Choosing the Right-Sized Collaboration Tool for Small Business

In the spirit of National Small Business Week, we wanted to post about collaboration for #smallbiz. People often talk in lofty terms about technology, mobility and business transformation for large enterprises, but for it’s important to remember the impact that industry trends like this have on smaller companies.

As a small business, often there isn’t time to really think about how mobility affects the way you work–it just IS the way you work. You work wherever you can, whenever you can, often with whatever you can. Mobility helps with that, but collaboration is what helps streamline it.

Does small business even need collaboration tools?

Well, short answer is: you’re already using them, whether you’re aware of it or not. Small business often uses consumer tools to their disposal so they can work with their partners, vendors, and customers to get the job done. At a certain scale that can work, but once you get past critical mass (i.e. bigger meetings, screen sharing, specific project related communications), streamlining can help make it a lot easier.

Having a dedicated app that’s built for business as a communication channel for work-related chatter could help small businesses stay organized and efficient.

While collaboration tools can make a big difference in the way you get things done, tread with caution: the wrong tool can prove costly and ineffective, putting dents in your execution as a small scrappy team. Not to mention, it could drastically cut unnecessarily into your precious budget. In the small business world of calculated risk and bootstrapping, you have to make sure any vendor you put your dollars in is going to be a good partner for you too.

How do you find the right-sized collaboration tools for your particular small business? Ask these five questions.

  1. Can you afford it? Many vendors have complex pricing and hidden dial-in costs that may seem attractive when you’re small, but if you look to scale and grow your company, you’ll find your hands tied with complex pricing after you get to a certain number of users. Take the time and evaluate price transparency and keep it simple.
  2. Does it have the features you need today and for the future? As your organization grows and your business model evolves, you may find your team needs features like screen sharing or video conferencing. And with growth means bigger meetings, so you might outgrow your tool and have to re-learn a new one. Or, you could pick a tool that matches your longer term plan. Choose a tool that can help your small team stay in touch now, as well as support additional use cases as your organization scales.
  3. Is it mobile-ready? Make sure the tool will support the mobile lifestyle you and your employees lead. Does the tool’s features help with people who are constantly on the go, not tied to their desks? Some vendors treat their app like a bolt-in without the proper mobile UI to make your life easier (and your commutes safer). Choose a vendor that integrates mobile into their product DNA.
  4. Does it support your team structure? Do you work with a team made up of people in different geographic areas? Do you have remote manufacturing unit? An offshore team? Have you thought about how well-designed VoIP could save you money on international dial-in costs? Not all VoIP is created equal–test out a few tools and compare.
  5. What kind of ongoing support does the tool afford you? If you’ve decided your business is ready for a business-grade communication tool, don’t forget about customer experience. As they say: caveat emptor. If you are having an issue, will you get a human on the other end listening to what your problems are, working with you to fix it? Or will you just get an automated bot that’s unhelpful and frustrating?

At the end of the day, choose a tool where the tool (and the team behind it) will work with you and your team to remove stumbling blocks and keep things simple so you can focus on building your business.

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