Phone Systems and VOIP for Startups

Though often the last thing on an entrepreneurs mind, starting a company requires planning and deciding upon infrastructure, including phone systems. Choosing quality solutions that cut initial costs and can grow with a start up business is essential to long term profitability. Though VOIP telephone service can cost up to 60% less than traditional phone service, it can also cost more if the chosen solution’s pricing is not flexible or requires too much initial investment. Having been part of three start ups myself, I put together 3 guidelines concerning how to save money, time, and have a future-forward VOIP system in place.

You’ve decided to save money by using VOIP. There are a number of services out there that can give you toll free numbers or direct lines that then redirect to your cell phones, your employees home phones, or even a call service. That seems great until calls get missed, prices increase with each user or feature, or you finally have to set up shop, paying for more lines and the additional call service. With start ups, planning is everything and telephony is a balancing act. These three simple starting points can help with telephony and even IT infrastructure.

  • 10 | Consider current users and the company growth strategy

    Make 10 the magical number. New businesses that will never grow beyond 10 users are prime for cloud computing and hosted VOIP solutions, especially if the team members are spread out at different locations. Having 10 or more phones in a single location requires prioritizing quality of service (QoS) to control data on your network. That means cloud computing may work for some applications, but probably not telephony unless you want to pay for pinned up T1s. Choose a managed (server on-site) service, where a voice system is set up at your company location. Another plus is that many systems may be able to run on the same server as other applications at the beginning to reduce up-front costs.

  • 30 | Know Your Bandwidth Options

    Companies are now forcing a lot more data through their connection plus relying on their connection for their phones. Companies with less than 30 users may be able to reliably use broadband cable rather than a T1 for their internet connection (ISP). This depends on the location and reliability of the connection. Though, why rely on a single ISP? Cable ISP’s now offer a lot of speed at little cost and DSL, T1s, and MPLS have seen their prices drop. In addition to being able to prioritize traffic over certain connections, an added bonus to multiple providers paired with the right VOIP service is additional fail-over options. This is especially useful for companies with many users at multiple locations. If the physical connection to the T1 gets cut, leverage a cable connection to keep things running.

  • 50 | Trust Dedicated Suppliers

    Whether your team members are spread out at 50 different sites or all sitting in one room, the size of your phone service now needs dedicated service suppliers. Multi-site users can choose a dedicated hosted (cloud-style) services, which may actually cost a bit more when networking costs are added for each site, while single site companies can use a managed service with server on-site and a network with built-in QoS. Single site companies should also be trusting in a dedicated T1 for their connection.

It is essential for companies of all sizes to have fail-over systems in place and a maintenance plan. Though many hosted solutions include a simple forwarding plan as a fail-over service in their pricing, this does not guarantee regular system backups. That means recent user settings or messages could be lost if the voice server fails.

As with any service, choose experienced VOIP vendors if you can’t keep several VOIP experts inside the company. Many IT solutions companies lack telephone experience, which can end up leaving you with strange errors when people call, such as having callers hear a message that your phone number is not connected right before the connection goes through. Many telecoms and ISPs have no system in place for helping with networking, which means their technicians may fail to account for how your network influences their SIP connection, providing no service at all to the phone system.

Lastly, avoid exceedingly long contracts (over 3 years) and providers pushing proprietary systems as more secure. Proprietary systems do not always keep up with the latest innovations and have the same security risks as any IT infrastructure. If anything, companies often end up with fewer fail-over and security options because of the price tag on proprietary systems. Remember, the cost of these services is still elastic and the benefit is supposed to be savings. It’s a balancing act.