Skype Launches Online Platform for Small Businesses

The Microsoft-owned VOIP specialist reaches out to small-business owners with a community-based service designed to help SMBs find partners.

Popular voice over IP provider Skype, a Microsoft subsidiary, announced on Nov. 8 the launch of Skype in the workspace (SITW), an online platform aimed at helping small and midsize businesses connect with business partners across the globe.

The free tool is already active, as the launch marks the end of a six-month beta trial that enabled 500 businesses, offering more than 140 different services, to sign up and test the platform.

Businesses can join the community using their existing Skype accounts, and then create public “offers” or “opportunities” through a series of promotional tools to invite community members to live sessions on Skype to demonstrate services or products to a wider audience. Users also have the ability to book appointments with potential customers or suppliers and keep track of them with a meeting notification service. When an opportunity is over, users can give testimonials on the product or service offered.

“With more than 280 million connected users each month, Skype offers a huge range of contacts for the small-business community,” Ural Cebeci, head of SMB marketing at Skype, said in a statement. “We aim to connect millions of small businesses with Skype in the workspace and believe that, by taking advantage of this shared network, businesses can develop the range of tools they need to grow, regardless of location or industry. From the designer in San Francisco looking to source textile suppliers in Thailand, to the London consultant connecting with clients in Milan, the possibilities are endless.”

The three main goals of SITW are to provide small businesses with the services they need from a global community of experts, add services to make new connections, share inspiration and help grow a user’s business and help business owners organize to get the most from their Skype connections.

Among the early participants are All Quality Websites, a U.S. startup providing advice on how to design, build and maintain an online presence, and the London-based creative collaboration agency Bracket. Video production companies, digital strategy and innovation specialists and social media consulting firms were among the other companies listed on the site’s main page.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy. For these businesses to survive and grow in what is still a tough economic climate, we understand that good communication and connections are key to their success,” Cebeci continued. “This is why today we are opening the Skype in the workspace platform to the public. We feel we’re helping connect businesses face-to-face with their customers and prospects, no matter where they are located. It opens up a world of opportunity for them.”

Earlier this week, Skype announced Microsoft is integrating its chat service, Windows Live Messenger, with the platform. By updating to Skype, Messenger users can expect broader device support for all platforms, including Apple iPad and Google Android-based tablets, as well as the ability to do instant messaging, video calling, and calling landlines and mobiles all in one place. Users also gain access to features, such as sharing screens, video calling on mobile phones and with Facebook friends, along with group video calling.