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A 6-part checklist to setting up VoIP

VoIP technology is hardly a new thing.

In fact, it’s easily the current standard for forward-thinking businesses. But there are plenty of small businesses that have yet to make the move to VoIP. And even if you currently have VoIP phone service, it’s never a bad idea to re-evaluate your current plan to ensure it fully meets your needs.

But this isn’t something you want to plunge into without any prep work. Instead, there are some critical questions you should answer before you make a single change—and that’s what we’re going to cover in this article.

“. . . finding the right VoIP solution for your particular situation can be one of the more complex business IT decisions you’ll face.”PC Mag

Why you need a VoIP plan

Whatever you use for telephone service, either POTS or a VoIP solution, we’re talking about an important part of your business communications.

Even with the rise of email and IMs, there are still plenty of times when the best communication option is still a phone call.

As soon as your SMB graduates beyond the point that a single phone line meets your needs, you have a whole new world of options.

There are all kinds of advanced features available out there, along with providers and plans that run the gamut in terms of service quality and pricing.

The worst thing you can do is just pick one. Instead, we recommend a strategic approach.

Your VoIP-readiness checklist

The checklist below will help you decide exactly what you need and will help ensure the VoIP partner you work with is a good fit for your business.

And if you feel you’d be more comfortable with a little help, reach out to your managed IT services provider. They already know your network and should be able to provide you with consultation and support.

✔ Determine your needs

First things first.

Decide how many users you’ll need VoIP service for and what bare-minimum features you’ll need (like voicemail and the ability to transfer calls).

Why?

The number of users is important because that number will help you hone in on the service plan you’ll need from any VoIP providers you shop. The minimum features are important for a whole different reason.

VoIP services come with a lot of bells and whistles. So many that it’s easy to get lost in the options. Start by deciding what your minimum requirements are so you don’t accidentally talk yourself into advanced features you don’t really need later.

Strategic add-ons are smart. Features that sound nice but don’t really bring value should be avoided.

✔ Decide if you want or need hardware

VoIP phone systems can be entirely software based. If you opt for omitting hardware, you can run your entire phone system with headsets connected individual workstations and/or smartphone apps.

There are pros and cons to this approach.

You’ll definitely save money, but there’s a learning curve, too. And some of your employees may not be crazy about the idea of wearing a headset instead of picking up a receiver, which feels familiar.

✔ Make sure your internet connection is up to par

Most likely, your internet connection is just fine for VoIP service. Most business plans provide more than enough bandwidth to support voice calls as well as standard internet traffic.

That said, what if your internet traffic is higher than the average? Or what if you have a particularly slow business plan for internet service? Or what if you have a bandwidth cap?

Know what you’re working with before you start researching specific options. If you need to upgrade your bandwidth first, take care of that.

✔ Decide on a budget

Make note of the fact that so far, we haven’t suggested you start comparison shopping. There’s a good reason for that. The first four items on this checklist should all happen before you start shopping—including setting your budget.

There are options all over the map in terms of features, requirements and budget. Decide what you’re actually prepared and able to spend before you give serious consideration to any options.

“Your business might be small, maybe even downright tiny, but moving to VoIP can give you the power and presence of a much larger company.”Forbes

✔ Comparison shop VoIP providers

Once you know all of that, then it’s time to shop.

Do your homework. Don’t get lured into anything by one slick-talking sales rep or one particularly dazzling website. Look at reviews, compare features, and read the fine print.

Make your final buying decision as dispassionately as possible.

✔ Create a transition plan

Finally, when everything else is done and in place, create a transition plan. You won’t want to move to your new VoIP service during a busy season or on the day of the week when you get the most phone traffic.

Plan to switch things over during a slower time, and have people on hand to test the new system to make sure everything is working the way you expect it to.

A final suggestion

VoIP services are a great option for SMBs, but like all business technology, you’ll get the most out of VoIP when you have solid support. If you don’t already have a managed IT services partner, we suggest that you think about getting one.

Not only will that make the switch to VoIP easier, but it will also benefit your business across the board.

What’s an IP phone and why is it amazing for business operations?

It wasn’t that long ago that a traditional phone system was one of the non-negotiables for any serious business. And by “traditional phone system,” we’re talking about a physical PBX (Private Branch Exchange) complete with actual phones on every desk.

My, how things have changed.

Today, progressive SMBs are more likely to use IP phones than traditional phone service, and for good reason. The benefits are compelling. Not only that, but there’s a good chance your managed IT services provider can help with the setup and maintenance of an IP phone system, making the transition easier than you might expect.

What is an IP phone?

First things first, though. What is an IP phone?

IP phones are most often referred to as VoIP phones. VoIP stands for “Voice over Internet Protocol,” and it’s basically what it sounds like—a phone connection over the internet.

An IP phone system makes use of VoIP technology instead of traditional phone service, sometimes referred to as POTS, or “Plain Old Telephone Service.”

“Voice over IP (VoIP) has gone from alternative technology to the primary way that businesses and many homes implement voice communications.”PC Mag

VoIP or POTS?

As mentioned above, POTS was the standard just a few years ago. Stable, reliable VoIP service is a relatively new technology, but it’s quickly outpacing POTS. An IP phone system can deliver far more value than POTS, giving SMBs options that used to be limited to enterprise-level companies.

We’re going to get into the specifics below, but for now, there’s one key distinction to hone in on. VoIP systems give you more. More options. More ways of staying in contact. More value for the expense.

