How I Navigated the Murky Waters of Video Conferencing: Confessions of a Small Business Owner

Murky WatersI am a small business owner and like all small business owners my most precious commodity is time.

I don’t have time.

I don’t have time to research new innovations in collaboration technologies and so it was with dread and a heavy heart that I embarked upon my journey to understand video conferencing and how it could benefit me and my business.

Here’s some background:

  • I run a professional services company (we sell our time!)
  • Our business model is built on remote operations. Our teams are based in Ontario and Quebec. We hire the best people for the job regardless of where they are located and we don’t ask them to come to an office every day.
  • We use collaboration tools such as Skype, GoToMeeting, Join.me and other productivity tools such as Basecamp, Freshbooks and Google products to communicate with clients.

Video conferencing is a very powerful tool within our business, allowing face-to-face meetings no matter the location. Seeing someone’s body language when you are talking about something or looking someone in the eye to see if they are paying attention is the difference between being heard and being understood.

When I introduced video conferencing into my small business collaboration tool kit, I had to sort out three important things …

Internet Connectivity

If you don’t have a good internet connection, you have nothing. The reality of the home office worker is not just a blip on the radar, it’s a growing trend. Internet service providers should sit up and take notice. The sketchy services they provide to the home market just don’t cut it anymore and “big office to small office” connectivity needs to be addressed. Connecting to the cloud is only as good as the line that gets you there.

Room Set Up

There is nothing more distracting that having a video call with someone when their camera is not positioned properly or they have distracting clutter in the background. It doesn’t take much to create a clean and friendly backdrop for yourself regardless of where you conduct a video conference call. You need to take a few minutes and consider what is happening behind you and what your audience is seeing. It makes a big difference in how productive your meeting will be and how professional you come across. In the YouTube era, no one expects a Hollywood produced meeting set but they will notice clutter, so plan out your room accordingly and understand the proper locations of cameras and microphones.

Equipment

I have literally bought and returned a dozen headsets in the last three months. I am starting to feel a little bit like Goldilocks and have yet to hit on “just right”. The consumer market for this type of equipment is not great and unfortunately, most small business owners end up standing in an isle at Best Buy being offered a gaming headset by a 21-year old male employee. So my friends at ET Group walked me through several options and have set me up with a ClearOne speakerphone that connects to my laptop through a USB to support the audio portion of video conferencing. It was inexpensive and I no longer look like someone at the McDonalds drive thru when I have a video conference call.

The reality is that most small business owners lack time, money and resources to properly navigate the murky waters of video conferencing. The gap between the consumer market and enterprise solutions is wide with no immediate alternative in sight to address the home-to-corporate office video conference call.

That being said, as a small, virtual business, we have made a commitment to remote working and video conferencing; it’s efficient and productive and suits our style of work.  As commuting and lost productivity become even more of an issue for business owners in general, it won’t be long before the market will tip and everyone will consider some form of video communications in their average work day. George Jetson had it right!

Pay attention to these things…

  1. Talk to your Internet provider and ensure they are offering you the most up-to-date connection and that you have the best line for audio you can possibly get.  I struggled for months on audio quality (part of my headset search), until ET Group pointed out that the audio quality should not be affected by limited bandwidth.  They suggested getting my line thoroughly checked for interference, and they were right. There was a problem with my line.
  2. Research the right equipment, like the ClearOne speakerphone and test, test, test. There is nothing worse than being on a crackling, cutting-in-and-out call with someone who has a poor connection and equipment that doesn’t perform.
  3. Find an expert, like ET Group and get them to help you navigate the waters. People always try to sell you stuff you don’t need. Explain your requirements to your collaboration partner in advance of agreeing to any one solution.

At the end of the day, there are always going to be companies that opt for spending money on office space and having their employees commute to the office every day. We have chosen to reduce our carbon footprint by working remotely and the time and money we save by not travelling to offices, we pass on to our customers. This isn’t for everyone but for those who believe that “seeing” has value, video conferencing makes a big difference by providing a much richer communication experience.  For us, this leads to productivity and innovation for our clients.

If you are looking for a short cut to understanding video conferencing for your business, I suggest you call the folks at ET Group. They can literally “hook you up.” Save yourself some time.

Marie Wiese is this month’s guest blogger. She runs a company called Marketing CoPilot and helps companies like ET Group execute their web presence strategy. 

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