Pretty much everyone is familiar with Skype, the freemium video chat application launched in the distant past of 2003. Since its acquisition by Microsoft in 2011, it’s gone through more than a few changes that – for better or for worse, depending on who you ask – have resulted in an evolution few could have seen coming. Today’s version of Skype isn’t just a platform for chatting with relatives on the other side of the world. It’s also got some mighty business features that can be unlocked for use in a diversity of business environments. But do you really need the full-on Skype for Business platform to run your business? Read on to find out.
Skype for Business distinguishes itself from its consumer-oriented cousin through a handful of robust features like video conferencing, desktop sharing and audio/video recording of meetings. The basic plan costs $2 per month, per user, but is limited in functionality. The intermediate plan lets you do a bit more for $5.50 per month. Both of these standalone plans require an annual commitment. The third available plan is called Skype for Business Server 2015 and is a lot more expensive and intensive, performing on a level with enterprise-scale VoIP. The Server edition also requires that you procure additional licenses and sign up with a Microsoft-certified “partner” – and depending on who you sign with and what you sign up for, cost can vary.
One of the big problems with any of these Skype for Business options is that, as of this moment, you have to bring your own phone number to the table. This won’t cut it if you’re looking for a way to stop using your personal line for business purposes. There’s also the consideration that small business owners may find all three of these plans a bit too highly functional. In that case, there is still a way you can employ Skype to work for your small business needs without having to sign up for services you will never use.
Skype On A Shoestring Budget
If you’re a sole proprietor or running a small business with little spending cash, you can still take advantage of Skype for basic business purposes, such as getting a secondary phone number so you don’t have to keep using your personal line.
You can download and install the consumer version of Skype for free on your desktop, laptop and mobile devices. For a cost of $18 for a three-month subscription (or $60 for a full year), you can buy a Skype phone number which will allow others to call you from a landline or mobile phone. All calls made to your number will ring through to you via Skype.
Using Your Skype Number On The Go
If you’re constantly on the move and can’t be tied to your computer, you can also receive calls to your mobile phone via the app, as long as you’re signed in to it when the call comes through. Skype’s mobile app is available for Android, iOS, Blackberry, and Windows Phone. It also comes preinstalled on the Amazon Fire Phone and Nokia X.
If you need your Skype number available at all times but don’t want to have to keep the app constantly fired up, you can have calls forwarded to a mobile or landline number. This costs extra, but not much. There’s a pay as you go plan that runs 2.3 cents per minute, or you can subscribe monthly. A monthly subscription for unlimited calls within the U.S. and Canada costs $2.99. To add Mexico, Guam and Puerto Rico to that mix will run you $7.99 per month. A $13.99 monthly subscription will fetch you unlimited worldwide calling and call receiving, with some limitations. To pay for this, you’ll have to buy Skype credit. This can be purchased in increments of $10 or $25, and you can enable the system to re-run your credit card when your balance falls under $2.
Skype numbers backed by a Skype credit balance are also good for placing calls to mobile or landline phones from your computer, smartphone or tablet via the app. This ensures your recipients will see your Skype number on their caller ID.
Picking Your Skype Number
Like many other secondary number services, Skype lets you choose a specific area code to assign to your number. One of the limitations is that they currently don’t offer toll free area codes. You can set up a Skype number for another country, but there are restrictions and in some cases you’ll have to provide proof of residence to do so. Neither of these restrictions, however, should be an issue if the majority of your clientele are based within the U.S. and Canada or are willing to dial long distance to reach you.
When you go through the Skype number registration process, you’re first asked to choose the country you want your number to originate from. Assuming you’re picking a number in the U.S., you’re next prompted to choose your desired state. A list of available numbers is presented to you. Once you make your pick, the next step is to key in your address and billing information. The average wait time between signup and availability for use is one hour, although in testing we were able to use ours within 15 minutes.
When you sign up for a Skype number, you can set up an outgoing voicemail greeting. Any voicemail messages you receive are accompanied by an email alert. SMS alerts are also available to inform you of new voicemails, but this is charged against your Skype credit at the standard rate. SpinVox is an additional Skype service that transcribes your voicemails to text and delivers them to you via SMS at the aforementioned standard rate. Supported languages include English, French, German and Spanish. If the voicemail message exceeds the length of an SMS, it’ll be broken into up to three individual texts. Any voicemail messages beyond this length won’t be transcribed, and you’ll have to listen to them like a Neanderthal.
Unless you have a small army of employees or require high performing telephony services that can also double as video conference call platforms, you’re probably far better off meeting your small business needs by using the free version of Skype in combination with a Skype number. For basic use, you can do so at a monthly minimum average of $8.99 plus the low per-minute phone rate – an option that’s likely to prove far more cost effective than paying for a second phone line.
As always, remember that you can’t use Skype to call emergency services. To be on the safe side, always keep an active mobile or landline plan in place.
It’s not just Skype; Google Voice can also be used for business. Read our full Google Voice for business review.