Three men working on a movie set

How to use video to increase sales for small business

13 min read
Bryan Caplan

I’ll never forget the first video I made for my business. Literally wiping my clammy hands on my jeans, shifting my blazer every few seconds, blotting my face with a bath towel because the light kit I’d purchased was hotter than a tanning bed. A good friend of mine and successful YouTube creator had convinced me that I could use video to increase sales for my business, but I had no idea it was this angst-ridden.

I pressed record, sauntered to my little tape line on the floor and made sure I was centered like I’d practiced a handful of times. I squeaked, “Hi, I’m Bryan Caplan …” and stopped. I ran back behind the camera, pressed stop and pressed record once more. The next time, I’d get a little further in my spiel, then mess up again and repeat the madness. Before I knew it, I’d tallied up 2,000 steps on my Apple Watch because of all the back and forth redos.

I thought I had a great take, and I sent it to my business partner, Jake. His reply: “You look angry.” Over 30 takes, and that’s all I get! I literally fell to the floor and slumped over in resignation.

I sat there for a moment with my head in my hands, thinking that video marketing was not for me.

Sure, I could build websites or design fancy email marketing campaigns, but I’d met my match with video.

Then I heard a knock on the door. “Daddy, can I come in?” It was my daughter, Olivia, coming to see how my first jaunt in filmmaking was going. When I opened the door, she oohed and aahed at all the equipment I’d sunk my money into. “Wow, Dad, this is amazing! Are you famous?” I couldn’t help but smile as I showed her around and explained what I was doing. It was that little visit from Livi that gave me the boost I needed for one more take.

I stood up, wiped my hands, adjusted my blazer and blotted my face. This time, I was going to do it. As I pressed record, I started in with my New Year’s message. I wrapped the shot and stopped the camera. This was it! I watched and rewatched the video, each time reassuring myself that this was my best take! Before sending it to Jake, I added my editing magic and a fancy animation.

When it was done, I showed it to my wife, Linda, and Olivia. “Wow, that’s great! You look so handsome!” Ego point for me!

I sent it to Jake. “Looks good!” he said simply. I took that as a win.

I published the video on YouTube, and we sent it to our digital marketing clients. We got a few replies of Happy New Year and considered that a huge win. People enjoyed the video!

Fast forward four years. I came across the video as I was writing this blog post, and I felt the need to share it with you, so you can learn from my failed production how to use video to increase sales. Take a look…

How to use video to increase sales and avoid key mistakes

When you watch my first video, there are four key takeaways to improve your own videos:

  1. Double-check your background.
  2. Invest in your lighting.
  3. Listen to your audio.
  4. Smile!

1. Double-check your video background

When the pandemic started, my wife and I were glued to the news desperately trying to understand what was going on so we could protect our family from COVID-19. Back then (it seems like forever), virtually all news correspondents were reporting from home since we were on lockdown.

I’ll never forget watching one such newscast, and I was unable to listen to a single word because I was distracted by her background.

The distraction wasn’t my two kids getting into a squabble or our two puppies pawing for my attention, it was a single picture frame behind the reporter that was on a slant. She must have had 10 frames behind her, but this one was on a steep slant, and I fixated on it. I even told my wife, “She really needs to straighten that frame.” It had nothing to do with the breaking news she was delivering, but I just couldn’t stop telepathically willing her to fix the frame.

Gallery wall on a white background

Oddly enough, your viewers are probably doing the same thing when they watch your videos. They’re using every piece of visual information they can to determine if they know, like and trust you enough to continue watching your video.

Best practices for your video background

There are three key things you want to do to ensure your video background is professional:

  1. Think visually.
  2. Consider using a green screen.
  3. Show your logo or branding.

1. Think visually

Before you record your entire video, record a “test take.” Simply press record and talk for a few seconds, then stop recording.

Now, play back that take.

  • Do you see anything out of place behind you?
  • Does anything need to be moved, straightened or removed?
  • Is there anything that would distract — or worse, offend — your viewers or detract from your professionalism?

You want to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Is anything going to take away from their viewing experience enough that they’d either stop watching or wouldn’t take action?

2. Consider using a green screen

Green screens are great because you don’t have to worry about all the knickknacks and tchotchkes behind you. A green screen allows you to replace your background through chroma key technology. The Adobe website explains how it works:

Shooting with a green screen involves filming a person or adding visual effects in front of a solid color. Then, by digitally removing or “keying out” that color, you can drop that scene onto the background of your choice in post-production. Removing the colored background is also referred to as “chroma keying."

Using a green screen does require some video editing know-how, but it makes for a much more polished video. You can use programs like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker to fill in a photo or video behind you.

You’d be amazed how affordable green screens are nowadays, and there are plenty of options.

You can purchase a simple green sheet (make sure it’s ironed) and hang it from the ceiling or a laundry line. You also can purchase an actual green screen. Personally, I purchased a pull-down green screen (think back to the overhead projector screen your teacher would pull down in elementary school.) Ultimately, whatever works with your budget is your best starting point.

3. Show your logo or branding

In my first video fail, notice how I had the old logo for BJC Branding, my marketing agency, behind my left shoulder. That’s not by accident. I actually found a canvas printing website, uploaded my logo and ordered an oversized canvas to hang on my wall. Every subsequent video included my branding, which helped to bolster brand resonance in my videos.

