When you’re running a small business, one of the most important things to have is freedom—freedom to hire the best candidates, freedom to find the best suppliers, and freedom to get your business’ name out to the right group of customers, wherever they are. But sometimes in order to give your business the best chance, you can’t afford to be pinned down. In a growing global market, technology is allowing small businesses to not only collaborate with like-minded entrepreneurs or employees outside of their own region, but also to tap into a larger client base that’s not limited to local consumers.
Web conferencing, webinars, and other audio-visual conferencing methods are some of the best ways to keep in touch with co-workers, clients, and suppliers despite the distance. There are many different web conferencing programs to choose from, offering anything from basic webcam communication and audio calls to group calls or video calls, file and screen sharing, or even the ability to edit documents in real-time as a group. Of course, streaming live video or audio on your computer can be strenuous and requires a strong internet connection. If you use or are interested in using web conferencing at your small business, BuzzAGeek can help make sure that you have the right internet service for your business’ needs.
Web conferencing software typically comes in two pay groups—those that are free and those that require a monthly fee to run. While there are several great free web conferencing services out there, those using such services in a professional setting should beware that free services often host 3rd party advertising or commercials or provide less complete services than their more pricey competitors. Nothing says “unprofessional” more than a paid advertisement interrupting your video call every three minutes! Research should be done into each software’s policies to make sure that it is the right fit for your business.
To help you get started on your decision, BuzzAGeek takes a look at four of the biggest software names in web conferencing. If you’d like personalized help in choosing the right software for your needs, we are always on call to assist you and your business!
Skype—(Free, or $10/mo Premium)
Skype is one of the most well-known names in VoIP and video conferencing right now, in part because of its low, low cost of $0/month. Skype is only free, however, when making Skype-to-Skype video or audio calls, meaning that if you want to call or text a phone or landline and not another Skype account, you will have to buy Skype credits. The free version also does not allow group video conferencing, though Premium accounts allow up to ten participants, which means that larger group calls will have to rely solely on VoIP or instant messaging chats. It is also possible to share files and contact information with other Skype users, although it is not possible to co-edit them, and screen sharing is available in one-on-one calls but not for groups, unless you are a paid premium member. Skype does have ads, but they do not interrupt the call and are a small and unobtrusive part of Skype’s layout.
Skype is best for businesses that plan to do a lot of small-group conferencing or calls, don’t need to present slideshows or edit files, and who don’t want to spend money on excess unneeded services.
Another popular free web conferencing program is Google Hangouts. Google Hangouts offers video and VoIP conferencing for up to ten people at once. The down side is, everyone involved will need an active Google+ account. This isn’t hard, as a Google+ account is also free and easy to sign up for, but the extra step may be a hassle for those who don’t plan to use it regularly.
Google Hangouts also offers free screen-sharing in order to present slide-shows and other demonstrations, and file-sharing through Google’s related app, Google Docs, which does allow co-editing of documents. It also offers the ability to share YouTube videos, broadcast a video live on YouTube via Hangout On Air, and also allows people to join the call by phone instead of computer by generating a unique conference phone number.
Google Hangouts is a great, all-purpose web conferencing software for a small business’ small meetings that already use Google or don’t the Google+ account requirement.
Cisco WebEx Meetings—($49/mo)
With a great, streamlined meeting space, Cisco WebEx Meetings is a highly professional web conferencing program that covers all of the basic necessities and more. Besides video and VoIP conferencing, it allows you to schedule meetings or to start a “one-click meeting” any time. Attendees can quickly join a meeting by clicking on a unique email link that will bring them to the meeting. File-sharing, screen-sharing, meeting recording, and the ability to share files are all there; as well as the whiteboard ability to highlight or annotate presentation slides, a checklist for streamlining your meeting’s agenda, and the ability to switch presenters mid-call.
Cisco WebEx Meetings is an excellent option for small businesses who really want to be able to do it all.
Adobe Connect is full of so many bells and whistles that it actually may be too much for smaller businesses; but if you want the closest thing to a live meeting, Adobe Connect can provide it. Besides having a customizable interface, the software allows you to video and audio conference; share and annotate files, video, and even other members’ desktops; provides support for iOS, Android, and even Blackberry phones; and can handle up to a whopping 99 participants. About the only downside is that it is not easily set up, nor does it provide an easy number or link you can simply give to other call members for easy access to the meeting.
Though it does have a small business-focused version for $39/mo, Adobe Connect is still a whole lot of software, and is recommended for businesses who need to host very large conferences, training modules, or meetings, or who desire the maximum customizability.