Finding a phone system that fits a small business’s needs and budget can be a challenge. Traditional phone systems are expensive; most come with long-term contracts and early termination costs and can be difficult to set up. Cell phones are convenient, but when small business owners and employees use their personal numbers, there’s always the chance of mixing business with pleasure or being interrupted while off the clock – or even worse, having to juggle two devices!

When trying to find the most cost-effective phone service for a small business, here are some things to look for:

1) Go VoIP or go home!

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) systems have the cost-savings and flexibility that small businesses are after. But how do you choose the type of VoIP phone solution that might work best for a small business?

One option you may be familiar with is Hosted PBX (which stands for Private Branch Exchange). This basically refers to the ability to route calls within the business’s network and the use of extension dialing – the same function as a traditional business phone system. This type of solution is meant to replace an existing phone system and may be a good fit for those who have a physical office. This VoIP system acts like any sophisticated business phone system, but it’s hosted in the cloud. The hosted PBX provider will provide all the equipment needed (i.e., a desk phone), so setup is simple. Most hosted PBX systems include business phone features like call forwarding, personal assistant and conference calling – and sometimes a lot more!

Another option is Virtual PBX, which has similar features to a Hosted PBX; however, it bypasses the hardware component, offering the capabilities of a full-featured business phone system to be routed to an existing personal mobile and/or home phone. Furthermore, with a virtual PBX service, users can have extensions from their business phone number that route to colleagues’ existing mobile or home phones. For this reason, virtual PBX is ideal for small businesses with a disbursed/traveling workforce or no physical office. Top features of interest are: personalized greetings, conferencing, fax to email, SMS integration, voicemail transcription and customizable call settings, among other features a small business needs.

2) More than $25 per extension per month?  Forget it!

When considering a hosted or virtual PBX, look for virtual PBX plans in the $10-$25 range per account monthly and hosted PBX plans in the $10-$25 range per extension monthly – a small business shouldn’t have to pay a lot more than this to get a good deal on a solid plan. The popularity of virtual and hosted PBX continues to grow as communications and costs improve. One of the key factors to the cost efficiency of these services is that there’s no need to invest in any physical equipment – even with a hosted solution, as phones are typically provided.

3) Don’t get nickel-and-dimed for features

Look for plans that include SMS and/or other features, like fax, as freebies with the calling plan. Depending on what the small business needs and their physical location restraints, getting the key features should come first. These features should come with the plan for free:

  • Caller ID with name
  • Call waiting with Caller ID
  • Custom music and messaging on hold
  • Call forwarding
  • Call transfer
  • Call park / pickup
  • Voicemail to email
  • Message waiting indicator
  • Free on-network calls
  • Online account management with real-time call logs
  • Abbreviated dialing
  • Call hunting
  • Simultaneous ring
  • Find me Follow me
  • Ring groups

4) Look for service with a free trial

Many VoIP solutions providers offer trial periods that make it easy and affordable to find out if the service is a fit before having to commit. If you are looking for phone service for a five-person shop, see if the service provider will let the business owner try it out before getting all employees involved. Once the business is certain that they’ve found the right service and the right provider, they can loop everyone in.

5) Avoid complexity to save time… because time is money!

If the business needs to hire their own technician to explain everything to manage the phone system, look elsewhere. One of the best things about using a cloud based VoIP service for small business is the ability to manage it without technical expertise – add or remove lines, monitor usage, etc.—all from the online portal. And look for companies with highly rated support teams, in case the user does have questions.

When it comes to a small business phone system, VoIP is the way to go; however, there are many options, so make sure that you are finding the best deal!