BadVideo

Easy and Inexpensive Tips for Better Video Meetings

BadVideoInMonitor

So there you are, trying to video conference with the a client, vendor, investor, or mom and your video feed, well…. stinks. Nothing makes a bad impression like a bad impression.  I recommend that you always test your video setup a couple hours before you need to go live, making sure your webcam is working and the picture looks good. And just in case you need to call your tech support team or fix it yourself. Here are some basic and straight-forward things you can do to make sure a working system performs well.

 

Keep it clean!

Lens cleaner and microfiber are your friend. Get a cleaning kit from your local optician and keep your web-cam clean. Spray solution on the microfiber NOT on the camera. Gently remove junk and dust. The lens on your webcam is super tiny, so even a small spec of dust, lint or hair can have a major impact on image quality. Finger prints are worse, and can make your video look like it was shot through plastic bags – yuck. Leave the soft focus effect to Glamour Shots.

Can they hear you over all that noise?

Use a separate mic and turn off sources of background noise. The built-in mic on your laptop will

Head-worn mics sound much better than built-in computer mics and aren't as noise prone as a lavalier.

Head-worn mics sound much better than built-in computer mics and aren’t as noise prone as a lavalier.

likely pick up a great deal of background noise including the sound of your voice echoing off your walls. An inexpensive lavalier (Lapel clip style) mic can be plugged directly into the mic input of your computer. USB podcast mics can be reasonably priced if you don’t need portability. Head-worn mics are super the best of both worlds and unlike the lavalier, they won’t pick up the sound of your clothing as you move about.

When possible, use ear-buds instead of computer speakers. The sound from your speakers will be picked up by your mic and can lead to echos , feedback, or muddiness in your audio. Cheap ones can be purchased at the dollar stores but they’re not so good on your ear health. Be good to your hearing and invest in the best you can afford.

You can also get a head-set that has both head-phones and a boom mic. These are available from bulky down to slim and lightweight. Go light-weight if you’re not into that 80’s air-traffic-controller look.

A combo headset like this is portable, sounds great and can eliminate back-gound noise and echos

A combo headset like this is portable, sounds great and can eliminate back-gound noise and echos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heloooo? Is anybody there? It’s important to use sufficient lighting.

CFL’s run cooler than halogen and incandescent.In low-light conditions, your camera has to amplify the signal it sees and this results in noise that looks like graininess, ugly color and lack of sharp focus. This get’s worse with lesser quality webcams. The light coming from your monitor should not be considered sufficient.  A minimum of two 60-watt equivalent lamps within 6 feet of your face is a good starting point. A couple of cheap Harbor Freight or hardware-store clamp-on work-lights – one pointed directly at you and one bouncing light off the ceiling can create a soft and pleasing look. Use compact fluorescent bulbs since they run cool and won’t heat up your office.

Avoid back-lighting else you look like a talking silhouette with glowing edges. This type of lighting can also create havoc with the auto-exposure systems in your camera that can result in a visual pulsing that will serve quite well to annoy your viewers.

Inexpensive and available from tool and hardware stores. The larger the reflector, the softer the light. Get better light by using two or more.

The bigger the reflector the softer the light. A 10.5″ dish is better than a 6″ dish. You can also paint the interior white to soften the light a bit more. This will help reduce pore detail and the visibility of wrinkles too! Not that any of us are actually concerned about such things…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah okay but those work-lights look terrible in my carefully designed office. What then?
Ikea has some great looking work lights in both clamp, table and floor options.

Certainly a step-up from the look of a shop light. Would also make a great background light.

 

Nicely styled clamp light. Moves easy and clamps about anywhere. Larger reflector provides a decent light. Point one at you and bounce the light of the other off an opposite wall for great looking light.

 

Part of the same Ranarp series, this could easily be combined with a couple of clamp-ons to create some fantastic light for your video sessions.

