If you're shopping around for an online phone solution for your small business, keep in mind that VoIP providers are not...
If you're shopping around for an online phone solution for your small business, keep in mind that VoIP providers are not one-size-fits-all.
While many advertise some of the same basic draws (unlimited calls, no contracts, low-cost international calling) there's a whole host of differences between each.
Before you start shopping, it's wise to map out your budget and must-have features to help you find the provider most suited to your needs.
Below we've outlined some of the main areas where VoIP providers differ, to help you know what to look for.
Generally, switching to VoIP means you can make free local and long-distance calls anywhere within the U.S. Some companies extend their reach to Canada as well. With other providers, you might get free calls to the continental U.S., but then have to pay discounted rates (think $0.01-$0.17/min) to to Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Northern Marinana Islands.
One of the biggest draws to switching to a VoIP phone solution is the super-low rates for international calls.
Obviously, if your company doesn't make or receive many international calls, then this isn't high on your priority list. But for those who call overseas frequently, check out the rates for international calls to the places you call most. Most companies include their international rates right on their website.
To give you an idea of price points, here's a quick rate comparison for three different providers:
Company 1: $0.01/min. to London Company 2: $0.03/min. to London Company 3: $0.039/min. to London
Most companies have several price points, based on the number of users within your company. Generally, the more users you have, the lower the price per line. Here's a roundup of the cost per month for three different companies.
Company 1: $34.95/mo. for one user Company 2: $29.95/mo. per user for one to four users Company 3: $39.99/mo. per user for one to three users
Many companies advertise that setup is a snap and can be done in less than 15 minutes. Others might take longer - up to a month and a half - before your system is ready to go. You might also be required to pay a setup or installation fee, depending on which company you sign up with.
Some providers require you to purchase equipment like VoIP phones and adapters directly from them; others allow you to shop around or use phones you already have (just be sure that the equipment you choose is compatible).
You'll more likely get technical support for equipment purchased from the provider, but some offer limited support for phones purchased from third-party vendors.
Depending on the company you choose, your cars will either be routed via the public internet or a private connection (like a T-1 line). Generally, call quality and security is not as good when using the public internet versus a private line. Most companies specify bandwidth requirements on their websites, so be sure your connection is suitable before deciding on a provider.
VoIP has made a name for itself by offering an array of extra features to help businesses better manage calls. This is one of the main areas in which a company can differentiate itself. Most basic features -- voicemail, call forwarding, and caller ID -- are included in the base fee, but there are plenty of add-ons you might want to consider.
We rounded up the added offerings of several VoIP providers. Keep in mind that not every service provider will have all of these features.
- Toll-free number
- Virtual fax
- Auto attendant
- Advanced call routing to cell, business or home phones
- Dial-by-name directory
- On-hold music
- Call screening
- Hunt groups (distribute calls from a single phone number to multiple phone lines)
- Call logs
- Holiday and after-hour special greetings
- Do not disturb (callers sent directly to voicemail)
- Number portability
- Caller ID
- Emergency service 911
- Visual voicemail
- Call recording
- Call flip - transfer live calls from one device to another
- Virtual calling cards
- Answering rules
- Recorded greetings
- Cloud-based PBX
- Find me/Follow me - The user can designate several numbers that a call can be routed to (cell phone, home phone) if they don't pick up their business phone.
- Coaching tools - supervisors can listen in on a call without being heard or provide advice without being heard from the outside caller.
- Video conferencing
Most companies offer a month-to-month contract -- meaning if you're not happy with the service you're not tied down long term. Others want a more traditional two-year commitment.
Many companies advertise 24/7, U.S.-based support. Keep in mind, though, this doesn't necessarily mean you'll be talking to an actual person. Companies offer everything from online chat to e-mail to online support, in addition to a customer support number.
Compare prices for VoIP phone service providers on Business.com.