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Using Google Hangouts as a Business Tool

This post is part of a series called Get Going With Google+.
Finding Clients on Google Plus
What You Should Know About Using Google Plus for Research

The relaunch of my freelance writing business in early 2012 began on Google Hangouts. I'd been hired as part of a team of ebook writers and editors. We hooked up from all around the world: from Canada to New Zealand, from Ohio to England, yet on Google Hangouts it felt as though we were in the same room together.

Meeting up every couple of weeks on Google Hangouts, we became a close-knit team. The project ended in August 2012, yet to this day we remain in close contact because of the bonds we developed meeting face to face on Hangouts.

Since then, Hangouts have earned a place close to my heart, and I use them regularly to meet with clients, other freelancers, and friends.

Hangouts are a powerful freelancing tool, and are far more than a Skype replacement. Read on to find out how they can give a video boost to your freelancing business.

What is a Hangout?

Google Hangouts are a free tool that allow up to ten people to meet face to face in an online video conference.

Unlike desktop teleconferencing software, such as Skype, hangouts work within your web browser. The first time you use Hangouts, you'll be asked to install the Hangouts plugin, which is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Once the plugin is installed, Hangouts just work.

Cool features of Hangouts include:

  • You choose who to invite. You can have a one-on-one with a client, or a public chat where anyone is invited - in essence, a virtual walk-in office.
  • You see everyone at once. Everyone, including you, gets a video thumbnail on the base of the screen. The current person speaking by default gets featured in the main screen, or you can choose who shows up in the main screen.
  • You can set up your own live TV channel by broadcasting your Hangout live on YouTube.

  • Better bandwidth. Powered by Google's servers, Hangouts rarely cut-out, even on slow connections. Even compared to Skype voice chat, I've found Hangouts offer a far better user experience.
  • You choose the quality. If the connection proves too slow, Google provides options for slow and super-slow connections, neither of which sacrifice video.
  • Sidebar text chat. Need to ask a question outside the main conversation? Text chat in the side bar provides an alternative way to talk.
  • Share your screen. Need to give a demonstration or a presentation? Instead of showing your face, you can share your screen.
  • Broadcast over YouTube. You can set up your own live TV channel by broadcasting your Hangout live on YouTube. Once the Hangout is finished, you can choose to keep it as a private or public YouTube video.
  • Telephone participants. Want to include someone who's away from their desk? You can dial them in using their telephone, from anywhere in the world.
  • Google Effects. Fun sound effects such as a trumpet fanfare, a round of applause, a drum roll, and canned laughter add light relief and a playful element. If you really want to dress down, you can use the effects to create virtual outfits, such a pirate hat, animal masks, or crazy glasses.

Is your mind buzzing with ideas and possibilities already? In a moment, we'll explore how you can make the most of these features in your freelance business. First, let's look at how to set up a Hangout.

How to Start a Hangout

Setting up a hangout is simple. First, you need a Google Plus account. If you already use GMail, YouTube, Google Drive, or any other Google service, chances are you can log into Google Plus with a current account. If you need to set up an account, you can do so here.

Once you've set up your account you're ready to start a hangout. To do so, click Hangouts on the left menu bar. If you're on a computer with a small screen, you may need to click More.

Next, click Start a Hangout in the top right.

Finally, you'll be taken to the Hangout options screen. This gives you the option to choose who to add to your Hangout. You can invite people individually using their name or email address, or you can invite anyone in a particular circle. You can also invite people over telephone. This is free for calls in the US and Canada, and low-cost internationally.

If you want to open your Hangout to a broader audience, you can choose to invite people from your extended circles, which includes your contacts and the contacts of your contacts, or create a public hangout which anyone can join.

You can also name your Hangout, and - if you want to broadcast over YouTube - enable Hangouts On Air.

You can also check your mic and video are working properly.

When you're ready to go live, click Hang out.

Now you're inside Hangouts, quickly double check your mic and fix your hair before anyone you've invited shows up. Google is pretty good at setting up everything automatically. If, however, your camera and microphone aren't working, check they're not muted - these options are in the top right hand corner. For more advanced set up, for example if you have a USB mic that's not being detected, you can click Settings in the top right.

Meanwhile, in the left hand column you can invite more people, set up screensharing, enable Google Effects, or access Google Drive to collaborate on a document.

Once you've started a Hangout once or twice, you'll see it's just as simple as sending an email or making a phone call.

How Can Freelancers Use Hangouts?

The most obvious use for Hangouts is meetings with clients. Hangouts allow you to work from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, and allow you to establish face-to-face relationships with clients wherever they are in the world.

Since all that's required is a Google account, Hangouts are arguably easier to use than Skype, so you should be able to get even the most technophobic clients to meet with you online.

You can meet with clients to pitch for a contract, to update them on a project, or to give them a demo of your latest work. You can get the level of feedback that used to only be available by meeting face to face with clients.

You can also use Hangouts to:

  • Create a virtual co-working space. Get together once a week with a group of freelancing friends, and hangout while you work. As you develop working relationships, you'll likely discover ideas for collaboration. It's also a great way to beat lonely freelance syndrome.
  • Get together with a group of freelancers and solopreneurs every so often to mastermind your way through your creative blocks.

  • Provide training and consultation. Hangouts are perfect for group or one-to-one training events. Screencasting allows you to guide and teach clients without needing to be there in person. When you've completed the training, you can upload it to YouTube for your other clients. You can either make it public for publicity, or private and use it as part of a paid course.
  • Idea storm. Need a creative boost? Get together with a group of freelancers and solopreneurs every so often to mastermind your way through your creative blocks.
  • Office hours. Would you like to give clients the option to drop in for a chat, but you don't have a suitable office, or you live on the other side of the world? Set up a Google Hangout for office hours where anyone can turn up to find out more about your services.
  • Collaborate on projects. If you start running an agency, or you're working with a team of freelancers, Google Hangouts, together with its Google Drive integration, provides the ideal work environment for working together on a project.
  • Videocasting. Need a simple, easy, free way to distribute podcasts or video casts? Broadcast through Google Hangouts On Air, and your YouTube channel will do the rest.
  • Interview sources. If you're a freelancer writer or blogger who needs to interview sources, Hangouts provide a place for this that's more convenient for you and your interviewee.
  • Kick back and relax. If you live far away from family and friends, Hangouts allow you to stay in touch and have fun together whenever you want to.

How Will You Be Hanging Out?

The best way to get to grips with Hangouts is to take the plunge. Set up a Hangout with friends or family to give it a whirl, and if you like what you see, decide how you'll integrate it with your business.

I'm curious to know: Do you use Hangouts? If so, how do you use them? If not, do you plan to start using them now? What other ideas do you have for making the most of Hangouts?

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