 

China Ball style lantern from Ikea for wrap-around soft light

China Ball style lantern from Ikea for wrap-around soft light

In the professional video world there exists a type of light called the “China Ball”. Inspired by the round paper lanterns of China, these cast a omni-directional light that is super soft, very flattering and somewhat mimic the look of a professional soft-box except they throw the light everywhere – not in just one direction. The lighting is not inspiring from an artistic cinemagraphic point of view, but the lights look nice in the home or office. The lanterns are intended to be hung from the ceiling pendant-style and can be found at Ikea and import stores for around $5. http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/70103410/ These are just the lanterns. You will also need a light kit that includes socket, cord and built-in switch. http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/70103410/

Ikea has many stylish lighting options that mimic the china ball for under $20
Floor: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/categories/departments/living_room/10731/?priceFilter=true&minprice=7&maxprice=20
This model allows for both bounce and direct lighting in one. It is a torchiere with a side light mounted on a gooseneck that can be pointed where you like.
Table:
http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/70096377/
and
http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40172462/

 

Quality video streaming also requires a good network, fast internet and a computer that isn’t running at a crawl. For more tips on improving your video chats, check out the post: Improving Your Google Hangout Experience.

Do you have some tips you would like to share? You can show your stuff and help others by adding your ideas to the comment stream below.

GoogleHOABadge

Improving your Google Hangout Experience.

GoogleHOABadgeThe rising star in online networking is the Google Plus Hangout On Air, or HOA for short. This medium mixes the experiences of video conferenceing, webinars, screen sharing and chat all in one easy-to-use package. The affordable (can you say free?) tool also comes with the added benefit of increasing your SEO, your personal brand and the leverage of your YouTube channel.

If you are not using HOAs now, I urge you to look into them. Here are a couple of resources I highly recommend to get you on the right track towards understanding the benefits.

Entrepreneur and Social Media coach; Sandra Watson over at EasyFYINow.com provides valuable direction for those new to any social media platform.

Carol Dodsley has a G+ mastery course for those who want to dig deeper into the G+ community. She also hosts several weekly shows on G+ that cover a range of topics. You can find one of Carol’s posts espousing the virtues of G+ HOAs here. 

NewRay.com has a great post that makes a great business case for the use of HOAs

Regardless of the platform, a good video conferencing experience requires some attention to detail to avoid bugs and other road-blocks. 

Having troubles with your video dropping out during an HOA?  Not getting clear video into your stream? Here’s a few things to do before you start your broadcast:

Attach to your network via Ethernet cable and turn off wireless at your computer.  Unless you are running the new experimental gigabit wireless, your Ethernet is likely to be much faster and less problematic.

Turn off all devices on your network that do not need to remain on during the broadcast.  When devices are on , they are routinely sending various signals across the network, potentially creating congestion. This network traffic then get’s “heard” by your computer causing it to take processing cycles to evaluate the traffic and determine if it is something it needs to pay attention to. Quieting things down on your network will help your computer focus it’s attention on your feed.

Speaking of quieting… Network and modem cables should never be running parallel and close to a power cord.  Power cords emit a small amount of radio frequency interference (RFI) that is picked up by your network cables. This causes glitches that will effect data transfer rates ( slows your network down). It’s nearly impossible to route these completely separated as often they at least need to cross over each other to get to where they need to go – in this case, do your best to cross them perpendicular so they look like a plus (+) sign.

Same goes for USB and Microphone cables too. Keep them away from power cords when possible for all the same reasons.

Use the chrome browser when possible. It’s developed by Google and will likely be the most stable for the hangout plugin.

Speaking of plugins, they suck.  Memory and resources I mean. 🙂 They consume ram, processor resources and are constantly pinging the network.  Turn off any plugins, search bars,  and extensions you don’t need for the broadcast.

Close any browser tabs you don’t need open. One tab can consume between 50 and 300MB of addition memory, depending on what is loaded into that tab. Also, tabs that are open could be sending traffic across your network. Shhhhh…. a quiet network is a happy and speedy network.

Turn off ALL other applications – including browsers – you don’t need during the broadcast. Not only are they slowing down your computer, they are likely using your network. Email apps are always looking for new email. You don’t want to be downloading 25MB of attachments while you are trying to stream 3MB per second of HOA video.

If you are running windows, you can temporarily turn of automatic updates to prevent activity during your HOA. Just remember to turn it back on later.

Run a valid copy of a good anti-virus and anti-malware application and keep it current and up to date. An infected machine = a slow machine.

