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Your Bottom Line… On-Line
Five Ways the Internet Can Improve Your Construction Business

By David Halpert

Print, radio and television advertising are undoubtedly necessary for a business’s longevity. However, equally as important — today more than ever — is how well a building company promotes itself on-line. Similarly, there are a number of Web applications and programs that not only can make your contracting business more efficient, but also have the potential to save you hundreds of dollars. On that note, here are six low-cost ways to improve your contracting business with the help of the Internet.

Facebook (www.facebook.com)
For the business person who doesn’t have a lot of experience in Web design or doesn’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for a design company to create a company Web site, a good start would be to construct a well-maintained (and regularly updated) Facebook profile. Facebook is a social networking site that allows you to connect and interact with clients, friends, companies and associations. It allows you to post photos and videos of current projects, keep in touch with a network of contacts, and display relevant company information to the public. At the end of the day, Facebook is a content management system that is completely free. It’s also worth mentioning that the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Rona all currently have groups on Facebook.

Flickr and YouTube (www.flickr.com, www.youtube.com)
It’s a good bet that by now you’ve heard of at least one of these sites. YouTube is a video sharing site that allows users to view and upload videos. Flickr is an image hosting site that allows users to share and upload personal photographs.
If your contracting business has some sort of trailer or commercial tied to it, consider posting it on YouTube. The pivot point here is that it’s free. Another good idea would be to host a series of instructional videos with your company’s name and logo attached to it. This will surely generate more views, as well as allow outside viewers to provide feedback in the comments section. Flickr can be used as a photo diary for long-term contracting projects. Viewers can watch a day-by-day reenactment of your projects from start to finish. A few pictures of the staff, office and current projects can go a long way to giving your business a personal touch.

OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org)
Computer software isn’t cheap. This year’s version of Microsoft Office Professional Suite is $700 before tax. This may not sound like much, but for the small business contractor working out of his or her home or office, it could be the difference between paying the bills and falling into debt.
OpenOffice is an office application suite available for a number of different computer operating systems. The source code was released in July 2000 with the aim to dominate the market share of Microsoft Office by providing a free, open and high-quality alternative. Its programs include Writer (similar to Word), Cal (similar to Excel), Impress (similar to PowerPoint), and Base (similar to Access). Not only is it free but, in some cases, it’s better. Writer, for instance, can convert word-processed documents into PDFs. Each program in OpenOffice is built from the ground up, so rest assured that while they may appear similar to Microsoft, using them is perfectly legal.

Google Docs (mail.google.com, documents.google.com)
For years, Google has been constantly adding free programs and applications that are not only easy to use but quite practical as well, particularly GMail and Google Docs, which work in tandem. Like OpenOffice, Google Docs allows documents, spreadsheets, and presentations to be created on-line free of charge. The difference is in its approach: While OpenOffice requires applications to be downloaded and installed before they can be used, Google Docs can be used directly on an Internet browser without the hassle of installation. Similarly, text documents (when sent as e-mail attachments on Gmail) can be viewed and edited on the Internet platform, requiring no word processing software to be installed on the computer.

Twitter (www.twitter.com)
Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service designed with the text messenger in mind. The program allows users to send short messages or “tweets” no longer than 140 characters. This may not sound impressive, but for jobs that rely heavily on portable devices, such as Blackberrys, PDAs, or cell phones, it is a goldmine for quick, reliable messaging. Users can “follow” each other, allowing for quick and private communication without the need to message each person one at a time.

You have everything to gain by taking advantage of these inexpensive Web-based opportunities to market your business to a wider audience.

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