Phones remain a primary method of communication for small business, despite all of the technological advances in recent years. Entrepreneurs are certainly more informed about phone tools and applications than they used to be. But, multiplying innovations and “toys” offer more choices and, consequently, more stress to make the right choice. I like to remind small business clients that any innovation costs money, and they need to know how much they need and where they are smart to spend their money, particularly with regard to their phone systems.
- Phone service comes first. Accessibility and availability are high customer values when it comes to phone service. Look at what you have; don’t buy more than you need. Time Warner, for example, provides small business services. Or, look at AT&T for the smallest business needs and a familiar brand. Fortinet provides phones and phone systems, analog phones and IP phones. You need to know what you need for starters, but these products allow you to start small and grow. As far as your physical phone system, shop for a used and refurbished system.
- Let a virtual receptionist answer the call. If incoming and outgoing phone lines are multiplying, you need a more than a competent answering service to take messages, keep records, and buzz you with critical calls. Look at Webley Solutions: created for doctors, it serves any small business concerned with access and availability. Voice Nation offers a live answering service at modest costs based on phone minutes used. Professional Communications Messaging Service has fielded virtual phones for 50 years and promises a best price rate to the second of usage. If your business keeps you away from the office more than not, the one feature you need in any phone system is the “find me-call me” feature. The customer understands you may not be at your phone at every moment in the day, but the customer does not have the patience for you to return you your office. Make sure your system can forward calls.
- Get smart. A basic cell phone is all you need if all you do is call your spouse to say you are coming home early. But, a smart phone is the entrepreneur’s best friend and is the ultimate in phone innovation. It allows you to carry your office and market in your pocket wherever you go. You can make and receive calls. You can text and receive texts. You can calendar appointments and tasks. You can access the internet for financial and customer info. And, you can load it with a huge inventory of office applications. Consider, for example. Bump which allows you to exchange business card information with a client or prospect by just bumping phones together. Expensify.com keeps and manages your business and travel expense with a simple scan of receipts. And, Square lets you accept and process credit card payments at any time and place.
Now, I cannot endorse any of these options; I have only presented them as descriptions of ways to serve your needs (it would be impossible to cover all of the phone innovations here). Part of the value I offer to my clients includes assistance with short and long-term communication and technology needs. Without such a plan, they cannot seek technology help or estimate their costs.
By Steven Schlagel