From the May 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

How can your small company create a big-company image? By utilizing high-tech marketing tools and methods that help you stand out over the competition. But shaping a successful image requires more than just a dazzling look; it's about building one-on-one relationships with your customers, even if they're continents away. And it's about overcoming obstacles that range from from business size to location.

In this special report by marketing expert Kim T. Gordon and Entrepreneur technology editor Heather Page, we'll look at the newest and best ways technology can transform your business image. And we'll introduce you to entrepreneurs who have taken their businesses to that higher level.

Picture This

The follosing videoconferencing tools can make your business appear larger than life:

  • 3Com's Bigpicture video phone ($159 street; http://www.3com.com/bigpicture) is an entry-level desktop videoconferencing solution that includes a capture board, a color camera and a suite of video-communications software. The latest version includes Microsoft NetMeeting for application sharing and White Pine's CU-SeeMe for conducting videoconferences with multiple parties.
  • An advanced solution suitable for large groups, Polycom's ViewStation 128 ($5,999 street; http://www.polycom.com) lets customers see a new side of your business--at 15 frames per second. Features include a digital audioconferencing system, a voice-tracking camera that focuses on the speaker and ignores background noise, and a Web-based presentation system.
  • Visit Intel's Web site at http://www.intel.com for more information on the TeamStation System ($9,999 street) and the ProShare Video System ($799 street) videoconferencing products.

Meeting Screen-To-Screen

Videoconferencing may be the ultimate tool for bringing long-distance relationships up close and personal. And its advantages are considerable: It creates the image of a cutting-edge company focused on customer satisfaction.

Basically, desktop videoconferencing systems consist of a camera, capture card and software that record participants and send the images over a network, such as the Internet or a phone line, to be viewed on the other end. With specialized software, both participants may also view documents and edit information during the videoconference.

David Goswick, 41, president and principal of Houston-based Goswick Advertising Inc. (http://www.goswick.com), an $18 million full-service marketing firm, says his company has grown measurably thanks to the installation of videoconferencing equipment in nine company offices and 15 client locations (the cost is included in retainer fees). The firm uses Intel's TeamStation System and ProShare Video System 500 products. The TeamStation System is a conference room workstation that provides audio, video and data conferencing, and comes equipped with a PC, videoconferencing software, wireless keyboard and mouse, a videocamera, and an audio system. The ProShare Video System 500 gives employees desktop videoconferencing capabilities. The system includes a headset, microphone and camera. Using the system, Goswick Advertising and its clients can review ads, look at reports and budgets, and edit them from either end.

For businesses that want to look smart, videoconferencing does more than overcome distances. "We're in the age of the networked business environment, and the next wave is definitely being able to talk screen-to-screen, face-to-face," says Goswick. "It builds relationships."

News To Me

W hen it comes to marketing on the Internet, creating and maintaining a Web site is just the first step. "It's vital that an electronic newsletter or discussion list be part of any sophisticated Web marketing effort," says Richard Hoy of The Tenagra Corp. (http://www.tenagra.com), an Internet marketing agency in Houston. "[The Web is a] passive medium; visitors have to type in your address to go to your Web site. Unless you remind people you're out there, you just have to hope they remember to come back."

Tenagra uses its own electronic newsletter to supply short capsules of special-interest information to its 110,000 subscribers, and to stimulate returns to its Web site for more in-depth information.

You can send e-mail newsletters using virtually any ISP. If your list is small, just several hundred people or so, you can send it out on your own at little or no cost. But if your list is as large as 5,000 subscribers, for example, you may want to hire a list-hosting company, which could cost several hundred dollars a month or more, depending on the level of service you need.

Following are Hoy's suggestions for creating a successful e-mail newsletter:

  • Collect subscriber e-mail addresses on your home page rather than on a page buried deep in your site.
  • The shorter your registration form, the more likely it is to be completed.
  • When creating your newsletter, place hard returns after every 60 characters or less. Keep it in plain text or you run the risk of it being garbled.
  • Make sure the newsletter goes out with some frequency.
  • Record the date when each person subscribes to avoid unfound accusations of spamming.

Now Presenting...

