By Jane Applegate

A picture is truly worth a thousand words—especially when it comes to selecting the right image for your company’s ad campaign or website, says Rebecca Swift, head of creative planning for iStockphoto.

“Every company, from a small one to a big corporation, is using images much more than before—it’s like a runaway horse,” says Small, who is responsible for building image collections, working with photographers around the world and advising clients.

No matter what you do for a living, having an engaging and attractive website is more important than ever, especially since the average adult spends five hours per day online, up 15.8 percent from last year, according to a recent study released by eMarketer.

In fact, Swift says the word “business” is actually the number one search term used by visitors to the iStockphoto site, which has more than 10 million affordable images available for use. “The right photograph can help you reinvent something that is boring if that image conveys the values of your business,” says Swift.

iStockphoto started out as a very small business. The company was founded in the early 2000s by a group of designers in Calgary, Canada as a source of free images. “This group of designers came up with the idea of sharing photos and designs online,” says Swift. “They put them online to be downloaded for free. They kept getting bigger, and bought more server space. Then, they started charging a dollar per image.” In 2006, the founders sold the company to Getty Images.

How, I asked Swift, can small business owners without formal design training, even start to look for the perfect image for their companies? “There are so many images to choose from, you can easily get distracted by ones not relevant to your brand,” says Swift. “It’s important to stick to the message you want to convey.” The best business photos focus on “some kind of human element,” she says. “The person who runs the company may not be the real face of the company—it could be someone on the front desk staff.”

applegate_report_headerYears ago, if you wanted to use a photograph, you paid the photographer or a stock photo agency a fee to use the picture for a specific purpose and a set amount of time. In the mid-1990s, agencies began to burn multiple images on CDs and sell those as collections. But in the late 90s (once images could be easily uploaded to the web) consumers started posting and sharing their own photos.

Now, anyone can submit photos to istockphoto for consideration. “The crowd-sourcing model is new,” says Swift. “We now have a 100,000 contributors who are actively posting images. For some, they want to make a little bit of money—for others, it’s their career.”

On a related note: iStockphoto recently released a survey of 404 “creatives” based in the United States and United Kingdom which paints a bleak picture of the so-called creative economy. Lack of inspiration, limited funding and time are three barriers to creativity, according to the survey. Sixty percent of respondents say they had “great ideas” in the last year but not enough time or support  or achieve what they wanted. About 70 percent say they wanted more “creative time” and 63 percent report not having the time they need for “creative reflection and inspiration.”

Forty-eight percent of those polled say they believe creativity levels have declined or are stagnant, and 23 percent spend less than two hours of their day doing what they consider “creative work.”

Jane Applegate is the national correspondent for, author of four books on small business success and co-founder of the The Applegate Group is a multimedia production company.