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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 is hosted PBX?

Hosted PBX systems are becoming popular solutions for many small to medium-sized businesses who want to stay competitive with advanced technology and the opportunities it provides.  Built, delivered and managed by a third-party service provider, hosted PBX is an IP-based telephony solution provisioned and accessed entirely through the Internet.

Basically, a hosted PBX takes your business communications system out of the office and into the cloud. So long as they can connect to the cloud, your employees – no matter where they are – can stay engaged and productive without physical limitations.

Unlike a traditional private branch exchange (PBX) phone system, which requires installation, ongoing maintenance, training, and costly hardware, a hosted PBX takes many of these issues off your shoulders and provides you with an easy to manage, user-friendly service with a wide range of features offering greater flexibility.

Let’s review some of the most valuable benefits for SMBs.

User-controlled settings

Hosted PBX systems provide online web portals where users configure their settings without relying on IT staff support or enduring complicated technical setup. Training time and costs are minimal with more user-friendly portals accessible from desktop computers and laptops as well as tablets and smartphones.

Scalability for multiple locations

If you are still supporting multiple locations with a legacy phone system, that means having to manage each location’s computer box individually, deal with limits on numbers of lines, and handle hardware maintenance for each location. It also means remote employees cannot use the same features available in-office.

Because the management of hosted PBX happens in the cloud, your business is free from the demands of a traditional phone system. You are also free to add or remove lines as needed for any location. As your business needs change and grow, your host PBX system grows with you, but at a lower overall cost.

Seamless collaboration

So long as there is a reliable connection to the cloud, remote or traveling employees can securely access services and features to maintain productivity without ever having to step into the office. Whether you need voice, video or web interaction, the same IP service quality and features keep you in touch and in step with your team and your customers.

Flexible features

Once upon a time, most businesses found it sufficient to have a phone situated in one location with a few standard features such as hold, transfer, conference, and speaker.

Today, remaining competitive often demands the capability to communicate from a variety of locations and channels. A hosted PBX system allows employees to seamlessly make, receive and transfer calls across locations or devices, depending on the situation. Video conferencing can include any number of individuals with ease. Voicemail can be converted to email (or vice versa), allowing all communication information to flow to the channels that make the most sense for your team.

Automatic updates

It can be difficult to keep up with the frequent changes in business technology, not to mention knowing which most benefit your business. Rather than lose that edge, a hosted PBX will keep your communication system current and notify you of improvements to your VoIP phones and related devices.

Upgrades and updates are simple and often automatic. This means not having to engage busy or expensive IT and phone resources to maintain the best service available.

Business continuity

Accidents happen, as do natural disasters, equipment failures, and cyberattacks. Any of these scenarios could result in downtime when on-site hardware is damaged or compromised. Because a hosted PBX operates from secure and redundant data centers, you are far less likely to experience an interruption in business operation or communication due to loss of voice service.

When a physical phone, computer, or other portal device goes down, calls can be quickly rerouted to another device to ensure continuous service.

What to look for…

Look closely at your current capabilities and determine whether those meet your needs either currently or for your future plans.

Some options you will want to consider include:

  • Ability to convert voicemail to email
  • Videoconferencing
  • Ability to make and receive calls on any device in any location
  • Automatic upgrades
  • Ease of configuration
  • Low maintenance

Your first priority should be running and growing your business, not untangling your phone system. With a hosted PBX, you can enjoy high-quality, reliable service with a wide range of useful features while keeping your attention where it belongs.

Why VoIP is absolutely worth it for SMBs

So you’ve been thinking about upgrading some of your infrastructure, but where to start?
If you think your team could collaborate better, one of the best returns on investment is a VoIP phone system. It’s got all of the functionality of a traditional phone system with an emphasis on increased utility.
Maybe you haven’t switched over yet because the break-in period seems a bit daunting. We’ve compiled a list of reasons why the benefits will outweigh the costs for your business quicker than you think.

Installation and setup

Fortunately, the first time setup is often cheaper (because there may be less equipment to buy) and simpler than installing a traditional phone system from scratch.
When it comes to planning things out, there are a couple of factors that you wouldn’t usually have to think about with traditional phones. You have to figure out how much bandwidth you’ll use, and whether that will change your internet service needs. If everyone needs to make a call at once, will that make everything else grind to a halt? How soon will we need to expand the number of users? Is our connection fast enough to utilize the new system?
Once configured, however, your VoIP network is good to go. Most hardware comes with plug-and-play functionality, as VoIP phones are smarter than your average bear. If you find that you need to add more users it’s just as easy as extending your Wi-FI network: you just need to add another router to the network.

