08/11/2012 13:27 GMT

Skype Targets SMEs For New Networking Opportunities

Small businesses are being encouraged to reach out to customers and suppliers using a new Skype platform.

From 8 November, the Skype in the workspace (SITW) tool aims to help small businesses make the best use of its global network to promote products, services and networking events.

The free-to-use tool has been trialled by 500 businesses over the past six months 100 of whom were British; one of them, creative businesses service provider Bracket experienced almost immediate results from day one of using the system

"When I came across Skype in the workspace and saw the potential to promote Bracket for free and connect with other small businesses, I signed up straight away,” said Alison Coward, owner of London-based Bracket.

“I was fascinated to see how Skype, which I use regularly in my personal life, could be applied to the business world.

“My business is about getting in front of people and helping them solve their problems. Normally, I need to meet one-to-one with customers and prospects to make this happen, but with Skype in the workspace, I am visible to quality leads without even leaving the office."

Ural Cebeci, head of small and medium business marketing at Skype, told Huffington Post UK the idea had come from simply expanding how many of its 280 million users were already using the site for their businesses.

"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,” he said.

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.

sitw homepage

The SITW homepage

Users can also book appointments with potential customers or suppliers, and keep track of them with a meeting notification service.

And at the end of the 'opportunity' meeting, users can instantly give testimonials on the product or service offered.

“Reports suggest that last year over a 350,000 small businesses were started in the UK, and another claims they contribute more than £1 billion in revenue – a core contribution to the economy,” said Cebeci.

“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.”

Cindy Bidar, another triallist who owns All Quality Websites - a US startup providing expert advice on how to design, build and maintain online presence - added: “ SITW 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.”

Huffington Post UK was shown a walk-through of the site - it is a bit like crossing Skype with Linked In for businesses, with a constantly repopulated list of 'opportunities' to engage with appearing on the right hand rail - although there are no current plans to apply any filters to that, so it could become heavily loaded if your network is expansive.

In addition, Skype could be in danger of pushing this to a smaller audience than it first hoped - research from Booz & Company revealed on 8 November said only one-third of UK SMEs have a digital presence, and just 14% sell their products and services online.

Do you think SMEs need another channel to network and communicate through? And would the bonus of having a video feed help? Let us know your thoughts below.