If you are a small business it is tempting to simply throw caution to the wind when selecting the right VoIP solution. Even though VoIP is touted as a way for a small business to sound like a “big one”, in order to get the most for a VoIP solution, small businesses must still prepare for a VoIP deployment like a big company would.
If you are like most who work for a small business, you probably wear multiple hats and the “VoIP Expert” hat is probably one you don’t own, so let me lend you mine for a few minutes and walk you through a basic set of requirements that need to be addressed prior to deploying VoIP within your small business.
12 VoIP Requirements for Small Business VoIP
- Your Network (Can your LAN (Local Area Network) support VoIP calls?) – You will never realize the full experience of a Ferarri F430 driving it on dirt road. When it comes to VoIP, your service is the car and your network the road. In order to get the most out of service, you need to make sure you have a smoothly paved surface without a lot of congestion. If you utilize the web heavily, or send large files frequently, you might want to consider setting up a separate network just for voice. With switching prices dropping every day, the minor cost investment is worth the ability to ensure Quality of Service (QoS) of your voice service.
- Your Internet connection (How much bandwidth do you have?) – The number one cause of small business VoIP problems has to do with what is called the “last mile” of Internet service. Since most small businesses are looking at saving money by switching to VoIP, they forget that they may actually need to increase the size of their Internet connection in order to account for the additional traffic that they will now be sending or receiving. In order to make sure you have adequate bandwidth, ask your potential VoIP service provider how large their voice packets are, then multiple this number by how many simultaneous calls you will be making in order to see how much bandwidth your VoiP calling will take up.
- Your calling habits (Does your business make more local or long distance calls?) – Many businesses are mis-informed when it comes to the cost savings of switching to VoIP. If your company makes more local than long distance calls, you might not save much by moving to VoIP. If, however, you make a considerable amount of long distance calls, switching to VoIP may provide you with considerable cost savings. Note that you can use an IP based phone system and not use VoIP to send and receive calls.
- The PSTN (What to do with the PSTN?) - As noted above, not every small business will benefit from making VoIP calls – you might be better off placing all of your call over the Publicly Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). However, even if you do choose to you VoIP for the majority of calls, it is important that every small business keep at least one PSTN line for fail-over, since if your network goes down, you can still make calls over the PSTN.
- Your Disaster Plan (What happens if the power or network goes down?) – You are probably getting tired of reading about all of the “boring” aspects of VoIP, but in reality, most small businesses skip things like a disaster plan when deploying VoIP and end up kicking themselves when they go through a storm, blizzard, tornado or hurricane and their communications systems no longer work. Since VoIP utilizes the Internet and your network to transport calls, if either ever go down, you will be without VoIP service. Make sure you take into consideration how to build redunancy and power protection into your VoIP solution.
- Premise or Hosted Phone System (How large is your business?) – As you know, there are a variety of size definitions for small businesses. For instance, if you are a 1 – 3 person small business, a basic business VoIP service might suffice. If you have under 15 people in your office and do not want to deal with a phone system, you may want to consider a hosted VoIP service, where your phone system is hosted by your service provider. If you are a business that is larger then 15, but not over 30 people, you will want to look at both hosted and premise based phone system solutions. If you are larger then 30 people, you will want to focus your efforts on a premise based solution as it is likely to offer the best ROI.
- Your VoIP Service (Who should you get your VoIP Service from?) – There are a ton of choices when it comes to VoIP service. From nationwide, to regional, to local VoIP service providers, you can get VoIP in all different shapes and sizes. Once you determine whether your business is best suited for a premise or hosted based solution, you will need to find a service provider that delivers the solution you need. Look for things such as up-time, service level agreements and customer recommendations before signing-up with a service provider.
- Your Calling Rates (Are you better off with a flat monthly rate or a per minute rate?) - Depending on your call volume, you might get a better deal from flat rate of per minute calling. Take some time to do the math as most business VoIP providers offer both types of calling.
- Your VoIP Hardware (Who will be using this equipment?) – Before selecting your VoIP hardware (such as IP phones, soft phones and headsets) make sure to conduct a needs assessment to identify what each position or person needs out of the VoIP hardware they will be using. Do they need a great speakerphone, 32 line appearances, etc.
- Your Budget (How much do have to spend on this VoIP deployment?) – Today, pricing for VoIP solutions varies pretty widely since there are so many different ways to deploy VoIP within a small business. Some things to consider are: Do you want to pay for everything up front, do you want a monthly recurring charge or do you want to pay for some of the system up-front and pay the rest off monthly. Make sure you know what the total cost of ownership (TCO) is.
- Your ROI (How quickly will I see a return thanks to making the switch?) – In today’s economic climate, ROI (and how soon you will see one) is an important factor in any capital outlay While most small businesses will see instant decreases in monthly calling charges, it often comes with an cost. In order to calculate how soon you will see an ROI, simply calculate the total monthly cost savings my making the switch, and divide that by total upfront costs. This will give you the number of months to break-even on your upfront investment.
- Your Comfort Level (Do you have in-house talent to maintain this system?) - Just because Doug plays World of Warcraft for four hours everyday and was able to successfully hack into your neighbors WiFi network doesn’t mean he is qualified to maintain your VoIP system. When something goes wrong, you need to make sure there is someone who can solve the problem. While VoIP systems are much easier to use and maintain then previous communications systems, you will need to make sure that you truly have the qualifications to maintain this system internally or you will need to find someone to do it for you.
The previous 12 points are really a starting point for your small business. Since each small business is so different, your own checklist of VoIP requirements will need to be created, but you can use these 12 points above to create your own VoIP requirements list to ensure that you get the right VoIP solution.
Have a tip for a small business deploying VoIP? Please leave it in the comments.