This series looks at technologies that will be game-changers for small business, particularly firms whose staffs are highly mobile and where travel is part of the game.
Business meetings no longer happen in the office. They happen on your balcony in Toronto, a co-working space in Vancouver, a coffee shop in Montreal or even your home in Mexico. All you need is Internet access and a computer or smartphone.
While some companies such as Yahoo Inc. have scaled back telecommuting for their employees, small-business owners are embracing it and the technology that makes it feasible, including Skype, Google Plus Hangouts and FaceTime.
For Jacque Small, a business coach and author who also runs a bed and breakfast, the availability of such technology has allowed her to achieve her dream of living in Mexico.
Ms. Small moved from Vancouver to Progreso, Mexico, a couple of years ago after determining she no longer needed to be in Canada to carry on her career. "Even though I lived in Vancouver, I wasn't doing a lot of face-to-face coaching," she says in an interview from Progreso. "I did face-to-face team leadership development but not coaching."
Ms. Small eventually let the face-to-face part of her business go, and three years ago she began researching the best phone system that would allow her to work from any place she wanted. She signed up for VOIP (voice over Internet protocol), kept her Vancouver number for Skype and created Google Plus circles of contacts.
Skype has been around since 2003, has more than 700 million registered users and was bought by Microsoft Corp. in 2011 for $8.5-billion (U.S.). It originally launched for computers and laptops but now has apps for iPhones and Android phones. For Skype users, the application keeps costs low, offering free calls for Skype-to-Skype users or Skype to a land line or cellphones for a small fee.
The same applies to Google Plus Hangouts. The messaging app allows video calls of up to 10 people free.
For Gretchen Drummie and Martha Haynes, who run a legal marketing website, Skype has opened up a world of talent without them having to leave Toronto. Ms. Drummie, the editor in chief of AdvocateDaily.com, and director of sales and marketing Ms. Haynes manage a team of seven, all via Skype and cloud-based technology.
"It allows us to hire the cream of the crop," Ms. Drummie says in an interview via Google Hangouts. "We're not restricted by geography and it has freed up who we can work with."
That means being able to hire a Web management company in Ancaster, Ont., and to have a team of people in Hamilton, Toronto and on the East Coast.
"We never met [in person]," Ms. Drummie says of the Web management company. "The hiring process was done by Skype and only took an hour instead of having to give up a day to drive to Ancaster."
In the three years since the launch of AdvocateDaily.com, Ms. Drummie and Ms. Haynes have experienced the benefits of using communications technology.
"The cost of running all this technology isn't comparable to operating one central-hub office," says Ms. Haynes.
"Yet, we're all more organized," says Ms. Drummie. "I think it's because we've all worked in central offices before and we all know there's a lot of time spent at the water cooler, so to speak."
She went on to explain how the technology has grown since the launch of the business.
"We were the only ones I knew of who were communicating this way," she says. "Our clients looked at us a little askance at what we were doing, yet now, in such a short amount of time, small law firms have started doing this kind of remote work as well."
Thanks to Skype and cloud-based technologies, the content team is able to share ideas and files without having to resort to the clunkiness of e-mail threads or phone calls. Ms. Haynes says that the technology lets them be more efficient with a client's time.
Ms. Small also uses Google Plus for her businesses. "I can develop circles for each one of my target markets. So when I'm sending a communication for my bed and breakfast, I don't necessarily want to be spamming people who are part of my leadership circle. This way I can send a message just to those who are interested in travelling to Mexico."
Is there a disadvantage to remote working? Doesn't seem like it for its proponents.
"It has truly allowed me to live my dream life," says Ms. Small, adding she'd be sitting in Vancouver without the technology. "I would be somewhat trapped in having to service the local marketplace with my clients. Where I now put my attention is how do I become an amazing online marketer?"