POTS is still an option, and some SMBs will still opt for it, but we strongly recommend IP phone systems for SMBs that are growth-oriented.

What IP phones do for SMBs

We’ve talked up IP phones. Now it’s time to share why we believe VoIP phone systems are better for SMBs. Below are several specific advantages of IP phones, but this list is not exhaustive.

If you really want strategic insight into what an IP phone system can do for your business, we recommend talking to a VoIP expert.

“Today companies seeking a new communications solutions are more likely to consider a cloud-hosted VoIP system over a traditional phone service.” TechRepublic

Ditch the hardware

VoIP phones are software-based, which has the potential to benefit small businesses in two ways. First, it means you won’t have to make a hefty investment in new equipment to go from POTS to VoIP. Second, it means you won’t have to worry about the costs associated with maintaining physical equipment.

If you prefer having a physical phone at each desk, there are phones designed to work with VoIP service. Alternately, you can just use a headset connected to your computer or use an app on your mobile phone.

Boost your scalability

Because IP phones don’t require hardware, they’re scalable in a way traditional phone systems could never be. Adding a new line can be as simple as making a couple of quick changes to a web-based dashboard. No need to call in a specialist to install a new physical phone.

For a growing SMB, this is crucial. It’s one less thing you have to deal with when onboarding a new team member.

Take your phone with you

Mobile apps make it possible to have your work phone on you all the time . . . without having to give out your personal cell phone number, carry two phones or pay for an extra mobile line.

Whether you do a lot of traveling for your business or just have the occasional meeting across town, the portability of IP phones is a huge plus.

Go beyond voice

IP phones are integrated with all kinds of features that go beyond voice-only communication. Everything from video conferencing to file sharing is possible, making collaboration at a distance easier than it’s ever been.

Plus, the advanced features that used to be so expensive only enterprises could afford them are standard in many VoIP packages.

For a fraction of what it used to cost, you can give your SMB a big business feel.

Deliver on value

Speaking of cost, SMB leaders are universally interested in the bottom line.

Some VoIP providers will promise savings no matter what, but to be candid, that’s just careless. We can’t guarantee you’ll save money.

But here’s what we can promise.

You’re not likely to get the same value from POTS as you will from an IP phone system. You might be able to pay slightly less for POTS, but you’ll be taking such a big step down in features that it’s simply not worth it.

Moving your SMB to an IP phone system

If you’re interested in getting VoIP service for your company, there are two ways you can move forward. The first is to research available services on your own and plunge into a DIY solution. If you don’t mind doing some homework, this is one of those things you could handle on your own.

However, we recommend talking to a VoIP expert. First, a pro will know all about the available options and will be able to help you find the one that matches your needs best. And second, you’ll save a ton of time. There are a lot of VoIP providers out there. An expert can help you hone in on the one that works for you much more quickly than you’ll be able to find one on your own.

Either way—shopping for yourself or talking to an expert—IP phones are definitely the best communication option for SMBs.

ISG Launches Hosted Voice Solution

ISG Technology today announced the launch of its Hosted Voice service, a carrier-grade Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony solution. The managed system offers the same features and professional functionality of an enterprise PBX system at a fraction of the cost of an on-site phone system.

ISG Hosted Voice includes everything users need to support their voice and data needs. ISG Technology provides phones, equipment, connectivity, installation, training long distance, and client Support Center.

Included with the price of each “seat”, or user, is a full feature set plus a web portal to customize the business or employee experience; business-wide features such as Auto Attendant and Music on Hold; long distance support; equipment and installation as well as bundled bandwidth/connectivity costs.

With ISG managing the entire solution, issue resolution is streamlined. Clients will have “one call to make” – eliminating the typical finger pointing that happens when companies have multiple vendors for bandwidth and telephone service.

ISG Hosted Voice can easily scale up as a business grows and becomes more mobile. There are no hidden costs – users simply pay a flat rate per phone per month and as their business expands, simply add new users to their account.

According to a recent study by industry analyst firm Frost & Sullivan, 80% of businesses now choose a hosted solution when they install a phone system.

“The surge in interest can be attributed to the fact that we now have the technology to provide a professional experience. We can give our clients access to the same features and professional functionality of an enterprise PBX system at a competitive price,” said Sue Buckley, Director of Connectivity for ISG Technology.

ISG also offers a mobility package called Accession that allows users to integrate their mobile device, tablet, or laptop into Hosted Voice. Accession includes downloadable clients for Windows-based laptops/desktop computers; Android-based mobile devices and tablets; and Apple devices and tablets (iPhone, iPad, MacBook).

Accession integrates all supported mobile devices with desk phone functions and enables users to send and receive calls from any device connected to the Internet. It also supports Instant Messaging, Video Chat, integrates with Microsoft Outlook, and moves active calls between devices.

Learn more about ISG Hosted Voice

ISG Hosted Voice Benefits at a Glance:

  • Low upfront cost for equipment, phones and installation
  • Bundled price includes everything you need: phone system, long distance, and support
  • Advanced features such as simultaneous ring, auto attendant, hunt groups, presence, and music-on-hold
  • Scales to meet your changing business with multiple service tiers to fit your needs
  • Web user interface enables users to change features at a click of a mouse
  • Personalized training to ensure you get the most out of your service
  • Professional support with ISG trained engineers
  • No need to buy or install expensive PBX equipment, solution is hosted by ISG Technology