If all of this is not enough to get things looking good then:

In dire conditions where you have done all of the above and are still having video drop-outs, uninstall any applications that you don’t use on your computer. Many of these applications monitor your network to talk to the devices you just shut off. Printer utilities are a big resource sucker and can often be uninstalled. Do you really need some bit of software to nag you when you are low on paper or ink?  Some of your installed applications will also check the internet every few minutes to see if there are updates available that need to be installed – thus slowing your network.

On windows machines: turn off file indexing. This “feature” does make it faster to find files on your machine, but it is also doing a great deal of disk reads and writes, perhaps during your broadcast.

Whew! Sounds like a lot to do, but it’s not really all that much.  Once you have cleaned your machine of any malware and removed old applications you don’t need, and moved your cables the tedious work is done.  When you are ready to do an HOA the easy thing is to reboot. This will close any applications you have running. When the computer comes back up and you login, open just Chrome, launch one tab to G+ and you should be on your way to a great HOA experience!

Don’t discount the benefits of a good mic, and adequate lighting. For more on that, have a look at the post: Easy and Inexpensive Tips for Better Video Meetings

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6 Easy Tips to Avoid Trouble With Your E-Letter

When Reed Art & Imaging decided to publish an electronic newsletter. I went on an expedition to investigate what was the best software to use and how to comply with the anti-spam laws. Initially I tried two programs; Constant Contact and Autoresponder. Constant Contact has templates that were fairly easy to edit and use. I initiated a trial with Constant Contact for 60 days. During that time, I worked with their templates and basically had a test drive. I found Constant Contact, fairly easy to use. Autoresponder allowed me to cut and paste the code in from Adobe Dreamweaver. I used Adobe’s Dreamweaver to design and create the HTML e-letter. We used Autoresponder to send out the e-letter. We currently use A Better Email which has some great features. All of these programs helped you to comply with the CAN_SPAM act. These federal laws, must be followed or you can be heavily fined. Here’s the website address to download a pdf file of these requirements from the Federal Trade Commission.:

http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus61-can-spam-act-Compliance-Guide-for-Business

Below is a rundown of CAN-SPAM’s main requirements:

Don’t use false or misleading header information.
Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.

1) Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.

2) Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you.
Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.

3) Honor opt-out requests promptly.
Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.

4) Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.
The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.

5) Do not ‘buy’ a list.
The best results always come from people who opt in and that know or know of you. Also, Constant Contact does not allow you to use purchased lists. We work within our own customer base or use an opt-in to receive the e-letter. We include an unsubscribe feature and honor any request we receive to opt-out from receiving the e-letter.

5) Make Your E-Letter Unique!
Our e-letter has monthly contests that I find. We hold frequent contests for our Facebook fans too! Every week the theme changes and around once a month we hold a contest and the winner is chosen by the amount of likes that their image receives. Whenever we find something that promotes a community group, we try and let our readers know about it. Additionally we promote through a short video, selected customers. Each video has an interview and a slide show of the customers work. One of our core beliefs, is that when our customers win, we win.

Making YouTube Videos: Staying Organized and Spending Less Time Doing It.

The creative person inside of me always wants to go with the flow, let my creative juices just start to simmer and pretty soon I’ll have created something great. Well as much as I wish that’s the way it worked for my videos, it doesn’t. The devil is in the details. I have to think two steps ahead before I move one step forward.

We love making YouTube videos but we also stream them each month via our e-letter, website and Facebook page. That doesn’t sound like too much effort, right? Here are the steps I go through in the process of creating a YouTube video about 2-3 minutes long.

First of all, you have to find the talent (that’s the subject of your video). I look for someone that seems like they would be reasonably comfortable talking about their work. Genuine enthusiasm is contagious. The viewer knows when someone loves what they do. Whether you are videotaping an artist or a CEO of a company, you want your “talent” to love their chosen profession. Now that I have chosen my subject, I must get them onboard with the project. I contact them to schedule an initial appointment to discuss their art, what the video will be about and how we will use it. Take the time to get to know a bit about what it is they do. Since I video fine artists and photographers, I look at their art as some of it will be incorporated into the video. Approach them with the idea that this video is good exposure for them. As a safety net for them, give them the opportunity to view the video prior to posting it on YouTube. As a marketing tool, engaging videos are great. Potential consumers love videos!

