How to choose the right phone system for your small business

Ready to invest in a new phone system for your business, but want to know you’re making the right choice?

Exercising the right choice of phone system investment can lead to sustained advantage for your small business.

That being said, in today’s market there is an unavoidable issue that you simply can’t negotiate (and when you read on, you’ll see that’s not necessarily a bad thing).

The BIG issue is a mandatory switch to new VoIP technology (voice over internet) from the old ISDN technology (integrated services digital network).

Here’s some more on that:

Voice over internet phone is the present and the future – FACT

Have you heard of the ISDN switch-off?

Most likely, the answer is yes. But on the off chance you’re still unawares, let me fill you in:

There is a complete shut down of the old copper wire phone systems slated for 2025. After this, internet-based phones otherwise known as VoIP business phones will be the norm – without exception.

What does this mean for you?

It means if you’re still tangled in copper wire and not yet free floating in the cloud, then you need to cross over asap.

But if you’ve spent any longer than 5 minutes taking a look at the small business phone system market online, like us, you’re no doubt confused at first glance.

Time to get familiar with the modern range of business phone systems

So, if that has left you thinking how to choose the right phone system for you small business, then this guide will be a breath of fresh air.

Understanding business phone systems

There’s been a seismic shift in the small business phone systems market.

What used to be quite a proprietary, opaque, ‘technologically obscure’ marketplace has effectively been blown wide open by voice over internet.

Because the internet has enabled a new channel and manner of business communication that seems almost to know no bounds…

…the options and possibilities have become as broad and bright as the horizon.

Getting a clutch at all the straws can be a little daunting from scratch and so we’ve put together some simple pointers to get you acquainted with the basics:

3 type of business phone system

Generally speaking, to get things into the right buckets, you could say that there are currently 3 types of business phone system:

1. Self-hosted PBX

This is a private branch exchange (PBX for short), or an old fashioned office-based phone system with hard wires installed.

Everything is limited according to the number of lines fixed. The system is hosted at your premises and is very heavy in the hardware stakes. Lots of boxes, switches, lines and proprietary phones.

The contract has a high degree of rigidity and customers are obligated to take the providers say on most things.

All in all, quite restrictive, expensive and binding.

2. Self-hosted VoIP (IP PBX)

Since PBXs, voice over internet protocol has taken off and opened the flood gates to otherwise physical limitations.

Now, business phone systems are run freely on the office’s existing internet infrastructure. No need for any costly installation. Only a relatively quick install and config to get started and you’re off.

This is an ideal system for any small business these days. It’s scaleable, flexible and full of call management features to make your workflows all the more pleasure, rather than chore.

3. Cloud

And then, there is the cloud business phone system…of which there are HUNDREDS out there.

Essentially, this is a software only phone system that has all the smarts to enable every one from a remote worker to a fully-fledged call centre take off in minutes with a phone system.

They are very user-friendly, affordable, easy to get going with and simply integrated with most other business softwares, like CRMs.

Cloud systems also have the advantage of conveniently blending users desk phones with smart phone via an app.

This means there is an illusion of ever present service from your team no matter how well disposed they are or otherwise to take or make the call.

8 steps to making the best selection of phone system for your business

The following tips will be indispensable if you’re hesitant about choosing the right business phone system and need a friendly nudge in the right direction:

  1. Be sure about how and what communication works best for your team: communication like any other business activity has got to have a positive impact on your bottom line. Calculate the benefit of quality communication vs. poor communication and count the cost of falling short. Use this to justify your investment and establish your ‘must haves’ from your ‘nice to gets’.
  2. Map out your communications workflows: scratch out on a page and in granular detail EVERY step of your business communications – not just verbal. Append average timings to each communication and tools used. This is your ‘as-is’ picture and the baseline that your new phone system can build on to save time and introduce convenience. You’d be surprised exactly how much value a new business phone system can legitimately add.
  3. Prepare your internet connection for the additional load: voice over internet technology entirely depends on a consistent and ample internet connection, it’s best to check in with your IT dept. if you’ve ‘got enough power’ to make it happen.
  4. Don’t get swamped in the small stuff: trying to conduct complex like-for-like comparisons across every technological feature is actually counterproductive. At the end of the day, what you want is a business phone system, not a PhD. Simply focus on the the material benefits of the functions that matter and then make sure your selected system comfortably handles those things.
  5. Think along the lines of hardware, software, apps and peripherals: know from the top what parts you actually do need. Devices are often available via providers, but then again, some providers are (especially cloud solution vendors) offer software only. Apps are convenient for making the system usable on mobile phones and finally headsets, mics etc. are to be considered as part of the complete package.
  6. Write a wish list of functions and features & organise by priority: much of your interest in a system will come down to its functions. Make sure you draft a comprehensive list of necessary features and include this within your request for proposal (RFP).
  7. Comb through the tariffs: nullify all potential for unpleasant surprises by pinning down all tariff charges. Based on historic phone records (and future expectations) make a judgement going forward of how much budget you’ll need to support your teams calls and messaging.
  8. Consider room for growth: often business phone providers charge per user, per month. Plus, there are price tiers between bracket prices. Always have in mind that more users = more cost. Forecast this and build in the cost.

How much budget should I prepare?

At the bottom entry-level, you can expect to pay £18 per month for a single user. This increases with added function and multiplies with more users.

Annual payments usually attract a significant price discount.

Choosing the right business phone system

The long and short of it is – soon enough everyone’s going to be on VoIP. And the hard stop happens in 2025.

If you’re still on old money – then you’d do well to jump on sooner rather than later.

There are many providers on the market, some hosted, others cloud and then there are self-hosted models too.

Depending on your in-house capabilities, pattern of use and budget you might have leaning toward one solution or another.

Consider both your current and future positions and choose a provider that has enough of an advanced outlook on technology to allow flexibility as your team grows.

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About the Editorial Staff

Our Editorial Staff are a dedicated team of business technology experts led by Tayo Abayo. Our journey serving small business owners with tech advanced tips and advice began as consultants in 2010. This new site, a fruit of our careers, is fast becoming one of the best free IT resource sites for the city.

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