How to use video to connect with customers

Right now, more people than ever are working from home to combat the spread of COVID-19. But if you run a hands-on business, like an education center or a gym, how can you stay connected with customers while you're tasked with staying home?

One solution: Video. Live streaming has proven a practical solution for businesses in these spaces (and beyond). In the last few weeks, we've seen a surge of streaming options for popular workouts, art classes, music lessons, and more.

When thinking about virtual classes, Laura-Marie Small, the owner of Kidcasso Art Studio, says she looks back and laughs. "Part of me didn't think that could ever work with a business like ours. We are a hands-on studio with a personalized approach to teaching all styles of learners. Before the outbreak, I used technology as a tool, but today I'm using it to transform my little art studio into something bigger."

We talked to several small business owners, like Laura-Marie, who have learned how to use live streaming to change the way they work...and we applaud them for adapting so quickly to this challenging time. We also chatted with our in-house Video Specialist, William Eigenmann, who outlined the three things you need for creating quality videos at home:

  • A suitable space for filming
  • A smartphone
  • A streaming service

Find a suitable space for filming.

When you're deciding where to film, the biggest factor should be the lighting. Usually, the best light source is the sun...so if you're inside, set up your shot in front of a window (the larger, the better). If things look too bright on your webcam or phone camera, move away from the window. If things look too dark, move a little closer.
"Lighting single-handedly has the largest impact on your video.  The most expensive cameras cannot salvage an image with poor lighting...and you don’t need a high-end lighting kit to get good results."

- William Eigenmann, Video Specialist

To ensure even lighting, make sure that there are consistent levels of brightness on your subject and in the background.

INSIDER TIP
If the lighting coming into the room looks too harsh, hang a clear, foggy shower curtain in front of the window. This will diffuse the light, making it softer and more flattering.

Penny Lazarus, a piano teacher who works out of a home studio, had used services like Skype and Facetime in the past to connect with students in occasional emergency situations, like snow days. But when the shelter-in-place order came to her town, she had to think about a more permanent arrangement for filming.

After spending a day playing around with various equipment and set-ups, she eventually found the ideal situation. A video camera connected to her computer gives students a clear view of her hands on the keyboard, while an external speaker ensures a high-quality sound.

"If you can think creatively, think out of the box...there are things that you can do. It feels exciting to think of new ways to connect with my students, which I'm sure will continue even when we're back in the same room. It really has brought us together."

Get the best shot on your smartphone.

You don't need a Hollywood-ready camera to shoot a high-quality video - just use your phone. William recommends using your smartphone as your primary camera because it's versatile and low-effort. Plus, if you plan to stream a class, you can do it right from your phone.

Zach Shlien, founder of PostureBreak, uses his iPhone to film low-intensity exercises designed to improve your posture. He's found that the simplest way to produce videos is to do big-batch filming of multiple exercises, then use Adobe Premiere Pro to break them into individual videos for his website, social pages, and the PostureBreak app.

When you're setting up your shot, William's first tip is to stabilize your camera, either by mounting it on a tripod or propping it up on a flat surface. If you don't have a tripod, try using a stack of books or a nearby shelf. "Shaky, handheld footage might look cool in an action movie...but if you're teaching a class, making an announcement, or demonstrating a product, it's horrendously distracting."

When you set up your phone, do your best to film yourself or your workspace straight on so the customer gets a realistic view. Compose the shot so everything you want to show your customers is in the frame. For example, if you want to demonstrate a full-body workout routine, it's important that the frame is wide enough for the camera to capture every movement.

But if you're demonstrating a product or isolated technique (like a brushstroke or new chord), you might want a closer shot.

INSIDER TIP
If you want to purchase a tripod for your phone, William recommends buying one that lets you mount your device horizontally and vertically.

Use a streaming service.

When it comes to video streaming services, there are quite a few free and affordable options. William suggests social platforms like Instagram, Facebook or YouTube, or conferencing tools like Skype or Zoom.

INSIDER TIP
If you're thinking about using Instagram, remember that Instagram Live is streamed vertically - so decide whether or not this will work for you.

The Inner Cycle, a spin and fitness studio, started using Zoom when they had to close their locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-owner Emily Skoniecki says, "Before the virus, we had no video - we only had live cycling classes in our studios. Now, we have a full schedule of on- and off-the-bike classes streaming lives from our instructors' houses. It's really wild!"

And they've had a lot of positive feedback from customers. "They've all been so supportive, and know that we're doing the best we can with the live streaming classes. It's been such a great way to stay connected with each other and continue moving our bodies."

Kidcasso is using Zoom to stream their classes, too. "Being forced to do something outside the box has been a big gift for our teachers, families, and small business. As a business owner, I've learned more in a week than I have in a long time. We're fortunate that these tools have greatly enhanced our business during such a difficult time."

And though piano teacher Penny has found that Skype is the best streaming service for music lessons (the sound has consistently been the clearest), she hopes to get everyone together over Zoom for small group recitals. She also has plans to set up a private YouTube channel for the studio so students can see videos of each others' work.

"I'm really attached to my students, and I believe in keeping their day-to-day lives as normal as possible. If they're stuck in the house, they need to use their time in a way that makes them feel good."

Related articles

How to stay productive at home

Wondering how to stay productive at home? At times like these, home office productivity is important. Check out these working from home tips to keep you on track.
Read more