It’s time for the first meeting. Getting a signed release is a good idea, and the first meeting is as good a time as any to get one. Make sure to agree on a schedule for the video shoot before you leave the meeting. Let the subject know to plan on a 1 to 1.5 hour slot for the actual shoot. Your subject is most likely excited about the project and getting the date of the shoot out of the way means you save time with back and forth phone calls or e-mails. That part is now done and you can move on to planning the shoot! Most of our videos have the element of a slide show edited into them. Generally that’s about 10-15 images one to one-and-a-half minutes per 2-3 minute video. During the initial meeting, ask them to supply digital images of their art or products (whatever it is that drives your subject). You can pick those up from them at the shoot. Adding additional content adds interest for the potential viewer and builds up the posture of the subject. The more your viewer is engaged, the more attention will be paid to your video, and the more professional you subject comes across, the more authority your video has as a marketing tool. You want the viewers to tell their friends, and engaging and informative can go a long way to get your video some exposure.

So far you have invested 1-2 hours in planning and meeting with your next potential star. Not too bad. Now it’s time to get behind the camera and shoot the video. Plan on shooting 7-15 minutes of raw video for 2 minutes of finished product. It could take you an hour or so to get this much material. Out-takes and other unexpected issues will eat a fair amount of extra time. Out of that raw video you will either edit out your 2 minutes max or you’ll have enough for a series of videos that you can use down the road. Double or triple your time based on how long the final video should be. There is setup, sound testing (it’s a good idea to do a short recording to ensure everything is hooked up correctly and your settings are correct, prior to shooting the real footage), and in general making the talent feel comfortable. Most of us are not professional actors and as such, feel a little nervous with a camera staring us down, recording our every nuance. I don’t “interview” my subjects. I just want them to talk about their art, what drives them, how they got started and just generally how they feel when they are creating. I want to deliver the emotion of the artist. Expressing how we feel about something drives us to fully engage.

Now it’s time to edit your video down to a manageable size. This can take no time at all or go on for hours. It really depends on the quality of the raw video and how you intend to express your message. The first thing I do is watch the entire un-editied raw video. I am looking for the subject to be relaxed and comfortable. If your subject really doesn’t make it to the point of being visually relaxed, it’s ok. You can strip out the audio and lay the sound track over the slide show for the video portion. If the slide show is at the end of the video, I add a music track to go along with the images. It really depends on the type of art or subject matter, as to the type of music I add. I ask the subject during the initial meeting, what kind of music they like. I create my tracks in Apple’s Garage Band, which is copyright free. If you use music that is owned by someone, you run the risk of being sued. You either create your own tracks, using something like Garage Band, purchase copyright free music or pay a royalty to the owner plus get permission. Most music tracks that have copyright, have a per use fee associated with them. That means every time it plays, there is a royalty that needs to be paid. So if your video goes viral, you could be in for a hefty bill. We’ll talk about how to create music in Garage Band in another blog. Once I have the video edited the way I want it, I export it to a Quicktime movie. I optimize the movie for viewing on YouTube. You can make it HD or save at a higher viewing resolution if you like. YouTube will handle up to 15 minutes of video with a size restraint up to 2 GB of data. Whew…that’s some heavy lifting! Once the video has posted to YouTube, we send our subject the link where the video can be found on our website and encourage them to post the link on their own websites, link to YouTube video directly or post YouTube video itself on their sites. Internet search engines like inbound links to your sites and videos are a great way to encourage those links. It’s a win-win way to promote your client, your art, yourself or your products.

Next time: Making videos ahead of schedule
Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get in touch.

Larger and Faster Storage is on the Horizon

Larger and faster storage is on the horizon!
At the current rate at which silicon-based technology doubles – approximately every 18-24 months, it won’t be long before our cameras outgrow their present storage form-factors. Nikon, SanDisk and Sony have announced their joint effort for a new portable storage specification aimed at meeting the future needs of music playback devices, digital cameras and video capture devices in a new standardized format.

The new proposed specs show a transfer rate of 500 Megabytes per second – far exceeding the present 167 Megabyte per second of the current CompactFlash specifications. Yes, that is a full gigabyte transferred every two seconds. The maximum theoretical storage capacity for the new devices are expected to exceed two Terabytes. These new memory cards are planned to be rugged, similar in size to the existing SD form-factor and have a lower power consumption and longer battery life – thanks to integrated power scaling. With the data speeds and power savings, I suspect we will see this new technology integrated as solid state drives (SSD’s) on laptops, smart phones, and other intelligent devices in sectors like medical and transportation. A projected production date for the new cards was not announced.

