Skype last week launched Skype in the workspace (SITW), a new online platform for small businesses to instantly connect with potential customers, partners and suppliers across the globe.
The free-to-use tool makes use of the huge network already offered by Skype, allowing millions of small businesses to promote their products and services to new networks and connections. Users can improve existing connections and establish new ones by instantly sending messages and talking to or meeting face-to-face with peers and business prospects over Skype.
The launch follows a six-month beta trial that involved 500 businesses.
"With more than 280 million connected users each month, Skype offers a huge range of contacts for the small-business community," said Ural Cebeci, head of SMB marketing at Skype, in a statement. "We aim to connect millions of small businesses with Skype in the workspace and believe that, by taking advantage of this shared network, businesses can develop the range of tools they need to grow, regardless of location or industry. From the designer in San Francisco looking to source textile suppliers in Thailand to the London consultant connecting with clients in Milan, the possibilities are endless."
SITW will provide a central hub for entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses to connect with experts, coaches, and consultants who can help them develop their businesses. Users join the community using their existing Skype accounts, then through a series of promotional tools can create public "offers" or "opportunities" inviting community members to live sessions on Skype to demonstrate services or products to a wider audience. Users can also book appointments with potential customers or suppliers and keep track of them with a meeting notification service. When an opportunity is over, users can instantly give testimonials on the product or service offered.
"Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy," Cebeci said. "For these businesses to survive and grow in what is still a tough economic climate, we understand that good communication and connections are key to their success.
"This is why today we are opening the Skype in the workspace platform to the public," Cebeci said. "We feel we're helping connect businesses face-to-face with their customers and prospects, no matter where they are located. It opens up a world of opportunity for them."
Alison Coward, an avid user of Skype and owner of the London creative collaboration agencyBracket, said, "Skype in the workspace is a real breakthrough. It's the perfect platform for me to promote my business and connect with the people who can help it to grow. My business is about getting in front of people and helping them to solve their problems. With Skype in the workspace, I am visible to quality leads without even leaving the office. With no travel time to contend with, it's also now far more feasible for me to grow my business outside the U.K. into Europe and the U.S."
Jorge Parra, an avid user of Skype and owner of Florida-based Jorge Parra photography, said, "There's a big difference between a professional network and a social network, and Skype in the workspace seems to understand this distinction. It is the perfect companion to my existing online presence and generates connections that will actually bring me business."
Cindy Bidar, owner of All Quality Websites, a U.S. startup providing expert advice on how to design, build and maintain an online presence, added, "Skype in the workspace has offered something other online platforms couldn't - a community of business-focused individuals who can explore my services and interact with me in real time."