Updated April 16, 2020
Many people still talk about video conferencing as if it’s some newfangled technology that was born in the aftermath of MacBooks and iPhones.
(If you are in the same camp, you’d be surprised to know the first instance of public video conferencing took place almost 84 years ago. It might not be the best thing since sliced bread, but it’s older than World War II and the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge.)
Virtual meetings platforms are especially a blessing for small businesses that are lean, agile, and on a limited budget.
But watch out—the market for video conferencing tools is a multiplayer universe swarmed with all kinds of options. If you go just by superficial benchmarks (like glowing reviews on the video conferencing software’s website), you might be in for a rude shock later.
For instance, while some platforms are a great match for enterprises, they’re just “too big to fit” for most small businesses.
In this post, we’ll look at:
- The 6 must-have features to look for in a video conferencing tool
- 6 video conferencing platforms for small businesses
6 must-have features to look for in a video conferencing tool
Here’s a rule of thumb for buying any software for your small business: always go with the most cost-effective tool that can easily adapt to your business environment.
Here are six essential things to look for in a video conferencing software before you commit to buying it:
An easy-to-use interface
Pick a video calling app that has an intuitive interface and has little to no learning curve for people who aren’t tech whizzes. Don’t pick a tool just because it looks cool or offers 20 different buzzwordy features.
This kind of feature creep often ends up being, well, not a great user experience. For example, Microsoft Word had a really bad case of feature creep a while back—there are literally a hundred things you can do, all at once. Take a look:
Screen sharing options
If you need to collaborate with your teammates on documents often, screen sharing is a must-have:
It sounds a bit counterintuitive to expect a texting feature in a video calling app. But it can still come in handy! Sometimes, people may not want to interrupt someone who’s talking on a video call to ask a question—if there’s a built-in texting feature, then meeting attendees can have another way to communicate with each other.
Recording your virtual meetings gives you the option to archive your online sessions and use them again in the future. (If you had a really informative presentation or call, why not get more use out of it by turning it into a recording so that people who didn’t attend can still watch it?) They can also serve as useful reference materials to train new employees.
File sharing and storage aren’t necessarily the most important thing to have in a video conferencing tool. But it’s still useful—either as a native feature or as a third-party integration—to be able to share and store team assets in one convenient place.
If your team needs to move around a lot between trade shows, co-working spaces, or remote home locations, you’ll want this feature. Choose a video calling app that lets you interact with each other on the go from laptops and mobiles. We aren’t tethered to our desktops anymore—neither should our video conferencing software:
6 best video conferencing software for small businesses
We’ve curated the following video conferencing tools for small businesses based on the Goldilocks principle, meaning these options aren’t too limiting in scope—nor are they too complex or expensive for the average small business.
They’ve been selected based on a mix of budget, efficiency, and scalability—that sweet, sweet trifecta that helps small businesses thrive.
Let’s start with the obvious one:
1. RingCentral Video
Okay, we might be a little biased. But hear us out.
To start with, RingCentral Video’s approach to offering “one vendor, one solution” is great for small businesses that have to do more with less resources. Its all-in-one platform has not only video conferencing, but also team messaging and phone calling too:
Because it’s a part of a robust communications platform with team messaging, business calling and texting, and even internet fax, you can save on subscription costs since you don’t have to pay for multiple tools. Like how Lee did:
One of the biggest benefits of using RingCentral Video for your small business is that participants don’t need to download an app to join your video meeting. Just send them the meeting ID (always a good way to avoid getting Zoombombed), and they can join a meeting through a browser from their computer. No waiting to install an app.
Another great benefit for small businesses is access to the active RingCentral Community.
It’s an online forum where you can interact with thousands of other like-minded people. Apart from the community moderators, the forum members (mostly other small business owners and managers) help each other figure out how to make the most out of RingCentral to grow your business. You’ll never feel alone if you ever have a question about the product (or even if you just want to talk shop with a business community).
RingCentral Video comes included in RingCentral Office®, which also gives you other useful features like team messaging, unlimited calling within the US and Canada, and more. Here’s an overview of RingCentral’s pricing and plans for small businesses:
|Messaging and Phone System||Messaging, Video and Phone System Combined||Messaging, Video, Phone, Open Platform||Messaging, Video, Phone, Open Platform|
2. Google Hangouts Meet
Google Hangouts Meet is a great choice for your teams if you already use G Suite for internal collaboration. Hangouts Meet is an evolution of its older chat application—Hangouts—and it comes bundled in the G Suite offering.
Hangouts Meet offers several features based on your G Suite subscription plan. For instance, you can add up to 100 participants to an online video call if you are subscribed to the Basic or G Suite for Education plan. The participants limit goes to 150 users if you have G Suite Business and 250 users if you have G Suite Enterprise or Enterprise for Education. I know—that’s a lot of plans to wrap your head around.
Once you get over the decision fatigue of selecting the right G Suite plan for your team, you will see that Hangouts Meet offers a range of useful features such as:
- Video recording
- Screen sharing
- Call scheduling
- Live streaming to up to 100,000 participants
- Dialing-in from a phone line
But again, these features come based on your G Suite subscription plan. Simply put, Google Hangouts Meet restricts access to advanced features such as recording and saving meetings for its higher-level plans, which is kind of a letdown.
Google Hangouts Meet pricing
Hangouts Meet comes as part of G Suite bundles, which are priced as follows:
|$6 /user/month||$12 USD/user/month||$25/user/month|
Zoom has shot up in its popularity during the last couple of years, mostly due to its aggressive move to secure huge rounds of funding from popular venture capital (VC) firms like Qualcomm Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Horizons Ventures, Maven Ventures, and AME Cloud Ventures—among many others.