Making Videos While Stressing Less and Sleeping More

Once I have my subjects signed up and ready for the shoot, I like to make the most of the opportunity. I plan on at least 30 minutes to one hour on-site. I get as much footage as possible so that I can edit to my hearts content and maybe even get enough for TWO videos. If you have interesting subject matter and talent that feels comfortable in front of the camera, you may have a multi-part series. If your subject is comfortable and keeps on talking….keep on shooting. You never know what jewels you can come up with.

Schedule More Than One Subject Per Day
I find that when I am in my groove and setup for shooting, I can get alot done in one day. I try to schedule more than one subject per day. This allows me to focus on shooting when I’m shooting and editing when I’m editing. Same thing for creating the music in Garage Band.

Setup Private Viewing on YouTube
I upload my videos to YouTube but don’t let them go public until I am ready. Once they have been uploaded, I can take them public anytime I want. So if you want your video to go live on the 15th of the month, change your settings and go live on the 15th. It’s just that easy.

If you have questions or suggestions, please leave me a comment.

Next Time: Making Music in Garage Band

Close-up of beautiful Gallery Mount edge

“It cost half the price and looks twice as good as a picture frame!”

The Gallery Mount Photo Mount and Art Framing Collection.
For over 8 years now we have seen the popularity of this type of display for photographs, posters Print being edged as part of the Gallery Mount processand ink jet prints take off. The clean contemporary look of this art framing concept is very attractive and fits almost any decor. The fact that it is usually less expensive than other art framing ideas, more durable and so versatile has made it a fan favorite. Clients with fine art installations either in home or offices especially love it. Because of its durability, no glass to break or cause those nasty reflections, many institutions such as park visitor centers, museums and anywhere there is a high volume of traffic have made the switch. The base substrate is MDF in either 3/8 or 1/2″ thick. We recently produced over 100 pieces for a hospital in Massachusetts using Flame Retardant MDF so that the final product would meet their building code requirements.

Close up of Gallery Mount processPractically finger print proof, it can be cleaned with most any glass cleaner product so the care and feeding is very easy and minimal. Gallery Mounts are available in a variety of styles and edge colors. Between the ‘Flat’, ‘Float’ and ‘Box’ versions there is almost an unlimited variety you can create by mixing, matching and stacking them together to get a totally custom look. Over 22 edge colors and literally thousands of background matte colors round out the photo mounting options available. Also, they are very easy to hang using a frenchClose-up of beautiful Gallery Mount edge cleat for the Float and Box styles. The Flat version is hung by a keyhole and all hanging hardware is included. All images are coated with a UV protective laminate in either our new Crystal surface or our traditional Velvet. Durable, cleanable, less expensive and great looking, this is the only way to display your artwork, awards, posters and more. If your in the neighborhood please stop by as we have plenty of samples for you to see. If you have had a Gallery Mount made we would love to hear your thoughts about it. Also let us know about any creative designs or applications you may have come up with.

Flip Ultra HD video camera

Creating Videos for YouTube

In this post, I’ll go over the equipment and software you need to get started.

I’m a graphic designer at Reed Photo Art. Among other things, I design and publish our e-newsletter and create our YouTube videos used in our social networking. So far, all of my work has been done on a 17” MacBook Pro running Mac OSX version 10.6.4 with 4 GB of ram.

Reed Photo-Imaging recently started creating and posting to YouTube short (2-3 minute) videos of our customers and employees. These short segments highlight their experience, tips and tricks they like to share and their professional work. Topics range from fine art photography to well, fine art. Our goals are to promote our customers and to maximize the benefits of adding original content to our web site and Facebook page.

