Stop paying to make phone calls

Your business needs to save every penny it can with the economy in a tailspin, so why not stop paying for phone calls?

Phone services can be a big part of a small business’ expenses. Often viewed as a mere necessity, rarely does that column of the balance sheet get much attention when it comes time to make cuts. But these days there are ways to continue talking with colleagues and clients and getting some cost savings while you’re at it.

Companies usually shrink away from free phone services because of the fear there will be a loss of quality or reliability. It is true that there’s no full-suite solution that will help you do away with your phone bill entirely, but there are some reasonable tools out there that will help you make long distance calls for free or very cheap, and also conduct conference calls for free.

“We’re seen a real upswing over the past few weeks with everyone seeing the money pinch,” says James Wanless, president of Toronto-based Talkster Inc. “Especially in North American, people are turning to other solutions for making phone calls.”

Talkster

This free long distance and conference calling service launched in 2006 and has been steadily gaining steam since then, Wanless says. The service is aimed at helping individuals and small business save money on making long distance calls from a landline or mobile phone.

Lately, there’s been a 25 per cent increase in sign-ups to the service on a weekly basis, Wanless says. Many Canadians have been using the service to conduct long distance phone calls from their cell phones.

Here’s how it works: go to Talkster’s Web site and enter in your name, your contact’s name, and your respective phone numbers. Click “go!” and two Talkster numbers will be generated for you and your contact. These numbers will always work, so you can save it to your phone.

Next, dial your contact’s Talkster number. Tell them to call you back at the number on the call display, or the SMS message that Talkster automatically sent them. You stay on the line while they do so, and after listening to a 10-second ad, both of you are connected and talking for free. There’s no time limit.

Granted, that extra step of calling back and listening to an ad means this is not something you want to use to communicate with your clients.

“A lot of small business people are using our service to communicate with colleagues,” Wanless says. “This is not something that you would use to contact your customers.”

Talkster can connect up to five people for a free teleconference. To connect, just have your contacts dial in to the same talkster number that was created for you. The calls are connected automatically from there.

The service will aslo soon include free SMS and phto-messages, Wanless says.

Skype

Skype has successfully established itself in the minds of many as the go-to VoIP service that is easy to use and reliable. Simplay download the client to your computer to start using your PC to dial a phone, cell phone, or another Skyper user.

The client also allows a host of other useful features. You can send an SMS to a cell phone, or you can send a fax typed on your PC, or just text-chat with your Skype contacts in the style of other instant messengers. You can be phoned on your computer and you can keep voice mail and even record calls in progress.

For conference calls, you can call u to nine of your contacts on Skype of via phone by dragging and dropping them into your call box.

A business version of Skype allows IT admins to manage the features of Skype that can be used across a coporate netwoork. Also, a free Web-based Business Control Panel tool allows for the allocation of credit to multiple users. Up to $1,200 can be distributed amongst employees.

While Skype is not free to call landlines with, it is very cheap. You can pay fractions of a cent per minute or subscribe to make unlimited calls to certain regions. For example, make unlimited calls to the U.S. and Canada for $2.95 per month, or just buy all 36 countries available for $9.95 a month.

Here’s a trick you can use to conduct a free call over your phone using Skype: add your own phone number to the contact list, as well as the number you’d like to call. Start a conference call and add your own number as well as the one you want to chat with. Your phone will ring and you’ll be connected with your contact.

Jaduka Labs

This service is similar to Skype, except you don’t need to download a client to make free phone calls to contacts in North America. Use your Web browser to load up these applciations and connect.

There’s two main applications you’ll find useful. The earthCaller application allows you to conduct long distance phone calls via your PC. It is recommended that you have a broadband connection and a good headset for high quality calls.

You can continue to browse the Web while keeping the dialer application in a floating windows. You can also save your phone contacts, use speed dialing keys, and assign graphic icons to your contacts.

A brand new application, dukaUS, from Jaduka allows you to conduct free conference calls from your Web browser. You can invite up to five participants to your conference call.

This application connects you to the conference with your existing phone, not your PC. But you are limited to 30 minutes of call time per day and Jaduka doesn’t guarantee the service will always work for everyone. Still, the price is right.

iCall

Similar to Skype, users download a desktop client to make PC to phone calls with this tool.

The difference here is that all calls made to Canada and the US are free, no matter where the call originates. Calls can be placed from the desktop client, or by dialing one of the many local iCall phone numbers and then punching in a user extension.

iCall offers the free service, and cheap rates to phone other destinations by charging businesses to appear in their calling directory. They will aslo sell you a headset, if you’re so inclined.

There’s an application that will allow you to make free phone calls from your iPhone over a WiFi network, in beta mode.

JustVoip

There’s a few VoIP services that seem to receive mixed user reviews and raise skepticism of many. Wanless is one of those who casts a doubtful gaze to some ultra-cheap VoIP services.

“The cheaper the call, the lower the quality,” he says. With such low rates, the companies must be cutting corners somewhere.

But JustVoip is worth a mention if not for its Skype-style PC to phone calling applicaiton, then for its free trial offer. There’s not much simpler way to make a free long distance phone call in the U.S. and Canada.

Just go to the Web site and type in your phone number and your contact’s phone number. Your phone will ring and you’ll be connected. Be sure to enter your phone number in international format.

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