Not so long ago (speaking as an older person), making overseas phone calls and even sending faxes overseas was an expensive and time-consuming proposition. In the early 1990s, the average international trade company spent a large amount of money paying for phone calls and faxes (at the time the cheapest way of communicating overseas). Some offices even still had telex machines (remember them?). At the time, trying to send a fax or make a phone call to some countries in Eastern Europe or Asia would often require hours! Then the internet arrived on our desktop computers. All of a sudden email was the nearly-free communications mode of choice. The world opened up. Smaller companies could do business internationally. The world had changed!
These days everybody is wired 24/7. Even your cell phone can be your communications hub. So how should international trade companies use these tools?
- Next to visiting your overseas partners in person, speaking on the phone and seeing the person on the other end at the same time is the next best thing. Services such as Skype are free for calls to other members of the same network. You can spend one minute or several hours talking to your partners anywhere in the world. And you can conference in other people to the conversation.
- Let’s say you need to have a meeting, but your meeting partners are in Shanghai and London. You can use Skype. But more sophisticated systems are services like Webex or GoToMeeting. With these services you can share documents, PowerPoint presentations and other media, as well as share your computer screen with the others in the group. A more limited, but similar service is available for free from FreeSecreenSharing, where other meeting attendees can share your desktop while you hold your meeting.
- If you just have to say a few words to a colleague in Singapore there are several free instant messaging services you can use. One is built into Skype, but you can also look at Windows Live (formerly MSM), Google Talk and many more. And, unlike sending text messages from your mobile phone, messages using their services are free.
- Suppose you have to share technical specifications, spreadsheets, Bills of Lading, etc with your partners. Google Docs allows you to upload almost any kind of document and share them with whomever you wish!
- You are not always sitting in your office when you want your email. The solution is converting your email accounts to the “cloud.” Google Apps allows you to set up Google’s Gmail service as your company’s email system. That way, no matter where you are or what kind of communications device you have, you can access your business email as well as associated, accounts and other services.