These days, you're about as likely to see a successful entrepreneur making a presentation using an overhead projector or a flip chart as you are to see a Wall Street hotshot using an abacus. Such old tools are out of place and downright boring, whether you use presentations as PR opportunities to position yourself as an expert or as a means to directly sell your product or services.

Khera Communications Inc. (http://www.kci.com) of Rockville, Maryland, does both. The company develops high-end technology for Web sites, and runs two successful sites and electronic newsletters of its own. Owner and CEO Raj Khera relies on presentations to associations, chambers of commerce and user groups to build the subscription base for GovCon, the company's Web site for potential government contractors who are looking for information on bids, databases and regulations. But he also uses these presentations as useful public relations and market research tools. "The seminars help us meet people and get feedback on whether we're doing things right," says Khera, 34.

Khera's company uses Microsoft PowerPoint 97 to create multimedia presentations, which it shows with an InFocus LCD projector and Toshiba laptop computer. PowerPoint includes more than 30 templates with coordinated color schemes and precreated animated charts, graphs, clip art, pictures and sounds to help users generate eye-catching presentations.

In addition to the visuals, Khera Communications makes its presentations inventively interactive. For example, Khera asks audience members to describe the kind of contracts they're pursuing. Thanks to a wireless modem that he controls, they can then go directly to his company's Web site and scroll through the database, demonstrating the instant access GovCon offers to what might otherwise be very hard-to-find information on government contracts. "When we couple using this wireless technology with the demonstration of our database," Khera says, "our sales definitely increase."

While your own off-site presentations may not require a wireless modem, you will need a laptop computer and portable projector. Select a projector that weighs less than 10 pounds, such as the InFocus LP420. Other considerations are resolution and brightness. SuperVGA is usually an adequate resolution, and you'll need a minimum of 300 ANSI lumens (or you may have to lower the lights during your presentations). The ability to zoom in and out is important, and remote-control operation is indispensable.

After the Beep

Often, a customer's first impression of your business is made via telephone. And there's no worse impression than unanswered calls.

Get it right with the latest telecommunications services. Automated attendants and voice mail add professionalism that old, tinny-sounding answering machines can't. For example, the Bizfon 680 system includes voice mail, conference calling, professional call greeting, call routing and off-site call forwarding options. It supports six outside lines and eight extensions ($999 for a switch and four phones; http://www.bizfon.com).

Such services as call forwarding, toll-free numbers and paging also boost your business' image while improving customer service. With Sprint Paging (http://www.sprint.com) customers can send alphanumeric messages to you no matter where you are, shortening your response time.

Save Your Stamps

Getting your newsletter or marketing message in front of fresh eyes is easy with fast, affordable ways to locate e-mail addresses.

Some, like Intellipost's BonusMail (http://www.bonusmail.com), offer subscribers the opportunity to receive awards in return for receiving and viewing e-mail messages.

Others, like AtWeb Inc.'s Web Site Post Office (http://www.websitepostoffice.com), offer ways to collect e-mail addresses on your own. A free subscription lets you place a box on your Web site that encourages visitors to sign up for more information. The box links visitors to the Web Site Post Office site, where their names and e-mail address are automatically collected.

Visual Effects

  • NEC Technologies' Multimedia MultiSync LT81 projector ($5,995 street; http://www.nec.com) shows off its high-end look with bold and beautiful color. It outputs at 800 ANSI lumens, weighs 9.9 pounds, and comes with a variety of remote and on-screen controls, and is PC- and Macintosh-compatible.
  • Sharp Electronics' new combination notebook computer, pen tablet and easel is sure to draw attention. Mobilon TriPad PV6000 ($999 street; http://www.sharp-usa.com) lets you build presentations and then flip the hinged display over to create an easel.
  • Test drive a range of multimedia projectors at Presenting Solutions' virtual demo room, http://www.presentingsolutions.com

Site and Sound

High-quality images leave indelible impressions on customers. Today's color scanners and digital cameras make capturing and integrating memorable images into Web pages, sales presentations and desktop publishing documents a snap.

