As the old saying goes, there's no such thing as a free lunch. But doesn't any meal taste better when someone else pays the bill? In this case, the meal is conference calling, and the company picking up the check is Long Beach, Calif.-based Free Conferencing Corporation of America, which offers, as its name indicates, free audio conferencing through its online service, FreeConferenceCall.com.
Conference calling is often a mission-critical tool for small businesses, and teleconferencing charges on top of standard phone costs can take a hefty chunk out of a company's monthly budget. FreeConferenceCall.com (FCC.com) provides the service for free. There's no teleconference charges callers pay only what their long distance carrier normally charges them for a call. Or as Dave Erickson, FCC.com's founder and CEO, puts it, "It's a free lunch, but everyone has to get to the restaurant."
So how does the company make money? The site offers a number of free services the newest is conference recording, more on that later as well as paid services and upgrades. "We engage people in free services and make our money on the back end by selling enhanced services and features," Erickson said. "We also receive marketing fees from various long distance carriers."
The free conference-calling service supports up to 96 people on a call, which can last up to six hours each. Erickson said there's no limit to the number of calls you can make, and that you don't need to make reservations. You sign up for an account online by submitting your name and e-mail address. That immediately generates a dedicated phone number and an access code that's good for 120 days. When the account expires, you must repeat the process.
Give Me a Concall: Submitting your name and e-mail address generates a dedicated telephone number and an access code for all your conference calls.
(Click for larger image).
How Does Free Sound?
We tested the process, and it was as quick and as simple as advertised. We notified our conference participants colleagues located in remote offices and provided them each with the phone number and access code. The call-in went smoothly, and the sound quality was clear and static free.
Within moments of ending the call, we received e-mail from FCC.com with a detailed call report outlining the call date, the phone numbers of each participant, start and end times and the total number of minutes.
The company's newest free feature is conference recording, which has been up and running on the site for slightly less than two weeks. Sign up for it and, Erickson says, you can record any or all of your calls, which could come in handy in number of situations. "For example," he explains, "if a sales executive is traveling and can't listen to a conference call, he or she can download the recording to a PC, play it on an iPod, or receive it via an RSS news feed and stream it on a PC."
We ran into a bit of trouble when we tried recording our conference call. We all dialed in as the host entered a PIN number to activate the recording. An automated voice came on and said that the recording feature was not available.
We put in a call to customer service, and the rep took our name, dial-in number, host access code, PIN number and e-mail address, saying that technicians would run tests on the line and notify us by e-mail when they resolved the problem. In a follow-up conversation, Erickson said the problem involved the connection to the concall number's area code, which, he added, had been corrected.
Unfortunately, we ran into the problem again when we tried the service a second time. Still, the feature is new, and once they get the bugs worked out, it'll make a nice addition to the service.
More Conference Options
Beyond the free conference calling, the company offers a number of other services and features including the following:
- Simple Toll-Free: For six cents per minute, customers can receive toll-free conferencing
- Simple Flat Rate: For $99 per month, companies can receive toll conferencing for 200 callers on one call and unlimited talk time
- Simple Voice Box: A free voice box system designed to let companies record a message about their products or services. Participants can be instructed to dial into the custom voice box where they enter a pass-code to listen to the message
- Simple Voice Center: A one-time set-up charge of $99 buys you a voice messaging system consisting of a main greeting that lets customers select up to nine options. It's the familiar "Press 1 for sales, press 2 for customer support" type of service.
Companies that need to conference with people outside the United States will be glad to know that anyone who can dial in to a U.S phone number can use FreeConferenceCall.com. Erickson says international callers pay only for the long distance charge. "So many people have cheap long distance to the U.S., " he says. "Right now, calls from Australia to the U.S. cost about two cents a minute."
In addition, Erickson says the service works with VoIP technology. "Right now, we're seeing about 50,000 Skype In and Skype Out calls every month. It's significant, and it's growing."
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
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