Email may be the most common way to send messages online, but sometimes, businesses need a faster, more convenient way to communicate internally. Chat tools can help. Whether team members have a quick question, need to bounce off ideas or simply prefer instant messaging over a phone conversation, a simple chat solution is the way to go. Here are three affordable and secure chat tools for small business.
HipChat is a free, easy to use chat app that also offers collaboration tools. In addition to one-on-one instant messaging, HipChat comes with group chatrooms, file sharing, screen sharing and video conferencing. HipChat also integrates with a wide range of third-party apps — such as Facebook, Dropbox, Google Apps and Salesforce — so it becomes a streamlined part of a company's communications. Businesses can use HipChat either straight from the app's website, or install the platform on their own servers at an additional cost. Either way, HipChat is accessible anywhere using a Web browser, desktop client and mobile app.
Cost: The free HipChat plan is called HipChat Basic, which comes with unlimited users, instant messaging, group chat and file sharing. To use HipChat on an internal server and enable advanced features like group video chat, group screen sharing and unlimited storage, a paid plan is required. Check out HipChat Plus, which costs $2 per user per month. A 30-day free trial is also available, no credit card required. [See Related Story: Collaboration Tools for Small Business]
Looking for a secure, fuss-free chat solution? Campfire is a Web-based chat tool that eliminates the need to install any instant messaging apps or clients. Simply create a password-protected chat room on the Campfire website and invite team members to chat. Users can also share files with live previews within chat rooms; supported files include image files (PNG, JPG and GIF), Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more. The service also comes with extras like conference calling, chat transcripts and add-ons for integration with popular Windows and Mac business software. In addition to the Web, Campfire is also accessible on mobile devices and using the dedicated Campfire iPhone app.
Cost: Campfire starts at $12 per month. Pricing depends on the number of users, amount of file storage and number of conference calls minutes.
Flowdock is a free chat and inbox platform that lets teams collaborate and keep communications easily accessible in one place. It offers one-on-one private chat with individual team members, group chat and threaded discussions. Its team inbox feature, on the other hand, keeps and organizes emails and messages related to project management, customer support and other sources. Flowdock is also accessible anytime, anywhere — over the Web, using the Windows or Mac OS X app and on iOS and Android devices. Push notifications are also available across platforms and devices, so no one misses an important chat request, email and other messages. Other features include @ mentions to call a specific user's attention, hashtags and chat histories with searchable transcripts.
Cost: Flowdock is free for up to five users. Paid accounts start at $3 per user per month. Custom pricing is also available for businesses that require enterprise-level setups, such as Single Sign-On (SSO), Service Level Agreement (SLA), advanced security, API access and more.