Skype and Webcam: Tools for New and Growing Businesses

The role of new technology in business How a webcam can help you How Skype can help your business

For the discerning businessperson, there are key issues that must be addressed. In the wake of current events, much introspection has taken place and it is not only the individuals that are questioning how things have been done and how to do them better. The G20 summit put together a package that, they hope, will minimise or--better still--eradicate the chances of something this financially catastrophic happening again. Businesses, especially the banking and the financial sector have had to take a long hard look at themselves and determine how to do things differently.

Being somewhat new to the business world i.e. running my own business (I have been working for other people and organisations since I was about 16 years old – is a great experience builder but the question remains, ‘Is that it?’) I have been exposed to a world of responsibility that I have never known. Not even helping my mum set up her own business and subsequently helping her run it could really adequately prepare me for what this entailed. However, it is something that I have embraced, relished and even now look forward to because I know that it is helping me grow . . . anyway, I digress; but there was a point to this. In the race to make and save money, technology has become a key tool. The advertisement I saw the other day showed me how you can be in town and still be able to access all the information on your laptop, the advertisement is quite funny but shows just how far technology has come: (www.gotomypc.co.uk).

There are two things that I have found that many people and businesses may not have considered when it comes to communicating and running their business. I know that Twitter and Facebook have become marketing and networking tools but what about those elements/software that allows one to verbally communicate rather than rely on private messages and somewhat impersonal emails? British Telecom (BT) – the biggest telecommunications provider in the United Kingdom, once had a slogan “it's good talk” and I could not agree more. So how can you, as a thrifty yet ambitious, businessperson use what is out there to get your message across to your nearest and dearest – in the business world that is? Well here is something you may not have considered . . . ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Skype and the humble webcam (cue applause--or maybe not). Yes, you may have heard of them, but in a business sense? I doubt it. But before you turn away in disgust, let me explain myself. Again, the disclaimer applies here. I am just speaking from personal experience and everything here is just my opinion. It does not, in any way, reflect the views and opinions of Skype or any of its employees, affiliates etc., etc.

Skype – I discovered Skype by accident. I googled online phone and got it. But it is an awesome way to communicate and could revolutionise the way business is done. I understand that there may be some logistical and operational things to sort out (blocking personal use during office time (having clients’ details on each employees’ computers) or just having it on key computers within the company so that online conferencing can take place). Skype is free to download and by purchasing credits you could contact your supplier in Japan and then confirm to your Brazilian client that yes, you will be able get them what they were asking for. All this at a fraction of the cost of a normal phonecall, potentially saving your company thousands and thousands of pounds (or whatever your currency is where you are). At a time when saving money (saving your ass) is the order of the day, that sounds like good business to me.

Webcam – WHAT??? When someone mentions a webcam to me, the last thing I think of is running a business and saving money. As one of my friend’s kids said, when the webcam comes on, the clothes come off  (ahem . . . sorry to be a bit risqué, but you were thinking it too).  However, apart from that, think of the possibilities. You can save yourself a fortune in air fares, telephone bills and in general hassle and inconvenience by being able to video conference. I know that many businesses do this already but if you are a small business and think that you cannot, think again. For an average of $35-60 you can get a decent quality webcam and if your suppliers and customers have them too, then you are quids in (as they say in the United Kingdom). You can have meetings, discuss what needs to be done without having to hassle your personal assistant to book a flight, hotel, restaurant in a country 20 hours away. Are you seeing where I am going with this? Of course, I realise that sometimes meeting face to face is unavoidable and when things become complicated or sensitive, this is the best way to solve things. But it is definitely worth considering. Another area where the webcam comes in useful is when it comes to fighting any legal battles. Let me explain...Globalisation has meant that contracts are not always written (in fact there is no legal requirement for them to be so), so many of them are either implied or verbal. If both of you have agreed something over something, then it is a legally binding contract. If they suddenly decide to renege on your agreement and it was done on the webcam, then you can whip it out if and when it comes to court. You MUST when talking to them via this method warn them that you are going to be recording it or else you could be the one in trouble!

This one, I think should definitely not be installed on every employee computer in your firm OR if it is, it must be closely monitored for abuse of it because there is potential for this. I don’t know if there are any PCs yet with inbuilt webcams (I know that there are a plethora of laptops with this feature) but, surely it is only a matter of time with the way and speed that technology is going...I, for one, will be watching this space.

- British Telecom advertisement "it's good to talk"

So there you have it. Yes, I know that technology can be a hassle, but I think as we look towards recovery, businesses must find new ways to move forward – socially, financially and technologically and I believe that this may be just one of the ways they could do so.

Take care and God bless readers...

© Ngozi Nwabineli September 2009

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