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Webcams Gone Creative

In an effort to be more accessible, more transparent and more "in your face," entrepreneurs are looking to live webcams to broadcast their business. Check out how these four companies are leveraging the power of streaming footage--and learn how you can, too.

Beachwood BBQ
The idea: Live snapshots in 15-minute intervals of the restaurant's beer menus

Within a year of opening in 2006, Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach, Calif., had upped its beer list significantly. But it became quite a chore for co-founders Gabriel Gordon, 31, and Lena Perelman, 32, to update the list online. The website often went untouched for weeks, Gordon says, which was bad for customers who arrived expecting a specific beer on tap.

The byproduct: There are certainly no more disappointed customers, Gordon says. And in addition to increasing page hits, it's helped boost the restaurant's sales, too, from $635,000 in 2007 to about $1.4 million last year.

The unexpected: Gordon says, "There are people on the East Coast who've written saying they check [the Hopcam] every day."

Lisa P. Maxwell
The idea: Live feeds (with chat capabilities) on the company's 32 employees

Andrew Miller, 42, knew Lisa P. Maxwell's website needed reviving to fit the Chicago creative marketing agency's buzzworthy style. Miller says, "The sense of transparency and open honesty really appealed to me."

The byproduct: In the first month after the application went live last fall, there were about six blog posts about it daily, Miller says. The 7-year-old company works to get buzz for its clients, so it's more convincing "to a client when we can say we've also done it for ourselves."

The unexpected: Miller says the innovation did present some issues, including inappropriate messages and personal chat.

Sugar Hooker Entertainment
The idea: Live, weekly TV shows online

When Jerra Spence, 29, launched Sugar Hooker Entertainment in 2004, it quickly transformed into a fully integrated, multiplatform lifestyle brand for teenage girls. She says, "Instead of it being all about commerce, it ended up being all about community." And that's where the weekly girl culture variety show came in.

40%

of SMBs Plan to Add Customer reviews to their websites this year; 26% plan to incorporate video.

(Source: The Kelsey Group)

The byproduct: Since launching SHE TV through Stickam.com in October, the site has attracted more than 37,000 weekly viewers. "It's grown my e-commerce sales significantly," Spence says--to nearly $2 million last year.

The unexpected: With the success of the variety show spawning others, she says, "I think it's going to end up being an almost 24-hour entertainment channel."

Dogtopia
The idea: Real-time footage of dog day-care franchise facilities

Ever since Amy Nichols, 35, opened her first Dogtopia center in 2002, she wanted customers to be able to easily check on their pooches. "When I had to kennel my dog, I felt really guilty," she says. So through OnlineDoggy.com, a provider of pet-care webcam systems, Nichols launched the webcam feature in 2005.

The byproduct: "Customers love it, and it's a big selling point," Nichols says. While the system can be expensive upfront, "it only takes one [happy] customer for the franchisee to realize the value."

The unexpected: The live webcams double as security cameras and training tools.

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This article was originally published in the April 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Webcams Gone Creative.

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