Gone are the days when small businesses had no choice but to be tethered to the apron strings of the phone company. Today’s proliferation of small business VoIP solutions providers means owners like you have several options.
VoIP. What’s in it for you?
Understanding VoIP means digesting a few basics, starting with the term VoIP. The Vo stands for voice and the IP for internet protocol. This acronym often translates to saving money since you’ll be using the same broadband internet connection you already have in place so that you won’t be using the phone company’s lines, nor their phones. Not only will you save money on installation costs and hardware, but you’ll also be billed only for services you use. Depending on the provider you choose you’ll have access to telephony services previously affordable only by large corporations, including video conferencing, call forwarding, find me follow me, and voicemail transcription to email.
What will I pay upfront?
You may be attracted initially by the cost featured on a VoIP provider’s web page, but be sure to inquire about additional costs such as equipment or setup fees. Get the specifics regarding the length of contract and cancellation fees. Find out if the system is scalable so you can add phones as your business grows, and also if you change your plan, will you have to start your contract period all over again? Be aware that many VoIP providers tie their low startup price with a lengthy contract because it may take that long to break even.
Will I be able to fax?
Faxing with VoIP can be a time-consuming and tempermental process. If your company relies on faxing, it’s probably best that you retain one landline dedicated to the fax machine. If you send faxes only occasionally, and keep them to a minimum of four pages, you may be okay if you exercise patience. However since some fax machines are simply too fast for VoIP, a few providers offer an optional service in which they will intercept a fax and email it to you in a PDF document.
What are the international calling rates?
If you make a lot of calls outside the country this feature can be the biggest attraction for a small business. Some providers offer an array of included countries for which you will pay just one monthly charge. But even if you go with a vendor who doesn’t, the per minute charges may be way less than those you are currently paying. It pays to call around and find out which companies will save you the most.
What call quality can I expect?
Since VoIP calls travel over the internet, analog voice signals must be converted into digital signals and grouped into packets for transmission, each packet going its path to the receiving end where the conversation converts back to analog sound waves. Should the bandwidth not be sufficient, other people in the office making phone calls or using the broadband internet can interfere with the arrival of the packets and subsequent re-assembling of the conversation. The three most common problems are an echo, choppy conversation (also know as breaking up) and delays. The hardware and software the provider uses plays a part in transmission as does the internet connection.
What type of support do you offer?
Since problems don’t make an appointment, ideally you want to know that tech support is available 24/7. If that’s not the case, find out what hours someone will be available if your phones go down outside of these hours as well as if it’s possible to leave a message for an immediate callback. Also, find out what time zone the tech support is located in, since those three hours that separate EST from PST can make a big difference when phones are down.
How long have you been in business?
The longer the company has been in business, the greater the odds they are financially stable. Newer providers may be having a hard time reconciling financial sovereignty due to the low prices they are offering to attract customers. Do a little internet research and see what other businesses are saying about them. Have they been involved in any lawsuits? The last thing you want is for your small business VoIP solutions provider to fold as soon as you’ve climbed aboard.