Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, with over 33.2 million companies operating as of 2022, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. These companies collectively employ more than half of the U.S. workforce, underscoring their significant impact. Beyond mere operational needs, small businesses must strategize for growth and build customer loyalty.
A recent panel discussion at Zoomtopia 2023, which took place Oct. 3-4, highlighted the transformative role of communication and collaboration platforms. Three small-business panelists shared insights into how they’re using Zoom today and features they plan to integrate in the future. The panelists’ experiences, while diverse in nature, converged on a common theme: the need for adaptable, user-friendly platforms that support business growth.
Referral Staffing Solutions: Streamlining Operations
Referral Staffing Solutions has used Zoom to streamline its operations, connect with clients, and scale its business. The company, which specializes in linking businesses with qualified personnel, has always believed in building community networks. This strategy became even more crucial in 2020, during the pandemic. When faced with the challenges of that year, Referral Staffing Solutions sought new methods to educate its human resources community. This led the company to adopt Zoom Virtual Webinars, which became the entry point to various other Zoom features.
One major advantage of using Zoom was its ability to bridge geographical distances, according to Shobi Zietlow, president of Referral Staffing Solutions. Zietlow founded the company from her couch in 2014. Today, Referral Staffing Solutions employs 50 people and has multiple locations. With clients like Organic Valley, which operates in rural areas, it was inefficient and often unrealistic to expect candidates to commute to different sites physically.
Zoom’s video features allowed Referral Staffing Solutions to conduct interviews remotely. Additionally, recent enhancements in regulations, such as those regarding E-Verify, now permit verifications via Zoom. This speeds up the hiring process and saves potential employees from incurring unnecessary travel costs and time. The reduced turnaround and more efficient process ultimately help candidates start their jobs faster.
Zoom Phone added another layer of flexibility to the company’s operations. Whether the employees are at home or in the office, they can present themselves as if working from any desired location. But, its integrated offerings solidified Zoom as the platform of choice for Referral Staffing Solutions.
“In the past, we had a chat application, a phone service, and our meetings product—with a login for each one. However, consolidating these features under one user for each employee versus many different platforms is huge. It reduces the learning curve for employees and means fewer administrative headaches,” said Zietlow.
GableGotwals: Optimizing Client and Internal Communications
GableGotwals began its journey with Zoom by consolidating various individual accounts. The full-service law firm employs 100 attorneys and 70 professionals in Oklahoma and Texas. While most of the firm’s employees were already familiar with Zoom, the usage was scattered across individual accounts, separate from their leading multi-purpose communication solution. Furthermore, with the expansion to three locations, including a new office in Houston, the firm required a means to allow attorneys to communicate without always needing to be physically present.
GableGotwals began centralizing its Zoom usage, converting conference spaces into dedicated Zoom Rooms. It also extended the use of Zoom Phone, the mobile, and the desktop app across the firm. This allowed attorneys to work from home, especially those setting up the new Houston office or living far away. GableGotwals was able to “bridge the gap caused by geographical challenges and technical issues,” according to Dave Kester, the firm’s director of information technology.
GableGotwals provided additional Texas-based phone numbers to its Zoom users, ensuring that even Oklahoma-based attorneys could provide local contact to clients in Texas. One of the standout features was the ability for attorneys to communicate directly with clients without sharing their personal numbers. This feature was particularly valuable for attorneys dealing with incarcerated individuals, as they could use the Zoom app to liaise via text, keeping personal contact details private.
To further enhance its professional presence during meetings, GableGotwals incorporated the Warmly app, showcasing its brand logo, participant’s name, and title. With Zoom’s suite of tools, GableGotwals transformed its communication approach. The firm simplified its internal and external communications and facilitated effective remote work. Meanwhile, the integration of Zoom and the Warmly app provided a cohesive brand image.
Kapor Center: Providing Equitable Access
The Kapor Center comprises a group of interrelated justice-seeking organizations working towards a more equitable and inclusive tech sector. Through its venture fund, Kapor Capital, the organization aims to equalize access to venture capital. Anyone with a pioneering idea for a gap-closing business can pitch directly through kaporcapital.com. Upon submission, all subsequent interactions, business dealings, and collaborations are facilitated via Zoom, making the entire process seamless.
Before the integration of Zoom, the Kapor Center encountered challenges with user provisioning. Setting up a new employee meant multiple accounts: one for email, another for messaging, yet another for meetings, followed by phone accounts, and often integrating with another tool like Salesforce. Zoom has transformed this cumbersome process. Everything, from meetings to messaging, is now accessible from a single app.
Zoom Marketplace, an online platform where developers can publish their apps and integrations for Zoom products, houses most of Kapor Center’s integrations. This has helped “streamline the onboarding process for new employees,” eliminating the previous complications associated with managing multiple logins, said Joe Fahs, Kapor Center’s IT director.
The organization’s operational style is distinct from large enterprises. While at bigger companies, entire teams are designated to manage conference rooms; here, the roles are multifaceted. Even someone at the level of an IT director might be found troubleshooting at the ground level. This hands-on approach in a small business setup, paired with the streamlined processes introduced by Zoom, ensures smooth operations, said Fahs.
Looking Ahead: What’s Next for Zoom
As Zoom becomes a central tool for small businesses, these three organizations have clear ideas on how the platform can evolve to serve their needs better.
Fahs believes Zoom could improve by enhancing the visitor experience, while Zietlow wants improved customer relationship management (CRM) integration. Zoom can benefit from directly supporting text messages and emails in existing systems, eliminating the need for manual entry. Meanwhile, Kester’s main request for Zoom is workspace reservations. Given that his office receives numerous visitors, he envisions a system where security clearances, meal orders, and other logistics can be efficiently managed through Zoom.
These company leaders are also eyeing Zoom Scheduler, which simplifies the process of sharing availability and booking appointments with people outside the organization. All three said they like Zoom’s approach of continuously enhancing and improving features so the platform evolves to meet user needs.
Lastly, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered capabilities are also of interest due to their potential to enhance the user experience. Features like chat flows and summarization of meetings can be particularly beneficial for users who may miss parts of a conversation and need a quick recap. Additionally, as AI is integrated into communication platforms, there’s a growing emphasis on data privacy, serving as a reminder of the importance of transparency and user consent.
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research.
Read his other Network Computing articles here.