Start-ups, small growing firms and even home-based businesses are underserved by the telecommunications industry. But there are telephone systems that fit if you know where to look.|
Telephone systems have grown in sophistication by leaps and bounds in recent years, but for the most
part, very small businesses have been on the outside looking in. And with the
recent evolution in Voice over IP telephony (VoIP), the gap between what small
business needs and what the market is offering is only getting wider.
While galloping technological advancements have ushered in amazing new features and inversely
lower prices for most office equipment, full-featured phone systems have
remained largely out of reach for small companies. You can afford a
photo-realistic slimline desktop color printer now for a fraction of what it
cost just a few years ago, and you can beam your appointment book back and
forth from your wristwatch to your laptop for under a hundred bucks, but the
prices of telephone systems have not decreased at the same rate. Most small
companies are forced to cobble together telephone solutions with a combination
of multi-line telephones, answering machines and costly monthly telephone
True phone systems are far more powerful, offering flexible automated call answering features, call
messaging and call routing that can improve a company’s professional image,
control communication costs and increase connectivity and responsiveness.
It is widely acknowledged that small business is the engine of job creation and economic health today.
With a sophisticated, mobile workforce and limited resources for dedicated
phone answering staff, small business needs advanced phone systems as much as
its larger counterparts do. Yet according to a recent Yankee Group study, 58
per cent of small firms in the United States don’t have a phone system at all.
More than 5 million businesses have fewer than 20 employees, so there’s a big
market for phone systems, but the leaders in the phone industry have never been
able to produce products to fit the bill.
Why? The answer lies in the size; small business is too small for the big traditional telephone
systems, and the scaled-down solutions that the industry has produced so far
still have price tags that are too big for small business budgets. Big phone
systems just don’t work for very small companies, and the fewer the phone
users, the more difficult the fit.
Large corporations use Private Branch Exchanges, or PBXs, which allow many
phone users to share a system with fewer telephone company lines, based on the
idea that not everybody uses their local phone extension at the same time.
PBXs inherently offer the best telephone system functionality available. As anyone who has ever
worked in a corporation knows, PBXs handle calls impressively with features
such as ring groups, call cascades, auto attendants, voicemail and more. But
PBXs have traditionally been massive systems for thousands of users. When PBX
manufacturers started to turn their attention to small companies, they found it
difficult to scale the concept down. The big companies that make PBXs are not
focused on very small business, so they don’t fully understand the space.
The result has been a little like a major auto manufacturer stripping a car of two of its wheels and
most of its body and then trying to enter the bicycle market; the results are
ungainly and overly expensive. Small business phone systems from the major PBX
manufacturers tend to be intimidating and difficult to use, difficult to
install and usually require technical staff or consultants and expensive,
Limited Small Business Solutions
So where are small companies without phone systems getting their voicemail?
How are they handling incoming calls? How do they integrate teleworkers and
mobile workers? They may use Centrex services; telephone company voicemail and
separate lines for each phone user, which add a big boost to the monthly phone
bills. While telephone companies all over the country are all too happy to
offer increasingly complex business services, the additional billing can add up
over time to prohibitive levels.
And there’s no real integration with offsite workers other than simple call forwarding. The
proliferation of cell phones in the majority of small businesses has,
paradoxically, made staying in touch with customers and collaborators even more
difficult. Businesses have to give customers and co-workers different phone
numbers for the office and mobile phones, each with separate voicemail systems,
both of which are costing the company extra money every month.
Finding Phone Systems that Fit Small Business
Not all of the news is bad, though. A select few companies have realized
that the very small business is underserved, and they’ve been producing small
business systems that make sense. There are excellent systems to be had in the
market, if you know what to look for. The smart new generation of small
business phone systems have all of the features of their larger counterparts
without the big business prices.
When shopping for a system, look for the ability to easily install and configure it on your own.
Installation can cost a significant percentage of the total cost of traditional
phone systems. User-configurable systems allow you to control the way your
phone system works without having to pay the manufacturer or a third-party
technician to do it for you. The best of the new small business phone systems
enable you to do it yourself and save.
Another important feature to look for is cell phone and remote phone integration. If you have
teleworkers and mobile workers, you need to be able to collaborate smoothly
without giving out dozens of different numbers to your clients. There are small
business systems on the market that can connect all of your phones through one
central system with one number.
Expandability is crucial too. Make sure that the system you buy today can grow to accommodate
the changes in your company tomorrow. And the changes in the industry — with
the emergence of Voice over IP technology and new advanced Internet telephony
services, your phone system needs to be ready to connect to the IP network
while maintaining your connections to the traditional telephone network. Look
for hybrid systems that are built with SIP standards to ensure compatibility
and avoid obsolescence.
One promising entry in the field is the TalkSwitch system by Centrepoint Technologies. TalkSwitch is a
hybrid phone system that offers IP and traditional telephony, and it’s designed
specifically for businesses with as few as one and as many as 32 phone users
per location. Available online and through resellers, system integrators and
interconnects, the compact, user-friendly TalkSwitch is a prime example of the
next wave of systems that provide the power of PBX at prices that small
business can afford.
Bryan O'Connor is a telecommunication specialist focusing on small business issues.
if you like this on google plus.