Brainstorming Online

Thanks to web conferencing, a Chicago design firm wins clients overseas and saves on travel

It pained Lisa Kirschner to give up on a hot lead. But when given a chance to develop fliers and booklets for a shoe company in Italy, Kirschner, president of Flair Creative Services, felt she had no choice. Holding meetings with clients much beyond the Windy City was too expensive for her 15-person marketing and graphic design company. Says Kirschner: "We would have had to e-mail them all of our ideas, but it wouldn't have worked because the project would have required lots of brainstorming." And that was not easily accomplished across the Atlantic.

So Kirschner got creative. Though she knew of no other businesses in her industry using Web conferencing, she decided to give it a try, downloading Netspoke's Web-conferencing product for $1,500 plus a $75 monthly fee.

The results have been dramatic. Flair used to work with an average of two long-distance clients a month. Today it has about 10 such jobs a month, with customers in Japan, Britain, and, yes, Italy. "This has definitely made us a global company," says Kirschner. "I don't know how we got along without it. It really sets us apart from our competition." Last year about $100,000 of Flair's $800,000 in revenues came from clients Kirschner says she wouldn't have signed without Web conferencing.

Web conferencing is also helping Flair impress clients in its own backyard. Zebra Technologies, a bar code printer manufacturer in Vernon Hills, Ill., hired Flair to convert the company's printed newsletter into an eye-catching electronic format. "We have some marketing staff in Britain, and we have a lot of people who travel who can now dial into the Web conference from their hotel rooms," says Stephanie Bach, Zebra's marketing director.

Setting up the virtual meetings is simple, and requires no additional hardware or software. Clients need only go to Netspoke's Web site and register with the code Kirschner provides. Kirschner uploads her PowerPoint presentations to Netspoke's Web site. As she flips through her slides, clients watch the presentation unfold on their computer screens. The tool can also be used for surveys, Q&As, virtual chalkboard presentations, and online chats.

Kirschner still travels to clients' offices when necessary, particularly in the early stages of a big project. "You always want the personal touch," she says. But with Flair's revenues growing and travel expenses slashed, those trips have become far less common -- and far less burdensome.

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