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Five Ways to Avoid Business Travel Expenses In 2009

Novell has canceled BrainShare. Apple is ending appearances at MacWorld. And thousands of businesses continue to cut their travel budgets for 2009.

I've got some unconventional advice for you: Stay on the road in 2009, and make sure you're meeting face-to-face with your best business prospects and sales leads. I plan to be on the road at least 40 to 50 percent of the time in 2009.

But on the other hand, our business continues to embrace a range of online technologies that drive conversation and collaboration with employees, customers and partners. Here are five options that can enable your business to save money and cut travel costs in 2009.

1. Hosted TelePresence: Yes, TelePresence (next-generation video conferencing) is a great way to drive communications. But building out TelePresence studios (they resemble executive boardrooms for the digital age) can cost $300,000 or more. Lower-end TelePresence solutions can cost about $12,000 and prices continue to fall.

Still, you can avoid the capital costs entirely by embracing hosted TelePresence. Much in the way that some on-premise applications are shifting into the cloud and SaaS (software as a service) model, TelePresence is gaining momentum in a hosted or pay-per-use model.

Take a look at AT&T's work with Cisco Systems, as well as Cisco's efforts to develop Public Rooms TelePresence. Over time, you will see more and more hotels, airports and public gathering places offering TelePresence rooms that you rent by the hour. And increasingly, the back-end services will involve hosted VoIP mixed with TelePresence.

2. Skype: An oldie but a goodie. Although eBay hasn't managed to monitize or fully profit from its Skype acquisition, the Skype platform continues to deliver big cost savings to my own business.

During a recent trip to Australia, I used Skype to make free VoIP calls to friends, family and my business partner in New England. The call quality made it sound as if all participants were down the hall from one another.

However, here's the challenge: To make free skype calls with your fellow employees, your peers also need have Skype accounts. Otherwise, you need to pay to "dial" from Skype to employees' traditional phones. At our business, Skype is a mandatory, cost-saving tool. And we find we communicate with many of our clients in Europe, India and Australia using the Skype platform.

3.WebEx: In February 2007 I visited Cisco Systems for an IT channel briefing. When we got on the subject of Unified Communications, I told Cisco they needed a stronger applications story to help show the power of Unified Communications. "You need an application like WebEx," were my exact words.

Two weeks later -- and by pure coincidence -- Cisco acquired WebEx. Clearly, I believed in WebEx for online meetings and Web conferences even before Cisco opened its wallet.

4. A great way to organize free conference calls with internal users or external sources. Many businesses spend thousands of dollars on conference bridges and other group-oriented phone conferences. But Free Conferences pushes the cost out to each dialer. And that cost is typically covered by each dialer's existing long-distance plan.

5. Be A Guest: Before you register for an event, conference or trade show, check in with the conference host to see if they need guest speakers for panels and breakout sessions. Then, see if those event hosts will pick up some -- or all -- of your travel costs.

If you're a dynanic speaker with unique views to share, some conference hosts will tap their own travel budgets to cover your trip expenses. But, pick your spots wisely. Plenty of conferences aren't worth your time, and many conferences will face light attendence in 2009.