To stay competitive, radiant companies are finding online service a necessity.

For a fraction of the cost of a phone book ad, a radiant heating company can create a great Web page with more information, interactivity, direct service and full-color capabilities, than any Yellow Pages ad could ever have.

The number of radiant sites on the Internet is growing. In PM's "Promoting Radiant" contest held earlier this year, many of the entries were Web sites. Radiant companies are acknowledging that clients no longer turn to the phone book for information.

Some owners have quit print ads altogether, and instead are spending advertising dollars on Web professionals to manage their online services. These professionals can handle every aspect of Web site design, and provide an owner with a level of advertising he may have a hard time doing himself.

More than 40,000 new Web site addresses are created every day, sources say, but fewer than 10 percent of all businesses are on the Web. Is the Internet really a more cost-effective way to market a radiant business? And how do you get one of your own?

Let Your Mouse Do The Walking

Climatec Advanced Heating Technologies is a small, East Coast radiant contracting business searching for a presence on the Internet. Owner Jeffrey Young didn't know what to expect from his site when he hired Direct Connect Business Solutions to help him design his Web page ( just more than a year ago.

"It took a few months," says Young, who started his own radiant company in 1992, "but the site directly increased the leads I received." After tasting the fruit from the labors of his Web site, Young says he'll never advertise in the Yellow Pages again.

"I tried the Yellow Pages for three years," admits Young, whose site averages 300 visitors per week. "But I've received more leads in one year on the Web, than in all the years in the Yellow Pages."

"A few years ago, a plumber with a Web site was very unusual," says New Comfort Systems owner Jerry Viola ( of Long Island, N.Y. "But now people are using the Internet more frequently, almost automatically, to find information."

Viola's four-year-old radiant company has been online for two years with the help of Primedia Inc., an East coast marketing and communications company that designs Web sites for several industry companies. Although New Comfort Systems is small (only Viola, his wife and two others), the Web page has increased the leads he receives, and his company's image, more than print ads have done in the past.

"My Web site is the only thing I spend my money on," says Viola, who has been in the industry for 24 years, and no longer advertises in print media. "It's not profitable to be in a Yellow Pages ad."

"The cost per thousand is considerably less than any other medium by a long shot," says Jim Macdonald, owner of marketing and communications company Direct Connect Business Solutions ( "With the boom in inexpensive, Web-ready computers hitting the market, many businesses that were convinced there was no audience on the Internet are slowly changing their minds."

There are other reasons why Yellow Pages ads don't "add" up against the Web.

"Only two years ago, many companies were unimpressed with what the Web had to offer, and rightfully so," explains Macdonald. "But since the Internet is the most rapidly changing medium from a technological aspect, it quickly became a very flexible and affordable means to show a company's abilities and services."

A Yellow Pages ad must convey loads of information within a limited space. Color capabilities, text content and design elements are restricted to make the ad as eye-catching, and concise, as possible to a prospective client. Also, in order to advertise in various locations, the ad must be duplicated in several different Yellow Pages. And monitoring ads to discover which is the most effective is usually hit-or-miss.

The Internet, on the other hand, is unlimited. It offers as many designs as the imagination can entertain. Color capabilities, images, text and information are a mouse-click away from anywhere in the world. The Internet eliminates geographic boundaries.

Yellow Pages ads are slaves to the confines of print media. There is a shelf-life to consider, because editions appear only once or twice a year. Any updates or announcements of special offers must be put on hold until the next installment. However, with the flexibility of the Internet, owners can update on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis without any added costs to the site.

The cost-effectiveness of being online far outweighs the hassles and advertising dollars it takes to be listed in the phone book. The Yellow Pages knows this. That's why it has its own Web site on the Internet!

And while word-of-mouth is still the best way to generate business, the Internet reciprocates the idea. Now owners market their company by marketing their Web site.

A well-designed site is talked about and promoted by prospective clients. The professional image of the site is transferred to a company's credibility. By seeing a user-friendly, attractive and informative site, a client believes that the company performs the same way, thus translating into business leads for that company.

Calling In The Pro

Professional Web page designers say there's nothing wrong with designing your own site, but it does take a lot of time and effort. Web site designing companies know it's hard for business owners to say, "I want a Web site, but I don't know where to start." But through close consultation with radiant companies, and a monthly fee, they are able to turn a vision into a product.

Radiant owners online are finding the clientele they seek on the Web, not flipping through the phone book.

"The demographics fit well with the radiant industry," says Rich Rutigliano, founder and president of Primedia Inc. ( "The Internet user is usually a computer savvy, educated male, 35 to 39 years old, with above average income." The profile for average radiant clients fits the growing population of computer literate consumers, who find it just as easy to go online as to pick up the phone.

Hiring a professional Web designer to get you started on the Internet has its advantages.

"Primedia constantly looks at and monitors where our customers' Web sites are, and the patterns browsers take to find the site," says Rutigliano. His company has teams of workers devote time and effort to maintaining the sites, which includes monitoring search engines.

Internet search engines - such as Lycos or Yahoo! - play an important role in how visible a company is on the Web. This is where the help of a professional comes in handy.

"Many companies incorrectly assume that any possible design of a Web site will put you on a search engine," says Rutigliano. "It's not just paying a fee and asking to be listed, but how the page is constructed."

But even a search engine is limited in its Internet range. According to Jim Macdonald, the largest search engine covers only 16 percent of the Web. The search engine chooses sites through the computer applications within a page's design. Sites with specific designs are given top billing, while those without the correct applications are listed lower on the search. This could mean less visibility to a site created without the know-how. Web designers also watch for Web trends, and change the sites accordingly.

"A page should never be static and unchanging," Rutigliano explains. He says a frequently updated site gives a user a reason to return again and again. "We change the overall look if anything," says Rutigliano. Whether it's changing the text, color, design or images, an updated site will continue to grow for the company. With the Internet increasingly flexible to instantaneous changes, it meets the needs of a company better and more efficiently than print media.

Also, several professional Web designers offer the option of Web-based management programs and back-door updating systems to let owners update and change the Web sites themselves. That way they become more self-sufficient, and can prevent paying the professionals to be typists. Small Business, Big Image: Surfing the Web one day, you come across an eye-catching radiant business site - full-color, rotating images, the works! News and information abound. Photos from a jobsite unlock the mysteries of the installation process. A direct e-mail address appears at the bottom of this professional page. And you are shocked to hear the owner's wife answer the phone when you call to set up a consultation!

Even though the Web, as we know it, is only five years old, it has become the great equalizer. Small companies and "mom 'n pop" shops can have the image of a worldwide conglomerate, without spending conglomerate money.

It used to be the fanciest business card that caught a client's attention. Today, competition is fierce to have the most innovative and attractive Web page.

The Web has added credibility to radiant businesses. Many radiant companies online find their clients are impressed when they see a Web address listed on letterhead or business cards. But the familiar "www" has become so commonplace now, that those without a Web site are feeling the negative effects of lower visibility.

Like the introduction of the fax machine in the early 1980s, there has been a catch-up period as businesses begin to understand the benefits of advertising on the Web. However, owners online must accept that economic results from the Internet are a gradual process. And they must realize it's not a cure-all.

"The important thing for business owners to remember is that the Web is only a piece of their total marketing puzzle," says Macdonald. "It's not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it is definitely a means by which getting that pot of gold becomes more achievable."