Nearly every business needs a phone system. There are more means of communication than ever, but in many ways, the telephone still reigns supreme. Short of a face-to-face conversation, there’s no replacement for being able to actually speak with a client, customer, or business partner over the phone.
That doesn’t mean phones haven’t changed in our time. Far from it: the internet and the smartphone have both altered phone communications, opening up new platforms, features, and options for voice chat.
So, how should businesses sort out those options and find the best one for them? In the end, that comes down to a business: a 10-person company with a small sales team is going to have very different needs from a three-person accounting firm, which is going to be different from a one-person solopreneur operation. Let’s discuss your options so you can decide which one may be best for your small business’ needs.
You have three main options for a small business phone system: VoIP, landline, and virtual phone system apps. Let’s take a closer look at each below.
Voice Over IP (VoIP) Phone System
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP for short, is common technology you’ve probably used before. If you’ve ever made or received a Skype call, you’re already familiar with VoIP. As the name suggests, this type of phone system uses the Internet to transmit voice calls. Some VoIP providers go exclusively through desktop or mobile apps—more on that in a minute—but first let’s focus on business VoIP systems, which work primarily through desk handsets. Here are the main benefits of a VoIP system for business:
When compared to the installation fees and monthly charges associated with a landline, a VoIP phone line is much friendlier to your budget. A VoIP system for five employees will typically cost between $150-$300 a month, compared to a landline at $400-$500 a month.
Easy to install and use.
If you have the Internet and a VoIP handset, you have everything you need to install and operate a VoIP phone system. Handsets range from $30 on the low end to several hundred dollars for the top systems. With most VoIP providers, your service can be operational within minutes.
One of the best reasons to go for VoIP is flexibility. Unlike with a landline, you’re not tethered to your desk. You can leave the office and forward your incoming calls to your smartphone or any other line.
What type of business should use VoIP?
Since VoIP is so affordable, it’s a great option for any small business. Businesses that may benefit the most from a VoIP system include those with distributed teams that have no central office. If you manage a remote team but need everyone to have access to a central phone system, VoIP is a smart choice.
VoIP is also great for customer-facing businesses. Using advanced features such as barge or whisper, you can listen in on phone calls between your staff and customers and also coach them (or whisper) in real time. You can use these features to improve your customer service and employee training.
The biggest caveat is you need a reliable high-speed Internet connection to maintain consistently clear phone calls. For this reason, we recommend businesses take a VoIP speed test before committing to a VoIP provider.
Virtual Phone System Apps
Is your small business fully mobile? Do you operate a small business where there’s no need for a dedicated office space with desk phones? Perhaps you’re always on the go and need your phone system to travel with you? A virtual phone system app may be the perfect solution to your needs.
Operating like any other app, a virtual phone system can be accessed by clicking on an icon on your mobile device, such as a smartphone. You can add departments and a variety of extensions to employees across multiple continents, and receive calls from any location.
A virtual phone system app gives you the option to use your existing number. You can also go with a toll free or local number—whichever would be easier for your customers to access. The varied options are perfect for businesses who want a separate phone number with advanced features but don’t necessarily need a desk phone. Most VoIP providers also include an app with their service.
What type of business should use a virtual phone system app?
A virtual phone system app is also a great option for small businesses. If you’re a solopreneur or a small team with the need to place and phone calls on the go, an app may answer all of your phone needs. You can pay monthly while also presenting a professional appearance to your customers.
Next up is the old faithful: landlines. Many businesses go with a landline because it’s the most traditional choice. However, compared to the agility of a VoIP system, landlines are sluggish, expensive, and antiquated. That said, there is at least one reason why a small business may choose to use a landline service instead of a VoIP: Internet. If your Internet service is unreliable, weak, or non-existent, a landline phone may be your best option. VoIP relies on Internet, but landlines are analog systems that use copper wiring. Businesses that experience frequent power outages may also benefit from a landline phone system.
What type of business should use a landline phone system?
Small businesses without access to reliable high speed Internet service should either consider upgrading their Internet package or go for a landline system. This system is also best paired with office staff that work from one stationary location, without leaving the office.
Which phone system should you choose? It depends on your budget and your office set up. If you need or want desk phones, opt for a VoIP system that gives you everything a traditional landline system does and much more at half the price. If desk phones aren’t important or necessary, choose an app that can be accessed on your smartphone.
Any of the above options will help you succeed in the most important task: being accessible to your customers. It’s only a matter of how much you’d like to spend and how often you’ll use your line.
Jacqueline Thomas writes about small business development, business technology, and real estate for Fit Small Business. She can be reached on Twitter @kyothomas, or on her personal website, ThePearlofAfrika.com.