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Designing Your Small Business Phone System

Designing Your Small Business Phone System

Despite the growing importance of mobile and online communications, a phone system still provides the communications foundation for most small businesses. Whether it's reaching out to customers or keeping up with colleagues, often in different locations, a phone system is critical to the operations and success of most companies.

That importance makes choosing the right type of phone system a critical decision for small business owners. As with other business systems and services, digital technology has evolved the basic office telephone far beyond its basic role in carrying voice calls.

Today's small business phone systems can perform a variety of call-handling functions, making the right choice somewhat challenging.

Fortunately, digital phone systems designed for small companies are flexible enough to allow business owners to start with a basic system and expand as their company and its communications needs grow.

Getting Started

The right choice for your business will depend on a variety of factors, such as the type of business you’re running and your expected calling patterns. Thinking about how you’re likely to use your phone will make evaluating your options easier.

Like many technology purchases, an important first step is thinking about your business' communication needs and how you'll use its phone system. For instance, try to consider factors such as:

  • How many lines will you need?
  • How easy is the system to use?
  • How fast is your business growing?
  • What other equipment do you plan to use?
  • Can this system be expanded easily as your needs change?

For a growing number of small business owners, using a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone system provides considerable cost and flexibility advantages over traditional PBX equipment, including the ability to manage your small business phones remotely.

Using a VoIP-based (also known as hosted or cloud) phone package gives a small business powerful and flexible communications capabilities, without the expensive investment in equipment and bandwidth required by landline-based systems.

Most services take advantage of your company’s existing broadband connection to route voice calls over the Internet or your provider’s network. This allows small businesses to configure advanced calling and messaging features that are delivered as software services.

VoIP-based business telephone systems offer a variety of standard features such as hold, transfer, redial, intercom and conferencing, as well as music-on-hold, voicemail, automated attendant, paging, hands-free operation and call restrictions.

In addition, remote workers or team members in different locations can be reached through your main number, and transferred to users as if they were in the same building. Outside the office, you can use your smartphone or a laptop app (known as a softphone) to make and receive calls just as if you were sitting in your workplace.

Toll-Free Services

As you're investing in your small business phone system, you also may wish to consider whether a toll-free number makes sense for you.

Offering a toll-free number can send a signal about your commitment to customer service, and helps remove much of the hesitation prospects may feel about contacting a company outside their immediate calling area.

Once an incoming call is dialed, business owners have flexibility over how it’s answered. You can direct a toll-free call to your main office number, or you can have the call routed automatically to your mobile device.

Companies can also create rules that dictate how calls are handled depending on the time of day or the day of the week. For instance, calls made outside your specified business hours can automatically be sent to a mobile phone, voice mail or an after-hours answering service.

These call-behavior rules can often be configured by small business owners through a Web interface, giving them the flexibility to customize their toll-free number as their needs change. Similarly, business owners can track promotional or lead-generated initiatives by correlating their toll-free call traffic with their marketing efforts, or adapt their call rules to handle seasonal demand.

Together, these features improve not only your ability to communicate, but also your company's professional appearance to outside callers. A VoIP phone system allows even one-person businesses to match the sophisticated communications infrastructure of the largest enterprises.

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