Meetings Cut Travel Costs
By Monte Enbysk
with permission from the Microsoft Small Business Center at
The travel industry has
taken its hits in recent years, and I hate to add to it. But in good
times or bad, your business needs to scrutinize its travel budget to
find ways to cut costs.
This isn’t about safety.
The skies are much safer these days. This is about economics. With
today’s “virtual meeting” technologies, you can boost your
business’s productivity and avoid extended trips and unnecessary
majority of companies simply have higher travel expenses than they
need,” says Alisa Jenkins, a Tampa, Fla., area business and
marketing consultant. “This doesn’t mean you have to cut out all
travel. There are still many cases where meeting face to face is
best. But there are also good ways to meet virtually that can make
many of your business trips unnecessary.”
Alternatives to business
travel videoconferencing, Web conferencing, teleconferencing and
online collaboration tools continue to improve with advances in
Internet and related technologies. Each will be addressed in detail
When do you absolutely need to meet? Here are some scenarios
mentioned by experts:
- You are meeting a
- You are
introducing new people perhaps your replacement to an
ongoing but important business relationship.
- You are attempting
to close a significant sale or cut an important deal.
- You are delivering
a product that you must demonstrate.
- You need to
resolve a controversial or complex problem, or discuss
top-secret matters such as an acquisition or merger.
- You need to meet
with an attorney to discuss legal matters.
- You need to
solicit money from an investor.
- You are making
sales or training presentations and your materials are best
presented in person.
- Your competitors
are meeting face to face with a client you want.
Perhaps you could
add other scenarios specific to your company or industry. The
point is, meetings remain critical to the success of your
However, there are many meetings where technology can substitute
for travel easily and effectively.
“You generally need to
find the wherewithal to make that initial contact face to face,”
says Diane Parks, senior vice president and chief marketing
officer for Zones, a Seattle-area information technology
products reseller. “But once you have established a
relationship, technology can save you time and money for your
“It depends on the
level of importance and whether deal-making is involved,” adds
Bruce D. Phillips, senior fellow for regulatory studies at the
National Federation of Independent Business. “This is a year
that many professional meetings, like conventions in Las Vegas,
may be dispensable.”
With increased airport
security and the time it takes to get through airports now, the
“quick trip” where you fly to and from a meeting on the same
day isn’t so quick, or practical, anymore, Parks adds.
“Virtual meetings” may
not be as much fun, but they can allow you to get a lot of work
done at less expense. Here’s a rundown of the alternatives:
What it is: An interactive use of video, computing and
communication technologies to allow people in two or more
locations to meet either one-on-one or in groups of up to a
dozen people or so without being physically together. Video
can be streamed over the Internet or broadcast over television
Pluses: High-end videoconferencing systems (such as those
owned by many larger corporations) can bring together large
groups of people in disparate locales to hear speeches and
presentations in a broadcast-quality setting. But
videoconferencing today also can be done on the cheap, with
inexpensive Webcams and free or low-cost software. Market
leaders include Polycom.com. For small businesses trying to
avoid buying or renting new equipment, there’s FedEx Kinko’s.
More than 150 of FedEx Kinko’s U.S. stores offer
videoconferencing services to any location. The stores use TV
monitors but also provide Internet access for document sharing.
you go to FedEx Kinko’s or another videoconferencing center,
audio and video equipment must be purchased. Most
videoconferencing providers charge by the hour, so you may feel
pressured to end on the hour and leave business undone.
Equipment costs vary from a few hundred dollars for low-end,
add-on components to a PC system to several thousand dollars for
an elaborate system with TV monitors. Software costs are
minimal. Videoconferencing meetings can cost as little as $125
per hour. FedEx Kinko’s charges $225 per hour for
videoconferencing from one of its stores to one other location;
the rate goes up when you add additional locations to the
meeting, or if a conversion is required to connect
videoconferencing equipment that is incompatible.
What it is: Videoconferencing without the video or, put
another way, teleconferencing with the addition of the Web for
interactive presentations, using PowerPoint, Excel or other
documents. Audio can be transmitted by telephone and/or PC
Pluses: All you need is Internet access and a phone. You
can make presentations at once to as many as 2,500 people in
different locations. You don’t have to e-mail the PowerPoint
slides or other documents to your audience ahead of time you
use the visuals and highlight points in real time. Other
participants can also use drawing tools to make points or take
control of your presentation as well. Among the leaders in the
space are Microsoft Office Live Meeting and WebEx. Both allow
single-time use as well as by subscription.
certainly not the same as meeting in person, and you miss out on
people’s facial expressions and body language, unlike
videoconferencing. But for straightforward business-plan
reviews, sales meetings, software demonstrations and customer
presentations, it works � and brings a lot of people from far
and wide together for one meeting.
providers base costs on length of call and number of
participants, and offer a single-time service and/or
subscriptions. Microsoft Office Live Meeting, for example,
offers a pay-per-use rate of 35 cents per minute by each
participant, as well as monthly rates (five participants for
$350 a month and 10 participants for $750 a month, each with
What it is: Teleconferencing services are offered by
long-distance carriers or independent service bureaus using
sophisticated call connection “bridges” to join many different
phone calls into a single conversation. Four basic types of
calls are available: operator-assisted (the easiest, but not the
most flexible), 800 meet me, toll meet me and reservation-less
can be set up quickly and easily, at relatively low cost. All
you need is a telephone. Accompanying documents can be faxed,
e-mailed or shipped overnight by the U.S. Postal Service to
meeting participants in advance, if necessary.
Teleconferences work well for simple information sharing and
straightforward decision-making that require no visual
presentation. But they are not a suitable way to discuss
more-complicated matters, which could be presented better via
Web conferencing. Teleconferencing also is not a desirable way
to begin or even further an important business relationship.
But, in a pinch, it can accomplish a lot.
Conference calls on average have at least eight people and last
about 50 minutes; such calls can cost as much as $200. But you
can save up to 25% on your conferencing bills by
comparison-shopping to find the best deals among phone companies
and other providers.
Online collaboration tools
What are they: While e-mail remains a key business tool,
this discussion will focus on extranets private Web sites that
allow you to share files, documents and use message boards with
selected customers or partners. Providers include Microsoft’s
Windows SharePoint Services.
an extranet per se won’t take the place of a long-distance
meeting using one of the alternatives above. But it can, over
time, reduce the need for some meetings by allowing you to have
ongoing communication and document-sharing. Parks, for example,
regularly collaborates on documents with Zones’ public relations
firm, located 1,000 miles away. That cuts her phone bill and
saves her business trips, although she still makes a point to
visit the PR office about six times a year.
can communicate in real time using chat or instant messaging,
but most communication is not interactive. Extranets, however,
effectively can turn a teleconferencing session into a Web
conferencing one if all of the participants have access to the
vary per solution provider. Windows SharePoint Services is an
intranet/extranet solution that can be hosted through Microsoft,
and is available for $39.95 a month for up to 30 users. An
intranet is a private Web site restricted to a company’s
employees and management. SharePoint can be configured to be
restricted access to within a company or to a combination of
employees, customers, partners and other authorized users.