Yes, I Wear SpongeBob Boxer Shorts – That’s Why I’ll Pass On Video Technology For Now

Let me first say that I am not fan of video chatting. In fact, I wish the technology was never invented at all. Is it because I’m a curmudgeon? Don’t like change? An angry guy?

Well, yes I am all that. But that’s not why I don’t like video chatting. It’s because I have teenage kids. And their school issued them, and their friends, free Macbooks at the beginning of the year. And within minutes of receiving these devices they quickly figured out how to use the video chatting software that came pre-installed. So now I can’t even go down to the kitchen for a glass of water at 10 at night without hearing some giggling teenager who lives two miles away say “Hi Mr. Marks” or “Nice boxers Mr. Marks.”

But the fact is that video technology is here. It’s inexpensive. And for some small business owners it’s become a critical part of their companies’ communications.

Like Marty Grunder. And Lee Buffington. They both use Oovoo, a video chatting service, to help them run their businesses. And according to Marty, “it’s revealed a whole new world.” For me, it’s revealed to the tenth grade that I wear SpongeBob boxers.

Marty is a consultant and speaker to the landscaping industry. He helps his clients grow their businesses and better manage profitability. And he relies heavily on Oovoo to help him do this.

“The last several days in a row I had back to back coaching sessions with clients,” Marty recently told me. “These were with landscapers located in different parts of the country. I did it all face to face…from my desk.”

Lee Buffington is one of Marty’s clients. His company, northern Alabama based Turf Tamer Inc. provides both residential and commercial landscaping services like designing/building, lighting and irrigation. He also uses Oovoo to connect face to face with both current and prospective customers to discuss projects.

For guys like Marty and Lee, a picture’s worth a thousand words. And a video’s worth a million. But they’re not the only small business owners benefiting from video chatting software. Doctors are sending assistants to make house calls on their behalf, sending back instant video streams from their mobile phones for consultation. Roofers are showing video evidence of flaking shingles to their office estimators so that quotes are more accurate. Real estate agents are displaying new houses to their customers the moment they come on the market.

It made me think about my own business. My company sells customer relationship management, accounting, and other business software. Should I be using video sharing technology like Oovoo (or Skype, or others like it) too?

These services seem easy enough to set up. I mean, for God’s sake, both Marty and Lee are landscapers. These people mow lawns for a living. If they can do it I’d think just about anyone could (just kidding guys).

All kidding aside, using a service like Oovoo is stupidly simple. You setup an account for yourself. Then you’re listed in the Oovoo community as available – others can click on your listing and request to be connected. But your video doesn’t have to be with another Oovoo member. You can just send an email with a link to your invitee. He clicks on the link and right away he’s seeing you through his computer’s browser. If he’s got a video camera on his computer you’re seeing him too.

Skype makes you install software (it doesn’t take long though). Oovoo does not. These applications work on both PCs and Macs. Most computers today come with video cams built in. If not, buying one and plugging it into a USB port is easy too. Both Lee and Marty say to make sure to buy a decent camera too.

I did all this. I downloaded Oovoo and it installed on my computer in under a minute. I then sent a link for a video conference to a friend who clicked on it and in under another minute he was seeing me (he didn’t even have a webcam on his computer). I did the same with my 10th grader (trust me, he’s got a fully operational webcam on his Macbook) and we were instantly seeing each other close up. It works, almost too well. Video chatting technology makes me wonder just how I ever thought my kids were once cute and cuddly.

By the way…I did all of this for nothing. Oovoo, like Skype, iChat (that’s Apple’s software included on their products) and other video chatting software is free. No charge for the two-way video time. Or for calls to other Oovoo members. Oovoo gets away with this by charging for advertising – so be careful you don’t inadvertently click on a third party’s link while in the video calling screen. I can buy premium services, like audio calls, more participants on a video conference, better resolution, saving of video conferences and desktop sharing too. Business plans, which incorporate these features and more tech support and administrative capabilities, range from $39.95 per month for one user to $699.95 per month for 50 users.

Marty and Lee seem to love this. “If I say ‘how’s business going’ and I don’t see a client’s face when he answers then I’m not getting the whole answer,” Marty says. “I need to look in people’s eyes if I can really help them. It adds a whole new level of accountability.” Lee just likes the ability to connect to his clients and present his ideas without having to take a whole day out for travel.

You may think I’m all in for this, right? Unfortunately, I’m not. In fact, I’m going to pass for on video chatting for a while for my business. I’ve got my reasons.

For starters, it’s a little too intrusive. Maybe I’m old school. Maybe I’m just skittish from having unknown teenagers see me in my boxers at all hours of the night (it’s not a pretty sight). But I do a lot of work from home. And often when I’m on the phone I’m doing other things – walking around, checking ESPN, clipping my toenails. I’m not so sure my clients want to see all that. I’m not so sure ANYONE wants to see that. And I’m going to bet the people I’m talking to don’t always want me to see what they’re doing too. Some things are better left to the imagination.

More importantly, video chatting isn’t really necessary for my business. I don’t do coaching and consulting like Marty. I’m not showing landscape designs like Lee. I’m not evaluating bedsores or a broken gutter hanging off a roof. No one wants to see my face. They want to see the software I’m selling and how it’s going to help their people be more productive. I’ve got good desktop sharing tools to help me do that.

Video chatting? It’s fun for teenagers. It’s valuable for some business owners. But with a face like mine? No thanks.