Zoom has almost become synonymous with video conferencing due to the recent pandemic outbreak. If we go by the stats, downloads for the Zoom conferencing app hit 2.13 million in a day in March 2020 due to the sudden demand in virtual meeting software.
One thing to note is that hackers are taking advantage of Zoom’s overnight popularity to spoof Zoom users and steal their data. The FBI even released a formal warning recently to caution unsuspecting users to watch out for “Zoom-Bombings.”
The cost of cybercrime can be disastrous, especially for small businesses that don’t have a big budget for cybersecurity. So, always be sure to check out the security options for any video conferencing software you’re considering for your business. Learn more about alternatives to Zoom, and download this Zoom Alternatives Comparison Chart.
Zoom also has a four-tier plan ranging from free to Enterprise.
|Personal meetings only||For small teams||For small and medium businesses||Large enterprise-teady|
4. Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams is what came out of Skype after Microsoft acquired the latter in 2011. It’s a business communication app that combines chat, video meetings, file storage, and a few other features to help business teams collaborate.
Essentially, MS Teams is to Office 365 as Hangout Meets is to G Suite. MS Teams integrates with the Office 365 suite (but also offers features that integrate easily with non-Microsoft products). So if your business already uses Office 365, you can use Teams for free.
Microsoft also offers Teams as a standalone solution that doesn’t require you to subscribe to the Office 365 suite. But the catch is that the free plan is limited in terms of the number of users you can add, and the 1GB file storage for each user.
The only other way to work around this is to settle with Skype for $5/user/month. But with Skype, you still have to be cautious because Microsoft is aggressively promoting Teams as its business communication app. Right now, it looks like it may be phasing out Skype for Business or turning it into a consumer app for personal use.
MS Teams pricing
MS Teams is free for businesses that already use Office 365. To rival its competition, they also offer a free plan which doesn’t require a Office 365 subscription. However, the difference in the free plan versus the paid plan can be quite drastic since the free plan doesn’t let you add more than 300 users in a team. The free plan also limits your file storage capacity at 1GB per user and 10GB of shared storage per team.
|Free||Office 365 Business Essentials||Office 365 Business Premium|
|Free||$5.00 user/month (billed annually)||$12.50 user/month (billed annually)|
5. Zoho Meeting
Like RingCentral Video, you don’t need to download an app for Zoho Meeting. While downloading a Zoho Meeting app on your desktop or mobile device is always an option, you won’t miss out on any major functionality if you decide to use Zoho Meeting to host or join a meeting from a browser.
Its parent company, Zoho, is known for its wide range of products—like Zoho CRM, Zoho Desk, and Zoho Books. Zoho positions its video conferencing solution not just as an internal communication tool for small businesses, but also as a webinar, whiteboarding, and presentation platform they can use to interact with customers. This is reflected in the name of their subscription plans, listed in the pricing section below.
The company pitches Zoho Meeting as a tool that gives the customers the most bang for their buck. Just like how Hangout Meets and Skype come bundled with G Suite and Office 365, Zoho Meeting is part of the Zoho One app suite. With more than 50 million businesses using one of Zoho’s products to grow their business, the company is quickly becoming a go-to name for small businesses for finding a low-cost and efficient solution.
The downside of Zoho Meeting is that it might be too basic in its features and offerings—it doesn’t offer a lot of advanced functionalities like whiteboarding and recording.
Zoho Meeting pricing
Unlike the other video conferencing tools outlined in this post, Zoho Meeting has plans that are branded as webinar solutions.
|FREE EDITION||MEETING EDITION||WEBINAR – 25||WEBINAR – 50||WEBINAR – 100||WEBINAR – 250|
|$10 per month per host||$19 per month per host||$29 per month per host||$39 per month per host||$79 per month per host|
Like RingCentral Video and Zoho Meeting, UberConference also offers a no-download option for teams to host and join meetings directly through web browsers. Its paid plan also makes it easier for participants to join without entering a PIN authentication, which is great.
The free plan, however, requires people to have a PIN in order to join a meeting. Its integration with social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn makes it easy for you to send an invite link to your participants to attend a video call.
But the no-download option is supposed to be a feature that can sometimes turn out to be a bug. For instance, several first-time UberConference users don’t have a clue on what they are supposed to do to join a meeting. The product layout and interface are fairly easy to use, except for this small problem that users have to figure out for the first few times.
UberConference comes with the standard set of features that all other video conferencing tools have (such as call scheduling and file sharing) except you can’t record a video of a screen sharing session. You can record only audio, which is a big drawback for most small business users who want to record certain video sessions to share with people who couldn’t attend the meeting.
Some users also complain about its screen sharing being hard to set up and clunky.
UberConference has perhaps the simplest pricing plans of all the video conferencing. The only downside is the free plan allows you to host a meeting with only up to 10 participants and you’ll need a PIN for authentication.
Which video conferencing software should small businesses go for?
For small businesses, a close and frequent collaboration between team members is the key to success. It’s especially important if you have a distributed team that’s scattered across the globe.
A good video conferencing solution can compensate for the lack of physical proximity by giving you an immersive, face-to-face video experience.
Regardless of which video calling software you choose, our #1 advice will always be to pick a platform that’ll give you the biggest bang for your buck and save you the cost of subscribing to five or six different tools.
If you’re ready to try a video conferencing solution for your business, take RingCentral Video for a spin.