By Jim Gustke
For many small business owners, buying a phone system ranks fairly low on the priority list ranking more as an afterthought. They simply call the phone company (or cable provider, VAR or IT consultant), "turn on" the phone service, plug the phones into the wall jacks and accept the ridiculously high expense as the cost of doing business. That's all there is to it, right?
However, small business owners have much more powerful, flexible and affordable options when it comes to choosing a phone system. The next time you get your phone bill, take a close look at what you're paying versus what you're getting. Phone service through a "traditional" phone company can be a huge expense for your small business.
Modern small business owners may find that VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology provides a more flexible, affordable communication option. Simply put, VoIP systems let you and your employees make phone calls over the Internet using your existing broadband connection.
The Value of VoIP for Small Business
A number of different companies offer VoIP solutions, which can benefit small businesses in a variety of ways. For a small business owner watching the bottom line, it's essential to do the math and compare the cost of a VoIP system to your current provider. While VoIP systems generally cost less than service through the phone company, be aware that the cost of phone service can vary greatly even among VoIP service providers.
Small businesses also benefit from VoIP's inherent flexibility. VoIP solutions generally give you more freedom to configure the service the way you want based upon your needs. Finally, compared to traditional phone companies, which might have only one provider servicing the area, you can choose from the many VoIP providers that serve small business
What to Ask about VoIP for Small Business
Although you have many VoIP options available, not all of them are the same. Here are five questions to consider as you evaluate the different VoIP solutions for your small business:
1. What affects voice quality, and how can you compare it between solutions?
Different VoIP phone providers handle voice transmission differently, and both the hardware and software they use determines the voice quality. Are the components based on current industry standards? Will voice quality suffer if you or other employees are using your broadband Internet?
It's worth digging into both the actual equipment offered by the phone solutions you're considering and the software that's running on the equipment to determine if and how it will meet your company's needs. Seek out products that are engineered end-to-end with hardware and software that make the most efficient use of your Internet connection and prioritize voice quality and delivery.
2. Can the phone system grow with your company?
VoIP products and services that leverage the cloud can provide new features, incorporate updated technology, and can accommodate more users without requiring you to upgrade or replace hardware. Many VoIP phone systems have a set maximum number of lines, extensions or users. If a phone system can't grow with a company over time, you will eventually need to replace it, which can be a disruptive process for employees and customers alike. Additionally, when the provider adds new features, do they work with the equipment you already have, or will you have to replace it?
3. Is the phone system easy to set up and manage?
Look for a VoIP phone system that doesn't rely on proximity to pre-existing wiring or Ethernet ports. The flexibility of the Internet means that VoIP solutions can accommodate a wide range of small business environments, but no matter the type, size or configuration of the office, the VoIP solution should be easy to deploy and manage once it's set up.
4. Does the VoIP system support mobile devices?
Today's workforce is more mobile than ever, and entrepreneurs and small business owners aren't necessarily tied to their desks. Look for a VoIP phone system that provides that lets you make and receive calls through the company number, transfer calls to other extensions and voicemail boxes, access the company directory, view call logs, manage voicemail and update preferences, all when away from the office. Whether you're away from your desk at the coffee machine or meeting with clients across the country, your VoIP system should offer seamless mobile capabilities.
5. Does the phone system give callers the right first impression of your business?
Small businesses, like any other business, want to give a professional and polished first impression. Will the VoIP system you're evaluating let you do that? Does it provide your small business calling features previously reserved only for larger companies? Always evaluate and compare which solutions have the features to help you put your best foot forward.
Finding the right VoIP solution for your needs requires research, but it's a smart investment to help you find a phone system that will serve your company for many years to come.
Jim Gustke is the vice president of marketing at Ooma.
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