Transfers, duplication, and the like are just the beginning; inventive opportunities such as producing real estate video, online video hosting, college video portfolios, and small business advertising (online/cable) are worth looking into. Remember, not all ideas will work in all areas, so you'll need to be creative and flexible.

Most of us also know the value of social networking, but let's not forget the forums. They were once considered to be the best way of interfacing with our fellow videographers in the days before handheld communications devices. Share your thoughts and start conversations-some good may come of it. You don't belong to a forum? There are dozens of active forums, some even dealing specifically with the business of running a video production company! Some of the best ones for our industry include Video University (www.videouniversity.com), DV Info Net (www.dvinfo.net), WedFACT (www.wedfact.tv), WedVideoPro (www.wedvidpro.com), the Video Business Advisor (www.videobusinessadvisor.com), and Wedding Video Done Right (www.weddingvideodoneright.com).

A Little Social Commentary
Are you hooked-up, connected, or online? Can you be more connected than you are right now? With the proliferation of wireless devices and social networking sites, more people are spending more time in contact with the world. But how much is too much? Social networking is great for staying in contact with both clients and business associates, but the more time you spend on contact, the less you have for things like ... well, work.

These new tools can be addictive and can become huge time-wasters if you let them. Be aware of your usage and, for the sake of others, remember etiquette. Put the toys away when you're in a restaurant or a movie theater or while you're in meetings and other face-to-face situations. There's nothing more socially negative than to have a conversation interrupted by a ring, buzz, or tweet. You're meeting face-to-face for a reason.

Welcome Windows 7
Windows 7 is now a reality, and it promises to be everything that Vista was not. By most accounts, it's living up to its billing. But as with all new versions of Microsoft operating systems, some users will be left by the wayside. Several peripherals will not work with Windows 7, you'll need a 1+gHz processor and 1GB RAM to use it.

Upgrading from Vista is a relatively easy but time-consuming task. Windows 7 will have the look and feel of the previous OS, and unless you absolutely need to correct issues, the experts are advising not to. If you want to upgrade from XP, that's another story altogether. Everything that is on your computer will have to be backed up because the storage system of Windows 7 is completely different. You'll have to reinstall all of your software programs too. So if you don't really need to upgrade, don't. I've heard horror stories of 21-hour installation times! Yikes. So look before you leap. Weigh all the pros and cons before you shell out the $120 for the update.

A Few Handy Tools
Now I'll mention some tools that will help you reach some of your goals (among them, business survival).

Topaz Labs (www.topazlabs.com) has two video-related products (among several Adobe Photoshop plug-ins) that are very highly rated and something that everyone could use at least once in their career. Topaz Moment ($39.99) is specifically designed to easily capture video frames, increase their quality and resolution, and turn "dirty" video frames into megapixel prints in seconds. Topaz Enhance ($349.99) is a powerful After Effects and Final Cut Pro plug-in suite used for high-end video enhancement and quality improvement. It can effectively increase the actual resolution of videos with surprising results. The biggest feature of this suite is removing video noise from footage, which it does quite nicely.

I've sung the praises of CoffeeCup Software (www.coffeecup.com) in several installments of The Gadget Bag, and I'll suggest a few more of its offerings to help make your job easier. The first is the Web Video Recorder ($39), which is probably the easiest way to take any video and make it universally playable on any computer, on any website, including YouTube and MySpace. Included with the program are capabilities for watermarking (necessary for your copyrighted video) and titling.

The next is the Web Video Player ($39). This package will convert most video files to Flash and insert them into a player on your site. Several skins (including a frameless player) are offered that blend with almost any webpage; they include play/pause and fast forward/rewind controls. The coolest feature is a drop-down menu that allows you to place several videos in a single player with user options.

CoffeeCup offers several packages (groups of programs) for a significant discount. And the company provides free trials, upgrades for all purchased software for life, free online help, user forums, and email notifications of upgrades and new software. It even has a few completely free software packages that also work quite well. Speaking of which, the two products that I suggested purchasing in previous columns now have significant upgrades available (Website Access Manager and Shopping Cart Creator). CoffeeCup has also released two related products-Shopping Cart Designer and Designer Pro-software for designing an online shopping cart from scratch or modifying an existing one.

Here's the best news: I've been named an ambassador by CoffeeCup Software. By becoming an ambassador, I've been authorized to offer EventDV readers a 20% discount on all purchased software! You can get the discount by using the code 226STS in the coupon code box. This applies to all single and bundled software packages.

Ed Wardyga  (wardyga at kvimedia.com), owner of Keepsake Video and KVI Media in Rhode Island, has been producing event video since 1989, specializing in stage productions. He runs the website www.theGadgetBag.net and is the recipient of the WEVA Walter Bennett Service to Industry Award.