The World At Your Fingertips
I don’t know if it was calling home from a McDonald’s in Guatemala for free on my laptop or visiting a Spanish School that had teachers in Guatemala giving lessons to students in Japan that provided the epiphany, but I realized that I had been oblivious to the most incredible revolution of the 21rst century to date, the end of the geographical tyranny of opportunity. If a potential business partner, vendor, or customer in Manila or Tel Aviv is just as easy to do business with as someone two blocks over, why wouldn’t you at least consider their services? Voice Over IP (VoIP), and specifically the largest provider of VoIP, Skype, are going to impact services in more profoundly than containerization shook up manufacturing.
What Skype Can Do For You
If you haven’t used Skype yet then it’s time to dip the toe in the water. Used as a conventional telephone to make a phone call to another phone, Skype can undercut the prices of your regular carrier and save money on long distance calls. However, when Skype is used to contact other Skype users is where it really shines. Skype to Skype calls are free and, since you can download Skype for free, you can really talk to anyone, anywhere for free. Not only that, but Skype allows you to make video calls, record video messages to forward, and even make conference calls. Now you can even use Skype from your cell phone in the U.S. with most major providers.
Any business that deals with communication and information needs to think about the impact of Skype and of how it opens up the entire world to them. Think about our friends the Spanish teachers for a minute. The use of Skype both opens up new clients to them and can help them retain old clients. So you go to school in Antigua and really feel that you’ve made humongous strides in improving your Spanish and you would like to continue your lessons, but you’ve got to go home tomorrow. No problem, on your last day your instructor asks you to fill out an evaluation and suggests that you continue your lessons on a weekly basis through a Skype video call! What a fabulous way to add value to both student and instructor. Alternatively, there will always be a segment of the population that just can’t get away for a month, or can’t stand the thought of being an hour’s drive away from a sushi bar, or maybe wants to test out the teacher before actually committing to studying in a foreign country, but would still like to learn. Either way, the school has the chance to better serve its customers and to make more money.
Skype and the Virtual Office
As part of the aftermath of Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Workweek, the concept of a cubicle-less virtual office, with team members collaborating from all over the world, is sweeping through the business world like a rampaging tsunami. Of course the internet and email have been the sparks that have ignited this revolution, but Skype is like a supertanker of high grade fuel that has just drifted into the blaze, threatening to take it to the stratosphere.
What It Is Used For
If you are a knowledge worker you spend 90% of your working life on your computer and, in those rare situations in which you are away from it, you carry your Blackberry or iPhone with you everywhere, maybe even your laptop. Using your computer, and by extension your cell phone, as your own mini-call center just makes sense. Everyone from your office and your most important customers are already on Skype and familiar with it anyway, it really becomes a matter of convenience. A fantastic article in Small Business Computing summed it up virtual office way: “RNC is probably typical of businesses using Skype in that its partners and employees are all heavily computer-centric. If you ask Lane what it virtual office he likes about Skype, besides the cost savings, he says, ‘It’s just the convenience of having it on my computer. It’s nice especially when you’re in an airport-you can plug the headset in and start taking calls.’”
Using Skype as a cheap and easy way to keep your team of workers in touch is one thing, but some businesses take it to another level. Shahab Kaviani of HyperOffice, winner of an award in 2009 for innovation in using Skype, says “we use Skype to follow up on international leads. International customers made up less than 5 percent of revenue in 2007. Looking at 2009, I expect that number to be closer to 20 percent, using Skype for inexpensive international calls.”
He continues, “and, in our email marketing, we embed a SkypeMe icon. Our prospects receive an email campaign and within minutes we have people who we never spoke to before clicking to Skype chat or call with the Internet sales department.”
In another Skype innovation winner, RareJob, uses Skype in a way similar to our old friends the Spanish teachers. One of RareJob’s services is teaching English in Japan using teachers based in the Philippines. Besides saving money by not having to rent expensive classroom space like their competitors, RareJob also has the advantage of being able to hire labor in a lower cost environment, the Philippines, and being able to push some of the savings on to their customers. But that is really not the best part; the best is that it is simply more convenient for both parties. The customer doesn’t have to schlep down to some distant learning center and the employee can work from anyplace with an Internet connection; saving both parties time and bus fare and helping the environment to boot.
How Can Skype Revolutionize Your Business?
This is the most fascinating part, brainstorming up all the different business models that suddenly become viable when you take the cost out of voice telecommunications. I have founded this business because I believe that the old way of doing accounting, of partnerships, of networking through local business and service organizations, and of rounds of golf followed by the nineteenth hole, will soon become a thing of the past as a new generation of technologically sophisticated entrepreneurs takes the place of the old guard. Now your online footprint and the integrity of your reputation are becoming more important than your golf game or social contacts. The most shocking thing to me is, most accountants are as unaware of this as the Dodo was aware of the impact that new human settlers would have on its population!
Think about it this way, while accountants faithfully trot to classes every year that debate the minutiae of this or that new regulation or tax law, no one ever talks about how the way that we meet, serve, and do business with our customers is undergoing a dramatic revolution! Even now, I can speak with a client anywhere in the world using Skype, as I review their financial records online using Quick Books or just about any major accounting software, and share documents with them using Basecamp. I reach out and promote to them via my blog and through writing articles for business-oriented and participating in online forums. If they want to learn more about me then they can track me via LinkedIn or visit my Facebook page. The point is, the world is changing, don’t forget to change with it.