Collaboration Tools for Small Business
Share knowledge and expand your company’s reach with collaboration tools
This article is a follow-up to my last article, The Secrets to Attracting Business Online. Once again, small business expert Guy Kawasaki has tips for small business owner Ronald Banks, but this time the topic is collaboration tools.
Companies of all sizes increasingly are looking to technology-based business collaboration tools to communicate more efficiently and effectively with co-workers and clients.
There is a wide variety of collaboration software on the market ranging from simple wikis to full-blown collaboration platforms so you should be able to find the right tool for your business. Here are the major categories of tools available:
- Wikis enable you to build an online knowledge repository within your company that all employees can contribute to.Think of it as Wikipedia for your business.A practical application I have witnessed is a company-wide wiki where experienced employees explain commonly used industry acronyms for those who haven’t heard them.Another example is a community where employees contribute best practices for fixing standard issues with company-issued computers. In each example, the theme is employees helping each other by aggregating and sharing information.
- Cloud-based collaboration platforms are software services that your employees can access from anywhere, using any device with an Internet connection. Examples include web-based email and calendar services, in addition to SharePoints where groups of employees can post meeting notes and commonly used presentations. Some vendors even specialize in platforms that can create a private social network within a business, complete with user profiles, live chat and shared calendars.
- Web conferencing services such as Cisco’s WebEx let far-flung employees, customers, and business partners meet virtually over the Web. Think of a web conference as a multi-line phone call where users can also stream video from a webcam and share their computer screens for all in the meeting to see. A regional manager can hold an interactive training session for employees located around the country, a salesperson can present a business proposal to a client, and a business owner can share slides with another company on his idea for a business partnership.
- Video conferencing services. Companies slashing travel budgets are discovering how affordable video conferencing can be. And forget about jerky video images and dropped connections. These days, many video conferencing services offer dependable high-definition video feeds. The result: A lot less time fiddling with video equipment, and a lot more productivity. Products range from free, basic services like Skype, to more professional-grade services with sophisticated features, including HD video streams, webcasting, and recording capabilities.
Some tools are more appropriate for certain types of businesses than others. Video conferencing may help you cut travel costs if you have salespeople dispersed across the country, for example but may not be necessary if the key people involved in your business are local. You also may decide that your company can benefit from a range of collaboration tools. If so, there are many products available that integrate everything from Web and video conferencing to calendar sharing and online document storage. One example is the Verizon Collaboration Center, which offers an array of collaboration tools, from file sharing and scheduling to Web meeting capabilities via Cisco’s WebEx platform.
Chances are that online collaboration tools can help your company increase productivity and save money. Low entry costs mean you have little to lose while the potential for greater collaboration between employees, contractors, customers and vendors means you have a great deal to gain.
By Jeff Beckham and Scott Wieder