The SMB owner’s phone system buying guide

Effective communication is essential to modern business survival and success. Your phone system should reinforce your strengths. This guide will help clarify some aspects of upgrading or purchasing a phone system that fits your business priorities, and it will give you a good platform for completing your own research.

VoIP system illustration

Types of systems

There are a few types of phone systems to consider while you’re doing research. All have pros and cons.

Traditional

Most offices will have ports in the wall for landline connections. Pay for your lines from a provider and buy your phones from the store.

This is not only a simple and inexpensive system, but it’s also been around for the longest. Therefore it’s pretty reliable and you have a lot of options for different providers as well as the phones themselves. However, you will be missing out on a lot of the features that make more advanced phone systems as useful and flexible as they are. Furthermore, if you plan to scale your business, it will be tedious and possibly costly to add more functionality for additional personnel.

PBX

This is a common business setup. PBX functions as a private phone network that is configured on-site for your needs, generally utilizing the traditional phone lines that are already present in your office.

Think of it as is the more advanced version of traditional phone systems. It allows for more features like creating department-based phone banks, implementing automated operator systems, and the use of extensions from a central call hub. But it does carry a lot of the same downsides of traditional phone systems – most notably the lack of features and difficulty in scaling.

VoIP

Uses an internet connection rather than phone lines. It can either be configured on-site or hosted through a cloud service.

This is the baseline for modern phone systems. It provides a lot of advanced features (multiple stages of call forwarding, video chats, quick conference calls, easy call recording, etc.) and is typically easy and inexpensive to install and maintain. VoIP is also very flexible with changing the number of users, making it very easy to expand the network to incorporate new lines and locations. The main downside, since it does rely on an internet connection, is that if you don’t account for the added bandwidth, your internet connection can slow to a crawl. Do your research on your organization’s internet infrastructure and usage requirements when considering this option.

Virtual

This is, by far, the most flexible because you can utilize VoIP units, mobile phones, or even a laptop or desktop computer for making calls on your phone network. Virtual phone systems function over a cloud service, enabling mobility and flexibility for remote workers or team members moving between multiple branches and field locations.

A virtual phone system delivers all the strengths of a VoIP phone system, as it is essentially just the next step of applying that standard, with the addition of not being limited to the typical desktop phone setup.

This solution can be customized to the specific preferences and needs of each individual team member.

Pricing and functionality for a virtual system are going to be similar to VoIP options, but depending on what you want to do with the network you are going to need some technical know-how to configure everything to function properly. The main downside is completing the initial setup and configuration, but it’s smooth sailing after that.

Multiple handphones

What to keep in mind

Now that you know what some of your options are, here’s a checklist of things to consider when researching your best options.

Number of users

Is your team going to keep a stable number of users, or are you planning on expansion or other major changes? Additionally, you’ll want to consider when you would be expanding. If you plan on opening a second branch in two years but will keep the same head count until then, scalability isn’t something that you need to worry about right away.

Who is using your system and why

If you make sure that the sales department has a mobile phone specifically for work, for example, you shouldn’t have to worry about remote workers as they already have a large degree of mobility. You might want to maintain focus on your office-based team members and their needs. The same applies to remote workers – if it’s not practical to have your team work remotely, then you won’t need to worry about those related features.

However, if you have a lot of movement from location to location without a dedicated solution already in place, looking into a hybrid system would make sense (look into features like “hoteling”).

If you do have remote workers, you might think about features like video conferencing. Talking in person is usually preferable, but video is a very practical option for frequent interactions when time and resources are limited.

Cost and existing infrastructure

These two are tied together when researching your options.

If you already have a great internet connection with tons of extra bandwidth, it will likely be simpler to look into VoIP and virtual options rather than wasting time looking at more traditional setups.

On the opposite side of the coin, if you’ve already got an extensive traditional setup you might be able to upgrade portions to leverage additional features. You don’t necessarily need to make a full transition to VoIP, so do your research on more traditional setups and expansions first.

Switching over to a completely new system can be expensive and time-consuming up front, but it can offer long-term reduced costs later. The opposite can be true, especially if you’re just expanding an older phone system. Keeping what you have can cost you later, especially if it isn’t being fully utilized or if it isn’t performing to support your needs.

Girl is talking on the phone in the office

The bottom line

There’s a phone system and setup out there that will be exactly what you need for your business. It’s just a matter of thinking about your goals for the system, your operation and your team.

How do you want to supplement your existing workflow? What are the pain points that you want to solve? If your system of communication was perfect, what would your team be able to accomplish? Conduct your initial research by thinking about things along those lines.

And if you end up confused or even just want some advice from experts, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. We’re authorities on all things office communication and would love to help you find your perfect fit.