Top 12 ways VoIP can help my small business.

Voice over Internet Protocol—popularly known as VoIP—has been around for more than a decade. Early on, VoIP had a reputation for being unreliable, and was considered unsuitable for business use.

Today, we at Enterprise VoIPplanet feel VoIP is the right telephony solution for many, many small businesses. Its reliability has improved tremendously, and it is readily available as a service from providers all over the world.

While it is possible to purchase and manage the hardware and software that provide VoIP service, we see a hosted VoIP service as making more sense for most small businesses, which often lack an IT staff, and whose employees and managers wish to concentrate on their business mission, rather than running communications systems.

For help in locating and selecting a hosted VoIP provider, you may refer to Enterprise VoIPplanet’s lengthy series of provider profiles Phone for Rent: Understanding Hosted PBX services.

Enterprise VoIPplanet sees three main reasons for moving to VoIP: cost, image, and efficiency.

Lower communications costs.

1. Small initial investment.
When you subscribe to a hosted VoIP (also known as hosted PBX) service, in most cases the only on-premise equipment you will need is IP phones. While some service providers will lease you IP phones, or fold their cost into the monthly operational fee, most will either provide appropriate phones or will advise as to suitable selections. High quality IP business phones are available from several vendors for $100 or less—although you can certainly pay more for feature-laden “executive” phones.

2. Ongoing operational costs are 20 to 80 percent lower.
VoIP should save your business a substantial amount over traditional telco, although saving will vary depending on the provider. While there are exceptions, most VoIP providers price their services at a flat rate per seat per month—often around $25 to $30 as seat.

3. Operational costs are predictable.
Since with per-seat pricing costs typically won’t vary from month to month, there is less uncertainty in your financial planning.

4. Many services provide self-service portals for management.
Unlike traditional phone systems, which require the intervention (and expense) of a technician when phones are added, moved or otherwise changed, most hosted VoIP systems offer an online portal where ordinary employees can carry out these management operations.

5. Many services have all-you-can-eat pricing and/or international packages.
Increasingly, providers are likely to offer unlimited calling within the U.S. and Canada. Other international calling costs are far lower than with traditional or mobile phone systems—often just pennies per minute. Many offer low-cost local inbound numbers in a wide selection of other countries.

6. Upgrades are automatic and free.
When your VoIP provider makes system upgrades or adds features, they become immediately available to you at no added cost. New features may be offered at a premium, but purchasing them will always be optional.

Big company look and feel

7. People associate a PBX/Auto attendant with large, sophisticated companies.
Nowadays, when your call is answered by a professional sounding automated attendant (VoIP-speak for automatic systems that welcome you and tell you to ‘press 1 for sales, press 2 for customer service,’) rather than a harried employee, you’re likely to think something along the lines of ‘this outfit has its act together.’ You can’t necessarily put a price tag on it, but this kind of image building can be immensely helpful to a small business.

8. Calls reach the right person or department directly.
Callers are less likely to be left dangling while whoever picked up the phone tries to locate the party being called—or get the endless hold experience. Again, this contributes to the sense that the company you reached is ‘together.’

Improved communications efficiency

9. Extension dialing makes it easier to reach your co-workers.
Fundamental to a PBX service is three- or four-digit dialing to reach others on your PBX system. Typically, all of a company’s employees can reach one another this way, even if they are in multiple locations, eliminating long-distance charges.

10. Call forwarding or find-me-follow-me means your calls reach you.
Most hosted PBX services provide some kind of call forwarding for when you don’t pick up a call right away. In the simplest cases, you can add a forwarding number—such as you mobile phone—using the self service portal. In more sophisticated systems, you can enter multiple phone numbers and tell the system to ring them simultaneously or sequentially (‘find-me-follow-me’). Some allow you to set up forwarding rules based on day of the week or time of day.

11. Voicemail is included, often with improved access to messages.
Pretty much every hosted VoIP service we know of provides voicemail as part of the basic service, for those times you don’t answer the phone. Many provide e-mail alerts when a message hits the voice mailbox, some even e-mail a digital recording or transcribe the message to text and e-mail that.

12. You may get access to a richer selection of telecoms technologies.
Nowadays, few VoIP providers offer just bare bones IP telephony. Most provide at least limited audio conferencing (or multi-party calling). Some provide simple presence and availability information. Some may offer instant messaging and/or SMS messaging, albeit likely at additional cost. Finally, more and more hosted VoIP providers these days are adding high-quality IP-based video conferencing, although, again, this is not likely to be free.

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