Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Cost of Free Conferencing

As a business, especially a small one, there are plenty of reasons to use some of the free tools that are available. If you're in an industry that promotes open source values and practices, you might have a reason to use only free and open access software packages and tools. If you're not, you might want to consider the following questions before you plan your next conference on a "free" platform.

1. Is the free conference call really going to be free?
Free conference calls can be legitimately free. To be free, though, these conference calls require that all participants dial one of a limited number of toll (potentially long-distance) access numbers in order to join a call. If your callers aren't local to the area of the free access number, each caller will pay for every minute of your free conference. Sometimes ok, but sometimes not.

2. What about toll-free access?
The host of a free conference call pays about 10 cents per minute for every participant who calls in using a toll-free access number. This is substantially higher than most standard (non-free) conference call providers' toll-free rates; those at ConferenceCalls.com begin at 3.7 cents per user per minute.

3. Will the free conference call support international users?
Probably, but each international user will have to pay for long-distance access to the call. International long-distance without calling cards or dial-arounds can cost upward of several dollars per minute (an expense that will be billed to each caller individually).

4. Will the free conference call have the features that I need?
Maybe. If you have fewer than 100-150 callers and don't need to do anything other than talk, probably. If you need recording, account records and live conference management, or roll call, entry/exit announcements, conference lock, and other in-call features, then probably not.

5. Will the free conference call service be available when I need it?
Not to scare you, but remember that free conference call providers across the country were recently blocked by several major carriers due to carrier billing conflicts. Is this something that you can risk when scheduling your conference call?

If your business depends on maintaining a seamlessly professional public face, you might want to go ahead and pay for your next conference call to best serve your clients and preserve your company's image. Even if you're just a tiny start-up, a professional conference call isn't beyond your budget (and it could well prove your business knowledge and dedication to your participants). Try our call cost calculator and see how much (or little) it would set you back.

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