Related: VoIP implementation best practices

Flexibility

Here’s where the investment starts to pay off in spades.

Conference calls

They’re nothing new, but you’ll be surprised at how different they can be with VoIP.
Conference calls can get started right on time with minimal effort. During the initial installation of the network, you or your tech professionals will set up hub numbers. When it’s time for a conference call, it’s as easy as calling that number when it’s time to start. Everyone is in with no trouble.
This can make rescheduling less of a hassle and make impromptu team meetings possible, even if everyone’s not in the same building. This means your team can be much more agile – you don’t have to drop everything to go to a meeting scheduled ahead of time, just send out an email to get on this 15-minute call after lunch. Everyone’s on the same page because they are better connected.

Remote use

One of the best things about VoIP is that the network doesn’t care how you are gaining access. You can use a traditional phone with an adapter, a VoIP enabled phone, a computer configured to use VoIP, or even your personal cell phone. It’s all about unified communications.
VoIP makes it easy to set up smart call forwarding. Not only can you transfer a call if the original extension is busy or doesn’t answer, but you can preemptively forward calls at any time. If you know you’re going to be out of office, you can set up your number to automatically forward any calls to your cell phone or to a colleague.
Furthermore, if you have any team members that are entirely remote you can configure their extension to automatically forward to whatever device the remote worker chooses. Even though the original call started in your phone system, it’ll end up where it needs to be seamlessly. It’s the best thing next to being there in person.

Call recording

Let’s say that a couple of team members couldn’t participate in a conference call. Perhaps a fire came up that they had to go put out immediately. They can still get the full scoop on whatever they missed with a feature that almost all VoIP networks utilize (and yours definitely should): call recording.
How exactly it works depends on what software you choose to go with, but a VoIP network allows for the recording and archiving of any phone call with ease. Whether it’s for the benefit of an absent team member or for the team in question to be able to go back and review exactly what was said during the call, this is an invaluable feature that isn’t impossible with traditional telephone technology, but significantly easier to implement with VoIP technology.

In conclusion

With cloud technology becoming the norm across industries, these will not be the only advantages for switching over to VoIP for your phone network. New techniques and technologies will be sure to make VoIP even better in the future.
Research your options. If you ever get lost or need a second opinion, don’t hesitate to reach out and see what our experts have to say.

Everything you need to know about VoIP phone systems

As internet speeds and capacities increase and technologies and costs improve, more and more businesses are cutting the cord from traditional phone systems. They are choosing to adopt Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems.
Just the same, it’s smart to determine if the hype is justified. How good are the monetary savings? How seamlessly will it integrate with your current or future business technology? Is VoIP secure?
Before you make any decision regarding changes to your business phone systems, take a look at the pros and cons of VoIP.

How it works

VoIP works by converting voice into digital data and sending it through your Internet connection via the router.
VoIP allows for normal phone calls through the internet with all of the options usually enjoyed by business’s traditional PBX systems including voicemail, call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling, caller ID, and more.
In addition, VoIP software integrates well with desktop computers for use as “softphones”. The only requirement is that they have voice and audio input/output capabilities.

“The last decade saw a splurge of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) businesses mushrooming around the world.” – Forbes

Setting it up

Setting up a VoIP is fairly simple. You need a reliable internet connection with decent bandwidth. Most VoIP providers handle delivering calls and software needs—particularly if you’re using plug-and-play phones certified for that service provider.
Generally, there are no other hardware requirements aside from the phones themselves.
If you opt for a self-hosted, onsite VoIP system, it gets a little more involved. You’ll need to get a VoIP-friendly version of the private branch exchange (PBX) phone system many businesses already use to handle routing your calls to the appropriate phones on the network as well as a PTSN gateway to sit between the VoIP PBX software and the traditional public switch telephone network.
If you don’t wish to host your PBX software on your server, you can opt for a cloud-based phone system. That way, all of the hosting and management is done through a cloud service provider and paid on a subscription basis.
Whatever option you choose, managing the network phones and extensions is fairly simple and you can do further fine-tuning via your provider’s online account interface.
The IP phones themselves usually come in two forms. Most look very much like the traditional desktop business phone with all of the usual features—speakerphone, hold and transfer buttons, multi-caller functions, etc. Some even allow for video conferencing which comes in useful for demos, sales pitches, or just providing a human face to communication.
The other option is “softphones” which are software-based clients installed on computers and mobile devices. These offer the same full functionality as the desktop phones, plus often have instant messaging capability and, with video input available, allow for face-to-face video conferencing.