Flip Ultra HD video cameraI started with the Flip Ultra HD video camera by Cisco. This is a compact and easy to carry camera that costs $199.00 suggested retail. You should be able to find a better price online at locations such as Costco or on Amazon.com. I purchased mine at Costco for discounted price of $149.00. The Flip Ultra HD has an 8GB storage capacity which equates to two hours of recording time. The output resolution is a hefty 1280 x 720, which is more than you need for the web. The lens is fixed  going from 1.5m (approx 4.5 feet) toFlip Pod mini tripod infinity. Audio is provided through a built-in mic. The fixed video and the built in sound, in my experience, can be a problem and you have to create a work-around to compensate for them. The video quality is great and the camera is very easy to use. to avoid camera shake when recording the interviews, I used a mini tripod made for the flip called the flop pod.

I use Final Cut Express by Apple for video editing. Final Cut Express is the light-weight version of Final Cut Pro and has limited functionality. Even with it’s limitations, the rice tag of $199.00 can make it an excellent entry level choice until your needs outgrow it’s capabilities.  If you want professional level video editing right away, Final Cut Pro is in the toolbox of many professionals who edit commercial movies.  It can be purchased at any Apple retail store, online at apple.com the App Store or through any certified Apple reseller. Final Cut Express comes with a font animation program called LiveType.

Knowing that any good editing app will have a learning curve, I took a class at Lynda.com, which made the curve much shorter.  Lynda.com costs a reasonable $25 per month, for as many training videos as you can stand to watch in a month. In addition to the audio tools in Final Cut Express, I used an audio scrubbing application called Sound Soap 2. This scrubber essentially washes the audio track of distracting background noise. It does a good job minmizing wind and other noise that may be in the video due to the built-in mic found on the Flip Ultra HD. Sound Soap 2 is made by Bias Inc. Their website is www.bias-inc.com. Sound Soap 2 as a free-standing application is $129.00. If you’re on a Windows machine, try Pinnacle Studio Ultimate Collection 14. Pinnacle Studio is the consumer version video editing software made by Avid.  It retails for $129.00 at www.avid.com.

There are plenty of free ware applications available for video and audio editing, but in that class of software, you usually get just what you pay for. Free apps often suffer from harder to use interfaces and less than stellar results in the end product. There are some excellent exceptions to that statement, but that conversation is outside the scope of this posting. Perhaps we can revisit the freeware options in another series down the road.

If you have used a particular piece of software you are excited about, be sure to leave tell us about it by leaving a comment:

My total startup expenses for the two software packages, video training on Lynda.com and the camera was around $500.00.

Publishing an E-Letter

This week’s blog is about publishing an e-letter. This summer, Reed Photo-Imaging decided to publish an electronic newsletter. I went on an expedition to investigate whether or not we should use a service like Constant Contact or make and publish our own. I initiated a trial with Constant Contact for 60 days. During that time, I worked with their templates and basically had a test drive. Even though we ultimately made and published our own, I found Constant Contact, fairly easy to use. I use Adobe’s Dreamweaver to design and create my HTML e-letter. Dreamweaver offers tools that allow me to design and create rich content in a HTML document. Once the design was approved, I saved that as a template. That is what we use each month to generate new content for our e-letter. We use an email program called Autoresponder to send out the e-letter. This program helps us to comply with the CAN_SPAM act. These federal laws, must be followed or you can be heavily fined. Here’s the website address to download a pdf file of these requirements from the Federal Trade Commission.:

http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus61-can-spam-act-Compliance-Guide-for-Business

Below is a rundown of CAN-SPAM’s main requirements:

Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.

Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.

Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.

Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.

Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.

Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.

Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.

Do not ‘buy’ a list. The best results always come from people who opt in and that know or know of you. Also, Constant Contact does not allow you to use purchased lists. We work within our own customer base or use an opt-in to receive the e-letter. We include an unsubscribe feature and honor any request we receive to opt-out from receiving the e-letter. Our e-letter has monthly contests that I find (This month, the photo contest being promoted is by the Smithsonian Magazine). We hold monthly contests for our Facebook fans too! Every week the theme changes and around once a month we hold a contest and the winner is chosen by the amount of likes that their image receives. Whenever we find something that promotes a community group, we try and let our readers know about it. This month’s e-letter showcases the recent Facebook winners and their images. Additionally we promote through a short video, selected customers. Each video has an interview and a slide show of the customers work. Our basic belief is that when our customers win, we win. Our community feature this month is: Denver’s Big Picture – Putting Cameras into Children’s Hands to Jumpstart Creativity – A Project with Deep Sleep Imaging LLC.