At one time, small businesses were very limited in terms of telephony, relegated to basic phones, minimal services and features, and little scalability. The more sophisticated features such as teleconferencing and back-office integration were limited only to large corporations that could afford the bill. VoIP however, has made it possible for small businesses to enjoy the same features and functions that were once available only to the largest enterprises.
There is no doubt that a small business will benefit from moving to a VoIP environment, but there are special considerations that the small business will face. When buying a system, consider the following factors:
Small businesses sometimes become big businesses. The need for growth is evident, and your business systems need to be able to accommodate your growth. When purchasing a small business phone system, there are two things to keep in mind: The features and capacity you need now, and the features and capacity you are likely to need in the foreseeable future. You may only have five lines now, but in two years when you need twenty lines, will the system you are considering be able to handle it? Some PBX systems are easily scalable by adding a simple card to add to the number of ports available.
Sizing the system
While scalability is always an important factor, sizing the system for the present time is an important step. You need to take stock of the number of lines (trunks) you currently use or wish to use, as well as number of extensions. This includes extensions for fax machines, modems, credit card terminals, or other telephone-connected devices. A PBX is sized by the number of ports, which reflects the most connections that can be made.
Making a small business look like a big one
One of the great advantages of VoIP systems, IP PBXes and even hosted systems is that you are able to gain access to a very high end set of features that once was available only to larger businesses. Both on-premises and hosted VoIP systems come with a variety of features, and many of these features will help give your small business a competitive edge. Be aware of all of the available features, and make a list of which ones you need, and which ones would be “nice to have.”
Compatibility with your other equipment
A small business cannot afford unnecessary capital expenditures. One new system may unintentionally require a company to purchase other new systems just for the purpose of maintaining compatibility, and this can be wasteful, especially if you need to jettison equipment that has not yet been fully depreciated. Fortunately, many VoIP systems do offer strong compatibility with a wide set of equipment. Do not assume however, that your new phone system will work with all of your existing equipment—make sure before you buy.
Demonstration and training
A new phone system may have many unfamiliar features and functions. Before purchasing a system, test it out and request a demonstration, and personally evaluate the quality. The spec sheets may tell you the facts, but that in itself is insufficient for making a final decision. After purchase, your staff will need to become familiar with the new phone system. Some VARs that specialize in telephony will offer training on the system. Although this will represent extra cost, it will ensure that all staff members are familiar with the features, and will be able to take full advantage of them.