We talk a lot about the ins and outs of connecting with your customers. That’s because when it comes to how you communicate, the channels local businesses have access to are endless. From phone calls, to emails and text messages, to social media conversations, you probably use a variety of technologies to keep in touch.

Large corporations aren’t vastly different. Like your business, they employ various technologies to communicate with specific types of customers or in certain situations. And also like you, they reach out to leads online, they chat on the phone or in person to explore the possibilities of a business relationship, and they often solidify deals via text or email.

But there’s one technology large corporations use that has yet to fully infiltrate the small business space – virtual meetings (otherwise known as online meetings or video conferencing).

The Benefits of Virtual Meetings

Why are virtual meetings beneficial to businesses of all sizes? Let’s compare them to in-person meetings, phone calls and other forms of communication.

Virtual meetings are often:

  • More efficient
  • More convenient
  • Super flexible

While these may initially seem self-serving, almost all of these benefits are good for your customers too. For you, video conferencing can end up saving time, money and frustration that often comes with in-person appointments. For your customers, you’ll come off looking incredibly professional and like you’re catering to their needs – all things that could help you edge out the competition.

They’re efficient.

If you run a service business, perhaps as a landscaper or general contractor, you know all too well the hassle of making appointments on time, especially when one runs over or another requires a ridiculously long commute. While you obviously can’t do some of your work virtually (like laying new sod or replacing a fallen fence), you can get a lot done via online meetings.

How small businesses use online meetings:
  • Meet and greet leads and new customers
  • Conduct discovery calls and give consultations
  • Go over estimates, quotes and invoices

Virtual meetings eliminate long commutes and the hassle of rushing from place to place to try to connect in person. They can help you avoid annoying traffic and putting miles on your vehicle, and they can even help you monitor how much time you’re spending with each lead or customer, so you run late less often.

They’re more convenient.

The convenience factor of virtual meetings is huge for all parties involved. Like our landscaper or general contractor example, much of the business you do requires your customers to take time out of their busy schedule to be home to meet with you. Online meetings remove that hassle entirely, allowing your customers to hop on a quick virtual conference with you, instead of having to take an entire day off of work.

Not in a home service industry? Healthcare professionals, fitness coaches and others are adopting online meeting software as well. Many health insurances even cover virtual doctor visits (coined “telehealth”) in place of in-person assessments where feasible. According to Forbes, analytics firm HIS predicts a 25% increase in video consultations each year through 2020, totaling nearly 5.4 million consultations. Telehealth overall is projected to be a $343 million industry by 2020.

They’ll make you more flexible.

Since virtual meetings can eliminate lengthy commutes and other logistical nightmares, they’ll also make you more flexible.

Do customers cancel on you last minute? With virtual conferencing, you’d be able to offer their time slot to someone else without any consideration of travel time. (By the way, there’s more where that came from on how to reduce no-shows and cancellations.)

Do you have customers who can only meet in the evenings? Set up a video conference, conduct the chat from home, then have dinner with your loved ones.

What to Look for in a Virtual Meeting Software

Not all online meeting software are created equal. Though many have been on the market for years, there isn’t much of a consensus on which software solution is the best option out there.

When you begin your search, there are a few features that make these collaboration tools most useful for small business owners.

Small business virtual meeting necessities:

  • Video conferencing
  • Text chat
  • File sharing
  • Screen sharing
  • Recording

4 Popular Online Meeting Software Options

Here are some of the best virtual meeting software options available to small businesses. Most of them even offer a free trial so you can check them out with no obligation.

1. Join.me

One of the best things about Join.me is how truly virtual it is. It’s accessible via both Apple and Android apps, and it calls itself the fastest online meeting app on the market.

2. GoToMeeting

If you’re working from a desktop and want to share documents, this could be your go-to digital conference tool. Specifically designed for smaller companies, GoToMeeting’s starter package alone can accommodate up to 10 participants per meeting.

3. Cisco WebEx

Quite popular among larger corporations, WebEx is gaining traction with local businesses too. It’s one of the original video conferencing solutions on the market, so it’s earned its stripes in the online meeting space. The only downside here, is users (your customers, too) must have a WebEx plugin installed on their computer for optimal performance. If you’re a business-to-business operation, chances are they already have it installed…so take a look!

4. Google+ Hangouts

Feeling hip? This social media-inspired conferencing tool features accessibility to anyone with a mic and a webcam, as well as free voice calls. It also integrates well with Gmail and Google Docs, so connecting and sharing with contacts you already have is seamless.