How to Get Ahead in a Challenging Economy

Collaborate, Communicate, and Thrive

When it comes to weathering tough economic times, small businesses face many of the same challenges that larger ones do. They want to keep their employees motivated and productive, reach their customers—or let their customers reach them—quickly and efficiently, and keep costs down without sacrificing service.

And like their larger counterparts, small businesses are turning to innovative, network-based communication tools to work more efficiently for less.

Taking Communication Global

Take Magee Scientific, a California-based company that manufactures a device for measuring the concentration of black carbon particles in the air—an important tool in determining regional air quality.

Two years ago, Magee expanded by opening sales offices in New York and a manufacturing facility in Slovenia. Running a business that now spanned two continents and 10 time zones required a new approach to communications.

"Despite being geographically dispersed, Magee wanted to be able to present a unified, cohesive face to its customers, who might be located anywhere in the world," explains Dane Bigam, vice president and general manager of Forte Systems, Inc., the IT consulting company that partnered with Magee to deploy a unified communications solution. "Now Magee can operate almost 24 hours a day, because their clients can dial a single number and be instantly connected to one of Magee's offices, no matter what time the call comes in."

Communication Made Quick and Easy

Call routing has been greatly simplified as well. "Before, a customer might stay on hold for 20 minutes while we tried to reach the appropriate staff member," Magee General Manager Jeff Blair recalls. Today, the transfer takes seconds, and the call can be sent to any device, such as a cell phone, a desk phone, or a PDA.

Conference calls are also set up quickly, easily, and inexpensively, significantly enhancing both productivity and communications, he continues. "We're able to be much more responsive across the board, and that's been great for business."

Extending Your Reach through the Web

Raquel Lazar-Paley, executive director of ConsciousWoman.org, took another approach to expanding the reach of her organization, which offers interactive workshops and seminars on women's and children's health.

Originally, says Lazar-Paley, "My plan was to grab some of the best speakers and thinkers in the women's health world and drag them across the country to do live seminars."

But after attending a seminar offered as an online interactive webcast, Lazar-Paley rethought her approach.

"This was a fabulous way to reach people all over the globe, rather than presenting the information in a conference room to a small audience," she says.

Lazar-Paley did her homework and selected Cisco WebEx as her online presentation platform. Ease of adoption was an important consideration. "Ninety percent of our participants have participated in an interactive webcast before. We're introducing them to this type of learning."

Today, ConciousWoman.org is able to host as many as three workshops and seminars every week, and is drawing attendees from as far away as Australia.

And because it's far more convenient for presenters, Lazar-Paley says, hosting the events as webcasts has opened up a much greater pool of experts willing to participate.

"These are top-notch speakers with very busy schedules," she explains. "Now they're able to present right from their home or office computers, eliminating the time and expense of travel."

Cost-Effective, Even for Small Businesses

Taking advantage of these communication tools doesn't have to be an expensive proposition. Pricing for web-based conferencing software can be based on the number of expected users, helping ensure that you don't pay for more than you need.

Unified communications solutions can be similarly scaled, and can be expanded as your company expands.

Next:

Cisco offers a number of unified communications solutions tailored specifically to small businesses. Cisco's WebEx conferencing software is available on a 30-day trial basis, letting you try before you buy.

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