Cutting communications costs

As businesses look to reduce costs and take greater control of their spending, many SMEs are keen to trim their internal and external communications costs, without sacrificing quality.

Here we look at some ways to cut your comms budget, from video conferencing to internet telephony to collaborative working tools.

Communications costs: Video conferencing

With companies trying to reduce travel costs, many are turning to video conferencing as a substitute for expensive flights and overseas hotel stays.

In addition to the reduced operational costs, SMEs also benefit from faster communications – and decision making – with remote workers and geographically remote clients. And video conferencing means that as long as your internet connection stays up, winter weather won’t affect your business by scuppering travel plans.

Bear in mind that you will need to purchase a webcam and headset to get started.

For one-to-one video conferencing, the free video conferencing options that come with software like MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and Skype are ideal – if somewhat grainy video quality is not an important issue.

Things become more complicated when you want to hook up multiple people to a high-quality video conference. In this case, you will likely require some dedicated video conferencing software and/or hardware.

As the cost of dedicated video conferencing solutions starts to fall, it is worth examining the cost savings video conferencing could bring to your business.

Communications costs: VoIP calls

Internet-based telephony (also known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP) is a great way for SMEs to reduce their communications costs. Instead of the line rental and per call costs associated with traditional telephony, you can run all your voice calls over your existing broadband internet connection.

Internet call provider Skype is one of the most popular solutions in this space. Skype-to-Skype calls are free, worldwide. And for a small subscription fee you can make low-cost calls to non-Skype users or buy country-specific call packages for radically cheaper rates than those offered by traditional telephony providers.

If you’re thinking of introducing VoIP to your business, you will need to invest in decent headphones and microphones, and a decent broadband connection, to get good call quality. Even then, call quality can occasionally be inferior to that of landlines.

Communications costs: Instant messaging

Free VoIP calls aside, instant messaging (IM) is probably the single most economical way to communicate with remote workers. Free IM software from the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft allows you to maintain a constant connection between internet-enabled computers. And if your colleagues are away from their PCs, you can still reach them on IM software using IM-enabled mobile phones – although in this case, data charges will apply.

Communications costs: Collaboration tools

Desktop collaboration tools allow people to work together over their existing broadband connection, enabling them to share documents, information, calendar and contact data in real time. These tools also allow users to access important files and documents from any internet-enabled browser at any time.

As well as whiteboard-type functionality (which allows multiple users to share ideas on a space that can be viewed live by all parties), many desktop collaboration tools also come with useful discussion thread functions, saving you time on emails and providing a historical archive of your discussions.

Communications costs: Wikis

Often used as a collaboration tool, a wiki is a special type of software that allows users to create and edit webpage content using any web browser. Easy to use and cheap to maintain, wikis are becoming popular among business users because they enable cheap and efficient collaboration on multiple documents by multiple users.

Wikis can be used to enable employees based in different locations to work on a document together in real time. Wikis come with revision features that allow you to roll back and view previous versions of documents – ensuring that nothing gets lost during the collaborative editing process.

While there are commercial wikis available, open source wikis like Tikiwiki, Twiki and Zwiki are free and offer a cost-cutting alternative to expensive collaboration tools.

Communications costs: Social networking

What better way to stay in touch with clients and potential customers cheaply than to embrace free online networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn?

By linking your free social networking accounts to your email newsletter and other electronic marketing tools, you can quickly and easily build and maintain a substantial marketing list of interested parties – without the often prohibitive cost of expensive brochures and print newsletters.

Tools like the micro-blogging service Twitter allow you to post updates in real time, which can reduce the number of customer service queries you have to deal with.

In general, to reduce your overall communications budget, take a close look at all costs, from telephony to travel. There’s bound to be a solution that can reduce costs somewhere in your business. Better still, many of those solutions are open source and/or free, and because they provide a quality service, they may actually improve communication within your business.

This article originally appeared in the eBusiness Live newsletter from Enterprise Ireland’s eMarketing Unit and was written by ENNclick.

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