“What people are saying about you and your company online may well be costing you business,” said Todd Bairstow, co-founder of Keyword Connects, a Waltham, Mass.-based firm specializing in Internet marketing. You need to be aware of popular customer-review sites, especially the Big Three -- Yelp, CitySearch and Google Maps – and know what’s being written about your company, he advised. “Wherever you are or could be, look into it and see to it that your business has a favorable image.”

“[People] have an identity on the Web that they should be managing,” Bairstow added. “A lot of pool and spa professionals are intimidated and think they have no control. But they can manage – they can and should respond to reviews online.” Encourage your satisfied customers to write positive reviews and, if you find a negative one, make sure your response is “helpful and kind. Don’t get into arguments.”

Bairstow points out that 60- to 80 percent of homeowners go online and search for companies they’re considering for work. In the past, if they were unhappy about their choice, they’d call and complain to the company or the Better Business Bureau, he said. Now they write reviews – good and bad – online for the world to see.

As a lifelong Internet specialist, Bairstow knows what he’s talking about. After graduating from Hobart College in upstate New York with a major in English, he went straight to America Online. “At the time, it was just a job, but it turned into a great career. I’ve been in it [Internet work] ever since,” he said. Following AOL, he worked in the online and direct marketing departments at Boston-based Arnold Worldwide, one of the largest U.S. advertising agencies.

After three years, Bairstow left to start his own firm with Paul Baudisch. He likes that the Internet is “constantly evolving and the rules are still being written. You can really invent your own path,” Bairstow said.

In his spare time, he likes sea kayaking. His wife, Susan, is a high-school history teacher, “but I still beat her in ‘Jeopardy,’ ” he said with a laugh. Their home has a classic kidney-shaped, inground pool, built in 1971, which he had restored. “I love it!” Bairstow said.