Ordering telephone service for your home is easy. But when you start looking into business telephone services, there are a lot more choices which can make the process more complex. The secret here is making sure you have the right information to make a good choice and to order the right products and services. Here’s some tips to help you out.
Evaluate your needs. Before you even begin to shop around for business phone service, make sure you know what you need. How many lines will your business require? Think carefully about how many people will be in your office at one time and how much time they’ll spend on the phone. You’ll need enough lines or people will be waiting on each other for an available phone line. Don’t forget to count things like fax machines or credit card terminals when figuring out how many lines you need. Many phone companies offer broadband Internet access through T-1 lines or DSL. Be sure to include this in your needs analysis. Also, think about the features you’ll need. Do you need caller id? What about a hunt group? A hunt group is an arrangement where if your main line is busy, the call “hunts” for another line that’s free. This keeps your customers from getting busy signals as long as you have a free line.
Know what equipment you need to support. If you have existing telecom equipment like a PBX, be sure you know what you need to support that equipment. The hardware manuals or vendor should be able to help you. Some things to look for are whether your PBX takes analog lines, a T-1 or a PRI. If your PBX implements its own call waiting, you’ll want to make sure it’s turned off on your phone lines.
Educate yourself on telecom terms. Not sure what the difference between a T-1 and a PRI is? Clueless about DID? You’ll want to know some of the basic terminology of business telecom or you may get sold products that you don’t need. A good glossary of telecom terms will be an invaluable reference.
Know what providers are available. If you’ve only ever dealt with residential service you may think that you should just call your normal local phone provider. While you should definitely get a quote from them, there’s a lot more competition in the business phone space. Make a list of providers that have services in your area and get quotes from them all. A lot of smaller providers specialize in unique products for small business. For example, some smaller providers are offering mixed use T-1 lines that provide a mix of phone lines and high speed internet on one T-1 trunk. If you’re having trouble finding local providers in your area, try a Google search. If you still can’t find any, check with your state’s public utilities commission. Phone companies require licensure from the state so your state commission will know who does business in your area.
Compare Apples to Apples. Once the quotes start rolling in, make sure you’re comparing the same things. While a T-1 line will be more expensive than DSL, it’s not a comparable product in terms of bandwidth and reliability. If you find yourself needing to compare things like a T-1 to DSL, consider the difference in price. Is the extra reliability of a T-1 worth the extra money to your business? This gets trickier when you start comparing things like voice over IP to regular land lines or mixed use T-1s to analog lines and DSL. You’ll need to come up with some kind of metric to help level the playing field for comparison’s sake.
Look at alternative arrangements. Bundling is the name of the game in telecom these days. Most providers will offer steep discounts for a package of services. You need to make sure that you’re really getting a good deal though. For example, if you get a quote for phone lines and DSL as a package, ask for a quote for just the phone lines. Then compare the cost of just the phone lines and cable Internet to the cost of the phone lines and DSL. Some phone providers offer hosted PBX services. You pay per extension for a line into a PBX hosted by your provider. While the cost will definitely be lower than buying a PBX outright, do some investigating. How much would buying your own PBX and just getting phone lines cost? How many months of paying for hosted PBX would it take to pay for purchasing the PBX? Also beware of hidden costs in these types of deals. Do you have to pay the phone companies DSL modem or use special phones that you have to buy from them? Some companies include the equipment with their services while others expect you to purchase it.
Consider the future. As your company grows, what will the differences in cost be? If you buy a hosted PBX solution, how quickly will the cost ratchet up as you add extensions? If you’re anticipating a lot of quick growth, purchasing your own PBX now may be a better deal. Will the DSL speed you selected be enough if you had more people? If you bought a mixed product, what’s the maximum number of phone lines it can support? Keep in mind too, that adding lines to a mixed use product reduces bandwidth for the Internet access portion.
Know what you’ll be responsible for. A lot of phone companies will only bring lines to the d-marc. The d-marc is the main entry point for the phone service in a building. If you’re in a large office building, this could be a ways from your actual office. Make sure you know whether the company will wire from the d-marc to your office for you. There’s usually an extra charge for this so check that too. Then call a couple phone installers or electricians and compare rates. You’ll want these numbers anyway for those companies that won’t do inside wiring at all.
Check the reputation of your selected provider. Once you’ve evaluated your options and selected the top providers, check them out. Search Google for other users’ experiences with this provider. If you’re buying DSL or internet access check rating sites like dslreports.com to see how they measure up. Check your better business bureau for complaints. Not all providers are created equal. I once switched a DSL circuit to a new provider without checking them out. I discovered that I consistently received speeds of only 25% of the speed I had purchased. When I searched Google about this provider, I found that this was a common complaint. A search before I ordered would’ve saved me a lot of time and money. If the provider you’ve selected is a smaller provider ask them for references and check them. While checking how satisfied their customers are, ask about order turn around. Long delays from order to installation are a common complaint among small telecom providers.
Ordering business phone service can be complicated due to the large number of choices in providers and products. Taking some time before you contact a salesperson to evaluate your needs and educate yourself on the options will make the process much easier and hopefully save your business time and money.