How Thinking Small Can Mean Big Things for Your Business
Small Can Mean
Big Things for
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For years, too many small businesses had little choice but to become servants of large companies.
It simply wasn’t realistic to think that small companies could compete for business against much
larger organizations and prevail. And it wasn’t practical for them to partner with similar-sized
organizations that were too far away, too hard to find, and too difficult to stay in touch with.
All that has changed with the advent of online collaboration tools that make
it easier than ever for small and midsize businesses
(SMBs) to go up against the big guys and win. These same tools help SMBs work with one another
and avoid headache-inducing, profit-pinching relationships with corporate behemoths.
The latest communications tools and technologies allow smaller companies to streamline their efforts and to
out-hustle even their biggest rivals. The trick is choosing wisely from the many offerings available from a range
of providers to find the ones that will meet your specific needs, dependably and at a reasonable cost.
Why Small Businesses Should Be Collaborating
“Get big or die trying” sounds like a fine idea when a small business is born, but grow-at-allcosts can turn into a grind as the business matures. That’s why so many small companies
are content to nurture a niche and build relationships with others of their kind.
Of course it’s fine to dream of IPOs and Wall Street power lunches, but the reality today is that for most
small companies, many of the best opportunities lie in working with other small companies. Small
businesses are more numerous, more nimble, more personal, and, frankly, more fun to work with.
By contrast, big companies can be bureaucratic, inflexible
and prone to using their billion-dollar clout to squeeze
profit-killing concessions out of their vendors.
The U.S. has 23 million small businesses that account
for 55 percent of sales nationwide, the Small Business
Administration says. While large companies have
cut 4 million jobs since 1990, the SBA says, small
businesses have added 8 million. Clearly there is
ample opportunity for those who can “think small.”
Challenges to Small-Business Collaboration
Small companies have similar mindsets, face similar challenges and serve similar
customer bases, so it makes sense for them to collaborate with one another at every
opportunity. However, the challenges to collaboration are considerable:
• Collaboration tools are scattered, varied, and often difficult to use
• Complementary companies are often separated by geography
• Some small-business communication systems are low-powered and outdated
• Companies need a low-cost way to work together.
Doesn’t the Internet address these challenges?
Yes, to a point, but the complications of running
a small business and the blinding array of
Collaboration Tools are Scattered, Varied and Often Difficult to Use
In an age when we have an app for everything but tying our shoes, small companies aiming to go
toe-to-toe with big corporations need a way to tie all their collaborations together in one place.
There’s a lot out there, and it’s all over the map. One online application will handle email, another
will handle voicemail, another will handle video chat, and yet another will manage customer
relationships. Just bookmarking all these apps can be mind-boggling, and that’s before you dive
into the user interfaces, which run the gamut from delightfully elegant to brazenly hostile.
Is it any wonder time-strapped entrepreneurs want to tune out all
these options? Yet doing that blocks countless opportunities
for forming lasting, profitable partnerships.
Most SMBs already enjoy 24/7 Internet connectivity. To
grease the skids of online collaboration, they also need a onestop hub that combines email, voicemail, audio conferencing,
and seamless integration with CRM software.
SMBs crave intuitive, easy-to-use software that doesn’t require a lot of
training. And entrepreneurs with an eye to the future want software built
on standards-based architecture that scales easily as the company grows.
Complementary Companies are Separated by Geography
Companies often are separated by languages, currencies, regulations and physical borders. Yet many SMBs
are doing complementary work, so it stands to reason they should be collaborating in spite of these barriers.
A survey by the Small Business Exporters Association found that the number of non-exporting
small companies interested in exporting their goods surged from 43% in 2010 to 63% in 2013.
Of course the sluggish U.S. economy has companies of all sizes scanning for international
opportunities, but there’s another force at work here.
The rise of Voice over Internet Protocol telephony, or
VoIP, has triggered an explosion of cross-border
collaboration on free video services such as
Skype. Unfortunately, free services usually do
not provide a business-class user experience.
When the company’s profitability is on the line,
you don’t want a bunch of squeaks, pops, and
other noises interrupting the conversation.
The Internet cannot eliminate cultural,
financial, and regulatory barriers to international
partnerships, but plenty of SMBs have the
resources to overcome those obstacles. They
just need the right collaboration tools.
Company Communication Systems are Low-Powered and Outdated
Installing a basic, traditionalPBX is a badge of honor for a young company because it implies
there’s enough incoming and outgoing communications to require a box to manage it all.
Once a system is installed, people often adopt a “set-it-and-forget-it” mindset.
Despite its reliability, an old school system doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility beyond call-routing and
basic voicemail. Online collaboration between small companies requires the ability to create audio
conferences, manage vendor contact information, and strengthen relationships with customers.
That’s why so many small companies are embracing the possibilities of VoIP, which combines standard
telephone-calling operations with the blizzard of available multimedia options available. A few years ago,
only the largest corporations could deploy these features but today most SMBs have access to them as well.
Small businesses that crave the ability to collaborate with complementary businesses need to
take a long, hard look at their current phone systems and decide whether that
system is helping them reach their goals or getting in the way.
Companies Need a Low-Cost Way to Compete, Collaborate
Long-distance and cellphone roaming fees are collaboration killers. Corporations can
afford to jet key people across the country, put them up in hotels and rack up diningand-entertainment expenses. All those costs can cripple a small business.
SMBs making a play for the business of their corporate rivals need to be able to find
attractive partners in far-flung locales, but their communications systems can hold them
back — there’s only so much they can do with a fax machine and a telephone handset.
Small businesses want a cost-effective away to work together on critical business
issues in real time, using the latest interactive technology so decisions that used
to require weeks of back-and-forth can get done in only a few hours.
