Southern California-based Aquatic Fitness Concepts often finds potential customers scratching their heads and wondering just how the company fits its 16-foot by 8-foot swim spas into backyards.

"It's surprisingly easy using a crane, but everyone is terrified of and fascinated by the process,' explains Paul Roberts of West Coast Marketing, whose company handles marketing for Aquatic Fitness Concepts. "So, John Trzcinka, the owner, has started using his Flip camera to film these crane installations. It's quite something to see."

The video is posted on Aquatic Fitness Concepts' website, and potential clients are reassured -- all for the cost of an inexpensive, hand-held video camcorder.

Small businesses are leveraging video

The proliferation of video across the Internet includes a multitude of business applications. Nimble, pocket-sized video cameras such as the Flip and the Kodak Zi line, coupled with consumer expectations about online video quality, are changing the ability of small businesses to compete with far larger companies, says author and analyst Scott Steinberg, who publishes the gadget/tech website

"This is a potential game-changer,' says Steinberg. "It used to be that you had to have thousands of dollars in video equipment to shoot something that looked semi-professional. All you need now is a good idea, a strong opinion and some inexpensive hardware."

Users say these factors explain the pocket video cameras' appeal:

• cost
• portability
• ease of use
• ease of uploading and editing video

Since the cameras are easier to use, business owners are more likely to exercise a little creativity and shoot video more often. The drawbacks are relatively minor and include lighting, occasional sound quality issues (the Flip lacks a jack for an external microphone) and the lack of a professional producer's eye.

The tradeoffs are well worth it in the age of online video says Andon Carling of PilmerPR, a Utah firm that specializes in public relations for small- to medium-sized businesses. "Some experts have calculated that TV-quality video can cost $2,000 a minute. The same minute with a Flip camera would cost a small fraction of the price,' Carling says. "Furthermore, online viewers may not trust a high-quality, production-studio film as much as they would a grass-roots 'man on the street' production. From a public relations standpoint, a shaky picture adds a level of sincerity."

Five ways pocket video improves business

Here are five easy ways you can put a pocket-sized video camera and that man-on-the-street sincerity to work:

1. Use video to raise your profile. Use a Flip to create simple instructional videos or to establish your expertise in your field, advises Steinberg. Video also raises your SEO profile. For less than $300 a month, Fliqz' SearchSuccess offers a platform to manage video on your site and a suite of tools for submission to search engines, then tracking.

Jason McAninch, who owns J-TEK, a small computer consulting firm in a Kansas City, Kan., suburb, says his videos are enabling him to brand his business. He has begun posting computer tips and tricks in a series of videos he calls TEK Talk. "I've had some clients call and say that it looks like a professional TV series,' he says. "I can see this definitely being a powerful business tool for anyone."

2. Create authentic testimonials. Mikey Moran, founder and CEO of Thai food brand Curry Simple, uses his Flip to ask customers what they think of his products, which include sauces made in Thailand and sold in the United States in stores such as Whole Foods. "The Flip works great for testimonials because of its small size,' he says. "The smaller video cameras seem to be less intimidating for customers. People tend to freeze up with larger cameras but not with the cute, hand-sized Flip." Moran has abandoned his two "prosumer" video cameras that cost $2,000 each. His Flip Mino HD was $200.

3. Provide quick feedback. Video can offer you feedback on how a client is using a product or a problem a client has in the field. It also allows you a way to demonstrate a point to a client. Maine-based pet behavior consultant George Quinlan uses his Flip Mino to record the behavior of both dogs and their owners.

4. Go behind the scenes. Create more interest in your business by telling your story. Show how a product is made or document the progress of a project. Don't feel comfortable producing the video from start to finish? Companies such as Pixability will send you a Flip, then take your video and edit and package it with music, titles and logo.

5. Enhance news releases. It's better to show than tell when it comes to new products, events or developments. Pyxl, a Knoxville, Tenn., marketing firm, mails Flip cameras to its clients when they have news to share. The clients shoot brief videos, return the cameras and Pyxl handles the videos, embedding them in online versions of news releases and social media releases.

"You don't need a production studio, you don't need a crew, you don't need a catering tray,' says Steinberg. "The inexpensive budget digital cameras are a godsend when it comes to grassroots and viral marketing."