VoIP versus POTS

It’s common that when a new technology hits the scene that debate erupts over which is better. POTS is an acronym for Pretty Old Phone System, also known as PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). This has been the way businesses have handled communication since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. For that reason alone, many are hesitant to make the switch.
But how do the differences really compare for business? There are actually some solid reasons for POTS.
For one, there is continuity of business and of service. VoIP won’t work without an internet connection. Which means it’s not only vulnerable to network issues but power failures as well. POTS are much more dependable in these cases and allow businesses to maintain phone communication even when the internet is down.
911 calls can also be more reliable over landlines, whereas e911 calls are vulnerable to power or internet outages. For these reasons some companies, like alarm companies, require a landline in order to maintain their security monitoring.
And, in some cases, voice quality over POTS is still superior, but this may change as VoIP continues to evolve.
On the other side, VoIP offers a number of benefits not readily available to POTS subscribers.

What are the benefits of VoIP?

There’s a reason why so many businesses are adopting VoIP technology. While there exist a few pros to maintaining a POTS subscription, the benefits of switching to VoIP outnumber them.

Low cost

Generally, VoIP systems are just cheaper than traditional phone systems. There is less hardware to purchase, and, in most cases, VoIP hosts don’t require any new hardware at all. If they do, it’s usually readily available hardware that’s not locked down with propriatary limitations.
When managing remote employees—even far-flung remote employees—there is no extra cost due to distance. Because the voice and data are being sent via the internet, there are no long distance fee considerations. New York calling Los Angeles is the same as calling across the street. In fact, most VoIP services offer free calls to coworkers regardless of location.
Monthly subscription fees are lower as well, and often don’t require a contract.
Much can depend on the amount of phone traffic you regularly have. At worst, you’re not likely to be spending more than you already are. However, you’ll have the added value VoIP can bring you.

“The advancements in technology have greatly helped small business owners to realize increased productivity and lower cost structure in all sectors.” – CIO

Mobility

VoIP is particularly suited for those employees who are not tethered to a desk or traditional office setup.
Many providers offer dedicated apps for sending and receiving calls from remote locations using their data connection and mobile devices including those devices that fall under your business’s BYOD policies. You can set these apps to right simultaneously with an office phone. Apps can even function as a standalone extension.
Likewise, video conferencing options are available for salespeople to run demos and pitches with the same ease and low cost as voice communications from wherever is most convenient or effective, saving on both time and travel.
Being away from the phone is not a problem as voicemail and instant messaging can be converted to email or text messaging and sent to any device specified.

Scalability

You won’t have to worry about installing additional hardware to accommodate new extensions when your business requires them. VoIP service expansion is as simple and inexpensive as purchasing another certified phone with plug-and-play adaptability. At most, connecting a VoIP-enabled phone to your network will require tweaking a few settings. You could also install the softphone client software onto additional networked computers.
VoIP allows for adding or removing any number of phones and extensions. So you can do what makes the most sense for your business’s current needs.

Integration with unified communications systems

If your business uses or is considering implementing a unified communications (UC) system, VoIP fits in well and may already be part of its infrastructure. Because both the UC system and VoIP rely on network connectivity and management, including both makes sense, and both use many of the same communication features such as instant messaging, call management, video calling and conferencing, and mobility.
VoIP becomes another tool for enhancing collaborative workflow and business productivity.

“Today’s small businesses have extensive options for selecting a business phone system, particularly now that cloud-hosted VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) solutions are so prominent in the marketplace.” – TechRepublic

Security on VoIP networks

When it comes to the security of your VoIP system, much of that is in the hands of the user. Many VoIP services don’t come with internal security obstacles for cybercriminals to overcome. For that, you need to rely on those same security protocols and best practices as usual.
You’ll want the usual robust firewall protections on your network and employee education regarding phishing scams and malware attacks. You can consider encryption and VPN options as well.
Taken as a whole, however, VoIP is as secure as traditional telephony.

Is VoIP for you?

VoIP is such a rapidly developing technology and is being adopted at a growing rate among companies worldwide. As such, it has been suggested that it may supplant POTS in time. You may want to consider making the switch. It’s simple, given the low costs, the flexibility, and multitude of services available with VoIP systems
As with any business decision, you should do the research and consult with your experts. You’ll likely find that companies dedicated to keeping a competitive edge and looking to take every advantage possible to strengthen their business are adopting VoIP as a useful tool.