Communications expenses have increased monumentally over the past decade. When I started my home based business, communications was easy. I only needed one business line and one home line, and I could use the home line for my dial-up during my workday. But no more. Now we have the expense of high-speed internet and mobile phones--necessities for our eBay businesses. However, this can really ratchet up your communications expenses.
Lucky for us, eBay smartly purchased Skype. Skype is software that you download to your computer that allows you to communicate with anyone else who has Skype at no additional cost beyond the expense of your high-speed internet connection.
At a minimum, Skype will allow you to use your computer, along with a microphone and your regular computer speakers, as a telephone. You can contact any member of Skype, anywhere in the world, at no charge. That's right: All Skype-to-Skpye calls are free. As wonderful and simple as that is, Skype has other revolutionary features that can really expand your business:
- SkypeIn: I love this feature. With SkpyeIn, you can buy a special phone number for your Skype account so people without Skype can contact you on your Skype account. The best part is, if you do a lot of business in, say, London, you can get a local London number so your customers won't incur long-distance charges when reaching you. This can also make your business look pretty big-time--clients will think you have a remote office across the Atlantic! You can get up to ten different SkypeIn numbers. A SkypeIn number costs about $39 a year.
- Skype Voicemail: If you're not at your computer when another user attempts to call you, your account can receive and store voice-mail messages. You can check the voice mail and get your messages when you return to your office and are clear of work. This feature is free when you purchase a SkypeIn phone number. If you purchase it separately, the annual cost is about $19.
- SkypeOut: You can call any number in the U.S. and Canada (mobile or landline) for free. And Skype has very reasonable charges for calls made to non-Skype phones in foreign countries through SkypeOut. International per-minute charges vary by country, but they start at about 2 cents. Look here for a complete listing of international per-minute rates.
To increase my communications convenience, I recently got a Skype DualPhone. The DualPhone is a cordless phone that carries my office landline as well as my Skype line. It plugs into my computer with a USB connection to pick up my Skype calls, and a phone wire plugs into the wall jack to access the landline. The best part about this phone is that it uses a new technology that expands the strength and range of the wireless phone. Since my home was built after the Northridge earthquake hit California in 1994, it has a good deal of steel in the structure to prevent it from collapsing in the next "big one." Unfortunately, this had precluded my using a wireless phone too far from its base--until I got the DualPhone. Now I can access Skype and get free long distance from anywhere in my home or office. (For more information, check out their website at www.dualphone.net.)
Skype is adding more features all the time. The PC version of the software, for instance, even allows for free video calls on your computer (assuming you have a webcam or other camera PC setup). You can also add a Skype button to your e-mails, allowing your contacts to just click to call you. You can Skpye conference with a group of people, put on a Skypecast (similar to a podcast with no iPod involved), and you can already integrate Skype into some of your eBay listings. To download the software for PC, MAC or Linux, just go to www.skype.com, and click the "Download Skype" link.