Google's recently launched service connects experts with consumers who need their help. Is this a golden opportunity for small businesses or yet another online marketing distraction?
Sephora offers Google Helpouts. So do Weight Watchers, Rosetta Stone, One Medical, and Redbacon, a Home Depot company. The question is: should your small business marketing plan include Google Helpouts, too?
Google launched Helpout Nov. 5. The video-chat service, based on Google Hangout, is designed to connect experts in a variety of professional fields with consumers who need their help. Though many people offer their services for free on Helpout, others charge by the minute or by the hour.
For example, a 30-minute English tutoring session with a Rosetta Stone tutor costs $30, or $1 per minute. Google takes a 20 percent cut of all paid Helpouts. Customers and Helpout providers use Google Wallet for financial transactions.
How Google Helpout Works
In a Google Helpout session, the customer and the expert can see one another via video chat as well as send messages via in-app chat and share their computer screens. You can grant someone remote desktop access during a Helpout too, which would enable, for example, a computer tech expert to diagnose a PC problem you're experiencing.
Currently, Google Helpout is for business-to-consumer offerings only. There are plans to add business-to-business Helpouts in the future, according to Google.
Google Helpout: Invitation Only
Google Helpouts aren't open to everyone at this point. Aside from having a Google+ account, you must receive a Google Helpout invitation code to sign up. You can also request an invitation code. The code links to your Google account, according to a Google Helpout expert we talked to (during a Helpout session), so you can't pass along your invite to a friend.
Google Helpout Homepage
Once you have an invitation code, create a profile for your business and the services you plan to offer. Tip: Be sure to include important keywords related to your business in your headline, so people searching on Google Helpouts can find you easily. You can also create a short video about yourself and your services, which others will see when viewing your Google Helpout profile.
After that, Google will want to qualify you before you can become an official Helpout provider. Google will typically ask a prospective Helpout provider a few questions during a video chat. "We're looking for people with great qualifications and who are knowledgeable about their topic, well spoken and confident," according to the Helpout expert who spoke with us.
Helpout Scheduling and No-Shows
Once Google green-lights you as a Helpout provider, your Helpout page goes live. You decide your availability for Helpout sessions. You can log into Helpouts at any time and indicate that you're available for a session. Those who are immediately available show up in Helpout search results above others who aren't currently available. You can also allow people to schedule appointments with you through Helpouts.
Google allows Helpout providers to charge a no-show cancellation fee, which is typically half the rate you would have received for the scheduled time. If someone booked you for one hour and you charge $50 per hour, the customer would pay a $25 cancellation fee if they don't cancel within 24 hours of the appointment.
Can You Make Money With Google Helpout?
According to service providers we interviewed, Helpouts are a great way to build your online reputation, expand your services, and develop a client base—both in the U.S. and internationally. Just don't expect to make a lot of—if any—money, especially at first.
For one thing, Google Helpouts are still so new, many people aren't aware they exist, says Ben Matlak, a certified strength and conditioning coach from the U.S. who is currently based in South Korea. As a result, there's not a lot of demand yet.
Secondly, many Helpout providers offer their services for free. "Originally, I listed my services for a fee," says Matlak. Even though he says his fee was "in the middle range" of health and fitness coaches, he didn't get any takers.
As a result, Matlak decided to offer his service for free. His goal: Build up a reputation by gaining a foundation of solid reviews (customers can rate the service providers with comments and up to five stars). Then see if he can get some paying customers through Helpouts.
Chris Hubbell, another Helpout provider, makes his living providing tech support. But thus far, he says it hasn't "increased my business at all."
Only a few people have paid for a Helpout session, he says, so he currently offers his services for free. As with Matlak, Hubbell says Google Helpout is "a great opportunity to build my reputation and show people the value of my services."
Another potential limitation, according to Hubbell, is that some people aren't comfortable with video chat. "I get a lot of people who connect with me, realize it's a video chat, and then hang up," he says.
In addition, Google Helpout requires a slight learning curve, especially for people who aren't experienced with video chats, says Hubbell. "Some potential customers just won't go through the trouble to learn it," he adds. While Helpouts won't replace phone calls or email, for some specialized businesses, the face-to-face video chat has potential, Hubbell says.
Helpouts' Small Business Benefits
Among the benefits, Google Helpouts can help solo proprietors develop new lines of business. Laura Gomez, a career counselor, previously worked in human resources and recruiting. "I thought offering career coaching Helpouts could be a cool way to use my past training as a recruiter for a good cause, helping others with their job search," she said.
Also, Gomez noted: "I'm undergoing a bit of a career pivot myself right now. Having recently studied software development, I'm now designing and building a Web app to help job seekers. So (being on Google Helpouts) is a two-birds, one-stone thing for me. I'm conducting research on some of the biggest pain points that job seekers face while building a small side-coaching business."
Through Google Helpouts, Gomez says 40 percent of her clients are outside the U.S., and they range from recent college grads to middle managers to top-level executives. She's still trying to figure out the best way to monetize her services, which as of this writing are free.
"I'm very comfortable with Google's 20 percent cut," Gomez added. "With Google's expansive reach, combined with such a feature-rich Helpouts platform, 20 percent feels extremely reasonable. I'm excited to be a part of this experience and look forward to seeing how it evolves."
Ultimately, Google Helpouts can help small businesses expand their online reputation, develop new lines of service and test them online, and reach new potential clients around the world. Hubbell advises that small business owners might want to give Helpouts a little more time to mature before jumping in.
"Right now it's pain-in-the-neck time," he said, "Everyone's still figuring out what Helpouts is or can be. But there's no doubt that down the road, this will be a great way to connect people who need help with those who can provide it."
James A. Martin is an SEO copywriter and content marketing specialist based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter, @james_a_martin and Google+.
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