Buying an Office Phone System

How to Pick a Phone System for a Business

Choosing an office phone system doesn't need to be a hassle. Here are eleven tips for purchasing an office phone system that will alleviate the pains traditionally associated with buying an office phone system.

Purchasing a new office phone system?

If so, get ready to be confused. There are a million choices when it comes to buying a phone system.

It's a good idea to find a vendor who can help you, but be careful. Many vendors can't translate phone speak into English; they will overload you with jargon until you just surrender and let them make the decisions. Making it even more difficult, phone systems evolve at an incredible pace. Many vendors don't keep up and are still recommending phone systems that are now archaic and overpriced. Or, they just recommend the one phone system that they represent. The advice you get on choosing a phone system for your office won't be very objective.

Here are some quick tips that may be helpful:

  • Ask other businesses how they did it. If you like the way a phone system works at another business, seek out the owner and ask them what they use and how much it cost. Talk to at least ten other business owners to get a feel for pricing, vendors, and options.
  • Don't underinvest in your phone system. Although the Internet now plays a huge role in connecting businesses to customers, clients, and partners, telephones remain key to business success. Simply put, some things require a phone call. If people call your business and feel your phone system is amateurish, they may opt not to do business with you or choose to pay you less for your goods and services. If calls are routed incorrectly, if callers get disconnected, or if they are faced with a bewildering array of automated options, their business may be lost forever - and you'll never even know about the lost opportunity. The bottomline? Invest the time and resources to get it right.
  • Take advantage of your existing phone assets. When buying a new phone system, consider what existing assets you might have. Take telephones for example. They can be very expensive if you have to buy proprietary phones. So, if you've already got them, you may want to buy a new phone system that uses the phones you already have.
  • Buy used, not new. Buying used or refurbished phone systems is a brilliant move if you want to save money. In some cases, you can buy phone equipment for ten cents on the dollar relative to what you'd pay if you bought new. Most of the equipment is well engineered and lasts for years, so you are safe to buy used phones and used phone systems. Ebay is a great place to buy a phone system or to get phone system components you might need.
  • Prioritize your features. Do you need an auto-attendant feature? Will you need to handle conference calls? Do you want music-on-hold? Do you need to monitor phone usage by employee? What are your voice mail needs? By listing out what you want, you can create a checklist that will allow you to rank the varying phone systems and find the best phone system for you.
  • Find a good phone system dealer. You will need outside assistance for installing and programming most phone systems. Once you've determined the type of system you want, finding a good phone dealer is the key to success. Ask the dealer how many installations they have done. Were the companies similar to yours? What options or features were added? Call dealer references and ask about your dealer's customer service record.
  • Consider VoIP phone systems. The latest in computer telephony - Voice over IP (VoIP) technology - allows businesses to place and receive calls using the Internet. VoIP is perfect if your business is distributed (e.g. you have telecommuters working out of their home offices). This is the future of phone systems, and you'd do well to get started with it now. It can really help to keep you connected and keep your overall costs down.
  • Consider voice mail compatibility. Make sure your phone system can work with a wide range of third-party voice mail systems. This keeps your voice mail options open and minimize the chance of your getting stuck with an inferior or overpriced voice mail system.
  • Overwire. If you need to wire up your office for the phone system, install more wiring than you need to handle your current needs. Phone system experts suggest that you double the wiring you currently need. Although it adds to the cost of installation, it's a huge savings if you might need to add wires later.
  • Time your purchase to get the best deal. Make your purchase at the end of the quarter when sales reps are trying to hit their quotas and you can get a much lower price.
  • Consider leasing and financing options. Ask your vendor whether you can pay for your system over time. This can be a big benefit if current cash in the bank is limited. But, watch out. Leasing costs can drastically increase the price of your phone system.

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Conversation Board

What's your take on choosing office phone systems? Have any tips for entrepreneurs on this topic?

  • GTH posted on 3/11/2009
    I like some of the all-in-one phone systems that pack a ton of high-tech features into a very small and inexpensive package. These systems have almost no environment requirements. Some allow users to add VOIP whenever they want, while still providing a contingency with existing analog or digital services. Just keep in mind that broadband does not necessarily equal bandwidth.
  • JLS posted on 6/16/2009
    Hello, I agree with GTH. You should consider a system that support both traditional phone lines and the new VOIP lines. That way you have a backup in the event your internet connection is down. Jennifer.
  • BearTel posted on 7/8/2010
    I would suggest reviewing opensource software IP-PBX solutions when researching new office phone systems. Systems such as Asterisk, FreePBX and Elastix provide extensive features and can support a range of trunk configurations (T1, Analog, SIP, etc).
  • RES posted on 8/25/2010
    Like BearTel said, opensource software provides many options for business phone systems. I ended up choosing Asterisk for my small business. One reseach tool that I found helpful was Their white papers helped narrow down my search.

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