I visited Grand Central Terminal in New York last week to check out an unusual display by software vendor Intuit as it tries to get more small businesses to adopt its QuickBooks accounting software, even businesses that aren’t really businesses yet.

The company took over Vanderbilt Hall in the venerable railroad station and was busy handing out free copies of the Simple Start edition of its software to commuters and passersby, while also trying to get some of them to talk about their dreams of starting their own businesses.

Intuit set up a kiosk where people could go in and describe their aspirations in front of a video camera. Intuit has been posting the videos to the Web, and it plans to award a grand prize of $50,000 (actually $40,000 in cash and another $10,000 in consulting and service fees) to one winner to help launch their business. You can check out some of the videos at www.IWillJustStart.com. The kiosk also featured syndicated columnist Rhonda Abrams, who was handing out advice and copies of her latest book to a line of people at the station.

The competition leverages the popularity of video-sharing sites like YouTube, where users have been uploading all manner of creative and zany videos. Intuit is letting aspiring entrepreneurs upload their videos directly to its site in case they don’t manage to go to any of the other stops along the company’s promotional tour (the tour ends in Boston this week). The company is also soliciting written descriptions that can be posted to the site in lieu of a video.

The marketing effort is certainly something different. Intuit has expanded its aim from existing small businesses to ones that are only concepts at this point. And it’s giving away a scaled-down version of its software for free to make it viable for budding small businesses to try automating the process. The software includes business plan features, along with branding and imaging advice, to help entrepreneurs make the jump to launching a business.

Intuit is competing fiercely with rivals like Sage Software and Microsoft in the market for small business accounting software. Earlier this week, Sage said it would give away copies of its Peachtree software for free to clients of accountants who recommend they switch from QuickBooks.

The video promotion will give Intuit some extra attention and mind share among commuters and perhaps create a market among wannabe entrepreneurs. Whether or not they decide to pay for an upgraded version of the software is a gamble, though. By giving away accounting software for free to people who have yet to start a business, the company may succeed in winning more market share, but in a market that’s not likely to generate much in the way of software sales, at least until the business actually gets off the ground.

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