All that can happen when SMBs pool their collaboration
efforts in a single communications package. Thanks to VoIP,
which uses bandwidth much more efficiently than standard
telephone lines, small companies can reduce their business
telephone expenses and eliminate long-distance charges while
adding a basket of unified communications features such as
email, chat, video, and more in an easy-to-use interface.
And that gives SMBs the power to use their superior speed and
agility to do end runs around their lumbering corporate competitors.
Why Unified Communications is Key to Collaboration
Unified communications (UC) pools several multimedia features into a single, cohesive
package. While most of the features are designed to enhance communications within
a company, they also enable a host of external collaboration opportunities.
Fonality, a leading provider of UC solutions to SMBs, offers a suite of collaboration tools that illustrate the
possibilities of this interactive technology. Fonality’s Heads Up Display (HUD) anchors the system, combining
all UC features in a single intuitive interface and reducing the need for advanced training and software support.
An audio conferencing tool lets users create conference calls, record meetings, and
add or remove participants. A screen share option makes the same computer screen
available to everyone in the conference. Building these conferencing features into
Fonality’s package offers substantial savings over the cost of third-party services.
Other Benefits of Unified Communications
Collaboration is not the only benefit of UC, of course. Among others:
Call center capability: The same technology that enables hundreds of people to provide customer
and product support can convert your small-business phone system into a de facto call center.
Drag-and-drop call handling: Users can transfer calls, put people on
hold and send calls to voicemail simply by clicking a mouse.
Visual voicemail and transcription: Users can scan, sort and play back all their voicemails,
which can be accessed through an email link. The software also can transcribe the message.
Call screening and forwarding: Users have full control of who they talk to and
can forward all calls to any telephone, including their personal cellphone.
Device integration: With VoIP and UC, any device, from smartphone to tablet to PC, becomes
part of the communications infrastructure, rendering the network much more powerful.
The overall appeal of UC is improved efficiency: All these features simplify the communications process and
turn hours-long chores into minute-long tasks. That adds up to lower costs and improved profitability.
A System That Grows with You
Say you’ve made up your mind to nurture a small-business niche, serving customers
you like and collaborating with other small companies run by people you enjoy working
with. Then one of your collaborators latches onto a hot new trend and her business
booms — potentially sending demand for your wares through the roof as well.
Do you stay small or pass up the opportunity of a lifetime?
If you go for the growth, it’s absolutely vital to have a phone system that can
grow with you easily. You never want to be in a situation where
rapid expansion leaves your company with a collection of local
offices whose phone systems can’t talk to one another.
This is where VoIP really comes into its own. Because VoIP is
based on standard Internet technology, it’s very easy to develop
A Tool for Strategic Growth
Fonality once helped a rapidly expanding Internet company open dozens of new offices
across the United States in the span of several months. The company needed a plug-and-play
telephone system that could be up and running at each new office in a very short time.
The system had to be economical so the company did not overspend its investors’
money, and it had to be easy to use so new employees could get up to speed as fast
as possible and build positive relationships with all its new customers.
And it had to have the option of adjusting rapidly to changing market conditions: A company
growing that fast is bound to have some offices thrive while other offices struggle. Fonality’s
system made it easy to remove phones that weren’t needed if a certain office wasn’t
doing enough business and to move them to offices where things were booming.
Questions to Ask
VoIP and unified communications can make it much easier to collaborate with other
small businesses, whether they are down the street or halfway around the world. SMBs
on the verge of switching to a VoIP/UC phone system need to ask themselves a few
key questions to make sure they’re getting the best solution for their needs.
Do I have to go all-in on VoIP?
If you’re still not sure if VoIP is the best fit for your company, you shouldn’t be forced to
figure that out on the fly. Most VoIP providers require companies to make an all-or-nothing
decision. Fonality’s VoIP solutions, however, are designed for maximum flexibility: You can
dip your toe in the water and test VoIP in a section of your business to see if it works for
you, then widen it to your entire company as you feel more comfortable with it.
How flexible and scalable is the system?
Your VoIP solution should be built on a standards-based software
architecture so your phone system can easily adapt to new technologies
and grow with your business. Some VoIP providers use proprietary
communications protocols that aren’t compatible with standard protocols,
which can create major headaches when you’re upgrading, expanding,
or merging with another company.
Questions to Ask
Do I need to keep my existing dedicated phone line?
Most VoIP systems are either hosted in the cloud or installed onsite at your business. A
hosted system is the more economical while an on-site system is the most robust. But
either way, users usually have to give up their dedicated line to the telephone company — a
risk some companies cannot afford. Fonality is the only VoIP provider that offers an option
to keep your existing phone line while adding all the UC features enabled by VoIP.
How much training and support will the system require?
Your phone system has to be easy for everybody to use, from the front desk receptionist to
the owner of the company. It should not require extensive training, and it should have a wellthought-out software support system so users can get their questions answered quickly.
How much money will I save?
A VoIP/UC system can piggyback on your existing computer
network, so depending on your setup, you could save up
to 20 to 30% over the cost of your legacy phone system.
You also have to keep an eye on bandwidth costs: UC
multimedia features are economical, but they are not free.
Choosing a Provider
VoIP and UC can make it easy for small companies to enjoy all the collaboration tools
available to large corporations, but can choosing a provider be just as easy?
As you shop for a VoIP provider, look for:
• A proven track record of helping companies like yours, preferably an SMB just like you
• Demonstrated technical acumen to customize a system to your particular needs
• Dedicated customer and technical support.
VoIP and UC can enhance collaborations at every level: customers, vendors,
staff, and the public. Your VoIP provider has to understand how all these people
interact, and it must provide economical, flexible, and easy-to-use tools to
help everyone pull together to deliver excellent products and services.
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