Moving a business operation from a room in your house into an office brings plenty of changes. For starters, it means no more working in your underwear. But there are plenty of other little things that an office requires that came standard with your apartment.
A lot of this is pretty standard: a few phone calls will get you set up with utility companies, and you probably have a good idea of what kind of computer equipment you want set up. But one area where you’ll face a choice is with your phone line. There are a few distinct options, and each will change the nature of your office communications.
First step: Get Google Voice
No matter your choice of phone lines, you should sign up for Google Voice. It provides a level of flexibility that any business could use. When you sign up you get a brand new phone number, complete with voicemail. You can then set that number to ring another number. In other words, you can use your Google Voice number for your primary work number.
When you, or others, are in the office, you can have it ring there. If you’re out and there’s no one, or no one you trust, in the office, you can have it ring your cell phone. That’s a great way to communicate via cell phone without giving out your personal number. That kind of flexibility is something that many new small businesses need.
Of course, there’s still the matter of which type of phone Google Voice will ring. The three choices have their own particular advantages and disadvantages.
First, for those who don’t recognize the acronym: VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. Quite simply, it means using your internet connection to make normal calls, as you would on a landline. If you have a triple play package from your cable subscriber that includes phone service, you are currently using VoIP from home. More and more homes and businesses are adopting VoIP lines these days.
The advantage is pretty clear. Every business needs an internet connection, and a cable connection is the bare minimum. (DSL will no longer do.) Most, if not all, cable companies can bundle internet service with VoIP. That saves money straight away. In fact, one of VoIP’s biggest advantages is that it’s cheaper than landline service.
The big disadvantage, though, is reliability. If the internet goes out, well, so does your phone line. For ages phone lines were our saviors during power outages. But since VoIP lines run on cable modems, when the power goes out so does your phone line. That’s a risk that each business has to assess individually.
Years ago there would have been no choice involved here. When you set up your office you would have called up the local telephone company and requested a line. This is still a possibility, but it’s not the only one. It might not even be the most popular. But it is the most reliable. That remains the No. 1 benefit of traditional landlines.
If the power goes out, you can still use your landline as normal. There are also few, if any, random outages, as there are with the internet. Landline carriers such as Verizon advertise 99.9 percent uptime, emphasizing their superior data center infrastructure. Even better, since so many people have ditched landlines completely, there are far fewer issues with busy switches than there were in the past. Even in typically high-volume calling times, your calls will likely go through due to a lack of traffic.
That said, landlines are more expensive — up to $50 per month for a personal line and more than that for business. You can bundle it with internet, but typically that’s limited to DSL. While a non-tech-oriented household might do fine with DSL, a business really can’t. For businesses looking to limit overhead, a landline might not fit in the budget.
While most businesses decide between landlines and VoIP, there is a third option. Cell phones are universal communications tools. Today’s smartphones can do plenty more than just make phone calls, and those functions can benefit small businesses. Combined with a central Google Voice number, a fleet of cell phones can be of great benefit to a small business
The advantages are obvious. Having employees use cell phones, and more specifically smartphones, means that calls don’t get missed. You can assign various employees to phone duties, having the Google Voice number forward to their phones at certain hours. Smartphones allow for more mobility and easier communications. Employees can work from outside the office and still maintain simple, easy email communications. Various apps and services for smarpthones can also benefit small businesses.
The downside — and it’s a considerable one — is the cost. Paying for an employee’s smartphone plan can cost between $80 and $120 per month, depending on the voice plan attached. Some businesses offer to pay a portion of employee’s personal cell phone bills so they can use them for business as well, but this can cause issues. Getting a fleet of cell phones strictly for business is the easiest way to handle the situation. But given the cost, many small businesses simply cannot justify the outlay. Cell phones are, however, still a solid option for businesses with, say, five or fewer employees. After that, a landline or VoIP connection is likely required, if for no other reason than the cost savings.
The internet has opened up our world of communications. Previously small businesses had very few options when it came to phone lines. It was a landline for calls and a landline for fax. Cable internet connections and cell phones have changed that, giving small businesses more choices. Each business has different needs and different resources, so their choices will necessarily differ. Still, it’s hard to go wrong with any of these three options.