Reaching Out With Video Conferencing

Staying in touch with customers and colleagues with phone calls, emails and text messages is important, but there are times where seeing someone's face can provide important benefits. Being able to maintain eye contact with someone adds a personal dimension to a conversation or a meeting that can't be replaced with a phone call.

Video conferencing offers small business owners an increasingly affordable tool for communicating with clients and team members, without the time, cost and hassles associated with meeting in person. Whether it's an ad-hoc conversation with an important colleague or a webinar with a group of workers, video conferencing can provide important communications and collaboration advantages for small businesses.

Conferencing equipment and software suppliers, including many that have traditionally focused on large companies, are developing new products for the small and medium business market.

Using Web-based video conferencing can also help reduce compatibility challenges associated with dedicated systems. Anyone with Internet or phone access can join a conference.

Video conferencing tools can range from something as simple as a video camera built into a laptop or smartphone, or as elaborate as a high-definition camera connected with dedicated conferencing software.

While most small businesses will generally use tools at the simpler end of the video conferencing spectrum, the cost of conferencing equipment is falling continually, making video conferencing an increasingly attractive option for small businesses.

Web-Based Systems

At the lower end of the market, small business owners can use a variety of software and Web-based video conferencing systems that depend on PCs and webcams, and offer relatively simple feature sets.

Microsoft, for instance, offers video conferencing as part of its Office 365 productivity suite, and Apple includes its FaceTime conferencing app in its computer, smartphone and tablet operating systems.

Similarly, Skype provides free PC-to-PC video and voice calls between two users, and also offers a range of services for businesses that wish to hold videoconferences with several users. Users can use headsets or their computer's microphone and speakers to communicate, and see each other via webcams.

Google Hangouts also offers live videoconferencing for up to 10 users at a time.

A variety of videoconferencing apps are also available for mobile devices, including FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, and others.