One solution to consider: Hewlett-Packard's PhotoSmart C30 digital camera ($399 street; http://www.photosmart.com). It features 1 megapixel resolution (1,152 x 872 pixels), 24-bit color and 2X digital zoom. A 4MB removable CompactFlash memory card to store images and photo-finishing software are also included.

At 2.3 megapixels (1,792 x 1,200 resolution), Ricoh's RDC-5000 digital camera, scheduled to be out this month, boasts impressive image quality. The RDC-5000 (http://www.ricohcpg.com) also contains a variety of high-performance features, including 2.3X zoom, a 1.6-inch supermacro for close-ups, continuous shooting, time lapse and 8MB internal memory. (For more on digital cameras, check out next month's "Buyer's Guide.")

If you need of an affordable, entry-level scanner, look to the ArtiScan 636DX 36-bit color scanner from Tamarack Technologies Inc. The ArtiScan 636DX ($109 street; http://www.tamarack.net) can scan 600 x 1,200 dots per inch via a parallel port. It comes with Xerox TextBridge OCR software and image-editing and document-management applications.

With the vast number of small businesses adding sites to the Web every day, a ho-hum entry simply won't cut it. Your site has to capture the attention of visitors, provide useful information and keep visitors coming back for more. Just ask Fred Waymack, 48, an owner of International Travel Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee. Two years ago, Waymack's company set up a Web site (http://www.itbna.com/fiesta) to provide information to the parents of 4,000 students--members of 18 high school bands--who were using the company to travel to and from the Fiesta Bowl.

Waymack used Microsoft FrontPage to design his Web site. FrontPage is a WYSIWYG program that provides professionally designed themes or graphical templates, so Waymack could create his Web site with all the bells and whistles necessary to look professional and present a big-company image. He also used Microsoft Access to maintain 18 separate databases to track flights and other travel information for the individual bands. Then Waymack's firm designed 18 sub-sites around the databases, assigned a password to each and used active server technology to instantly update flight times.

The site impressed clients and lowered the overhead for everything from staff time to postage and printing of literature. As a result, Waymack decided to expand the site significantly. In the last year, the $4.5 million travel agency has spent $20,000 on Internet marketing and has positioned itself as an innovator in its market niche. "Because of our ability to stay at the forefront of technology, we now have a close ratio of about 80 percent compared to 25 percent before," says Waymack.

To lose your Web site's amateur status, consider the following tips:

1. Design for maximum readability. Artsy backgrounds and fonts can make a site difficult to read. Choose dark type on a solid white background.

2. Make each page stand on its own. You never know which page on your site a visitor will bookmark. Include contact information, copyright and a navigation bar on every page.

3. Provide simple navigation. Sketch out how your information flows and design a system visitors won't get lost in. If you're selling products, make that clear on your home page and provide quick access to catalog copy.

4. Don't overdesign. Too many bells and whistles can slow down load time and cause impatient visitors to go elsewhere.

5. Include a response mechanism. Involve your visitors by using contests or offers for special information, such as an e-mail newsletter.

6. Keep the site fresh. Update your content continually to give visitors a reason to come back.

Construction Sites

  • Adobe PageMill 3.0 ($99 street) offers a solid Web page authoring and site management solution with all the features and graphics you need to create compelling Web sites in just a few hours. A trial version is available for download at http://www.adobe.com

True Colors

If you haven't bought a color laser printer yet, you'll be surprised by the wide selection and price ranges. Today's color laser printers offer extremely high resolutions, photographic quality and the detail you'd expect from professionals.

The Brother HL-2400C ($2,495; http://www.brother.com) prints color, photo-quality images in up to 1,200 x 600 dpi. It outputs at 4 pages per minute (ppm) color, 16 ppm monochrome and 2 ppm for color transparencies.

Hewlett Packard's new Color LaserJet 8500 printer ($5,999 street; http://www.hp.com) can do perfect print jobs in a group environment. At 600 dpi, this network-capable color laser printer features 6 ppm color printing and 24 ppm black-and-white printing.

Contact Sources

Goswick Advertising Inc., (713) 622-4100

International Travel Inc., travel@itbna.com

Khera Communications Inc., info@kcilink.com

The Tenagra Corp., info@tenagra.com