(Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series.)

Remember printed documents before computers? Everything was typed -- usually in the same typeface, Courier. Then "desktop publishing" came along and changed the look of every brochure, flyer, and letter. Now, there's a similar revolution happening -- in the use of photos for small business.

In the last few years, as the cost of digital cameras has dropped dramatically and (relatively) easy to use software has been introduced, a digital photo revolution has created new standards in business communications. But handling digital photos can seem incredibly confusing.

So let me take some of the confusion out of using digital photos in your business. In this column, I'll answer some basic questions. In next week's column, I'll review the software programs from Adobe, long the leader in graphic and photo software, and other digital photo products.

1. I'm getting along fine in my business without photos; do I really need them?

Digital photos are here to stay. I think many of us (I include myself) assumed we could just wait out the "fad" of using all this digital stuff. I mean, who really needs a cell phone that takes photos?

Don't kid yourself; if you don't use photos in business, you'll lose customers. Think about it -- just as a document created all in one size of Courier type would seem old-fashioned --a brochure, flyer, or website without photos or graphics looks flat.

Recently, for instance, a colleague was house-hunting. Which real estate ads caught his eye? The ones with photos. When he searched online home listings, he looked first at the ones with "virtual tours," and generally skipped any listing without a photo.

2. But I'm not in a "visual" business like real estate, so why should I use photos?

Here's a little lesson on how the human brain works. When exposed to information --let's say the name or location of your business -- the more senses a person uses, the more likely they are to remember it. So, by adding a photo, even of yourself, staff members, or your building, you're making your company easier to remember.

And, of course, "a picture is worth a thousand words." Photos explain things in ways you could never describe. Imagine telling a potential customer about the different types of wooden doors you sell. Tough. But send them a few photos, and they can immediately see the difference.

Here's how some businesses use photos:

  • construction trades: before-and-after photos of projects
  • manufacturing/wholesale: photos of products or parts, colors and options
  • retail: photos of sale items or specials
  • hospitality: photos of your facilities, food, events
  • banking and finance: photos of staff and your facilities

3. Okay, but when would I use photos?

First, photos are very powerful marketing tools. Make certain you add them to marketing or sales materials. But photos also make day-to-day business communications stronger:

  • print materials: advertisements, brochures, flyers, newsletters, reports, proposals, even business cards and letters
  • websites: on your own website or on websites where your company or products are listed
  • Powerpoint and slide presentations
  • e-mail attachments

4. Digital photography products (cameras, software, etc.) use terms that seem so technical; is there any way to make this simpler?

Think about the digital photography process as having three steps:

1. Capturing the image digitally:
taking a digital photograph (then transferring from a camera or a memory card to computer)
turning a print photo into a digital one (by scanning or having digital versions made by film developers)
downloading a photo from the web or e-mail attachment
2. Fixing/adjusting the image:
changing the size/shape
improving colors, contrast, brightness
eliminating defects
merging with another image
much, much more
3. Using the image:
adding to documents or website

Generally if you think about categorizing every command into one of those three steps, you'll reduce your confusion. Adobe made this particularly easy in their most recent (and least expensive) product, Photoshop Album. In Album, Adobe uses real-life terms, such as "get photos" or "fix photos," and adds one more step: organize/find photos.

I'll review other digital photo software and products in more depth in next week's column.

© Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2003

Rhonda Abrams is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies and is a popular speaker for conventions, workshops and conferences. For her free business tips newsletter, register at www.RhondaOnline.com>rhondaonline.