What is brand resonance? Not to bring politics into it, but think back to the months leading up to an election. Can you still see the unending parade of lawn signs and bumper stickers surrounding you at every turn? That’s what we call brand resonance. The more you see a specific candidate’s branding, the more they bounce around in your head. They stop top of mind.

Want another logo hack? Consider screen printing a T-shirt or sweatshirt with your logo, so you can record your videos on the go.

Of course, if you are a savvy video editor, you can overlay your logo on your videos to make sure people are seeing your brand while enjoying your content.

Notice also how my head is trapped in a clock. I was trying to look fancy, but it didn't work for me. Instead, I looked like an astronaut or someone stuck in a fishbowl. Despite my best effort to look fancy, I would have just removed the clock from the wall.

2. Invest in quality lighting

Series of light bulbs hanging

You wouldn't believe the light set I had purchased for a huge deal on Amazon. It was one of those bargains that was dramatically discounted, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune ... then I unpacked it. And I realized it was reduced to sell because it could have filled a Hollywood studio and generated enough heat to fry an egg on my floor. Add that to my list of impulse buys that missed the mark.

Now, you can grab a ring light and some backup LED lights for a fraction of the price. Bonus: It won’t act as a mobile tanning bed while you’re filming, which means no wiping sweat from your brow every five minutes.

In the video fail, I had shadows on my face, and that's one thing you want to avoid if at all possible.

Shadows cast doubt because they hide something.

Think back to the show “America’s Most Wanted.” Do you remember how the informants were hidden in the shadows? They were hiding their identity. Because of my poor lighting, it's like I'm saying, "Happy New Year ... now give me your money so I can invest it in more substandard videos in January."

If you don’t have the budget for a proper lighting set, no problem! Plan your shots during the day (fingers crossed that it’s sunny) and face the sun. Now you can soak up some vitamin D and record your video at the same time.

If you’re recording during an overcast day or later in the day, you can “MacGyver” a floor lamp into studio lighting. Take a look at how my business partner, Jake, and I used this makeshift setup when recording a set of videos on his back porch in Florida.

3. Listen to your audio

When I recorded the video fail, I went all out! I researched and found this fantastic mirrorless high-end camera that cost a boatload. Then I invested a small fortune in the boom mic attachment that only worked with that specific camera. I knew I needed the best if I wanted my videos to be the best. Wrong!

My office at the time had a laminate floor and a few pieces of furniture, so sound resonated off the walls. I purchased such a fancy piece of equipment that I didn’t know how to properly use the microphone attachment. It’s as if I were recording in an echo chamber, and it really degraded the audio portion of my message.

Learn from my folly. You don’t need the fancy new camera.

In fact, a smartphone (especially one made within the past three or four years) is going to produce amazing video quality and comes with a high-functioning internal microphone. That said, I would definitely suggest investing in an external microphone (a boom mic or lavalier mic) that plugs into your phone.

EXPERT TIP: To find a mic that works with your phone, simply go to Google and type in “iphone 12 mic” or “Samsung phone mic.

4. Smile!

After 35 takes, I’d lost my oomph! When you record a video, you put undue stress on yourself and increasing pressure each time you stop and re-record. It’s easy to lose your upbeat vibe and feel defeated, but don’t hunch those shoulders just yet. Instead, smile.

In the words of Dale Carnegie:

It costs nothing but creates much. It enriches those who receive, without impoverishing those who give. It happens in a flash and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None are so rich they can get along without it and none so poor but are richer for its benefits.

The power of a smile is unmatched, and your inclusion of a smile in your video is critical. Carnegie went so far as to include it as the fifth principle in his legendary book “How to Make Friends and Influence People.” (Highly recommended reading if you don’t have it on your bookshelf yet.)

By smiling when you start your video, you build an instant rapport with your audience and break down barriers with those watching you for the first time.

Avoid that awkward split second where you go from normal face to smile. If you can, try to start your video mid-smile.

Looking at my video fail, how could anyone feel the vibe of a happy new year when I couldn’t even greet them with a smile? It comes off pretty disingenuous, which just makes the message fall flat.

You need to be excited and happy as you record. My first video fail was filmed after so many takes that I was just tired and wanted to get it done. It shows. Now take a look at one of my latest videos and see how excited I am to share something with you. The little boost of enthusiasm goes a very long way

How can you use video to increase sales?

Man holding a camera

I shared the breakdown above with you because you need to start somewhere, and I’m confident that dissecting my failure will help you succeed. My friend told me that my first few videos would stink (and he was right), but as I continued to work on my format and delivery, I overcame my fears and started generating value-add video.

Here I am more than four years later with a successful YouTube channel that both educates small business owners and helps generate business for our digital marketing agency.

If your videos continue to add value, your sales can and will increase.

So, how can you use video to increase sales? Well, consider making these different types of videos. I’ve included examples of each one.

Don’t get overwhelmed with the list above. Just start by choosing one or two video types and follow my advice above. Keep in mind that videos up to two minutes long tend to get the most engagement, but some of your videos may be 15 minutes or even more than an hour in length. (Yes, people will watch longer videos if you continuously provide valuable information.) That said, start short and work your way up to longer videos.

Practice recording, but don’t be a perfectionist. When you feel like you have something good, send it a panel of friends, family and a few trusted customers. Take their feedback constructively and reshoot if need be. Above all else, don’t stop! Video is here to stay, and the sooner you start recording, the sooner you, too, will see dividends. Good luck!