Start-ups, small growing firms and even home-based businesses are underserved by the telecommunications industry. But there are telephone systems that fit if you know where to look.
Telephone systems have grown in sophistication by leaps and bounds in recent years, but for the most part, very small businesses have been on the outside looking in. And with the recent evolution in Voice over IP telephony (VoIP), the gap between what small business needs and what the market is offering is only getting wider.
While galloping technological advancements have ushered in amazing new features and inversely lower prices for most office equipment, full-featured phone systems have remained largely out of reach for small companies. You can afford a photo-realistic slimline desktop color printer now for a fraction of what it cost just a few years ago, and you can beam your appointment book back and forth from your wristwatch to your laptop for under a hundred bucks, but the prices of telephone systems have not decreased at the same rate. Most small companies are forced to cobble together telephone solutions with a combination of multi-line telephones, answering machines and costly monthly telephone company services.
True phone systems are far more powerful, offering flexible automated call answering features, call messaging and call routing that can improve a companys professional image, control communication costs and increase connectivity and responsiveness.
It is widely acknowledged that small business is the engine of job creation and economic health today. With a sophisticated, mobile workforce and limited resources for dedicated phone answering staff, small business needs advanced phone systems as much as its larger counterparts do. Yet according to a recent Yankee Group study, 58 per cent of small firms in the United States dont have a phone system at all. More than 5 million businesses have fewer than 20 employees, so theres a big market for phone systems, but the leaders in the phone industry have never been able to produce products to fit the bill.
Why? The answer lies in the size; small business is too small for the big traditional telephone systems, and the scaled-down solutions that the industry has produced so far still have price tags that are too big for small business budgets. Big phone systems just dont work for very small companies, and the fewer the phone users, the more difficult the fit.
Private Branch Exchanges
Large corporations use Private Branch Exchanges, or PBXs, which allow many phone users to share a system with fewer telephone company lines, based on the idea that not everybody uses their local phone extension at the same time.
PBXs inherently offer the best telephone system functionality available. As anyone who has ever worked in a corporation knows, PBXs handle calls impressively with features such as ring groups, call cascades, auto attendants, voicemail and more. But PBXs have traditionally been massive systems for thousands of users. When PBX manufacturers started to turn their attention to small companies, they found it difficult to scale the concept down. The big companies that make PBXs are not focused on very small business, so they dont fully understand the space.
The result has been a little like a major auto manufacturer stripping a car of two of its wheels and most of its body and then trying to enter the bicycle market; the results are ungainly and overly expensive. Small business phone systems from the major PBX manufacturers tend to be intimidating and difficult to use, difficult to install and usually require technical staff or consultants and expensive, proprietary phones.
On the next page of this article, Bryan O'Conner explains what to look for when shopping for a small business phone system and introduces TalkSwitch, an affordable phone system for small businesses. Click to continue reading.