A few years ago, I decided that if we wanted to grow our business, we’d have to look for clients outside of Ottawa.

I am fortunate enough to work in a business where it is not always necessary for me to meet my clients in person, so I decided to take advantage of some of the great tools out there and try to have more remote meetings.

The benefits of meeting electronically are immense, and we have been able to work with clients as far away as Australia, Hanoi or Hong Kong. But doing business by phone or e-mail is not as easy as many people may think. It can be challenging at times, and does require a bit of extra work. Over time, I have learned to use the following techniques to ensure my remote meetings are effective and productive:

  1. Save on your phone bill: international land line calls just don’t make sense. Ask up front if your client uses Skype. Using Skype allows you to keep in contact more frequently. You can even simulate an in-person meeting using Video Calls. Best of all, Skype to Skype calls are always free.
  2. Share your screen: screen sharing software like join.me or other tools are a great way to give your client that “real world” meeting feeling.
  3. Use reverse screen sharing whenever possible. Many of the more advanced screen sharing software allows you to see both your screen and your client’s screen. This is really handy for troubleshooting.
  4. Save with cheap conference calling: if other attendees insist on using a land line, there are a number of services to allow you to have free or really cheap conference calls. A great example of one is rondee.com.
  5. Have a time-zone converter. Try to be a good host and whenever possible ask for meetings in your client’s timezone. Use this tool (www.timezoneconverter.com) to quickly convert times and avoid any embarrassments.
  6. Keep it to the point. When communicating with clients for meeting minutes or updates via e-mail, be as detailed as possible but don’t write unnecessarily. Subscribe to the Five Sentences philosophy.
  7. Take screen shots to illustrate your points if you can’t easily communicate them with words. Using tools like Jing are very helpful at describing the problem.
  8. Don’t bother sending files via DVD or an old-school FTP server. When sending large files (5mb +), consider using a large file upload service. Using these tools will help transfer large amounts of data quickly and conveniently. One that I like is www.yousendit.com.
  9. Always book meetings with an online calendar: when working with remote clients, it is really important that meetings are booked ahead of time. Use a service or software that supports the ics standard. This will allow your client to automatically add the meeting to their calendar and will convert it to their local time. A great free tool that I use is the Google Calendar (www.google.com/calendar).
  10. Use software that supports collaboration. When discussing new ideas, it is helpful to allow your client to have access to relevant information whenever they want. I’m a big fan of Google Docs, a free service and allows for multiple editors and it keeps track of every change made. It is also delivered as an online service, so there is no software to download. For more info, visit www.google.com/docs.

What are some of the tools you use that help with simplifying remotely working with suppliers or clients?

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