From the April 2001 issue of Startups

Little did I understand how much I needed a digital camera until a Polaroid PDC 2300Z camera got plunked into my hands. I had looked at digital cameras a few years ago and, frankly, was underwhelmed. They were over-priced, mediocre as far as image quality, and bulky when it came to interfacing with a desktop computer. Boy, has that all changed, and the Polaroid (a modestly priced digital camera at around $400) is proof.

Within five minutes of taking it out of the box, I had it interfaced with my computer. The secret is that manufacturers nowadays boycott serial ports in favor of USB connections which, for whatever reason, work remarkably well. And then I was busy snapping shots.

Why is this important to homebased entrepreneurs? The big payoff is how easy it is to generate images for Web sites. Sure, you can produce Web-ready images with a conventional camera and a scanner, but how long does that take? It's neither convenient nor fast, and odds are, you'll stop doing it once you have a few images ready for your Web site.

With the Polaroid in hand, I can snap pictures of whatever I want-book jackets, magazine articles, myself-and within a few minutes, those digitized images are already dressing up my Web site. Amazing!

But the pay-offs get better. I'm running classified ads at Yahoo! to sell some land in New Mexico, and images dress up those ads, dramatically upping responses. If you sell anything tangible-from homes to computers-a sprinkling of Internet-ready images on a Web site will dramatically enhance its appearance as well as viewers' experiences.

The neat features about any digital camera:

1. You get instant gratification. There's no waiting for film to be developed. Snap the shutter, and poof, the image is ready to transfer to the Web or print out.

2. There are no incremental costs associated with shooting more images. With a roll of film, there's the cost of the film plus processing costs. With a digital camera, you transfer the images from the camera to a computer, and space is immediately freed up for new images. That means you needn't be hindered by budget in a search for exactly the right images to promote your business, because new images essentially cost nothing. What a deal!

My strong advice:

View a digital camera as an essential computer peripheral. It's a sure way to keep any small business's Web site fresh at very low costs.